There are times when I’ll hike miles alone, and times I need to be with people. Unfortunately when I turned my attention to the North Country Trail, I needed to be with a friend, not alone.

I had time between my lunchtime canoe outing and the scheduled hike with Joshua Hatcher that afternoon at Marilla Reservoir. Marilla is ten miles east of Willow Bay Campground on PA 364. A half mile to the east of the campground entrance is the road crossing, and trailhead, of the North Country Trail.

If you were to stop and ask the man in the street the name of a long distance hiking trail, the one most likely to come to his mind is the Appalachian Trail. But the AT isn’t the only one in the United States, nor is it the longest one. Twice as long is the North Country National Scenic Trail, or NCT, which runs 46 hundred miles from New York to North Dakota. The NCT snakes through northwestern PA, and 100 miles of the trail is in the Allegheny National Forest. In the Willow Bay area the trail crosses PA 364, heading north a couple of miles to New York’s Allegheny State Park, and south to the Tracy Ridge trail system. After reading Jeff Mitchell’s book on backpacking in Pennsylvania, I decided to head north.

I parked at the trailhead on the north side of the road, applied DEET, filled my water bottle, and reached back into the car for my hiking poles. They weren’t there. Already in a bad mood, I frantically searched my overloaded car for the poles. Meanwhile I mentally replayed where I’d last used them. Ah! Tracy Ridge! I got back in the car and drove the five miles to the site of my hike yesterday with the Canadian family, hoping the poles remained where I left them. And they were sitting there undisturbed.

There you are!

I returned to the trailhead, annoyed by the side trip to retrieve my poles, annoyed at my problems canoeing, annoyed at my ‘failed’ backpacking trip, getting scared by the snake at the Thousand Steps…. by the time I discovered the trail was very swampy, even going uphill, I’d had enough. I stayed long enough to photograph the small cascades on the stream, but my ‘hike’ was a wet half mile.

Once again this trip, I felt defeated. And a fraud, because I run a website devoted to the idea the outdoors is for everyone, and I wasn’t having success in participating. Had I been with a friend, as I was with Ian on the Loyalsock Trail, I might have been set right. But I wasn’t. So on a clear afternoon dark clouds gathered over my ‘failed’ vacation as I sloshed back to my car and the drive to Marilla.