Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Half-Baked Ideas for Distance Races - Back Home in PA

We all show our homesickness in different ways. For that pretentious hack John Updike it was walking the sidewalks of our native Shillington, trying to piece together some pattern in our lives. For me, it's looking at maps of Berks County, Pennsylvania and coming up with cockamamey ideas for races. I've had such ideas for races in the Bay Area - like the Pony Express run, where we more-or-less retraced the last leg of the old route - and come to think of it, people actually showed up for that one. Twice.

In particular, I think the East Coast is ripe for a Hood-to-Coast or Calistoga-style relay. While the change in landforms from interior to coast is not quite as dramatic on the right edge of the country, there is nonetheless a really interesting transition in Pennsylvania from Appalachian ridges to coastal plains, along with all the cultural vectors that go along with that. Of course, since I've been gone from the area for over a decade, some of these races may actually exist. So without further ado, here are my half-baked ideas for races in Berks County, Pennsylvania:

1) Penn State to Reading - 162 miles

A team of 10 at 3 legs each could easily do this. The race could begin at either the exact geographic center of Pennsylvania (on the HUB Lawn) or alternatively at Beaver Stadium or Mt. Nittany. I selfishly end it in my home development. Highlights of the race would be Rothrock State Forest, the climb up Route 74 south of Port Royal, and running parallel to and over the Blue Mountains east of Harrisburg.

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2) The Berks County Town-and-Trail Ultra - ~100k

I'm always impressed with Berks County's trail scene when I'm visiting and wish I would've paid more attention while I lived there. This trail would start in the gorgeous French Creek, exit west on the Horseshoe Trail, head northwest past the late Mr. Updike's home, make its way through Cumru Township into and through the hemlocks of Nolde Forest, up the newly budgeted trail along 625 into Reading, join the Tulpehocken trail, follow that up to Blue Marsh and take the west side of the lake. From there it would circle the Marsh (more closely than this map allows), come back down through Reading, pick up the Thun Trail, jump off at Birdsboro and head back down into French Creek. The actual route would be less than the slightly > 100k seen here, and could by done as an ultra or a relay like the Tussey Mountainback.

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3.) The Reading to Ocean City Relay - 172 miles

Just as it sounds - the race ends exactly at the DE-MD border, and follows the coast as much as is possible along DE's marshy shoreline. Perfect for a 10 or 12 person relay. A similar race could happen with OCNJ, and a George-Washington kayak leg for the Delaware crossing.

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4. Race Down the Schuylkill - 140 miles

Follow what Unami-speakers called the Ganshowehanne from its source in the Appalachian Coal Regions, through the Blue Ridge Gap at Hamburg, all the way through Montgomery County to the shipyards at its confluence with the Delaware. This would be a great way to publicize the Schuylkill River Trail, large contiguous parts of which are already complete.

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5. Mt. Nittany to the Chesapeake
- 181 miles

Another relay. This would go down the Juniata and Susquehanna to the northern tip of Chesapeake Bay.

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