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Beating The Blerch on Snake Mountain

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Ok, so some of you must be asking “What the heck is The Blerch?”

The Blerch

The Blerch

 

The Blerch is a character, created by the author and cartoonist known as “The Oatmeal”, who has described The Blerch in the following words:

 

“Marathon runners often describe a phenomenon known as “hitting the wall.” They refer to ‘the wall” as the point in a race when they feel physically and emotionally defeated.

I do not believe in the wall. I believe in The Blerch. The Blerch is a fat little cherub who follows me when I run. He is a wretched, lazy beast. He tells me to slow down, to walk, to quit.

“Blerch” is the sound food makes when it is squeezed from a tube. “Blerch” is the shape of my tummy after a huge meal. If I am sedentary at a time when I have zero excuse for being sedentary, I call this “blerching.” The Blerch represents all forms of gluttony, apathy, and indifference that plague my life.

 

The Blerch always seems to appear in my life over the holidays – too much good food, too much good wine, and too much time on the road or in the homes of my extended family can make for a relaxing holiday, but not one in which I get much running in.  “Its too cold outside Jeff – you don’t want to go out there”, or “Gee that football game, the Dingleberry Bowl between Okoboji State and Turkey Tech sure sounds good”, or “I shouldn’t run right after eating – where are the Christmas cookies?”.  Yup – that’s the Blerch talking!

A few days ago, one of my running friends in Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts announced a run up, over and back on my old favorite, Snake Mountain, for this Saturday morning, and this sounded like a great way to jump start my running legs after the lethargy of the holidays.  So, when my alarm went off at 7 am on a Saturday morning…..I hit the snooze button.   Damn that Blerch!  10 minutes later, as the alarm resumed its insistent buzz, I realized that it was time to silence The Blerch along with the alarm, so I got up and poured a cup of coffee.  Then, I looked at the thermometer, and it read “9 degrees”.  Ugh – its too cold out there, but as the sun rises it will warm up, right?  So I had my breakfast, and drank a few more cups of coffee, and when the time came at 8:30 am to drive off to the Snake Mt. trailhead on the west side of the mountain, I looked at the thermo-tormentor, and it let me know that the meager rays of sun had raised the temperature all the way up to 11 degrees.  At least at this point, I realized I had drunk too much coffee to go back to bed, so off to the trailhead I went, donning about seven layers of clothing.

My mood improved considerably upon seeing four other runners ready to go at the start of the run.  We had been forewarned to wear some sort of spikes on our shoes given the icing on the trails, so I brought my Asics Gel Arctic shoes – basically a normal running shoes with short spikes in the soles, for the winter ascent.  The rest of the group had slip on spikes, known as MICROspikes, which they wore over their running shoes, and looked like they might offer even better grip.  Sure enough, as we set off up the trail, while my shoes did well on the old styrofoam snow, frozen mud, and hard packed trail snow, they offered no grip whatsoever on the brief but challenging sections where the trail was essentially a frozen waterfall.

Icy Trails

Icy Trails

 

As a result, my pace was much slower than usual, but nobody else was running much faster. Achieving the summit on this bitter cold morning, which seemed much more bearable after climbing for over two miles, we were treated to some amazing Adirondack views. I have always felt that if you squint your eyes just a little while looking west, you can almost convince yourself that our winter views of the ‘Dacks look an awful lot like views of the Front Range from Denver.

Adirondack Views

Adirondack Views

After ascending from the more heavily hiked west side trail, we decided to descend down the east side. To get to this trail, you have to pretty much know where it is, as it is an unmarked trail. About one third of the way down the mountain, the west side trail takes a sharp, steeply descending right hand turn, and the east side trail is achieved if you go straight at this point. If you have never hiked this trail before, I would recommend ascending from the east side parking lot on Snake Mountain Road, so you can see where the trails meet. Given the lighter use of the east side trail, the snow was not as compacted as it was on the much icier west side, making for an easier descent, passing by some nicely terraced beaver ponds.

Beaver Ponds on Snake Mt

Beaver Ponds on Snake Mt

When we reached the east side parking lot, we had a decision to make: I was not looking forward to the climb back on the trails, and back down the west side, as my footing was much poorer than the others’ and I was not enthused about sliding down the mountain on a frozen incline. I knew there was a way to circle back to our parked cars by taking the Forest Road, a road which ran over the southern shoulder of Snake Mountain, but I did not have a clear idea what the mileage of this route would be. Some members of the group suspected that my mileage estimates might be a bit on the short side, and were not up for the potential of a significantly longer run. So, we ended up splitting the group- after all, this is supposed to be fun – and some went back up the mountain, while a few of us chose the road return, heading south on Snake Mt. Road, west on the climb over Forest Road, and then taking the right turn onto Mountain St. extension to return to our vehicles. Other than occasionally choking on the dust churned up by passing cars, this was actually a nice road run with views to the east and to the west at various points along the way. Although my initial conservative estimate of the distance was indeed shy of the actual mileage by about a mile and a half, I had not missed by as much as some of my running partners feared.  The two groups met back at the parking lot within a few minutes of each other, and our version of the run worked out to almost exactly 10 miles, with the about 1000 ft climb up the mountain.

