Tag Archives: TAM

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

Run like an Egyptian

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

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

Back to the trails – Chipman Hill

As the earlier than usual Spring seems to have arrived, the warm weather has cleared the snow off of the paths around town and opened up opportunities for the first trail runs of the season.  Mud will be a fact of life for the next few months, but some routes tend to dry out earlier than others.  With this in mind, I chose Chipman Hill for my first trail run of the season.   The primary trail over the summit was clearly open to vehicular traffic at some point in the not-too-distant past, but predates my arrival in Middlebury in 1986.  The fractured remaining pavement of the remaining road does make for good, dry footing, however.  I have enjoyed running and mountain biking on the hill for many years, and I have seen hunters (illegal, I am told) and evidence of picnic-ers, partiers, and yes, trysters on its many trails.  While the hill is crisscrossed by numerous trails, marked and unmarked, I stuck to the main trail over the summit on this warm Spring day.

The run started on village streets, from my locker at the College athletic facilities, through downtown, and crossing the street at the Congregational church.   A few yards north on Rt. 7, followed by a right turn onto Seminary Street, and a left on High St. brings one along the west flank of Chipman Hill, with great views across to the Adirondacks.  Immediately before High St merges back into Rt. 7, the obvious route veers to the right, where the climbing portion of the run begins in earnest.  After a minute or two of running uphill, the old ski jump hill is obvious on your left.  The hill remains from the era when Chipman Hill served as the college’s “earn your turns” (no ski lifts) ski area, most notably during World War II when gasoline rationing made trips to the Snow Bowl impossible.  It has also served the needs of more contemporary daredevil mountain bikers, including a former thesis student of mine who earned himself a trip to the emergency room as a result.

ski jump hill

ski jump hill

Shortly after this point, the trail passes another opening in the trees with great views to the north before switchbacking south back into the trees towards the hill’s twin summits.  A few modest snow patches remained in higher shady sections, and a cleared viewpoint complete with a park bench offered yet more views, this time back towards the Green Mts, to the east.

chipman hill vista

Continued running to the first summit, a short descent to the dimple between the peaks, and over the second, slightly higher summit bearing communications towers finishes the serious climbing.  After a fast descent, you pass a gate blocking the upper sections from motorized vehicles and join Springside Dr., the address of some very fortunate Middlebury landowners, who get to look out their windows at these exceptional views every day.  After the steep descent, taking any of the roads heading towards downtown eventually led back to my locker, making for a good early season run.  The route as described was 4.3 miles (back to the English system, since its not skiing any more!) with about 450 feet of climbing from the low point downtown to the summit.

chipman hill google earthGoogle Earth Projection of GPS track

chipman profile_001

Belden Dam on the TAM

Another gorgeous September Saturday goaded me into a long leisurely run.  Since Sunday will be the day of the TAM team trek, a fundraiser for the Trail Around Middlebury, and family commitments will keep me away from this event, it seemed like a good day to take on a long stretch of this convenient and pretty trail.  I chose to run on my favorite section, heading from town up the east bank of the Otter Creek to the Belden Dam in New Haven, returning through the forest and fields to the west.  After changing into my running gear at the College Fitness Center, I headed out Weybridge Street and took a right onto Pulp Mill Bridge Road, and then another right, over the Middlebury landmark, the Pulp Mill Bridge.

Pulp Mill Covered Bridge

Pulp Mill Covered Bridge

After enjoying the first of several attractive views of the Otter Creek on the day’s run, I immediately turned left as I came off the bridge.  This dead end road passes by the old Middlebury “stump dump” on the left, where for most of my life in Middlebury, you could bury your natural yard waste.  I have been told that in the more distant past, this also served as the general town dump, although this predates my experience.  Nature is slowly reclaiming this site, but it still has a long way to go.  At about the 2 mile point from the Fitness Center, the paved road ended, and I headed through a gate into Wright Park, the beginning of the trailed section of the TAM at this end of town.  For the next mile or so, the trail wound through the meadows, with a few limited views of the creek to the left.

Wright Park Meadows

Wright Park Meadows

About 10-15 years ago, these meadows were more open, but the inevitable reforestation seems to be slowly taking place with the growth of numerous small scrubby trees, and I suspect these river views will be consumed by the young forest in the next decade.  After about a mile on the trail, the trail forked – the left fork headed closer to the river, but had poorer footing, while the right trail stayed higher up.  I chose the right fork this time, but they do reconnect in the next mile.  After a mile of fairly level easy woods running, the trail emerged into a clearing by the Belden Falls hydroelectric station at the 4 mile mark.  A sharp left takes you to the two short suspension bridges which span the creek over the dam, providing great views upstream to the broad dammed up Otter Creek, and downstream to the much wilder Otter Creek which shoots through a flume into the gorge.

Gorge on Otter Creek

Gorge on Otter Creek

Continuing across the bridge, the trail continues through coniferous forest with soft needles underfoot, prior to passing into a farmer’s fields.  On a few past runs in previous years, I have had the pleasure of meeting up with a rather large sheepdog, who, just doing his job, let me know that my intrusion was not fully appreciated.  Reminding myself that he only ate coyotes, not people, I had no problem passing through this field despite his heckling.  As it turns out, he wasn’t out guarding his flock today, but as I approached the stile heading into the fields, there was a small herd of cows hanging out, who were just as startled to see me as I was them.  A few jumped to their feet as I approached, but I had to remind the ladies that it was not milking time as I bypassed them.

cowstiles

At the far end of the field, another stile led to Morgan Horse Farm Road (well north of the actual farm).  At this point, the run can be shortened by taking an immediate left, following the road back to Pulp Mill Bridge Road, and back into town.  This is not a bad choice either, actually, as it does pass by the Morgan Horse Farm, which is quite pastoral when the horses are in the fields.  I was feeling strong enough for a slightly longer run, however, and passed across the road, continuing on the trail.  The next segment is heavily forested before breaking into open fields and passing by a small pond surrounded by rushes.

Rush Encircled Pond

Rush Encircled Pond

The trail briefly turned right on Hamilton Road before a short steep downhill to the left, heading back into open farm meadows.  As the trail reentered forest shortly thereafter, the running got pretty slow due to the fact that it zigzagged up and down a long north-south esker (any geologists out there to agree on disagree on this?) ridge on the left, with some poor footing in several sections.  Finally, the trail segment of this run ended for me when I rejoined Weybridge St, just outside of town.  After a few short climbs and descents, the road entered town, and led me back to the fitness center, making for a 9 mile, mostly flat run (by Vermont standards at least) run on another perfect day.

Postscript:  As I author this post on a lazy rainy Sunday morning at home with my kids, I am thinking of all the people traveling this stretch of the TAM as part of Middlebury Area Land Trust’s big fundraiser for the Fall.  Although I was fortunate to enjoy my run on a much nicer day, I hope the weather didn’t dissuade too many people from participating in this event.

belden dam run