Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Having gotten through most (or at least a lot) of my unpainted lead piles for the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, I need to figure out what to tackle next. The two periods for which I have sufficient figure stock to keep me going for a while are the Seven Years War and the Great Italian Wars of the Renaissance (1494-1529).

I am strongly leaning towards the Renaissance at this point, as I have a good number of beautifully painted Landsknechts that need company. I have stands of pikes, halberds and arquebusses, but nobody for them to play with. No friends and no enemies, other than 4 or 5 stands of artillery. I can send most of the foot overseas, and can play around with painting the cavalry myself. That should be fun. As colorful as the period is, you can pretty much go completely bonkers and still not have gone over the top.

I'll make a final decision soon.
And yes, these figs are some of the many that need proper basing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

French Napoleonic General

Just to dispel the popular notion that I never paint anything any more, here is a 25mm Old Glory French Napoleonic General, commanding a 12 lb cannon and crew of line foot artillery.

I have no plans to do Napoleonics in 25mm, but I do enjoy painting the odd figure every now and then. I love the Napoleonic period, but I game it in 15mm and dont like painting 15mm figs. Oh well... As can be seen, these are two more of the many many bases of figures that need to be finished properly.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wargaming Entropy

My miniatures stuff is a mess. Disorganized clutter. Half finished projects. An abundance of partially painted figures. And it has gotten to the point that it is difficult to sit down and accomplish anything because of the mess.

Going to Historicon a couple of weeks ago was energizing, as it always is, and I came home wanting the dive into some painting. But with all the clutter, it's been hard to get started. So I have made a commitment to myself - I need to spend as much time as required between now and the end of July clearing the decks and getting organized. The single biggest thing I need to do is base figures. I have a couple of orders back from Sri Lanka that have been mounted on bases, but the bases are either not painted at all (bare wood) or have been painted but not flocked and finished. I also just got a batch of 15mm Napoleonics back that are still in baggies. And a bunch of 15mm Napoleonics from GAJO that I bought at Cold Wars and glued to bases but never finished. If I can get these all based properly and then packed away neatly, then maybe all the horizontal surfaces on my gaming table and painting table won't be covered by boxes and trays of "in process" figs. Then I can get back to something fun.

I really don't enjoy basing figs, but they aren't going to finish themselves. At least it doesn't look like they will; I've been waiting for months and it hasn't happened yet...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Historicon 2010 - Hundred Years War game, Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

Having been playing in part of the game, and therefore focusing on a smaller piece of the battle, I don't have a great memory or overview of parts of the game, and so it is difficult to do a very good battle report. The English position stabilized quickly after Warwick's initial disaster, and Chris did a very good job of putting Clermont back onto his heels. In the center, Edward's attacks against the Dauphin were largely ineffective. On the French right, the Captal de Buch did a better than expected job of holding their own against Audrehem's qualitatively superior knights.
On the right, English and Gascon knights bring the fight to the French, pushing them back up the hill. Cheshire longbowmen in their green and white tunics can be seen at far right.

Edward and the Dauphin go at it in the foreground while Clermont and Warwick continue their fight in the background.

Situation toward the end of the game. The English have made some headway, but not nearly enough.

Edward is held back in the center. Warwick rallies and holds off Clermont.

Captal de Buch continues to do well against the French nobles on the right, driving them further up the hill.

I think that every figure on the table was Old Glory. Flags are by The Flag Dude (the nicer ones) or by me off the internet. Painting was split between myself and Fernando Enterprises in Sri Lanka. I did every mounted figure and maybe half the foot figures. The Pros did the rest.

The game was a success insofar as it went, and everyone who played in it had a good time. I committed to running the same scenario again at Fall In in Lancaster over the Halloween weekend. Maybe we'll see you there!

Historicon 2010 - Hundred Years War game, Part 1

Day of Battle, 1356
King Jean II vs Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince

I ran one game at Historicon this year with the assistance of my nephew Ryan and Chris Parker, author of the Day of Battle rules. 3rd edition Day of Battle were the rules we were using, and the battle was a "Poitiers-ish" 1356 battle between the French and English in the Hundred Years War. The game was published incorrectly in the Event Listing book, saying it was 90mm instead of 25mm, and this error probably scared away some people who look at the very large scale figures as toys. (Yes, even in a niche hobby, we still have snobs). As a result, we were expecting few if any people to show up for the six player slots for a game that was scheduled to start at 8pm and run until midnight. As a result, Chris, Ryan and I began the game just the three of us playing, and were joined a bit later by two players. So it ended up being an enjoyable game with all three gamemasters playing.

