One of the great recent additions to the local trail running season has been the advent of the Moosalamoo Ultra, an early August race, now in its 8th year, which starts and finishes at the Blueberry Hill Center in Goshen. The Blueberry Hill Inn, which has sponsored the Goshen Gallop a “mere” 10K trail race for many years (40 years as of tomorrow to be exact!) has also opened up its trails and resources for two other trail races of even greater challenge and reward – the aforementioned Moosalamoo Ultra, and the even hairier Infinitus. The Moosalamoo Ultra actually comes in two flavors, the “Big Moose”, a 36 mile race, which I was barely able to finish six years ago, and still very challenging 14 mile “Little Moose”. These races are the inspiration of local ultra runner John Izzo, who, with a small cadre of volunteers, and apparently every member of his extended family, hosts, and manages the Meese. One of the events John likes to organize every year is a “Big Moose Preview”, where he invites locals to come run a fun segment of the race, so that they know what they are in for on race day. My travels preclude participation in this year’s event, but I enjoy the terrain and the people, so I joined in.
The segment of the race we were running last Saturday corresponded to approximately miles 15-25 of the Big Moose course, so runners competing in the Little Moose. We had a modest-sized crew of runners for this warm-up run, aged 14-69, and an equally diverse range of speeds, but all of us shared the love of running trails in the mountains, and an eagerness to complete challenging athletic endeavors. Setting off on the Goshen-Ripton Road, heading north towards Ripton for about a mile and half, we took the first “major” trail splitting off on the left, a section of gradually descending snowmobile trail, which made for generally easy trail running. After a short while we came to a normally boggy section alongside a beaver pond meadow.
Given the generally dry summer, there were few of the usual quagmires that I was used to seeing in this section, but in one standing pool of water, I did notice something which I found disappointing; Running in the Moosalamoo Wilderness, you really get the feeling that you are far from civilization. This fantasy was disrupted by the inevitable sheen of gasoline on the surface of a standing puddle of water. Was it from a passing snowmobile? A chain saw? An ATV? Who knows, but if you stop and think about it, this man-made sheen is a far-too-commonly seen occurrence.
Descending further, we came to a well built bridge, clearly suitable for snowmobile traffic, and after stopping to enjoy the brook, we continued up a short, but very steep hill, on a trail which if taken directly would bring us up to the Goshen trailhead above Silver Lake.
But I knew that the Big Moose had other plans for us, and when we got to the next trail junction, instead of continuing uphill, we veered to the right down to the small Sucker Brook Reservoir, which at this point in a dry year, was nothing more than a muddy marsh with a small stream meandering through it. But we did hear an unseen loon calling out as we approached it! Going across the berm which forms the shoreline in the spring, we took the trail cutting back onto the downhill side, and into the Penstock part of the course. The Penstock is a wide pipeline, through which water from the Sucker Brook Reservoir can be diverted to Silver Lake, and in turn to the power generation station near the shores of Lake Dunmore. Some more details on this hydroelectric project can be found in a blog posting of mine a few years ago, entitled “Penstocks to Power”. Right below the Sucker Brook Reservoir is one of my less favored places to run – The grass is high and slippery, it is on a sidehill, and the poor footing is hard to see. That said, the rough spot is only about a half mile long, before it opens up to a level, wide, overgrown service trail which got us to the shores of Silver Lake, about 5 miles into the run.
It was a cool overcast day at Silver Lake, and the deer flies were pretty incessant, so instead of the usual dip in the lake, we backtracked to meet up with some of the slower runners, before returning to the side of the lake, from which we began our return by heading up the forest service road heading towards the Goshen trailhead. Nearing the top of this section, instead of staying on the road to eventually return the the Blueberry Hill Inn, we took a little used ski trail veering off to the left, and descending. Many years ago, this was a maintained ski trail to connect the Blueberry Hill ski trails with the now defunct Churchill House Inn and ski touring area. Now, it seems to only get foot traffic from trail runners! Bottoming out, we began the gradual ascent back to the Goshen- Ripton road. The original route through this section followed existing trails and forest service roads, but some homeowner privacy issues forced a re-routing through a short section of forest, marked by orange streamers. We only lost the trail once, momentarily! I suspect with a few years usage, this section will get worn into a more obvious trail, but for now, it is about weaving through the forest and following the streamers. As we approached the road, we came to the dreaded bog, which always seem to find its way into Moosalamoo runs. Most of the time, it has mud up to your knees, but when we saw the humorous signs left by the race organizer, we knew it would be a little different this year.
Sure enough, while there was plenty enough mud to make my shoes look pretty gross, it was far below usual midsummer standards! Also, note the omnipresent gasoline sheen.
Reaching the road, I returned to the Blueberry Hill Inn, to complete a 10 mile run. This run would actually have been closer to 9 miles, but some of us put in a little extra mileage backtracking to avoid deerflies while the group accordianed back together at Silver Lake. There are no monster hill climbs in this section, making it one of the easier segments of the Big Moose, but there were plenty of rolling climbs and descents. Good luck to everyone at the big race in August!