Monday, August 31, 2015

If I were some Pennsylvanian Female Sisyphus - this would be the hill I would want to climb forever, carrying you on my back...

I found out a couple months ago that this would be the very last Mega Transect as it is known to me.  As it is known to the people that have run it all 13 years.  As it is known to people that have run it two years, or however many years people can get out to this magical little place in the heart of the woods in the center of our state.

It was my third year, and I signed up for the camping, for the after party, for the training and the challenge, and for the family.

Not my family here safe at the house in Meadville.  They know how I feel about them.  They know I go out to the trails because I need something there that makes me who I am.

I needed the trail family.  The family that I've built since starting trail running in 2011.  The family that knows you'll get injured at some point, and can offer advice.  Or you'll get burned out and need some time away from the trails.  Or that you can't run as fast as they can, but because it's a training day, they'll run with you for a little bit, and find out how you are.  That kind of trail family.

This has been a rough year since January.  I wanted that comfortable banter, the nostalgia of past races with good people.  The laughter and joking and gentle ribbing of each other over a hard cider or a beer.

So I went to the last Mega.

I finished the last Mega.

And I cried a little on the way home from the last Mega.

I didn't take many photos this year.  And I didn't stick with any one person this year.  I saw my friend Jeff off in the morning, as he would go on to relish in the "playground" that is the course of this race, and he would come in third.  I know he was bummed that this would be his only opportunity to run it.

 I drank coffee with my friend Kim, as she toed the line with a few other friends, hoping to hike the course.  Her breath was taken away at the boulder field.  I'm glad she made it down to see what this place is like.

I ran a few miles with Paula and David, remembering how Dave stuck with me last year, and this year he stuck with Paula, who even coming off surgery, finished super strong.

I watched my friends Roger and Ken come up to the top of the boulder-field, looking strong and hooked on trails as always.

I caught up to my friend Daren, who cut at least an hour off his time and who is now hooked on trail ultras.

I climbed the final ascent with my friend Brian, who had paced me for my first 100 miler, and I had paced him on his.

I gave the race director, and another friend, Dave Hunter, a giant hug when I finished this indescribable race.

And I missed the other friends who I had met here before.  The people that I had ran this with before, the family in other places.

And there will be more races, and there will be adrenaline and excitement and awe again.

But on a year when it's been rough, I'll still let myself be a little sadder that there won't be that specific boulder field to carry my "rock" to the top.  There won't be the speck on that hill from the camping area.  There won't be that Raw trail to set me to trembling...

Thank you, Mega Transect.  For your hills and rocks and clambers, for the blood and sweat that I've left there, and for that spark that I'll be looking for again, that you put in my heart the first time I climbed that mist covered boulder field.  I'll be back again, if only in the stories I'll tell, and in the pictures I'll share of a place that has given me the best trail running memories in my life.

My first time on the boulder field with RD Dave Hunter.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I always had the idea to go visit them again in the future.  Always soon.  When things calmed down.  When I take a break from doing this crazy running thing.  When Eli gets older. When we do a cross country drive.  Or they'll be coming through here sometime on one of their adventures since they're both retired, then I can see them.

But my aunt passed away yesterday morning, suddenly and unexpectedly, and now I've lost that chance.

There's an emptiness and a grief now.  We always got a card at the holidays, we always got postcards.  There were facebook interactions, there was a visit when Eli was a baby.

But what I remember most was that joy between my aunt and my Dad's brother.  They were so in love whenever I saw them, so much fun to be around, so much kinship when we were all together as a family around my Grandma Hrach's dining room table, or crammed in the kitchen making sandwiches as everyone showed up for lunch.  I don't think we every laughed more when we were all together.

So my lovely aunt is gone.  But not gone, because she's in my heart.  She's in the hearts of my three lovely cousins and my uncle, and my cousins' beautiful babies.

