Tag Archives: mud

Fathers’ Day Moosamaloop

Sunday of course, was the Y-chromosome version of the two “family holidays”, namely, Fathers’ Day.  So, after enjoying a pile of blueberry pancakes in bed (lovingly prepared by my daughter), complete with maple syrup which dripped off my fork and onto my t-shirt, followed by a few chores, I chose to spend part of the day on my own adventure before a planned evening of activities back with the Trailrunner family.  For this weekend’s run, I chose a loop over the top of Mount Moosalamoo, including one section of trail I had never previously explored.  To get to the trailhead,  I drove up Rt. 125 towards the Snow Bowl, but took the right turn onto the Ripton-Goshen Road a short distance past beautiful downtown Ripton.  A few miles down this well maintained dirt road, I took the right turn onto the road leading to the Moosalamoo Forest Service Campground.  A few short weeks ago, I did a run from this same parking lot, but instead of the first bits of Spring greenery, I was treated to full summer foliage, replete with the first glimpses of roadside daisies, my favorite flower.

Arriving in the parking lot immediately before the campground loop I could see that the weather was getting a little bit gloomier, but short of an immediate downpour, I saw no reason not to enjoy the run!  The first third of a mile or so meandered through the woods behind the campground, and joined an old lumber road for a short (and well marked) turn to the right, followed almost immediately by a left turn with a short steep descent down to the North Branch stream crossing bridge, the low point of the run.

Stream Crossing

Stream Crossing

From this point on, it was a relentless, but rarely steep uphill run for the better part of the next two miles.This particular climb features prominently in The Moosalamoo Ultra, a MUCH longer trail run which I featured in this blog last year. The trail angled along the side of Mt. Moosalamoo for most of the way, and the low ground cover combined with the mature hardwood forest accentuated the sloped appearance.

Sidehill Running

Sidehill Running

At the two mile mark, the road splits, with the right turn constituting the long descent of the Oak Ridge Trail, and the left turn heading towards the Moosalamoo Summit.  About a quarter mile from the summit, my head turned ever-so-slightly and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a large and rather bold creature who burst out of the trees and over the grass, edging its way towards me. Holy mother of god! What is it? No, the words that were being screamed inside the crowded confines of my busy mind were not ones I would chose to print. So much for peace and quiet, right? Anyway, I turned and strained my eyes (I leave my glasses behind on runs) to confirm the status and stature of the intruder. A squirrel? A stray dog? Nope! It was a fully grown bear, coming rapidly towards me. I have seen bears a handful of times in my life, but this one did not turn and run away as all the others had – it was coming right at me.

Anyway! I wanted to just watch her (I am guessing it was a she/sow guarding cubs), and even briefly reached for my camera until I realized she was coming at me, fast! I made a noise and waved my arms on purpose to see what would happen. Death wish? I don’t think so. She stopped maybe 10 yards away and probably not interested in eating me. Right? As she reared on her hind legs, I figured it was time to get out of there, so I backed off slowly, facing the bear, shouting and waving my arms, and when I disappeared over a ridge a minute later, I resumed my run, admittedly at a much faster pace.

Reaching the first of the twin peaks a few minutes later, I warned a family out for an afternoon hike to make plenty of noise on their descent. I offered an alternate route which bypassed the bear-infested trail, but they decided, probably correctly, that they would be more likely to come to harm getting lost in the woods than they would meeting up with a bear. I haven’t heard of any missing or eaten persons, so I presume they got out just fine. In addition to a few minutes of good conversation, I came across another treat – there, lying in the trail, was a live Luna Moth! I had never seen one of these graceful behemoths of the insect world before, and didn’t even know that they were native to Vermont! Entymologists claim that they are actually pretty common, so I wonder why they are so shy?

