Dead Woman Hollow

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It’s my home away from home, my staycation, my stomping grounds, at least for Memorial Day weekend. Dead Woman Hollow is a narrow, wooded valley sandwiched between two smallish Appalachian mountains in southern Pennsylvania. And as it turns out, for this weekend, it’s my principal destination.

Thirty-two years and a couple of weeks ago, two women hiked into this valley to camp. After they set up their campsite, they settled down and began to have sex under the open sky. A drifter, a fugitive from Florida happened to see them and in a fit of homophobic fury, unloaded his rifle into the campsite. Both women were shot multiple times, one hiked out three miles for help, the other died at the scene. Now it’s a local mountain bike mecca with a badass name.

I mention the Florida connection because my kids are obsessed with googling “Florida Man.” They contend that the most bizarre news headlines on the web all begin with “Florida man…” They gave me a sampling a couple of weeks ago. Florida man pleads guilty to killing sawfish by removing extended nose with power saw. They’re right, pretty strange stuff.

The Hollow first caught my attention in February. The father of a girl on Eli’s mountain biking team posted a Facebook message on the team page. Rebecca and I are riding Mud Banks tomorrow at 10:00 if anyone wants to join us. Mud Banks. That’s what the mountain bikers call Dead Woman Hollow. I have no idea why. I mean, I know the reason they call it that: The parking area abuts two super tall and steep dirt banks that lead to the trail. I’ve ridden up and down one of them, I’m a little afraid of the other. But for my life, I can’t understand why they would call it Mud Banks instead of Dead Woman Hollow. I mean, really, which name sounds tougher?

When Eli and I went out riding with the team, my jaw hung agog the entire time. I’ve spent years looking for a trail network to run that isn’t simply up and down a mountain. Dead Woman Hollow features dozens of miles of trails, some quite steep, but most are flat enough to run comfortably. Increasingly since February, I’ve headed out to the Hollow to hike, mountain bike and run.

Yesterday, the weather led 2020 in perfection—seventy-five degrees, a light breeze and sunny skies. With Sophie driving, she, Susan, Eli and I rode up a long dirt road through the Hollow to get on top of the mountain. From the trailhead we hiked a ridge for the first time. It’s an out and back with a winding, wooded lollipop at the halfway point. Hiking this trail feels secluded and wild.

Today, with weather far less pretty—overcast, humid and cool—I set out on a run. It’s a trail Eli and I have biked together. It features a long, meandering uphill section, a period of flat across a different ridge from yesterday, and then a fast, two-mile descent through chest-high pine trees.

I haven’t planned a route yet, but tomorrow, I’ll go back and spend an hour or so mountain biking with Eli. I feel like I’m on Memorial Day vacation in Dead Woman Hollow.

Here’s the thing I like most about it. When I’m there, I’m alone. Really alone. On today’s run, I didn’t see a soul except during the brief quarter-mile where I hopped on a dirt road so I could cross a creek on a bridge. A couple of families played in the water, they offered me a smile and a wave as I ran by. On the rest of my run, no one. No structures, no garbage, no cell reception, nothing to suggest human presence except for me and the trail itself.

As I stop to consider the Florida man murdering a woman in these woods, part of me wonders how sound an idea it is to traipse off by myself. If I ran into trouble—an injury, getting lost, a chance encounter with sketchy dudes—I’d need to work things out on my own. But then I returned home this evening feeling recharged, reborn. I’m completely relaxed and at peace. And I know it’s worth some minimal risk. Where else can I do anything outside of my own home and see no one else.

Dead Woman Hollow is an introvert’s dream. It’s a magical escape from the sort of human connection insisted upon in our society. When I’m there, I can hike alone with my family, bike alone with my son, or run alone… just alone.

The photo for this post is completely unrelated. We decided to have Nacho Night tonight, a Cann family first. After I made my plate, I thought it looked pretty so I snapped a picture.

23 thoughts on “Dead Woman Hollow

  1. Your words are practically jumping off the screen. I can feel your excitement and love of this place. It makes me smile to feel your happiness😁 Thank you for sharing it! And I agree, Dead Woman Hollow is definitely more badass😉
    Nice nachos! Do you deliver?😂

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  2. The nacho photo makes my mouth water!

    I agree. The joy of being alone (or with family/close friends) in the wilderness, moving along a trail – an introvert’s dream – is worth the calculated risk taken to find and enjoy it. Not everyone understands that calculation, and that’s okay. Just don’t try to stop me.

    As for the area’s name: I wonder if those who call it Mud Banks don’t want to explain, especially to kids, where the true name comes from? Pretty harsh, and sad, provenance.

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    • Possibly, they are just trying to minimize the sad history. It’s strange, because it’s one of the few areas in the park that actually has a real name. Of course a name growing holistically might feel more empowering.

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  3. That is funny about the food picture – that seems to be a quarantine thing of people posting pictures of their food. I’m a nacho girl so I appreciate your photo! Dead woman hollow is a way better name. I recently read the book Naked Came the Florida Man and oh my, it was supposed to be funny and parts were but it laden with these awful things the Florida Man does. He feels he is being a vigilante but my word, it’s gruesome at times. The author probably got his material by googling what the “Florida Man” was up to. Sounds like a nice peaceful trail, but as a lady, I would never feel comfortable out there alone let alone my fear of falling.

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  4. This sounds amazing Jeff! I can imagine just how beautiful it is! I tried to Mountain Bike yesterday and had a panic attack. ugh. I may buy a new bike, cuz, you know, that helps everything. lol

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    • Well assuming your bike is 20 years old, you may find a new bike is all you need. I got a new one recently with 29″ wheels. It’s remarkable what I can ride over with those extra three inches. It’s been a bit of a sobering realization that I’m not as ‘rad’ as I once was. There are too many ways to get hurt on a bike. My first goal is to stay on, even if it makes me look timid in front of other riders. I’m a real wuss when it comes to crossing thin bridges without guardrails,

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      • No way will I ride over a thin bridge without a railing. No Way. haha. It is about 10 years old (I think). I made the mistake of buying a hard tail so the bouncing around does nothing for my psyche. Sean’s bike is full suspension – so I tried riding that yesterday but his pedals suck (for baby feet I swear) and the gear shifters weren’t working properly – accident waiting to happen. I trail ran instead and it was great – didn’t miss out on an outdoor activity :-).

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  5. I used to be able to walk my neighborhood and get that sense of being along. Many days, I saw no one. Not any more. Now everyone is out walking. I’m glad they are no longer just sitting at home, but I miss my solitary walks.

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  6. I remember when that murder happened. Did you know the surviving woman eventually committed suicide? I think it was survivor’s guilt.

    On a positive note, so glad you discovered a new trail network. Sounds awesome! I probably wouldn’t do it alone, but I’m kind of wimpy!

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    • Wow, I didn’t read that she committed suicide. I read that she wrote a book and the story was made into a movie. People being violently anti-gay isn’t something I remember from the late eighties. I’m sure I had my head in the sand.

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  7. I just finished reading (most) of Bill Brysons book A Walk in the Woods where he share his adventure of hiking the AT. I loved reading this post because he actually talks quite a bit about Dead Womans Hollow, too. I think the women died while he was on the trail or some time in close relation. It’s a really great book and is it weird that now I have this idea of you hiking the AT?

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    • The AT is definitely on my bucket list. My niece did it last summer and stopped to stay with us for a few days. In 1994 I did a cross country bike ride and really loved the simplicity of getting up, exercising all day and going to bed. I just need to convince my wife…

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