Still my world feels a little dimmer today, but also a little smaller.  And today, I'll hug my son a little tighter, lean against my husband a little longer, and make sure the people I care about know that I care about them.

Today, live a full life, love deep, and forgive often.  You never know what will happen tomorrow.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Big Woods of Pennsylvania - A Long Walk

A journey always feels more epic when it starts with crashes of thunder, and that adrenaline burst that accompanies the arrival of a storm.

The Allegheny 100 Hiking Challenge (or A100 as those of us involved like to call it) is a point to point unsupported hiking event that happens in early June each year.  Though every two years it changes directions, this year we hiked north to south on the 100 mile portion of the North Country Scenic Trail that goes through the Allegheny National Forest.  The challenge starts Friday evening at 6pm, and finishes Sunday at 8pm.

Group photo right before the sky really opened up.

Myself and my good hiking buddies.

Now for those of you who are Ultra-runners, you know unsupported means, you have to carry all of your own stuff.  So we did.  

I've known for a year that I was going to do the challenge again this year after taking a hiatus from it last year to run The Highlands Sky 40 mile ultra.  I had done the challenge in 2013, and I still believe it was the best mental and physical training session I had to for the 100 mile ultra I ran that same year.
My hiking buddies not long after the start.

So this year it was back to it.  I have been gathering solo-hiking/camping gear for the past couple of years, and this year I decided last minute that I needed a few more things to be comfy.  I got a solo rain proof bivy (a tiny one person tent, really), a silk sleeping bag liner to use as my sleeping bag, since the temperatures would be warmer this year.  I also bought a ton of food.  I remembered not carrying enough food the first year, so this year I wanted to be prepared.

So Thursday night, I packed and repacked 3 or 4 times.  First, I wasn't happy with how things were fitting, so I changed packs.  Then I realized the orange pack was too big, so back to the red one.  Then I had too much food, so I split everything up into more baggies, and repacked the red bag again.  Then I went back through one LAST time and took only the things I needed to survive.  This meant eliminating a tiny flashlight (I had my headlamp), a hairbrush (who cares about hair in the woods), and the extra bag of Swedish red fish (they would wait at my resupply in the car).

Thing was, me and my hiking partners, Kim and Alisha, weren't quite sure how far we were going to make it this year.  The first year, we had all made it 50 miles, and last  year, Kim and Alisha had managed 50 as well.  This year we were shooting for 75 and had also arranged to keep going Monday to try to reach 100 miles if we had the feet for it still.  So I stashed a bunch of extra supplies in my car so that if my food-stuffs were depleted by 75 miles, I could grab some stuff to continue on.  Seventy-five miles was the goal.

 So after some car parking and juggling to get cars to as many access points as we thought we would need (one at the 100 mile finish, one at the official 75 mile finish, and one about 6 miles before the 75 mile finish), we were at the location to catch the bus to the start.  The bus ride was fun, as we chatted with fellow hikers who were doing the challenge.  There were about 100 people in total that were starting the challenge.  

We pulled up to the Willow Bay trail head parking area, and we could see a dark cloud to the west moving steadily closer.  We got off the bus, registered, then pulled our rain gear and pack covers on.  The organizers made a very brief announcement (the thunder was rumbling closer), then as the rain started, he shooed the 100 milers onto the trail, then everyone else just clumped across the road, climbed the guard-rail, and we were off, with a nice rain shower and rumblings of thunder sending us on our way nearly an hour before we were officially scheduled to start.  Five p.m. on Friday, and we sloshed into the Allegheny National forest, only about a mile south of the New York state line.

Inlet at Tracy Run and North Branch streams.  It had finished raining and everything was very calm.

Now before I get into the grit of the story, the ups the downs, the endless slogs through mud and many splashes through streams and run-offs, whether we survived (spoliers, we did), I want to go a little into what I had packed this year using what I learned from the first year.   I won't get into it it in excruciating detail, but if you want to know more, please email me!  