Happy New Year, and Death to the Blerch!  (although he is kind of cute…..)

Google Earth to beat the Blerch

Google Earth to beat the Blerch

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Skiing at the Trapp’s

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

More often than not, the transition from autumn running to winter cross-country skiing is a long, frustrating period of time, derided as “stick season”.  This year, however, a warmer than usual November, followed by more generous than usual early season snow, seems to have shortened the season in which it is “too cold and rainy to run, too warm or snowless to ski” to a few short weeks.  That said, the seemingly inevitable Christmas rains have dramatically reduced the snow cover in Vermont, and when I checked the conditions at Rikert, and they were reporting 3 km of trail open for skiing, this did not bode well for holiday skiing in Addison County.  So, I decided to look elsewhere, and followed the usual rules of thumb, which are 1:  Go north and 2: Go high.  So, I decided to make the slightly longer drive to the Trapp’s cross country ski touring center, high on a hillside above Stowe Vermont.

As most Vermonters know, the Trapp Family Lodge was established by the one and only Maria von Trapp of “Sound of Music” fame shortly after she and the rest of the family emigrated to the United States. They first established a modest ski lodge up on a hillside with views which reminded them of the views in their native Tyrol, and then pretty much introduced nordic skiing to the northeast with the opening of their touring center in 1968.  Meanwhile, the original lodge burned down in 1980, sending poor old Maria out into the cold in her nightgown. The much tonier modern lodge, which I have driven by many times but never actually entered, was built a few years later.  The Von Trapp family also has apparently flourished, as witnessed by the fact that there seem to be as many Von Trapps as there are Smiths in the northern Vermont phone books.

I skied at the Trapp’s Nordic Center a few times a year in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but as my commitment to nordic ski racing faded, corresponding to increased family priorities, I had not skied here in many years, perhaps as many as 20 years, so I was looking forward to this excuse to return.  The Rikert ski touring area, while more convenient, has one major drawback – it is lacking in long climbs and descents.  It isn’t flat mind you – the Tormondson Race Trail packs in about 400 ft of climbing and descent in each 5 km lap, but due to the limits of the topology, breaks these climbs and descents into bite size pieces.  Trapp’s on the other hand, is literally on the side of a mountain, and has trails which take advantage of this – it is full of long, grinding climbs, followed by generous, multi-kilometer descents which which make you want to whoop with joy as you gather speed and maneuver through corners.

I was not disappointed in the amount of terrain under conditions which have virtually wiped out most of the cross country skiing in the state – they had 25 km of trails open, and with my Rikert season’s pass, I was able to get one day of free skiing there this year.  Experienced skiers have known of the challenges of skiing Trapp’s, but due to the fame of the Von Trapp family, as well as the rather plush orientation of the tourism industry in Stowe, most of the skiers there are tourists who might ski once every ten years.  I was also somewhat astounded by the many languages I heard on the lodge – Spanish, French, British English, Russian, German, and other languages which I didn’t recognize were within my earshot.  They must be doing some rather brilliant marketing to get people who live much closer to real mountains like the Alps, to come to Vermont to ski!

The only consistently flat trail at Trapp’s is the main access trail which traverses the side of the mountain for a little over a mile.  Given the less experienced nature of most of their clientele, this trail is almost comically crowded with beginners, wearing their downhill skiing attire with ski technique that could be described with the terms “wobble”. “careen”, and “sprawl”. This section of trail also had numerous benches for skiers to sit on, and plenty of trail signs to ensure the clientele that they were not yet lost in the wilderness.  Curiously, they also had a sign with a Robert Frost poem (saying nothing about roads less travelled) inscribed, perhaps taking inspiration from our own local Robert Frost Trail?   More experienced skiers inevitably strive to survive the long climb to “The Cabin”, perched at higher altitudes and  achieved after a pretty steady 4 km of climbing.  When I last visited this cabin, it had a small snack bar, providing free water, and selling hot chocolate, and hot soup to the proud skiers who managed to get up there.  This time around, while the cabin was still backwoods rustic, it had a more complete menu than I remembered, also offering grilled sandwiches and baked goods.  I wasn’t there to eat however, I was there to ski, and this cabin, at the highest altitude for skiers also provided the beginning of what I came there for – the screaming descents!

