This is a story I wrote last week about two adventurers who go on a hike in the wilds of Pennsylvania. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to post it here because it is quite long, but on the other hand, I haven’t written anything for some time and this should make up for it. I broke it into three parts, kind of like what Dick did with his journal of Big Bend, in an attempt not to exhaust the reader. I will post the second part soon.
The North Country National Scenic Trail is a continuous footpath stretching over 4600 miles from the Adirondacks in New York to the Grasslands of North Dakota. Passing through seven States, 10 National Forests, and numerous State Parks, the NCT is a hiking trail that traverses some of the most beautiful areas in Northern United States. Forests of stately hardwoods, waterfalls, glens, and mammoth rock formations, are scattered along the trail throughout New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Scenic vistas of the Great Lakes and colorful cliffs along the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior greet the hiker through Michigan and Minnesota. And who can say “Cheyenne River” or “National Grasslands’ and not be tempted to do some wandering in North Dakota.
The NCT is within easy driving distance from several metropolitan areas, making it a great recreational opportunity for many people. Few people, however, have hiked the whole thing. Imagine my surprise when Karen called and said, “Dad, do you want to go hiking next weekend?”
“Oh, I would love to! Do you have any ideas where we could hike?”
She thought for a minute, “Why don’t we backpack the North Country Trail?”
“What? That’s over 4500 miles!”
“No, no silly, just the part that runs through the Allegheny National Forest. It’s about 90 miles. We could do it in sections over 4 or 5 weekends. After each hike,” she added, “you could blog about it.”
I didn’t have to think for long – several weekends of hiking, backpacking along the Kinzu Reservoir amidst scenic hills and vistas, walking on a famous National Scenic Trail, and spending time with my daughter. There was nothing I would rather do.
We made plans to drive up early on Saturday, May 22, and meet at Willow Bay campground on the PA/NY border. From there we would drive one vehicle south to strategically place ourselves a distance of two days hiking. I voted to make this first hike relatively short because of a winter of city-soft inactivity, and build up to greater miles as I optimistically became more in shape. The weather was predicted to be warm but with a chance of showers all day Saturday.
I arrived at the campground shortly before 9:00 am. The last time I talked with Karen – there is no cell signal in most of the Allegheny National Forest – she planned on reaching the campground around 9:00 am also. I parked and read some of the literature and maps by the check in gate as a lady opened the booth to collect camping fees. After about a half-hour I sensed that something was wrong. Karen should have been there. I started to worry and explained the situation to the collector. She was kind enough to let me use her landline phone and I was relieved when Karen answered almost immediately. Sure enough, Karen’s GPS had taken her to the wrong location and she was now over half an hour away. I was more relieved that she was OK than I cared about loosing a little time hiking.
When she finally arrived at the campground she said, “All I could think about as I drove here was…great! This is going to totally be in the blog!”
It was only a short while after that that she was waiting for me as I struggled with adjusting a broken hiking pole. Ironically though, the pole was fine, I was just turning it the wrong way. We finally entered the woods and began hiking north at about 11:00am. It was raining lightly but the temperature was warm. We put covers over our packs, donned rain jackets, and tried unsuccessfully to walk around most of the muddy parts on the trail. After a while, our shoes gave up the will to be dry and we walked with the squish, squish of wet socks.
Throughout most of the day the skies were cloudy and it would rain periodically. There were also long stretches when it wouldn’t rain. Sometimes it was hard to tell if it was raining or not because of the thick canopy of leaves. The trees would shed the rain for a while until they couldn’t hold back anymore, and then drip long after the rain had stopped. Most of the trail was well marked but once in a while we would lose track of where exactly it was. It was common for us to be talking and not paying attention and suddenly realize we had not seen a blaze marking the trail for some time. Then we would have to scout around until we found the markings again. Eventually it became a catch phrase to turn around and ask: “Have you seen a blaze lately?”
We hiked through a boggy section for a couple of miles and then ascended a long hill on an old logging path. Now and then we came to oil or gas pumps (we were not sure which) scattered along the hillside, and once in a while we could see remains of abandoned pipes. Most of the trail, however, was located deep within the heart of the forest with no trace of human touch. It was nice to hike in these areas of pure wilderness.
As we descended the ridge on the other side of the hill, the Kinzu Reservoir came into view through the trees. We were looking for a place to stop and have lunch when Karen stopped short and exclaimed, “Oh how cute! Don’t step on him! Look Dad, it’s a newt!”
I couldn’t see anything until Karen actually pointed him out to me. Apparently, they are bright orange, which to me – and I’m guessing my brother Dick – look like a green leaf, but to non-colorblind people they are quite easy to spot. All the rest of the day Karen would point out the newts so that I would not step on them. She took several pictures of the little lizards along the way, but just like the wildflowers and pink apple blossoms she photographed, I imagine my perception of their beauty is different from hers.
We stopped by the shore of the Kinzu and had some lunch. For some reason I had a desire for a cup of coffee. Karen had brought a couple of packets of rich instant coffee from Starbucks and we both drank a cup of the strong brew with our meal. Not long after that we were hiking up the trail like the machines in Ironman2. Were not sure how much caffeine was in that coffee but we joked that if one of us tripped and sprained an ankle, the healthy one would be able to carry the other out.
In the afternoon we entered Tracy Ridge hiking area. I had hiked here several times before so I knew we were getting close to the camping area where we planned to stay the night. We met one hiker – the only other person we would meet on the trail – as we descended to Handsome Lake camping area. We could see a couple of tents set up but it was raining quite steady by then and the hikers were hunkered down under tarps. We choose a site, rigged a makeshift tarp over the picnic table and unpacked things we would need for our dinner.
To be continued…