Tag Archives: TAM

Easter Egg Hunting on Chipman Hill

Over the years, many of my blog postings have described runs on, or including sections of the Trail Around Middlebury, aka, “The TAM”. And why not? The TAM is the most frequently traveled trail in Middlebury, and the blog is, after all, “The Middlebury Trailrunner”. If the TAM is the gold necklace around our town, Chipman Hill is its diamond pendant. This gem, right at the edge of town, offers a roughly 500 ft vertical climb – making it a convenient place for local endurance athletes to train.

When I first moved to Middlebury, in the mid-1980’s, Chipman Hill was only minimally developed as an outdoor resource. The old paved road over its twin summits, which was closed to vehicular traffic 30 years ago, a trail along its base on the east side, and a smattering of rarely used mountain bike trails constituted the “development” of this refuge. Over the years, many more, well constructed trails have appeared, many of them laid out by mountain bikers. The rise of the the Middlebury Land Trust has led to some further trail improvements, and somewhat heavier use than in the past.  But that said, on a pleasant late August evening, I passed about 8-10 other people, enjoying the hill as runners, walkers, or mountain bikers, and there is plenty of solitude up there still.

Some Chipman Hill newcomers might find the maze of trails, some maintained, and some not, confusing and daunting.  The old road over the top is easy enough, starting from High Street (the street running behind the Swift House Inn), and ending on Spring Street (the highest driveable point on the south side of Chipman Hill).  The trails, on the other hand can be somewhat confusing in places, some of them even confusing me, even after three decades of exploration.  There is no need to worry about getting lost however.  My usual rule of thumb when I get disoriented, is to simply hike to the top of whatever mountain I am on, and get my bearings back – most mistakes in route finding happen on descents (as some of my hiking and running partners will attest).  Fortunately with Chipman Hill, if you don’t know where you are, you can always run away from the hill, and surprise – you will be somewhere in Middlebury when you hit a road.

On most of my posts, I give a somewhat detailed trail description, but other than the simple run on the road over the top, which I actually did describe once a few years ago, the whole point of running on Chipman Hill is to try new trails, and see where they take you, and what points of curiosity you might see along the way.  So, I am going to set up this route, by simply telling you where I started (In the Marble Works, and getting onto Chipman Hill from the end of High Street) and how I got back (the same way), publish the contorted and complicated route map on Google Earth (more for the sake of humor than actual direction) and show a few pictures from along the way.

Some of these pictures are of locations on the hill which are well known, and others, on more obscure trails, are a little harder to find.  I am putting them up in the order in which I took them, making a bit of an easter egg hunt for friends who might want to explore the hill a little bit more than they may have in the past.  I apologize for the general darkness of the pictures – a 6 pm run in late August can get that way, even on a clear day!

Ye Olde Ski Jump Hill

Ye Olde Ski Jump Hill

The first well known landmark I came to, was the old ski jump hill. It is easy to see, as the runout is still mowed a few times each summer. Chipman Hill was used as the site of the Middlebury College Winter Carnival races during World War II, and a small ski facility was built on Chipman Hill to accommodate the racers and jumpers. I suspect that the road over the top may have once been a ski race trail, but I have no proof of this.

Wildlife sign

Wildlife sign

A little later, I came to this curious sign, generated by the “Leave no Trace” organization, on a relatively obscure side trail. What was curious about it? Well this was the only sign of its type I saw, and it seems odd that the only “trace” on this part of the hill, was the actual sign.

Western Overlook

Western Overlook

On the western side of the hill, there is a park bench with views of the Adirondacks, carved out of a small clearing. Curiously, starting right behind this seat is a concrete pylon, and 8 more of these pylons extend up the side of the hill, in a straight line, more or less evenly spaced. I have always been curious of these pylons – at first I suspected that they might have been used as part of some sort of ski lift in ages past, but why would they need so many of them, for what could not have been more than a pulley for a rope tow? And besides, descriptions of the ski trails used during the war never make mention of any lifts, although one friend claims to have seen a photo or sketch of Chipman Hill with a rope tow in it, although I have never seen this. If anyone knows what these pylons are for, I would be intrigued to hear.

