Nate "Quills" Benner, of Mingoville, and Mel "Longknife" Stafford, of Middlebury, walked quietly through a dense forest on the Mid-State Trail.
Both men are dressed in buckskin pants, overcoats and moccasins. They carry packs with a "burden strap," which is strung across the chest.
They carry only light packs, filled with the bare essentials - such as a canvas shelter in which they can sleep; some food, mostly dried meats, fruits and nuts; extra moccasins; a small cooking kettle; and spare hats, socks and other warm clothing.
Their weapons of choice are long rifles, just as the "longhunters" of the 1700s did.
To Benner and Stafford, the date wasn't Sept. 25, 2012. It was Sept. 25, 1777.
Both men are members of the Pine Creek Party, a company of five men who re-enact the life of the Eastern longhunters of the 1700s.
A longhunter was an outdoorsman who spent as much as six months at a time in the American frontier, hunting and exploring the wilderness.
In those days, there were no blazed trails and seeing "mountain men" would have been common, if you were brave enough to trek through the woods.
The forest then was loaded, not only with game to be taken to feed the people of the area's garrisons and forts, but also with American Indians.
Late in September, Benner and Stafford set out for a rendezvous centered around September 1777. Each rendezvous that the Pine Creek Party embarks on comes with a scenario and backstory to make the outing seem more realistic.
"You can read as much as you want about it, but you will never really quite understand it until you actually live it," Benner said.
As he loaded his muzzleloader, a blue jay squawked, alerting others to their presence before he and Stafford set out.
"During that time period, you had the American Revolution just getting started in this part of the frontier," Benner said.
Settlers in those days had to worry about Indian war parties. In 1777, Benner said, the Iroquois were coming back from New York state and trekking through the woods right along with the longhunters.
"Basically, the English were paying them as mercenaries and to come down to fight for England," he added.
School for longhunters
Both men share a deep interest in pioneering, particularly the longhunters. They study how they lived, what they ate and what their lives were like. Then, they emulate it through their own clothing, food, cooking methods and gear.
Benner and Stafford attended the School of the Long Hunter, an education weekend held at Prickett's Fort, Fairmont, Va. Attendees explore the role of early frontiersmen on the American frontier and learn about the skills a successful longhunter needed to survive.
Patrol and harvest
Back in the woods of Pennsylvania, the Pine Creek Party embarks on a trek to experience life in the 1700s while physically remaining in the 21st century.
The storyline for the September rendezvous was that the longhunters were searching for food for the settlers.
"Basically, we are out patrolling the woods for hostiles and to harvest game to bring back to Fort Horn. We can't really do that, but it's the whole idea," Benner said.
Fort Horn was in Clinton County, along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
While on the trail, the men moved in single file, watching for wildlife and edible plants.
At one stop, a small plant was uprooted.
"It's wild cucumber," Benner said.
The tuber smelled like the cucumbers grown in domestic gardens.
At another stop on the trail, Stafford passed around jerky, which was a common trail food in those times, and talked about past rendezvous.
"That is something you bring along on every trek, especially in the warmer months," Stafford said of the jerky.
After more than five miles of hiking, and after quite a few conversations about what it was like in the 1700s, the men happened on their camp, not far from a running stream.
Benner and Stafford unrolled their packs and began to collect hemlock boughs to help insulate the ground. They would be sleeping under their canvas tents on the ground that night.
Later, Benner tested out his handforged fish hook, complete with a leader made of horse hair.
"It worked great when a trout took the hook," Stafford said. The trout was released.
Before dusk, the two made a fire at camp and drank sweet fern tea. The fronds were collected off the trail near where a power line crossed it.
They ate chestnuts that were roasted on the hot coals.
Simpler things were done, Benner said, after all the chores were finished, such as making camp, preparing food and finding wood to fuel the fire. That evening, they sat talked about past treks and past and present friends, repaired their moccasins and oiled their long rifles.
Open to the public
The Pine Creek Party is looking for new members.
At one time, 15 people were part of the Pine Creek Party, but now membership is down to five.
The group tries to schedule at least four rendezvous a year, even if they are just overnight or weekend trips.
For more information about the Pine Creek Party, visit the webpage pinecreekparty.webs.com.