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The Wreckage Formerly Known as The Blue Bed House

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

In the late 1980′s a popular “out of bounds” ski tour from the Rikert Touring Center at Breadloaf included an abandoned homestead which people referred to as “The Blue Bed House”.  Mind you, there was never a blue bed in this derelict, but still partially standing home in my memory, but some more experienced skiers claimed that at one point in the not too distant past, there actually was a blue bed in the house.  Over the years, some trails were rerouted and extended in other directions, and while the turnoff from the Rikert trail system towards this formerly popular destination could still be seen,  I gradually noted fewer and fewer ski tracks heading in its direction. The one time I set off to visit the site several years ago, the snow cover was not sufficient for good skiing on the partially grown in trail, so I reversed direction and found another route.  It has been about 20 years since my last visit to the site of the Blue Bed House, and I thought that I might follow the trails to its site to see how it had weathered the elapsed time.

This run, like the run I described in “Circumnavigating Robert Frost Country“, begins at the Robert Frost roadside rest area, and follows Frost Rd., past the Robert Frost Cabin, and beyond to the well-trodden trail directly behind the cabin.  A few minutes after passing the cabin, I came to a trail split, and while in the aforementioned run, I took the left branch, on this run I stayed right, entering a gully which was actually a stream bed after the previous days’ heavy rain.  The trail was in bad shape at first, with quite a few downed trees which slowed my progress on the otherwise easy climb, but after the trail leveled out, its condition improved as I approached the area where I remembered the actual house to be.

The years have not been good to this long abandoned farmhouse.  All that remained of the Blue Bed House was a pile of wood.  This also probably explains its diminished interest to cross country ski tourers – when the snow is deep there probably isn’t much to see. Does anyone know anything about the former residents of this site, or how long it has been left to decay?

All that's left of the house

Some of my readers have mentioned that while they are interested in trying out the runs I describe, they are concerned that they will not be able to follow the actual route. My response is usually something along the lines of “do you think I really knew where I was going when I set out to do the run?” In fact, if you always know where you are going, you never discover anything new. What happened next is a great example of that. I only “sort of” knew where I was going, and decided to explore where I was not entirely confident I knew my way. I did know that the badly overgrown country lane heading downhill to the left of the blue bed house would take me to a lovely meadow, so while I briefly considered turning and heading back to my parked car, I chose instead to keep exploring. This lane, which I also remembered from ski excursions long ago, was also starting to to succumb to the encroachment of the forest. Interestingly, someone had placed blue blazes on many of the trees alongside the path, probably marking them for removal, but apparently the spray painters were not as ambitious with the chainsaw as they were with the spray paint can. After a few minutes of descent, I briefly joined the trail described in the Robert Frost run, but when it hit an obvious T, I turned right, rather than left, taking me to the base of the backcountry meadow. I presume this meadow was part of the farmland used by the former inhabitants of the Blue Bed house, and it is starting to get a little overgrown, indicating that it has probably been a few years since its last mowing.   Nonetheless, the twisted old apple trees in plain sight gave evidence for its formerly domesticated use.

Overgrown meadow

This was where curiosity got the best of me. Noting the 4WD tracks heading into the meadow, I thought that I might follow them back uphill to rejoin my original trail after it passed the house. At the top of the meadow the double track in the high grass mysteriously turned into a single track more characteristic of an animal herd path. I wonder what sort of animal ate the vehicle whose trail I had been following? As the trail reentered the forest, a huge recently fallen fir tree blocked my path, and after jogging around it, followed what looked like an overgrown road. A few yards later, the putative road disappeared, leaving me standing in the woods. Knowing that there at least USED to be a trail just a little higher up the hill, I continued through, with a few zigs and zags following false herd paths, until I stumbled upon another interesting relic of the area’s past. Laying on the ground, in the middle of the forest, was a large ring of iron or steel, which looked like the rim of a wagon wheel. I was surprised by this, as I was clearly a least a 100 yards away from the house at this point. I picked the rim off the ground, and leaned it against the tree, in case I ever wanted to search for it again.

Wagon Wheel rim

Eventually, sticking to an uphill bearing, I came to the obvious path. Presuming that a right turn here would take me back to the house in a few minutes, there was only one thing to do – go left! While the trail was easy to follow at first, it faded badly in sections, especially with all the leaves on the forest floor which made it hard to follow in places. When the trail became less obvious, there were usually a few plastic strips hanging off of branches, or colored plastic nailed to the trees, probably many years old. Eventually this rather vague trail rejoined one of the major Rikert trails, which is also part of the Catamount Trail connecting the Frost trail with the Brown gate trail. A ski tour passing by this section was described in a prior post entitled “Norske Trail to Brown Gate“.  I finally knew exactly where I was, and that I was on well maintained trails.  Looking forward to some easier uptempo running through Rikert trails I should have guessed there would be another hurdle in my path, and there was.  The beavers who created the ponds alongside this stretch of trail have apparently been quite busy this summer, and one rather substantial section of the trail had a new purpose – beaver pond!  I thought it couldn’t be too deep, but after a few steps into the pond which brought the water up to my knees, I thought better, and bushwacked to the right and managed to avoid most of the water.

