Elk Trail 27M, Benezette, PA
Elevation: 932'
October 6, 2011 - "Time is but the stream I go a fishing in."  I've always 
admired Thoreau, maybe as much as anyone, because he was an original and
cut a fresh swath across the universe with his life.  I like to think I do it my way
as well.  Today's jaunt through the Pennsylvania backwoods is a case in point.
The streams I go "a fishing in" are rarely straight and narrow as time is for
most mortal men; time for me winds through life like a wild river, with eddies,
varying widths, and unpredictable depth changes.  While my effort today took
nearly six hours, it went by both quickly and yet seemed to last all day. The
demands of the trail required varying degrees of focus and agility to negotiate
without falling or injuring myself, again. 

Running this fairly new trail has been a recent objective.  The distance suited
my level of fitness and I wanted to see some elk in an area where they are
known to thrive in Pennsylvania.  While I flushed maybe a dozen grouse and
saw three deer and countless squirrels, there were no elk in my path this day -
just some fresh tracks and a sizable tree that a bull shredded clean to remove
the velvet from its antlers.

Parking at the southern terminus of the trail, west of the village of Benezette,
I proceeded gradually uphill for the first four miles to crest out on the Allegheny 
Plateau, probably above 2000 feet.  The trail was mostly single track, alternating
with service roads through the woods that also served as bridal trails.  Once
on top, the single track resumed across two gravel access roads, down into
another watershed and back up to the Plateau, before losing elevation just
as gradually on mostly single track to the northern terminus.  There were some
recovered strip mines on top that showed little remaining damage after so many 
years.  Overall, this is one of the more beautiful trails I have chased down across
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and I've done quite a few.  It was fairly
easy on the legs, without excessive roots and rocks to trip one up.  Most of the
single track was over smooth ground covered with freshly fallen leaves that had
the recognizable smell of autumn.

The temperature at the start was a damp 39 degrees.  By the time I finished
the thermometer in the car read 60 degrees.  I dressed appropriately to handle
both extremes comfortably and had enough gels and e-caps to comfortably
finish.  Since the distance was 27 miles I needed to take on some wild water from
two sources, but neither caused me intestinal problems.  If a person watches the
source, wild water is pretty free of giardia, crypto, parasites, and amoebas in
Pennsylvania.  Not too often have I been wrong.

I covered the 16 miles of trail in 3 hours and 50 minutes, or at slightly better
than a 4 mph pace.  Given that I was tired to begin with from helping my 
neighbor unload tons of furniture and boxes two days before, and given that I
backed into the end of my wheel barrow handle with the back of my leg and had
an extremely tender lower hamstring muscle, it surprised me that I was able to
even maintain that pace through the woods.  Once I hit the road at Dent's Run
at the end of the trail it was comfortable picking the pace up to my usual tempo
of 6 mph in training.  This pace I was able to mostly keep for the final two
hours and 11 or so miles on Highway 555 back to where my car was parked in
Benezette.  Running the road was sweaty business, but I actually felt better
after leaving the trail.  My wrecked Achilles was beginning to complain with some
burning on the trails, so I opted to return to the car on the roads rather than risk
potential disaster returning via the trail.

It was a satisfying day.  While I do reference the time from my watch, keeping
track of time didn't really figure into my day.  I knew I had all day and plenty of
time to just relax and find the tempo that was most efficient, as well as safe.
I stopped often to reroute around windfalls or to eat gels without making a mess.
My momentum was broken most often - probably 25 or 30 times - by getting off
course and having to figure out which way the blazes were taking me.  If I had
one complaint it would be that much of the trail leaves too much to the 
imagination, in terms of guidance.  It is clearly a trail that is used infrequently
so that much of it is more like bushwhacking than trail-running.  It was a bit of
a challenge at many places with multiple options without visible blazes to offer
direction.  Thank goodness I have a good sense of trail direction - always have.
I generally guess correctly, but still that little buzzer inexplicably goes off in my 
head, like a dog reaching the boundary of the property only to be reminded by 
a serious Pavlovian shock, whenever I went very far off trail.  My inner 
Chingachgook helped me find my way on many an occasion today.  It is a good
thing to be able to rely on common sense with or without GPS.

The bucket is lighter, at least until I start dreaming again.  On to the next one!

                                                         Elk Trail in Yellow - Click Map to enlarge