Trapp's Ski Cabin

Trapp’s Ski Cabin

After a short water break, I continued past the cabin on the Haul Road, a long fast descent down the back side of the touring area.  My past memories of this descent also included memories of great views of Mt Mansfield, but given how many years it has been since I last skied there, the previous open views along the trail were now mostly obscured by young birch forest.  That was OK, as my downhill technique is not what it once was, so paying attention to my skiing rather than the views was probably a good idea.  Of course, what goes down must come back up again, so after this great descent, I climbed up a different trail, known as “Bobcat”, circling back up to the cabin for another descent.  For my second descent, I explored a trail which was new to my experience, apparently put in 5 years ago, known as “Chris’s Run”.  This trail is probably the most spectacular descent in a groomed cross country ski trail in Vermont – it had pretty consistent pitch, with just enough steep sections to keep you literally on your toes, and zigzagged its way down the mountainside for what was probably 3 km, with excellent views through the hardwood forest.  After this descent, I worked my way back to the beginner bumperpeople trail, with a side trip behind the Lodge, to complete my longest ski of the season and one of my best ski workouts in a few years.

Mountain Views from Trapp's

Mountain Views from Trapp’s

All in all, this made for a 15 km ski with about 1400 vertical feet of climbing, and more importantly, descent. Yah!

Google Earth of Trapp's

Google Earth of Trapp’s

altitude profile trapps

Happy 100th Post!

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

On a cool mid-October day, I realized that it had been a few weeks since my last blog posting, so I thought about some good possible runs, and went online to perform a little cleanup to this blog.  Then I realized that this was going to be my 100th posting!  Should I come up with something particularly epic, or maybe even a little bit dangerous? Nahhhhh…. Instead, I decided to retrace the steps of the same run that I did for my very first posting, way back in June 2009.  So, here goes – my inaugural run for “The Middlebury Trailrunner”, the run from the Falls of Lana/Silver Lake trailhead, up past Silver Lake to the Goshen Trailhead on the hillside above the lake, and back.  I have done more runs from this trailhead than from any other starting point, but had not written up a new posting on this identical route, although I have run it countless times.  Whilethis is probably not a recommended for for running neophytes, it is an appropriate, adventurous run for folks for whom road 10K’s are “about right”, but want to start exploring more adventurous terrain.  This particular route has some significant hill climbing, but is primarily on double track forest service roads (only open to maintenance vehicles), so it is a great place for decent runners to start exploring trails.  Kind of like me, 5 years ago.

A lot has changed in the last 5 years, at least as far as my running goes. When I first blogged this run, I thought of this as a pretty adventurous route, between the significant climbing, and its backcountry feel in a very scenic part of Addison County.  Regular readers will note that while I do continue to weave in runs of moderate length, my longer runs have gotten…well….longer!  I have also become more adventurous in my choice of new routes, with my attitude to new routes evolving from “Gee, I would like to know where that trail goes, so I can give it a try”, to “I bet that trail goes somewhere new, let me check my map”, to “OK – there is a path I have never noticed before, here goes!”.  Adventure follows!  Trailrunning has also rejuvenated my running, as I have found that I can go out on longer runs with greatly diminished frequency of injuries.   This is key for middle-aged athletes, as every ache and pain becomes an excuse to not run, and a gradual acquiescence to the inevitability of old age – prematurely.  Trail running puts one in the situation where every footfall is unique, and that fact, combined with its slower pace, minimizes the repetitive use injuries so common in distance runners.  The other wonderful discovery I have made is that a steady diet of trail running on challenging terrain, with a longer runs every few weeks, is great preparation for marathon running, an empowering aspect of running which I had given up on for close to 20 years due to frequent annoying injuries.

Now – on to the run!  When I first blogged this run 5 years ago, it was an early summer run in June of 2009, and the run reflected that season.  This time?  Mid-October, while still lovely, at least this year, is the very end of fall foliage, and the summer resort around Lake Dunmore is mostly shut down for the season.  The Kampersville Squirrel?  Still there, but she somehow looks a little creepier on a grey day.  As I drove around the shoreline towards Branbury State Park, I also noticed a lot of “For Sale” signs in front of lakeside homes.  I suppose their owners wanted one last summer on its shores before starting the process of turning over their summer haven to new owners?  I also noticed that, at least on this blustery Sunday afternoon, that there were no cars or beachgoers along the shoreline of the state park.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Falls of Lana trailhead, just south of Branbury, was pretty close to full.  I guess trailrunners and hikers are a hardier sort than beach folks?  Apparently, although I suspect some Maine coast beachcombers would beg to differ, or even those who brave the Atlantic coasts further south in the off-season.

I am not going to spend a lot of time describing the details of the route – it is pretty easy to follow.  Run up the forest service road departing from the Lake Road a hundred yards or so south of the parking lot, and follow its switchbacks all the way to Silver Lake, at about a mile and a half, and continue up the hill above Silver Lake on this road until you reach the Goshen trailhead , at which point you follow the trail descending back to Silver Lake, reaching the lakeside Leicester Hollow Trail, where you take a right turn.  After slightly less than a half mile on this trail, take the left turn, following the campground sign pointing to the picnic area, which will bring you to the Silver Lake “beach” and then back to the original road on which you initially climbed, where you complete your descent back to your waiting car, for about a 5.6 mile run, with about 800 feet of climbing and descent.

