County Line (AKA Tuscarora or State Line) Trail

Paul, Ted and Tom - Click to Enlarge Image

 2/16/02

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Prologue

Still licking my wounds from missing Camp Jeep and maybe yearning for a taste of the thrill I got on Dictum, I discussed with Maria taking a short day trip. She had plans for Saturday with some old friends from work and we worked out that the kids could come with me on a ride Saturday. I shot a note off to Hugh Long asking if he wanted to go hit the trail. He said "Yes, if it rains." Hugh has taken up powered paragliding and has been grounded due to the rain. I told him that the weather forecasts called for "scattered thunder storms" and he suggested we go run State Line...

I don't know what got into me, but that sounded like a good idea so we made a plan to go run State Line. I kept checking the weather and it kept looking like rain. Finally, I decided that I should probably try to get a couple more people to go along because rain on State Line is pretty much a formula for disaster. I figured we'd run the trail to the power line, someone would have reservations about continuing (probably me) and we'd turn around and come back. No problem. If trouble arose, we'd have a couple vehicles to stay behind and a couple to go get help.

I posted a notice on the OCC board and soon I had Joel signed up. I called Carl and he agreed to join us. Bill sent me an e-mail message indicating interest and we were all set. Hugh called to say that a friend of his was stuck in the woods and he was going to get him out. I was committed to the trail ride so Hugh decided to help his friend and I decided to stick with plans to run State Line.

Muster

I made "hardcore" plans to have the group meet at Sheetz in Haymarket by 7:30am. This is by no means an easy feat for me. It means getting up at 5:00 am to pack lunches, camera, tools etc, get the kids and myself ready, and be on the road by 6:30 in order to make the 1-hour drive to Virginia. But I managed to scrape myself out of bed and do just that. On the road, we raised Bill on his cell phone, and about the same time got Carl on the CB. We all collected onto Route 270 and were soon headed south and then west for the Haymarket Sheetz.

At the appointed hour we were still about two miles shy of the meeting place so I got on the CB and gave a yell. Joel was on time and waiting for us at Sheetz and answered the call. We rolled in to Sheetz soon after that and, after getting gas and "stuff", got back on Route 66 head west for the trail.

Bill on the road
Carl and Joel on the road - Click to Enlarge

The road trip went fast and was easy. We connected to Route 81 and drove a couple exits down to Route 55, where we headed west to the trailhead. Since memories of my trips to State Line are still quite vivid, and since my GPS track from the first trip was conveniently active in my GPS, we found the trail head with no trouble (the name is a dead give-away anyway...) and were soon airing down and disconnecting.

The Gang (Bill, Paul, Ted, Joel, Carl) - Click to Enlarge

This was an interesting trip because everyone was locked front and rear, lifted, running aggressive tires, and experienced. Bill and I had winches, and everyone was going to have fun. One way or another... The kids got sprayed with bug spray, and I doused myself as well, and then set about to airing down and disconnecting.

Trail HeadTrail Head
Trail Head - Click to Enlarge

It's getting pretty easy to get that part of the job done. I love the naysayers who mock automatic tire deflators and quality disconnects. We were done with that task so fast that we were on the trail in no time. I have absolutely no regrets about the money I spent on that equipment. As often as we go, the time saved adds up pretty fast if we had to do it the hard way.

Carl had surprised me with a receiver hitch plug ("Jeep") and a Camp Jeep hat.  It was very thoughtful and nice to have at least a hint of the event I had missed.  Carl also hinted that he had something for everyone and promptly produced mini-bungee cords that are the perfect length for holding seat-belts out.  The reason for this is that when the vehicle is past a certain angle, the seat belt no longer wants to be pulled out and put on.  It becomes locked and unusable until the vehicle is once again relatively level.  So by using the bungee to wrap around the sport bar and hold the seat belt out, we can get in and out of the Jeep and be able to use our seat belts.  I took a cue from this and also secured the rear belts for the kids by looping them through the provided retainer on the booster seats.  We were able to use our seat belts all day long because of Carl's thoughfulness.  Many thanks!

Trail

It's funny how grass changes things... No, not that kind silly! The trail does not see much use and gets grown in pretty fast. In some places it can be hard to see the trail, but that just makes it more pleasant.  The first time I ran this trail, it looked much like it did today, except perhaps at the more difficult obstacles. And the effect it had on me this time was very calming. The road does not look extreme, has no hard edges, and makes you feel like it's just a little walk in the park.

Joel

We met a single driver who was coming out as we went in. He graciously pulled off to let us go by. I passed the time of day with him. He said he had hiked to and stayed at the Kephart shelter. I'll have to look it up on the trail web site and see where he went. I was much more at ease this time than the other trips I have made.