This year, my feet and food were my main priority.  There is no lack of fairly clean water in the forest, and this year the couple weeks leading up had been pretty wet, so all the streams were flowing nicely, and I took my steri pen and a pretty open mouthed .5 bottle to treat it before I poured it into my 2 liter hydration bladder.  This system worked fairly well, and we stopped a couple times a day to treat water and fill our bottles.

Stopping for water also gave me an opportunity to clean out shoes and socks (downstream from where water filling was happening - don't worry).  The mud and grit would collect in shoes and socks, making a gritty, cakey, toe-blistering haven.  So when we took a break, the shoes and socks came off and were rinsed out very completely.  I also had brought baby powder in a plastic bag, which I applied to my feet liberally before we slept each night.  Then in the morning before I put dry socks on (I had brought several pair of thin toe socks), I slathered my toes with Aquaphor.  I have to say, I had only one tiny blister when I was done, and my feet felt great.

The inlet leading from Johnnycake Run.  We stopped for a food break here.

So we were as prepared as we thought we could be, and were on our way.  The rain wasn't terrible, though I was glad to have my poncho and a hat on for the first hour.  The mud was slick.  There was no avoiding it, and the worst places were not where it was totally mucky, but where the trail was still mostly solid, but where there was a cant to the right or left or down where you would most likely slip off the trail if you weren't extremely careful.  Alisha and I both took some spills.  I fell on my knee on the second mile, and first blood was had by the trail.  It wasn't bad, just a long scrape.  I sloshed it of in the next creek, and we were on our way.

The forest was beautiful, if muddy.

Getting ready to move on from on of our first breaks.  A decent climb followed.

The trail is challenging.  There were some pretty good climbs that first evening.  As we were rolling into dusk, we left most of the muddiest portions and climbed up onto the ridge line.  I admit, I got a little homesick at this part, missing my family and my pups.  I had walked this portion with my older dog, Zoe a few times in the past couple of years, and I knew she wouldn't have done well on such a muddy long adventure. I missed her here though.

Up on the ridge, the trail was much nicer.

We started down from the ridge in a long descent that would bring us out on the road briefly to cross a bridge.  As it got darker, we saw other hiker's headlights in front of us, and lots of toads on the trail.  We must've seen more than a dozen of the little guys, and yes, I said hi to them all, but I just nudged them off the trail with my toe, or herded them off with my hiking pole.  

Our group of three had be joined by a friend of ours, Rob, and a new friend, Ashley, a hiker gent from West Virginia.  We spent the next few miles wandering along the edge of the Kinzua Reservoir.  We heard people whooping and hollering across the lake, so we whooped to them.  We saw people fishing along the edges with glow in the dark bobbers, and then, as we came out onto the road for a little even walking, we saw the lightning bugs.

Synchronous fireflies.  I had only learned about them a few weeks ago, and here they were along the edges of some weedy wetlands in the Allegheny National forest.  They all light up at the same time, and seeing it, was magical.  I grew up catching lightning bugs in Pittsburgh at my Grandma Hrach's house, in old margarine containers with holes punched in them.  At the end of a good night's catch, I'd just leave the container open and outside so they could all go free again.  The fireflies along Kinzua were amazing.  We didn't really stop, but for a good mile they kept up their light show.

After that, our friend Ashley stayed behind, wanting a break, and we pressed on, starting a long climb that would lead us to Route 59.  We planned to hike until around 1 am and then grab a few hours of sleep, wake at 5, and get back on the trail by 6.  After some challenging climbs, some thick fog, and some grown up areas where I clanked my poles together, just in case there were bears, we came upon this beautiful area of blooming mountain laurels (even at 12:30 at night).  The hills leveled out onto a double tracks with some clearings on the side, so we picked one and made our first night camp.

First night's camp set up.

The mountain laurel were amazing.

The double track with mountain laurel on each side.


