Saturday was a beautiful, cool early summer morning – a perfect morning for a run in the mountains. It was also a good morning for a run with the local trail running Meetup group “The Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts“. While this group of runners gets together for shorter runs (such as Wednesday Evening “Trail Running 101” for beginning runners, or those exploring the trails for the first time), our Tuesday night 6-mile runs on various parts of the TAM, we also try to work in longer, more adventurous trail runs over the weekend. Some of the gang are aspiring to complete one of the longest runs in the area, The Moosalamoo Ultra, held in early August, so it seemed like a good idea to explore some of the course early in the summer. I completed (you will note, I did not use the word “competed” – I just wanted to survive!) this run a few years ago – albeit barely, and my description of the race, and some of my “ultra newbie” observations can be found in my older post based on my experiences. While I myself am not planning on participating in this race in a few weeks, when the group organizer Heather sent out a call for runners who wanted to try out the most mountainous segment of the course, it seemed life a good fun morning run.
We ended up with seven runners, including a group from Chittenden County – a club first – meeting in the parking lot for the Moosalamoo Campground in the morning. To get to this trailhead, you need to head just past Ripton on Rt 125, and take the forest service road about a mile past the town, known as the Ripton-Goshen Road. A few miles up this road, and before you get to the first true landmark, the Blueberry Hill Inn, you will see a right hand turnoff towards the Voter Brook Overlook. Take this, and the parking lot for the Moosalamoo Trailhead will be on your right in less than a half mile.
The race itself starts at the Blueberry Hill Inn, and follows the road for the first two miles or so, but we chose to excise the road portion, and start off with the long ascent of Moosalamoo. The Moosalamoo Trail traverses up the side of the mountain for about two miles before reaching the junction with the Oak Ridge Trail, where we took a left turn for another half mile or so before the high point, the summit of Moosalamoo. While there are limited views at the summit through the trees, the clear blue sky allowed us to look east towards the main ridge of the Green Mountains.
After a breather at the top, having finished most of the day’s climbing, we descended down the far side on my favorite part of this run – the ridgeline between the summit and the more frequently visited Rattlesnake Cliffs, reknowned for their great views of Lake Dunmore, Silver Lake, and the Green Mountains. While we did see some great views of Lake Dunmore through the trees, we were unable to access the Rattlesnake Cliffs themselves; they are closed to the public until August 1st due to nesting Peregrin Falcons. While this is a great view, all temptation to break the rules was overcome by signs warning of a 6 month imprisonment for doing so. No Thanks!
After passing the side trail leading to the forbidden cliffs, we had a long, easy descent down to the confluence of the Oak Ridge Trail with the North Branch Trail, veering left in a meadow. We took this trail, which I have previously described on a few occasions to ascend back to the cars. At one point, we took a breather on this last, far more modest ascent, and a member of the group noticed a nice little waterfall that I had never noticed before, not far from the trail. Amazing what you see when stop, and look beyond your own two feet.
Not much later, we reached the end of the North Branch Trail, across the road from our parked cars. This ended up as about a 7.5 mile run, which was much slower than most would expect due to the challenge of the terrain. We ended up climbing and descending a total of about 1700 vertical feet, making this also a great hill workout. I hope it also increased the confidence of my running partners who are planning on running the upcoming ultra – after all they just completed the most challenging part of the race! It was also fun meeting up with some new running partners.
One of my posts, almost 5 years ago, involved a run up the Abbey Pond Trail. Much to my surprise, this has proven to be the most frequently accessed post on this blog, speaking to the popularity of the Abbey Pond Trail. This trail, the closest and most convenient trailhead leading into the National Forest for Middlebury runners and hikers, was one I had always wanted to explore, but hadn’t gotten to in my then roughly 25 years living in this community. After running it, I found that it was a more challenging run than I expected, and that there were some sections where the footing was too much “rock hopping” and not enough trail to maintain any sort of running pace. It was also a very pretty trail. I had heard that in the last few years, some trail maintenance had been performed, and thought I would check it out on a beautiful, warm Sunday afternoon, shortly after the college graduation.
