Third time’s a charm: Part 1

By Jim T. Ryan, Hooligan-in-Chief

Sunrise over Williamsport, Pa., June 22 – BFT Day 1

So I guess the third time’s a charm?

Maybe. We did not complete the Black Forest Trail in June. And I think this latest defeat has weighed heavily enough on me that here I am, nearly two months later, finally giving some kind report as to why.

I’ll be 35 this year so there are some truths I’ve had to accept about my body. 1) Two years ago I retired from competitive soccer, hanging up my boots for the whistle and clipboard of youth coaching. My knees could no longer handle repeated slide-tackles from guys 10 years younger, nor the strain and endurance necessary to run non-stop for 90 minutes. 2) It takes me at least a month to prepare basically for any type of endurance challenge, particularly with strengthening those knees battered over the decades by the shear force of 150-pound men streaking along the ground at 20 miles an hour intent on colliding with my legs already battered from running, jumping, shooting and passing.

And unfortunately, I did not prepare well enough for this latest trip to the Black Forest Trail to prevent my knees from buckling under me after a day and a half.


I guess you could say this latest attempt on BFT didn’t start out ideally. Josh Stadler and I like to party. We work hard and we play hard, so downing 8 beers and staying up until 1 a.m. when you want to start a 42-mile trail at 7 a.m. isn’t really a second thought to us. Of course, someone always says, “It’s midnight, man. We better hit the hay because we have to get up in 5 hours.”

But let’s be honest, that’s just the warning bell for another hour of drinking and conversation.

Enter 5 a.m. alarms, a massive hangover, and now an hour drive. This is gonna hurt.

Mountains flanking Pine Creek Gorge loom ahead
on Route 44 north, Jersey Shore, Pa. – BFT Day 1

Actually, we didn’t do too bad. Stopped for breakfast as some small diner in Williamsport before hitting the road.

The drive droned on and once we reached the mile 24 trailhead on Route 44 in Tiadaghton State Forest, the excitement bubbled to a head. Let’s get going! Let’s do this thing! I thought. But the rational side of my brain said, Slow down jackass, you’re about to vomit breakfast! My liver and stomach concurred.

And then I heard growling from the other side of the truck. A bear! Oh my God!

Nope. Just Josh… projectile vomiting his breakfast into the underbrush. Hadn’t seen him do that since college. Good times.

“You OK, man?”

“Yeah…” RALPH!!!! “…I’m…” HOOOOAAARRRRRRFFFF!!!!!!!!!!! “…alright.”

And then, on we went. Despite our handicap, we made good time knocking out 3 miles in less than an hour, even passing a six-person group that had stopped to fill up on water at a muddy creek. We were kicking butt, on good pace to knock out our 20-mile goal by the end of the day, with plenty of time for lunch and sightseeing.

BFT Day 1, mile ~0.3 – Naval Run overlook. Hemlock Mountain (2,080 feet)
on the right and Twin Mountain (2,200 feet) can be seen in the distance.

We crested a hill and decided to take a break.

“Oh shit,” Josh exclaimed, searching his bag for the map. “No, I didn’t.”

Turns out, Josh had taken the map out to look at it before we left and set it on the driver’s seat of his truck. And I left my copy behind thinking it wouldn’t matter.

With no map, we quickly assessed our options. 1) continue on without it. Not a good option. We found out last winter that the BFT can be sparsely marked in some spots and has been changed on occasion even from the map we did have. No. We needed to go back. 2) One of us dumps a pack, runs back and returns with the map. Not the ideal option. Leaves both individuals alone in the wilderness and vulnerable if something happens. 3) Stash the packs in place, return to the car, retrieve the maps and return. But do we trust that something, homosapien or other mammal, wouldn’t tear through our packs to steal the food and gear? No.

Back to the car we went. Luckily, we were able to hit a cross road that took us there in no time at all. Backtracking is probably the worst thing that any trekker can do. It’s an instantaneous defeat that wears on your morale, as well as your physic endurance.

And my knees hate gravel roads. But this journey wasn’t over yet, even if we hit our first snag after just 3 miles.

To be continued…

Next time: Shortcuts to the rescue, strange wildlife, jungle-like forests and breathtaking views.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.