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Silver (klister) Reconnection

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

For many years, I fancied myself a passable cross-country ski racer.  Despite an inauspicious start, finishing dead last as the anchor leg of the 1981 Hanover Relays, a race in which the anchor leg of the winning team went by the name of “Bill Koch” (yup – THAT Bill Koch, and I was attired in a fuzzy blue sweater, blue jeans, and bamboo poles), I gradually improved over the years until the demands of parenthood and other interests diminished my ski training time to the point where racing was pretty futile.  At my peak in the late 80′s, I, and a handful of my friends made it our goal to ski 1000 km in a season, and with the mileage from three ski marathons in a month on top of a shorter race almost every weekend, several of us managed to reach our goal.  One of the symptoms of this particular version of OCD was an obsession with ski waxes.  I would wax at least one pair of skis every night (and yes, I had several pairs, almost always the latest and best) based on the next day’s weather prediction.  The bane of the ski-waxer’s existence was the particularly goopy wax for warm or icy weather known as “klister“.  While the stuff really does work, putting it on one’s skis is a real pain, and part of the reason why for many years now I have almost always broken out my skating skis, which do not require kick wax, on warm springlike days.

So, on an unseasonably warm and sunny Sunday morning, I found myself with my classic skis at the Rikert Ski Touring Center, and of course, my plastic bags full of every wax under the sun.  Realizing, to my dismay, that it would indeed be a “klister day” I dug into my bag and pulled out a tube of silver klister wax which was probably older than most of the skiers out on that particular day.  The best way to apply this sticky gooey mess is to squeeze a thick line from the toothpaste tube it comes in onto the kick zone of my skis, and then spread the wax by running my thumbs across the base.  Then the fun really starts – as all this wax on one’s thumbs can’t be washed off ( I had forgotten how insoluble it is in water!), so I ended up shmearing streaks of silver goop on the sinks of the Rikert men’s room.  Of course, it would not do to leave this for their staff to clean up, so I eventually settled on wiping it up with a generous stack of paper towels.  The scene was actually reminiscent of the challenges of cleaning up the “pink goo” from the Dr Seuss book “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back“.

Skis all prepared, I set off up the hill, not really dead set on where exactly I was going.  Taking the freshly groomed tracks on Holland to Frost, I came to the end of the Brown Gate trail, and realized that the section connecting this point and the trail to Blue Bed House was one I had never been on before.  This two or three year old section of trail seems to be replacing the old connector from Holland, which seemed to be badly flooded in recent years due to beaver activity.  This narrow trail, which wove through the hardwood forest was made more challenging by the darn klister – the conditions were an odd mix of powder, ice, and frozen granular snow, so I found myself intermittently flying, and lurching to a near halt when my skis chose to grab.  Nonetheless, I plowed on, connecting to the Blue Bed house trail, and bearing downhill, to Wagon Wheel Rd.

The last time I had passed this way, the Wagon Wheel Rd. had been plowed, making for less satisfying skiing, but to my pleasant surprise, no plows had been this way since the last generous snow storm.  So, I took a right turn at the blue gate, planning on following the old Middle Branch trail, which I knew would eventually loop back to the touring center.  A few hundred yards later, I came to a surprise which forced me to re-evaluate this plan.  While the Middle Branch trail, to the right, looked neatly tracked, I noticed a new, less manicured section, labelled as a segment of the Catamount Trail, bearing left.  To the right – the comfortable trail I knew well.  To the left, a trail whose known destination was…..Canada.  Once again, I chose the road less travelled, and that made all the difference.

road less taken

The Road Less Taken

 

