December 5, 2012

Laurel Highlands Backpacking


On June 10, 1989, I had the extraordinary opportunity to lead a group of Girl Scouts on a backpacking trip. Our challenge was to hike the entire 70 miles of the Laurel Highlands Trail in Pennsylvania. The group had done weekend excursions and lots of miles on local walking trails in preparation for this adventure. “Were we really prepared?” was the question on most minds as we left Ohio that first morning.

As we had planned, purchased equipment, and conditioned, we had also talked with others who had hiked the trail. The owner of the local adventure store doubted that “girls” could actually do the entire trail. The girls got tired of hearing this, and other people’s doubts, and became even more determined. But when the day arrived and the journey was about to begin, their doubts surfaced. As parents said their goodbyes and sent us on our way, I am sure there were some who feared that their daughters wouldn’t be able to handle the nine days and 70 miles. Could 13 people of various ages and backgrounds actually get along for nine days once muscles ached and bodies tired?

The north trailhead was reached right about noon and after a quick lunch we were on our way. Civilization was behind us but the trail quickly became home to our group of rugged Girl Scouts. As we hiked upward to reach the Laurel Ridge, the awesome views stretched out below us.  The first of many little games became known as “rate a view” as we judged the “awesimity factor”. Although the lungs were straining from the rise in altitude and the legs were heavy, the first five miles passed quickly. As each mile was conquered, the doubts were put to rest because everyone had done their conditioning and we were ready.

There is no way to describe everything that the next nine days would hold for this group. Thanks to the pre-trip conditioning, most days were like leisure hikes in the woods. Time was spent watching the whitewater rafters far below, playing games to get better acquainted, writing songs that told about our adventure, and truly taking the time to enjoy the unspoiled wilderness that was around us. 

The group got closer and the challenges were more easily overcome.  On the third day the rain started and didn’t stop again until day eight.  Five days were spent wearing ponchos walking in a steady downpour.  This co
uld easily have dampened everyone’s spirits but the group just marched on while singing some of their favorite rain-related songs.  When the rain finally stopped, we traded raindrops for caterpillars.  We found ourselves in an area that was infested with gypsy moth caterpillars and they were literally falling out of the trees on to us.  Thankfully, we were able to hike through that area and reach a beautiful overlook that took in the Youghiogheny River valley.

We were doing such a good job that even the park rangers, Sam and Joe, were impressed. They checked on us at the camping areas and shared pictures of animals they had seen in the area. On our last night, Sam treated us to homemade apple fruit bars as a reward for how easily we had completed the entire trail. Believe me, that was a treat after eating backpacking food for eight days.

Nine days and 70 miles later, the Highlands Bunch accomplished their goal. Everyone was proud that they had enough guts to go for it, enough strength to do it, and were just crazy enough that they weren’t talked out of trying. Numerous songs came out of the adventure, but the group’s theme song was set to the tune of The Brady Bunch.

Here’s the story of two crazy ladies who were gonna hike the Laurel Highlands Trail.
Seventy miles in Pennsylvania, they knew they would not fail.

Here’s the story of eleven Girl Scouts who decided to also make the trip.
They all conditioned, filled up their backpacks, turned in permission slips.

Then the one day when the ladies met the Girl Scouts,
And they knew that it was much more than a hunch,
On the trail, thirteen would form a family,
That’s the way we all became the Highlands Bunch!

The Highlands Bunch, the Highlands Bunch,
That’s the way we became the Highlands Bunch!

The memory of the experience and the girls who made it special will always be a favorite of mine.  The eleven Girl Scouts were not only elite girls, they were, and are, elite individuals.

Now girls from Ohio’s Heartland can follow in the footsteps of their sister Girl Scouts. In summer 2013, Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland will sponsor a backpacking trip on the Laurel Highlands Trails for girls in grades 9-11. 

Contact Karen Goodin, kgoodin@gsoh.org, if you are interested in attending, or leading, any of the high adventure activities.

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