getting lost on the trail (or: the tale of a thousand ticks)
I have a habit when I trail run alone (which is 100% of the time, of course) of getting “lost” when I’m on new trails. It’s not so much that I’m lost in the dangerous sense. Just.. turned around? Unsure of where to go, where the next trail intersection is? Mid-week I decided to conquer a trail I’d been meaning [told] to run, so I set out to get it. And I took my “somewhat-lost” status to a whole new level.
One of my favorite trails in Rothrock is the Tussey Mountain Trail (TMT). It’s a beautiful 8-mile out and back ridgetop run, and according to Michael Hermann, lead cartographer and founder of Purple Lizard Maps, one of the premier trails on the east coast. (Check out this interview with him on 98.7 The FREQ) When you reach the “end” at 4-miles in there’s a beer tap (not functioning, unfortunately) stuck into a tree stump. Along the four-mile trail, in addition to breathtaking views of the ridge-and-valley landscape of Central PA, there are a few other trails that meet up with it. One such trail is Shingle Path
When I first ran the TMT, I was told Shingle Path was a bitch: not well-maintained and not well-traveled. Lots of thorny brush that caused a lot of scraps and bleeding. But as with all vertical, it’s alluring and we (trail runners) end up seeking it out. Call it embracing the pain. Call it insanity. The trail has since been, uh, somewhat maintained. It appears a bit wider than before, but maybe it’s just that it’s winter turning to spring and so everything is dead. After my experience this week, I think that is it.
I decided to finally tackle Shingle Path. Originally I had intended to descend it from the TMT, but at the last minute, I decided to climb it. That is the proper way to approach steep trails, imho. Also, I needed some vert in my run and I needed to experience it the way it was originally intended to be experienced: bottom to top.
I parked at Bear Meadows Natural Area and took off north along the John Wert Trail, which follows Sinking Creek for 2.5 miles until it reaches the bend at Thickhead Mtn Road. The run along the creek was gorgeous. I had only run along the John Wert Trail once before in the opposite direction as an end to an epic 11-mile run. Last Wednesday it was sunny and warm, the creek was full and sounded magnificent. AND PEEPERS! I happened upon peepers! I was so excited. Here’s video evidence of my dorkiness.
Once I got to the Thickhead Mountain Road, I realized I had missed Shingle Path, so I went back to find it. I bushwacked a bit (ticks) to try and find a trail on the other side of the creek. When I couldn’t I decided to go back and run the gas line until it met up with Shingle Path, which ran east-west almost perpendicular to John Wert. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Smart even? I thought so, except for the rip-roaring spring that crossed the gas line with no way to cross. There was a tree down, but the width was no wider than my foot. I attempted to balance, but it was hard and it would sink into the creek as I inched along. If I fell in, the water would come up to my knees at least, and I just didn’t feel like dealing with that. So I looked for an alternative crossing in the wooded area. There was a tree down and an easy crossing, but the problem was, there was no path and no way back to the gas line. Let the bushwacking commence!
I bushwacked up some boulders, which led me further away from the gas line, since it was going more northwest and I was going west. At this point, I was bushwacking through tall rhododendrons, mountain laurel and ground shrubs. I was basically inviting ticks to feast on me. I made it back to the gas line at the crest of the hill, then ran down until Shingle Path intersected with it. I swore a lot at Shingle Path. Called it really nasty names. I knew this was the beginning of one complicated relationship. I was tempted to take it to the right (west) to see where it hit John Wert, but I was a bit demoralized by the bushwacking and wanted to make forward progress. So I ran it to Treaster Kettle Road, where there was a lovely sign for the ascent up the ridge. Very deceiving…. whoever made the sign makes the trail look so inviting. I knew better, of course. I took a break and this is where I first realized I had dozens of ticks CRAWLING on my pants. I picked and flicked took off clothes and shook them out and shook out my hair and EW EW EW. I picked one off of my belly. EW. (This is partly when I decided much of my hair needed to go, as you can see in another recent post.)
And then I began my “run” (slow hike) up Shingle Path. It was a bitch. It gradually got steeper and steeper and thicker and thicker with thorn bushes. I don’t think it was as bad as it had been when my friend ran it, but I do believe it was a matter of it being March. Along the way, I would stop to pick ticks off of me. 10 at a time. I’m not sure how long it took me to hike up Shingle Path. I do remember thinking it was quick and brutal, unlike, say… Spruce Gap (for those of you familiar with Rothrock trails).
I love the TMT anyways, but I had never been more happy to reach it. It was like meeting up with a dear friend. I took a break, took a video to post on Instagram, and did another de-ticking of my body. EWWWWWWW. I was cursing myself for not spraying before I ventured out (romantic, I know). The ticks were terrible! But I do believe they wouldn’t have been so bad if I had been able to stick to the trails AND had tick repellent on.
From there it was smooth sailing along the TMT down to Bear Meadows Road. I briefly considered taking Kettle to Treaster Kettle Road, but it looked thin and unused. I was tired of ticks. I ran along Jean Aron Path instead of the road, which was gorgeous.
So I got 7 miles, which is half of what I’m going to do next Friday. Yes, I’m running my first half marathon trail race. Why? Because I’m scared shitless to do it. Because doubt. Because this quote from the Ginger Runner.
Despite the bushwacking and ticks, it was a great run. And I felt a lot of good feelings while climbing up Shingle Path. For reasons.
here are a few more photos from my run: