This week lent itself to backpacking because I already had a nice bag of food neatly packed in my refrigerator,(reference the entry from last week). However, after having a raucous week of spirited sales phone calls with customers, bosses, and worst of all...evil evil satanic channel managers I decided I didn't want to see or talk to anyone, which meant group hiking was out of the question.
I have hiked most of the popular trails around so I started looking around on the net for a place that wouldn't be populated, could give me some decent elevation changes and mileage, and not too long a drive from Charm City. I stumbled upon this hike from MidAtlantic hikes, a site set up by some guy who is active in the HoCo Sierra Club. The hike includes a segment on the Pond Run Trail which doubles as a segment of the Tuscarora Trail.
Some background: When the Appalachian Trail was set up back in the 1930's, the creators may not have secured the right-of-way of the trail through private lands. This became abundantly apparent later on when landowners started wondering why all sorts of backpackers were straggling through a white-dotted path on their land without their permission. Concerned about the security of the AT, various groups got together in the early 1960s and set up a bypass trail called The Tuscarora Trail.
This blue-blazed 252 mile trail stretches from VA into PA to the West and parallel of the AT, stradling the WV and VA line isn't as plundered as the AT, but is still traveled and thruhiked extensively. It took several years for the National Parks Service to secure all the land rights and easements to make everything copacetic on the AT. The last bit of the AT was secured in the late 1990s in, of all places, Maryland. Leave it to those pesky Marylanders to hold onto their property rights of a mere 40 miles of trail to the bitter bitter end. Everyone in this state wants to make sure they make every possible dime on even the teensiest weensiest piece of property.
Now back to this segment of the Tuscarora Trail: The Pond Run Trail ends at Pine Knob lookout which looks out at Half Moon Lookout, Half Moon Lookout faces Big Schloss Lookout, where I was backpacked 3 weeks ago. So everyone on all three lookouts can look out at each other. So I was near Wolf Gap and on Sugar Knob.
I met some wonderful thruhikers, a couple of older men attempting a 2 week thruhike of the entire Tuscarora Trail, which means they had to average 15 miles per day. They were only carrying small daypacks. I asked about the weight of their packs, and they told me 6 pounds. Talk about achieving new heights in the ultralight wars!
The men were using a tarp for a tent, a tarp for a sleeping bag, no stove, no extra clothing and a thin pad. Their pack weight was mainly food and they only planned to restock once during their hike. The 20 pounds that I was carrying on my back suddenly felt like 300. I wished them well and moved on. Then I came to my second thruhiker, a woman that looked like she had been on the trail a long while. She glared at me and I stepped aside to let her pass. She was quite odiforous. Mind you, I can see if you are doing long stretches in a desert you might get a little ripe, but we were hiking next to a relatively warm gurgling stream. You would think this lady might take the time to dip herself and her clothing in it every once in a while to get the stench off of her.
Anyhoo, I learned a whole bunch of stuff during my hike. I will list everything in order:
1. When one takes a ballpeen hammer to their printer because it doesn't behave, one cannot conveniently print paper hiking maps. One must go through the complex process of downloading maps, directions and other information to their PDA.
2. When one takes a PDA on a solo backpack, one is prone to playing hours of solitaire wearing down the precious battery charge precipitously.
3. National Geographics don't burn. The severe glossy chemical coating on the magazine renders it useless in starting a campfire, although the idea to bring the magazine along, read it and then use it as kindling was a great one in theory. Next time, bring the City Paper.
4. When one forgets a line for the bear bag, a 20 ft. satellite radio antenna works just as well. The little magnet on the end is perfect for tossing into a tree.
5. When one gets to the intersection of the Mail Trail and Racer Camp Hollow Trail, don't go left because that isn't the right way to go. You could go, let's say 1 mile down the road before you realize this and have to turn back...extra hiking mileage: 2 miles.
6. When one returns the intersection of the Mail Trail and Racer Camp Hollow Trail, don't go right because that isn't the right way to go either. You could go, let's say 1.5 miles down the road before you realize this and have to turn back...exra hiking mileage: 3 miles.
7. At the intersection of the Mail Trail and Racer Camp Hollow Trail, the correct way is completely hidden in the woods. There is no markings whatsoever and in a month of high foliage like June you won't be able to see the continuation of the Mail Trail.
I had expected to hike a simple 12 miles with 1600 ft. of elevation change, but it ended up being closer to 17 miles.