In May 2021, I made my first self-supported attempt to run the Mason-Dixon Trail. The hardest section of the trail arrives just east of Shank’s Mare Outfitters. The Four Sisters section is probably the gnarliest section of trail in PA. I was about halfway through the section, 65+ miles into my run, and it was sometime after midnight when I encountered. . .

The Blowdown

Now normally when a tree comes down across the trail you have the option of going over or under it. Occasionally, you have the addition option of going through if there are multiple branches/trunks blocking the trail. All three of those options were closed to me as I was faced with a mass of vegetation that was easily ten feet tall and denser than a hedge. It was like someone made a Great Wall of China out of wood and dropped it across the trail in front of me.

My first thought was: I have to turn back now?!?! After a couple seconds, it dawned on me that I could go around (keep in mind it’s the middle of the night and my mental faculties are waning). I looked to the left and saw nothing but unbroken blowdown stretching out of site into the darkness. Turning to the right showed me an identical view. I turned right off the trail towards the base of the trees thinking it would be easier to get around that than the top. I hiked up the side of a hill, however the wall of wood continued to stretch out ahead. It was like a domino of trees had been dropped across the MDT.

Eventually, I came to spot where I could climb through the blowdown. I turned left and started heading back down towards the trail. Or that’s where I thought I was going. A couple minutes went by and I still hadn’t found the trail. My level of panic is slowly increasing with each step I take. It’s primal in the dead of night and I was very far from civilization. I’m swinging my headlamp left and right trying to see if I missed the trail somehow. My thoughts are getting darker and darker as I trudge through the underbrush. Like how long would it take someone to find my body?

I’m now past where the trail should be. It’s possible I may have missed it, but there’s no way I can turn around. While I might be lost now, I would definitely get lost trying to retrace my steps. The only way forward is forward. And just as I’m about to give up all hope. . .

I finally stumble upon the trail! My heart rate slowly drops and I say a prayer of thanks for my salvation. It was a couple hundred yards further down the trail before I saw my first blue blaze on a tree and knew I was 100% back on the MDT. Whew.