Luna Moth

Luna Moth

Moving from the first summit, to the second summit which actually has better views, and after a short steep descent, I came to the trail which would complete my loop, the left turn onto the Keewaydin Trail. This trail, appearing on most of the maps of the region, is one which I had never hiked or run on previously, but looked like a convenient means of returning to my car in a loop run, rather than a simple “out and back” on the same trail. While the Keewaydin trail was very well marked, it had the wear more characteristic of a herd path or hunter’s trail, rather than a maintained trail. In some places, the trail was covered in soft spongy moss – a sure sign that it is almost never traveled on! While it was fine for hiking, as long as you don’t mind wet feet, it was very slow going from my runner’s perspective. Nonetheless, it is always fun going through new terrain. After about 2 miles of descent, I came to the road connecting the Moosalamoo campground with the Voter Brook overlook, and took a left turn for the easy run down the dirt road, returning to my car in what was now a drizzly afternoon. A few soggy campers huddled around smoky fires, but the campground was mostly empty.

This loop would make for a fun half day hike for most hikers, and took considerably less than that as a trail run, although the Keewaydin Trail section wasn’t great for runners. The run was only about 5 and a half miles, but did have close to 1200 vertical feet of climbing and descent. This was definitely one of the most exciting runs I have been on in a long time!

Google Earth of the run, which began in the lower right hand corner

Google Earth of the run, which began in the lower right hand corner

Moosamaloop altitude profile

Altitude profile

 

Otter Creek Gorge(ous)

After what seemed like the better part of a week of cold, rainy weather, Sunday brought some gorgeous sun, so it seemed like a good day to blog a run.  I knew going into things that the trails were going to be very muddy, so any desire for dry feet was going to be futile.  In other words, what could be a better day for a low lying trail, alongside a river, which is muddy even in the driest spells of summer?  In previous runs, I had described the run through Wright Park (just north of the newly renovated Pulp Mill Bridge on the east side of Otter Creek) in either a northern loop of the TAM (The Trail Around Middlebury), or incorporating this section of trail in the course of a complete circuit on the TAM.  In both of these previous runs, upon reaching the Belden Dam, a few miles north of town, I continued straight towards the Morgan Horse Farm Road on the main loop of the TAM.  I also knew, however, that there was a spur trail on the TAM that made a sharp turn after crossing the dam, and that the trail signage indicated that this trail headed into a gorge.  Knowing nothing about what sights might be found, I decided to make this new stretch of trail the goal of this run.

I parked my car in the parking lot in front of the Freeman International Center (FIC) on the Middlebury College Campus.  A bonus point to older readers who know the 3-letter acronym this building was previously known by – and yes, I have used this as a bonus question on college exams!  I headed out on Weybridge St, took a right turn onto Pulp Mill Bridge Road, and ran through the covered bridge, before taking the immediate left turn past the old town dump towards Wright Park.  On previous runs through Wright Park, I had taken the “high road” – namely, the section of trail which remained on higher ground in the meadows and forest.  On this run, however, I decided to take the immediate left turn towards Otter Creek after entering the park, to enjoy the stretch of trail right alongside the river.  Given recent rains, the Otter Creek appeared engorged with water, and some of this high water caused the trail footing to be muddy and slippery.

Otter Creek below Pulp Mill Bridge

Otter Creek below Pulp Mill Bridge

The roughness of this section of trail spoke to its lack of traffic, but in addition to the pleasures of running alongside the creek, it had a few other quirks, including a semi abandoned picnic table by the water, and a well-maintained wooden “zig-zag” bridge traversing a boggly inlet. After crossing this curious bridge, the trail entered some denser forest while remaining close to the waters’ edge. One warning to runners however – There are quite a few rocky slaps in the trail, which can be very slippery when wet – and they always seem to be wet! One skidding tumble leading to scratched and bruised shins early in the run forced me to watch my footing in subsequent sections. I reached the Belden Dam, a small hydroelectric plant, however, at about the 3 mile mark (measured from my parked car) and crossed the two small suspension bridges over the dam. Pausing for a moment, I enjoyed the sight of the swollen river being disgorged over the top of the dam to the narrow rocky chutes below. On the west side, I began to explore the section of trail that was new to me, taking the sharp right turn. I was not sure what I would see here – given that this section is referred to as the Otter Creek Gorge, I had hoped that the trail would bring me alongside some precipices, and was disappointed to find that this was really not the case – the gorge is indeed a wilder refuge than most of the land surrounding the generally gentrified Otter Creek, but staying on the trail did not manage any rocky gorge scenery. Nonetheless, I am planning on returning at some point to bushwack closer to the waters’ edge. Nonetheless, this was a muddy, but pleasant run through the woods, with a few brief streamside sections.