CarlCarl going upCarl going up

Paul at the top

Joel

Bill and BarbBill and BarbBill

 

That lasted until we got to the power lines. A few hundred yards before the power lines, you get your first little taste of off-camber driving. It's not so bad that you want to turn back. Then there is the little rock slope that you must climb just before you reach the power line. It puts you even more off-camber, then an easy little hill. I took all this in stride and really enjoyed the ride. The top was up, the A/C was on, and the kids were getting along with each other. Life was grand...

View from the power lines

Then we got out from under the trees, into the open, on the narrow ridge back that spans the gap where the power lines run up and down the ridge. They disappear in the distance in both directions, far below. Far, far below... When we came up here in February, 2002, it was much more bleak - the bushes were bare, the grass was flattened down and brown, and the rocky road that makes the steep ascent past the power lines was very easy to see. So was the steep drop off on both sides of the trail. When you see the road signs that say "Low Shoulders", you know you're not supposed to drive off the pavement. They don't make a sign to describe what waits for you if you drive off the trail here...

In February 2002, I had some real fear tied up in driving over this section of trail and climbing up past the power line. You could see the valleys below on both sides, and it looked that if you slipped off the trail, you would be a goner. Today, the bushes were lush, the grass was tall, and the trees were full of leaves. The sun was shining and a hint of a breeze was blowing. The bugs were out in force. Looking at the trail, you are fooled into thinking that you have a wide swath to deal with, and there will be forgiveness if you get off the main path. The fact of the matter is, there is no more forgiveness today than there was that cold day in February. But my mind feels more at ease, and I find it very easy to climb the trail and continue on without a care. I did keep a little voice back there reminding me not to get too confident or relaxed, but I did not feel the same pressure that I did last time I was here. Complacency?

Carl leading

As we continued up the trail, the off-camber angles become more frequent, more extreme, and last for longer stretches. Actually, it pretty much stays off camber for the rest of the way to the end, with only a few spots of relief. And even then, you're just trading one hardship for another.

Paul ParkedJoelBill and BarbPaul, Ted and Tom

We came to the spot that Jackie once referred to as the "bad hole". The lower side of the trail is so grown up you'd have a hard time recognizing it from the pictures taken on my first trip out here. The hill just beyond that goes steeply up, slightly off camber, then breaks wickedly to the left, is still a bit tough, but thanks to the dry weather, very do-able.

We worked our way to the spot where the trail goes very off-camber for several hundred yards, at least 30 degrees, and here and there more so, when a uphill-side rock must be traversed. In the midst of this lies a hill that must be climbed and descended, with a very steep break-over point at the top. Several people have met their nemesis here. I got stuck on the downhill side; Mark ended up in the boulders on the uphill side, and several more have told their tales of woe here.

Carl - Click to Enlarge
Carl coming to Break-overCarl coming to break-overCarl climbing to break-overCarl on break-overCarl descending break-overCarl at the bottom of break-over

Carl has done this trail before and showed his familiarity with this obstacle. I got out and walked ahead to make a few photographs. As usual, they do not do the terrain justice. You must drive to the approach while 30-degrees off camber. Then you must turn up hill over a rock on the high side of the hill, putting you about 35-degrees off camber. Then as you ascend, there are more rocks on the uphill side of the path, and you must either go up on them, or risk sliding off the loose rocks that your downhill-side tires are riding over. And there is no trail below the loose rocks. Just a deep drop-off and a tangle of trees and bushes.

Making it to the crest of the hill, you must go to the uphill side of the trail, get more off-camber, and then turn downhill to get over the rock at the top of the little hill, blindly turn down hill, still off camber, still with no place to go if you start sliding sideways, and drive down a steep rocky rutted hill. Without misplacing a tire, without slipping down the hill into the hole where I so unceremoniously removed my steps and wrinkled my rockers on my first trip.

Then when you get to the bottom, a fin of rock sits across the trail at an angle that makes your front end slide away from the trail and into the woods. Going into the trail, this rock is almost a non-issue because it just pulls you further up the hill away from the low side of the trail. You get into the side of the hill with your sidewall and pretty much keep moving. Coming out is another story altogether. Carl made it up and over, down and past the fin with no problems.

Paul climbing to break-overPaul
Paul on break-over - Click to Enlarge

Next I drove the same path. I worked hard to keep my wheels on the desired line, modulated my speed without using my brakes, and did my best to keep my steering pointed where I wanted it. The Jeep constantly sought the low side of the hill and I struggled successfully to keep it in the tracks and moving where I wanted it to go. This is an argument for on-demand lockers instead of the "automatic" lockers that I have. The Jeep simply wants to slide sideways off the hill because the locked wheels do not give great lateral traction. This was one spot where I wanted to turn my lockers OFF.

