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The TAM in the dark.

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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)

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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:

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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

Run like an Egyptian

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

On long solo runs, the oddest thoughts pass through one’s mind.  For example, on my last run I suddenly realized that the vast majority of my loop runs proceed in a clockwise direction.  I have no idea why this is the case, but set out to rectify the situation with at least an occasional counterclockwise loop!  On this sunny October afternoon, I chose to take on a short section of the Trail Around Middlebury (aka “TAM”) in the counterclockwise direction, and given that I was recovering from a head cold, went for a shorter and slightly less adventurous run than those described on the last few blog entries.  With this in mind, I headed out of town from the college athletic complex passing through the campus and exiting via Weybridge St.  After heading into the surrounding farmland, I passed a small herd of Belted Galloways (or as I prefer to call them, “Cows with Racing Stripes”) which provided irrefutable evidence that standing cows always point north.  OK, maybe I edited out a few recalcitrant data points with my photo editing software, but can I still publish?

North-facing Cows

Shortly thereafter, this run finally started hitting the trails, with a left turn onto the TAM. This short stretch of trail between Weybridge St. and Rt.125 is a very satisfying mix of partially open meadows, mowed fields and forest, and was previously featured (in the opposite direction, of course) on a run described in the post entitled “Muddy Meadows and Poison Parsnips“.  A few minutes later, I passed through the Middlebury College Organic Garden, a quiet and contemplative tract on a knoll just west of campus……which I always just run by.

Organic Garden


By now you must be wondering what the point of the title of this post is – what could an Egyptian possibly have to do with a late autumn run at the outskirts of town? Well, as I was heading back towards town on the dirt road connecting the organic garden with Rt. 125, my iPod, which was set on “shuffle” mode switched to the classic 80′s song by The Bangles entitled “Walk Like an Egyptian“. Taking this as an omen, I thought it would be fun to try and locate the burial site of Middlebury’s most ancient inhabitant, which had been pointed out to me on one occasion several years ago.  Angling through the back of campus on the paved path passing through some dorms behind the tennis courts, I ran around the periphery of the St. Mary’s Cemetery for the last leg of the run.  Passing through the gate into the West Cemetery, and shortly after passing the prominent Battell Family enclosure on the right, if you look carefully to the right you will find the ankh and cross-bearing gravestone of Amun-Her Khepesh-Ef.  In the late 1800′s, Henry Sheldon of Sheldon Museum fame purchased the mummy of the infant Egyptian prince who passed away at the age of two, nearly 4000 years ago.  The mummy was never in good enough condition to be displayed, however, and languished in the Sheldon Museum storage until 1945, when he was cremated and given a proper Christian burial.

The Mummy's Burial Marker

After locating and recording the Mummy’s Marker, a short jog across the street brought me back to the college fitness center, making this an easy 4.25 mile run with only a few easily surmounted climbs.

GPS track of the route

Muddy Meadows and Poison Parsnips

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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