Summit Communications Tower

Summit Communications Tower

This is another easy find, as it can be seen from almost anywhere in town – the tall communications tower, on top of the highest point in town. I was also curious, on this run, to see if I could find any sign of the old, much shorter tower just to the east of the summit, but all the hardware associated with the older installation has apparently been removed.

Old Gravel Pit

Old Gravel Pit

There is a rather substantial abandoned gravel pit on the lower, eastern slopes of the hill. This was much more pronounced in the 80’s, but has become somewhat overgrown in the last 30 years. Then, as now, it appears to be used for campfires (and presumably illicit outdoor underage parties), much like it was 30 years ago, as evidenced by at least 3 different fire pits. The gravel pit can be easily made out in the Google Earth projection of Chipman Hill at the end of this posting.

Dumped Fridge

Dumped Fridge

Here was an unpleasant surprise near the gravel pit – For the first time in my life, I noticed a long abandoned refrigerator, which was surprising in light of the fact that most of the hill is completely litter free, and it must have been there for a long time, as it has been decades since the gravel pit had routine vehicular traffic needed to dump off an abandoned appliance.

Crooked Tree

Crooked Tree

This tree just looked cool, and was on a lesser used trail, so I guess this will be one of the more challenging Easter Eggs!

Lonely Fire Hydrant

Lonely Fire Hydrant

This fire hydrant, which I had never noticed before caught my attention, as it was on a closed, seemingly abandoned stretch of road. Who knows, maybe there were once plans to build homes on this part of the mountain? It also looks like it has unexpectedly grown since it was planted, as the hydrant itself was well above the ground line. I also noticed a bunch of bunny rabbits with their little white tails running around nearby – appropriate for a blog on Easter Egg hunting. They did not pose for pictures however.

Old Reservoir

Old Reservoir

This muddy, algae-infested pond is what I have heard referred to as the old village reservoir. I don’t know the full history, but I for one am glad that we aren’t currently drinking from it.

New Reservoir

New Reservoir

Just uphill from the old reservoir is – surprise – the new reservoir! I am comforted by the fact that it is actually enclosed.

Trail Sign

Trail Sign

Coming up from the Springside Rd. access point, this well-designed map was posted – I am glad that I saw it at this point, after running for roughly and hour – who knows, I might have been lost all along and not known it? A copy of this map, which has the road, and most, but not all of the heavily used trails marked out, can be found online at the excellent MALT website.

Cairn

Cairn

Finally, shortly after coming off the trails, and onto High St to conclude my run, I noticed this small cairn in a yard by the road – I have always rather enjoyed these little rock piles for some reason, and once again, in keeping with the Easter Egg theme, one can imagine a stack of chocolate eggs and jelly beans forming them?

Concluding the run, I returned to my car in the Marble Works, finishing a slightly more than 6 mile run, where I basically didn’t do anything other than run around in circles. Although the altitude gain between the Marble Works and the summit is “only” about 500 ft, with all the ups and downs, I estimate I climbed and descended close to 1200 ft in the course of this run, making for a rather substantial hill climb run, without having to leave the village. If you are a newcomer to running on the local trails, and want something a little more challenging, give this hill a try. If you are an experienced runner, see if you can explore the trails more thoroughly, to see if you can find any of the sights mentioned here that you are not familiar with. There are quite a few more trails, that I never even got to on this run, so perhaps in a year or two, I will include those to find some new Easter Eggs to share.

Google Earth of Chipman Hill Run

Google Earth of Chipman Hill Run

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

Tuesday Night with the Trail Enthusiasts

One of the great developments for trail runners over the last year has been the emergence of a running group, organized through the Meetup site, called the Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts.  This group of runners of which I am an active member gets together with member-organized runs a few times per week in the summer.  We even got a little free publicity earlier in the spring with a great article in the Addison Independent.  The centerpiece of this group has been the weekly Tuesday evening runs, leaving from Waterfront Park in front of Noonie’s in the Marble Works, at 6 pm.  While the group is encouraging runners of all abilities to organize and lead runs, this particular run typically covers 6-7 miles in around an hour, with most runners proceeding at a pace which encourages conversation.  One of the other really cool things about these runs has been the tremendous age diversity among the runners – it is not at all uncommon to have a 40 year age difference between the youngest and oldest runner (and no, I am an not the oldest regular participant), with a pretty uniform distribution of the generations in between.  How many other organizations in town can boast diversity of this sort?  And yes, there are both men and women among the participants.