Otter Creek below Belden Dam

Otter Creek below Belden Dam

After following the creek for close to a mile to the north, the trail started to veer to the left, and eventually reversed its course on the higher, but no drier ground. As the trail emerged from the forest into a well-kept meadow, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that somebody had placed a bench and picnic table here!

Farm Meadow

Farm Meadow

Shortly after this meadow, I came to a split in the trail – the left fork would take me back to the Belden Dam, and the right fork emerged from the woods shortly onto the easier running of Morgan Horse farm road. While I hated to abandon the trail for the roads, I was running out of time, and needing to bring this run to a close, chose the more rapid return offered by finishing the day with a few miles on the road. It is not like I had suffer doing this, of course, as the Morgan Horse Farm road is one of the most scenic stretches of pavement in Addison County. I passed by the fine Georgian home which was once the home of former Middlebury College President (and the man who had the foolishness to allow for my hiring!), Olin Robison, before reaching yet another meadow vista, this one framing a view of Mt. Abraham in the distance.

Morgan Horse Farm Views

Morgan Horse Farm Views

At this point, it was starting to get pretty hot outside, and in due time, I was back to Pulp Mill Bridge Road, the Middlebury College Campus, and my waiting car. The entire loop covered about 7.8 miles, but took longer than expected due to slow going in many slipper sections. Nonetheless, it was indeed a gorge(ous) route, and I am looking forward to further exploring out here when things are a little drier!

Google Earth of the Route

Google Earth of the Route

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Exploring Pine Hill

In keeping with my observation that things just look different when the trees are bare, but the weather isn’t too wintery, I decided to re-explore an area which has been the subject of two previous posts.  In this case, I decided to go for a run in the terrain roughly delineated by Rt 125 to the north, and Upper Plains Rd. to the west.  The small peak which emerges from this corner is known on topo maps as “Pine Hill”, a curious name for this modest bump, which seems to be entirely covered in deciduous forest.  I described a run in this area as one of my first posts in this blog, entitled “Secret Meadow“, as well as in an early winter run entitled Snowy Scenic Sauntering on a Sunny (Almost) Solstice Sunday.   The high point of both of these runs is a little-known hillside meadow with outstanding westerly views.  The run described in this post was just a little bit more ambitious, covering some slightly rougher terrain with more climbing.

While there are a few appropriate places to park one’s vehicle closer to the trails, I chose to start the run on the Oak Ridge Trailhead, just above East Middlebury on Rt. 125, so that I could make it a longer workout.  I headed towards East Middlebury for a few hundred yards before taking a left turn on to Upper Plains Road.  This road used to have a “tree tunnel” feel to it, but recent “improvements” have involved removal of many of the trees which were encroaching on the  road.  Too bad!  After about a mile, a Forest Service gate on the left marks the start of the trailed section.  I couldn’t help but notice the rerouting of the path created by the incessant efforts of ATV-ers  – earlier paths were blocked off, leading to generation of new paths.  Be forwarned that the entry into this run off of Upper Plains Rd. is unposted private property, so please be particularly respectful of this, so that this lovely area can remain open to exploration.  But…I didn’t need to tell you that, right?

After getting past the gate, the next section of climbing was on a dirt road, which switchbacked up the hillside until it broke into the aforementioned meadow by a small pond.  As soon as you pass the birch grove on your left, take a sharp left turn, and veer back towards the forest to find the true trail heading north along the west side of Pine Hill, which now stands to your right.  There are quite a few other trails in this vicinity, which can be a little bit confusing.  In fact, if you look at my GPS track for this run, you will notice a short diversion to the right, which the result of mistakenly following a path which disappeared after about a hundred yards, forcing me to backtrack and choose another.  Not long afterwards, I reached the saddle between Pine Hill (to my right) and a lower summit to my left.  I also couldn’t help but notice one of the most spectacularly situated hunter’s blinds I have seen in my explorations.   It undoubtedly provides great views, and let’s face it, what kid, young or old, doesn’t love a treehouse?  Even the ladder had a whimsical, Dr. Seuss-like feel to it!