Somehow I got up and over the break-over and back down the other side. I even overcame my discomfort about the angle on the trail and parked my Jeep.

Ted with Jeep - Click to EnlargeOff-Camber Crawler - Click to Enlarge

It was sitting at about 28-degrees. It was not a great feeling but the vehicle was stable and not at any risk of sliding sideways or tipping over.  In case you ever doubt that my photographs accurately depict the angles of the vehicles, compare the image of the parked Jeep to the one of the Lev-O-Gage and mirror next to it (above).  The picture of the gauge was taken when the Jeep was parked as shown in the photo.  I promise you, if the Jeep is tipped in the photo, it was really tipped that way on the trail!

Joel approaching break-overJoel approaching break-overJoelJoelJoelJoelJoel

Movie (1.7 MB)

Bill descendingBillBillBill
Bill descending - Click to Enlarge

The kids got out and we watched Joel and Bill make there way over the same ground.

The trail continues along, still off-camber and passes through some more rocky spots that require good choice of line, and avoidance of some leaning trees that have claimed windshields, cab tops, and all manner of other vehicle parts. All of this keeps me alert and busy, but my anxiety level is pretty low.

I forgot how close we were to the end of the trail and followed Carl almost down into the rock garden at the end. I realized it in time and was able to pull up off the side of the trail so that others could get by and play in the rocks and on the obstacles that people like to play on.

This section of the trail is responsible for so much carnage that I don't play on it. I am happy to watch anyone who wants to work through the boulders, avoid the trees, climb the rocks, turn around between more trees and a cliff, and come back out the same way. Naw, not for me. If anything, it's too much work.

Carl preparing for obstacleCarlCarl

I watched Carl after he got up the rock (very nicely done by the way...) working really hard to get turned around. It was a lot of work with some fairly risky maneuvers along the way. By the time I get to this point on the trail, I've used up my adrenaline; need food and drink, and a break to let myself get relaxed again. The last thing I need is an excursion on a sheet metal munching, fender flair fouling, axle-breaking romp.

CarlCarlBillCarlCarlBarb, Bill, Carl
Carl
BillCarlCarlJoel and CarlCarl's Jeep and Ted
Carl
Joel

Finally, Carl got turned around and came back down off the rock. Bill came up next and was not able to repeat the smooth, one pass swipe that Carl had executed. Eventually Bill got up the rocks when he changed his approach and took a little more risky line than he had started with.

Bill
8-ball in the corner pocket - Click to Enlarge
BillBillBillBillBillBillBill

Movie (9 MB)

Bill worked hard to get turned around and punctured his soft-top in the process. More carnage for the "rock garden".

JoelRubicon Parking OnlyLunchLunch

Joel and I passed, and the gang sat down for an early lunch break. The kids were pretty well behaved through all, though they did start playing vulture around Barb and Bill's cooler... Don't feed the animals!

Ted and TomTom and TedTom and TedTed and TomTed and Tom

We got them fed and through it all, they were great - the footing is pretty rough in this area and I was quite pleased to see that Ted and Tom were able to deal with it.

Ted - Click to Enlarge

They stayed far away from the cliff, except for one supervised rest room break when I accompanied Ted, and we took a look from the brink. Although it was hazy, it was still a beautiful view. If not for the hot sun, it would have been a pretty place to sit for lunch.

With lunch pretty well finished, I loaded the kids up and we headed back from whence we came. Now sitting on the low side of the vehicle, the feeling of being off-camber was a little more intensified. I used the dash grab bar or the passenger door loop to hold onto to help me stay leaning a little uphill. This made it easier to tolerate the steep off-camber angle, and made me think that having my weight more to the center would reduce the risk of flopping over. I doubt it would make a difference, except maybe if I started bouncing my way along. I had no plans for that...

When we came to the angled rock fin sticking out of the ground, I made a couple abandoned attempts to get over it then gave in to the best line for me and got more off-camber than I like. It worked to get my front wheels over. I still had to get my rear wheels over without falling off the trail to my left. I was successful and found myself staring up the hill with the break-over at the top. The side of the trail on the low side is loose rock and dirt. I knew I had to stay on the trail or risk a repeat "stuck" performance.

I climbed to hill and disappeared from Carl behind me. He was calling me on the CB to ask if I wanted/needed a spotter. I was too busy to let go of the wheel and answer him. I had to complete the entire obstacle and leave my Jeep parked on a 30-degree side-hill before I could answer that no spotter was needed, I was all set.

Returning over the angled fin
Up the break-over - Click to Enlarge
Up the break-over

I did some spotting here and there for Carl and Joel. Everybody made short work of this obstacle and we worked our way back closer and closer to the trailhead. Everything was going well.

