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The Wreckage Formerly Known as The Blue Bed House

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

In the late 1980′s a popular “out of bounds” ski tour from the Rikert Touring Center at Breadloaf included an abandoned homestead which people referred to as “The Blue Bed House”.  Mind you, there was never a blue bed in this derelict, but still partially standing home in my memory, but some more experienced skiers claimed that at one point in the not too distant past, there actually was a blue bed in the house.  Over the years, some trails were rerouted and extended in other directions, and while the turnoff from the Rikert trail system towards this formerly popular destination could still be seen,  I gradually noted fewer and fewer ski tracks heading in its direction. The one time I set off to visit the site several years ago, the snow cover was not sufficient for good skiing on the partially grown in trail, so I reversed direction and found another route.  It has been about 20 years since my last visit to the site of the Blue Bed House, and I thought that I might follow the trails to its site to see how it had weathered the elapsed time.

This run, like the run I described in “Circumnavigating Robert Frost Country“, begins at the Robert Frost roadside rest area, and follows Frost Rd., past the Robert Frost Cabin, and beyond to the well-trodden trail directly behind the cabin.  A few minutes after passing the cabin, I came to a trail split, and while in the aforementioned run, I took the left branch, on this run I stayed right, entering a gully which was actually a stream bed after the previous days’ heavy rain.  The trail was in bad shape at first, with quite a few downed trees which slowed my progress on the otherwise easy climb, but after the trail leveled out, its condition improved as I approached the area where I remembered the actual house to be.

The years have not been good to this long abandoned farmhouse.  All that remained of the Blue Bed House was a pile of wood.  This also probably explains its diminished interest to cross country ski tourers – when the snow is deep there probably isn’t much to see. Does anyone know anything about the former residents of this site, or how long it has been left to decay?

All that's left of the house

Some of my readers have mentioned that while they are interested in trying out the runs I describe, they are concerned that they will not be able to follow the actual route. My response is usually something along the lines of “do you think I really knew where I was going when I set out to do the run?” In fact, if you always know where you are going, you never discover anything new. What happened next is a great example of that. I only “sort of” knew where I was going, and decided to explore where I was not entirely confident I knew my way. I did know that the badly overgrown country lane heading downhill to the left of the blue bed house would take me to a lovely meadow, so while I briefly considered turning and heading back to my parked car, I chose instead to keep exploring. This lane, which I also remembered from ski excursions long ago, was also starting to to succumb to the encroachment of the forest. Interestingly, someone had placed blue blazes on many of the trees alongside the path, probably marking them for removal, but apparently the spray painters were not as ambitious with the chainsaw as they were with the spray paint can. After a few minutes of descent, I briefly joined the trail described in the Robert Frost run, but when it hit an obvious T, I turned right, rather than left, taking me to the base of the backcountry meadow. I presume this meadow was part of the farmland used by the former inhabitants of the Blue Bed house, and it is starting to get a little overgrown, indicating that it has probably been a few years since its last mowing.   Nonetheless, the twisted old apple trees in plain sight gave evidence for its formerly domesticated use.

Overgrown meadow

This was where curiosity got the best of me. Noting the 4WD tracks heading into the meadow, I thought that I might follow them back uphill to rejoin my original trail after it passed the house. At the top of the meadow the double track in the high grass mysteriously turned into a single track more characteristic of an animal herd path. I wonder what sort of animal ate the vehicle whose trail I had been following? As the trail reentered the forest, a huge recently fallen fir tree blocked my path, and after jogging around it, followed what looked like an overgrown road. A few yards later, the putative road disappeared, leaving me standing in the woods. Knowing that there at least USED to be a trail just a little higher up the hill, I continued through, with a few zigs and zags following false herd paths, until I stumbled upon another interesting relic of the area’s past. Laying on the ground, in the middle of the forest, was a large ring of iron or steel, which looked like the rim of a wagon wheel. I was surprised by this, as I was clearly a least a 100 yards away from the house at this point. I picked the rim off the ground, and leaned it against the tree, in case I ever wanted to search for it again.

