old bloggers path.

Sugar Pie (Mamie, when formally introduced) was quite antsy as we crept along the old unpaved roads leading from Ralston deep into the Loyalsock State Forest.  The sun had set long ago and we had already ventured down one set of rural, wooded roads without the payoff of a run for the dog when two hours prior we had dropped Lily and Piper off at a Juniata cabin with their grandparents.  By now Sugar Pie had waited long enough and her four fidgety legs delivered her from one side of the backseat to the other as she surveyed the fringes of the shadowy forest outside the windows.

On the off chance that Suge could translate my slangy English to Dog, not a word was uttered to explain that we would not actually run a single step until morning or before we managed a few hours of in-the-car sleep.

We reached the end of our road (for the night) at the State Forest sign that calls out the former location of Masten, a long abandoned logging town that has been housing nothing but ghosts since 1941.  A single still-standing fireplace and its chimney were landmarks enough to confirm that we'd reached the site of a handful of DCNR primitive campsites situated right atop the crumbled foundations of the former mill and its once surrounding lodging.

This also meant that the traditional starting point of the 27+ mile Old Loggers Path stood somewhere nearby.  There, a few hours later, Sugar Pie would get her chance to run.  But first, ghosts or no ghosts, we needed to catch some shut eye.  Suge took me for a short walk so I could pee and then we crawled back into the car and were soon, fittingly, sawing logs.

From what little history I've been able to turn up, many, many logs were sawed during the roughly three decades during which Masten was founded and thrived before operations were abandoned in September of 1930.  The Civilian Conservation Corp established a camp on the site in 1933 but, less than 10 years later, the last family moved away, leaving Masten completely uninhabited.

In its heyday, the town, in addition to the mill and a tannery, consisted of over 90 homes, a boarding house, a hotel, a barbershop, a pool room and a dance hall.  Grainy photos reveal the large structures of the mill itself and the old Susquehanna and New York railroad station.

Those photographs are now completely disconnected from the the ongoing natural reclamation project that has reforested the hills and encroached upon beds and grades where rails once lay.  It is along those very contours that the Old Loggers Path wends its way and watchful eyes can find remnants of rails, old wooden ties and man-made this-or-that but these glimpses are brief and other than periodic crossings of logging and fire roads, the route feels worlds away from civilization, old or new.

It was in great anticipation of wandering out into that remote, abandoned landscape that Sugar Pie and I awoke.  Jeff Calvert, one of the organizers of our little group outing, was already up and tending an inviting fire.  The three of us made our introductions and the dog set about exploring while I heated up some coffee and oatmeal and pondered how much clothing was just enough for a cool, crisp day in the woods.

We were soon joined by the final three members of our party, Thomas McNerney (Jeff's co-organizer), David Walker and Roth Reason.  David and I had met a few times in passing, but didn't know each other well and I had never met Jeff, Tom or Roth.  As is so often the case amongst trail runners, that unfamiliarity didn't seem to matter one bit.  Within just a few moments, it was obvious that I was in good company and the day became just that much more full of promise. 

Our intent was to travel the entire misshapen loop of the OLP, traversing first north and then south by following the trail in a counter-clockwise fashion.  Being early November, a week after the clock fell back, and getting off to a not-all-that-earlybird 8:00 AM start, we would have roughly 9 hours of daylight to make the circumnavigation and we expected to be able to accomplish the task in less time than that.

The trail climbs immediately and Jeff set a healthy pace with the rest of us strung out behind him.  At the rear, Roth and I were busy producing steady streams of snot, he from a nasty cold that he was just getting over and me from one just settling in.  This wouldn't prove to be an issue for either of us, but, at the start of our long run, it left us both wondering how the day would go.

Sugar Pie just grunted from the couch behind me as I type this, I suspect to remind me that it was actually she who was out in front of the pack, but, be that as it may, it was Jeff who made sure we followed the proper orange blazes.  It was also Jeff, not Suge, who did the proper thing and recorded our presence in the trail register that greeted us within the first mile-and-a-half.