For this run, we had a great turnout – about 10 runners.  I have the sneaky suspicion that the great turnout was influenced in part by the fact that one of the organizers mentioned the possibility of heading out for a beer afterwards.  So, for this run we decided to head north through Wright Park to the northernmost loop of the TAM.  For the start of this run, we headed out the back of the Marble Works, up Seymour St., past the Pulp Mill Bridge, until we reached Wright Park, and underused gem overlooking the east bank of Otter Creek just north of the village. 

Some beginning trail enthusiasts can be overwhelmed by the complexity of trail systems, out of concerns about getting lost.  The easy way to overcome this is to follow the “out and back” rule – take note of your surroundings and come back the way you headed out.  Then, with time, you will learn the trails, and be able to be a little more adventurous in your trail selection.  I am saying this because the trails between Wright Park and Belden Dam, about 2 miles to the north can be pretty complex, but there are two pretty straightforward ways to go – the high trail, which is very broad and suitable for mountain bikes as well as runners, and the low trail, which hugs the shore of Otter Creek.  We chose to head north on the high trail, until we reached the hydroelectric plant at Belden Dam.

Belden Dam and TAM Bridge

Belden Dam and TAM Bridge

At this point, we knew that if we returned, it would be about a 6 mile round trip, but a member of the group suggested a short loop on the opposite side of the river, which would supposedly add about a mile, and even though I (and at least one other member of the group!) had just run the Middlebury Maple Run Half Marathon just two days previously, I voted enthusiastically for this little loop, so off the group went. The loop on the west side goes a little bit further to the north than what most people include in the TAM when they are just attempting to circle the village, but it is a lovely section, especially when it dips down to the shores of the Otter Creek in its gorge. BUT, it ended up being a little more than a mile- more like 2 and a quarter miles, making this a marginally longer run than planned.

Returning to the Belden dam, and crossing back to the east side, we chose to return by the lower trail, which is well marked by a trail sign near to the eastern terminus of the suspension bridges.  My favorite part of this section is the unexpected bluff, christened “The Cliffs of Insanity” by Josh, one of the regulars.  This rather substantial outcropping is pretty much invisible until all of a sudden, you are directly below it, adding to its drama.

Middlebury's Cliffs of Insanity

Middlebury’s Cliffs of Insanity

From here, our path quickly rejoined the more civilized sections of Wright Park, and we retraced out steps back to the Marble Works. And yeah, a few of us decided to go visit our favorite bartender, Kim, at American Flatbread for a round before calling it a night. Now if I could just get them to have Shed Mountain Ale on tap…..

By the time we had finished, this ended up being a longer than planned, but still manageable 8.25 miler. I don’t want to scare away newcomers, so I promise this one was longer than we usually do, at least early in the summer as people get their legs back! While there aren’t any true “hill climbs” at least by Vermont standards, this run is far from flat, with a lot of interesting, and in places, rather beautiful terrain.

Google Earth of the Run

Google Earth of the Run

The TAM in the dark.

