Tag Archives: Blueberry Hill

The Oldest……T-shirt at Blueberry Hill

The Start/Finish with Hogback in the Background

 

As my recovery from shoulder surgery continues, it was time to take on the next touchpoint in the process – my first race since my injury. Having been warned by my physical therapist to lay off the really long workouts and races for a while, 10K seemed like about the right distance to begin my comeback. What better place to being my comeback than my long-time favorite race, the Goshen Gallop? I also knew that I was still far from the condition that I was in pre-injury, so any visions of glory and podium finishes were clearly out of the question – it was really a question of whether I could even finish this run over challenging terrain feeling good.   Part of my getting psyched for a race involves listening to the right music as I drive to the starting line.  As I punched in various songs on my iPhone, I remembered a song which a friend suggested for the same purpose about 5 years ago, when I was preparing to run a marathon after a long layoff, knowing that I was not in shape for it.  So, I drove up to the race, with Flor-ida blasting from the speakers of my Beetle, trying to will my body to do its best.

I have written up  the Goshen Gallop at Blueberry Hill a few times over the years since I began this blog. most recently in 2011, although I run it most years it seems.   As is the case with most races, entry comes with a t-shirt, having run this race many times, I have a LOT of Gallop t-shirts.  I have made a habit of digging deep into the collection and pulling out a really old race t-shirt to wear on race day, and for this one, I managed to dig up the oldest shirt I have, from the first time I ran this race in 1989, and put it on.  Yeah, it is getting a little threadbare, and it features the name of the race’s sponsor “The Brandon Savings Bank” quite prominently on the back.  Of course, this bank no longer exists, so we’re talking old!  A short time before the race, I headed down the road for a short warm-up jog, and returned just as Tony, the owner and innkeeper of the Blueberry Hill Inn was on the PA system giving the pre-race pep-talk.  As soon as he saw me coming up the road, he announced “And here’s Jeff with the oldest race shirt in existence..” (or something of the sort – at least he didn’t announce me as the oldest runner in existence, right?)

One of the great things about being a regular at a race like this is the camaraderie between the participants – many of the the folks there were people that I run with regularly, some were folks that I know as local runners, and a few are folks I seem to only chat with once a year at this race.  It all makes for good conversation before, during, and after the race.  One of the not-so-good things about the race this year, or at least one of the things which make it interesting, has been the excessive rainfall this summer, which I knew would lead to a very muddy course.  I was not disappointed!  As the race was ready to start, it was a typical sunny summer afternoon, and not too hot given that it was up in the mountains, but there was an ominous cloud to the south.  A few of us wondered out loud as we stood at the starting line, waiting for the race to start, if the rains would come before the race was over.

The race starts off on the Goshen-Ripton road, on a slight downhill, leading most of the adrenaline-charged runners to start off at way too fast a clip. Then, the first slow, relentless climbing climbing begins, before a sharp left turn back into the woods to begin the more challenging climb up to blueberry meadows on the flanks of Hogback Mountain.  In true Goshen Gallop form, we, the runners, were greeted by a country fiddler at the high point of this section.  On a posting a few weeks ago, I reported that there weren’t any wild blueberries up there anymore, but I am happy to report that I was very wrong in this.  The hillside was full of pickers, who probably wondered why all the people were in such a hurry today.  I did not bring my camera with me during the race, but a race photographer took some lovely shots as the runners crested this section and posted them on the Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center Facebook page.

After a short descent down to the forest service road and a water stop, the climbing began again, and headed into the woods at around a mile and a half, beginning the second major climb of the race on forest trails.   Already, I was beginning to seriously feel my lack of conditioning, and even slowed down to a walk for a few seconds, atypical for me this early in a race.  But – the idea was to finish and feel good, so I listened to my aching legs before picking up the pace again for the plunge down to the halfway point behind the Inn and the second water stop.  At this point, the 5K races went left to finish their race, and the 10K racers took a right turn up the longest hill of the race.  I was hoping that a lot of those around me were so exhausted that they would call it a day at this point, but alas, they were on the mission to complete the longer race, and blew by me on the next ascent.

At this point, the skies started to get ominously darker, and my running got even slower.  At the 6K mark we reached my favorite section of the course – the infamous mud bogs on the trail!  Now THIS is trail running…..I must confess that I am disappointed on drier years when this short section is dry and fast.  At the 7 km point, I was past most of the mud, and finally got to enjoy the last long descent down to the forest service roads.  After a few moments of drizzle, the sky opened up with the long-threatened downpour, which conveniently washed off most the mud from my legs and shoes.  The last mile in, on the Goshen-Ripton road is usually my least favorite part of the race, as it can be sunny and hot, and the numerous “false summits” on the road trick you into thinking you are about to hit the finish line, only to see another hill in front of you.  The cold, driving rain was a refreshing contrast however.  Chugging up what I realized was the final hill on the course, I looked down at my watch, not at all surprised to see my slowest time ever for this race, but hey, I finished, and it was fun as always.  And – there was even an ambulance at the finish line in case my confidence was misplaced.

