Disaster at Bear Run

Posted by MikeVW on

We hadn't even stepped foot outside the parking lot, and already the misfortune was raining down upon us: I was nursing bad blisters, Jimmy's pack strap was broken, Liza had busted laces, and Jessica had lost dexterity in her hands. And it didn't help any that my co-leader leader had forgotten his tent stakes, sleeping bag, and had a busted pole. Was this how a DC UL trip was supposed to play out?

The answer, of course, was yes. Brian had floated the idea of a disaster simulation as a way of getting members comfortable with adversity, and it played nicely with my Eeyore-ish disposition. And frankly, we learn so much from the bad situations that a safe environment to practice them in could be really useful for the occasions that we forget items or sustain an injury. Brian and I tossed ideas back and forth for the location of the trip and handling of the disasters, and settled on Bear Run out in Ohiopyle. We built a list of 'safe' injuries to simulate, ranked the difficulty, and used the DC UL community to add in a few others. So with the prep work done, five brave souls ventured out to field test the scenarios we had hashed out, with run of the mill setbacks like forgetting one's spoon mingled alongside serious injuries like a broken arm.

The weather at Bear Run was pleasant enough, if just a little humid. Our trip began with handing out the disaster cards and adjusting our gear (and expectations!) accordingly. While some scenarios would not be felt until we arrived at camp, straps were unbuckled and shoes were removed or de-laced to simulate some potential trail hardships. We were given a small silver lining, though, with a slight detour to check out Falling Water, a Frank Lloyd Wright building just off trail. We had a chance to walk around the perimeter and see the grounds, though Brian refused my dare to swim in the waterfall that empties right underneath the property. Once we stopped at the vista along the Peninsula trail, Jimmy and I attended to fixing our pack and foot, respectively, and we marveled at how well Liza's new shoelaces of rope were holding up.

We lost the Peninsula trail slightly along the ridgeline, and navigating through Bear Run reminded me of how much I wanted fall and winter to return: the prickers and thorns were raking me all afternoon, and we were all sporting scratches on our arms and legs by the end. The miles moved by quickly, though, and we recrossed 381 within a few hours.

The true trail challenge came soon after for Liza, who had pulled a card requiring her to 'slip' at a stream crossing. The low water levels made it tough to find a suitable spot, but we came across something resembling a stream while on the Laurel Run trail. After a demonstration by Brian, and a show of solidarity from Jimmy, Liza took the plunge (taking care to move a crawdad out of the way first), and we moved on to camp for the evening (or afternoon, really; it was a short day for DC UL!).

Jimmy proved himself to be a master craftsman at camp, fashioning a set of tent stakes and a makeshift pole using his knife, and I opted for the brute force method of using sticks and rocks to set up my tent. In the end, all the tents/hammocks were pitched, and it would take a close look to realize that there was some improvisation at play in the setup. Of course, while we were messing with the tents, Liza and Jessica gathered up a huge stock of wood for the fire, so we were set for the night.

There were also some great treats for our evening at camp: Brian had brought a cake mix to mark my birthday, and Jimmy brought a wide sampling of alcohols for me to test out. Thankfully, the air horn that Brian brought for a wake-up call was out of play since there was another family camping nearby. But we had an awesome cake cooked on the coals, and a pleasant evening for sleeping.

Except for one thing. Disaster struck again, and Brian and I spent the night sans sleeping bags, and Jimmy lost the use of his air mattress. Even though temps were right around 60 degrees, it was amazing just how easy it was to feel chilled. Brian persevered through the night, but I finally decided to don my bag at 4:30 to get some uninterrupted slumber.

We broke camp the next morning a little after 8, and quickly knocked out the remaining few miles to the cars. Just as we were debating adding in a few miles (our weekend probably topped out at about 13 miles, most of it flat), the skies opened up, and we beat a hasty retreat to the parking lot. We stopped in Cumberland for lunch, and made it back to DC before evening.

All in all, it was a worthy inaugural hike for something we hope to do again in future. I learned a few things from my own experience, and took in quite a bit from observing others. I'll be double checking my pack before heading out in future, and will keep the disaster cards handy for review. Thanks everyone for making it a memorable weekend!