Tree Fort Hunters Blind

 

 

From the col, I decided to save the true summit for another day, instead taking a short bushwhack to the left to the minor northern summit. Despite the gray skies, the view here was excellent, and given the ledges and lack of foliage to the west from this vantage, I suspect that the view will not be badly hemmed in once the trees are in full leaf. This pretty little summit also had a lot of low lying bushes which I suspect will bear blueberries mid-summer, as well as many weather-twisted small trees which gave the summit a slightly haunted feel.

 

Twisted Limbs Against the Sky

With the advent of a slight drizzle, I continued on the path, which got very muddy in places, before descending to an intersection with a more developed trail behind the hill. Here, I took a right turn to complete the loop, stopping to take a picture of the pretty waterfall found in the rather steep notch behind Pine Hill. I was always curious why the dirt road, meadow, and broad, well built trail reaching the waterfall were built in the first place, and while mountain biking last summer, I happened to meet the landowner who told me a little bit of the “back story” to this property. Apparently, at some point in the 60′s or 70′s (a seemingly generic way of saying “A long time ago, but not THAT long ago”) the man who owned the land had received federal funding to develop this waterfall as a rest area, as part of the National Forest. For reasons unknown, after the initial stages of the roadside development, involving roadbuilding and a few other modest improvements, the project was abandoned. Well, the waterfall and surroundings are still quite beautiful!

Grotto Waterfall

After pausing at the waterfall, the trail re-emerged from behind Pine Hill into the meadow, and by staying to the far left, I caught the short steep path returning me to the forest service gate, where it was an easy mile-long return to my car.  The total length of this run was about 4.25 miles, with a climb of 500 ft – not bad for the beginning of April.

I also decided to have a little extra fun with this run – with the advent of routine access to portable GPS devices, a new pastime has emerged known as “geocaching“.   Geocaching hobbyists leave hidden containers with logbooks, souvenirs, and sometimes even disposable cameras at locations of interest, and then post the GPS coordinates as well as other hints for others to find the site.  If you take a look at www.geocaching.com, you will see that there are many geocache locations in Addison County.  Since geocachers and trail runners both share an interest in discovering new places of interest, I thought it would be fun to set my first geocache on this run.  My geocache, which contains a logbook  and disposable camera for finders to share their experiences, as well as a small souvenir can be found without a lot of difficulty by someone completing this run.  The actual GPS coordinates, which will also be posted soon on the aforementioned geocache website are N 43 degrees 57.934′, W 073 degrees 04.248′.  Happy Hunting!

Google earth of the route, looking west

Altitude Profile

(Formerly) Secret Vistas in Middlebury March Madness

Ok, what’s up with 70 degree weather in March?  While the ski season was a bitter disappointment, the lack of snow on the trails translates into an early start on the trialrunning season!  My running fitness is certainly not where it was last fall, but the running still feels good, and in many ways, this is an ideal season for running.  Many vistas which are well hidden by the leafy canopy for most of the running season open up into glorious vistas prior to the emergence of the foliage.  With this in mind, I chose my first true spring run to take advantage of the season.  On a few previous posts, I have described a great entry into the Green Mountain National Forest starting behind East Middlebury International Airport, a snowmobile train beginning near the 4-way stop sign on Munson Road and Schoolhouse Hill Road, just to the northeast of the airport.  Munson Road is a short road heading directly towards the base of the mountains to the east, and can be found about 2 miles south of the junction of Quarry Road and Rt. 116.  There are a few small turnoffs on Munson Road where a car (or perhaps a vigilant police cruiser) can park for those driving out of town to begin this run.

