I loaded the girls (my two daughters and their great aunt) into the van, jumped in the driver's seat, turned the key and pointed the vehicle toward Lycoming County and, with any luck, some freakishly early snow.
My wish came true (though I'd have never guessed--weather reports notwithstanding--that there'd actually be more snow home in Manheim than up in the higher elevations of northern Pennsylvania).
Whichever friend of my stepfather's who owns and built the cabin that we frequent a half hour's drive north of Williamsport chose a beautiful location. Perched on a nice vantage point just above the Lycoming Creek, the cabin is close enough (a 2.5-3 hour drive) to always feel within reach but remote enough to seem as though home is far, far away.
Arriving on Friday after the sun was already down, we didn't get a peek at the state of the fall foliage but we could see that there wasn't any snow on the ground. It wasn't warm, but the temperatures hadn't dipped below freezing. Regardless, the cabin's wood stove made for a cozy night's sleep.
When I woke to my alarm at 6:30, things had changed.
A solid frost clung to everything, steady snow was falling and a cold fog hung in the dim light of early morning. The first few miles of my run would keep me low in the valley away from what little warmth the rising sun might bring. The mercury hadn't dipped far below freezing, but a very wet snow dampened everything it touched and made the air feel that much colder.
I followed Route 14 south for about 4 miles until it reached the town of Ralston. Once there, I hung a left onto an old logging road that quickly left town behind and crept out toward Loyalsock State Forest. Rather than continuing into the state forest (which is beautiful), I soon bore left onto McIntyre Road, another unpaved mountain road, that offers a challenging sustained 4 mile, 1000+ foot climb to what, in fairer weather, is a pretty stunning vantage point of the valley that I'd just passed through.
A gathering blanket of snow on the tree branches welcomed my arrival.
I settled into a steady pace determined to run the entire climb and managed to so. I had the road to myself except for a couple of passing hunters who greeted my wave and smile with the subtlest of acknowledging nods that, honestly, I may have invented to assure myself that we'd made nice. Because of the road conditions, it took them a long time to leave me behind which gave me a nice shot of adrenaline to finish the climb.
Before actually reaching the vista, the road levels and even offers a slight downhill before the turnaround. Having run the entire uphill, I decided to mess around with the small tripod in my pack and see if I could get any decent shots of me running. They turned out so-so, but I liked this one:
When I did reach the overlook, visibility was extremely limited by the icy fog that rolled between the rocky outcrop on which I stood and the far ridgeline, a couple of miles removed. Vanity coaxed me into another self portrait:
I lingered for several minutes as small gaps in the clouds opened and closed, providing momentary glimpses of the landscape below.
I realized I'd stayed long enough when a torso-shaking chill reminded me that I was soaking wet and it was still snowing. I dug a dry shirt out of my pack and welcomed the immediate warmth. Though the hardest part of my out-and-back was behind me, I still had a 9 mile return trip and was glad I'd planned well enough to have brought the change of clothes.
With four immediate miles of downhill, I pushed the pace a bit and was happy to have my legs respond nicely. At the lowest section of McIntyre Road, the mid morning temps had climbed enough to keep the snow from accumulating. I really enjoyed the autumnal beauty and almost wished that the road went on forever.
It didn't. Eventually I was back along the comparatively bustling Route 14 and churning out the last few miles to the cabin. I was pleased to see that I'd held comfortably below 9 minute mile pace for the entire 18 miles despite the climb up McIntyre and without every really trying to push hard.
This is the route, if you're interested:
Despite having snow fall throughout the day and into the evening hours, we didn't have any measurable accumulation at the cabin itself. I learned that back home Lindsay had had the displeasure of shoveling 5-6 inches of heavy snow and a limb had sheared off of one our favorite backyard trees.
By the time I got home late on Saturday afternoon (and with the exception of the tree branch), most of the evidence was gone. It had clearly snowed but little of it remained. Still, curiosity led me back to the car and off to Pumping Station to check on the Horseshoe Trail.
Because of the closures of Route 322, I couldn't get the car all the way there.
I'm assuming there were trees down somewhere on 322 to merit the closure, but on foot, I couldn't see them. There were limbs down everywhere on the Horseshoe Trail, however, and it was slow going through the gathered slush and what snow lingered.
After the long, quick road miles of the day before, the varying footing and the riddle that is route-finding on rocky terrain was a nice change of pace. Topping out at Eagle Rock, I snapped a quick photo to show the couple of inches of snow and the view north toward Schaefferstown, Myerstown and Blue Mountain far in the distance.
For good measure, I took one more "I wuz here" photo of you know who too.
I tacked on a couple more miles before returning to the car to get home to my lovely snow-shoveling wife, some pizza and a couple hours of not running.