I'd kept my plans to myself all week long, as though not saying them aloud would keep my ailing arches from knowing what I planned to ask of them and, surprised, they would rise to the occasion. They were going to be up to it or they weren't and that was that. Besides, you can't keep secrets from your body. No matter how remotely any given point lies from your brain, it gets the word.
So come Saturday morning every inch of me was well aware that I was gonna try and get in a 20+ mile run. Big deal, right? I know, but my confidence had grown a bit shaky and I really couldn't afford to start and not finish a moderately long run.
I needed this one.
A mile-and-a-half into the run, I was feeling good. The sun had crept into the sky and the initially rock-riddled section of the Appalachian Trail between Swatara Gap at Route 72 and Route 443 in northern Lebanon County was beginning to change over to grass and hardpack. A break in the woods led to a marshy stretch spanned by a cleverly crafted dual-track section of planks.
This is a view that differs considerably from what I've seen on the AT in Pennsylvania and I found myself growing more a more stoked.
After crossing over a road or two, there was a long sliver of singletrack that snaked through some open meadows.
After reentering the woods on the far side, I began working my way up to the top of Second Mountain on a meandering technical track that was steep but totally runnable. I couldn't have been much more thrilled.
Running across the ridge line of Second I could see the steep drop into Rausch Gap and a wicked gas line climbing straight up from the gap to the top of Stony Mountain across the valley. I'm pretty sure this is the backside of the power line that resides in the middle of the Buzzards Marathon course.
Looks like a beast. A beautiful beast with whom I hope to one day do battle.
After several hundred yards, the AT starts to tumble downward, no switchbacks on this stretch, into St. Anthony's Wilderness and the ruins of the once-upon-a-time mining/railroad town of Rausch Gap. I was only 5 miles into my wandering but I made special note of the fact that I'd have to trudge back up this section sooner or later if I was ever going to return to the car.
It was lovely down in the Gap with the Rausch Creek tumbling through an old stone arch bridge and the April trees beginning to push new blooms. I still hadn't seen a soul and decided not to force the issue by taking the spur trail to the Raush Gap Shelter though curiosity sat bedevilingly on my shoulder.
From the Gap, the Appalachian Trail begins a gentle sustained climb toward the summit of Stony Mountain. I'd come in the other direction with Jefferson back in July but this side was strikingly different in that it was in no hurry to get where it was going and didn't offer nearly as much damage underfoot.
In other words, it was just what I needed, as the miles began to pile up. During the week, I'd considered getting the whole way to the junction with the Horseshoe Trail as that's where I'd departed the AT the year prior. That was going to require a run totally something close to or slightly longer than 30 miles, however, and I'd given myself a hard 9:00 AM turnaround time to ensure that I could get back to the family for a day of play.
I did make it to a second set of ruins at Yellow Springs. There's a cool trail registry here and, still not having seen anyone, I decided to check out the most recent entries.
As beautiful as the weather had been, there were only a few entries. Bummer. I scratched in a sentence or two of my own and slid the journal back in the box and settled into breakfast.
Refueled I jumped back onto the trail, continuing to head west. At this point I was creeping towards that 9:00 end of the road but decided to get in as much mileage as I could.
I would've made it further than I eventually did except, as happens to me, I found myself having to heed nature's call. And not for relief of the bladder, if you know what I mean.
I hopped off the trail and found a spot to hunker down behind a rock and a tree. And, yes, of course, the first human sounds of the morning began approaching from the trail. Wouldn't you know it, I'd managed to not account for a turn in the trail and the very first hiker of the day had a pretty decent view of me, well, defecating. Looked me right in the eye, he did, though, based on his squinting, I've got a feeling he didn't see much detail. But he sure was pointed in the right direction and I soon recognized that I would soon be running him down from behind as I made the return trip eastward. There isn't much glamour in trail running to begin with, but this scenario is definitely not what I envision when I imagine a great day in the woods. All part of it, though, I suppose.
You're welcome for their being no pictures to accompany the last paragraph.
On the way back I began seeing a few more hikers and passed as quickly as possible by the solo hiker who'd witnessed my bathroom break. For the most part, though, I continued to have the trail to myself and had myself a blast, moving steadily if not swiftly.
I took one more stop at the bridge over Rausch Gap and dangled my feet in the air while knocking down a Honey Stinger waffle and some Gatorade.
The day was beginning to get away from me and it was time to get back at it, crawl back up to the top of Second Mountain and cruise back into Swatara Gap. A sign tacked to the tree gave me pause but I figured my being on two legs was sufficient to allow me passage.
I intentionally hiked most of the next mile as I really did hope to run hard the last several miles and didn't want to lay waste to that plan by trying to hammer out the uphill. Near the top I couldn't resist and sunk my teeth into a little bit of brisk climbing. It was a short enough stretch that I was able to keep moving the legs once I reached the top out.
I quick-stepped downhill and pushed hard across the open sections of singletrack. Once I reached the jumbly stretch just before Swatara Gap, I did slow my pace to pick my spots and make sure that tired legs didn't cause a misstep that I'd regret this close to the end of a good long run.
My new TrekSta Edicts (more on these in a subsequent post) were proving to be the bee's knees and my arches and legs had held up just fine. I hadn't stopped the clock for any rests, breakfast or that traumatic (not really) pit stop, so I was pretty pleased with the final time.
When I ran, I ran strong and without any pain. I felt happy. Maybe not as happy as the kids would the next day after hunting eggs and digging into their Easter baskets, but pretty darn happy.