The overall situation was a different spin on the historical battle of Poitiers, but a "what if" that had a reasonable basis in the realm of possibility. In our version of the game, part of the French army under command of the Duc de Normandie (the Dauphin - the eldest son of the King of France), was able to get in front of the English army as it headed south to get back to friendly territory. Also in the Dauphin's army were two cavalry wings commanded by the two Marshals of France, Clermont and Audrehem. In our scenario, the entire English army would fall upon the French force, and would have to try to drive them off and get across the river safely before the remainder of the French army, under the King himself and the Duc d'Orleans arrived. Because of the shortage of players, we played with a partial English army and no French reinforcements. Chris played the Duke of Warwick's battle, Ryan played Prince Edward, I commanded the French (and was joined by 2 players who would each take control of one of the Marshals).

Initial dispositions. Marshal Clermont is on the French (near) left, with the Dauphin's large battle in the middle, and Audrehem's cavalry was on the right flank. The Duke of Warwick has begun advancing in the left distance, with Edward advancing in the center and right distance.

Edward (Ryan) boldly surges forward, attempting to get his longbowmen into range as quickly as possible. The French wait, with Genoese mercenary crossbowmen sheltered behind their pavises manning the front line.

The English are coming! The English are coming! A small English mounted wing under the Captal de Buch, a Gascon noble, advance on the right in the distance, facing off against Audrehem's elite knights.

The battle lines, after trading missile fire for a while, are about to clash. On the French left, Warwick's men have advanced very close to Clermont's knights. The French Marshal spurs his horse forward and sounds the charge.

Clermont's first charge was devastating, breaking through the first line of longbowmen and crashing into the English dismounted knights behind them. As a result of the flight of the first English line, two supporting units broke and fled as well. The three fleeing English units can be seen in the distance, milling about in the farm fields in confusion. In one charge, fully half of Warwick's battle had fled the field. Not an auspicious start for the English... be continued.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Historicon 2010 - Duke Seifried's Display Games

One of the venerable and colorful characters in the miniatures gaming community is apparently in poor health and chose Historicon 2010 as a last hurrah to bring together many of his famous display games from throughout the years together in one place. These games are typically on tables that must be about 6 feet wide and 20 feet long with thousands of figures. It was impressive to see a life's hobby work on display. There were 14 such games. Pictures of them could fill a book by themselves, but here are a few of my favorites.

British vs Zulus at Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift.

British and Sepoys vs Afghans and Pathans on the Northwest Frontier.

Romans and Carthaginians.
Inspirational stuff to say the least, and the pictures barely do them justice.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Geocaching - Maryland Eastern Shore Roadtrip

My friend Ellen was back up to see her parents and was able to make time to get together for a day of geocaching, so we met in the morning and spent most of the day driving in Maryland and collecting new counties.

It was a very fun day, and a different kind of geocaching than I have done to this point. We didn't find very many caches, but we found them in 6 new counties all up and down the eastern shore, and put about 250 miles on the car doing so. There were also a few DNFs (did not finds) that kept our success rate down. That and the fact that the planning for the trip was left to me. Oops. Probably shouldn't let the new guy plan things... good intentions but not enough experience.

I love the Chesapeake Bay area, and want to get down that way again to get the remaining few eastern shore counties all the way down by Ocean City. Those could probably also be done as part of a more ambitious trip that would cross the Bay Bridge and do the Annapolis area as well.

I also liked the kind of geocaching that we did to day - the road trip. Sometimes going for quantity is fun, but sometimes going for a specific kind of cache can be fun, or in this case, covering some new geography. The possibilities for road trips in this area are countless... Pennsylvania counties, Maryland or New Jersey counties. Or if you wanted to be more ambitious, New England states, or Virginia/West Virginia. As I said... the possibilities are almost endless.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sassafras River - Fourth of July

I took the girls down to the River for the afternoon on Sunday 7/4 to spend a few hours fishing. The grandparents were there, and Dave and Lori were going down for the afternoon as well.

It was another day of small panfish off the wall with only one catfish. But the catfish was a great one. Grace, fishing in 12 inches of water about 12 inches off the bulkhead, hooked this nice one. This is the fish of the year so far, a 21 inch channel catfish weighing in at just under 3 pounds. I brought this fish in because it would have pulled Grace's little ultralight rod out of her hands. Fighting a fish this size on a tiny rod with 4 lb test line is tremendous fun, and it was touch and go as to whether I was going to be able to land the fish. It fought hard for quite a while, and I was just hoping that I could get it up off the bottom so we could see it before it snapped the line. Fortunately, with Dave helping out with the net, we were able to get it in. You can see the size of the fish versus the size of the pole...