One of the challenges of running deep into the autumn is the dreaded clock resetting, away from daylight savings time, and back to “normal” time.  The days are short enough to begin with this time of the year, and the loss of an additional hour of daylight at the end of the work day can complicate scheduling runs into my busy day.  There is one solution to this problem however – the headlamp!  Now, I have rarely run with a headlamp in the past, but when my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday a month or so ago, I responded that I wanted a headlamp so that I could continue to run after work, at least as long as the weather allowed.   I, of course, had never shopped for a headlamp before, and the previous headlamp I owned was “pre-LED”, was dependent on heavy D cell batteries to run, and provided the light of a decent flashlight.  This was fine for it’s purpose at the time – those hiking days which required a start before the sun rises, but was a lot of weight to be carried on a strap around my head while running.   Now, I can see what my parents were thinking – “Our trailrunning son runs a lot, so he needs the brightest, safest light out there!”  So, I was a little bit chagrined to see the superdeluxe ultra high power headlamp my parents had purchased for me.  Let me tell you – this lamp could work for spelunking.  Nevertheless, I put it on, and it really wasn’t that heavy.  The first time I ran after dark with some friends in the Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts, I received a modest ration of grief for my rather elaborate headgear – but – when it got dark outside they were more than happy to run in my headlight!  This thing is really bright – at the end of one evening run, I pointed it at the Middlebury Falls from the Marble works – it lit up the falls from quite a distance! Curiously, when I ran alongside the road wearing it, I would have cars flick their brights at me if I allowed my headlamp to stray into the eyes of oncoming drivers.  So yes, this lamp is a keeper!

The recent spate of unseasonably warm weather, combined with a full moon, inspired me to go out and several nights in the last two weeks, so I thought I would describe an old favorite run on the TAM from a very different perspective.  So, one evening after work I set out onto the Red Kelly Trail segment of the TAM, heading out the back door of the College Fitness Center to start this run circling the golf course.  One of the first things I noticed was that I barely needed my ultraluminous headlamp at all out in the fields, but as the trail entered the woods, it provided extra security, helping me avoid roots and slippery rocks.  Some people are scared of the dark, and while I don’t have any issues in that regard, this was kind of like leaving the TV on, or the door to the bathroom open, letting in just enough light for security.

As I progressed around the golf course, I wondered what sort of wildlife I might awaken – perhaps there were bears out and about?  A random skunk sauntering in the trail?  As it turns out the only animals I saw were numerous rabbits out for their evening nibbles, and I only saw them as their little white butts scampered away as I upset their dining.  Approaching Rt 30 out in the open, many of the older trees took on far creepier shapes than they usually appear to have during the daylight, and I was kind of surprised to see that my point and shoot camera was actually able to catch their mood in the light of the full moon.

Spooky Tree on the Golf Course

Spooky Tree on the Golf Course

Continuing across Rt 30, I joined the segment of the trail where my headlamp was most needed – the narrow, twisting second of the Class of 97 trail which connects the road crossing with the open fields to the west of the college. This was somewhat slow going, as even with the headlamp, the trail was difficult to follow due to the fact that it was covered in fallen leaves. Just as I was wondering if anyone else in their right mind would be running here in the darkness, I saw the headlamp of another lone running heading towards me. After our extended greetings, we passed each other by and continued in our respective loops – mine, clockwise, hers, apparently counterclockwise.  Once I reached the open fields, I actually no longer needed my headlamp at all, except for one short jog through a thin strip of forest land – the moon was that bright – bright enough to leave moon shadows behind every tree.  Crossing Rt 125, I reached the top of the modest glacial drumlin which makes up the college organic garden.   From this vantage I had a great view of my workplace, Bicentennial Hall, and its glowing windows against the night sky.

Bihall

Bicentennial Hall

At this point, I left the TAM, and took the footpath back to campus, crossing over Rt 125 by the “Mods”, the small cluster of homes which were set up at the outskirts of campus for temporary housing 15 years ago, and up the service road which connects them with the rest of campus. Of course, given that it was only a few days after Halloween, I had to complete the course with a shortcut through the graveyard, and since this run was not a filming for a horror movie, I reckoned I was safe enough. The monuments do make for an eerie sight in the low light – I almost felt like I was running through some sort of ancient ruin.

graveyard obelisk

graveyard obelisk

Since this run precisely follows a route I have previously blogged, I am going to link to the Google Earth image, which currently resides elsewhere in this blog.  Overall, this is about a 5 mile run, with numerous ups and downs, but no serious climbs or descents, and yes, it is fun to run in the daytime as well.