This segment of trail was totally new to me, and from the geography, I knew it would eventually lead me to Steam Mill Road (aka FS 59) but I had no idea how long or far away this would be. So, I just glided through the woods, gradually climbing,the klister working well in the rapidly softening snow, and enjoying being the only person for a few miles. And at this point, it hit me – I was reconnecting with a sport that has been shortchanged for quite a few years.  After all those years of skiing an enormous amount in my younger adulthood, finding time to keep up with the sport has proven elusive more recently.  I found myself suddenly reminiscing and reconnecting with a sport which at one point in my life was my favorite sports activity.  This introspection aside, this is a very pretty section of trail, mostly through hardwood forest.  The trail is at its most scenic in one segment where it hugs the rim of a rather dramatic broad gorge, with the Middle Branch flowing a few hundred feet below.

wintry woods

Winter Woods

 

After a while, however, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into, as I was somewhat directionally disoriented (albeit not “lost” – the trail was well marked) until I came upon a group of skiers coming down the trail from the opposite direction. One of this party was a friend I had not crossed paths with in a few years, Andy, and as we stopped and conversed, I learned that he was responsible for the layout of the trail we were on! Pressing him for information on his other trailblazing activities, he offered to share some of his favorites in exchange for some help with trail maintenance. Sounds like a good deal to me! I also learned that I was a short distance from Steam Mill Road, which is closed to vehicular traffic in the winter, and maintained for snowmobile use. I joined this road at the broad clearing which in the summer is near to the popular trailhead to Breadloaf Mountain. I found it curious that there was a large sign, standing in the middle of this field proclaiming “WILDLIFE CLEARING”. Since the only tracks I saw in the snow were of human origin, I guess the sign was right – the wildife was cleared!

Wildlife Clearing

At this point, I was still a few miles from the Rikert Center, but the return was easy, following the road in the tracks of numerous previous snowmobilers, and getting onto Upper Gilmore near the Brown Gate, and following the obvious downhills back to the touring center.

Google earth

Google Earth of ski

On the technical side, this ended up being a slightly more than 9 mile route, with about 700 feet of altitude difference between the low and high points.  I am also looking forward to checking this out on foot this summer as well.  The soul of this day however, was how invigorating it felt to just get lost in something that I really enjoyed.  So, take the time to reconnect with something ( or someone I guess!) you love.

Altitude Profile Silver

Altitude Profile

 

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

A Run (Almost) to the Top of Vermont

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The header for this blog describes it as “A blog for runners in and about Addison County, VT”.  While all of my previous posts have been describing runs in Addison County, this posting chronicles a run not far from our fair county, in the “Vail of Vermont”, Stowe.  Since a drive to Stowe isn’t that big a deal, and this run involves a well-known Vermont landmark, I figured I might as well include it.  I was looking around for a more epic run to finish off the summer, and I learned of “The Race to the Top of Vermont”, a charity race in support of the Catamount Trail, in which a few hundred endorphin-crazed runners and mountain bikers compete up the Mount Mansfield Auto Road to the saddle between the two prominent summits (aka “The Nose” and “The Chin”) of our own Vermont high point, Mount Mansfield.  While I enjoy running the hills, I had only attempted a run of this magnitude once before in my life, and it HAS been a few years since my run up Jay Peak….

The last Sunday in August was a perfect day for a race like sort – warm at the base of the mountain, cool, but not too cold at the top, with the perfectly cloudless azure skies of the sort that one expects in Colorado, not Vermont.  I must confess, looking up at the summit from the start line did get my heart pounding, even before the starting gun went off.

I had never hiked on this side of the mountain during the summer prior to this race, preferring the trails up from Smugglers Notch or Underhill for my frequent hikes to the summit. Nonetheless, I had descended much of the route many times in the course of the Stowe Derby, a cross country ski race from the top of the Lookout Chairlift on Mansfield finishing in the village of Stowe. Even though it has been a few years since I last competed in this little bit of downhill mayhem, I was pleasantly surprised by how well my memory of the Auto Road served me, albeit from a very different perspective – it always looks steeper going uphill.

