Rachel Carson Trail Hike Tests Determination

Article excerpt

Traveling 34 miles on foot in one day is difficult enough for most people.

Add sections of primitive and rugged trail, steep hills that follow power and gas lines and water crossings, and the endeavor becomes a real challenge.

The Rachel Carson Challenge, to be specific.

The annual event brings long-distance runners and walkers together with the goal of completing the entire Rachel Carson Trail from Harrison Hills Park to North Park between sunrise and sunset.

As the organizers will tell you, it isn't a race. The challenge is just to finish.

"The trail highlights the topography of the region, for sure," Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy events director Steve Mentzer said. "You'll go up and down hills quite frequently, and you just don't go lazily along, switchbacking up and down the hills. You go straight up and straight down. There's a lot of variety."

Seventy-five hikers attempted the first Challenge in 1996.

Last year, 570 hikers started out at North Park, and 469 finished at Harrison Hills Park. Seventy-nine percent (449) finished within the official 15:04 time limit. Mentzer is expecting to reach the 600- person cap for this year's challenge, set for June 21.

"It's getting very popular," Mentzer said.

The race will be held on the longest day of the year, and most challengers will need every possible second of daylight. Some run large portions of the trail, and last year's winner, Chris Petit, set a new course record with a finishing time of 6:12:18.

Most hikers will finish in the 11- to 14-hour time frame, Mentzer said.

It's no easy task.

Many people suffer from blisters and chafing along the way, some to the point where they can't go on. Muscles can get sore and cramp. If it's a warm day, dehydration can be an issue.

Then there is the required training.

Don Erdeljac, a native of Etna, did his first Rachel Carson Challenge in 1997 just one month after he ran his first marathon. …