Stick Season on the TAM

While most residents of northern New England mention mud season as the most challenging time of the year to live here, the almost equally bleak month of November, less well-known as “stick season” also has it’s challenges.  It has the same bare trees and overcast sky, but never quite brings out the worst in us like mud season.  Perhaps we are all still feeling good after a great fall foliage season, and are anticipating the excitement of the first snows of the season?  Perhaps it is because…well…it just isn’t as muddy, and the trails are arguably at their best for running, with soft leaves underfoot, and great views through the surrounding forest?  In any case, I got together with two other local runners, Josh and Ben, early on a Saturday morning to do the grand loop around Middlebury, our own beloved TAM.  Bits and pieces of this convenient and scenic gem have been the frequent subject of blog posts, but it has been a few years since I last described a complete circumnavigation of the village, and that was much earlier in the fall, prior to the peak of foliage season.  We met up shortly before sunrise at the parking lot by Batelle/Means Woods on Quarry Road (at about 3 o’clock on the loop shown in the Google Earth projection included below), just east of town, and I convinced my running partners that we should take the loop counterclockwise to put the most challenging part of the run, the 300+ foot ascent of Chipman Hill, early in the run.  We also had the additional benefit of catching a great sunrise over the mountains from the east side of Middlebury’s downtown summit!  While most of the leaves were long gone from the limbs of the deciduous trees on the flanks of the hill, I was touched by the stubbornness with which a few trees clung to their leaves and to life when other sources of warmth and the ephemeral beauty of autumn was fading.

Chipman Hill Sunrise

Chipman Hill Sunrise

Continuing on down the west side of Chipman Hill, we wove through the village streets for a few minutes before heading north through Wright Park, and the longest contiguous section of trail not intercepted by roads. When we reached the northern suspension bridge crossing over Otter Creek, instead of taking the section of the TAM heading due west, we decided instead to take the last short loop to the north, heading into the gorge, and adding a mile or two of extra running to our proposed loop. The thick green moss alongside one particular section of trail led for Josh to christen this short passage “The Shire”. After a short section along the creek, the trail started its gradual loop back to the west, and then the south, emerging back into a meadow just to the west of Morgan Horse Farm Rd, where I managed to grab a quick photo of my fellow runners before they disappeared in the distance, forcing me to pick the pace after grabbing a photo, if I wanted to stay with them.  That, and they also waited for me!

Runners in the Meadow

Runners in the Meadow

Crossing over Morgan Horse Farm Road, and veering south through another meadow and pond, we briefly considered leaving the TAM to seek out the entrance to the nearby Weybridge Cave on Cave Road, but decided against it on this day, as all of us confessed to having seeked out the cave’s entrance in the past, and all had failed. Someday we have to invite a runner who knows where exactly it is to show us. Any takers? Eventually, our counterclockwise circumnavigation brought us to the most civilized section of trail, the part circling the Middlebury College Championship Golf Course, where the TAM also serves as the running course for the college cross country races. The morning was getting a little later at this point, and we started to see other runners and walkers out for their Saturday morning strolls. The last few miles brought us back to the Batelle Woods, where I let my partners for almost 3 hours pull ahead, and I took a shot which I think exemplifies November running – grey skies, the trail softened by falling leaves, and of course, muddy sneakers.

Sneaker-level view

Sneaker-level view

As we returned to the parking lot where my car was, we high fived on a good long (almost 18 miles!) training run, we commented on how fast the time flew by. This almost 3 hour run seemed rather timeless due to the good company, and fun terrain. As my fellow (much younger) runners headed home, on foot, I sat my tired butt down in my car, and made a beeline to Middlebury Bagel where I treated myself to a cup of coffee…..and the most sugar- encrusted donut left on their shelves.

Google Earth of the Run

Google Earth of the Run

Altitude Profile of TAM run

Altitude Profile of TAM run

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

Dear Freshmen:

Dear Freshmen Runners and Aspiring Runners:

As a member of the Middlebury College Faculty, I would like to welcome you to campus.  In this first month of the new year, I have had several conversations with your fellow freshmen, and when the topic of running comes up, I inevitably get asked “Where are good places to run”.  And while the real answer is “almost any direction from campus”, I thought I would share a moderate (slightly less than 5 miles, with no serious climbs) trail loop which passes by many interesting sights without really getting that far from campus.  In other words, it is a good way to start your trail running in Middlebury.  This route is also very easy to follow (except for maybe one section for the navigationally challenged) and has a few good bailout points if you aren’t quite up for runs this long.