On the road coming into the neighborhood, there is a nesting platform on top of one of the telephone poles. This year, a family of Osprey are calling it home. There are three little ones, although as can be seen here they are not so little any more. At least two adults are also here, bringing fish back to the kids. When one of the adults shows up with a fish in its claws, the little ones go nuts and start making an awful racket of squawking and crying out.
It is nice to have a chance to see these beautiful birds right out the car window.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pinchot Trail - Camping Gear Review

Since this was my first time out overnight, I had a lot of equipment that I was using for the first time. Overall, I was extremely pleased with my gear. I think I did the right amount of research, made good choices, and everything behaved pretty much exactly how I would have wanted it to.

Tent - Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) "Velocity 1" with matching footprint. I absolutely loved it. This seems to be a very good design. It was as easy to set up in camp as it was to set up in the basement. The way the basic mesh tent, rain fly layer and footprint all clip together make for a very stable end result. There was room in it for my boots at the foot end, and a number of smaller items like valuables, water bottle, headlamp, journal etc to be placed up above my head, all without ever feeling cramped at all. It rained pretty hard at times our first night out and I never felt a drop of it. Everything stayed bone dry.

Backpack - Gregory "Baltoro 70". I loved this also. Good capacity, easy access, nice amount of side pockets, and most importantly it was extremely comfortable. Considering that this was my first time carrying a heavy load like this, I never felt any substantial discomfort in my shoulders, hips or anywhere else. I ended up with the expected minor tender spots, but no "hot spots" or painful points.

Sleeping Bag - Mountain Hardwear "Phantom 32" 800 goose down bag. I can't rate this yet. It was warm enough that I slept in my bag liner and only used this as a blanket over the lower part of my body. I never needed to get into it.

Sleeping Bag Liner - Thermolite "Reactor". This is what I slept in due to the warm weather. It was perfect on its own for giving just a touch of warmth. I need to have something covering me to sleep, no matter how light, and this fit the bill. Very compact also, as it compresses down to the size of a baseball and weighs virtually nothing.

Boots - Merrell "Mid Moab". These were exceptionally comfortable right out of the box, requiring no break in period at all (although I had worn them on a few earlier shorter hikes to make sure they were comfortable). Even on the long day when persistent rain soaked through my socks and penetrated the boots they remained comfortable. Squishy, but comfortable. I ended the trip with no blisters or sore spots. They were also very light, to the point that it was easy to forget that I was wearing boots, but still had enough stiffness in the sole to make the rocky stretches comfortable.

Water Filtration - Platypus "CleanStream" 4 liter gravity filter. This was easy to use and worked like a charm. It was easy to assemble and disassemble, and filtered a full 4 liters of water in a matter of minutes. Leo's Steripen was great for bottles of water, but this was perfect for quantity. What remains to be seen is how the performance on this holds up over time. Some negative reviews of various filtering systems (including this one) are that they are fine to start but quickly become clogged and harder to use. Only time will tell on that.

Headlamp - Petzl "Tikka Plus 2". A terrific little lamp for general use around camp. Very light and comfortable, with multiple beam settings, red light mode, and was easy to use.

Cooking - JetBoil "Flash" cooking system. This was Leo's not mine, but I used it and so it is worth reviewing. It was easy to use, compact, and did its job quickly and efficiently. Turn the fuel knob, press the ignitor button, wait a couple minutes, and you had boiling water.

Starbucks "Via" instant coffee. Given the limitations of what you can expect for a quality cup of coffee out in the woods, this was surprisingly good. It was the first time I have had it, and it was by far the best cup of instant coffee I had ever had. I should probably try it at home and see how much of that was because it really was good, of how much of it was because it was really nice to have a cup of coffee out in the woods.

Pinchot Trail Backpack - Reflections

Wow, looking back, I am amazed at the quantity I have written on this trip! I guess I was pretty excited, huh? I would imagine future trips of this kind will have the same desire to get in a lot of pictures, but probably not as much verbage.

When all was said and done, we covered 19.7 miles in 3 days and two nights, divided as 1.0 miles Sunday, 12.0 miles Monday, and a final 6.7 miles Tuesday. Our pace was somewhat leisurely, with stops and photo-ops whenever we wanted. We were in no hurry and knew we had plenty of time to cover the ground required. For actual hours on the trail compared to distance, we had an effective pace of right around 2 miles per hour, perhaps a little less.

