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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

 

Snowshoeing Snowmobile Superhighways

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

It has been a few months since my last posting due to a myriad of injuries – nothing serious, but just the aches and pains that flare up with  increasing regularity in middle age. So here it is, a relatively warm, sunny Saturday in early January, with the best snow cover in two years, and neither skiing nor running seeming like a good idea. So, it appeared like a good opportunity to add in a post dealing not with running, the primary focus of the blog, or cross country skiing, which usually keeps me busy over the winter, but with the slower, gentler pursuit of snowshoeing, at least until my body gives me the green light on the more vigorous activities.

I also decided to take it easy by doing this snowshoeing on the gentle passage of well-packed snowmobile trails, maintained by the VAST organization for snowmobilers, but open to skiers, hikers and snowshoe enthusiasts in the winter.  One short stretch of trail had been piquing my interest for some time.  I first discovered the winter trailhead accessing the Ripton end (as opposed to the Breadloaf/Rikert end) of Forest Service Road 59 about two winters ago, and described a short run on this snowy, well-packed route heading towards the Rikert Ski Touring Area.  A quick look at some snowmobile trail maps indicated that it is also possible to follow this trail, traveling in the opposite direction, up over the summit of Robert Frost Mountain from the east, and descend to Middlebury International Airport.  I wrote about the trail connection between the airport and the summit of Robert Frost Mt. as well a few years ago.  Today seemed like a good day to reconnoitre this route for a future longer run or ski.

The trailhead can be accessed by driving up to Ripton, taking a left turn onto Lincoln Rd in front of the Ripton General Store, followed by a right turn onto Robbins Crossroad, and a left onto Natural Turnpike.  Then, just follow Natural Turnpike until its seasonal terminus to park your vehicle.  Strapping on my snowshoes over my Bean boots, I set off, taking a left up a short hill, following the well marked snowmobile trail, which paralleled and occasionally intercepted the dirt road on several occasions, before finally crossing to the left and heading into the woods.  From this point on, most of the scenery was as expected with the well-packed ribbon of the trail ambling through the hardwood forest.  Subtle signs of the Green Mountain National Forest’s logging use were apparent.  While clear cutting does not appear to be as prevalent as it once was, heading through one stand of uniform small-circumference hardwoods and a total lack of ground cover shrubs indicated that this area had been selectively lumbered fairly recently.

Winter Trails

White Trails

 

One of the great pleasures of exploring these high-altitude forests is coming across large open meadows alongside streams, typically the result of beaver activity.  This trip brought me past at least 3 or 4 of these.  After almost two miles on the trail, which I learned from VAST trail signs was Trail 7A, I came to a hillside where, looking west, I could see the wooded summit of Robert Frost Mountain a few miles away, indicating that I was indeed heading in the correct direction, facilitating a run to come in the future!

Robert Frost Mt view

Robert Frost Mt. Vista

 

Shortly after this, I could tell by the way the snow was packed that the trail was no longer groomed by and for the snowmobilers – although there was still ample snow on the ground, a snowplow had clearly come through, probably as part of more recent logging operations.  Sure enough, a short distance later, I came across a clearing full of logging equipment, and the logging vehicle shown below really looked like a very serious ATV!

Logging Vehicle

Monster Truck (for logging)

 

I could see from my Garmin GPS that I had been hiking about 2 and a third miles, so it seemed like a good time to turn around and retrace my steps back to my waiting vehicle for about a 4.5 mile trip.  Some winter hikers and skiers are reticent to travel on snowmobiling trails, but I have always found the snowmobile enthusiasts courteous, and surprisingly rare!  Over the course of the roughly hour and a half I was on their trails, I only saw two small parties of snowmobilers, and one other hiker.  Not bad for one of the most beautiful Saturday afternoons of the year!

Google Earth Snowshoe

Google Earth of the route

 

 

altitude profile snowshoe

Altitude Profile

 

What Season is it?