This run starts out the back door of the fitness center – yup – that great place where you can work out on all the cool exercise contraptions your tuition dollars can buy (or our generous alums can buy for you – and a sincere THANKS).  My advice is to save the ellipticals and treadmills for the cold of winter, and enjoy the out of doors for now.  Head out the back door, and run just to the right of the high tech artificial turf field, and veer into the woods on the left – there are usually a few soccer goals stashed here, so the trail entry should be easy to find.  The first, and tamest part of the run is on the trail which runs around the outskirts of our very own golf course, and soon joins into the the Trail around Middlebury (aka “The TAM”), a 16 mile trail which runs through the forests and meadows at the outskirts of town.  The golf course trail is pretty easy, with no major impediments to its many runners and walkers.  In fact, it is the course used my our college cross country running teams at their home races.  Some other insights on this trail, albeit from the counterclockwise direction, can be found in a blog post from a few years ago entitled “Trailrunning 101“.

After about a mile, you pass the first noteworthy place.  You can’t help but notice it, as it smells…well it smells like rotting food scraps…which is what it is.  At the most odiferous point on the run, off to your left stands the mountain of compost generated by the college.  Not long after this, a fairly substantial climb rises above you, and as you near the top, you will notice a lone gravestone off to your right.  Until the last few months, this grave was partially hidden in a small grove of trees, but recent course renovations have brought it more prominently into the open.  Take a second and read the inscription.  In a rather macabre turn of events, the poor gentleman interred beneath it survived both the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War, to die when a tree fell on him.  And trees were really big back then! Local historian Robert Keren has been doing some sleuthing into the history of this gentleman, William Douglas, and his fate, and has posted some of his findings in the Middlebury College Magazine Blog.

Dead William

Continue across the ridgeline onto the new section of trail which enables runners to stay pretty well out of the range of some of the errant tee shots from the 10th hole, before emerging into the open, passing by a large white house on your left called “Hadley House”, rumored to be the sight of wild trustee parties.  A short run along the old golf course entrance road brings you to Route 30, where you need to cross to continue the run.  If you are out of gas at this point, it is a short downhill trot to the athletic facilities for a nice two mile run.  However, if you cross the road, there is some more challenging trail running to be found.  At the far side of Rt. 30 you will find the entrance to the segment of the TAM known as the “Class of 97 Trail”, honoring a deceased member of that class who passed away in a tragic car crash while allegedly intoxicated.

Class of 97 Trailhead

The much tighter, rootier, and frequently muddier descent from the ridgeline will challenge you to watch your footwork, but soon emerges into an open field, where a left turn will lead to a long loop through the farm fields which make up some of the great views to the west of the campus. This is the only section of the trail where one might get a little off track, but if you count out EXACTLY 478 steps (just kidding just follow the main trail around the periphery of the fields, behind the farmhouse) until you cross College St. and follow the dirt road to the organic garden on a peaceful hillock. I was fortunate to pass through when some of the last sunflowers of the season were still in bloom.

Organic Garden Flower

By now, if you are starting to feel a little tired, you are in the home stretch! Take the dirt road back through the fields towards campus, enjoying the views of “Hadley/Lang/Milliken/Ross/Laforce”, dorms which were known as “The New Dorms” for about 30 years (and used to be covered with what sure looked like bathroom tile), and the hulking shape of Bicentennial Hall, which was christened “The Death Star” by students at its opening 12 years ago. The solar panels are a relatively new addition to the fields, and they reflected the blue of the sky quite nicely, don’t you think?

Solar Panels in Blue Sky

Cross back over college street, and catch the sidewalk which skirts the side of the “Mods”. The Mods, short for Modular Homes, were set up over 10 years ago as temporary housing, but not surprisingly, they proved so popular with students that we seem to have made them a permanent part of the housing options on campus. Follow this sidewalk to the top of the hill, and cut through the graveyard before finishing the run back at the fitness center. The last cool sight to point out, if you have the time to look, is the gravestone of an Egyptian mummy buried in the otherwise Christian cemetery. Some hints on how to find this particular stone were given in a previous post on this blog entitled “Run Like and Egyptian“.

