My second backpacking trip with members from my team at work was last weekend in the beautiful Sproul State Forest near Renovo, PA. The crew this time around was five of us from my team in the US, as well as another employee from the Czech Republic who’s residing here for a while. We all signed up for a 23-mile, 2-day hike, but what we got was a lot more interesting.

We gathered early the morning of Saturday, June 4th, and set out on the nearly 3-hour drive to the trail. By 9:30AM we had found the parking lot for the Chuck Keiper Trail, had a celebretory drink, strapped on our gear, and hit the trail. We had both a topographic map (with elevation profile) and a first-hand description of the Chuck Keiper East Trail, and in the beginning it seemed to match what we were experiencing. However, about 7 miles in it was becoming apparent that the elevations we were hiking weren’t like what the map said. Two of us were tracking our progress via GPS-enabled devices and our courses weren’t tracing out in shapes similar to the map. Also, our GPS coordinates were slightly off the topo map we had. We continued marching on: we knew we were on the “Chuck Keiper Trail” since it was orange-blazed and signed occasionally. However, cabin locations and individual trail names weren’t matching up to the map; in fact, nothing we saw along the way indicated that this was the East loop. Until we got to the merge with the West-East Cross Connector trail!

At that point we completely stopped and tried to get our bearings. It turned out that between all the maps we brought, there were at least two versions. We scrambled to find one that showed this cross-connector trail. One of us had it, and it indicated that that trail met the East loop about 2 miles from where we thought we had started the day. We then realized that we hadn’t parked at the correct parking lot; and had never verified our starting position with GPS or another indicator. It was time to make a decision about how our day and weekend was going to play out. It was about 5PM, we had already hiked though about an hour of thunder showers (it was drying out now), and we faced the prospect of hiking back 12 miles to where our cars were parked; we had hiked about 15 miles in at this point. Instead of stopping to eat dinner, we decided to trudge up SR 144 to the parking lot we should have used (the parking lot we used was ~10 miles up the same road, on the same side of the road). This part was particularly grueling for me, walking on a mix of gravel and pavement, but the old man of the group made it OK.

Once at the closer parking lot we figured we could set up camp there and then hike back to our parking lot in the morning, or try to flag down a ride and shuttle back for our cars. Although SR 144 isn’t a very busy road, We managed to get a kind woman named Linda to stop for us. Once we explained our situation, she agreed to shuttle me back to my car. I was one of the two drivers on the trip. Linda is a nurse at the Renovo Hospital who was headed to work and I let her know how kind she was to offer us help. It wouldn’t be the last help we’d need this weekend. Keep reading!

I got to my car and drove back to the other parking lot. Linda had driven back up there and stopped to talk to some of the other guys before resuming her trip to work. At some point I had found out that one of our group’s family had a cabin about 45 minutes away from where we were, and we had decided to trek up there to camp for the night. Since I had brought marinated chicken for our dinner, I was given the decision as to whether we’d eat our camp food or go into town for dinner. Exhausted by this point, and the clock at close to 7PM, I opted to go to town.

We shuttled back for the other car and trekked about 20 minutes up to Renovo, which our “semi-local” was familiar with. He directed us to Yesterday’s Restaurant, and we settled down for cooked meals. The place was dead and we had the full attention of our friendly waitress, which was welcome!

After the meal we found our way out of Renovo and up Summerson Mountain Road — way up — to get to the cabin, which was about a 15-minute drive from the main roads. At this point it was close to 9PM and we started setting up camp by the cars’ headlights. The other car had some music mixes playing from its stereo for a while. Several of us, including me, settled down quickly. The others hung out for a bit before turning in.

I woke up first on Sunday morning and began preparing for breakfast. I had brought pancake mix for the group and started getting those cooking as the others were rising and starting to break camp. After we had all eaten and started the final pack-up around 8:15AM, the other driver tried to start his car. It wouldn’t turn over. Too much of the power had been drained from the headlights and radio the night before, and neither vehicle had jumper cables. My car started OK, so our “semi-local” and I went down to town to try to find a place to purchase jumper cables. Several places weren’t open yet, but we stopped at the local Weis Markets right around 9AM, when they were opening. The manager said they didn’t have jumper cables, but she immediately offered to loan us hers. The people in the town of Renovo were exceptionally helpful and friendly.

Jumper cables in hand, we drove back up to the mountain to get the other car fixed. Getting the vehicles in place and connected, we noted that we weren’t getting a spark from the cables even after confirming that they were correctly connected to my car’s terminals. Taking a closer look, it appeared that one of the two cables had been cut and re-crimped on each end without any of the wire actually making contact with the terminal connectors! Luckily, we had enough tools with us and on-site to fix this (hey, we know passive electronics, right?) and a few minutes later, had a spark. It took a while for the dead car’s battery to recharge, but we did finally get it going and were back on the road a bit after 10AM. We dropped off the cables at Weis and headed to our lunch destination, Selin’s Grove Brewing Co. in Selinsgrove, PA.

This was my first visit to the Brewery, and their selection of beers and organic foods was great. It’s definitely a great reward after a weekend of challenging one’s endurance. We’ll be stopping there again. After enjoying our lunch and confirming to share this tale, even with all its warts, we headed back to Harrisburg with a desire to come back and hike the trail we had originally targeted later this summer or in early autumn. Thanks to the guys for making it fun even with all the unexpected situations. After driving over 400+ miles that weekend, I’ll let someone else drive next time!