Wagon Wheel rim

Eventually, sticking to an uphill bearing, I came to the obvious path. Presuming that a right turn here would take me back to the house in a few minutes, there was only one thing to do – go left! While the trail was easy to follow at first, it faded badly in sections, especially with all the leaves on the forest floor which made it hard to follow in places. When the trail became less obvious, there were usually a few plastic strips hanging off of branches, or colored plastic nailed to the trees, probably many years old. Eventually this rather vague trail rejoined one of the major Rikert trails, which is also part of the Catamount Trail connecting the Frost trail with the Brown gate trail. A ski tour passing by this section was described in a prior post entitled “Norske Trail to Brown Gate“.  I finally knew exactly where I was, and that I was on well maintained trails.  Looking forward to some easier uptempo running through Rikert trails I should have guessed there would be another hurdle in my path, and there was.  The beavers who created the ponds alongside this stretch of trail have apparently been quite busy this summer, and one rather substantial section of the trail had a new purpose – beaver pond!  I thought it couldn’t be too deep, but after a few steps into the pond which brought the water up to my knees, I thought better, and bushwacked to the right and managed to avoid most of the water.

Vintage 2010 Beaver Pond

Following any of the numerous obvious trails after this point will bring one to FS 59 (aka Steam Mill Rd) which runs behind the Breadloaf campus. A right turn on this road led to Rt. 125 a few minutes later, and an easy run on paved road to return to the parking lot. Not content to call it a day however, one last distraction delayed my return. Passing by the small, but maintained graveyard on the left side of the road, I thought I would stop and take a look, given that I had driven by it hundreds of times.  There were a few prominent Addison County names in this small graveyard, known as the Galvin Cemetary, but the stone that caught my attention was this one:

The Widow's Final Resting Place

I had stumbled across the final resting place of Lucina Chatfield nee Billings, the widow whose story made up one of my earlier posts this summer.  I found it amusing that she was buried with her maiden name, rather than that of her bigamist husband!  Returning to my vehicle, I was surprised to see that this run was only 5 miles long- a rather short run, but this one was long on discovery and adventure.

Google Earth of route

Altitude Profile

Circumnavigating Robert Frost Country

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

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

Parking lot signage

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

Homer Noble Farm

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

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

Kirby Burial Ground

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

Road Not Taken

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

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

An Equally Grand Moosalamoo Traverse

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Given the myriad of routes through the Moosalamoo region, and the great running weather, I thought it would be fun to try yet another long run bisecting this region and concluding at the Falls of Lana trailhead.  My two lab assistants, Jack and Tyler, were also eager to explore some new terrain, so we decided to do another run involving a car shuttle.  The original plan was to commence the run from the Robert Frost trailhead off of Route 125, but upon our arrival, we noted barriers across the trailhead announced that it was closed to the public due to the ongoing road construction.  While signs of this type don’t necessarily dissuade me from exploration, the fact that the entrance was zealously guarded by Officer Obie of the elite “Hunter North” private law enforcement corp (complete with lights blazing on his vehicle in an example of comic overkill)  provided enough inducement for me to change our plans.  Is it just me, or does it seem that they are not really trying to fix Rt 125?  This road project seems to be turning into an ever-widening exercise in dust generation on dry days, and mudpie baking on rainy days.  I am beginning to suspect that at the end of the summer, they are going to announce that the whole thing is a big joke, and that there will be no new pavement, just the usual bumpy road.

The above rant aside, the unanticipated change in course led us back to the same trailhead as many of this summer’s runs – the Brooks Rd. Parking lot.  The first few miles of this point-to-point run coincide with the first segments of the run described in the Widow’s Clearing run, described earlier this summer.  In brief, we started up the Brooks Rd. (just past Breadloaf on Rt. 125) at an easy pace until we reached the right hand turn at about 2.5 miles heading to the Sugar Hill Reservoir in another half mile.  The crest of this side trail got us over the high point of this run, after about 500 ft of ascent.  While there were plenty of ups and downs after this point, the predominate direction was definitely down.