The run began with a short stretch of trail running adjacent to Burnham Drive, a residential street, before turning to the north.  The trail crosses a bridge over a small stream, before beginning the challenging climb in earnest.  This first hill climb of the season is always difficult, and this was no exception, but my efforts were rewarded by the emerging views to the west.  Half way up the day’s climb, I noticed scratch marks on the rocks, similar to what one would find in higher elevations resulting from climbers’ crampons.  After a second, I realized the source of these scratches – the snowmobiles which make use of this trail during the winter. They too, like the skiers, probably tried to have a little bit of fun in this snowless winter, and instead of damaging their skis on the rocky terrain, probably tried to drive their snowmobiles on the all-too-brown terrain, leaving their marks behind.

After a little over a mile of climbing, the views were temporarily  blocked as the trail entered a stretch of coniferous forest, and made a sharp turn to the right, heading more directly towards Robert Frost Mt.  A few hundred yards after the sharp turn, a small rock cairn appeared on the left, marking the turnoff to a wonderful, rarely visited, scenic vista which provides for great views to the west, even during the summer.  A few hundred yards on this easy-to follow trail brought me to a small rocky outcrop, the turn-around point for this run.  The famous OMYA pit, the world’s largest open-pit marble quarry, is one of the noteworthy sights from this point.

OMYA pit

At this point, my early season legs had climbed enough, so I reversed directions and headed down the hillside. I ran into a friend who had chosen to undertake the short walk up to the bridge, and we exchanged pleasantries concern our fortunes, living in such a beautiful locale. At this point, I diverged from the main trail, taking a short uphill trail which ran adjacent to the stream, following in to a modest viewpoint, where I could see the brook cascading down the mountainside.

Chasm Cascade

After this short side trail, I continued on to the point at which the VAST snowmobile trail rejoined the road.  While this run was only a little over 3.5 miles round trip, it did include a 900 vertical ft. climb, making for a challenging early season run, undertaken at a leisurely pace.

Google Earth Projection of the Run

Altitude Profile

Thinking of Ski Season

I was feeling lethargic, and was finally ready for my first real run about two weeks after the marathon alluded to in my previous post.  I had been concentrating on recovery, with a few yoga classes to loosen up and some easy time on the elliptical trainer as my only workouts, but it was definitely time to hit the trails again!  It was fun waking up on Sunday morning, seeing the thin cover of snow on my yard and  on the trees around my home, so I thought it would be fun to do a run on the ski trails of the Rikert Ski Touring area at Breadloaf.

Arriving at Breadloaf on this cool sunny Sunday afternoon, I was surprised to see that there was really not much more snow up here than we had received in the valley.  While the fields were pretty much bereft of snow cover, there was still plenty of the white stuff on the shadier trails, and the summit of Breadloaf Mt. in the background was truly snowcapped.

The Barn and Breadloaf Mt.

The Barn and Breadloaf Mt.

The first section of the run followed the track described on one of my previous ski postings, as I followed the collegiate racing trails. Entering the woods of the Battell Trail I noted the first signs of ongoing trail maintenance – a big pile of dirt blocking my path. I had suspected that there would be some damage to the trails as a result of Hurricane Irene. I stayed on this trail for most of the loop, but noticed more trail work at the bottom of the descent – a new bridge was being put in at the bottom of the descent. Other than this bridge and a few downed trees, however, which I suspect occur every summer, I saw no sign of any significant trail damage. After looping back into the field, I decided to head up the Myhre Hill dirt road, and saw something that surprised me – what looked like a new ski trail diverging off to the right! Even though it was roped off, I decided to see where it led, but it seemed to rejoin the racing trail after a short way. Heading further uphill, I passed by the Myhre Cabin, and decided to explore one of the more remote trails, Frost. I was struck by the beauty of the light snow cover, late afternoon sun, and last remnants of fall foliage.  Not surprisingly, there were a few sets of human and canine foot prints – I was not the only person out enjoying this late fall aftennoon.