As we continued and crossed 59, the terrain changed to a fern and peat moss covered area.  There was a small stream we stopped at in the morning to refill our bottles at, and it was crystal clear.  We followed it through the morning, and eventually it became a very wide stream.

So many ferns!

Though we had camped, none of us had rested very well.  I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep.  I may have dozed, but I was too wired from the night's excitement.  It hadn't rained since that first hour on the trail, but was overcast, so the hiking temperatures were perfect.  As the morning wore on, I stumbled here and there as I got sleepier.  I had brought a couple of flat cokes, an though I had drank one in the morning, the lack of caffeine was showing.

My other big problem for Saturday, was my left shoulder was radiating pain from carrying a 20+ pound pack.  I got to a point where I was lagging behind, and carrying my trekking poles, because it hurt my arm too much to swing it.  I finally begged some ibuprofen from Alisha, and after a short break, it felt good as new.
So many stream crossings - the water actually refreshed my feet most of the time, so I tromped right through.

My feet were also holding up well.  I really didn't try to avoid wet spots - I walked through them.  The mud was gritty, but it cooled my feet, and when we came to a stream in the late morning, we took about 10 minutes to again refill water and rinse out our shoes.

But our little group had a problem.  There were four of us sticking together, Alisha, Kim, myself and Rob.  Both Kim and myself were slow on the uphills, and we were losing time.  The four of us in our group discussed it, and we decided 50 miles would be enough of a challenge for us this year, with all the mud and rain.  We would contact Alisha's husband when we found signal.  So with the decision made, the stress of time taken off of us, we were able to enjoy the adventure a little more.

Checking the map.

Swedish fish - a endurance sport must for me.

A particularly beautiful foot care stopping place.

We came to route 321, and decided to have a lunch break on the bridge at Red Bridge.  Also it was an area with pretty good cell phone service, so both Alisha and Kim called their other halves and told them the updated plan.  Alisha told Rich we were going to go to the 50 mile mark (Henry's Mills), and that we would contact him when we had a better idea when we would be getting there on Sunday.  I think Kim told her Rob the same thing, but he said he could come get her right then, and she decided she would stop at Red Bridge, getting about 30 miles in for two days of hiking.  

Alisha and Rob G. and I finished our lunch with her, and then we all hiked down the road together, the three of us splitting from Kim when we reached the trail again.  She was going to walk a little further to a store to wait for her Rob to pick her up.  We gave hugs, instructions on gear (she was going to move stuff around for us), and we kept on going.

Our Red Bridge lunch spot.  Two other guys who were doing the challenge entertained us while we ate.

So we realized as we continued, that Kim had been smart, because the next hill was probably the hardest and steepest we had tackled yet.  The damn hill had us climbing about 500 feet in a little under a mile.  The nice thing though, the worst of the mud seemed to be behind us.  Oh it was still plenty squishy, and areas of mud and yuck, but not the canted slick stuff that we couldn't seem to get a footing on.
Alisha waiting patiently for me to take pictures.

Foot care break.

Rob waiting for Alisha and I to take care of our feet.

There were a lot of beautiful areas at the tail end of our Saturday hike.  We crossed route 6 to find a nice little area by a stream to take a break and take care of our feet.  We decided to hike to Fox's Dam, which had a few primitive camp site areas, and stop there for the night.  When we got there, it was still light, about 6:30, so we made a hot dinner (crap in a bag - it was so yummy), we washed up in the creek running by our campsite, and we set up the tarp.  It gave us enough time to sit and relax and talk, and still get a better night sleep then the night before.  Alisha and I chatted a bit into the night, but I learned, that if you want to talk to someone while camping, don't camp right next to a really charming rushing stream.  I also had an unreasonable panic attack during the night, because I kept thinking I heard voices or animals in the bubbling water sounds.  Lesson learned.