I chose a conservative pace at the start: Some of those who took off like a bat out of hell were passed by as they fell by the wayside, and some were never seen again until the finish line. I chose an initial strategy of running the straightaways, and “power-hiking” the steeper pitches around the countless hairpin turns. I must confess that as the run got closer and closer to the summit, my fast-walking sections became more numerous, and of longer duration – this was a very tough route! Fortunately, most of the other “middle of the pack” competitors had similar issues. While most of the dirt road course was shady, as it got higher up the mountain and crossed ski trails more frequently, every bend in the trail seemed to bring on an even more spectacular view.

View from the trail

The finish line, where there is a small parking lot for drivers, while a few hundred vertical feet and about a mile from the true summit (“The Chin”), sure felt like the top! Prior to the start of the race, I had delusions of maybe finishing the run with a jog across Mansfield’s spectacular above-timberline ridge and bagging the actual summit, but in recognition of the fact that I still had to get myself back down the mountain on increasingly wobbly legs, I decided to save the ridge run for another day.

(Almost) Summit Finish Line

The only disappointment of the day came when I thought that I might instead take the short walk to the summit of the “Nose” the secondary summit just above the top of the Auto Road where the prominent radio towers are located. The trail to this bump on the ridge had a barrier across it claiming it was closed due to new Federal safety rules on radio frequency exposure! Most people know that there have been increased concerns expressed about radio wave exposure due to publicity about possible health risks from cell phones. What most people don’t know is that the claim that radio waves can cause cancer actually flies against some of the most basic laws of physics, which Einstein figured out in 1905, and are well understood by beginning college chemistry students.  There are many aspects of cancer which are not understood, but one thing is certain – to cause cancer, you need to break chemical bonds, and the energy generated by radio waves is only a tiny fraction of a percent of that necessary to do this. Saying that prolonged exposure to radio waves, or exposure to higher intensity radio waves can cause cancer is tantamount to claiming that if you stand on the Maine coast throwing baseballs for extended periods of time, one of the balls will eventually land in Europe. So….a scenic point in Vermont is taken away from us based on voodoo science.

Enough of the rant of the day…..Most trail runners know that the climb up is harder on the lungs, but the descent is actually tougher on the legs. I thought I had enough strength left in my legs to do the descent as an easy jog, but discovered about halfway down that this was not the case, making the last mile or two of descent more of a fast hike than a running descent. I tried to get down promptly however, given the barbecue lunch awaiting me at the post-race party. All in all, this run was 4.3 miles each way, or 8.6 round trip, with a 2500 vertical foot climb and descent. What a day!

Altitude Profile

Google Earth Projection of the Route

The Widow’s Clearing

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

This week’s post begins at what is by now, a fairly common trailhead for my runs, the Brooks Road parking lot.  This trailhead, a mile or so downhill from the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, has been the starting point for several of my blogged runs over the last year, most recently a post entitled “A Tale of Two Weekends.  Nonetheless, there are many opportunities for unique runs emanating from this National Forest entry point, so I keep coming back to check out new variations.  I have skied this route quite a few times over the years, but have only done limited exploring of most of this route during the summer months, so much of the scenery looked very different from the images in my memory.

The start of this run, however, treads on familiar turf.  I suspected (correctly) that some of the terrain would be a little rougher later on in the run,  so I chose to complete the lion’s share of the climbing on the easy running surface of Brooks Rd., including the entirety of the “up and back” route described last summer in the Sugar Hill Reservoir post.  The straightforward start to this run involved running up Brooks Rd. for 2.5 miles until joining the righthand side trail leading to the reservoir at the three mile mark.  Entering the clearing below the reservoir dam, I noted a sign which was clearly aimed at runners who were far more fleet footed than I!