That said, since I have run this trail countless times, but never at this specific time of the year (past-peak foliage, segueing into stick season), I made a point to look for  things I had never noted before. So, for the rest of this posting, I will share these bits of minutiae.  So – here goes!

1.  A little over a mile into the run, if you look to your left through the trees, you will notice what looks like a small body of water to your left.  I had always called this “Moose Pond” in my mind, but had never done the very short bushwack to actually stand at its shores.  I associated it with moose, as I had envisioned it as a great place to see a moose someday.  I finally took a few moments to actually step onto its shore, and while moose sightings continue to evade me when I am running, I realized that my name was a misnomer:  This is a rather substantial beaver pond!  If you look at the picture carefully, you will see the beaver hut in the middle of the pond.  There is also a rather substantial beaver dam, just to the right of the frame of this photo.

Beavermoose Pond

Beavermoose Pond

2.  When you get to the shores of Silver Lake, you will notice a campsite for a campground host to your left.  Over the last few years, there was an elderly gentleman who filled this role, and while I stopped to chat with him a few times, I never inquired as to his name.  He was not there this summer, and for most of the summer, the campground host camp site was empty. I hope he is in good health?  That said, I had always romanticized he notion of spending a summer in the forest, away from the comforts of home.  On this run, I took the time to look around the empty site, and found its dirty little secret – it has electrical power.  Set me up in the campground, and let me rock tunes on my portable electronic devices!

3.  Much of the road ascent during the summer has a tunnel-like feel.  The overhanging foliage blocks most views, and keeps the road more or less permanently in the shade.  On this run, with most of the trees bereft of leaves at the higher elevations, rather expansive views opened up!

4.  As I approached the Goshen parking lot at the end of my ascent, I noticed an old wooden sign, with the number 9 painted on it.  Does anyone have any idea what this means?  It was not one of the blue signs with yellow numbers, which the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring Center uses to mark its trails.  Nor was it one of the far more polished numerical signs which grace the shores of Silver Lake, which I assume accompany a pamphlet which I have never seen, probably with a name like “Groovy Trees of Silver Lake”.  Maybe the Number 9 was referring to one of my favorite summer microbrews?  I doubt it!

Number 9

Number 9

5.  There are a few well placed marble blocks on the shoreline of Silver Lake.  I have never noticed these before, and I can only assume that these remain from the old Silver Lake Hotel.  If you would like to learn more about this long gone hotel, you should purchase “Leicester Vermont’s Silver Lake — Beyond the Myths” By William Powers.  You can find it on Amazon, or at the Sheldon Museum!

Marble Steps

Marble Steps

I am going to finish with a few observations I have made associated with management of this blog, as I have learned a few interesting things about how the internet really works through the use of WordPress (the software I use for this blog) analytics.

1.  About 90% of the information transferred on the web is total spam.  We are all familiar with the junk mail that fills our inboxes, but the amount that assaults this blog, in an attempt to post links leading to god knows where when clicked, blows my mind.  I probably see 10,000 spam messages for every real reader response.  Fortunately, the brilliant software which the WordPress programmers have added to the blogging software is ruthlessly efficient at blocking this, so it only takes me a few moments each week to delete, and it never clogs up the blog comments.  For some reason, spam touting the wonders of Luis Vuitton handbags, and Adam and Eve sex toys seem to be the worst offenders.  I have also noticed that every time I mention my Garmin GPS watch, I get inundated with Garmin spam for a week or two.  Yes, the web is dominated by spam bots!

2.  One of my very first posts, describing a run I did in Bristol entitled “Things to do in Bristol when you are bored” seems to get a lot of hits due to people Googling the terms “bored in Bristol”.  For the life of me, I cannot figure out why almost every day, one or two people somewhere in the world google “bored in Bristol” and end up on my blog. I have googled these terms, and seen nothing of note.  I wondered at one point if my mischievous teenage daughter was messing with me, but she claims innocence.

When I first posted this run, I also mentioned the ready availability of creemees and other frozen treats at the Kampersville Deli.  Alas, this summer attraction is also closed for the season, but its whiteboard price list is still inviting.  I wonder if the price list will still be there in the spring?

No more ice cream :(

No more ice cream :(

So now, I have to ask my readers (both of you?)- Do you know of any good treasure troves for trail traversing which I (we) might explore at some point? I have a few good ideas of new places in the vicinity to explore, but am always looking for some new suggestions. Feel free to respond with any of your inspirations!

Cheers, and hope to see you at post #200

Jeff

Google Earth projection

Google Earth projection

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

The Oak Ridge Trail with Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As the summer draws to a close and the days get cooler, my runs tend to get longer and longer in anticipation of a few Fall marathons, or other longer races which depend on a full summer’s training. I have been wanting to knock off a big chunk of the Oak Ridge Trail for some time this summer, and I found some good running partners for this endeavor through a new Meetup, called “Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts“.  For those of you are not familiar with this group of runners and trail seekers, it began just this summer.  For the time being, most of the group runs have been in town, after work (5:45), leaving from the Marble Works on Tuesdays, and some Thursdays.  While I have been a regular participant on these after work runs, which usually proceed at a pace amenable to conversation,  this was the first time I had joined in one of the longer group runs.  So, at 8 am on a beautiful Saturday morning, I joined up with Heather, the group founder, and John, the organizer of the local race, the Moosalamoo Ultra”  for a run up the ridge.  We started at the parking lot on Rt 125, between East Middlebury and Ripton, and headed up the trail.  One sign of good conversation is that you miss trail signs, so I guess we got off to a good start by missing a well marked right turn, where the Oak Ridge Trail veered off of the Old Town Road, an abandoned road which serves as the northern terminus of the nearly 20 mile long Oak Ridge Trail.  After about a quarter of a mile of running in increasingly higher grass, we realized our error, and backtracked to the incredibly obvious correct turn, and from this point we had no further routefinding difficulties!

I had done this section of trail once before, as a point to point run, after being dropped off at a significantly higher altitude, the turnoff for the Voter Brook Overlook on the Goshen-Ripton Road.  Running the same trail in the opposite direction added an additional 500 ft or so of climbing!  The trail angles up the north side of Mount Moosalamoo, rarely becoming steep, over the course of over 6 miles.  At one point, pretty high up, I grabbed a shot of my running partners as they attempted to escape me.

Oak Ridge Runners

Oak Ridge Runners

Shortly after this point, I parted company with my running friends, as they were looking for a longer run than I today – they continued along the ridge toward the now near Moosalamoo summit, and I chose to descend on the Moosalamoo Trail to the Moosalamoo Campground, and return to my car by country roads.  The descent was much easier than the ascent to this point – the Moosalamoo Trail gets much heavier foot travel than the longer Oak Ridge Trail.  Some recent local new articles had alluded to trail maintenance on this trails, to make them more accessible to mountain bikers as well, but other than a few cut up trees which had fallen over the trail, it looked like this plan was not fully underway yet!

I reached to Moosalamoo Campground, at around mile 9 in the run, and was surprised to see that, even on Labor Day weekend, this primitive campground only had two groups of campers staked out for the last holiday of summer.  At this point, I knew my return would be by road, but the Goshen-Ripton Road is about as quiet as a road can get- in my 4 miles or so on this road, returning to 125, I saw only 3 cars.  I also made mental notes of other trailheads to be explored in future postings, most notably the Wilkinson Trails across the road and to the west of the Widow’s Clearing parking lot.  In one sunny section, I also noted some of the last daisies of summer, clinging to the side of the road.

Last Daisies of Summer

Last Daisies of Summer

 

 

Rejoining Rt 125, I passed through Ripton, and realized that while I had passed through the village countless times by car, and by bicycle, the only time I had actually been on foot in the village was racing in the Ripton Ridge Run back in the 80s when it started and finished at the old Ripton School!  I also took a moment to enjoy the whimsy of the reproduction of the old sign for road tolls on this route, posted in the yard of the Chipman Inn.  Do you think they accepted Easy Pass?

No Easy Pass allowed

No Easy Pass allowed

The last mile of the run was the most unnerving – the run through the twisty turny section of 125 below Ripton. The shoulders here were less than ample, and I took care not to run on the side of the road on the inside of the many blind corners where cars tended to cut it a little close! I did indeed survive this short section without a scratch, to return to my car in time to get home for lunch. Overall, this was a pretty long run for me, covering almost 16 miles, with about 1500 ft of climbing on the trail sections.

Finally – it would be great to see some new faces at Middlebury Trail Enthusiast events – check it out!

Oak Ridge Ascent, Road Return

Oak Ridge Ascent, Road Return

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

A Tale of Two Californias

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

On a recent west coast swing for a few conferences, I had a few days in Orange County, just south of LA, followed by a few days in downtown San Francisco. While both of these are very urban areas, I looked for elements of trail running at each of the locales. How can one do true trail running in the cities? I always look for parks, or parkways alongside water, or hills. Even though this is not QUITE the same as a good Vermont Trail, as long as one can put up with the stop and go of frequent traffic signals at road crossings, this is a great way of shaking off the lethargy of long sedentary hours in conference lectures, on airplanes, or in airports.

My first stop, in Orange County, held less promise for a memorable run. While “The OC” is well known for its excellent beaches, I was stranded about 10 miles inland, in an area which seemed to be mostly made up of featureless modern office buildings, 6 lane wide city streets, manicured corporate lawns, and generous sidewalks which seemed curiously devoid of walkers or runners. Looking at the map more carefully, I noticed that I was only a mile and a half away from the “Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve“, which held promise as a site for finding actual trails in this otherwise concrete jungle.  As expected, the early part of the run involved running on the sidewalks, which sucking in the exhaust of rush hour traffic, and stopping at numerous traffic lights.  As I turned one corner, however, I saw the oasis which I sought, and realized I had found a runners’ gem.  Apparently, as this area of California underwent rapid development in the 1970′s they had the wisdom to save this estuary from development, and while the pressure of encroaching homes, roads, and even a major airport (John Wayne Airport) was always evident, other than the roar of a jet every few minutes, it was a great place to run.  I suspect that at times other than 5 pm, the hottest time of the day, I would have seen more wildlife, but on this run I had to be satisfied with a few skittish rabbits and iguanas.