Vintage 2010 Beaver Pond

Following any of the numerous obvious trails after this point will bring one to FS 59 (aka Steam Mill Rd) which runs behind the Breadloaf campus. A right turn on this road led to Rt. 125 a few minutes later, and an easy run on paved road to return to the parking lot. Not content to call it a day however, one last distraction delayed my return. Passing by the small, but maintained graveyard on the left side of the road, I thought I would stop and take a look, given that I had driven by it hundreds of times.  There were a few prominent Addison County names in this small graveyard, known as the Galvin Cemetary, but the stone that caught my attention was this one:

The Widow's Final Resting Place

I had stumbled across the final resting place of Lucina Chatfield nee Billings, the widow whose story made up one of my earlier posts this summer.  I found it amusing that she was buried with her maiden name, rather than that of her bigamist husband!  Returning to my vehicle, I was surprised to see that this run was only 5 miles long- a rather short run, but this one was long on discovery and adventure.

Google Earth of route

Altitude Profile

Circumnavigating Robert Frost Country

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

One of the most famous characters to grace the hills of Addison County was America’s poet laureate, Robert Frost.  In a earlier post, I joked about the ubiquity of signs alluding to Frost’s presence in the woods of Ripton, so I thought it would be fun to describe a run built on the Robert Frost theme.  The Robert Frost roadside rest area on Rt. 125 a few miles below Breadloaf seemed like a logical place to begin the run, given the ample parking.  I also couldn’t help but notice that the nearby “Robert Frost Trail” and trailhead was still closed to the public, but more on that later.

Parking lot signage

The run began with a easy jog up…you guessed it…Frost Road, until reaching the Robert Frost cabin where (guess who) summered for many years while teaching at the Breadloaf School of English. We can forgive him for the fact that for many of these years, he returned to teach at archrival Amherst College at the end of the summer. Even famous poets need a day job I guess! The view from his primitive cabin is beautiful in the late summer, with views of the nearby mountains and the Homer Noble Farm.

Homer Noble Farm

After soaking up the meadow view, I continued up into the woods on the well traveled trail behind his cabin. This route follows much of the route described in my cross country ski trip described in my post entitled “Robert Frost Cabin” but in the reverse direction.  After a little more than a mile, the trail splits, and I chose the left fork knowing it would lead to a longer run.  The gradual descent on this stretch of trail led eventually to a T in the trail with signage for cross country skiers, and I chose the left turn with a short downhill before joining up with a well-developed snowmobile trail.  A rather disoriented hiking couple asked for my assistance in finding their way back to their vehicle at this point.  This is understandable, as there is a complex network of ski trails, logging trails, and snowmobile trails in this section of forest.  If you want to try this run out and are concerned about getting lost back here, a good rule of thumb is that left turns bring you further away from Breadloaf, while right turns will bring you closer.

After reorienting the slightly disoriented hikers – I haven’t heard of any recent hiker disappearances in the last few days, so I assume they made it out alive – I took a right turn on the now well-developed uphill trail which followed stream.  After about a mile on this trail, I arrived at a new fork.  Since the left fork had numerous KEEP OUT and NO TRESPASSING signs, my choice was clear – go right.  This led to the trickiest routefinding section of this run  Shortly after running by a small beaver pond (on my left) I expected to find a rough trail to my right which would connect me with the Brown Gate trail in the Rikert Ski Touring Center.  I found a right turn which fit my memory of the terrain, but the trail got fainter and fainter, including a small stream crossing which didn’t fit my winter memories, but eventually connected with the well marked Brown Gate trail.  A left turn here, and a moderate uphill led to the Brown Gate itself, and Steam Mill Rod/Forest service road 59.  A right turn onto Steam Mill Rd led to about a mile of running on this well-graded dirt road.  After all the rougher more technical running of the previous few miles, it felt good to stretch out the legs for a while in some higher tempo running.  Staying on this road would take you to the Breadloaf Campus too soon, so I followed the well-marked snowmobile trail turning left shortly after passing Burnt Hill Rd.  About 50 yards up this trail, I came to a small, moderately overgrown family burial plot.  I knew of the existence of this mini-graveyard from past ski tours, but stopped to read the gravestones for the first time.  The name on all of the stones was “Kirby” which made sense, as an older name for Steam Mill Road was apparently Kirby Road, as noted previously.