I also wondered at my own ability to keep going.  Alisha and Rob were both having foot issues, and Rob needed to be home Sunday early evening to help take care of his kids.  I debated continuing to the 75 mile mark alone, because I was feeling good.  But I really had no desire to go on on my own.  I thought maybe I could get them to drop me off at a different trailhead, and I would keep hiking on my own for a little bit.  I finally fell asleep debating how much further I could go on by myself.

Saturday night campsite.  I'm not sure why I didn't take a picture with the actual tarp set up... but it was getting dark quickly by the time I remembered.

We again woke at five, packed up and were on the trail a little after six.  We needed to do about 13 miles in 5 hours.  Totally doable.  We set off.

There's not much to say about the rest of the hike.  We gaped at the destruction left by a tornado still evident 30 years later in the uniform size of all the trees, and all the very large deadfall everywhere.  It was a dark and quiet area.  We came to some open areas through ferns where clouds of moths would rise up as we passed through.  It was like something out of a movie. 

Tionesta Scenic area, where in 1985, tornadoes tore a huge swath in the forest.

Alisha did get cell signal here, so we confirmed with Rich we would be at Henry's Mills around 11am.

Alisha was a good trail guide, having done the same section in the 2014 challenge, so as we started the long descent into Henry's Mills, we knew we were getting close.  Finally we heard Rich shout a greeting, and before we knew it, we were down and crossing the bridge, with a handful of people cheering us on.
The final part of the trail down.  Alisha waiting (not so patiently) for me to take pictures.

BURGERS!  They were making us burgers!  Rich had brought Alisha a diet coke, and me a Dr. Pepper, and even a root beer for Rob!  The burgers were the best tasting, and the sun had come out in the last couple of miles.  It was a perfect finish.  And I still felt good.  I ached, but it wasn't exhaustion, it was just a little over-use.

We chatted with a couple of the volunteers, threw our stuff in the car and gave a lift to another guy who had stopped at the 50 mile mark.  I decided I would go back to my car and dump my pack, and then determine if I would go out for a few more miles, or if I would drive home and enjoy a shower to get rid of my stench.

So I got back to my car, drank another Dr. Pepper, ate a candy bar, sat and enjoyed the AC for a little bit.  It had turned muggy and oppressive.  I got my trail map out, and took a look at where I was, and where I could go.  I was parked right on the North Country Trail.  And I could just hike or jog a direction down that way, but I started the car and drove up to another trail intersection, where the North Country trail intersects with the Tanbark trail.

I pulled up to the trailhead and got out of the car, and it immediately got dark and started pouring.  I climbed back into the car, and in a few minutes the shower had passed.  Then I realized I was a filthy mess and it wouldn't matter if I got rained on, so off I went.

This little guy was right by the trailhead.  He was a lot faster than his Oil Creek cousins.

Hrmmm.. which way to go...

The rain had pretty much stopped as I got going - crossed this road to get to the trail.

I started out walking, but my legs and feet felt pretty good, so I started a nice easy run. The trail was pretty flat in this area, and muddy, but I splashed and ran and jumped and felt really great.  My plan was to hike/run out 2.5 miles, then head back to the car, to try to get an extra 5 miles in, then clean up and go home.

Really beautiful section of pine woods in here.

Big rocks (for Kim's yard)

Now, everything would have gone fine, but suddenly it was getting darker.  And rumbly.  And then more rumbly.  I kept running at first, and then it started raining.  Then it was teeming down and the thunder was LOUD.  I looked down at my gps - 1.6 miles. Big boom of thunder.  That's plenty, I thought, and turned around.  Now it was dark and pouring and I was soaked, and worried that I had driven off to hike somewhere else, and I would be struck by lightning and killed and no one would every find me so I ran and ran and ran and then hiked and then ran more, and there was my car, finally, three miles later, and I was happy to be back at the car.

I'm really ok doing stuff by myself most of the time.  But when I'm alone, I'm my own worst enemy. I'm strong for people I'm with, and when I get alone, I yell at myself in my head for being stupid and wimpy.  I've been working on this with myself for many years, and though I've gotten better, I'm still way too rough on myself when doing unfamiliar things in unfamiliar places.   I've learned to be brave, but I haven't learned to be nice to myself about it all the time.

