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A Mudfest for the Ages

by Tom Armstrong — last modified Nov 20, 2015 10:39 AM

The 2015 Rachel Carson Trail Challenge

Relentless rains saturated the hills and valleys of western Pennsylvania for weeks before the 19th Annual Rachel Carson Trail Challenge. Cloudy skies and moderate temperatures mitigated the treachery of high streams and slippery trails, but nevertheless our completion rate plummeted to its lowest level in years. Brief glimmers of sunshine were followed by a late afternoon downpour, making the already treacherous hills even more so.

Turnpike construction north of Dorseyville posed a different challenge for our dedicated trail stewards. (Trail stewards love their work; if you wish to join this elite team, email info@rachelcarsontrails.org.) The bridge on Saxonburg Boulevard was slated for replacement in June, necessitating returning the route to Myers Hill (not seen since 2003) and a longer stretch of the Deer Creek valley. On June 20th, it was apparent that the trail along Deer Creek had been submerged only hours before the Challenge.

This reroute also added nearly 3/4 mile to the Full Challenge, combined with the extra distance to reach the Environmental Learning Center finish, made the total distance 35.9 miles, the longest Challenge ever, and contributed to the decreased completion rate.

A mood of apprehensive optimism prevailed at the Harmar shelter as we lined up and prepared to be scanned out by volunteers. "Crouse Run is a flood zone; forget your dry socks." "Long Run is a quagmire." "Murray Hill is gonna be a riot." "The bottom of Crawford has been a stream all week." And off we went, slip sliding our way to Harrison Hills. We sure know how to have a good time.

Veteran Challenger Joe Kulbacki reported that conditions rivaled the notorious 2003 Challenge which took place the year before Indiana Township kindly built the bridge over Deer Creek. Imagine the 2003 Challengers wading across a raging stream, getting totally soaked with 25 miles to go. Maybe we are getting soft.

Murray Hill was a riot indeed. Descent may in fact be more treacherous than ascent. The precipitous slope lubricated by weeks of rain and perhaps a high clay content was a human bobsled run. Hikers clung to small trees, alternately skidding on their feet or their back sides. Poles were the order of the day.

The Challenge is an event for people of all ages and abilities each with individual aspirations for their effort. Unlike a foot race, the "challenge" is not to win, but to endure, to finish the hike in one day. The lead mudder this year was Mark Frey of Pittsburgh who finished in 6:41. Beverly Jean Yates, 73, of Ridgway, PA weathered the mud and high water to finish in 11:39 providing genuine inspiration for all hikers, particularly those of us who are eligible for Social Security.

For the 34-mile Full Challenge, we had 580 participants scan out at North Park, and 375 or 64.7% made it to North Park within the official time of 15 hours, 4 minutes. This is the lowest completion rate since 2005.

For the 17-mile Homestead Challenge, we had 245 participants scan out at Springdale High School, and 229 or 93.5% reached Harrison Hills Park. Of those, 155 (63.3%) made it within the official time of 7 hours, 22 minutes1.

For the 7-mile Friends & Family Challenge, 21 groups set out from Tarentum, and all made it to Harrison Hills Park.

Many thanks to our fantastic volunteer crew: Joyce Appel, John Armstrong, Edgar & Maria Arranda-Michel & Ly, David Barton, Bob Bastone, Mary Bates, Tom Bates, Colin Beckwitt, Lisa Beers, Steve Beers, Judy Bishop, Judy Bishop, Lynn Bourchier, Patty Brunner, Bob Buchwald, Leslie Buchwald, Reanna Buzza, Sheri Buzza, Valerie Carpenter, Kelsey Chapman, Tony Chick, Heather Cianfrocco, Heidi Coltin, Linda Connors, Mike Connors, Richard Cook, Jim Crist, Mike Dailey, Arwen Davis, Joyce Davis, Pete Dawida, Asha Dean, Eric Deutsch, Suzy Deutsch, Gabriel Diamond, Kate Dickerson, Gineen Dutkovic, Heather Eilert, Nate Eilert, Sue English, Don Erdeljac, Mark Eyerman, David Fair, Kate Fissell, Tim Flaherty, Anne Flynn Schlicht, Kate Glodek, Lew Glodek, Tiffany Griffith, Robert Habegger, Melissa Havran, Paul Henry, Jim Holloway, Karen Howell, Laura Hrelec, Don Huber, Rachel Imhoff, Charity Istone, John Italiano, Anthony Joint, Ricky Jones, Shelby Jones, Nathaniel Kern, Mike King, Chris Klemens, Keith Klos, Ryan Knecht, Jason Kodat, Rhett Landry, Ed Lewkowicz, Jamie Littell, Tanner Littell, Joanne Maeder, Jaclyn Mazza, Jamie McCarron, David McConahy, Joyce McConahy, Megan McGee, Chelsea Merkel, Rob Mitchell, J.A. Mountain, Bob Mulshine, Cathy Nader-Syiek, Patrick Pagano, Jim Painter, Sara Peffer, Morgan Preziosi, Jay Rajgopal, John Recklitis, Brendan Redler, Bill Ringle, Karen Rivetti, Jeff Sarabok, Suzy Sarabok, Thomas Sarabok, Paul Sauers, Gail Schlichtkrull, Ken Schlichtkrull, Dottie Scurry, Ed Scurry, Meighan Seigel, Linda Shaffer, Susie Shages, Kelly Shannon, Charles Sheppard, Laura Silverman, Emily Simon, Anastasia Stolz, Donna Stolz, Ezra Stolz, Sharon Svitek, Greg Syiek, Samantha Syiek, Matt Tolbert, Nina Tomporoski, Gayle Truitt-Bean, Lisa Verdi, Ron Verdi, Erin Wagner, Carol Ward, Nicole Ward, Ashley Williams, Leo Wozniak, Rosemarie Wozniak, Linda Xenophontos, Carol Zellars, Don Ziegler, and Judy Ziegler.

And our sponsors & supporters:

  • UPMC
  • Doug and Carol MacPhail
  • dbStolz
  • Pytlik Design Associates
  • Skyview Radio Society
  • A-K Pulser Paramedic Response Unit
  • Emergency Physicians of Alle-Kiski

A special thanks to Eichenlaub and Independence Excavating for working with us to restore the Myers Hill route in time for the Challenge this year.

1The time limit for the Homestead Challenge is based on the length of the Full Challenge. This year, the length of the Full Challenge was 35.9 miles and the time limit for it is always 15 hours, 4 minutes, the length of the day on the summer solstice. That meant Full Challengers had to maintain an average pace of 25:10 (about 2.38 mph) to finish within that time. Homestead Challengers must maintain this same pace, but for less than half the distance, in order to finish within the time limit. A 25:10 pace for 17.55 miles made the time limit 7:21:55.

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