Kirby Burial Ground

I stayed on this trail which is separated from the Rikert trails by a line of trees, and after another mile or so reached Rt. 125 just east of Breadloaf.  The Brooks Rd. intersection was in sight, so I headed in that direction to continue the southern half of the run.  Taking the Widows Clearing trail from the south end of the parking lot brought me up to the actual clearing, the subject of yet another post earlier in the summer.  The fact that the clearing still exists despite not having been farmed for a hundred years implied that someone must mow the field every year or so, and on this run I could see that it had been mowed very recently.  I can’t help but wonder who has taken on this task, as it can’t be that easy to haul the necessary equipment up there.  From this point until the end of the run, you will finish the run as described by following my aforementioned “right turn rule”.  The first right turn on the Widows clearing trail takes you to a trail called “The Crosswalk”, and after a mile on this rough trail, the next right connects to the furthest corners of (here we go again) The Robert Frost Trail.  This well known trail passes through woods, meadows, streams, and swamps, and at many vantages along the way, appropriate Frost poems are displayed.  I noted earlier in the summer that this trail has been closed all summer, and I presumed this was due to the nearby road construction.  When I arrived to the stream crossing on this trail, I found that the footbridge which had provided a means across was missing, providing an alternative explanation for the trail closing.  On the shore where the bridge once stood, the Frost poem posted seemed particularly ironic, in light of the fact that the trail was blocked.  It is also my favorite Frost poem, and particularly germane to this blog.

Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

A short slog across the stream past the equipment in place for the replacement of the lost bridge, and a few hundred yards on Rt. 125 brought me back to my vehicle.  As in prior runs, the Google Earth Projection, and altitude profile are posted, but I accidentally turned off my GPS for about a mile between the Kirby burial site and Rt. 125, so the distance on this run is probably a little more than 8 miles, and although there are no individual long climbs, there were very few truly flat sections on this run, and the total climb adds up to close to 1000 vertical feet.

Skylight Pond

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

My last last few blogged runs were on the long side, requiring a fairly high degree of organization and car shuttling to pull off, making them relatively rare treats for those with a little extra time on their hands.  This run, however, requires much less choreography – just a short drive up the mountain from Middlebury to get to the trailhead, and thus can be done without a lot of extra driving.  This is also a relatively straightforward “up and down” route, on easy to follow trails, requiring no map, and not a lot of knowledge of the topography.  The catch?  This route has a LOT of climbing!

To get to the starting point for this route, drive up Middlebury Gap on Rt 125.  I was pleased to see, after my rant and rave about the pace of the road project in my last posting, that they are actually starting to lay some asphalt down.  I would like to think that I somehow influenced the road crews to get their act together, but I suspect that this would be a little too delusional on my part.  Take a left turn on Forest Service 59 (also labeled as the Steam Mill Road,(and sometimes called Kirby Road) a quarter of a mile or so before you get to the Breadloaf campus.   Head up this well-graded dirt road for a few miles until you get to the Steam Mill Clearing trailhead, on your right.  This clearing was the turnaround point for one of my ski touring posts from last summer, entitled The Skater’s Waltz, and is easy to notice due to several signs, as well as the fact that it is the first clearing that a driver comes to along this road.  I have tried to find out more information on the history of this clearing, but thus far have not been able to find out much.  There clearly must have been a steam mill here at some point, where raw logs were cut into lumber to facilitate transport to civilization, but I have not uncovered any information yet as to when it was operational, and by whom.  The historical name for the road “Kirby Road” may offer some clues, but an old map of Ripton shows Kirby residences far down on the lower reaches of the road, and no indication of the steam mill ownership is apparent.

map courtesy of Bill Powers

The run up to Skylight Pond follows a well-marked trail from this parking lot.  This popular hiking trail climbs steadily, but never particularly steeply.  There are frequent waterbars, dips, rocks, and mudholes to throw off one’s running rhythm, but never enough to turn it into a hike rather than a leisurely run.   After a little less than two and a half miles, the ascending trail crosses the Long Trail, and continues on until it reaches the Skylight Pond shelter, quite possibly the Ritz Carleton of the numerous Long Trail shelters.  The shelter porch overlooks the small high altitude pond, with very open views to the east.  The Green Mt. National Forest attendant who makes this shelter his home for the summer informed me that the long hulking ridge on the eastern horizen was Mt. Moosilauke, in New Hampshire, another great trail running destination.  Checking in on my GPS, I was surprised to see that I had done a lot of climbing to get here – the altitude at the shelter was 3500 ft, making its ascent a 1500 ft vertical climb from the parking lot below.  The gradual nature of this rather substantial climb undoubtedly leads to its popularity as a hike and feasibility as a trail run!

View from Skylight Pond

On the descent, a few openings in the trees with only partially obstructed views to the west became apparent, but I must confess that while vistas like the above shot make for attractive blogs and effective running motivations, most the runs look more like this:

View From the trail

AND, when the footing gets tougher, it is hard to look at any scenery other than your own two feet.  I guess that beats making sudden indentations in the mud with your face.

Nonetheless, the return to my car made for a pleasant round trip of just under 5 miles.  I am also very interested to learn more about the history of the original steam mill, and invite readers to share what they may know about it.

View From the West

altitude profile