Once the downpour subsided, the post race party and feed began, and was delicious as always, made even better by the company of a few friends who are rather accomplished home brewers.  This party is held in a small meadow of domestic blueberries, which didn’t seem to be ripe quite yet, and of course the feast is only complete after the dessert of blueberry cobbler and ice cream.

Not quite ripe blueberries

 

For the first time in a few years, I didn’t win my age group, so I couldn’t bring home my prize, a box of chocolate chip cookies, but fortunately I came up lucky, not once, but twice, in the post-race raffle bringing home two bags of really good coffee. Sometimes karma works for you! I was looking for a way to get a picture of my mangy old t-shirt without doing a typical selfie pose, so I chose this reflection in my car window before driving home, satisfied with my first race in far too long.

Reflective Selfie

Google Earth of the Race

Altitude Profile

I Like Meatloaf

OK – how is that for a random name for a running blog entry? What on earth could a love of meatloaf have to do with a fun trail run?  Read on, and you will see the origins of this seemingly non sequitor blog entry title! A few days ago, John, the “Chief Moose” announced an opportunity for a guided run on the last 7-10 miles of the Moosalamoo Ultra, a local 36 mile race in its sixth year.  Last year, due to conversations with the Forest Service, John, who is also the race organizer (and an accomplished “slightly above” middle-aged ultra runner himself) was required to reroute the original ultra course, which I ran a few years ago, to some new trails.  I was looking for a good weekend run as I slowly ramp up my mileage post-surgery, and this sounded like it would be a fun group run. Most of my group runs are with mere 10K-marathon runners, and in my current condition the running pace of my cadre of relative sprinters can be daunting.  I suspected that a group of ultra runners – runners who understand what it takes to run 8-10 hours or more – would be a good match for my current limitations over more casual distances.

The group met up at the Blueberry Hill Inn for this saturday run.  The previous 24 hours had been characterized by incessant downpours, but the high humidity had broken an hour or two before the run, giving us a cool sunny afternoon for the run.  We also suspected that the trails would be very muddy, and we would not be disappointed.  Looking up from the parking lot, we saw the day’s goal – Romance Mt, touted as the highest point with groomed cross country skiing trails in the east.  In fact, several years ago, I described a route very close to what we were doing today as a cross country ski tour, and I remembered that we were facing a challenging climb.

Romance Mt. from Blueberry Hill

 

 

We started off on the trail behind the Inn for a short distance before angling up the side of the hill, before reaching the best view of the day, or almost any day for that matter, the view of the Green Mountains from the side of Hogback Mt. In previous years, this has been the prime blueberry picking spot that gave the Blueberry Hill Inn its name, but apparently a controlled burn was carried out a few years ago, so I suspect there will be slim pickings for a few more years until the berries grow back.

Group Picture on Hogback

After a short descent from Hogback, we joined the dirt road, and followed it uphill to the crux of the day’s run, the steep mile ascent up the taller Romance Mt. This is a very steep trail, climbing close to 1000 vertical feet over the ascent. It was also frightening to realize that most of my fellow runners today would be facing this steep climb at Mile 31 of the Ultra in early August. Good Luck folks! At this point, the trail went from kind of wet to very muddy. Not a few puddles here or there- not a “get the soles of your sneakers dirty” muddy. This standing water and mud was incessantly over the ankles for almost the rest of the day’s run, and frequently threatened to rip my shoes off my feet. But hey – it’s trail running, so what’s a little extra adventure, right?

Just a little mud here!

After the steepest part of the descent, which should be much more passable in August, we came up to the big decision point. To the left, was a sign saying “7” and to the right one said “10”. I have become more accustomed to taking the shorter route, or shorter race more and more frequently as I mature, but still, it rankles me to take the shorter distance. Here is where the meatloaf analogy comes in: I like meatloaf, but when there is a longer route available, especially on a nice running day, taking the shorter route is kind of like going to a really classy restaurant, and ordering meatloaf. Sure, it tastes really good, but shouldn’t I be ordering the New York Strip? A few of the group started to mention some interest in the longer route, the New York Strip option, and I was tempted… but I was just warned yesterday by my physical therapist to not push too hard, too soon, so I chose the shorter route. So it was a good day for meatloaf!

Decisions, decisions…….

The rest of the group also decided to go for the shorter route as well today, so we enjoyed the long gradual descent down the Sucker Brook Trail before taking one last short climb up Stewart. The trail leveled off for most of the last mile before one final descent to the back of the Inn. After a round of high fives, we got together for one final group photo, showing off our muddy feet. The foot at 6 o’clock is mine, and those brown socks were white at the start of the run!

Trailrunner feet

At the end of the run, this was about 7.5 miles – my longest run since my injury, and it felt great. I also got to meet a fun bunch of runners with a great sense of comaraderie who are in training to accomplish some really amazing things this summer. I am going to stick to shorter races for now.

Looking east, from Blueberry Hill Inn

Google Earth of the run.


Altitude Profile

Sugar Hill Reservoir in the Spring

In this blog, I have often sung the praises of the trail runs accessible from the Brooks Road trailhead, reached after a few hundred yards on the forest service road on the right between the Rikert ski touring area and the Snow Bowl.  The easiest run from here, terrain-wise is a roughly 9 mile run which I have described in the past, albeit six years ago.  A good chunk of this run actually takes place on Brooks Road itself, a forest service road which is open to cars during the summer months, although rarely driven, and is used by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers in the winter.  In late March?  Since it has no snow anymore, and probably never had much this winter, it is closed to snowmobiles, but has not yet been opened to other motor vehicles, making it even better for running.

The run starts off with the most challenging climbing of the route in the first mile and a half on the dirt surface, until it levels off for another mile, reaching the point where the snowmobile trail up from the Sugar Hill Reservoir joins from the right.  Those looking for a shorter run or hike can just take a right turn here, for a 6 mile out and back!  On this run, however, I will be returning by this side trail.

Sugar Hill Reservoir Connection

Sugar Hill Reservoir Connection

Another mile on the dirt road, and another climb, not as long and steep as the climb at the start of the road, brought me to the high point of the run, with the total vertical climb a modest 700 ft. One of the big hurdles for road runners transitioning to the trails, especially competitively in Vermont, is the challenge of getting used to long, sometimes relentless climbs. I have found that this section of dirt road makes for a good place to time trial to measure one’s progress in the hills. Since it is on a dirt road, the footing is consistent, eliminating the variable of trail condition, so I will run this quite a few times each season, making a mental note of my time on the ascent, watching how my times get faster as the season progresses.

After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the upper reaches of the Sucker Brook, I headed on the trail into the woods, taking a right turn onto a ski and mountain bike trail which is part of the Blueberry Hill network.  This particular trail used to be a regularly groomed part of the Inn’s system, but has not been groomed in the last few years due to the destruction of several small, but critical bridges along the trail by Hurricane Irene.  The Moosalamoo Association, a non-profit, is currently raising funds for their repair, but fortunately the bridge washouts do not affect the use of these trails for running once the snow is gone.

Staying on this trail for a little over a mile, and veering gradually to the right, this route took me to the dirt road access connecting the Goshen-Ripton road to the reservoir, and I took the right turn towards the reservoir.  This road provides easy access for boaters and fishermen who need the convenience of driving to haul their gear to the lakeside.  I have enjoyed noticing quirky rock cairns, built and left alongside trails and streams, and commented on them in past blog entries.  On this run, I noticed a few rounded rocks, far too large to have been placed there by humans,  neatly stacked alongside the road.  Perhaps the glaciers didn’t want us to get lost?

Glacial Cairn

Glacial Cairn

 

A few minutes on the dirt road finally took me to the shores of the Sugar Hill Reservoir.  This body of water was created exactly 100 years ago as the highest altitude component of the Silver Lake hydroelectric project, which culminates far below on the shores of Lake Dunmore.  While this scenic lake is open to recreational use, it’s primary function is to store water for the hydroelectric project downstream, as well as flood control, and as a result its depth fluctuates tremendously, season to season and year to year.  This spring, with our weak snowfall, the water level is particularly low, although it was interesting to see that it was still almost entirely frozen over still despite our warm late winter.

I also noticed a fair number of “improvements” since my last description of a run here.  There used to be a quirky looking gate across the section of trail heading over the reservoir dam, clearly built to as not to behead errant mountain bikers, but this has been replaced by a more decorative forest service gate, and to my surprise, a mailbox.  You’ve got mail?  Out of curiosity, I opened the mailbox and saw that it held a logbook to be filled out by those passing through, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to sign it with my blog moniker.  A little later down the trail, I realized that I should have added some sort of comment along the lines of “Happy Easter Egg Hunting”, since it was the day before Easter.

You've got Mail!

You’ve got Mail!