Wildlife Refuge

Wildlife Refuge

overhead plane

overhead plane

There were many more miles of pleasant waterfront running to be explored, but I had to return to my sterile business hotel for a planned dinner, so I turned back to the open road for my return. This route brought me alongside the airport, and the wealth of Orange County was obvious from the extraordinarily high concentration of private jets moored there, and the Rolls Royce dealership I came across at exactly 4.78 miles into my run. Apparently, only 19 of the 50 states are prestigious enough to harbor one of these dealerships, and not surprisingly, Vermont is not one of them.

Buy a Rolls in the OC

Buy a Rolls in the OC

Completing this run after about 5.5 miles, I was offered a bottle of water by the kind bellmen who must have thought that the sweaty middle aged fellow coming in their front door was ready to die – apparently Californians don’t sweat?

Google Earth of Orange County run

Google Earth of Orange County run

The second half of my west coast swing brought me to San Francisco – one of the most glorious cities in the US. It too, has large parks, such as the Presidio, for the avid trail runner, but my location in a downtown hotel sandwiched between the Financial District and Chinatown put those locales out of reach with the limited time I had available for runs. So, I built my run around the aspect of trail running which downtown San Fran has in abundance – HILLS!

Setting off from my hotel and passing briefly through the bustle of Chinatown, I came to the first of my hill climbing challenges – a steep incline which necessitated steps on the sidewalks for pedestrians, “The Macchiarini Steps“. At first, I thought that it must be some sort of sick joke on the tourists, calling this paved wall a road, but when I noticed the garage doors flanking it, I realized that people really do drive up and down this precipitous incline!

Steep Steps

Steep Steps

Skewed Garage

Skewed Garage

Once past this challenge, I continued uphill to my first summit, the top of Telegraph Hill, which is occupied by the Coit Tower, and offers some of the best views of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island. My descent brought me back to the lower elevations of the city, and uphill to the base of what is arguably San Francisco’s most notorious climb, the twisting gardens of Lombard Street. Again, the steepness of this road demanded steps on the sidewalk, and my passage was slowed by countless other tourists doing more traditional vacation activities on this scenic climb.

Lombard Street

Lombard Street

The high point of Lombard Street is very close to the summit of Russian Hill, and I was pleasantly surprised to note that the top of this hill, which has to be some of the most valuable real estate in the US, was capped with a public playground with tennis courts and a basketball court!  All directions from here were downhill, so I headed towards my final summit of the afternoon, that of Nob Hill.

Google Earth of San Francisco Run

Google Earth of San Francisco Run

The Streets of San Francisco

The Streets of San Francisco

Run up Mt Ellen (for free!)

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The Mad River Valley is where some of my extended family lives, and while not quite part of Addison County,it  is another great place for trail running. Even for those without lodging in the area, it is only an hour away, and a worthwhile place to go for a run for a nice change of pace.  I was visiting “over the mountains” this weekend, and had the time and energy for a more challenging run, so considered some of the local options for true mountain running.  I know from past experience that all ski areas have service roads leading to their summits, and if these roads proceed up novice, aka “green circle” trails, while they may be relentless, they are usually at a low enough incline for extended runs without breaking into a walk too often.  If the service road proceeds up an intermediate, or “blue square” trail, you are probably going to be doing a fair amount of power hiking rather than running, no matter how easy the trail seems to be when descending in the winter.    A few years ago, I described the relatively short run up the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, as well as the much more challenging ascent to just below the summit of Mt. Mansfield in The Race to the Top of Vermont”.

Remembering how much fun I had a few years ago, in the locally run Race to the Top of Vermont, I was initially enthused to see that a new race, involving an ascent of Mt. Ellen, one of the highest peaks in the state, and the northernmost summit of the Sugarbush Ski Area, was happening this September.  Reading the details of the race, however, my interest plummeted like an out of control runner on a steep downhill.  Unlike most of the races in VT, this was part of a larger, national series of races, and is part of, what to me at least, is a disturbing trend in competitive athletics.  Most races in VT are locally run, and a modest cost to competitors, and profits are usually turned over to charity.  These national race series are almost always “for profit”, very expensive, and only turn over a tiny percentage of their profits to charities.  Some of these series, like the Ragnar Relay running series have developed a reputation for rapaciously supplanting previously existing races.  Others, like the now famous “Tough Mudderraces have arisen from the business plans of Harvard MBA’s rather than any innate love of sport or charity.  In any case, this “O2X” race series, which includes a run up Mt Ellen in its race series wants 120 bucks to race!  I don’t mind paying more for a race if I can see where the money has to go – marathons take a ton of support over the course of 7 hours or more, and often include the closure of many city streets.  The obstacle course races of the Tough Mudder genre, while not my cup of tea, at least have a lot of setup to do before each race.  This O2X series brags that mother nature is providing all the obstacles, which is of course a brilliant business plan, which combined with their commitment to give a whopping 1% to charity sounds like it will result in some happy young millionaire race organizers!  To put this entry fee in perspective, the Race to the Top of Vermont, which raises funds for the Catamount Trail, charges $30-$70 for its entry fees, and another mountain ascent race just up the road at Mad River Glen charges $25!  Even the Jay Peak 50K Ultramarathon, with two ascents of Jay Peak, and which has far more organizational challenges due to its length and terrain, charges only $85!

