Poconos Mountains – Lackawaxen, Pennysylvania
By Lisa Unger
On the 11th day of November I select brightly colored tights that come down over my ankles for my run. My socks are thick, double knit wool and are pulled up over the tights-no cold air is getting to my ankles! I’m thinking about my friends back in Florida who are probably running right now in just shorts and maybe a t-shirt, or maybe no shirt at all. I pull on my second sweatshirt. I remember my run from the previous day and vow not to make the same mistake of going hatless. The knit cap I’ll wear is bright orange and not very flattering, but at least the hunters will know not to try to “bag” me. I lace up my shoes and put on my gloves.
A quick glance at the thermometer lets me know that now, at 9:30AM, it is 28 degrees. I’d like to wait until the afternoon when the temperature will be at its highest-42, but I have other things to do today so now is the time. As I step out of my mom’s front door her beagles start to bark at me, but soon I’m out of the driveway and their baying is fading behind me. The air is so cold that even if there were any humidity, it would freeze and be instantly drawn to ground as ice crystals. The dry air makes for easier breathing, though, and I enjoy each breath as it courses in and out of my lungs. To my right I can see the Delaware River raging between the banks of Pennsylvania and New York. I shutter just thinking of how cold that water must be, and how long it would take before hypothermia would set in if one were to fall into the frigid current. From this vantage point, though, the swiftly moving current makes the river look beautiful and is a reminder of just how powerful Mother Nature really is. Within a mile the river bends off to the East, but the road I am on heads more westerly. For a few minutes the only sounds I can hear are my own breathing, the low, fading roar of the river and some squirrels chittering and chattering on the forest floor.
The muffled silence is broken when three deer, startled by my presence, bound away from me. They are heading down a ravine to a destination known only to them, but their departure makes quite a racket. I can’t help but wonder if they fled so quickly because they saw my orange hat and associate it with the hunters that frequent this area. Soon after the deer are behind me, I begin the first of the three Pocono Mountain foothills that will ascend for more than five miles to just outside of New York. The first climb slows my pace considerably, but I feel pretty comfortable and in control. My goal is to cover 10 miles of rolling mountain side, but I know what’s ahead and so I still reserve my doubts for making that distance.
All along the roadside are patches of ice where mountain run-off water has frozen before it could spill down the ravine to join the rest of the water system. As I start noticing more and more patches of this ice, I realize that the road has turned again and now boarders the Mast Hope Creek, which is a tributary of the Delaware. The Mast Hope is smaller than the river, but I find it even more majestic as it courses over boulders that were left by glaciers during the ice age. The river is usually lower at the end of the fall season, however, this year the Delaware is too deep from many weeks of rain to see any of the rocks in it. While in the tributary each boulder that juts from the creek bed creates waterfalls and eddies of swirling water. Most of the sound that I hear from the tributary is caused by splashing water and has a higher pitch than the roar of the great river. I’ve been so caught up in watching and racing the tributary that I hardly even noticed I was starting the second ascent. Soon the toll on my legs makes it too apparent to ignore anymore and I focus my attention on getting to the top.
On the other side of this rolling foothill is where I am greeted by a flock of wild turkeys. They are large brown birds that run away but do not fly, and make very little noise at all. The Mast Hope is still on my right and to my left I can barely see the top of the ravine side. Somewhere up there must be plenty of water, though, as I pass several waterfalls that begin on the ravine side, flow under the road and continue on down to the Mast Hope, then eventually on to the Delaware. I know I am more than halfway to my turn around point when I see a sign that indicates I have entered the PA Game Lands. The Game Lands are thousands of acres of natural PA forest land that are funded by the fees paid by outdoorsmen and hunters throughout the year. Hunting and fishing are the main activities, but there are also hiking and horseback riding trails. The land is literally undisturbed and I don’t encounter a single other soul on this day.
I know that big game animals reside in these woods. Very near my current location is where my step dad took the largest black bear in PA (1998) and is acknowledged for this feat in the Boone & Crockett Club awards book. I’ve seen the bear skin rug that is the result of that taking and I hope I don’t encounter any of the bear’s kin. I climb one more hill and soon I can see the marker that shows the outer edge of the Game Lands. This is where I planned to take a break before heading back, but I find that I really don’t need to, so I just turn and start heading down these mountains. Climbing up each hill was strenuous, but downhill running has always caused me more lasting aches and pains from the harder pounding, and this time is no different.
On my way down I find I am concentrating more on each step and on finishing this run than my environment, so I am really glad that I did not miss my last two encounters with nature. The red hawk was absolutely silent and practically invisible against the rusty brown dried grass along the banks of the Mast Hope. It was only when he glided over a patch of green moss that I caught sight of him. Once I saw him, I could track his progress as he made his way down the tributary looking for a meal. After awhile he flew off in another direction and I started noticing the stark contrast between the browns of the bare trees and dried grasses against the vivid greens of the ferns, mosses and mountain laurels.
My descent was going better than expected and I was still enjoying the stillness and silence of the mountain woodlands. With less than 2 miles left I enjoyed the highlight of this run-a majestic bald eagle soaring silently overhead. I was able to distinguish him by his large, dark body and white head silhouetted against the clear blue sky. He was in sight for only moments, but such a grand bird makes his impression instantly. The Delaware was back in sight and I knew the run was coming to an end, but I felt like I could have kept going. I figured the cold had just made me so numb that I couldn’t feel anything else, so I slowed down and trotted up my mom’s driveway toward my daughter waiting with a smile that warmed me heart and soul. This was a run in the Pocono Mountains that I will never forget.