When Frontiers IT Manager, Mark Caughey, is not navigating the company’s digital infrastructure, he is outside traversing the hiking trails of western Pennsylvania. His most difficult expedition to date was completing the Rachel Carson Challenge on June 18.
Held annually on the longest Saturday of the year, the 34-mile challenge is an endurance hike that spans across 10 communities including a park near the Frontiers office. Now in its 20th year, the event began when two volunteers recognized a need to introduce the Rachel Carson Trail to more people. A portion of the entry fees are used to fund trail maintenance and other conservation projects throughout the year.
Mark along with a few Frontiers team members – Kathy Schulz, Elaine Wissolik and Leigh Buches – hiked the trail last year with varying degrees of completion. A half-challenge and more sensible, yet spirited 8-mile “Friends and Family Challenge” are also offered. This year, Mark’s goal was to complete the entire 34-mile trail before the 15-hour and 4-minute cutoff.
A 15-hour window may seem like a generous allotment of time, but the Rachel Carson Trail is different. Participants who sign up for the full hike – over 600 this year – are not looking to “win” a race. Their goal is to endure the tortuous hills and primitive paths that run along power and gas lines, suburban homes and farms, crossing creeks, dense wooded areas and steep bluffs.
“When I did the trail last year, I underestimated how much training I would need,” Mark said. “This year, I did a handful of practice hikes in addition to my regular workouts, but it still wasn’t enough.”
At one point, Mark found himself standing at the top of a 400-foot descent looking down into a ravine. He watched as people struggled to make their way back up on the other side. “I thought ‘My God, I have a long way to go,’ ” Mark said.
It is Mark’s passion for the outdoors that motivated him to register for the challenge. The trail is split into five sections and the scenery varies. Hikers can go from fields of wildflowers to perfectly manicured suburban lawns in a matter of minutes, then end up under powerlines. The final section is mostly wooded with a winding creek and was Mark’s favorite part of the hike. “I loved taking in the scenery and listening to the babbling brook even though I was really struggling at that point,” Mark explained. “My body was saying that’s enough, but my curiosity for what was ahead kept me going.”
Due to some confusion about the end time and a longer than expected break at a checkpoint, Mark almost missed the final cut off time. “I’m glad I picked up the pace and ran a few sections earlier in the day. Those extra minutes really saved me. Otherwise I wouldn’t have finished,” Mark said. He clocked in at 14 hours and 57 minutes.
“When I crossed the finish line, people were cheering and celebrating. I couldn’t help but smile,” Mark said.
By: Cory Van Horn
Photo Credits: Rachel Carson Trails Challenge Facebook Page