Two main things occur to me as I look back on this trip. First and foremost, hiking is hard work. I don't care if the trail is rated as "easy" in a relative sense; any backpacking is difficult. Second, despite the effort involved, the worries, and the painful moments (or hours), this was a LOT of fun.

In retrospect, I planned too aggressively on what we could realistically do on day 2, especially with the rain we got. Under the best of conditions, 12 miles is probably a couple of miles farther than I would want to plan to do in the future, and wouldn't feel like it was a cop-out to do even less if the terrain were more difficult.

Preparation served me well. In the lead-up to this trip I spent many hours with books, reading articles on websites, talking to people with experience, and understanding my gear. Despite never having done this before, when I was actually on the trail or in camp I never had the feeling that I didn't know what I was doing. To the contrary, I felt like I had things pretty well under control and with Leo and Dave's assistance, I think I did.

I also have a better idea of what I would look for in a next backpack jaunt (and there will be a next one). Racking up sheer mileage is of absolutely no importance to me. I would want the trip to be planned around a destination or series of destinations. This could mean a lake with nice camping, or a place to fish, or just a series of good scenic spots to visit. This trip was a nice walk in the woods and a good training experience (which was my main goal), but there were very few "wow" moments from a scenery perspective. There was a lot of nice stuff, but little that was extraordinary. In the future I would be looking for those "wow" moments.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly of all, I know now that I can do this. I also have a better feeling for my limits. My day 2 knee issues might have been more specifically related to a single body part, but Dave and Leo seemed to have their moments of struggling with sore feet, general weariness and the like just as much as me. My suggestion to shorten the day 3 loop didn't seem to disappoint anyone. In that regard, I feel like I held my own fairly well.
And I had fun!!!
One correction to my earlier posts, for which I am too lazy to go back and find all of the places I was wrong... My references to the large evergreens we saw throughout the trip, primarily in some of the shadier and wetter low lying areas, were not spruce of any variety; they were in fact Eastern Hemlocks, the state tree of Pennsylvania. I brought a sprig and a cone home with me and confirmed that fact.

Homeward Bound

Completing the Loop
The Pinchot Trail Chronicle, Part 15
Tuesday June 29, 2010

9:30am - We are climbing the long gradual ascent out of the Choke Creek valley, and we come to the intersection of the Choke Creek Nature Trail (which heads north) and the Butler Run Trail (which heads off to the southeast). The Butler Run Trail is the Pinchot Trail, which we had planned to follow, but we depart from the original plan at this point and head north up the Nature Trail.

9:48am - Having crossed swampy little Butler Run, we arrive at the place where the Nature Trail becomes a grass forest road. We will be following this kind of grass road for a total of about the next mile, which will make the going easier on my knees, which have settled into a painful soreness, but this is what I expected. It's not all that pleasant, but I have grown accustomed to it and have no doubt I can finish up the modified loop we have planned. We take a pack break at this junction until 10:02am.

10:17am - Still on grass forest road, we cross the dirt and gravel Tannery Road and skirt the Spruce Swamp Natural area on the west side. On this stretch of grassy road, we pass the third and final clear evidence of bears. Bears do the woods. In some quantity, apparently.

10:29am - At the far side of the Spruce Swamp Natural area, we rejoin the Pinchot Trail, which is named the Sunday Trail at this point, and which becomes the Stone Lookout Trail as we turn left into the woods. We begin a modest climb around the eastern shoulder of a rocky hilltop, coming out into a clearing on top at around 10:45am, and see the so-called Stone Tower ahead of us. This plateau at the top of the hill is beautiful. There are large stretches of flat exposed bedrock, and everywhere else is covered with a profusion of wild blueberry bushes.

The descent down the western slope of the Stone Tower hill is painful, as are all down grades.
11:10am - We pass the sign indicating that we are now on the McClintock's Gate Trail, the final named trail section, which means we have less than a mile left to the blacktop road. My knees are extremely sore, but not so much so that I cannot appreciate the sights that we see as we pass by. Because of the bright sun, blue skies and puffy white clouds, some of the open meadows of mountain laurel that we pass through are the nicest of the trip.

The field shown below was one of my favorite sights of the entire trip - a beautiful sky framing the trail as it passed through acres of mountain laurel, some of it in bloom.

11:47am - We come out of the woods onto the last stretch of the dirt and gravel Tannery Road, and within a minute are at Bear Lake Road, the blacktop road that bisects the State Forest. Half a mile to the parking area. As we hike along the shoulder of the road, the combination of level ground, smooth surface, and the thought of having survived the day make the pain in my knees disappear for a while.

11:57am - We hike past the sign for the Pinchot Trailhead Parking area and are back at the car. A trio of mountain bikers are kind enough to snap our picture for us, and then we gladly drop packs and equipment in a pile on the ground. I have never been so happy to peel off a set of sweaty wet clothing and get into a nice soft cotton t-shirt and shorts.
We did it. It was not exactly as I had imagined it, but it was great fun, and I can't wait to do it again. After my knees feel a little better that is.
Next...Aftermath and a Recap

Along Choke Creek

The Pinchot Trail Chronicle, Part 14
Tuesday June 29, 2010
[The track on the map in magenta shows the route we took. The part of the trail in yellow is the piece of the actual Pinchot Trail that we did not do. By cutting across part of the loop, I would estimate that we shortened the loop by 2 miles.]

Journal, 6:32am - Been awake for a little while but Leo just got out of his tent so I am up too. Critters in the night, one scratching loudly and persistently on something plastic. Knees a little sore. 2 more Advil.

Everyone got a good night's sleep and seems to be feeling pretty good. We look at the map again and there is no talk of bailing out completely but we do agree to shorten the loop by a couple miles by cutting across the eastern part of the loop. Since there are no specific scenic wonders over there, we don't think we'll be missing much by taking out two miles of the same forest we've been walking through. My knees feel sore, but not alarmingly so.
The day itself looks like it is going to be beautiful. Blue skies with puffy white clouds. The scattered showers that have followed us for the last day and a half seem to be gone for good. Temperature is mild; probably still in the low 70's in the mid-morning.

Final Journal Entry, 7:25am - Camp is now broken down. Need to eat something, fill water bottles, and then get out of here. Heard a few very brief showers in the night but we stayed bone dry in the shelter of our huge evergreens. Nervous about the walk out. We are shortening the day to an inner loop, but it will still be about 6 miles, best guess. If I had to guess, I would say my knee will feel stiff for a little, loosen up for a little, and then settle into just being sore. Probably very sore.
So we take care of our remaining business at camp, like water filtering and breakfast, and get ready to leave. I am nervous. I don't want to ruin the day, or have such a bad experience that it takes the fun out of everything and makes the whole trip an unpleasant memory. I doubt that will happen, but you never know. The term the group uses for the worst case hike-gone-bad scenario is a "death march." I am hoping strongly that this doesn't become a death march.

8:45am - Everything is done. We shoulder our packs and set off through the forest along Choke Creek. As I suspected, my knee is stiff to begin with but does loosen up and actually feels ok. I am encouraged. The track itself along the creek is part forest, part creek side meadow, and goes through small stands of very large spruces. It is very wet in places, and the footing is treacherous in spots.

8:55am - Hmm. We have gone only about a quarter mile along the creek, with the trail following its banks very closely, when we come upon something very interesting. A fourth camp site. This site is much larger than the one we spent the night in, is at a place where the creek veers right through a bunch of boulders, and is in a large spruce grove right on the bank on the creek. A very pretty spot, especially compared to ours, which was ok but nothing spectacular. We look at each other, curse a bit, and realize that there were now four campsites along the creek, not three as the guidebook said (it is several years old), and that this was the beautiful camp site we were looking for. Oh well, nothing much to be done about it at this point. Leo is standing at this site in the picture below.

This stretch of trail along the creek is very very pretty and I am enjoying it very much.

8:55am - Hmm. We have gone another quarter mile along the creek, near the spot where the trail will leave the creek for good, and find something very interesting. A FIFTH campsite! And this one is gorgeous. It matches the guidebook description exactly. It is a large spruce grove with many tent sites overlooking the creek. There is a very pronounced rock ledge rising 5 or 6 feet straight out of the water. An absolutely gorgeous spot. We curse some more, and agree that this kind of camp site is a destination site; the kind of place you would hike to just to spend the night. Which we all agree we might do sometime in the future.

In retrospect, I am not sure that we could readily have done the extra half mile to get to this site from where we did end up camping, but I would have liked to have tried.
Muttering, mumbling and shaking our heads in disbelief, we shoulder our packs and head north, uphill and away from the creek.
Next...the End.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Choke Creek Camp

or, I May Never Get Up Again
The Pinchot Trail Chronicle, Part 13
Monday June 28, 2010

3:15pm - We come out into the sunlight and the meadows on the banks of Choke Creek, and we all seem overjoyed to be there. The guidebook says that in the direction we are going there are three campsites, and the third and final one is the nicest. A grueling last 10 or 15 minutes should get us there. We stumble on.
We come to the first camp site, which is in an open clearing on the banks of the stream. Very nice, but too exposed to the rain that is forecast as a possibility for tonight. We have been rained on off and on all day. The campsite we are going for is described as under a nice stand of spruce trees on the banks of the creek at a spot where the creek veers right at a rock ledge with boulders. That sounds perfect, and protected. It is marshy down here, and a few minutes later we pass another exposed campsite. That must be 2 of 3, so the next one will be ours. My relief knows no bounds. I am in serious pain by now and every step burns.
3:35pm - CAMP! We come to a place where the creek turns right among some boulders, and the trail goes a little bit left into the shade of a pair of huge spruce trees. We have flat ground, a fire pit and a nice dry area. It isn't quite what was advertised in the guidebook, but at this point I couldn't care less. It's not a large site, and isn't directly in view of the water, but all I want to do is drop my pack, get my wet boots off, and sit down. Or lie down. Or just collapse. So that's what I do.
The first order of business after a bit of a rest is to set camp up, and lay out as many of our things as possible in the hopes that we can get as dry as the humid air will allow. Our boots are soaked, and feet are sore. No major blistering on anybody which is good, as that could make for an uncomfortable day 3.
My main hobby is wargaming, and in wargaming terms, I have failed my morale check. Pretty badly.
Journal, "In Camp", about 4:00pm - Scattered showers started at the Pine Hill Trail junction and made it impossible to write notes during the day. Knee started becoming a little sore on the White Line Trail. Pretty darn sore by the time we were descending to Choke Creek. Got the nice camp site under some evergreens. Should be dry even if we get rain overnight. Leo and Dave are fetching water to filter and then use the Steripen on. I would walk to the creek but my knee is killing me. I am very worried about the walk out of here tomorrow. From this point, which is pretty far from the parking lot, the shortest route out is about 5 or 6 miles, although it looks like you can get to a drivable road in 2.5 or 3. Hopefully it won't come to that as it would be pretty embarrassing. On the bright side, the CleanStream filter did 4 liters of water out of the creek in just a few minutes.
A Note on Cedar Water - The water in Choke Creek was a brownish red color not unlike a strong cup of tea. The color comes from the evergreen forests that the creek runs through and isn't unhealthy, but it sure looks odd. Leo says this is what water in the Pine Barrens is like, and that in olden days sailing ship captains used to call it sweet water because it stayed better longer in the ships' water reservoirs for long trips at sea.
Having been in camp for a while we make dinner, and with some rest my spirits improve. I am still worried about tomorrow, but I can fight my way through the pain. We all look at the map, and agree that there are a couple of different ways to shorten the loop tomorrow if choose to. I know that no matter what I feel like in the morning, my vote will be to shorten the loop. The quickest way out would be to backtrack, but there is no way I am going to give in to that. I know that is not what anybody else wants either.
Journal, 6:45pm - Took 2 Advil and feeling better for the moment. Needed to do some bathroom business for the first time out here which always feels very strange. Not much appetite but I know I should eat. More thirsty and tired than anything.
Dinner was a dehydrated Chicken Risotto from Backpacker's Pantry, which was pretty good. Looking at the GPS track, we saw that we had done exactly 12 miles today. We were all sore and tired, but we were also pretty proud of our accomplishment. It was a good evening, but honestly, I am a little fuzzy on the details. I know we talked for quite a while and had some good laughs. We talked about other hikes we could do, places to see, and how we had perhaps stretched ourselves a little too far today.
Journal, 9:18pm - Bedtime. Exhausted and should sleep well, even with the thought of mice running around outside. We have seen several, and they are bold. Leo seems to have adopted one as a pet.
We hung the food and packs again, and went to bed. I slept very well overnight, but did wake several times. Once I woke to the sound of something padding around our camp. Larger than a mouse for sure; something the size of a raccoon or possum I would say. It could also have been a fox, porcupine, skunk, or anything of that general size. I heard it pawing gently but repeatedly at something synthetic sounding, like the side of a tent (not mine) or a backpack. My rain fly was on but open, so I turned my headlamp on at one point to try to see if I could see what it was or scare it away. I didn't relish the prospect of coming face to face with whatever it was through the mesh of my tent, 12 inches from my face, especially if it was a startled skunk. I didn't see anything and before long I didn't hear it anymore either.
A couple times during the night I heard a little bit of light rain in the tree tops, but not a drop made it through the spruces to our tents.
Next...the long walk home.