Sugar Hill Reservoir

Taking the sharp right turn onto the Blueberry Hill ski trail, still following the Widow’s Clearing route through the forest led to the point where this route branched off from previous runs.  About 1.25 miles after passing the shores of the reservoir, take the left split in the trail heading towards the gated road – a right turn here would continue the Widow’s Clearing run.  This left turn leads promptly to the Ripton-Goshen road, where a left turn is quickly followed by a right turn onto the well-signed forest service road heading towards the Moosalamoo campground.  The next segment of the run, while not challenging, is somewhat less pleasant than it could be due to the road construction of large crushed stone, which necessitated careful attention to ones feet to avoid loose stone, and the foot-bruising effect of an ill-placed footfall.  In other words, it is fine for motor vehicles (which we saw none of), but not quite as good for runners.  Nonetheless, this segment was worth the effort, as it led after a mile and a half to the glorious view at the Voter Brook Overlook.  This viewpoint peeks through a break in the mountains out towards the Champlain Valley and the Adirondacks.

Voter Brook Overlook

Backtracking from this point, we reversed our steps for about a mile until we came to the point where the North Branch Trail crossed the road, and turned right into the forest.  Enroute to this trail, we also crossed paths with the Keewaydin Trail, but since our Moosalamoo Region Forest Service Map showed the trail in a totally different location, we were unwilling to take it.  As it turned out, the Keewaydin Trail and North Branch trail met up along the route, so either is a fine choice.  The North Branch Trail led gradually downhill, and was easy to follow.  Some sections were fine for running, but a few short sections required careful foot placement to avoid falls on slippery rocks and stream crossings.  Nonetheless, this was an aesthetically pleasing section of forest running.

The North Branch Trail eventually wound its way down to the Rattlesnake Cliffs Trail,where a left turn brought us shortly to the Sucker Brook stream crossing.  A well constructed footbridge over the stream at this point was washed away in one of the massive storms which plagued Addison County during the summer of 2008, necessitating a little rock-hopping to get across the stream.  This was followed by about a half mile on the Silver Lake trail, returning us to our cached car at the Falls of Lana trailhead, just outside of Branbury State Park.  My GPS showed a run of 9.8 miles at this point, so a few hundred yards extra on the road brought this up to an even 10 miles.  Overall,  while this run was shorter than the route of the previous posting, it took about the same length of time due to the greater technical challenge of running on these trails.  It is also a more scenically pleasing route, however, due to the great views of the Sugar Hill Reservoir and from the Voter Brook overlook.

Altitude Profile

The Widow’s Clearing

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

This week’s post begins at what is by now, a fairly common trailhead for my runs, the Brooks Road parking lot.  This trailhead, a mile or so downhill from the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, has been the starting point for several of my blogged runs over the last year, most recently a post entitled “A Tale of Two Weekends.  Nonetheless, there are many opportunities for unique runs emanating from this National Forest entry point, so I keep coming back to check out new variations.  I have skied this route quite a few times over the years, but have only done limited exploring of most of this route during the summer months, so much of the scenery looked very different from the images in my memory.

The start of this run, however, treads on familiar turf.  I suspected (correctly) that some of the terrain would be a little rougher later on in the run,  so I chose to complete the lion’s share of the climbing on the easy running surface of Brooks Rd., including the entirety of the “up and back” route described last summer in the Sugar Hill Reservoir post.  The straightforward start to this run involved running up Brooks Rd. for 2.5 miles until joining the righthand side trail leading to the reservoir at the three mile mark.  Entering the clearing below the reservoir dam, I noted a sign which was clearly aimed at runners who were far more fleet footed than I!