After topping out and running the ridgeline for a short time, we began dropping down toward Rock Run, one of the loveliest creeks I've stumbled upon in this state or any other with its in-cut banks, overhanging mountain laurel and deep, clear pools.  It was beside one of these large natural bowls that we made one of our first brief stops of the day to investigate the ways in which water had carved the spectacular ravine into which we'd descended.

The landscape was so serene and the lullaby of moving water so soothing, it took effort to pull ourselves away and get back to work.  And work lay just ahead, as one of the few really relentless climbs of the route began immediately as the trail hooked a hard left away from Rock Run and shot straight up the ridge.  For the first time, our running changed to hiking but we continued to make steady progress, soon reaching Yellow Dog Road and Tom's parked car/aid station.  We'd reached it too early in the morning to break open the cold beers stashed there, but it was nice to sneak some water without having to dip into the little water that we each were carrying.

It was there that I remembered reading about the Molnick brothers (though I couldn't recall their last name at the time) who somewhere in those hills had run a successful still as the lumbermen of Masten couldn't score any booze in the "dry" company town.  Apparently, business wasn't good enough to keep the Molnicks from brazenly stealing the Masten safe only to be captured and jailed for the offense shortly thereafter.  I suspect their restless spirits were out there somewhere and would probably have loved to have hoisted one of those beers to their thirsty lips.

Time for that later.  For we runners, if not the Molnicks.

The climb continued but soon leveled and revealed the first of several sweeping views of the gap cut by Rock Run looking out over the McIntyre Wild Area and, off to the northwest, the hidden-by-trees town of Ralston.

The trail continued to track across the ridgetop and soon began bending south.  There were many rocky outcrops that we all agreed were pleasantly devoid of rattlers thanks only to our not having attempted the route earlier in the season.  We were making good time and moving at a healthy pace across the slightly rolling terrain that topped the ridge.

At least we were before Sugar Pie, who had continued to pinball between the front of the line and sidetrack ventures to chase sounds and scents to which the less-sensitive bipeds were impervious, showed sudden signs of distress.  Though not one other member of the group witnessed the encounter or heard even a whimper from Mamie, she'd managed to jump her first porcupine and suffered the inevitable consequences.

Quills protruded from the end of her snout, her upper lip and, most disconcertingly, the roof of her mouth.  A full-fledged pitb...what's that, Mamie...oh, American Bulldog, she has a jaw not easily unclenched without her accord.  Initially confused and upset, the dog wouldn't allow us access to the inside of her mouth, but I held her in my lap and the other guys gathered round to help calm her.  She slowly let me get her jaws opened more widely so we could do our best to remove the quills lodged there.

While we did our best, I'm not sure we would have accomplished the job right there on the spot were it not for the two backpackers who happened upon us, the only people we actually saw all day if I'm not mistaken (earlier, we saw three packs leaning against a tree but spotted no backpackers to match to them), and kindly lent a Leatherman multi-tool to the affair.  

With all quills removed and the bleeding stopped, the wag of Sugar Pie's tail instantly returned and she was again ready to move.

I thought I was too, but the minutes spent cradling the dog (and stressing about her condition, perhaps) on the heels of our first 14 miles of running found my troublesome back acting up when we got back on our feet and headed on our way.  There were some wonderfully runnable downhills and I grit my teeth and hoped that I'd shake out the stiffness and my back would settle back down. That wishful thinking didn't prove out and by 17-18 miles into our day, I was laboring to keep up.

Sugar Pie seemed to sense that I was flagging and began halting in mid-trail to let me catch up which wouldn't have been as problematic if she hadn't first placed herself just ahead of whichever human was at the front of the line.  I tried to talk her into sticking with me as a duo of a caboose but as soon as I would catch up and offer a word of encouragement, she would again reclaim her spot as the engine of the train only to repeat the brake-and-wait process anew.

Thankfully, for both she and I, we were with a most patient and understanding group of fellow runners.

Reaching one of the most southern points on the trail, the Sharp Top Vista served up an incredible view of ridges stacked one upon the next, jostling for position in the lowering afternoon sun.  Had the entire trail been a bust, this view alone would have been worth the effort.

