Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Thankful Heart

The theme for this hike was "A Thankful Heart". The song, from A Muppet Christmas Carol (one of my favorites), kept popping in my head. And your welcome as now it may be in yours. It's not Christmas .. heck it's not in Thanksgiving yet but the opening lines of the song are appropriate:

With a thankful heart
With a endless joy

The fact is I have a lot of people to thank for the joy of this hike. First, foremost, always and forever my husband Dave who never visibly flinches when I say "I have an idea... " He's the best. 

I also want to thank Mike, Maryann, Naomi, Sara, Maggi, Russ, Candy, Kristi and Alexis who at different times since December 2012 section hiked the Horseshoe Trail with me. I didn't know I was going to do this all day hike when I started the sections but having done it made it all the more fun today. I also want to thank my family and friends who read the blog. It has gotten me through more than one hard day wanting to be able to tell you "I did it."

Now I give you fair warning. I have no idea exactly how much I have to say about this hike. It might be a long one. Read on at your own risk. 

This hike marked the culmination of what I am calling the base building phase of my Super Hike training. Having had so much downtime since the abandoned effort to do the Bob Potts Marathon I knew I had to build up again to attempt any kind of distance event. Starting on May 31st of this year I targeted October 25th for an all day hike. Largely due to the knowledge gained from section hiking with the folks identified above I decided to take on the Horseshoe Trail from Northside Road to Great Valley Nature Center. Although I've been going out for time rather than distance each weekend, for this hike I had to factor in distance since I wanted to do a one - way hike and had to choose spots where I could be dropped off and picked up. Based on my average pace on previous timed outings the 24.5 miles between Northside Road and Great Valley seemed ideal. 

Part 1: Northside Road to St. Peter's Village. This section is the only section I hiked in the same direction as before (west to east). I first hiked this section with Alexis on Mother's Day 2014. The same day she tried to teach me the fine art of chicken grooming. A skill we discovered I am highly unsuited to but I had a lot of fun learning about it and visiting her. We finished that escapade with a hike into St. Peter's Village and back. Although we did not take the detour that I had to take yesterday. 

What I didn't plan on was that this weekend was opening day of small game hunting season in PA. As I stood at the trail head (which proceeds through state game lands) waiting for my Garmin to find the satellites I realized I had three strikes against me. The hunters had guns (#1), the hunters had dogs (#2), and I did not have any blaze orange(#3). I had a moment of  pure panic and then remembered scouting the aid stations for Misery Loves Company's  50 SOS. Maggi and I drove all around the trail to do that. And so I knew I could stay on the road around the gamelands and pick up the trail at Trythall Road. 

BTW, the blaze orange vest and hat I ordered earlier this week arrived while I was out hiking. 

Part II: St. Peter's Village to French Creek Elementary School. I first hiked this section east to west with Candy and Kristi. Ladies it was much much much drier this time. The entire trail was covered in a thick layer of dry leaves. When possible this allowed me to slush through listening to one of my favorite sounds - the rustling of the dry leaves as my shoes move through. It wasn't always possible to do that though. The trail - the entire length - has long stretches of rocks sticking up and out of it. This is Pennsylvania after all and while it's not the boulder fields of the Appalachian Trail it might be more dangerous here. The leaf cover was thick and hid a lot of the tripping hazards. I was often caught off balance when my foot hit one of these unseen obstacles. I'm proud to say though that I did not fall once all day. :) 

When I arrived at Warwick County Park I took a deliberate detour off the trail. Instead of going right immediately upon entering the park and then following the ridge line the length of the park I headed for the bathroom. I had coffee with breakfast and I was not going to pass up my only real chance for indoor plumbing. 

When Candy and Kristi and I took this hike in early Spring there had been a lot of rain that week and with the high snowfall this past winter the creek was running high. So we wisely took the trail guide suggested detour. I decided to tackle the creek this time. I had done it once before when a bunch of us went running/hiking here a few months ago. I failed on the return trip across the creek that time too. I spent a good couple of minutes trying to figure out if I could make it. If you zoom in on the map my Garmin drew you can see my zig zagging as I debated what to do. The rocks slant the wrong way for me. I figured it was better to just walk across in the water than risk falling and getting all of me wet. The water came up over just over my shoes. Once across I found a dry place to sit, took off my shoes and socks, dried my feet and put on dry socks. All was good. I had hoped to make it via rock hopping but I was prepared for not making it. 

Part III: French Creek Elementary School to Route 113.  I first hiked this section with Maggi and Russ in the snow.  I was pretty sure then - and I'm convinced of it now  - that we blazed a bit of our own trail that day. In this section the trail blazes are in the worst condition. All along the hike today (except for this section) I could see where trail workers had come out and repainted the yellow blazes. From here (about mile 7) through mile 11 of my day the blazes were few and far between and the ones that were there were faint and peeling. The trail meanders in the first part through a lot of woods and the leaf cover this time and snow last time made it difficult to see any path. The lack of blazes made for slow going trying to follow them and not face plant over a rock or tree root. I'm not really complaining just describing. If I didn't want the adventure that the trails offer I'd stick to the roads. 

One noticeable difference between last time and this one is the creek crossing that I almost didn't manage back in March. I'm pretty sure this was one of the spots that back in March we were off trail. The crossing today was quite narrow and even had a large cement filled log portion for easy step crossing. Now it's possible the log was added later but the width of the creek likely did not change that much. 

There was a detour that wasn't my doing in this section. I'm not sure if it is permanent or not but it was a very nice one . It cut out a significant portion of road walking which was really nice. 

Part IV: Route 113 to Great Valley Nature Center: I first hiked this section with Mike, Naomi and Sara.  In fact, it was almost one year ago exactly. So conditions today were very similar to that first time except I was going in reverse. I was nervous about the one section where we got confused going across what looked like someone's property. All I can say is that in reverse it seemed less like trespassing. Although that may be because we had already done it once. There were parts along this section (which had a lot of road in it) that the previous hikes helped me with direction. I had the guide book with me but my memory of the landmarks we had seen before meant I didn't have to dig it out. 

The other big difference is that this time I was in the final 8 or so miles of my day and I have to admit that I was getting a bit cranky in my head. I was passing the six hour mark now - the longest I had hiked to date. When I first plotted out the base building phase I set my sights on finishing with a 10 hour hike. I trimmed it to 8 after missing a few benchmarks along the way. 

I was able to tackle the crankiness by reminding myself about how far I had come. It was hard but it was supposed to be hard. My legs at this point were actually not too bad except for my shins. I attribute that to the amount of road walking. I have done very little road walking since our July 4th adventure. Plus any road walking I would do in sneakers not hiking shoes. 

At what I thought was 3 miles left I texted Dave to let him know I was about an hour out. I came out of a wooded area onto the intersection of Pikeland Road and Hollow Road. I had about 1.5 miles to go. I looked up the hill of Pikeland and my shins were screaming "Please don't make us do that". So I pulled out the map book to make sure I was where I thought I was and decided to proceed down Hollow road to the nature center. More or less I was cutting across the diameter of the half circle the trail would take me. 

Except I got turned around while looking at the guide book and ended up going down Pikeland (away from the hill) instead of Hollow. I made my way back to Hollow and called Dave and asked him to start driving toward me as I continued to walk. I had had enough. 

All in all it was a very successful end to my base building phase. My average moving time was 3 miles per hour. The decision to go for 8 hours instead of 10 was smart and does not set me back. I still have 10 months to get ready for the Super Hike. I finished 24.4 in roughly 8 and a half hours. Garmin map and details here. The shorter route for the Super Hike is a mile shorter than what I just did and with 12 hours to finish. I want to do the longer distance 29.6 and I still think I'm on track to get there. 

The Super Hike will have bigger and longer climbs one after the other after the other. So the next phase of my training is to climb, climb, climb. My goal between now and March is to get stronger and more efficient on the climbs. 

Next weekend though is a week off from hiking. Saturday is balloon handler practice for the Thanksgiving day parade and Sunday I plan an urban hike along the SRT in the city across the new bridge. 

I did not take a lot of photos today, I wanted to focus on moving along. It was hard not to take photos it was such a beautiful day. Here the few that I did take. 

Thanks for reading, 

Keep smiling and keep moving

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