To access the trailhead, head east from town on Quarry Road, and take a left, north, on Rt 116. In less than a mile, a trailhead sign leading onto a dirt road will be on your right, and take this turn, following trailhead signs for about a half mile to the small parking lot at the end of the road. From this point, the trail is very easy to follow, and well marked all the way to its conclusion at the pond. The trail starts out pretty easily, going from flat to modest incline until you cross a bridge, leading over a brook, where the outlet stream from Abbey Pond, far uphill at this point, cascades down a steep defile in the rocks, creating a waterfall both above and below the bridge.
Continuing past the waterfall on increasingly steep trail, I noticed a steep embankment to my left, and I did a quick scramble up this to see where it led. I should not have been surprised to see that it brought me to the brink of one of the many gravel pits operated by the Carrara Concrete Company up against the west face of the Green Mt escarpment in Addison County. I have always assumed that the sandy soil of this geography, atypical for Addison County which is largely clay, was the result of its being the former beachfront property on Lake Champlain as its waters receded following the last ice age, although I have not confirmed this with my Geology Dept. colleagues. One thing about this vista had me scratching my head however – I can’t for the life of me figure out why they would park a few old school buses in their gravel pit!
After this point, the trail veers more aggressively uphill, first on the north side of the stream, then crossing over to the south side. When I described this portion of the trail a few years back, I confessed that I had to take a breather, and slow down to a walk for a while due to its relentless climb. This time around, I didn’t find that necessary, so I guess I am a stronger runner, and I know I have lost about 20 pounds since then, making the hills even easier. Isaac Newton was right – F = ma.
After the steep section of the climb, the rumored trail improvements came to sight. My memory of this section was of a lot of rock hopping on a badly eroded trail, where I had the sneaky suspicion that the water flowing between the rocks was part of the stream beginning at the outlet of the lake. Even though it was pretty close to flat, the footing was really to precarious to do anything resembling running. Now, the trail has been re-routed off to the side on slightly higher ground and for the time being at least is very nice single-track running. Looking into the origins of the new section of trail, I discovered something about its history. During the summer of 2013 the local section of the Green Mountain Club performed this badly needed maintenance in memory of a father and son, David and Levi Duclos, who passed away prematurely in 2004 and 2012, respectively. Both of them passed away while enjoying the outdoors.
After about a mile of pretty flat terrain on the recently re-routed trail, I got to the shores of this modest little pond in the mountains. The peak in the background here is Robert Frost Mountain, the subject of another of my postings. Several years ago, I came across an older map which showed a trail connection between Abbey Pond and the trails leading up to Robert Frost Mountain, so I explored around the lakeshore to see if I could discern any trails beyond the pond, but within a few hundred yards, the modest herd path diminished and disappeared into the swamps, and I was not wearing attire appropriate for bushwhacking. It was also getting late in the afternoon, and I suspected that the evening insect attack would begin soon, so I took a picture of the pond from a less commonly viewed perspective, and backtracked to the maintained trail.
There were a few small tufts of various wildflowers alongside the shores as well, and I spied one that I had never noticed before – it had rather large hanging bulbs about an inch across, and I am including a picture in case someone could identify them for me.
Returning to my car was far easier, as is almost always the case. The run covered about 4 and a half miles, with an ascent and descent of about 1000 vertical feet. Five years ago, I rated this path “pretty for hiking, not really very good for running” but with the trail improvements of a few years ago it has become much more runable. I suspect I will be running it more often in the future, due to it’s convenience to town, and the fact that I suspect that it will be a cool place to run on hot mid-summer afternoons due to the fact that the most challenging part of the climb is in a shady defile in the mountains, cooled by the adjacent stream.
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.
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.
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.
I have resisted turning this blog into a training log, or a simple recounting of races, but from time to time I have the pleasure of participating in a road race worthy of mention, even if it isn’t on the trails, or even in Addison County. I think the Boston Marathon is worthy of mention, as it is an aspiration for so many runners, and one which I recently had the pleasure of running for the first time in my life, deep into my middle age. The first challenge of the Boston Marathon is simply getting in. Unlike most marathons where if you pay your money on time, you are in, or some popular marathons, like New York, which have a lottery system for entry, Boston has strict qualifying times by age group and sex. While these qualifying times do not require superhuman performance, they are challenging enough that many life long runners are never quite fast enough to run the most famous race in the world. I had assumed that I was one of those.
