Mid State Trail Days 7-13: Williamsburg to State College
There’s something about the process of walking into a small mountain town that gives it its charm.
Often, you come in on a side street, materializing out of the shade of the woods as easily and as quietly as a deer. Then, you head straight to the Dollar General.
When you start to become annoyed with finding a toilet every time you need to pee, you get up the next morning and slip back into the mountains on the other side of town.
The Lower Rail Trail
We had full packs and tight waistbands leaving Williamsburg on the Lower Rail Trail, courtesy of the Blue Lantern B&B – to be missed under no circumstances by any MST hiker.
Before it was a railroad, the Lower Rail Trail was a canal towpath. Now, it’s an Audubon Society Important Bird Site, a fly fishing access point, a connector between two towns, and a cool place to take a bike.
It was also the next 11 miles of the Mid State Trail.
Bikes whizzed past us all through the morning and well into the afternoon until it felt alien to be moving at walking speed.
During our morning snack break, we met a man on a recumbent bicycle. He stopped and asked us if we were hiking the entire Mid State Trail.
“Yessir,” we said, “all the way to New York.” He chatted with us about his maintenance work on the Lower Rail Trail.
On the windshield of his bike were the letters OMMA. I decided not to ask what they stood for, though I didn’t have to. As we slung our packs over our shoulders, he pointed to the letters and said “you know what this stands for?”
We looked at each other and shrugged.
“Old Man My Ass,” he said, and chuckled.
Eleven miles drifted by, and we spent a half-hour in the picnic area at the end of the rail trail. Flat ground is hard on the feet, and we were looking forward to a couple of miles of dirt for the end of the day.
So we crossed the road and made our way to Rothrock State Forest, where our next mile and a half was spent on – you guessed it – a gravel road.
We found a tent spot for the night in between road walks, beside a small stream. The train didn’t go by too many times overnight.
Day 9: Little Juniata Natural Area
“Oh no, not another one.”
A large black dog sped towards us across the lawn, barking in an extremely unfriendly manner. His tail wasn’t wagging.
The Mid State Trail passes in front of many interesting properties on its paved road walks. Some of them have state-of-the-art canine security systems. I never want to use my pepper spray on a dog, and up until now, I’ve never had to consider it.
This morning, we were on our way to Little Juniata Natural Area, fewer than two miles into the day. We had also been accosted by a less-than-friendly pooch the day before, just after exiting the Lower Rail Trail.
This dog, however, slowed down as he got close to us. I froze as he sniffed my butt.
“Are you friendly, buddy?” I said, cautiously reaching a hand out. He touched his nose to my hand, and then I pet his head. Jello scratched behind his ears, and the dog smiled and closed his eyes. Success.
The climb up to Tussey Ridge was long and familiar. The moss on the old railroad bed had a lovely give to it, although the ensuing ridge walk was strewn with boulders for the rest of the day.
It was also long, hot, and dry. Our water source for the night was an old well on the top of the ridge.
It had a pool of water in it, but also a colony of resident aquatic worms and a layer of algae. Unwilling to descend to the bottom of the mountain, we pre-filtered the water through my bandanna.
Home for the night was the old site of the Tussey Mountain Fire Tower. There wasn’t a sound until the first Wood Thrush sang in the morning.
Days 10-14: State College
“Are you guys staying tomorrow or are you heading back out?”
“We’ll be staying the next two days,” said Jello from the front seat. “My foot needs to rest.”
Jello had somehow convinced my roommate to drive all the way up the mountain to pick us up a half-mile from Little Flat Fire Tower.
The hike from the Tussey Mountain Fire Tower site had flown. We packed up early in anticipation of being vegetables for several days in my apartment. We passed the Ironstone Loop and the eagle watch, crossing the highway at the Jo Hays Vista.
Several hours later found us in my roommate’s car, headed down the mountain.
Two days turned into three when I found myself hunched over the toilet, puking more violently than I had when I’d consumed that expired orange juice a year back.
The town food I had been waiting so patiently for had given me food poisoning. I’m terrified of hospitals, but I couldn’t keep water down, so by 11:00 p.m. Jello was speeding me to the ER, where we stayed until 4:00 a.m. It pays to have good friends.
Several days later, I can finally keep bread and coffee down. It’ll be a little rough getting back on trail, but they can’t get rid of me that easily.
Besides, we have a date with the Pine Creek Rail Trail.
Find the vlog here.
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