So being in the middle of the woods, and now pretty clean with the natural shower, I pulled off my clothes, dried off with an handkerchief, put nice clean dry clothing on, and got in the car and took a nice long drive home, back to my pups, back to my husband, back to my boy.

And next year I'll do even better.  Or do exactly the same.  I will have a great time either way.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Young-at-Heart - Bringing it Home.

When I was a little kid, I was in the woods a lot.  Don't get me wrong, I watched cartoons, played a good amount of video games, and had my nose crammed in books the rest of the time, but nothing made me happier than disappearing into the woods for hours and letting my imagination take over.

Now my imagination at my age isn't as great as it was back then, though having a seven year old does help a lot.  I find that trail running and hiking are by far the best activities for me to get back to that carefree kid mindset, even for a few hours here and there.  I think that might be a lot of what we all long for, is to put all those adult stresses on the back burner for a little while.  When I'm running down a trail, my mind is on the trail, avoiding a root, making my feet land in the surest looking spots, avoiding smooshing any critters on the trail, and just letting my skin and mind and being take in that world around me.

And knowing that it's still out there, going on without me, the woods, doing its thing, going on so next time it will be in some different stage of life... well it makes coming back home and rinsing the dirt and leaves down the drain not as bad, because I was there and part of it for a little while, and I'll go back and be part of it again, soon.

So today, twenty three miles of trail around Oil Creek state park.  Places on the trail become like photographs; they make me remember things that happened there in the past.  I saw a porcupine on a tree.  My dog was covered in burrs under some pines years ago.  I fell there.  And there.  Oh and there too!  It's nice to have a living photograph to go back and visit.

The fog in the morning was thick.  This is the overlook above the Wolfkiel switchbacks, and you normally can see the Miller Farm bridge down there.  Not today!

This is the beginning of a really long hill not to far from the switchbacks.  The nice thing is, it ends near a "magic" bus (someone's old hunting camp), and some really nice big rocks.
The next overlook wasn't quite as misty, but still hard to make out Oil Creek below.

Lady Slippers blooming near the Pioneer stairs.  The stairs lead to a split in the trail and a small parking area.  I saw lots of flowers on my run, but I'm not so good at identifying flowers.  

Overlook before the last long descent before Petroleum Center.  You can barely make out the bike bridge in the fog.

The beginning of about a mile long descent, I think it's my favorite on the trail, but I found a few on the 8 mile Wildcat Hollow loop that I'm going to have to explore a bit more.  I'm open minded about favorite downhills.  I'm fond of them all!

The oil derrick tableau.  

It started sprinkling as I came through this marshy section near the road I would cross to start into Wildcat Hollow.

The first very long uphill leading into the Wildcat loop.  It's amazing how green everything became in less than two weeks.

The rain was getting harder, and the mist was thicker.  When it's so foggy that I can't see, I sometimes like to pretend that I'm somewhere more exotic, like Bolivia, or Thailand, or Mercer (just kidding!).  I guess it's that kid in me.

Rainy field.  The rain was really pouring at this point, but the temp was warm, the rain was cool, and I didn't mind it.  

Eagle's nest in the mist.  I think I could make out a head poking out, but I didn't linger so that I didn't upset the kids or parents.

More mist - a bunch of deer jumped out at me right before this point, I think with the noise of the rain, I got a lot closer to the deer that I startled than I normally would have.  Fortunately I didn't surprise any bears the same way... well fortunately and unfortunately, because I do want to see more bears during my wanders, just not too close.

This southern most 8 mile loop from Petroleum Center to Route 8 and back has the most oil boom relics in the park.  Lots of barrels, old wells and machinery all along the trail.  Once again, it makes me wonder at nature, that it can come back from being stripped down to what it is today in a little over 150 years.  It's pretty amazing to think about when you're running along the lush trails.