I competed in the Clarence Demar Marathon in Keene NH in the fall of 2013, literally on the spur of the moment, as it was a nearby and inexpensive race, and accepted last minute entries. I had no delusions of grandeur for that race, as I had barely run for the month or so preceding it with a minor, but nagging injury. Much to my surprise, and aided by generous downhill portions, I had my best marathon since my early 30’s and headed home very happy with my performance. Later in that evening, I was chatting online with my nephew, also a distance runner, and he suggested that my time might be a Boston qualifying time for an old guy like me. So, I went to the web page, and discovered that I indeed had qualified for this famous race that I had always assumed was totally out of reach! I guess the moral to this story is that you don’t have to get fast – you just have to grow old gracefully.
So last fall rolled around, and I registered online, and felt like Charlie Bucket with a golden ticket when I got my notification that I was accepted to run!
Then the hard part hit – training for an early season marathon in the cold of a Vermont winter. And it was a tough one. A lot of time on the treadmill, supplemented with some cross country skiing, and the occasional run outside, which became a little bit easier when the howling cold of January and February subsided for the more typical winter weather of March.
On the day before the race, myself, Ben, a fellow Addison County trailrunner, and the ever patient Mrs. Trailrunner drove down to Boston, and we went into the city proper to check out the race exposition and pick up our race numbers. It seemed that most of the wares offered for free tastes were concoctions of chia seeds and stuff that looked like it came out of my chemistry lab. And tasted like it. One the funniest of these offerings was, I kid you not, pizza in a tube!
No thank you – bananas and bagels are fine, supplemented by the vile but oddly sustaining goo called “Gu“. There was also a huge poster at the entrance to the exposition for all the runners to sign, and I had to leave my trailrunner moniker.
Finally, the long anticipated day, April 20 arrived. The race itself has an uncommon course for a major city marathon. Unlike the New York and Philadelphia marathons which I have done in the past, which weave through as many neighborhoods as they can, the Boston Marathon is a straight shot into the city from the western suburb of Hopkinton. Now, to put it in perspective, Hopkinton is all the way out by Interstate 495. This is what Bostonians call “a long commute”. And we were going to run it. Arriving by bus at the runners’ village, about all I had time to do was spend the mandatory minute or so in one of the thousands of porta-potties filling the Hopkinton High School football field, before joining the throngs for the long walk to the actual start line.
The numbering system at Boston is also unique in my experience. The bib that you wore reflected the time that you submitted for qualification, so the fastest qualifiers had lower numbers, while those of us benefiting from the relaxed standards for old folks necessarily had higher numbers. At the start line, these numbers were used to ensure that you were surrounded by runners of more or less your same speed. The roughly 32,000 runners were split into four “waves” of about 8000 runners, starting 25 minutes apart, and each wave was broken down into 1000 person “corrals”. My number, in the 16,000’s put me right at the start of the race – for the third wave. As we were waiting in the slow drizzle for the race to start, I amused my fellow competitors with the observation that “We should be proud of ourselves – we are the best of the slightly below average entrants”.
When the gun went off for us, my prerace strategy of starting off slowly was dashed by the energy of the crowd behind me, as well as the fact that the first four miles were pretty relentlessly downhill. Another challenge for me is the fact that all the hydration that had been part of my life for the previous 24 hours inevitably make it so that one prerace porta-potty stop is not enough. Mid race is when this becomes more of an issue. While there are porta-potties along the course, it is an unwritten rule that men who merely need to perform “task 1″ shouldn’t use these, leaving them for the women runners. Fortunately, the early miles of the Boston Marathon have ample forests alongside the road for minimal privacy. Another curiosity about this is that nobody wants to be “the first” to turn a section of pristine forest into a giant urinal, but once one man decides that a place is appropriate for an on-the-run pit stop, the rest become emboldened. So, feeling nature’s call, I dashed into a lightly wooded section alongside the road, and found myself almost immediately accompanied by about 10 other older gentlemen who seemed relieved that I had chosen this special place for us. After uttering something about how this might make a good advertisement for Flomax, I was back on the road, needing no further stops of this sort.
As luck would have it, the early morning drizzle turned into a downright foul weather day, with intermittent downpours and headwinds. The funny thing about this was that I barely noticed it, and in fact actually welcomed the cooling rain. I was also glad I was wearing a polypro t-shirt under my race shirt. One of the next high points for the race was the run through Wellesley, MA, home of the all women’s college of the same name. The section going through town, roughly at the half way point, is nicknamed “The Scream Tunnel” due to the vociferous enthusiasm of the college students.