 

The next short section involved crossing the reservoir dam, and locating the trail on the far side, offering a snowmobile connection between the water and Brooks Road, and this involves a short climb of a little over a half mile, with one final view of the reservoir through the trees, which will soon be obscured as the season leafs out.

Reservoir Views

Reservoir Views

Returning to the Brooks Road in this way, I took the left turn for the easy descent back to my car, and the conclusion of this scenic, and despite the mileage, not terribly challenging run.

Google Earth of the run

Google Earth of the run

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Snowy Saturday Shuffle to Sugar Hill

Finally, on Saturday, the howling cold weather which has kept me indoors far more than I would like gave us a reprieve.  Saturday’s mid-teen temperatures, which under normal circumstances would still be a bit on the cold side felt absolutely balmy, so I went for a ski in the morning at the Snow Bowl.  Some errands I had to do limited me to a half day, but by mid-afternoon I had completed them, so I decided to turn my ski day into the best of both worlds, and loaded my cross-country skis into the back of my Beetle, and headed out for round 2 of the day’s fun.  I set off for the Ripton-Goshen Road, not really sure where exactly I would end up skiing as the afternoon’s snow started, and then increased in intensity.  I was not in the mood to break trail, so I was looking for places where others had skied, snowshoed, or snowmobiled, but was looking for something a little less well groomed than the terrain offered by our local ski touring centers.

My first thought was to ski down the forest service road leading east  to the Moosalamoo Campground and Voter Brook Overlook, but the ski track I found petered out in about a half mile, turning into a snowshoe track set by hikers intent on climbing Mt Moosalamoo, which would have required more time than I had at my disposal.  So, I returned to my car, and looked for another entry into the forest.  Heading south another mile or two, I came to a plowed turn off for the forest service road which heads up to one of my favorite backcountry sites, the Sugar Hill Reservoir.  I didn’t make note of how exactly this is marked, but it is on your left as you head south, and is about a mile north of the Blueberry Hill Inn.  I headed up this road, which is used by the cars of fishermen who use it to access the reservoir during the summer.  I knew from past explorations that this road is heavily traveled and maintained for snowmobile travel in the winter.  I also knew that this point of entry would bring me to the lesser-used northernmost nordic trails associated with the Blueberry Hill Inn’s Nordic Center.  The ravages of Hurricane Irene took out a few bridges on this part of the trail network, and the funds have not yet been raised to revive them (although a funding campaign has been launched!), so I suspected that these trails would be skier-packed, but not groomed.  While recent transplants to the area may not know this, older skiers (like me!) will probably remember that through much of the 70’s through the early 90’s (If anyone knows the full span of this, feel free to comment), Blueberry Hill sponsored the American Ski Marathon, which was part of the national ski marathon series known as the Great American Ski Chase.  As a result this race, which galvanized the support of almost all the inhabitants of tiny Goshen, VT, brought in some of the finest ski racers from all over the country, and even a few random local college professors.  My ski today covered a small segment of this race course.

I headed up the hill towards the reservoir, not really remembering how far I had to go.  I realized that this would be a pretty short ski if this was my sole destination, as I reached the height of land above the reservoir only after 3/4 of a mile, and hit the reservoir shores after only a mile.  The snow was starting to fall pretty heavily at this point, but there in front of me was the snow-covered lake, and I realized that I had, there in front of me, an opportunity to write my name, or at least my initials, in the snow on a scale which might be visible from space, or at least by our spy satellites.  Perhaps a “JB” a quarter mile high, with a superscript afterwards to show off my science side? While I considered this, I also realized that if I was going to put the effort in to do this, I wanted a picture, and the heavy snow and increasingly late afternoon lighting precluded meaningful photography of any such attempts to defile the scenery.

Sugar Hill Reservoir

 

 

I also noticed the sign, describing this reservoir as the geographic high point of the hydroelectric project culminating at Lake Dunmore. This sign, by the way, is usually at eye level. We have a lot of snow!

Sign at Sugar Hill Reservoir

Sign at Sugar Hill Reservoir

I began my descent, but wanted to extend my ski, even as the light was fading, so I took a left turn about halfway back, heading into the Blueberry Hill trails on what is known as the Sucker Brook Trail, which had been packed by the skis of a few others who had preceded me. This section of skiing, continued with a sharp right turn and short climb on the Stewart Trail (none of these names are marked, by the way – I just know them from past experiences – they are labelled by signs bearing numbers, relevant to the ski touring area’s map) took me into denser hardwood forest. Big old trees make lots of loud cracking sounds when it is cold outside, and by this point the temperature was dropping. Eventually I reached a point where I realized that I would soon be descending into the touring center, and I didn’t want to have to do the extra climb to extricate myself, probably in the dark, so I turned around and headed back to my car. En route, I passed a sign with the number 7 written on it. Lucky? Not really – this was a 7 Km marker from another of Blueberry Hill’s races, the summer Goshen Gallop trail run.