Up the break-overUp the break-over

Down the break-overDown the break-over

Getting ready
Moving out

Down the break-over

When we got to the power lines, it seemed a shame to just drive on out without appreciating the view. So I parked just before re-entering the trees, and got out to take some pictures. Tom had fallen asleep but Ted was ready, willing and able to join me in hanging out with everyone. Barbara suggested a group picture and Ted was more than willing to oblige by taking one.

Power LinesPower LinesPower LinesPower LinesPower LinesPower LinesPower LinesInspection?Inspection?At the powerlinesTed and PaulTed
The gang - Click to Enlarge

We wrapped up our sightseeing and polished off the rest of the trail. I stopped briefly along the way to "ramp" a stump popular for this purpose. I was able to get onto the top of it. Then I discovered that my flex was fairly decent, my tires compress a great deal when aired down to 12 psi., and my front tires stuff pretty deeply without rubbing.

Tire while ramped (at 12 psi)
Crude Ramp - Click to Enlarge
Crude Ramp

But when I got ready to back down, the Jeep started to continue forward over the stump, which would have involved dropping off it from three feet in the air, and probably impaling the Jeep on it, or at least raking the body up against it. I was able to avoid it by some long-practice heel and toe, a hand from Carl to stabilize the Jeep a tad, but it was a little nerve-wracking. I got the pictures; I think I will leave the stump to others in future...

The rest of the drive to the trailhead was nothing more and nothing less than a nice drive in the country. We thoroughly enjoyed the scenery all along the way, and found the trail to be at its most beautiful for our visit. The kids have never been better, and I enjoyed the company of some of my favorite people. While the weather was on the hot, humid side, I didn't mind it much.

Epilogue

Bill's Roller FairleadBill's RubiconBill's Rubicon

Joel's RubiconJoel's Rubicon

Carl's TJCarl's TJ

Dad's TirePaul's TJ

 

We got aired up and connected in respectable time, and one by one we headed out on our separate ways. Bill and Barbara, and Joel hit the road first. Carl waited for me and I took up the rear. I am definitely going to have to get a heavy-duty compressor to go with my heavy-duty on-board air plumbing. I am airing down to low pressures (~12 psi.) and the airing up is taking painfully long these days.

Entrance looking out - Click to Enlarge

We drove back to the highway and discussed going to Auto Outfitters in Manassas for some stuff that Carl needed for his CB. Unfortunately, when I called them, they did not answer so I suggested that we continue up Route 81 to the truck stop that Hugh and I had visited some time ago. He agreed and we did that. He was able to get the antenna he wanted, but came up short on some of the hardware. But the kids had fun checking out the stuff for sale and generally keeping me on a short leash.

After we paid for our stuff, hit the rest rooms, we got gas and drove the rest of the way to our neighborhood where we went to the Jeep wash. I swear Carl's Jeep was just as clean going in as it was coming out. Well, with the possible exception of his tires. We're both sick when it comes to washing the Jeeps. I'm not sure which one of us is worse, but we sure to spend more than our share of time and money at the car wash. I am more convinced than ever that a pressure washer may very well be one of the next Jeep accessories I purchase!


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State Line GPS Data

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State Line Trail (AKA Tuscarora Trail, AKA County Line Trail) Background

Originally constructed as a new route for the Appalachian Trail in response to development pressures in Northern Virginia, the 248-mile Tuscarora Trail became an extended side trail when the AT became a National Scenic Trail. The scenic trail designation made it possible for the Federal government to begin the process of acquiring land in a corridor around the trail thereby bringing permanent protection to the original AT route.

While the Tuscarora was never used as a new trail for the AT, it's still a beautiful extended hiking route, leaving the AT to cut west across the Shenandoah Valley into the Shenandoah Mountains, then heading north into Pennsylvania where it reconnects with the Appalachian Trail. Until the mid-1990's, the south half of the trail from Shenandoah National Park to Hancock, Maryland was called "The Big Blue Trail" and was maintained by PATC. The north half was called "The Tuscarora" maintained by the Keystone Trails Association. In the early 90's, due to lack of attention, the Tuscarora section was rapidly disappearing back into the mountains. Thanks to the efforts of two District Trails Managers, PATC resurrected the trail and took over responsibility. At the urging of Elizabeth Johnston, PATC's then-Pennsylvania Chapter President, PATC then voted to rename the entire route "The Tuscarora". It now stands as a premiere hiking route with a singular name.

Not as developed (there are only a few shelters along the route), not as public, not as long, and not as well-known at the Appalachian Trail, the Tuscarora offers something perhaps the AT doesn't - a better sense of wilderness and solitude. The Trail's connection point to the AT at its north and south terminus provides a hiking opportunity known as the "Tusca-lachian Loop". PATC is currently considering a patch to award to those who complete this enormous hiking circuit.

From Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Store write up of trail guides and maps

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