I had been warned that from mile 16-20 was the hilliest part of the course, culminating in Heartbreak Hill would be challenging. I found Vermont training more than sufficient to overcome the challenges of what we would call a rise in the road. Admittedly, I dropped by pace by about a minute per mile on them, but was surprised to see so many competitors walking. Finally, the last 6 miles into the city is almost entirely downhill or flat, making for a fun, fast finish. With maybe 5 miles to go at the top of a small rise, I caught my first glimpse of the Prudential Tower near the finish line! I also knew that my nephew – the same nephew who I was chatting with online when I realized I had qualified – would be looking out for me at around mile 23, and I was able to see him, and ran over and gave him a big hug before continuing to the finish line. The last two miles of the race are finally in Boston, proper, and includes a run by Fenway Park before a short zig zag up to the long straightaway and finish on Boylston St.
Of course after the elation of crossing the finish line comes the dreaded “march of the zombies” as all of the runners, now suddenly realize that they have to walk for many city blocks to actually get OUT of the race area. People keep giving you stuff. A medal over your head Bottles of water, capes to keep warm with, and funny energy food supplements. One in particular, a chocolately looking protein drink which looked curiously tasty was thrust into my hands, but I found that I was tortured by the fact that my frozen hands couldn’t actually open the bottle. Fortunately, one of the staff took care of this for me when I mumbled something which was correctly translated as “can’t open.” Noting the odd lurching walk off all of the finished competitors, I started mumbling “brains….Brains…” and a few people laughed and joined me before we all realized that talking hurt at the moment. Finally, I met up with my friend Ben, and we managed to hobble our way to a warm bus to get us out of the cold and back to Hopkinton where we could clean up and prep for the drive back to Middlebury that evening.
The only disappointment with the race? I had to go through a short tunnel at around mile 25, and my GPS watch apparently lost connection with the satellites needed, and so the last mile didn’t register on my Google Earth projection. Trust me, I did it. I don’t have any pictures taken during the race, as my hands were too cold to manipulate the camera feature on my cell phone!
Once again, it is a beautiful Saturday, so I thought it would be a great day for a ski or trail run. A few days ago, I was talking to my colleague Joe the Geographer, and he mentioned how nice the running up to Silver Lake had been recently, and I realized then that despite the fact that I run there during most of the year (and blog about routes near the lake regularly), I had never been there before in the winter! I also knew that my spiked shoes probably wouldn’t provide quite enough traction, so I went to the Middlebury Mountaineer and picked up a set of “Microspikes” which are basically slip on mini-crampons designed to be worn over running shoes or lighter hiking boots.
I started this run, in the usual place, the Falls of Lana trailhead, and started up the steeper early sections of trail, which had been well groomed by and for snowmobiles, making for easy running with my spikes on. While the beaten down section of trail proved to be easy running, if I stepped off the trail, I quickly sank in, close to up to my knees, so there would be no trailbreaking for me today! Chugging up towards Silver Lake, I noticed that some snowshoers had beaten a trail to Lenny’s Lookout, the high point of the powerline clearing overlooking Lake Dunmore, so I headed up that way to enjoy the view after a short climb. I could see lots of ice fisherman down below, and it was curious that they were mostly clustered in one small part of the lake. Was the fishing better there? Or did someone bring the beer?
Returning to the main snowmobile trail, I continued up to the lake shore. I must confess, I was kind of hoping that some ambitious snowshoer had traipsed around the lake, making for easy passage in running shoes, but I could find no such tracks, so I had to content myself with a short slog through the snow, out on the ice, to get the sort of perspective that requires swimming in the summer. In addition to shoreline views, I also saw a few snowmobilers, off of their sleds and walking along the shore. With those big helmets on their heads, I kind of thought they looked like popular music artists “Daft Punk“, a duo reknowned for wearing face-obscuring helmets as they play.
Continuing on, I thought it might be nice to head down the Leicester Hollow trail, but was disappointed to see that trail had barely been broken on this, so I continued up the main route above Silver Lake. When I reached the trail split, half going right towards Goshen, the other half going straight towards Moosalamoo, I though I would head straight for a little while to check out the rarely-visited Sucker Brook Reservoir. Somewhat surprisingly, when I split off of the snowmobile trail to go to this small body of water, there was one set 4WD tire tracks heading down the steep road for me to run in. Somebody whose job it is to inspect the dam in the winter has one heck of a big set of snow tires, and a vehicle which does really well in deep snow! When I got to the reservoir, it was……empty. Apparently they drain it in the fall, probably to leave room for spring snowmelt?