Last of the Foliage

During my descent back to the Breadloaf campus, I quickened my pace when I heard the blasts of a “too close for comfort” hunter’s gun – I didn’t think it was deer season yet, but I wasn’t going to take chances, especially since I was dressed in green. Heading towards the lower reaches of what had been the racing trail, I came across another new section of trail, and noticed that some older trail segments had been broadened. Returning to my car in the Rikert parking lot, I noted that this run had been just shy of 5 miles – a good distance to get back on my feet again. While this loop didn’t have any true hill climbs, it did include 500-600 feet of climbing, with a few ups and downs along the way.

I look forward to finding out what is up with the new trail construction. Mike, the new director of the ski touring area, has commented in conversation his wishes to upgrade the trail system. I suspect that these new trail sections are being put in place to facilitate racing, especially for skating races where the narrowness of many of trails makes it difficult for skiers to pass each other. Now, all we need is some more snow……

Google Earth of the Breadloaf Run

Altitude Profile

The Other Side of Snake Mountain

I have been looking forward to my next post for some time now – Since March, the inevitable aches, pains, and nuisance injuries of middle age have kept me off the trails and out of my running shoes.  While I am not back to 100% (or what delusionally passes for 100% at this point in my life), I was at the point where continued rest and inactivity seemed to hurt more than help.  Contemplating a relatively short, easy run I remembered learning of a much less traveled trail up Snake Mountain, ascending from the gentler east side of the mountain.  Since this side of the mountain appeared much less imposing than the west facing cliff side where most hikers and runners begin, I assumed I was in for a relatively easy run.  Sometimes visual impressions can be deceiving!

The east face trailhead is much less known than the far heavier traveled east side trail on Snake Mt.  The easiest way to get to this trailhead is to head out of town to the west on Rt. 125 until you get to Lemon Fair Road.  Turn right onto Lemon Fair Road at the yellow house at the top of the hill about a mile and a half out of town, and stay on this road until you get to Snake Mountain Rd, where you take a right turn.  Head north on Snake Mt. Rd. for 2.5 miles, until you come to a small barely marked parking lot slightly up to your left.

The trail begins gently enough following a broad, well maintained path through a few hillside meadows before reaching at gate about a third of a mile up the trail.  After this point, the trail soon becomes a narrow, single track trail, unlike the broad former coach road which makes up the west side trail.  Nonetheless, the trail was obvious to follow, and went by several pretty, boggy areas where the trail got a little bit muddy.  Along the muddiest section, the source of the flooding was soon obvious – a beaver pond had started raise the water level in one of the boggy sections to the point where the trail was beginning to get slightly flooded.  There were also several clearly recently felled trees (one with green leaves still on it!) indicating that the beaver in residence had been characteristically busy in the previous day or two.

Beaver Pond

 

 

Downed Tree

 

Continuing past this muddy section, the trail got significantly steeper before leveling off for a traverse to the south. I was beginning think that I must be getting nearer to the summit, but was puzzled where the trail would end up, as I had never noticed where this particular trail joined the main trail, let alone the summit. My questions were soon answered as the east side trail joined the west side trail – only about half way up the mountain – I had plenty of running yet to do! Upon reaching the summit view point, I was far more tired than usual – was this solely due to the expected loss of conditioning after 3 months off the trails? Or was the east side trail deceptively longer? I would have to wait until I got home and synced up my Garmin GPS watch to get most of the hard data.

View to the North from the summit

View to the North from the summit

 

I was pretty tired at the summit, and the circling vultures did little to comfort me! Another far more ornithologically informed hiker at the summit commented that since I was so sweaty, the vultures were probably smelling me as if I was carrion. Funny – Mrs. Trailrunner seems to think the same thing when I return from a good long trail run. The return to my car was relatively uneventful, with the caveat that less traveled trails are sometimes more difficult to find on the way down than they are on the way up – I unwittingly ended up following a dry stream bed rather than the trail for a few hundred yards, but fortunately rejoined the true trail at about the point when I was beginning to realize I had taken a wrong turn.

