A quick trip report since I was in and out of the trip all weekend. I'll let others fill in.
So, the plan was to walk all 84 miles of the Susquehannock Trail from Thursday night to Monday morning. This would be my third time around this loop, and I admit it has a special place in my memory. Back in 2012, before the backpacking book, before I became organizer, before Max and I did Iceland, this was my first time backpacking multiple 20-mile days.
We formed into an early group and a later group. Me, Marika, Alex, Evan, Zak, Chris, and Bryan started out from the northern portal clockwise at about 7:30pm Thursday evening, expecting Karan, Andrew, and Steve to catch us the next day. There are seven fairly easy miles to Lyman Run and a good campsite there. The weather was cool and wet and we strolled through forests of ferns. I had carried a camera and I took pictures from a vista.
I did have a premonition. I dropped back as night came on, thinking that Marika didn't much care for walking in the dark. We put on our headlamps. Just about 2 miles shy of camp, around 9pm, Marika fell rather hard. She stated that she heard her leg snap. I palpated her leg, determined where the pain was, and concluded she wasn't going any farther. We moved her a few feet forward to where she could camp.
I hiked forward 2 miles to Lyman Run Road to inform the others of what happened, then returned to where Marika had set up camp. We figured it was either a break or a bad sprain. I set up my hammock and dozed off as the rain started.
The next morning, Steve, Karan, and Andrew came up at about 7:30am. We discussed what to do. Marika was camped very near an ATV road that was broad but very muddy. I took Karan's keys. After the others headed out, I set out to walk back to the cars and get Marika to a hospital. First, I walked up the road to determine if I could reasonably get a car down it. It seemed awfully muddy. I jumped back on the STS and made good time back to the northern portal, where there is the district forestry office. We talked it over and they decided it was best if they sent a truck to bring her out. I drove over to the ATV road, where Paul, a ranger, met me. We drove down and got Marika--I think Karan's vehicle would have ended in a ditch, as the big truck was fish-tailing all about.
With Marika back in the car, we headed to the hospital. They determined that it was a break, and we got her set up in a nearby hotel.
I drove around to Lyman's Run Road and re-started the trail at 1:30pm. I set off in the episodic rain with thoughts of catching the others. As I realized at Cherry Springs Firetower, where there is a register, I was a good 5-6 hours behind. I persevered, however, backpacking till 9pm. At that point, I was about at 24 miles into the trail. The main group was camped at about mile 29. I was spent and settled in for the night.
The next morning, I figured I would have to backpack 30 miles to catch the group in the Hammersley. This seemed a bit excessive (I'm not as fit as I should be), and I worried that if I fell a little short, people would be worried about me and might overreact. I also had Karan's keys.
So, I turned around and backpacked back to my car at Lymans Run. So, my insane route had been the beginning to mile 7 and back. Then, mile 7 to mile 24, and back! A total of 48 miles. Just the wrong 48.
I drove my car to Deb's in Cross Fork, where I caught everyone and informed them of what had happened. We had a good laugh and a good meal. Chris was feeling sick, and so I dropped him off at his car, then returned to the hotel where I spent Saturday and Sunday nights, hanging out with Marika.
Monday, we re-assembled and drove home, stopped off at ABC in Harrisburg.
Obviously, this wasn't how things were planned, but equally obviously, we did a good job of taking care of everybody on the trail. The doctor at the hospital stated that we handled the break pretty well, so that was good. We got some good first aid practice and emergency management.
Congrats to Evan, Zak, Bryan, Steve, Karan, Alex, and Andrew for completing one of the longer trails DC UL routinely does! I'll let you guys tell your stories as I was there for so little of it!
Perhaps I'll go back soon! I know Jen would like to go!
Meanwhile, back at our Thursday night's camp near Lyman Run Rd after Bryan, Zak, Chris, Alex, and I waited . . .
Michael (U-Turn) arrived out of the frog-croaking night and delivered the somber news about Marika. He took a shot of whisky and marched back out into the darkness.
"It feels like the part in Fellowship of the Ring when Gandalf falls at the Bridge of
Khazad-dûm," I said. Several LOTR comments follow. We knew that the crew hiking in tomorrow would pass them and give us an update. We hoped Michael would appear again Gandalf-like on the trail.
Friday, our first full day on the trail, started out after a full and strong night of rain. Clearing up as we woke, we kept our rain gear handy and before we even set out Karan, Andrew, and Steve rolled into camp. They had got up super early after four hours of sleep and hiked the first seven miles we had done the night before while we lazed about in our sleeping bags that morning listening to the rain. We were off!
It was a magic, fairy tale like setting of vibrant greens and delicate ferns as far as the eye could see. And the rain forest feel of the trail and its environs was emphasized by, well, rain. But never a real rain, mind you. Just the type of showers that at first felt like wind blowing residual water off the leaves above us, steadying into a real downpour just to convince us to put our rain stuff on, and then promptly disappearing. We marched up and down the small STS ridges, including the aptly named Cardiac Climb, met a couple trail maintainers, and regrouped with each other in the morning to admire some well-formed beaver ponds.