 

7 km sign

7 km sign

Reaching the forest service road, I took a left turn and descended to my now snow-covered Beetle. This ended up as a pretty easy and short ski tour. The short climb to the reservoir is particularly nice for less experienced skiers. I ended up putting in about 4 miles on this, with no more than 200 ft of climbing at any point. I can also see that we are going to have some impressive spring skiing this year!

Google Earth of the Ski

Google Earth of the Ski

Altitude profile

Last Run Before Spring

The title of this post, “Last Run Before Spring”, might have you scratching your head over chronology.  While long delayed this year, the full foliage on the trees in the Middlebury area certainly indicate that the few short weeks we know of as spring are most assuredly here.  So a confession here – I did this run a few weeks ago, in mid-May, while the trees were still quite bare, and it has just taken me a while to post it.  Nonetheless, it is a good run, so I thought it quite worthy of posting – better late than never!

Regular readers by now know that the Silver Lake and its surroundings make up one of my favorite running destinations, and this post represents a new variation on that theme.  At the core of this run, is the very first post I made to this blog, the ascent from the Sucker Brook Trailhead, past Silver Lake, to the Goshen Trailhead, and back.  On this particular run, I chose to extend it beyond this central loop, in the name of checking out some new terrain, as well as visiting an old favorite location for great views.

This run, on a warm weekend late afternoon, was undertaken to be one of my last real runs before tapering my training prior to the Vermont City Marathon at the end of May (note – I actually completed the marathon by the time I got to this post – I am not going to write it up for the blog, but it went well!), so I wanted to stretch it out to the 8-9 mile range.  So, I set off up the 4WD road (yes – it is closed to motor vehicles) from the Silver Lake/Sucker Brook Trailhead just south of Branbury State Park, and chugged my way up past Silver Lake up the the trailhead above the lake at the end of a rarely traveled dirt Silver Lake Road, which emanates from Goshen, as a right turn from the Goshen Ripton Road, a mile or so south of the Blueberry Hill Inn.

When I reached this road, I realized that it provided an opportunity to add some mileage, so I continued on past the hikers’ parking lot and trailhead, which I knew would descend me back to my parked car, 800+ vertical feet below.  So, I continued on this road, which while open to vehicles, is so lightly traveled that it feels almost like a trail.  At this time of the year, before any of the trees had leaves, there were great views towards the the main ridge of the Green Mountains, while views towards Silver Lake and the west were obscured by the modest ridge.  At a few locations, I noted primitive roads heading up the eastern flanking ridge, but abandoned them when I realized they were driveways up to “off the grid” homes and camps, and I wanted to respect their owners’ privacy.  After a little over a mile on this road, I could see Hogback Mountain, and Romance Mountain, the two peaks behind the Blueberry Hill Inn, and thought it would be fun to link to that trail system on this run, but due to the lateness of the afternoon and impending sunset, I decided to turn around at one particularly impressive glacial erratic on my right.

On my return, gazing into the forest for sights which would soon be hidden by the foliage, I noticed a series of PVC pipes stuck in the ground, 20-50 yards from the dirt road.  I have come across pipes like this, even further from the road on past explorations.  Does anyone know why these are here, or what their purpose is?

Mystery PVC

Mystery PVC

 

After contemplating the mystery of the pipes, I continued back to the Silver Lake trailhead, and descended the short trail down to the lakeside on the Leicester Hollow Trail, where I took the right turn back towards the campground and the small beach at the north end of this gem of a lake. Rather than simply follow the trail which I had previously ascended back to my car, I chose one last variation, and instead took the short trail down below the Silver Lake Dam, and followed the penstock (that is the fancy word for “big fat pipe”) back towards the power line, where I ascended its trail to catch the early evening views and impending sunset over Lake Dunmore.  In a month or so, the lake will be busy with summer vacationers and boaters, but on this quiet spring evening, there was only one boat traversing what must be an otherwise silent lake.  I had hoped that the lone raptor in the skies would land nearby to get his picture taken, or at least hover nearby, but my presence led it to seek out a quieter eyrie.

sunset views

Dunmore Sunset from Lenny’s Lookout

On my descent from this lookout, I took another obvious left turn which returned me to the main trail up from the lower parking lot, where I came across what must be a fairly recently placed sign, where the over look was referred to as “Lenny’s Lookout”. This is the first time that I have heard this name applied, so I am also curious as to the origins of this name. Who exactly is Lenny, and why is the lookout named after him? A google search shed no light on this question, although it did lead to some beautiful photography from another hiker who has posted their pictures of this location.

