County Line (AKA Tuscarora or State Line) Trail

County Line Trail EntranceView from State and County Lines

8/11/01

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Waypoints

Prologue

The announcement was made that a Member's Only run was going to be held on Saturday, August 11, 2001. The trail location was kept quiet until folks had signed up. The planners to gauge the condition of the trail and establish a difficulty rating did a pre-run. Based on this, advice was provided about what to expect. Basically we were told that it was "off-camber" and had a few rough spots that might create the need for some form of towing. But no modifications were absolutely necessary, other than tow points and required equipment (strap, fire extinguisher, etc.), and stock-height vehicles might actually enjoy a slightly more comfortable passage owing to overhead clearance issues and the feeling of being off-camber being less uncomfortable in a lower vehicle.

So I debated whether or not to go. I don't mind being "strapped" if the going gets rough. But I am not really fond of being off-camber. I just don't know how far off-camber I can go without risking a good roll. With the roof-rack adding weight, my threshold is probably lower than most. In the end, with family plans worked out, I decided to go and promised myself that I would backtrack if things got too hairy. That really wasn't going to be much of an option, as there were no easy turn-around points anywhere in the vicinity of various challenges. But hindsight is 20-20.

Muster

We loaded up early and met the group at Wendy's, as usual. The kids were happy to see "Mr. Keith" there although he was actually taking a group elsewhere. Once everyone was accounted for, Jackie handed out folders with maps, directions and GPS coordinates, describing the trail. It's a nice package that really is useful for trips like this. I usually do something like that for myself if I know where we are going in advance.

At about 8:30am we left for the trail, following Route 66 West to the end, then Route 81 South to the state road 55 exit. There we picked up Mark Long who lives out in this area, formed up and continued the dozen or so miles to the trail entrance. Along the way I recognized the entrance to the forest for Capon Springs. This road leads to a hiking trail that ends at Eagle Rock. When I first got the Jeep last year we came out there to check out that trail, finding that vehicles were excluded. It was probably for the best as we were alone. And it is definitely a good thing that this trail we were about to visit was west of where we hit Route 55, or I might have done something dumb and gone up it alone...

Trail

We reached the trail without problems and prepared to go by airing down and disconnecting. This was the first time I have aired down. I did it because I expected that I would need more traction than usual, given the description of the trail, and also because Jackie had mentioned that doing so also makes for a less jarring ride. I can't really say whether or not it helped me. The ride was less harsh so in that sense it was worthwhile.

With all this done, we formed up and headed out. The first part of the trail makes a gradual ascent. There are no drastic off-camber sections, and only a few spots where the climb might be considered difficult with a 2-wheel drive vehicle. 4-wheel-drive vehicles don’t often travel the trail so it has lots of grass and weeds that are grown up, making some rocks hard to see, and making the footing a little slippery. For most of the climb up to where the power lines cross, it's pretty easy stuff and I didn't feel at all uncomfortable.

When we reached the power lines (white dotted line to right of red "X" on the map), the ridge drops off steeply on both sides of the trail. There isn't much more than a foot or so on either side. Simply put, it is a precipitous drop if you put it wrong, and there would simply be no need for a strap...(unless you wanted to have those who survive you sell your Jeep for salvage...).  I did not mind looking at the view on the way in. On the way out, I had tunnel vision and was very happy to be past this point in the trail...

From here, things start to get more confined and rocky. The trail is still a little obscured by grasses and weeds but the few vehicles in front of us have at least trampled it down some, making it a little easier to follow. Eventually, we reached the place that Jackie had referred to as the "bad hole", a section where the trail is crowded on one side by rocks and trees, and a sharp fall-off into a soft, off-camber section that is hard to climb out of. 

Several people make it past here before James Hilliard reaches it and slips off into the "hole". He spent a fair amount of time trying to get out without much luck. The pictures never show what it looks like in person. When you see the photos you might be tempted to wonder why anyone is getting stuck in these kinds of places. It looks so flat, and so simple. But the pictures do not show it "like it is".

How he did it will have to come from someone else's trail report, for I do not know where anyone could turn around without getting badly hung up. Somehow, John managed to turn around and come back down a soft, slightly off-camber hill to offer a winch cable to James. In the process of doing so he intentionally tried to position his Jeep on the hill and ended up perched on the uphill side of a tree, off the side of the trail. 

John Borg

At this point I decided that it was time to scout out a turn-around spot and take my family and me out of here. I didn't yet know that John had intentionally put himself off the trail so figured that if HE couldn't avoid getting in a jam coming down this hill, what was I going to do later when I came back out?

pproJames Hilliard and ppro

So while I was thinking it was time to leave, and James was wallowing around, I also did some work to remove some weeds and dead branches that visually obscured the best line for getting past "the bad hole". When I finished this, the 'bad hole" ended up looking like a non-issue. In the meantime, Ron, who also had expressed a desire to turn tail, had found out how John got hung up, and had decided to go on rather than turn back. That left me the only person wanting to leave...