As we drew close to Ole Bull State Park in the afternoon, we hoped that Michael would be there. It seemed the likeliest place to meet back up with us if most of his day was spent getting Marika situated. He wasn't there. After an hour or so, we took off again up the ridge and managed a few more miles until we found our camp for the night nestled between a couple hunting cottages. One of the cottages was nice enough to let us use their fine fire ring and benches. We thanked them in their absence.
On Saturday we marched back into the wonderland of ferns and survived Spook Hollow (barely) before coming out into a bright and sunny day. Heck, I even found a swing set by another cottage and pretended I was back in elementary school for a few minutes. We trudged on, very motivated to hike the 19 miles or so to make it to Cross Fork and Deb's as fast as possible. We didn't rush it too much. The terrain in this section was some of my favorite of the trail. Italian Hollow was amazing and the gas lines and their clear cut views seemed to be a favorite of everyone. We even enjoyed the brand new STS shelter, complete with Captain's chairs and what seemed to be a full kitchen set hanging from the rafters. But we would not stop for long. Burgers and brews awaited us at Deb's. (The STS shared the trail this day with about nine miles of the Donut Hole Trail as well, for anyone keeping track of where exactly all this takes place.)
Karan, Andrew, and I rolled into Deb's around 3 p.m. It was packed with ATVers and a fishing competition crowd. No matter. I made a beeline to the bar and got a pitcher going while the other guys fixed their feet and hit the head. We then settled in and waited for the end of the lunch rush in the slammed Deb's and drank our beer (they actually felt sorry we had to wait so long and gave us a second pitcher for free). We didn't care. We were waiting for the rest of the crew to roll in. The surly waitress at the beginning of our Deb's experience eventually warmed to us and even sat down to share some stories while we waited for our food.
The crew sauntered in, and -- voila!-- Michale/U-Turn/Gandalf appeared just in time to tell us of Marika's fate and his attempt to catch us on the trail the day before. He even used his wizardly magic to help Chris off the trail, who got sick in the middle of the day. We said our farewells again and marched up and out of Cross Fork after being warned by a local to beware of rattlesnakes. We camped for the night in a great site in the beginning of the Hammersley Wild Area and slept off our beers and burgers.
Sunday dawned and we marched through a rather overgrown Hammersley section of the trail that likely got all of us with some combination of nettles, ticks, or scratches. But it was cool and sunny and nobody seemed to mind too much. We eventually emerged into the wide open sun of a river valley that gave us bright, blue skies and another road to cross. We spent the afternoon trying to get our twenty miles for the day done as fast as possible thanks to the evening threat of a hard rainstorm. With the exception of Alex, the rest of us made it into the amazing camp area of Ford's Hollow in time to make a fire, enjoy the beautiful valley, and relax our battered and wet feet. Thunder and lightning crashed down as the sun set and we received another heavy dose of rain all night long.
But on our last (short) morning, we woke to the end of the rain and a rather event-free finale to the trail as we pounded out our final nine miles. Everyone strolled back into the parking lot at about the same time, greeted Michael and Marika, and efficiently made our way back, via a delicious Appalachian Brewing Company lunch, to the DC area.
The STS delivered on its multi-day allure through diverse and magical forests (with a smattering of state parks and towns along the way). We only saw one other backpacking tent on the whole trail. It gave us some of the best weather I've hiked in during the spring. It also reminded us that backpacking comes with its dangers even in the mid-Atlantic -- from the severe threat of falls that break bones to the more subtle threat of ticks that seem like unstoppable vampires.
Since geargasm is right around the corner and many core members have just completed WFA training, it's probably relevant to ask, "what additional gear should you have been carrying if you were to deal with Marika's break?"
While I found the 4" compression bandage with hook-and-loop closures helpful, I recognize the many in DC UL don't carry any compression bandages. They are particularly helpful for splints, where-by one can compress the padding to create a solid binding to the appendage. An inflatable pad can be made to work too, provided one has enough cordage to secure it and can avoid it getting punctured.
In theory, a SAM split would have been awesome, but in practice, it's too much weight to carry for such a specialized use. And with enough practice, one can produce acceptable improvised splits. But it's unreasonable to expect to produce an improvised split without any supplies or extra gear...
There was some discussion on the trail of a tick key vs just using tweezers. The bigger item is just doing a sufficient tick check every night. I know that I only found one of the ticks on me as I was absentmindedly doing a tick check when talking on the phone after getting home.
Another piece of lightweight gear that I've found handy recently has been the Petzl e-light. It's right around 1oz, so is as light as carrying a spare set of batteries. While the run time is a bit limited, I've already loaned mine out once this spring for night hiking when someone packed a non-functioning headlamp, which has occurred on more than one trip.