After reading of this attempt to charge an exorbitant fee to run up a mountain, which due to its status as national forest is actually free to access, I thought I would describe a fun running route up the mountain.  I parked my car at the nearly empty Mt. Ellen  parking lot and took a look up the mountain, and realized that I had a fair bit of challenge ahead of me.  The service road under the Green Mountain Express chairlift, just to the left of the base lodge looking uphill was where I began my ascent.  For the first half mile of so, the road follows what is the easiest ski trail on the mountain, making it a merely “tough” ascent, and after it reached the base of the North Ridge chair ascended more steeply to the right.  I still found this section runnable, but at a very slow, stutter-step stride.  While this section of running was labelled as novice terrain in the ski trail map, it was certainly much steeper than a typical bunny slope.  Part way up this section, the service road split, half bearing left up comparably steep terrain which I suspected would blow out my quads pretty quickly, or a more gentle ascent to the right, which in the ski season would be thought of as a crossover trail.  I took the path of least resistance, as I really did want to run.  All along this section, I was accompanied by a retinue of lovely orange butterflies, and with a little patience I coaxed one into sitting still long enough to get her picture taken.

Trail Butterfly

Trail Butterfly

This segment brought me the the far north (uphill runner’s right) of the ski area at the top of the Inverness Chair, about 1000 vertical feet above the parking lot already, but with a long way still to go.  Another crossover trail was found with a sharp left turn, crisscrossing me back under the “Exterminator” trail, the North Ridge Chair, and brought me to what is usually thought of by skiers as the point about halfway up the mountain, the small restaurant at the end of the Green Mountain Chair called “The Glen House”.

Glen House Views

Glen House Views

I felt pretty accomplished at this point, but looking straight up, I realized the biggest challenges were still ahead of me. Going into this run, I had hoped that the service road to the summit would follow the gentle “Rim Run” trail to my left, but instead followed the much steeper, truly intermediate trail directly under the Summit Chair.  I guess it makes sense in retrospect that the service road would actually follow the chairlift it aims to service?  This next segment, from here, to the top of the North Ridge Chair, was the steepest part of the ascent, and such, I was only able to maintain a running stride about half of the time.  Upon reaching the top of the North Ridge chair, I turned to the left for the last ascent to the summit along the north ridge of Mt Ellen, and at first thought that I was in for a tough crawl up what looked like a too-steep-to-to run segment.

Steep Flowers to the Summit

Steep Flowers to the Summit

So, I did what I had to do, I took a break, and took some pictures of the wildflowers, mostly daisies and another yellow flower akin to dandelions.  Resuming my run after this brief break, I found the running easier than expected, and only slowed down for a few short scrambles over ledgy rock sections.  Reaching the summit, I chatted for a few minutes with a gentleman who had hiked up and had been following my progress from his perch at the top of the mountain.

Summit Views

Summit Views

 

After a few minutes of enjoying the summit scenery, I retraced my run back to my car waiting below, once again being careful to moderate my speed so that I would still have fully operational quads the next day, and I can say now, writing this up on Sunday, that I was successful in that!  Also, the footing can be a little bit more difficult with loose rocks on the descent, so this gave me another good reason to check my speed.

Overall, this was some pretty cool terrain, and a good challenge for mountain runners – this route took about two hours round trip, and covered 7 miles, with 2500+ ft of climbing and descent. The lesson to today’s run?  You would have to be crazy to pay all that money ($120) to access terrain and scenery which is free, and if you want to enjoy the challenges of a hill climb race, there are plenty of other options which are convenient, charitable, keep your money in VT, and leave you with plenty of money for beers – heck for a steak dinner – with your running friends.