I think this poses a real problem for these kinds of trips. Understand that I don't hold it against Ron to want to continue on. If only one person wants to leave, they are in the position of recruiting someone else who would rather continue, parking for a while to wait for the group to return, (where there is only one way out), or to reluctantly continue forward.

Making Way

I decided that since the passage past the "bad hole" was now very clearly do-able, and since it seemed likely that I could keep my Jeep on the trail coming back through here, I would continue on. If I had found someone else to "chicken out" with me, I probably would have gone back the way I came right then. Hindsight is 20-20...

The break-over at the top of the hill was sharp but not impossible. J.J. with a YJ went ahead of me and got his power wheels off the ground, making his passage a little tormented, but he finally made it over. After watching him, I was pretty sure that with a limited slip rear, I would have less trouble with that part, so past the "bad hole" and up the hill we went.. I got over the point at the top without any trouble, so little in fact that when I cleared it, I relaxed a little too soon...

Just past that point, the trail veers to the left and down slightly. I was coming down off the high point. Since the ground was soft and very slippery (wet grass), my front end would not respond to input. We slowly drifted off the edge of the trail and stopped without too much drama in the rocks and trees to the side. It was so slow and so quiet that it seemed stupid. Thinking about it now, I probably could have avoided it by using a little more gas, and by cutting the front wheels a little harder to the left. At the time I was concerned about being off-camber and did not want to roll over doing this. Live and learn.  I also think the same limited slip differential that helped me over the break over probably "walked" me to the edge of the trail.  A blessing and a curse in the space of 30 feet!

StuckStuckStuckStuckStuck
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Stuck

So out came the straps. After a few tugs that moved me around some, I did some work thinning out the rocks and brush, and moved a couple logs. After some jacking and another tug to move my nose to more of a 90 degree angle to the trail, I was able climb out under my own power, without any damage. I got a small dose of adrenaline during all this and took a couple minutes to let it abate. We moved up the trail to let others come up the hill, and for a time it was a pleasant ride.

Mark Long, Off Camber Crawler

There were some particularly difficult sections that got the nerves up again. But there were no disconcerting motions and the Jeep stayed on the trail so I started to get used to being off-camber and to the high level of readiness that this kind of driving requires.

Then we encountered another rocky ascent that led to a sharp break-over to pass over a rock outcrop and down the stepped shelf on the other side. Mike Leitzinger in his Grand Cherokee went up the rocks nicely and paused at the top of the break-over. His rocker panels looked to be at risk but he proceeded down the other side without event. I went up the rock-bed and got over the outcrop without problems, only to amble down the shelf on the other side a little too quickly (I was going 2mph, should have been going 1 mph), and again, found my nose plowing straight where the trail went to the left.

This drop-off was much more abrupt and we just slid into a miserable hole on the right of the trail. It was also off-camber enough, with precious little behind us to prevent further "travel" that it was initially very disconcerting. At this point my wife and kids were not happy at all, and I was berating myself silently for not chickening out at all costs like had originally decided. I have still not completely stopped regretting my decision to continue.

Mark LongMark Long (see red circle)Mark LongMark LongMark LongMark Long

I was not the only one having problems. Behind me, Mark Long had failed to negotiate the rocky climb to the break-over, and had slid into an even more precarious position on the side of the rocky climb, tipped at a good 40-degree angle. It would later be said that his might have been one of the "best" (best meaning most difficult to recover) "stucks" ever. Even with my own problems I was still counting my blessings that I was not in Mark's position.

Jeff Eppolite

The folks on either side of Mark and me tried to retrieve us from our predicaments. It soon became apparent that Mark could not be pulled free until my Jeep was moved out of the way of the tow vehicles used to help Mark. 

StuckStuckStuckStuckStuckStuck
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So it was that efforts were concentrated on getting me out. Several attempts with the strap moved me around (after I released the handbrake...) and left me wedged against rocks underneath and fallen trees to my side. At this point, my passenger side step was mangled (but still attached), there was a little "rounding" of the bottom of my passenger side rocker panel, and a zigzag dimple from the tree, pressed into the side of the top rear of my body. Not thrilled was I.

StuckAftermath - What Step?

When finally we "snatched" the thing out of the hole (with wife and kids safely watching in horror), the whole passenger side was signed with the various traces of rocks, trees and ground that met it on the way out. The step was completely wiped off and the support bars swept back. The entire bottom of the rocker panel was folded under, and the trailing arm mounting points were nicely dog-eared. Later I found that my ABS braking was malfunctioning, probably from damage to the sensors or connecting wires.