Speed Warning

Rather than returning to my car by the same route, I chose to lengthen the run by delving deeper into the National Forest and trying out a loop run.  Immediately after entering the dam clearing, take the trail veering downhill sharply to the right.  At this point, the run seemed much more committed than other runs in the area, leaving me with the impression that I was heading into remote wilderness, despite the fact that civilized roads are never far away.  The next 4 miles or so are on trails which are well-skied upon in the winter, but rarely travelled in the summer months, so there are some sections which are (surprise surprise) very muddy and/or slightly overgrown, but never difficult to follow.  In order to find your way back to the parking lot, the simplest instruction is ALWAYS STAY RIGHT at each obvious trail junction.  Since much of this trail parallels the Ripton-Goshen Road a “wrong turn” to the left will probably deposit you pretty quickly on this obvious dirt road, but you can be back on route by reversing your course for a few minutes.  Finally, this segment of the  route also coincides with The Catamount Trail, the state-long ski trail, so the unique Catamount Trail markers can be followed as well.  This stretch of the Catamount Trail eventually joins up with the Widow’s Clearing Trail at a well marked intersection.

Catamount Trail joins Widow's Clearing Trail

From this point on until the end of the run, the trail through mature hardwood forest following the Widow’s Clearing Trail.  There is one last tricky intersection, a sharp turn climbing to the right which I would have overlooked if it wasn’t pretty well marked.  About a half mile from the end of this loop I passed by large hillside clearing, which was clearly the remnants of a former homestead, as indicated by the ancient apple orchard at its edge.  A small sign referring to this site as the Widow’s Clearing was also nailed into a trailside tree.  A descent on well traveled trail returned me to the parking lot to complete this 7.6 mile loop.

Google Earth of the run

Between numerous signs labeling the Widows Clearing trail, the Widow’s Clearing trailhead, and the Widow’s Clearing itself, upon my return to my vehicle, I began to wonder, who was the eponymous widow?  I was not able to find any information on my own, so I emailed my favorite expert on local history, Jan at the Sheldon Museum.  She was not familiar with this mysterious widow, but she did some research, and eventually connected me with William J. Powers, Jr. of Lake Dunmore and Rutland.  All of the following information comes from Bill and is the result of his unpublished research on the topic.  This is just a brief synopsis of a much larger body of his work.  Bill has also authored a history book on another of my favorite  running destinations, Silver Lake, and those who are interested in learning more about the history of the lake and its surroundings can purchase his book at the Sheldon Museum.

As it turns out, the widow of interest was one Lucina (Billings) Chatfield, 1818-1897.  While Lucina was born in Tunbridge, she married Alonzo Chatfield in Middlebury in 1838.  They moved up to his home in Ripton, and in 1859 they started farming the plot of land which we now call the Widow’s Clearing. Local records indicate that their farm was rather poor, even by Ripton hill farm standards.  When this site became known as “Widow’s Clearing” is not in the information which I have at my disposal, but it is clear that Lucina was not widowed immediately – she was abandoned by her husband!  In 1855 Alonzo left her and their four children, and moved to Michigan where he lived the rest of his life with his second wife.  Accounts from that time also indicated that Lucina was not openly distraught about this.  Whether this was stoicism on her part, or a case of “good riddance”, we can only speculate.  She owned and operated the farm until 1882, in later years with her son Parsons and his family, although it is not clear if she actually lived there all those years.  It must have been a challenging hardscrabble existence for Lucina and her family, as an 1871 map of Ripton shows “Mrs. Chatfield’s farm” as the most remote, and probably highest altitude farm in Ripton.  Nonetheless, local records also show that by this time, the farm was more successful than it had been during the years of her marriage.  In 1882, Lucina, Parsons, and his family relocated to Middlebury, and there is no record of anyone living at the clearing after that time.  The widow passed away in East Bethel, VT in 1897 at the age of 79, and was buried in the Galvin Cemetery in Ripton alongside her parents.  Kind of an interesting little story of the challenges of mountain life in Vermont!

Finally, Bill’s research also uncovered a picture of the view from the Widow’s Clearing, circa 1870.  The wide open land stands in sharp contrast to the fully recovered forest of modern times. This photo is included with his permission.