Speed Warning

Rather than returning to my car by the same route, I chose to lengthen the run by delving deeper into the National Forest and trying out a loop run.  Immediately after entering the dam clearing, take the trail veering downhill sharply to the right.  At this point, the run seemed much more committed than other runs in the area, leaving me with the impression that I was heading into remote wilderness, despite the fact that civilized roads are never far away.  The next 4 miles or so are on trails which are well-skied upon in the winter, but rarely travelled in the summer months, so there are some sections which are (surprise surprise) very muddy and/or slightly overgrown, but never difficult to follow.  In order to find your way back to the parking lot, the simplest instruction is ALWAYS STAY RIGHT at each obvious trail junction.  Since much of this trail parallels the Ripton-Goshen Road a “wrong turn” to the left will probably deposit you pretty quickly on this obvious dirt road, but you can be back on route by reversing your course for a few minutes.  Finally, this segment of the  route also coincides with The Catamount Trail, the state-long ski trail, so the unique Catamount Trail markers can be followed as well.  This stretch of the Catamount Trail eventually joins up with the Widow’s Clearing Trail at a well marked intersection.

Catamount Trail joins Widow's Clearing Trail

From this point on until the end of the run, the trail through mature hardwood forest following the Widow’s Clearing Trail.  There is one last tricky intersection, a sharp turn climbing to the right which I would have overlooked if it wasn’t pretty well marked.  About a half mile from the end of this loop I passed by large hillside clearing, which was clearly the remnants of a former homestead, as indicated by the ancient apple orchard at its edge.  A small sign referring to this site as the Widow’s Clearing was also nailed into a trailside tree.  A descent on well traveled trail returned me to the parking lot to complete this 7.6 mile loop.

Google Earth of the run

Between numerous signs labeling the Widows Clearing trail, the Widow’s Clearing trailhead, and the Widow’s Clearing itself, upon my return to my vehicle, I began to wonder, who was the eponymous widow?  I was not able to find any information on my own, so I emailed my favorite expert on local history, Jan at the Sheldon Museum.  She was not familiar with this mysterious widow, but she did some research, and eventually connected me with William J. Powers, Jr. of Lake Dunmore and Rutland.  All of the following information comes from Bill and is the result of his unpublished research on the topic.  This is just a brief synopsis of a much larger body of his work.  Bill has also authored a history book on another of my favorite  running destinations, Silver Lake, and those who are interested in learning more about the history of the lake and its surroundings can purchase his book at the Sheldon Museum.

As it turns out, the widow of interest was one Lucina (Billings) Chatfield, 1818-1897.  While Lucina was born in Tunbridge, she married Alonzo Chatfield in Middlebury in 1838.  They moved up to his home in Ripton, and in 1859 they started farming the plot of land which we now call the Widow’s Clearing. Local records indicate that their farm was rather poor, even by Ripton hill farm standards.  When this site became known as “Widow’s Clearing” is not in the information which I have at my disposal, but it is clear that Lucina was not widowed immediately – she was abandoned by her husband!  In 1855 Alonzo left her and their four children, and moved to Michigan where he lived the rest of his life with his second wife.  Accounts from that time also indicated that Lucina was not openly distraught about this.  Whether this was stoicism on her part, or a case of “good riddance”, we can only speculate.  She owned and operated the farm until 1882, in later years with her son Parsons and his family, although it is not clear if she actually lived there all those years.  It must have been a challenging hardscrabble existence for Lucina and her family, as an 1871 map of Ripton shows “Mrs. Chatfield’s farm” as the most remote, and probably highest altitude farm in Ripton.  Nonetheless, local records also show that by this time, the farm was more successful than it had been during the years of her marriage.  In 1882, Lucina, Parsons, and his family relocated to Middlebury, and there is no record of anyone living at the clearing after that time.  The widow passed away in East Bethel, VT in 1897 at the age of 79, and was buried in the Galvin Cemetery in Ripton alongside her parents.  Kind of an interesting little story of the challenges of mountain life in Vermont!

Finally, Bill’s research also uncovered a picture of the view from the Widow’s Clearing, circa 1870.  The wide open land stands in sharp contrast to the fully recovered forest of modern times. This photo is included with his permission.