 

Lenny's Lookout Signpost

Lenny’s Lookout Signpost

From this point, it was an easy skip down the trail to my car, making this a slightly less than 9 mile run, with about 1100 vertical feet of ascent and descent. Bring on the summer!

 

Google Earth of the Run

Google Earth of the Run

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

The Moosalamoo Ultra

Over the last year or so, I have become increasingly interested in taking on longer, more challenging runs.  After reading the book “Born to Run” by Christoper McDougall, I was fascinated by the world of the elite ultrarunners – they are a very quirky and adventurous bunch who find ways to push their bodies to physical extremes.  As I was learning more about ultramarathon racing, I stumbled across the podcast entitled  “Running Stupid”.  This podcast, published every few weeks by a 40-something, self proclaimed “back of the pack” (that’s the nice way of saying “slow”), overweight, but joyously funny ultrarunner named “Coach Ken” regularly describes the challenges, successes and failures of an average Joe runner, and provides a window on the world of the more elite runners from his perspective.  In short, reading this book, and listening to these podcasts had me hooked – I had to try an ultramarathon.

There was a problem with this dream, this check box on my bucket list – running long races requires a LOT of training.  My life is pretty busy, and I knew from past experiences that my body almost always breaks down if I attempted to train for long or ultralong events.  Over the last year, however, I discovered that I could do, and enjoy regular road marathons with far less training than is usually prescribed, as long as I got in one very long run (at least two hours) every week, and as a result was successful in completing and actually enjoying two marathons in the last year.  Could this same regimen work for an ultramarathon?  Could I finish?  Could I feel good enough that I actually enjoy the race?  Ultramarathons typically range from 50 km road races (about 31 miles) to 100 miles on road or trails, or even more.  I knew I had better look for one on the short side, for obvious reasons.

A few months ago, I noticed an announcement for the “Moosalamoo Ultra a 36-mile race to be held on the trail network of the Moosalamoo region on August 18.  This seemed like a great one to try – readers of this blog will know that I am quite familiar with the trails here, and it had the added convenience of being close to home.   In fact, looking at the race course, I had previously run almost all of the trails on the course at some point or another, and I described the course as “four or five great runs – all in one day!”  The race was being organized by John Izzo, a Salisbury resident and avid local runner, with the Blueberry Hill Inn as its base of operations and start/finish area.

So, I lined up at 8 am on Saturday with about 100 other runners, about half of whom were doing the still very challenging 14 mile version of the race.  Usually, in this blog, I go into a fair amount of detail on the route, but this particularly elaborate course pretty much defies a detailed description.  I am going to include a Google Earth projection as I usually do, and also make a link to the course map.  John clearly put a lot of thought into mapping out a great piece of running which covered pretty much every corner of the Moosalamoo region, with some very challenging climbs (the first loop up and over Mt Moosalamoo), an out and back section in the first half of the race, so that runners could have a feel for where they stood in the pack, some very muddy sections (yes, there is plenty of mud out there, even in this dry summer), and some particularly drop dead gorgeous sections of trail (the Chandler Ridge/Leicester Hollow loop comes to mind).  The course was also well supported with volunteers, many of whom were John’s family, at aid stations throughout the course.

In any case, as a first time ultrarunner, I brought the following with me on the course:

  1.  A 20-ounce water bottle that fit a waist belt.  Hydration, of course, is the single most important concern in a long, midsummer race.  With aid stations typically 3-5 miles apart, I usually tried to make sure that my water bottle was empty as I entered an aid station.  The one time I neglected my hydration, I paid dearly for it – the terrain between the aid station at mile 21 (on the Goshen Ripton Road) and mile 25 (Silver Lake), was almost entirely easy downhill, so I neglected to drink enough.  When I hit the next aid station, I topped off my water bottle without any extra drinking, and as a result ran out of water on the next segment – the arduous 5 miles on the Chandler Ridge.  I got rather severely dehydrated there, even feeling for a short while like I was not entirely in control of myself, so I took it slow, and took a much longer than usual break at the next aid station where I made rehydration a top priority.  Also, the two women (one of whom I found out later was John the organizer’s wife) had actually hiked in a mile carrying all the food that morning, so they deserved to have someone stop and chat for a while!
  2. Food – In almost all long workouts and races, I depend on the nasty, slimy, but wonderously rejuvenating little packets of Gu as my main source of sustenance.  I always ingest one packet after every hour of running, so I went through 9 Gu packets over the duration of the race.  Yup, I WAS out there a very long time – you do the math!  I am no longer feeling the love for the “Espresso Love” flavor!  The aid stations were supplied with lots of other calorie rich treats as well, and I found myself drawn to foods which otherwise would have made a typical 10 year old boy happy at lunchtime – PB+J sandwiches and potato chips.  I always eat PB+J when I go on day hikes, but had no idea potato chips would taste so good in the middle of a very long exhausting day.  I must have eaten a few bags worth.  In retrospect, it makes sense that a body would crave the chips – they provide a lot of calories (a typical ultrarunner probably goes through 5 or 6 thousand calories), and have a ton of salt to help that replaced through sweating.  I had one of the volunteers take the following picture at the last aid station on the shores of Silver Lake at mile 33, as I prepared to inhale a massive fistful of chips to power me to the finish line.  I also brought along some granola bars and these did not work very well!  While they are appropriately caloric, they are also very dry, so eating them required stopping long enough to catch my breath so I didn’t cough and choke.  They were also reduced to crumbs very early in the race making them even harder to eat.  Nope – granola bars are off the list!