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Only two weeks ago, one of the biggest snow storms ever to hit northern New England blasted us with about two feet of snow, but the relatively mild weather which followed made me wonder whether my weekend enjoying the mountains would be in the winter, the spring, or mud season?  Or all of the above perhaps?  After Friday’s wonderfully springy weather, I realized that if I was going to get in any last long ski outings,  I had better do them soon, as I suspected that the snow cover would be melting away quickly.  With that in mind, I set out along the Ripton-Goshen road on Saturday morning.  The road was fine at first, but is shortly became a series of frozen muddy ruts which made the drive rather adventurous for my low clearance front wheel drive vehicle.  By the time that I reached the Blueberry Hill ski touring area, I realized that I had been fortunate to arrive with my oil pan intact.  The ample snow cover was tempting, but I also realized that I needed to get onto paved roads before the frozen ruts melted into a quagmire with a high potential to suck my poor old Ford Escort into the Vermont equivalent of quicksand.  Thus, I decided to head back to civilization, through the better roads heading down towards the Goshen Village, and return to Middlebury via Forestdale – definitely the long way, but the right way back considering the road conditions.

Undaunted, I headed back up to the Rikert ski touring area, which was fully accessible by paved road.  While the snow cover was starting to get a little on the thin side in the field, there was a ton of VERY HARD snow in the woods.  On the limited trails where the Rikert staff had groomed, the skiing was actually pretty nice, especially for skating skis, but forays off the groomed trails led to very challenging and limited skiing.  As I was skiing along, however, I realized that the rather unyielding snow might be good underfoot for ….the first trail run of the year!  So after skiing around a variety of loops close in to the touring center, I vowed to return to the mountains on Sunday, in running shoes rather than skis.

Sunday, of course, ended up as a near perfect late winter/early spring/pre-mud season day, so I headed for the wide open and well packed terrain of Forest Service 59 ( also known as Steam Mill Road).  I have mentioned previous runs and skis on this road which is closed to car and truck traffic in the winter, but maintained for snowmobile use.  Rather than accessing it from the Rikert side, I thought I would try and reach it from the Ripton side, and looking at maps, realized it could be accessed from the Natural Turnpike.   For those who don’t know this road, it departs from Rt 125 to the left just after passing the Ripton town buildings, and weaves its way up into the decreasingly populated higher elevations.  While this road passes all the way to Lincoln in the summer, a forest service gate blocks vehicular passage at a convenient parking lot.  I have never seen this parking lot before, but it seemed like a good place to head into the forest.

While the footing might have otherwise proven a little slippery, given the thin veneer of corn snow on a rock hard base, my recent acquisition of the perfect running shoe for the situation made for sure-footed running.  Asics makes an amazing shoe called the “Arctic” which has small spikes in the sole for just these sorts of condition, which gave me confident footing throughout the run.  Joining the snowmobile trail labeled by the trailhead signage as “7A South” I quickly joined the far north end of the closed off portions of Steam Mill road.

Trailhead Signs

 

A steady climb on this wide snowy boulevard brought me to the Steam Mill clearing itself, the trailhead of the trail to Skylight Pond, and a wide open area with great views of Breadloaf Mountain to the left.

Steam Mill Clearing

As I was running along, I realized that I was not the only person who saw the potential to enjoy this route on such a gorgeous sunny day. I saw numerous skiers, hikers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers out as well – the only thing missing was a few dogsledders! After a little over 3 miles, I reached the Forest Service gate at the Rikert end of the road, so simply retraced my path for a 6.6 mile round trip. I also noted a variety of other trails branching off from this newly discovered trailhead, and I am looking forward to exploring them this summer on foot!

I am not including my usual altitude profile for this run, as the run had only a few small climbs and descents, and my GPS actually gave some odd results, indicating a nonexistant 500 foot drop and climb in the first mile – no need to scare off other explorers with spurious data!  The next question is – will there be more skiing?  Is it really running season?  Or will it be so much mud that attempts to take either off road will require a cleanup with the garden hose to rinse off before entering the house?  We will see….

Google Earth projection of the run

Circumnavigating Robert Frost Country

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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

Parking lot signage

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

Homer Noble Farm

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

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

Kirby Burial Ground

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

Road Not Taken

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

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