Saturday was the 2010 Rachel Carson Challenge (notes from previous Rachel Carson Challenges are here). My partner in crime this time was SS, who decided this past winter when things were rather boring that she needed a hobby, and this need of a hobby led her to the Rachel Carson challenge. As usual, we did the series of training hikes (Hi Donna! Hi Bob!) that included wet days and hot days. (I missed the really hot sunny day, figures)
The challenge began with waking up at ~3 AM in the morning so we could catch the bus to Harrison Hills Park. And we did with time to spare before sunrise.
We raced through the first section, keenly aware that we wanted to cover miles before it got sunny. By the first checkpoint, everything was still sunny and good.
By the second checkpoint I was running into trouble. I had run out of water along the way, and the second checkpoint had run out of gatorade. (and forgotten my extra bottles of water in the kitchen on the way out the door) So by checkpoint 3 I was starting to dehydrate. Checkpoint 3 was a definite rehydration stop. I filled up my camelbak with gatorade with the goal of finishing it before I left while I was essentially eating lunch. In addition to the usual PB&J sandwiches, oranges, bananas, pretzels and chips there were salted potatoes. But I realized that I was not going to speed up anytime soon so SS found a group and went on ahead. I started from Checkpoint 3 and things got better for me as electrolytes were absorbed into my body.
The Rachel Carson Trail is a connector trail. It connects a number of county and municipal parks in Allegheny County, starting in Harrison Hills Park and going through Agan Park, Emmerling Park, Hampton Community Park, and ending in North Park. (MapMyHike link). Allegheny County is an urban county (includes Pittsburgh, PA) so to connect all these parks means that there is substantial private property and hiking along roads along the way. There are numerous hills (i.e. too steep for building roads or houses) and streams without bridges on the trail.
By checkpoint four, I was feeling pretty good. And I had four hours to go the last 8.2 miles. No problem. But the clouds were rolling in. And about an hour after I left checkpoint four it started raining. And heavily. And thunder. I found a group that was working through Hampton Community Park together and we made it across Route 8 together. Then the trail started to follow Pine Creek. And by follow I mean we had to cross it. Five times.
The creek in the areas we had to cross it ranged from 20 to 30 feet across. While normally it is a shallow gravel stream bed with water about an inch above the gravel, that day after the thunderstorm it was a raging stream thigh deep. I hooked up with J and J from our little group and we crossed the streams together, holding arms to keep each other from being knocked down and dragged by the current.
After this major adventure, we reached North Park. There were four relatively easy stream crossing (much higher than normal, but by this point they were easy), and then the trail went up and into the park proper. A couple miles here and on to one last stream crossing and to the finish at Beaver Shelter.
Why do something like this? Like a t-shirt says, it is called the Rachel Carson Challenge, not the Rachel Carson Walk. It is a challenge. And like anything worthy of the name, it is hard. I tend not to be a competitive person by nature, but I am drawn to things that are hard.
There is also the inherent honesty and reality to such things. You are dealing with nature in a raw and unforgiving form. Heat, sun, dehydration, nutrition, physical limits, water, streams, hills are real. There is no recourse to decisions made by authority that is granted by God or Man. There are people who believe that perception is reality. And on a trail such as this, even in the urban area of Pittsburgh, that is wrong. Perception is not reality and believing otherwise can get you killed. Reality is reality, and there are enough people who believe otherwise that a challenge like this with people who recognize this is a wonderful experience.
Many thanks to SS, for being a wonderful training and hiking companion. Donna, Bob, Mark and many other volunteers for your work (including washing everything today [Sunday]) J, J, E and KB3OGS for being companions along the way. And looking forward to the next challenge. As a volunteer.