Most hikers don’t simply fill their backpacks with gear, equipment and food and mosey out the front door. Instead, they may spend days, weeks or months designing food menus, reviewing maps and determining routes with just in case emergency exits or contingencies and analyzing town points which dictate how far they must travel between resupply.
It was late last fall, after several clients had requested a longer hike, that we began investigating end-to-end hikes that would fit the needs of a learning landscape and successful accomplishment. We pondered a few options before deciding on the Susquehannock Trail System located in Potter County, Pennsylvania. A loop hike of approximately 85-miles, the terrain is described as rolling with numerous water features and minimal visitor use. This was just the beginning of the required research.
First, the online search revealed a trail club which had numerous volunteers tasked with the responsibility to maintain a system of trails mostly stemming back to the Civilian Conservation Corp days of the 1930s. The website shared trailheads, the requirements for obtaining an end-to-end certificate and a trail store with a selection if maps and guidebook available for purchase. Once the maps and guidebook arrived, time would be spent decoding the details of the guide’s point by point descriptions with the map and its large scale display with mileage marker points listed in bold.
Long ago I determined the best way to confirm the time necessary for a hike was to (generally) determine where I would camp each evening based upon the amount of daylight, complexity of the terrain, location of water and perceived flatness for the perfect campsite. With more experience, I learned that an average mileage is mostly adequate but I’ve had some most difficult days because I failed to pre-read the map or guide. Even a general estimation of 10-miles a day can be problematic if the mileage doesn’t fit well with available resupply points.
Inquiry with the trail club proved invaluable. They agreed to assist with shuttling and to be an emergency contact for just in case scenarios. When our plans changed as a part of the Plan Ahead process they adapted and shared new contacts. When major road construction was announced they called and we adapted the plan yet again. From suggesting lodging to notes on the grocery to hours for the only restaurant in town to shuttling our food drop, their compiled knowledge was readily shared with this community outsider but soon to be visitor.
After all of the variables and considerations, our hike will consist of one town stop. A village stop with one restaurant (that doesn’t serve breakfast – what?!?) We found a bed and breakfast that will not only serve breakfast but will pick us up at the trailhead, wash our dirty and stinky hiker laundry, and will grab a short list of fruits and vegetables when they make their weekly grocery trip. Another gent will deliver our food drop to the B&B – a 2 1/2 hour drive on unmarked back roads – en route to the monthly trail club meeting.
Many hours have been expended on gaining information before we have even walked out the door. But, I feel prepared. We have planned ahead and are maximizing the potential for a great backpacking experience.