Rain and Shine

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge, June 20, 2009

The National Weather Service forecast was ominous: 80% chance of thunderstorms, some may be severe with heavy rain, large hail and damaging winds. Nervous Challengers were calling to find out if the event would be cancelled. No, they were told. If caught in a thunderstorm, just use common sense and seek shelter. Such storms are usually brief and thus it won't be long before you'll be able to continue.

While some fretted about lightning, others worried about rain making the trail treacherous. After all, it's happened before. These two concerns kept a number of folks at home, although neither turned out as bad as feared.

No gloomy forecast could stop the determined 565 participants as they lined up at Beaver Shelter in North Park. At 5 AM, the air was thick with humidity and by 5:15, it began to rain. Participants holding yellow passes were called to the front of the line. These were volunteers who had donated at least 4 hours to trail maintenance and were rewarded with a prime starting place. The downpour had folks scrambling for rain gear and the set-up crew putting the computer scanning station into a car. As always, they had it under control. By 5:27, the first Challenger headed across the bridge to ford the creek. No twilight; only rain drops. It could be a long day, a very long, challenging day with a treacherous and muddy trail.

As Challengers came out of the wooded path, only optimism prevailed and they headed through the park and up the hill. Another set of clouds soaked their shirts, shoes and socks; but this would just be part of their story to tell later. Around 6:40, waiting to photograph Challengers crossing Route 8, in the distance clouds parted over North Park and a glimpse of blue sky appeared on the horizon. All of those prayers and chants, "Rain, rain go away ..." started to work.

Muddy legs, muddy shoes, muddy socks, muddy shorts, muddy shirts, wet hair and hats, they kept up the trek and the pace; when it came time to slide down hills - muddy backs and behinds. Some smiled and said, "It could be worse – it’s not storming!" Around mile 5, a Challenger came out of the woods to McCully Road with the soles of his shoes falling apart. "How far is the first checkpoint?" he asked. Could his shoes make it that far? Another Challenger reported an injured hiker with a twisted ankle and had already called organizers to send help.

Challengers from all over the country came to hike the Rachel Carson Trail on this Saturday closest to the summer solstice. Two from Florida had hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro with a local three-year Challenge veteran and came to give it a try. A young Nebraska man at the Bull Creek Road checkpoint said he was pushing his time since he was driving back the same night. Others from Utah, California and Ohio came to hike with family or friends. Some long time veterans couldn’t hike this year due to injuries or upcoming surgery, but they joined in as volunteers and enthusiastic supporters.

In spite of the cloud cover through the morning, warm temperatures and high humidity made the day's conditions tricky; dehydration and exhaustion caused more than the usual number to drop out by the final checkpoint, Bull Creek Road. One participant thought he may have broken his leg at mile 12, but the EMTs believed it was most likely a sprain. Others could not endure another climb at Burtner Hill. The afternoon brought 80 degrees and mostly sunny skies, with sunburnt faces and arms, along with a pleasant breeze.

This year, for the first time, the Challenge finished at the Environmental Learning Center in Harrison Hills Park, a former farmhouse renovated by Friends of Harrison Hills volunteers. Family, friends and neighbors were there to congratulate those who braved the tough and uncertain conditions. Many participants took advantage of the water hose to wash off the mud and grime before changing into the coveted Challenge shirt.

Volunteers staffed the cookout serving hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, pasta salad & snacks, Blue Bunny ice cream and drinks for everyone. Two late evening cloudbursts sent everyone running for cover. Both were brief, although the second one around 8:45 PM was quite a downpour and caused a number of the Challengers still making their way to the finish to gather under a park shelter and call for rescue.

Known far and wide as one of the best events in the country, Challengers were stretched out on the grass full of pride and gratitude toward the volunteers - already making plans for 2010 and asking for early registration information. "Can you let me know when registration opens next year?" a Columbus, Ohio native asked me. "I know it fills up fast and I don’t want to miss out." New friends made during training hikes and along the trail were already talking about getting ready for next year.

An extension within Harrison Hills Park and a few trail reroutes made this year’s full challenge 35.1 miles. Some hiked alone, some in groups, fathers & daughters, fathers & sons – all with the same goal – to finish in one day, rain and shine.

From the Director

For the 34-mile Full Challenge, we had 565 participants scan out at North Park, and 447 or 79.1% made it to Harrison Hills Park. A total of 425 (75.2%) made it within the official time of 15 hours, 4 minutes. While the number of starters is nearly the same, the official completion rate is down from last year's 85%.

For the 16-mile Homestead Challenge, we had 183 participants scan out at Springdale High School, and 161 or 88% reached Harrison Hills Park. There were 94 (51%) who made it within the official time of 7 hours, 16 minutes.

For the 7-mile Family Challenge, we had 15 families (teams) scan out at Bull Creek Road, and all made it to Harrison Hills Park.

If you participated in the Challenge, please take our one-page online survey so we can better know how and where we can improve the event and the experience.

We sincerely appreciate the Friends of Harrison Hills for the use of the Environmental Learning Center and their assistance at the cookout.

And finally, we acknowledge a debt to our dedicated volunteers, many of whom donated their entire day to the Challenge: Joyce Appel, John Armstrong, Alberta Asbury, Dana Asbury, Cam Baker, Bob Bastone, Mary Bates, Tom Bates, Steve Blauser, Roger Blood, Bob Boehmer, Jake Borello, Andrew Burgess, Kelly Burgess, Richard Cook, Betsy D'Ambrosia, Mike Dailey, JoAnn Davis, Steve Deckard, Debra DeFazio, Eric Deutsch, Suzy Deutsch, Bill Dietrich, Patricia Eckels, Don Erdeljac, Leslie Evans, Mark Eyerman, Karen Fischetti, Dwight Fox, Anne Gallagher, Suzanne Gardner, Robert Habegger, Meg Hannan, Ron Hannan, Jerry Heckathorn, Paul Henry, Jim Hoburg, Peggy Hoburg, Russell Hoburg, Jerry Hoffman, Jim Holloway, Lillian Horvat, Rob Horvat, Dean Jolin, Eileen Karnavas, Stanley Klick, Ryan Knecht, Diane Kostka, John Kostka, Joe Kulbacki, Rose Lake, Natalie Latal, Alicia Liang, Tom Loebig, Michael Mathewson, Dan McCarty, Joyce McConahy, Carol McCoy, Cathy McGuire, Brian Moore, Judy Moore, Bob Mulshine, Julia Parker, Mariah Parker, Patty Parker, Nuria Pastor-Soler, Joel Platt, Elisabeth Ploran, Toni Price, Angelo Quaranta, Denise Ropelewski, Amy Royer, Susie Shages, Andrea Shymatto, Manny Sideris, Steve Stangl, Mary Steele, John Stehle, Anastasia Stolz, Donna Stolz, Ezra Stolz, John Stolz, Ee Wern Su, DeeDee Sung-Jolin, Doug Turner, Erin Ward, and Linda Xenophontos.

— Steve Mentzer