My attention went to getting my family resituated and calmed, and to making sure that my Jeep, despite cosmetic alterations, was fit to continue (what choice did I have?) I found the critical items to be functioning 100% so I went to watch Mark be wrenched out of his hole. He was retrieved using a snatch block and straps, and was almost overturned on one attempt. Finally he was put back on the trail without any visible damage. He is so calm and collected all the time it's hard to know if his level of anxiety rose as much as mine. I know he was not happy but he did a much better job of recovering than I.

From this point forward, I was in that mind-zone of a person who has been told "be careful what you wish for, you might get it". I didn't like that my Jeep was bruised. My ego can take the humiliation of it (not that anyone taunted me) but my desire to keep my Jeep nice is another thing altogether. Fortunately, this damage gives first-hand testimony to the need for Sun Performance rocker protection that has been on my "wanted" list for some time, so in a twisted way maybe this isn't such a bad thing after all. Still it will be some time before the budget allows for this improvement...

So I am now driving a tight, off-camber trail that is soft and slippery. I have already gone off twice, and do not wish to do so again. We are continuing forward at a snails pace, which is just fine by me. I know that we are close to the end of the trail (well at least before we turn around and come back out the way we went in...). And when we stop, I can have a snack, catch the view, try to relax a little, and psyche myself up to make the drive out. 

 

I opted to take advantage of a turn-out a few yards back from the "turn-around", and am enjoying my decision to do so. Meanwhile, Mike, Mark, Jeff, and John are all playing in the off-camber rock field below the trails end.

 

We gave the kids some snacks and when everyone was done playing, we got ready to go back out. After we had driven a few feet, the group decided that to break into two because a few people in the back were working through getting turned around. The weather was turning bad (rain coming down) and it was wisely realized that it could get ugly if the weather really decided to dump on us. So with John leading and Mike Leitzinger behind him and ahead of me, we moved on down the "road". The off-camber section was particularly uncomfortable going back because I was now on the low side of the Jeep where I guess it seems worse. Now I know how my wife felt going in...

Eventually we came again to the place that this group now calls "Paul's Hole". My wife told me that I lost all color and did not get it back until we were several hundred yards beyond this place. The Dave Arnette behind me very nicely provided moral and technical support to help me navigate past the hole, keeping as far to the right as possible while allowing the whole vehicle to slip off the hill before catching again on a rock ledge that was sticking up. Then a short pause and climbing the off-camber, stepped rock shelf back to the high break-over point next to "Mark's Hole", and back off-camber down the hill on the other side.

Lots of fun. Whoo Hoo. Dead silence in my little space inside the Jeep. Then we hear John on the CB giving instructions about how to navigate the slip of trail that goes between the dual precipices marked by the power lines... Now this is a spot that does not allow for any error. It has been raining for about 1/2 hour. The trail through there is slightly off-camber and covered with grass (now wet). And I am jittery from everything behind.

When we got to that point I was thankful for a few things. One, I can operate under pressure. I am thankful that it was foggy as hell - in my peripheral vision I could not see a THING. And that made it easier to resist "looking down", because I think if I did, I might have lost it completely. With only a foot or three on either side, that would not be good... I crawled past that spot mindful of John's advice and was greatly relieved to see trees and rocks on either side of me once again. From here it was the kind of trail that, while not comfortable, was very easy to navigate.

Airing Up

By the time we got back to the trailhead, I was reasonably calm and collected. I was very happy to put air back into my tires (the compressor was just as quick as a QuickAir II that someone else had!) and after hanging around for the second group to come out, head for home.

We stopped at the Fox Den Pizza restaurant in Strasburg, had a bite and let the kids act out some of THEIR tension, then hit the road for home. When we neared familiar territory, who would appear ahead of us but "Mr. Keith", coming back from his trip to Charlottesville. I raised him on Channel 5 and we traded stories briefly before exchanging our good-byes and blending back into the drizzle.

Things always look different after a good night's sleep. Now that I have had the benefit of two good nights’ sleep, I still have mixed feelings about the trip to State Line Trail. Let me say that I had a great time. The trail was the best challenge yet. The help I got from the people while there goes beyond what was reasonable to expect. Mike Leitzinger has marks on his Grand to remind him of the help he gave me. My Jeep is now quite different from what it was before it left the road on Saturday. I will eventually get the rocker protection it obviously needs.  Update:   I got rocker protection.

I go off road to test the limit of my capabilities and the limits of my Jeep. This pits me against the laws of physics, gravity, and good judgement. Most of the time it is fairly easy to see the boundaries and respond accordingly. Sometimes things happen before you have a chance to make choices. Fortunately, in this case, nothing more than pride and sheet metal were affected. Will I go on this trail again? Alone - NEVER. With one other vehicle? NEVER. With this group? Ask me again when I have rocker panel protection...  Update:  I ran this trail again on 2/16/02!

Ron's Photos | Mark's Photos | Jeff's Photos | Eric's Photos

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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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