Hikers Finally Conquer the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge

The 2002 Rachel Carson Trail Challenge

It finally happened. After five tries and hundreds of shattered bodies, the Rachel Carson Trail finally met its match with this years crop of Challengers. Out of the 323 that set out from Harrison Hills Park at dawn on Saturday, June 22, 65% or 209 made it all the way to North Park, nearly 34 miles away, smashing last year's record 48% finishing rate. This milestone is even more notable given the heat and humidity (the official high was 90).

Several factors contributed to this accomplishment, not the least of which being that more folks learned from the mistakes they made in past Challenges that prevented them from finishing. Other factors included a trail that was clearly blazed (probably the best ever), a Field Director, Don Erdeljac, that made supplying ice to the checkpoints — over 1,000 pounds throughout the day — his primary mission, checkpoints that were well-stocked with an assortment of food, and a very helpful and encouraging team of volunteers.

But of course, there were problems. There was a confusing double-blaze at the top of the hill above Murray Hill Road. Several Challengers climbed up that tough hill, saw the double blaze and proceeded to go right back down. Apparently, at least one person did this twice! Volunteer extraordinaire Denise Cox was with us all day, not only supervising Checkpoint 1 but also assisting Challengers who dropped out. She writes:

I had gone onto checkpoint 3 (19.2 miles into the hike) after our checkpoint 1 closed. I stayed there for awhile and one hiker called checkpoint 3 and wanted to stop, so I volunteered to go get him. He had stopped where the trail crosses Butler Rd. a few miles back. He had stopped sweating, was having chills and throwing up. He was from Washington, DC and is a student at George Washington University. He and some of his friends want to hike part of the Appalachian later and they researched the web for some training hikes and found out about [the Challenge]. I brought him back to checkpoint 3 and he was ok after spending time in the shade and drinking water. He sat in my air conditioned Jeep for awhile to cool off. I ended up taking him back to Harrison Hills Park later on. At checkpoint 1, a few people got there past the cutoff time. One was a lady who had never hiked before. She ended up dropping out there (she was about 10 or 15 minutes past the cutoff time). I took her with me to checkpoints 2 and 3 and later back to North Park. One guy got to checkpoint 2 and was looking for a buddy of his. He knew his # (which I have forgotten), but he kept asking other hikers about him. One lady hiker said she found him really sick (chilling, not sweating, throwing up, etc.) The lady said he was really in bad shape and she got him to someone's house. She said they had a swimming pool and ice and tried to cool him down and gave him water. She left him so wasn't sure how things turned out. I was going to take his buddy back to North Park and he was going to go looking for him. He was actually going to run back along the trail at first, but the lady hiker said the guy stopped before checkpoint 2 so it was too far. To make a long story short, the guy finally got ok and showed up at checkpoint 3. His buddy talked him into going on, but I never heard if they finished. The sick guy said he kept running out of water. At checkpoint 3, quite a few people dropped out and I ended up taking 5 people back to North Park and 1 back to Harrison Hills. [There was a] 73 year old woman who made it as far as checkpoint 3 but was pretty wiped out and couldn't go any further, so her [husband] said he'd finish it for her and do the relay to the finish. Never heard if he finished and I didn't get the lady's name or #. [Editor's note: this is probably Sally Martin #193, and both she and her husband finished]. Quite a few marathoners hiked the trail and were commenting on how challenging it was.....many said much worse than running a marathon. Several hikers commented that "this isn't a hike....it's mountain climbing". Others said they felt like mountain goats. There was one guy who walked with an umbrella to keep out of the sun. We watched him make his way down the big hill right at checkpoint 3 carrying his umbrella the entire way down.

Joe Kulbacki, checkpoint 4 supervisor, writes, "The thing I remember the most is how beat up some of the people looked coming in, and the look on their faces when they thought they were almost done and we told them they still had eight more miles to go. That caused a few people who arrived later in the day to drop out on the spot." Joe also noted the Challenger that asked each checkpoint to take his picture so he could document his condition as it deteriorated throughout the Challenge.

Don Erdeljac, the Challenge Field Director, met up with the last two Challengers about 4 miles out. It was getting dark and they would have probably quit except that he fired up a kerosene lantern and walked with them to the finish, arriving around 10PM (keep in mind that these hikers began about 5:30AM). This was over an hour past the official cutoff time, but at least they can say they did it.

Don writes, "This is perhaps the most difficult thing some of these people will attempt in their entire lifetime. No other animal on Earth will behave like this unless it's absolutely necessary for survival."

Mr. Jim Drummond, a landowner on the trail between the rollercoaster and Tawney Run Rd., generously provided ice water and a hose for cooling showers to Challengers passing through. Thank you Jim!

Dario Donatelli did a superb job as master chef at the cookout, grilling up hundreds of hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches over seven hours!

The winners of the prize raffle are:

243Peterson, Barbara EDick's Sporting Goods $25 Gift Certificate & Hostel stay
236Pant, SiddharthEMS Aqua Day hydration pack & Hostel stay
78Dolan, Genevieve RDick's Sporting Goods $25 Gift Certificate
235Palencik, TimEMS Headwind hydration pack
203Meehan, Kate LDick's Sporting Goods $25 Gift Certificate
351Schlaupitz, SheilaEMS Atlas Snowshoe hydration pack
219Murrell, Christopher LeeDick's Sporting Goods $25 Gift Certificate
248Popovich, Brenda LEMS Atlas Snowshoe hydration pack
342Yoder, Michael JDick's Sporting Goods $25 Gift Certificate
294Soster, GregoryEMS Camelbak "Zoid" hydration pack

We can't thank our volunteers enough, but we'll try once more. They did an outstanding job this year, and we very much appreciate it. We hope to see them all back again next year at the 2003 Challenge! Thanks again to Beth Mundsinger, Dan Rihn, Dario Donatelli Sr., Dario Donatelli Jr., David Casassa, Denise Cox, Denise Hluhan, Diane and Joe Kostka, Grace Henning, Jan Gardner, Jennifer Stratakis, JoAnn Bary, Joe and Paula Migliorisi, Joe Kulbacki, Jonnie Joseph, Julie Kester, Kathy Sedory, Kierstin Carlson and Aaron Heimberger, Laura Burkhart, Leah Cohen, Leo and Lorraine Stember, Lisa Geyer, Liz Sotak, Lynne Piraino, Mark, Susan and Kim Brumbaugh, Mark Murtha, Melinda Pelkey, Mickie Haalman, Missy Geyer, Nicole Sutherland, Patty Brunner, Patti and Mariah Parker, Ron Hannan, Stephanie Cleary, Susie and George Dull.

The Challenge is important because it provides our only source of funds to support maintenance activities on the Rachel Carson Trail and the Baker Trail. Please help us keep it going by volunteering or recruiting volunteers.

We also need volunteers to adopt a small section of the trail to keep it clear and well marked. We have openings in several key areas. If you'd like to give a little back, please email your name and phone to rct@rachelcarsontrail.com for details.

  • Steve Mentzer