Well – I hope you like this almost 5 mile run, and use it to find inspiration for other runs in the area. And have a great seven…I mean four year here!

Cordially,

The Middlebury Trailrunner

Google Earth of the route

 

Going all the way on the TAM

Every trail runner in town knows the Trail around Middlebury, aka “The TAM” well – it is our town’s gem, and a popular place to enjoy trail runs of a variety of lengths and challenge.  One of the major fundraisers for the TAM has been the TAM Team Trek, an annual fall event in which walkers, mountain bikers, and yes, a few runners cover all or part of the trail for a modest entry fee.  Many of the participants also line up sponsors, adding to the fund raising for this great cause. So, this gorgeous Sunday morning seemed like a great day to join in….and go for a run.

Arriving at the event registration on a pleasant Sunday morning, there seemed to be a lot more participants than I had noted the last time I ran as part of this event, 3 years ago.  The big question at the start was, should I proceed in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction?  A counterclockwise run meant running some of the more technical terrain earlier in the run, with the challenging climb of Chipman Hill looming at the end of the long run, while a clockwise run would get the only tough climb out of the way first, but might leave me tripping over roots and sliding though mud at the end.  I decided on the counterclockwise run, and got the best of both – the previous evening’s heavy rain had left quite a lot of mud on the trail, and I managed two face-plant muddy falls in the first few miles, on the northern loop of the TAM which looped over the Belden Dam footbridge, before turning south at the point where it crossed Morgan Horse Farm Road.  The first leg of this run was described in greater detail in my “Belden Dam on the TAM” posting.

Footbridge over the Belden Dam

The second loop of this trail, from Weybridge Street to the college has also been covered before, albeit in the opposite direction, on a post entitled “Muddy Meadows and Poison Parsnips“.  This posting, which I made over a year ago is actually the most heavily read posting in this blog by far.  While this stretch of the trail is very nice, I suspect that the high number of hits on this posting is due to the high level of interest in the poison parsnip, a recent invader of our fields.

Despite the above comments about mud difficulties, running on muddy trails really is a lot of fun. There were three sections of the trail, where the trail split, with one direction designated as a drier route, and the other the “wet route” – guess which one I took, as a matter of principle?  At his trail sign in the fields near the College organic garden, I went right of course.

Decisions, decisions.......

 

After a short climb up from the fields to the west of the college, I arrived at the Ralph Myhre Golf Course and its spectacular views of the Green Mountains.  Fortunately the nice people running the snack shop there didn’t mind when a very muddy runner came in off the trail to refill his water bottles for the second half of his run.

Up to this point there were quite a few participants in the TAM trek over this first leg – it was early and the day, and a lot of hikers and runners were out enjoying themselves.  However, from the golf course until the completion of the run, things were pretty quiet – apparently most of the participants were focusing on other sections of trail, or had done enough!  The trail then looped around the golf course, crossed South St. and the southern suspension bridge over Otter Creek.  Looping through the fields around Middlebury Union Middle School, led me back into the woods.  This next section of trail was previously chronicled in one of my first postings, “TAM, Means, and Batelle Woods“.

 

The last leg of the day’s run was the long anticipated run up and over Chipman Hill to the finish line.  By this point, I had been out for about two and a half hours, and there really wasn’t much left in my legs, so I ended up walking up some of the steeper portions of the trail.  After cresting the summit, it was downhill all the way, however, to the Marble Works, where the Trek organizers were starting to put things away and call it a day.  I, on the other hand, had one more task – a much anticipated chocolate milk shake from Sama’s!

The GPS track showed that this run was as long as it felt – 16.25 miles in total, making it my longest run since I began authoring this blog in 2009.  Other than the final climb over Chipman Hill, however, the run was not particularly hilly by Vermont standards.  Time to give the legs a few days to recover!

Google Earth of TAM