Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Pinchot Trail - An FKT?

So in life no everything goes according to plan. Some of us handle changes better than others.

(I am personally in the latter category. I dislike changes to running plans and have a tougher time than I should with them. Lingering physiological effects remain until I claw myself to a solution to acclimate as best as possible. This does not always go smoothly.)

Without getting into a ton of details, my intentions to race my final pre-Twisted Branch tune-up at the Allegheny Front Trail Run were not able to come to pass. (Logistics are hard and stressful. I do not always handle stress too well.) Of course, I needed to do something that would work my mental race prep and effort. I needed to keep the plan. Due to a lack of options, I dug into the idea of an FKT.

After a survey of my friends, I settled on running the Pinchot Trail that is a part of the Pocono Plateau. Unlike the other options I had considered, it was 2 hours away as opposed to 4. Various sources for the trail listed it between 23 and 26 miles. Going by the posting at the trailhead, I'll call that the official non-GPS length of 23 miles. A slight bummer on the lower figure because 26 would be closer to the planned 50K. However, that tidbit was something I wouldn't really find out until I took the two hour drive on Saturday morning.

Hey! Guess what? Spoiler alert, I drove two hours up to Pinchot State Forest and the Pinchot Trail on Saturday morning.

Drive up was rather smooth. I listened to Adele and Lady Gaga on the way up. As I pulled into the parking at the trailhead, two other people were getting ready to start a hike. I would pass them on the trail later on. First things first. I had to gear up. I put on my old La Sportiva Vertical K's. I considered using Inov-8 Trail Rocs but opted for lighter and what I felt would be better grip. Fluid wise, I was going to be drinking Tailwind from my Nathan ExoDraw. Originally, I was thinking about an older larger Nathan bottle. (I don't even remember the model since I've had it for 5 years.) In the end, I settled for the soft flask primarily for the ability to have less bounce if I tuck it into the waist of my shorts. Solids would be in the form of ShotBlocs.

Things I knew going in: Blazes were orange. Parts of the trail were overgrown (thanks to David Stango for that info). I'm in Pennsylvania.

Things I learned before I started: 23 miles and not 26. (Oh well, guess I'll be done sooner.)

I was getting a later start than I wanted. Ideally, I would have been starting at 9am but 9:30 wasn't too far off. Plus with 3 less miles, it would work out, right?

Going in my expectation/goal for the 26 was under 4 hours.

At around 9:30, I hit the start on my GPS and off, I went. Within the first mile, I passed a couple that had been camping and the two hikers I saw in the lot. Shortly after, I popped out on the first intersection with an orange turn. I was confused. I didn't see the next blaze up. I pulled out the map I had on me and it looked like I was to go straight and bear left. Since there was some blazes on the right side of the tree I was staring at, I picked that route and went straight until I saw an orange diamond blaze marking a snowmobile trail. I know some places share uses so I figured I found the right way. However, I was not really seeing orange blazing. Then eventually I saw two posts with it. I continued without issue until I saw a car in a camping area. I was troubled by this. I hit a gravel road where I should have been able to go straight but could not. So I went left up the road. Eventually, I saw an intersection that had orange blaze on the right. At this point, I figured I went the right way.

Until...I stopped for a moment and looked left to see the trail I should have come up. Apparently, I messed up that original intersection. Knowing, I would not be satisfied with making up the route since it would not meet my criteria for why I was there, I headed back to where I started on the trail I missed. Not wanting to expend too much, I walked the bulk of this. Or I should say bushwhacked because this was clearly overgrown. The trail was below but the vegetation came over the trail making it so hard to see. Eventually, on my return, I saw the hikers and campers again. And also learned where I went wrong. When I popped out and went right, if I looked 300 meters mile up the road, I would have seen some orange. Not expecting it to have been that far. D'oh.

Anyways, I made it back to the trailhead. (5 mile warmup) I reset myself and my GPS. I swapped shoes and socks as my feet were damp. Plus, it was a tad rockier than I expected. (I expected rocks but a little more spacing.)

Just shy of 11am, attempted to go out again. Within the first tenth of a mile at the trail registry, my GPS dumped. Reset number 2. Satellite resync'd with the GPS and off for the third try. I moved through the first mile a little easier since I know some of the footing a tad better and definitely was moving better when I knew to go left off Powder Magazine. Up Sassafras Hill again was bushwhacking. At least I knew it was coming. Most of the time, I was looking through brush to avoid tripping over a rock or root. Eventually, I popped out to where I caught my mistake before at the junction with the North Line Trail. At first this opened up for a bit and made me think I would run some quick length. Yeah right. Back into the woods and being careful to not misstep. It was here on the downhill, I passed the two hikers from earlier in the morning. I commented how they probably are wondering what the heck I am doing and told them I was trying to rush the loop in one go as fast as possible. They were amazing I was staying upright on the rocky terrain. For much of what is referred to as the north loop, the brush had sizable sections of overgrowth. I'm glad I went counterclockwise for the trail as it would suck bushwhacking after 15 miles. I'd be sure to face-plant.

After around 6.8 miles, I hit the White Line trail which has a nice gently grade and which made me feel like I was moving. That is until I crossed into the lower South loop where I immediately hit some swamp trail. Following a mushy mile or so, I hit a patch of gravel rd (Tannery Rd) where I ended up missing a right turn into a deer enclosure. I didn't go too far off and realized quickly. Honestly, not sure why we go through the enclosure since we pop back out onto the same road less than a 1/4 mile later for the largest gravel road segment of the day. A quick right onto the Choke Creek trail starts out nice and straight and then gets a little twisty. The coverage was good. Despite it getting hotter, I was in the shade more that the north section which seemed to have more exposed sections. (It still had a lot of shade.)

Choke Creek was nice to be running along the creek. It was running so strong, it was like a mini river and a little 'flooded' as evidenced by where the trail was in relation to the water. (Like right next to it and visible signs of the banks having covered the trail). Now I was getting a little tired here and began to check my maps more to see how long I had to go. At the end of the day this would cost me more time than I should have lost. (In other words, there is meat still on the bone to be taken off the final time.)  At every intersection, I was trying to figure out where I had just gone. Also, the trail began to get rockier again. or at least it was seeming that way to me. It was either nice running or rocks. Never the two shall meet. I was clipping a rock or two here or there a tad more. I felt fine energy wise but was experiencing some mental drain. Not knowing the trail, I was working mentally harder guiding myself to not get lost and pace properly. I was trying to expect everything. What I really expected was some more butter. HAHA.

Eventually, I hit out to Bear Lake Rd for the final mile or so back to the trailhead. I was happy to hit the parking lot but had to keep going until I met the registry where I started. In the end, I tapped out/clocked in at 3:47:01 for a GPS reading of 21.65. Now, with the foliage, I'm sure it will skew the reading some. I would imagine it would amount closer to the 23.

That said, I'm glad I completed the loop and set the initial standard. Can it be done faster? Absolutely. I reasonably think 20 minutes can come off this time. Maybe I'll go after it again now that I know the trail. Maybe I'll do it in the spring when the temps are cool and the vegetation might be a bit less. Fall might be hard if leaves end up covering the trail. Still, I'm glad to have accomplished this in the face of adversity the trail itself through at me. Having to start 3 times tested my mental ability. I knew I would not be bearable for people if I failed. Now did this accomplish everything I needed it to? I'm not sure. I'm trying to figure that out. For's the data.

Pinchot Trail FKT - 8-5-17

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