 It was beautiful, but whipping winds, taking advantage of all that open space, brought a biting cold that we'd been spared most of the day and persuaded us to head back to the shelter of the woods.

We settled into a mile of downhilling and I managed, stiffly, to run a bit of it before a sustained uphill reminded me that my back was very much on the fritz.  We reached a spur trail that led to another high overlook and I lay flat to regroup while David and Roth sought out the advertised rocky vantage point.  After a few minutes of rest, I decided to begin hiking to cover whatever distance I could before the group caught up again, as I knew it would, in hopes that this tact would keep us on track for our time goal.

The first teammate to catch me, not surprisingly, was Sugar Pie, who couldn't initially resist getting a peek at the overlook with David and Roth.  She came upon me at a dead sprint but then peeked back over her muscular shoulders to make sure that the others were coming too.  It seemed like a good opportunity to get a photo of each of them on the run.




Putting the camera away, I tried to give chase but, with little more than 3 miles to go, I was likely going to be hiking the remainder of the Old Loggers Path.  I found the group, including Suge, waiting for me several hundred yards later, but I urged them all on their way comfortable in my ability to follow the blazes home before the sun set.

While I would have loved to still be running, walking those next few miles was nearly as invigorating.  The OLP had again dropped into one of the second growth wooded valleys that seem the signature of the Pennsylvania wilds.  The trail itself was smooth and forgiving and the yellows, oranges, reds and browns of late Fall were enthralling.  I had a bit of solitude to replay the wonderful shared moments of earlier in the day while enjoying some quiet, reflective time alone with my thoughts.  Not feeling the need to push the pace and being able to ease off the throttle, I could give my back a chance to relax.  Taking a little bit of edge off that pain reopened my eyes to the beauty of the landscape in which we had played all day long.

David, Roth and Sugar Pie dueled to the very end and I wasn't there to see who closed the Old Loggers loop first.  I happened upon Jeff and Tom with about a mile to go as they had paused at a hard left intersection to make sure that they were headed the right direction.  The three of us jogged to the trailhead from which we'd started some 7:43 minutes earlier.

Sugar Pie saw us coming and darted over to welcome us home.  According to my Suunto, Jeff, Tom, David, Roth and I had covered 27.6 miles and I wish we had outfitted Suge with her own GPS so we could see how many extra miles she had on us.  Whatever the final tally, she earned the crash that came after the adventure.

Before parting ways at Masten, we cracked open a couple of cold beers to wash down the effort of the day.  I knew my back would tighten up on the drive back to Juniata, but right then, right there, I felt fantastic, having made new friends and together enjoyed nearly every second of the day's available light on the move along another incredible Pennsylvania trail.

I mulled over Masten, loving that it and all its history had "been" but also thrilled that it was no more.  The idea of the wild woods that we had just passed through being razed and the hills stripped bare was appalling but the testament of restoration that had occurred by man simply vacating the premises was truly inspiring.

This area of Pennsylvania is very much threatened again, this time by the encroachment of natural gas drilling.  It's weathered many a storm, at least one of them man-made, and here's hoping it isn't forced to withstand one more.  With one inspirational story already written, we don't need another.*

I tipped a beer toward the approaching darkness and wished the Molnicks well before heading back down the lonely road that had brought me and Sugar Pie there.

*If you're interested in joining the chorus of voices urging current PA Governor Tom Corbett to disallow further drilling in the Loyalsock State Forest, check out the following Penn Environment link:

Tell Gov. Corbett: Protect the Old Loggers Path

If you have greater interest in Masten or other abandonded settlements in the Keystone state check out Pennsylvania Ghost Towns: Uncovering the Hidden Past by Susan Hutchison Tassin. Most of what I've learned of Masten came directly from her book.


end of the road.

“All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.” 

- T.K. Whipple

Gonna drive myself to the end of one of those wilderness roads tomorrow, survey the crumbling remnants of vacated monuments to progress, and then vanish into the forest with a handful of fellow dreamers.