Trip Report, Reflections: Susquehannah Super-Hike: 29.6-mile trail-running / hiking event

Posted by Michael Martin on

After wanting to do this event for three years, I finally got a chance to do it with a small but fun group of DC ULers over the weekend. We were also joined by a number of excellent WB folks. I'll just describe briefly how it went down.

Friday, after hanging out with Emerald for a few hours at Little Bennett Regional Park, where we worked on orienteering skills, I drove over to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Soon enough, Shuttle, Heavy D, and the Most Interesting Man in America joined me at the car camping area. We reserved spots there, which proved to be kind of a mixed thing, as the spots were rather noisy, pricey, and not as close to the event as would have been ideal (next year: the group camping area).

Shrieking babies notwithstanding, we were up at 4:30am to catch the bus from the Pequa Campground to the Otter Creek Campground. The Super-Hike takes place over stretches of the Mason-Dixon and Conestoga Trails on the west and east banks of the Susquehannah. By sheer happenstance, I had led about 85% of this terrain on various day-hikes for the Capital Hiking Club, so I knew that the last few miles of the course would be the most challenging. I came in with the plan to hike the course as fast as I could, and hopefully come away confident in my ability to complete our 4-state challenge in a few weeks.

The gun went off, and soon it was clear that most people there planned to run at least significant portions of the course. That was an interesting experience for a hiker. My hiking pace was fast enough so that most of the middle of the pack runners were going at about my speed, anyway. They would tend to pass me on flats and downhills, but I was much faster on climbs. Early in the day, I felt some frustration as some of the runners would get out in front of me on easy ground, then slow on climbs, but not let me pass! This feeling abated as the day wore on, I got towards the front of the line, and started dealing with the better runners, who were very courteous about offering passes, usually. I did draw the conclusion, though, that one would be wise to run some of the early miles so as to get out ahead of the pack.

By the time I reached the checkpoint at Lock 12, just before crossing the Susquehannah, I knew that I was having a good day, and would finish somewhere about the 8 hour mark. I had saved enough energy for the rather relentless up-ing and down-ing of the Conestoga Trail, and so I passed people throughout the last 7 miles of the course. My feeling was that, as a hiker, I was faster than most of the runners on the tougher terrain, but any time the ground got flat and easy, a few would pass me. There was a kind of oscillation effect there.

When I crossed the finish line, the time read 8 hours and 7 minutes. I was a little sad not to go under 8 hours, but my pace (predictably) slowed some on the climbs. I think I average about 3.75 mph, and really I was walking at 4 mph most of the day.

So, how do I feel about the 4-state challenge now? Really quite good. I was not tapped out at all after 30 miles, and the course was more difficult, I think, than the Maryland ridgelines will be. I admit that I'm a bit curious about doing some trail running events ... I had a great deal of fun, though I've been kind of lackadaisical about running since the book deal. Even just running the stretches of roads would make a difference.

Chapeau to Steve M who completed the course in 7h30-something and Bryce with a blistering 7h17! Very nice times indeed!

We DC ULers gathered at the finish line to cheer people as they crossed. Shuttle got shorted as the race officials stopped a lot of people about 1.5 miles from the end ... when all they had to do was walk down a road to the finish line. That rather sucked.

Nonetheless, we retired to our campsite to celebrate with a few rounds of adult beverages and a yummy bratwurst cook out. What a great way to spend the evening!

Though this is not our typical style of event, I do think it will be fun to do this course in the future. Perhaps, next year, we'll have more people and can do some thinking about how to prepare for the event.


PS ... Heavy D, Shuttle, and the Most Interesting Man in America, you guys should post your impressions, as well, if you like.

Jen posted on

Thanks for the great write-up. My impressions mostly mirror U-Turn's: great event, well organized aside from the slight communication issues at the end, and a resounding yes to staying in the group site next year.

I also did this as a gauge for the upcoming Maryland challenge. While it was disappointing to be cut short at the end, I was hiking at a slower pace and talking with a number of the other hikers. I was left feeling slightly annoyed (okay, maybe a lot!) about being cut short, but then also feeling positive about my ability to cover the miles. I feel like I am in a good spot for the Maryland Challenge.

Above all, I enjoyed the camaraderie of the event. This was the first hike ever for one man I met along the way, and there were a number of women who trained heavily for the day. One woman does a long distance hike every year -- last year, she did the Harpers Ferry to D.C. hike (62 miles in a day!) that's sponsored by the Sierra Club. It really was a wonderful event, and I enjoyed chatting with people on the trail. I'd definitely do it again but with less chatting. I wanted to cross that finish line!

Daniel posted on

Thanks for the reflections, Michael & Jen. I enjoyed this lightning tour of southwestern PA farm and forest, bluff and hollow. Also, the weather (three cheers for September) was near-ideal. The idea of cramming as much hiking, cycling, or what have you into one day excites me, and it's indeed a challenge. Makes one taste what it's like to maximize the minutes. If I were to do this or a comparable event in the future, I think I'd run at least some of it, to enhance the difficulty. Considering how warm it got on Saturday, I respect those who ran (or speed-hiked) the Super Hike that much more. It would've been tough on me had I ran, though I'm told it was virtually cool by Texas standards. ;-) Of course, I'd be remiss without re-thanking my fellow hikers for making this fun. It just wouldn't have been the same without talk of Big Al, the 'cursing preacher,' and so much more. Looking forward to the four-state challenge...

Michael Martin posted on

And the official results are up: