An Amazing Day

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge June 23, 2007

Wow, what a day. Everything came together — the weather, the trail, the training, the participants, the volunteers — to allow many participants to not only finish, but set new personal best times by a good margin.

For the 34-mile Challenge we had 570 start out at North Park. Of those, 469 (82%) finished at Harrison Hills Park, with 449 (79%) completing the trek within the official 15:04 time limit.

For the 18-mile Homestead Challenge, we had 96 start from North Park, with 94 (98%) finishing at the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale and 76 (79%) within the official 8:10 time limit.

For the 8-mile Family Challenge, we had 5 families start at Emmerling Park, and all five finished at the Rachel Carson Homestead.

The sunny and mild weather was an ideal balance for particpants and volunteers. Temperatures started out in the upper 50s in the morning, which felt cold as you waited in line to scan out. Runners took advantage of the cool morning, the first ones covering the 8.2 miles to the Shaffer Road checkpoint in about 70 minutes. It warmed into the mid 70s by the afternoon, although in the sun it felt hotter. This was perfect weather for the picnic at Harrison Hills Park, and folks relaxed, ate, and chatted about the experience. And then ate some more.

We had two cases of dehydration severe enough that it necessitated an ambulance being called. It's likely many others were also dehydrated, just not as bad. Perhaps the mild weather tricked people into thinking they didn't need to drink as much?

Chris Petit, the first finisher, set a course-record smashing time of 6:12:18. The previous record was 7:16:54 set in 2005 by Dario Donatelli, Jr. Although Logistics Marshal Don Erdeljac learned that Chris and some others missed a signficant turn on the course, even if you factor in additional time to account for the missed section, the course record would still fall.

Many set new personal best times this year, some unexpectedly. Charlie Brethauer cut his 2005 finish time by 25 minutes and says "I had calf cramps and never felt really energetic that day, so my improved time was a surprise." Jill Horvatic, in her second Challenge, improved her time by more than four hours!

The trail was in great condition. Not wet, and not too dry. It was well cleared, and even the "roller coaster" was mowed by Mark Eyerman and Dewaine Beard the week prior to the Challenge, to the delight and amazement of many. It surely contributed to the faster times this year.

The turnout for the special Homestead and Family Challenge events this year, both ending at the Rachel Carson Homestead, was very good. We may continue them in the years to come, depending on requests and our resources.

The Challenge exists to benefit the Rachel Carson Trail and the Baker Trail. The proceeds allow us to purchase supplies and equipment to maintain the trails, thereby allowing us to stage events such as the Challenge and the UltraChallenge and folks to enjoy them year-round.

We thank our generous volunteers who worked very hard to make the Challenge and great event and a great experience for everyone: Joyce Appel, Alberta Asbury, Dana Asbury, Bobbi Bartlett, Mary Bates, Tom Bates, Jan Berg, Marc Bilder, Bob Boehmer, Patty Brunner, Todd Chambers, Emma Crist, Jim Crist, Rudy Duda, Steve Edlis, Don Erdeljac, Mark Eyerman, Sue Fink, Kate Fissell, Laura Gailey, Dee Garvin, Missy Geyer, Dawn Grainer, Meg Hannan, Ron Hannan, Paul Henry, Phil Hirsch, Charity Istone, Aaron Johnson, Cathleen Jordan, Andy Karnavas, Eileen Karnavas, Debbi Kent, Ann King, Christian Kline, Patricia Kline, Diane Kostka, Joe Kostka, John Kostka, Joe Kulbacki, Chrissy Lopez, Peggy MacMillan, Jamie McCarron, Bill McIlroy, Lynn McIlroy, Brian Moore, Judy Moore, Frank Noll, Jeff Pepper, Joel Platt, Annmarie Rice, Don Rice, Natalie Rice, Rosemary Rice, Marc Rubin, Donna Ruff, Susie Shages, Andrea Shymatta, Sarah Soster, Anastasia Stolz, Lee Wagner, Janet Weener, Mike Wozetek, Linda Xenophontos, and Katie Zellars.

— Steve Mentzer

"Just another Sunday" by participant Bob Mulshine

It’s mid-afternoon on the day after. I ate a slice of apple pie for breakfast along with a handful of pecans and a handful of blueberries. Washed it all down with a sports drink. Lunch was a steak and another slice of apple pie accompanied by Diet Pepsi. I drank a 20 oz bottle of water between meals. I also mowed the lawn, whacked the trim and edged the driveway and sidewalk. Pretty unremarkable compared to yesterday.

Yesterday I walked, slid, slipped, stumbled and jogged to complete the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge. This was the 11th year the Challenge was held and my third time as a participant. The Challenge is to cover a 34-mile section of the Rachel Carson Trail, by foot, during daylight. The feat is made easier by scheduling it on the weekend closest to the summer solstice so that the maximum amount of daylight is available. The Challenge is made harder by the sadistically difficult terrain. The hills are the obvious muscle maulers. There are 9717 feet of uphill elevation and 9705 feet down hill. A mile is 5280 feet. The Pitt Cathedral of Learning is 535 feet tall. People completing the Challenge will have walked the equivalent of going up and down the Cathedral of Learning 18 times plus a lot of terrain in between.

The trail has a lot of variety, beyond up and down hills. We went through four parks, through woods, along and over streams, past three ponds, along a railroad track, through a horse pasture full of horses and through high places with views of the Allegheny River. It is mostly on private property. Landowners have graciously granted permission for it’s use as a hiking trail. It is not an "improved" hiking trail. Although it runs through parks and other pretty places for the most part it tracks with utility rights of way. These properties are too narrow to allow for switchbacks so most of the hills require walking straight up and negotiating the straight down any way that you can. As an added bonus there is no shade. If this were a ski resort most of these hills would be classed Black Diamond. I use a pair of carbide tip hiking sticks to get down without sliding on my butt.

The weather cooperated this year. The course was much drier than it has been the last three years. The temperature topped out in the 70s. I did, however notice two separate ambulances: one at the last checkpoint and one at the finish area. The rumor at each was that someone had become ill from dehydration. The last two years I had not seen any ambulances.

Pain is involved. I hurt so much after the hike that I had a hard time sitting still. Cramps keep attacking my feet and thighs. This year I even had a cramp fold the thumb in on my left hand. I had a hard time sleeping last night. I am feeling fine today but know that my thighs will ache tomorrow. They will mostly complain when I am getting up from a sitting position. Tuesday will find me back to normal except for a little foot tenderness. Of course some people will have developed blisters which can take a week or more to heal and many people will end up with black toenails that will take months to clear up or the toenail may fall off.

I know why I do this hike. I do it for the rush of pushing myself really hard and finding that there is more there and finding that there is more there and finding that there is more there. This might be an ego thing or a chemical thing or just reassurance that I am going to live for a little longer. I am not sure about the underlying cause but I know that when I finish I am in a lot of pain but deliciously happy.

There is another big reason. I do it because it is outrageous enough and hard enough that I have to train to keep from getting hurt badly or embarrassing myself. The hike itself is not what I get a health benefit from. It is the training and the occasional turning away of a portion of food when I remember how much work it takes to hike with extra weight. Eating comes naturally to me, exercising does not. The Challenge gives me the incentive I need to exercise more.

The training hikes, sponsored and organized by the Conservancy, are especially fun. They take the Challenge course and break it into 4 segments. They do segments 1 and 2 on Saturday and Sunday 3 weeks before the Challenge. They do sections 3 and 4 on the following Saturday and Sunday, two weeks before the Challenge. These shorter hikes in the company of new hikers and experienced hikers are enjoyable morning affairs that aren’t likely to give blisters and sore muscles. They are in many ways more enjoyable than the Challenge because there is no pain involved.

The Challenge accepts 600 registrants. I assume there are 600 different reasons why these people sign up for such a demanding event. I am amazed while I hike with these people at the diversity. There are young adults and people over 60. There are plenty of both genders. People are walking as couples, families, groups of friends as well as numerous solo walkers. There are people in expensive outfits (one woman I saw had everything matching in different shades of blue including her water bottles) and people using cut off hockey sticks for a hiking staff. There are hiking boots, running shoes and trail running shoes. There are people in short sleeve shirts and long sleeve shirts, shorts and long pants. There are people that carried large packs and people that carried nothing. There is variety in everything. Yet everyone seems to be unified in their enjoyment of the Challenge and the determination to finish at their level of competitiveness.

This exhilarating experience would not be possible without the many hard working volunteers that plan and host the Challenge. Many people work on this event year round and on the day of the Challenge there are people working from before sunrise to after sunset. I really appreciate the gift they are giving to the rest of us.

I'd like to get out there again next year. Maybe I'll see you.

-Bob Mulshine