After checking the mileage on this run, which was harder than I hoped it would be, I found that my observations were verified – the east side trail is about a half mile longer (4.6 miles), about 100 vertical feet more to climb (1000 ft total), and significantly rougher than the west side. It was also a more interesting and prettier path in my opinion – in other words, a true trail run! I am looking forward to some new and more adventurous runs as my body continues to heal.

Altitude Profile

View of the run from the east, looking west

Muddy Meadows and Poison Parsnips

This posting covers the last remaining section of the TAM (Trail Around Middlebury) which has not yet been described in this blog.  Most of this run proceeds through the open meadows to the west of Middlebury College, with a short loop on the Ralph Myhre Golf Course thrown in as a warm-up.  Since my locker is at the college Field House, this made for a good start and finish point for a lunch break run on a warm early summer day.  The first two miles of this run were pretty easy, consisting of the well-trodden two miles around the golf course.  Unlike my earlier description of this section, I chose the clockwise direction, which necessitated entering the trail by the soccer goals behind the artificial turf field on the athletic grounds.  Following the trail around the periphery, carefully dodging errant drives, brought me to the Rt. 30 road crossing at the two mile mark.  Entering the woods on the far side led me to the section of the trail labeled as the “Colin O’Neil Class of 97 Trail”, built by the classmates of a student who passed away in a tragic auto accident when driving while intoxicated during his senior year at Middlebury College.  This heavily wooded segment weaves between the trees while angling downhill, until it reaches the open meadows below and to the west.  Although this has been a drier year than usual, it also passes through the first of several deep muddy puddles, making this a bad run to take the shiny new sneakers on.  Reaching the bottom of the field, I took a left turn and followed the trail which ran at the periphery of several adjoining meadows.  While this section is easy to follow, it can be surprisingly challenging to run, since the light traffic it receives leads to fairly high grass, slowing the running considerably.  I was also careful not to accidentally bump into any of the clusters of the now all-too common weed “Poison Parsnip”, also known as “Wild Parsnip”.  This weed looks much like a slightly larger version of the well-known “Queen Anne’s Lace” but with yellow rather than white blooms.

Poison Parsnip

If you aren’t familiar with this stuff, it is VERY nasty, and should be avoided at all costs – fortunately alert runners can do so on this stretch of trail!  This invasive species came to North America with the first European settlers, and its presence was noted as early as 1630.  It is not apparent why it seems to have become so prevalent along Vermont fields and highways in the last decade or so, but the northern midwest, especially Wisconsin, seems to have been similarly afflicted.  Unlike other better known toxic plants, like poison ivy, which depend on our immune response to cause their discomfort, this plant is just plain corrosive!  When the tissues of this plant are broken open, it releases a family of substances known as “psoralens” which are initially harmless, but quickly react with UV light to take on their corrosive character, causing skin burns and discoloration which can last from weeks to months on human skin.

This nasty weed, like most invasives, has no natural enemies among our local fauna. Its natural predator, the “Parsnip Webworm”, also native to Europe, has found its way to some wild parsnip-infested areas in the US, diminishing the numbers and health of the plant in those locales.  Apparently, the psoralens are not part of the plant’s biochemistry solely to torture humans, but to keep its naturally coevolved predator, the webworm, at bay.  When faced with large populations of webworms, the plants generate higher levels of psoralens, which in turn stunts the plant’s own growth to ensure its survival.  I say bring those webworms to Vermont and let chemical ecology run its course!

Getting back to the run before I get too distracted:  The route crosses over College Street and passes just to the west of the Organic Garden, with excellent views of the Green Mountains, and my place of work, Bicentennial Hall.  The organic garden is worth a trip by itself, with a mix of flowers and vegetables on a quiet knoll in the middle of the field.

Mountain Views

After about a half mile in the open, the trail heads back into some fairly open forest before eventually joining Weybridge Street for the 2 mile return to the locker room and showers at the Fitness Center.   I chose to take the shortcut through campus, entering through the Weybridge St gate, and passing through the dorms.  Even with the shortcut, the run ended up at 6.6 miles, plenty of distance for this runner on a hot day in the early afternoon sun.

Google earth of the route