More Chips at mile 33

  1. Camera.  I am writing a blog, so it made sense to bring it.
  2. Music.  I frequently run with an iPod, but never listen to it during a race – half the fun of racing is having conversations with people you meet along the way, and wearing an iPod tells other racers and organizers that you don’t want to communicate.  That said, given the paucity of runners and length of the course, I knew that there would be long stretches of solo running, perhaps many hours in duration, and musical motivation might keep me going better.  So, I put together the “jbr mix” (Jeff B running)  and brought it with me.  I ended up never listening to the music however – I had pretty steady company for the first two thirds of the race, and by the last third of the race, I was so depleted that I felt like I needed to pay full attention to my feet, my surroundings, and my general well-being in order to finish the race safely.
  3. Electrolytes.  I always drink Gatorade during long races, and since the organizers were only providing water, I purchased some powdered Gatorade, and filled about a half dozen plastic bags with just enough for the 20 ounces of water in my bottle at refills.  I used most of it, although by the end I was really sick of the stuff, and got my electrolytes from the aforementioned chips and from some salt tablets I had brought with me, and popped once in a while.

At Mile 1

 

The race itself seemed to have 3 distinct phases – the first third, including the run up and down Moosalamoo had the most challenging terrain, and I had other competitors in sight nearly the whole way, since the short race (14 mile) and long race (36+ mile) runners were all together.  This part went by pretty quickly.  Curiously, one of the few sections of trail that I had never been on before here was the “dimple” between the two summits of Moosalamoo, and this was the only time I got off course – I probably wasted about a half mile and 5 minutes getting my bearings back there.  I also saw two gentlemen hiking carrying what looked to be 100 pound bags of sand without the benefits of a backpack.  At first I was mystified, but then I recognized one of the two as someone training for another local ultra-endurance test – the even more masochistic “Death Race”.  Although this event had already taken place earlier this summer – perhaps they were training for next year already?

Moosalamoo Summit Views

 

The second third had what was probably the gentlest terrain in the race, and it was here that I met and ran with a few far more experienced ultramarathoners who kept me company, and answered my stupid questions.  We ran together for a few hours, and they did a very good job of mixing in running and walking so that we could maintain appropriate pacing for finishing.  Thanks Josh and Grant from NH!  I also knew that in the “long run” I would not be able to keep pace with these two experienced ultrarunners who were 25 years my junior.

 

The last third of the race ended up being, not surprisingly, the hardest part.  As well it should – prior to this race, I had never run longer than 4 and half hours, and I went into the last dozen miles already on my feet for over 6 hours.  I also bonked for a while due to dehydration, and the technical running on the Chandler Ridge also sucked a lot of the remaining life from my legs.  Curiously, at around 4:30 in the afternoon when I was coming up Leicester Hollow – I had one final surprise burst of energy, and was able to muster some real running for about a half hour.  I am not sure where this came from, but maybe my loved ones were thinking of me and sending some positive vibes my way right then!  However, other than this too brief reprieve, the last 12 miles were walked – I tried in vain to get my legs to turn over quickly enough to muster a slow jog across the finish line, but they couldn’t respond.  With one mile to go, even my GPS and camera were rebelling.  My watch proclaimed that it was “Low on Batteries”, and when I went to take a picture of this “No kidding” moment, my camera had a hard time opening its iris! Nonetheless, I did finish, and I wasn’t in dead last place (although closer to last than first!)

Well, Duh

 

What did I take from this race?  First of all – my modest training regimen is enough for a road marathon, but it really isn’t sufficient for a trail ultra.  I did finish, but I need to put more miles into my legs in training to keep a longer race like this fully enjoyable.  No surprise there!

 

I would also like to thank John Izzo and his extended family (as well as other volunteers) for the great job they did putting together this new race.  I would also like to thank Tony and the crew at Blueberry Hill for use of their facilities as a base of operation and start/ finish line.  I think the rest of my blogged runs this summer will be much shorter…..

Finally, my GPS measured the course slightly longer than advertised, at 37.5 miles (although about a half mile was spent off course) or about 60 km.  I agree with the estimation of about 3000 vertical feet of climbing and descent.

Google Earth Projection of The Moosalamoo Ultra

Moosalamoo Ultra altitude profile

The Ridge Trail

The warm weather of the Memorial Day weekend gave me a great excuse to explore some more new terrain in the vicinity of my favorite local backcountry destination, Silver Lake.  Most of my trips into the Silver Lake backcountry have begun at the Falls of Lana trailhead, and have involved climbing, then finishing with a downhill.  The reasons for this are pretty obvious – on a longer run, it is easier to finish on a downhill than on a climb.   I had been considering starting a run into the Silver Lake environs from the uphill side, a popular trailhead in Goshen, which of course would require a significant uphill climb at the end of the run.  It seemed like a good day to give it a try!  To get to this trailhead, take 125 up to Ripton, but take the Ripton-Goshen road ( a right turn) shortly after passing through town.  Stay on this road, passing the Blueberry Hill Inn, until you get to the right turn onto Silver Lake Road.  Take a right turn here, and stay on Silver Lake Road until you get to the end of the road, where there is a pretty good sized parking lot.  I decided to make my first ever run along the Ridge Trail, which follows the ridge just to the west of Silver Lake, and return by the more commonly traveled Leicester Hollow Trail, effectively mirroring a run I did last year along the Chandler Ridge, the ridge just to the east of the lake.

Reaching this parking lot in the early evening hours on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, I was fortunate to sneak my compact car into the last spot in the lot!  I was greeted in the lot by the gentleman who was the host at the Silver Lake Campground a mile below, who was stationed at the trailhead to inform would be campers that the campground below was full.  I smiled, and pointed to my small fanny pack, and I think he understood that I was not planning to spend the night on the shores of the lake, but who knows?

I began the run with a short downhill on the Goshen Trail, the shortest route to Silver Lake.  within a few yards, I passed through the power line clearing – It is kind of funny that this wonderful semi-wilderness area is also a source of hydroelectric power, using the stored water in Silver Lake, and the power station below near the shores of Lake Dunmore.

Power Line near Goshen Trail trailhead

Shortly after passing the power line, the Ridge Trail takes and obvious, well marked turn to the left, heading south along the ridge. Much of the first mile or two of this trail is slightly overgrown and muddy, a reflection of the relative rarity in which it is traveled. While it climbed some early on, and had a few small ups and downs along the way, it was generally a downhill trip in this section. I was hoping to find views comparable to those on its eastern twin, the Chandler Ridge Trail, but saw none – this was “just” a run through the woods. At about 3 and a half miles, I came across a complicated series of crossing paths, but staying on the well labeled trail, I managed to stay on course. A short, easy descent alongside a small stream brought me to a lovely quiet country lane, where I assumed (correctly) that a right turn would connect me with the Leicester Hollow trail for my return.

Taking the right turn, the country road quickly met a forest service gate, marking what is probably the official start to the Leicester Hollow Trail. The smooth running on this hardened trail, met a bridge coming in from the left (and based on previous experiences, where the crossover from Chandler Ridge joins) and stayed on the runner’s right side of the rocky stream. The easy running soon ends, as the trail gets much rougher – NOT due to Irene (the usual blame for washed out trails these days) but due to flash flooding from the summer of 2008. After about a mile of rough going, in, out and around stream beds, the trail became easier going, with only a slight uphill tilt. The trail eventually entered a clearing, where the presence of old apple trees indicated human habitation at some point in the past. Examination of an 1871 Leicester map shows this site as the former home of one Mrs F. Glynn, who I know nothing else about!

Possible Glynn Homesite

 

 

 

At about a mile past this homesite, as my mind was wandering with the sense of timelessness that often accompanies a long trail run, seeing the sunset over Silver Lake, I realized that I should conclude this run soon if I did not want to have to complete it after dark. I could also smell the campfires from the happy campers in the full backcountry campground.

Silver Lake Sunset

 

Mindful of the time, I stayed on the trail along the east shore of Silver Lake, going a little faster now, until I joined the dirt road trail connecting the Falls of Lana parking lot below with the Goshen parkking lot above, aned took the right turn for one last climb to my awaiting car. This measured in at about 9.5 miles, with about a 900 foot descent and climb.

google earth of the run, from the west

Altitude Profile