Google Earth of the Run up Mt Ellen

Google Earth of the Run up Mt Ellen

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Up the North Branch Trail

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Two summers ago, I had the pleasure of competing in the inaugural version of The Moosalamoo Ultra, and while I will not be running the full 36 mile version of it this year, I thought I would piece together a significantly shorter run which included at least a few segments from this far more grueling course. I also wanted to piece together bits of trails in such a way that I had never run that particular combination before, so I chose a route starting from the Falls of Lana trailhead, just south of Branbury State Park, ascending to the Goshen-Ripton Road on the North Branch Trail and the Voter Brook Overlook road, and descending on a mix of snowmobile trails and unmarked trails.  It has not gone unnoticed by myself and others, that the frequency of bear sightings in the Moosalamoo area has been on the rise.  Bear sightings on the trail are a true treat, as long as the bear chooses the appropriate response – that of running away.  So, I have decided that the key to a good bear sighting is to run quietly, and wear garish clothing to scare the bear away once contact is made.  With this in mind, I purchased a brand new Ben and Jerry’s tie dye t-shirt – do you think this will scare away a startled bear?  And yes, I looked into this idea, and bears are not colorblind,  although I would not have wanted to be the person holding picture books with hidden numbers in front of hungry bears….

bear-proof shirt

Bear-repellent

I set up the now routine climb on the Silver Lake service road, but instead of taking the heavily traveled sharp right hairpin turn at the half mile point, I went straight as if I was planning on ascending to the Rattlesnake Cliffs. After a few hundred yards on this trail, I came to the open meadow where the North Branch Trail bears (pun intended) right. This small sunny oasis in what is mostly a pretty heavily forested section was full of mid-summer wildflowers. I was particularly fond of the small, daisy-like flowers which flanked the path on shoulder-height stalks.  Does anyone know what this wildflower is called?

not quite daisies

Not Quite Daisies

At this point, my run joined a section of the route from the Moosalamoo Ultra. This trail junction is where the first feed station, reached after the early-race ascent and descent of Mt. Moosalamoo, around mile 8, and is the lowest altitude point of the race. From here, over the next two miles or so, there is a steady climb along the banks of the North Branch of the Sucker Brook, a rather attractive little stream. Most of this single-track trail has good footing, although there are a few sections with wet rocks necessitating some care in one’s footing, and a few short steep scrambly sections.

babbling brook

Babbling Brook

This trail passes by a few opportunities to get onto easier terrain, as it more or less parallels the rough road connecting the Goshen-Ripton Road to the Voter Brook Overlook. As the weather went from dreary to drizzly to pouring rain, I chose to remain in the relative shelter of the forest rather than the easier travel of the road. This section of the North Branch trail eventually does cross the dirt road, and continue through the woods until it reaches the Moosalamoo Campground, where one must finally continue to climb on the road to get to the Goshen Ripton Road.  At this point, the Ultra crosses the road, for a long series of loops up and around the Sugar Hill Reservoir, but on my much shorter run I turned right on the road, and continued for a little over a mile until I came to a well marked snowmobile trail veering to the right.  At this point, I rejoined the Ultra route, and this road crossing is the site of another feed station, at around the 21 mile point.  The next two miles are pure running pleasure – gradually downhill, double track running, with only a few muddy patches.  In fact, when I ran this section of the Ultra two summers ago, this stretch got me in trouble – I felt so good that I neglected to take in fluids, and paid dearly for my dehydration a few miles later!  No such problem on this run today however, and the falling rain kept me quite cool.  There are a few trail junctions where one should follow the signs for the snowmobile trail system, although some of the other trails crisscrossing my course look like they are worthy of exploration someday.  After about two miles on the snowmobile trail, and a short, steep climb, the trail came to the service road connecting the small Sucker Brook Reservoir to the Silver Lake access road.  In keeping with my plan to duplicate the Ultra trails, I took the sharp right descent, leading me to the “shores” of the Sucker Brook Reservoir.  I put the word “shores” in with quotes, as it seems that there isn’t much water this summer in the reservoir, which exists for flood control, and to control the waterflow heading through the penstock down the the hydroelectric plant at Lake Dunmore.  So, I am afraid this small lake is nothing more than a mudpit this summer.

Sucker Brook Mudpit

Sucker Brook Mudpit

My run then followed the Ultra route, following the road below the earthen dam and joining the broad swath of clearing alongside the buried pipeline connecting the reservoir to Silver Lake. When I ran the Ultra, this section had been recently brush-hogged, making for easier running, but at this point, the grass here is very high, concealing some challenging footing below, on a steeply leaning embankment without an obvious path of least resistance to the runner. I have found that staying high, on the runner’s left makes for the easiest passage on a fairly challenging piece of running for the next mile or so. After a while, it flattens out, and while there seem to be a few different trails here, they all end up at the same place, connecting to the Silver Lake Access Road. When you reach the Silver Lake Beach, this is where another feed station is located at around mile 26 in the Ultra, and the race continues with the exhausting loop up over the Chandler Ridge and around Silver Lake before returning to the Blueberry Hill Inn and the finish line. At this point, I was very wet and had run enough, so simply descended on the service road to my car and the completion of the run.

Now, I’ll bet my readers were guessing that there would be a bear sighting in this run. Sorry to disappoint you – I guess my t-shirt worked too well! This ended up as a 9.5 mile run, with about a thousand feet of climbing. I also learned that my new t-shirt needed to be washed, as it had leached blue dye all over my torso!

google earth of the run

Clockwise, from trailhead at the lower left

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile