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50-Mile Thru-Hikes: Loyalsock Trail, Pennsylvania

A 59-mile "long trail" through Pennsylvania.
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Unexpectedly and abruptly, at around mile 30, we run into a group of backpackers in their mid-20s. They are from West Chester, Pennsylvania, and they’re the first people my buddy Alan and I have seen in days. They smell like shampoo. They seem to be in a hurry.
“How far ya’ going?” one says.
 “How many miles to Angel Falls?” asks another.
The trail chatter snaps me out of a thru-hiker’s hypnosis—I’m not sure what time it is or exactly where we are on the map. My mind has been floating and drifting, pleasantly void of stress or boundaries as my feet pad methodically through mile after mile of hemlock and hickory laced with rushing creeks. This is long-trail bliss.

The crazy thing? This “long trail” is only 59 miles end to end, and we’re already about halfway through. Our trip isn’t a traditional multi-month, foot-long-beard-growing, trail name-acquiring, complicated-mail-dropping, job-quitting thru-hike. My friend Alan and I have families, careers, and mortgage payments that can’t be put on hold for six months. But we also have aspirations for long-trail satisfaction—accomplishment, adventure, scenic variety, disconnection, and the bone-weary exhaustion that rewards a hard effort. The solution: a point-to-point hike of about a week. By passing the aches-and-pain break-in period of the weekend, getting to know one trail intimately, and hiking into new territory, we hope to arrive at a place where contemplating the fuzzy caterpillar crossing the trail is infinitely more important than deciding whether granite or engineered stone countertops will better enhance resale.
Judging by the looks on the twentysomethings’ faces, our lofty plan appears to be working. They move on while I’m still trying to pinpoint our precise location.

Alan and I are on the Loyalsock Trail, a little-known route through the Nowheresville of north-central Pennsylvania. The path rolls and dips along the Allegheny Plateau in the heart of one of the biggest green blobs Google Earth shows south of Maine. The scene past the trailhead, near Hillsgrove Township, is straight out of the Carboniferous Period. A colony of fledgling ground pines—Joshua tree-like evergreens—projects weird lime-green antennae skyward. Stands of spruce, their arching branches studded with needles, cast shadows on an understory of spongy, star-shaped mosses. It’s a fascinating prologue, but we didn’t linger.

“We better get moving if we’re going to finish this thing,” Alan had said.

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