Beginning the South Loop

or, Hiking is Hard Work!
The Pinchot Trail Chronicle, Part 12
Monday June 28, 2010

[GPS readings would later show that we had covered 7.6 miles to our lunch stop]

1:40pm - We leave our lunch stop and go south on the Behler Swamp Trail. This trail also runs along the border of the state forest, and is of different character than most of what we have been hiking through. The ever-present mountain laurel is still around, but the trail is rockier, has more roots, is wetter, and very often tunnels through beautiful large stands of rhododendrons, some of which are in bloom.

The rhodos bloom in various shades of white, pink and light purple. The groves are perhaps 20 feet tall in places. We also pass through small stands of evergreens, mostly spruce I believe. We are passing through generally swampy ground, and that coupled with the intermittent showers that continue to follow us make the ground more slippery. I can feel my knee more and more as we move south. It has gone from a periodic twinge to a pretty much non-stop soreness. Nothing horrible yet, but I am aware of it all the time now.

1:59pm - We come out of the rhodo thickets and into a very large evergreen grove. It is dry and spongy here because of the thick carpet of pine needles. On the far side of the grove we join the Tanner road, another dirt and gravel forest service road that is probably mostly used by hunters in season. It is not nearly as pretty to be walking along a road rather than a trail, but the nice even footing gives a welcome respite from the need to be constantly watching your every step to make sure you don't trip over a rock or root hidden by the undergrowth. We are more tired now, and are hiking in wet boots. Continually brushing our way through wet undergrowth has made the rain water run down our legs, soak our socks, and wick down into our boots. Dave comments on the unpleasant squishing sound he is making with every step.

2:16pm - After a quarter mile of road, we duck back into the forest for a quarter mile, and then join the road again for almost a half mile. This section of road is a long gradual upslope, and going up actually gave my knee a bit of a rest. I know from day hiking that downhill is the worst on the knees, with level and uphill (within reason) not being nearly as bad.

2:26pm - We reach the top of the slope and the small grass parking lot for the Choke Creek Nature Trail. There are no cars, but this is where we turn south again and head back into the forest for the duration of the day. I figure we have done over 9 miles at this point [GPS later says 9.4] and I have no great desire to do another step, but there is no mention of camp sites between here and Choke Creek. Also, one of the main reasons for planning the hike the way we did was to camp on the banks of the creek. So we grit our teeth and move on. I am periodically complaining about my knees, and it is both knees now. The right is pretty bad and the left has joined in. I know I am not the only one feeling the effects of our effort, as there are mumbles from my companions as well. I'm probably the most vocal though.

My discomfort was taking some of the fun out of things by now, but there were still pretty sights to see along the way, including bright orange salamanders, mountain laurels in bloom, and more rhododendrons than I had ever seen before. But, over the next few miles I do have to admit that my ability to see anything good pretty much evaporated. I was hot, wet, sweaty, sore, tired, and my knees had both pretty much turned into a burning throbbing mess. Others were mentioning sore feet as their main complaint, but my feet were either fine or my knees hurt so badly that I couldn't feel anything else.

2:45pm - We are still on this damned trail with no end in sight. We are certainly over 10 miles by now, and every time I think we are getting close to dropping down into the stream valley, the trail does some crazy switchback that adds steps. Every step counts at this point, and I am counting every painful one of them.

3:05pm - Finally! We reach the point where we begin to descend toward the stream. I am happy we are getting close, but the descent is agony. As I write this four days later, I have to stop and think about whether agony is really the right word, or if I am overstating for effect. But no, I am convinced that agony is the right word. Dave is beat. "All used up" I think is the phrase he used. I'm a wreck. Leo is the quietest of the three. Suffering in silence, or maybe not suffering, I'm not sure. The only bit of comic relief at this point was the teasing Leo's cell phone was giving him. I never lost my Verizon signal pretty much the whole time we were out, but Leo got about 5 seconds of reception per hour, just enough for his phone to recognize that it had missed calls and text messages, beep a couple of times and then die again before Leo could get it out of his pocket.

3:12pm - I hear water!

Next...finding camp and crashing.

The North Loop

or, Hiking is Fun!
The Pinchot Trail Chronicle, Part 11
Monday June 28, 2010

8:45am - We leave our first camp site and head east then north on the Sassafras Hill Trail. This section of the trail is a long gradual climb to the top of a plateau, going through the same kind of woods, ferns and mountain laurel as yesterday evening's section. We would see more of this than anything else. It feels great to be on the move, although it is a new sensation between carrying the weight and the change in center of gravity. Again, not bad, just different.

9:14am - We have reached the top of the plateau and cross the Sassafras road, a grass forest service access road leading east to State Game lands. Everything has loosened up and I am in a nice rhythm. The pack feels light as a feather. At the moment I feel like I could do this forever (but I'm sure that will fade). On the other side of the Sassafras road, we are now heading almost due north in a straight line following another narrow grass path that looks like it was a road at one point. No rocks, no roots, nearly level ground and we are making great time. This section is called the North Line Trail. We talk a bit but are mostly content to enjoy the quiet and take in the sights.

9:33am - We reach the Spruce Hill Trail and turn west. We are hiking through a mix of forest, meadows, and have passed a nice patch of white birch trees. Up here on the plateau there are some large stretches of exposed rock in the meadows. The trail is a little rocky in places but not too bad.

9:51am - We arrive at the junction with the Hayes Run Trail and decide to take our first pack break. We stop and drop our packs. I take a a few steps and almost fall forward onto my face. I am so used to leaning forward to counterbalance the weight of my pack that when it is no longer there, I am now off balance without it. It's a hilarious feeling. A few hundred yards back, on a wide grassy section of trail, we pass what had to be bear scat. It was the size of what you would expect from a horse, but clearly not from a horse. So unless someone had a dog the size of an elephant back here, it was a bear. Cool. I would like to see a black bear (from a distance).

10:00am - After a short break, we are on the move again, heading northwest and beginning a long gradual descent into the valley that will eventually bring us to Painter Creek, the northernmost point of our loop. We leave the meadow section of the trail behind us, and are back into the ferny woods. The trail is rockier here in places, reminding more of Hawk Mountain than anything thus far. We also hit our first boggy sections of trail as we skirt the area that drains into Hayes Run Swamp.

10:47am - A steeper descent over the last few hundred yards brings us down to Painter Creek, a pretty little stream surrounded by evergreen groves. We stop and rest, and filter some water. This is roughly the halfway point of the northern loop, and one third of our distance for today, maybe a little less. I still feel great and am really enjoying myself.

11:00am - We leave Painter Creek behind and begin the climb out of the valley. Jeff Mitchell's Backpacking Pennsylvania; 37 Great Hikes, my guidebook for the hike, says there is a short but steep ascent at this point and refers to a shortcut trail, but we don't see any trail junctions, and the climb is long and gradual, slanting easily up the side of the ridge.

11:30am - We cross the Pittston road again and continue to climb toward the shoulder of Big Pine Hill on what is now the Scrub Oak Trail. There is a nice vista from the top of the hill, but we really can't afford the extra 2 miles or so the detour to it would entail, so we will be bypassing it. This whole section of the trail is more ferny woods, and climbs gently but consistently.

11:57am - We reach the Pine Hill road, a grass forest track and stop for a pack break. We have done approximately 5 miles so far today, and everyone is feeling fine. The weather, which has been warm, breezy and partly sunny so far appears to be ready to take a turn for the worse. The forecast for the whole day was reasonable chance of thunderstorms or showers off and on all day, and it looks like that's what we are going to get soon. The sky is dark overhead and to the west, and the wind has picked up. While we are stopped, we get our pack rain covers out and begin putting them on. As we do this, the rain starts. It's too warm to worry about rain gear for our bodies, so we shoulder our covered packs and head off.

12:20pm - It is raining lightly but steadily, and it actually feels good. We need to pay a little more attention to footing so as not to slip and fall, but the rain isn't a big deal. This section of trail is called the White Line Trail and follows the western boundary of the state forest very closely, heading due south. At around this time, I feel the first twinges of soreness in my right knee. This isn't a major worry at this point, and is something I expected at some point. Vigorous day hiking brings out the same minor soreness in the same place - the under/outer side of my right knee cap. Patella tendinitis or similar inflammation. I brought a knee brace and plenty of ibuprofen, so I am prepared. I put on the brace and we keep going.

12:57pm - We cross the paved Bear Lake Road, completing the north loop. My knee is a little sore but not bad. About a hundred yards south of the road, we stop for lunch in the shade of a huge spruce tree. I eat the last of my fresh food - a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a banana. We have done about six and a half miles so far today, and we all still feel good. Looking at how far we have come and how much seems to be left, I am guessing that 14 miles for today was an overstatement. Re-reading the map now, with what we know, would seem to put it closer to 11 miles. We shall see. After about a 45 minute lunch break, we shoulder our packs and head out to tackle the south loop.

Next...the south loop.