It was fun to run through the tall wet grass.  It was very pretty, and I did check for ticks after. 

There's something inviting about a grass lined trail. 

I've only run in the Wildcat loop a few times, but I really love this mossy section.  Very nice on the feet.

Some of the trail was a little crumbly in sections, made a little worse by the rain and mud.  I went carefully, with no mishaps.  In fact, I didn't even fall once during my run yesterday.  

Oil Creek flowing nicely with all the rain.  The rain had pretty much stopped by this point, and I was drying out a little.  I was so glad I chose to wear my contacts and not my glasses.  It would've made for a very blurry run.

Though the rain had stopped, it was still pretty foggy in the woods.

I was coming back down into the wetter low areas towards the creek and getting closer to PC, and the skunk cabbage became more prolific.

The trail wound through the skunk cabbage, and I think I scared some frogs and toads as I ran through.

So I made it to Petroleum Center, filled up my water bottles, took a little break to eat some dried cranberries, and headed up the hill into the last part of the day, an eight mile section that would get me back to my car. I took my time up the hill, and this lovely part of the trail is at the crest of the hill right after the sign-in box.  A very runnable portion of the Gerard trail.

The fog had lifted so I could see the oil derrick tableau much better from the other side of the valley.  Luckily it was still cloudy, so I didn't have to worry about sun-burn, since the rain had thoroughly washed off all of my sunblock. And bug spray. But I was moving mostly too quick for the mosquitos to get me.  I thought that it would be neat if spiders were smart enough that you could train them to spin webs around your head so all the annoying buzzing insects could get caught by them.  I also thought about this because I must've walked through a hundred spider webs in the morning.  You can always tell when you're the first person on the trail...

There were a lot of these guys out on the trail.  I moved a bunch of them off the trail, and I may have talked to each one of them too.  Ahem.  

The outside of my left shoe was much worse than I thought it was.  I was worried the entire run that I was going to slip down a muddy slope and rip the side right out and have no support on the outside of my shoe.  Luckily it held out, but as you can see, it's ripped out at my pinky toe and then back down the outside of my foot.  I think these shoes have 2 months / 160 miles on them, maybe?

One of my favorite spots in the park.  I remember hiking here years ago and falling in love with it.  Not that I don't fall in love with most of the park.  I fall in love easily, and I fall hard.  Kind of like trail running.  Fall easy, fall a lot.  It's good for the soul and makes you tough!   Now I'm confusing myself.

This picture didn't come out as well as I liked, but this little red eft was all coiled up in a corner on the base of a tree, and looked like a mini dragon guarding his hoard of leaves.  
There were a lot of lady slippers out on the trail this year.  More than I can remember.  I even saw a couple of white ones.  These were on a section of the trail that I always say looks like you're out west, because of the pines and the rockiness of the trail.  It's about a mile before you reach the Cow Run camping area.

Right after I filled my bottles up at Cow Run (they weren't empty, but I topped them off), I heard these guys.  Ravens!  There must've been a family of five or six of them, calling to each other with gravelly voices, much rougher than a crow.  And I'm embarrassed to admit that I may have mimicked them for a good 5 minutes, and this one kept coming back to look at me.  Larger beak, rougher voice, definitely ravens.  Very cool that we have a family living at Oil Creek.

Heading up the beginning of the last hill, I saw this GIANT slug!  Leopard slug.  Makes sense I guess with all the spots.  The fun things you find when running in the rain.

Millepede.  I know.  I love critters.  When he started chewing on my hand, I let him go, gently.

I rinsed my feet in the cold water for a few minutes before heading up the last rise before the final downhill to Miller Farm road and my car, where I stashed a Dr. Pepper to reward myself for a run well done.

The last bit of trail down.  I ran easy down it, but overall, my legs still felt pretty darn good after twenty plus miles.  I can't wait to get back to the trails again!