The Slip 'n' Slide

The 2004 Rachel Carson Trail Challenge

Mother nature smiled upon the Challenge again this year, delivering near perfect weather for the annual 34-mile trek across the northeast quadrant of Allegheny County. It was overcast and cool in the morning then sunny and warmer in the afternoon for the cookout — probably not above 75 degrees all day. However, like last year, rain in the days beforehand created slick trail conditions which left many folks muddy and banged up, and one broken. This didn't keep many people from finishing, though, as our completion rate continued to climb, setting another record this year. We had 397 people head out on the trail and 311 — over 78% — finished. About 69% or 274 finished within the allotted time of 15 hours 4 minutes.

I was at Checkpoint 1 around 8:30 AM and I received a call from Jerry Hoffman, the Rachel Carson Trail Manager and Challenge participant. He said he encountered Karen Klinedinst, a Baltimore hiker who had fallen and broken her arm and he needed the closest road access. They were about a mile or so beyond Checkpoint 1. After discussing it, Jerry decided they would make their way back to the cell tower they had passed where they could use the service road to get the hiker to an ambulance. As it turned out there was a Comcast truck parked there and the driver was able to tell the ambulance how to get to the tower. Within 15 minutes the ambulance was there and she was on her way to the hospital.

I called Karen to find out how she was doing. She said she's okay, but she'll need to be in a cast for 6 weeks. She said she was standing at the top of a slope on muddy, wet grass waiting for other hikers to make their way down. While waiting, her feet went out from under her, she fell backward and broke her wrist. She's an avid hiker and this was her first broken bone. She told me she appreciated the assistance she received from her fellow hikers (see her email in the Letters section).

Around 9 AM I was on Route 28 heading south to Checkpoint 3 in the left lane and moving briskly. I saw two hikers walking on the shoulder ahead. Are these folks lost? I decelerated rapidly, pulled over and walked back to them. It was a man and a woman and they were clearly dressed for the Challenge. The woman was holding a trail guide. I asked if they were doing the Challenge and they replied, "sort of". The man explained the woman had a problem with her ankle and it helped to walk on a flat surface. They were on their way to Sheetz. I offered them a ride but they declined, and after confirming they were okay I resumed my trip. Challengers tend to be self-reliant, it seems.

The sturdy new bridge in Emmerling Park was a notable change. Spanning well above Deer Creek, it made the crossing a non-event. Not having to wade through knee-deep water, or any water for that matter, leaves little to make it memorable. I doubt many hikers were waxing nostaglic about it, though.

The crew from EMS in Ross Park Mall and South Hills Village did a great job at the cookout. They rented what looked to be a five-foot wide grill, filled it with charcoal and started flipping burgers, rolling hot dogs and turning chicken all day.

The new RFID time recording system had fewer problems than anticipated. The biggest problem turned out to be the number of tags that fell off. Apparently the safety pins didn't always latch tightly and would be knocked open by body movement. A number of tags were lost on the trail. We're working on fixing this problem.

It's worth noting that there were a lot of changes for us this year, some visible and some not:

  • We saw stewardship of the Rachel Carson Trail, the Baker Trail and the Challenge transition to a new organization, the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy (formerly known as the Harmony Trails Council). Hostelling International (AYH) formally relinquished involvement in January.
  • We switched to a new Internet-based registration system in order to reduce overhead and our need for volunteers to handle paperwork.
  • We developed and introduced a new RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) system to record participant times along the trail in order to increase accuracy, reduce our need for volunteers to record times, tabulate the data and enter the results into the computer, and to be able to post the results faster. We were able to post the results on Sunday night and had only one correction. Last year it took well over a week and we had many corrections.
  • We (re)introduced trail sweeps to hike the trail between checkpoints looking for lost or injured hikers.
  • We had our Checkpoint Supervisors purchase the food for their checkpoint. We gave them a list of suggested food but they could deviate from that as they saw fit.

Even with all these changes (and let's not forget a trail route change thrown in there too), our trail maintainers and marshals came together and pulled off another great Rachel Carson Trail Challenge. Thanks to our volunteers for a job well done: Joyce Appel, Mary Bates, Tom Bates, Jan Bennett, Charlie Brethauer, Jim Brochhausen, Merry Brumbaugh, Susan Brumbaugh, Patty Brunner, Brenda Cesare, Leah Cohen, Denise Cox, Jim Crist, Jim Drummond, Miriam Doutriaux, Marilyn Feke, Sue Fink, Pat Goebl, Ron Hannan, Paul Henry, Eileen Karnavas, Diane Kostka, Lyn Lang, Joanne LaRose, Tom Loebig, Jim McNulty, Joan McNulty, Bob Miller, Sue Miller, Andy Mowrey, Bob Mulshine, Susan Mulshine, Keith Pelkey, Melinda Pelkey, Brenda Popovich, Norma Raiff, Richard Raiff, Don Rice, Carolyn Rohan, Melissa Rohan, Nick Snyder, Nancy Stillson, Dave Syiek, and Kelly Williams.

The Challenge is important because it provides our only source of funds to support maintenance activities on the Rachel Carson Trail and the Baker Trail. Please help us keep it going by volunteering or recruiting volunteers.

— Steve Mentzer