Heading back up the hill to the trail junction, and not quite ready to return down to my car, I headed up the road further to the Goshen/Silver Lake trailhead parking lot, which was empty due to the fact that the road it lied at the end of was not plowed in the winter. I did notice that the snowmobile continued on however, and was surprised to learn that it followed the course of the Ridge Trail, up on the hillside above Leicester Hollow. I previously described the Ridge Trail in a summer running post, and found that there was nothing particularly remarkable about it, and had never run it again since. It took on a whole different look in the winter, so I am now eager to-re-explore it in the upcoming weeks while everything is still under deep snow. This time, however, I was not prepared for a longer run (no food or water), so after going a short distance on the well-packed Ridge Trail, I returned to the Goshen parking lot. From this point on, it was about 2.5 miles all downhill, and my Microspikes made it so that I could run fast, and confident in my footing for the duration of the descent.
Returning to my car, this made for a slightly longer than 7 mile run, with about 900 feet of climbing and descent. The day was so nice, that after I got home and had a light lunch, I managed to get out for an hour of cross-country skiing as well!
Finally, on Saturday, the howling cold weather which has kept me indoors far more than I would like gave us a reprieve. Saturday’s mid-teen temperatures, which under normal circumstances would still be a bit on the cold side felt absolutely balmy, so I went for a ski in the morning at the Snow Bowl. Some errands I had to do limited me to a half day, but by mid-afternoon I had completed them, so I decided to turn my ski day into the best of both worlds, and loaded my cross-country skis into the back of my Beetle, and headed out for round 2 of the day’s fun. I set off for the Ripton-Goshen Road, not really sure where exactly I would end up skiing as the afternoon’s snow started, and then increased in intensity. I was not in the mood to break trail, so I was looking for places where others had skied, snowshoed, or snowmobiled, but was looking for something a little less well groomed than the terrain offered by our local ski touring centers.
My first thought was to ski down the forest service road leading east to the Moosalamoo Campground and Voter Brook Overlook, but the ski track I found petered out in about a half mile, turning into a snowshoe track set by hikers intent on climbing Mt Moosalamoo, which would have required more time than I had at my disposal. So, I returned to my car, and looked for another entry into the forest. Heading south another mile or two, I came to a plowed turn off for the forest service road which heads up to one of my favorite backcountry sites, the Sugar Hill Reservoir. I didn’t make note of how exactly this is marked, but it is on your left as you head south, and is about a mile north of the Blueberry Hill Inn. I headed up this road, which is used by the cars of fishermen who use it to access the reservoir during the summer. I knew from past explorations that this road is heavily traveled and maintained for snowmobile travel in the winter. I also knew that this point of entry would bring me to the lesser-used northernmost nordic trails associated with the Blueberry Hill Inn’s Nordic Center. The ravages of Hurricane Irene took out a few bridges on this part of the trail network, and the funds have not yet been raised to revive them (although a funding campaign has been launched!), so I suspected that these trails would be skier-packed, but not groomed. While recent transplants to the area may not know this, older skiers (like me!) will probably remember that through much of the 70’s through the early 90’s (If anyone knows the full span of this, feel free to comment), Blueberry Hill sponsored the American Ski Marathon, which was part of the national ski marathon series known as the Great American Ski Chase. As a result this race, which galvanized the support of almost all the inhabitants of tiny Goshen, VT, brought in some of the finest ski racers from all over the country, and even a few random local college professors. My ski today covered a small segment of this race course.
I headed up the hill towards the reservoir, not really remembering how far I had to go. I realized that this would be a pretty short ski if this was my sole destination, as I reached the height of land above the reservoir only after 3/4 of a mile, and hit the reservoir shores after only a mile. The snow was starting to fall pretty heavily at this point, but there in front of me was the snow-covered lake, and I realized that I had, there in front of me, an opportunity to write my name, or at least my initials, in the snow on a scale which might be visible from space, or at least by our spy satellites. Perhaps a “JB” a quarter mile high, with a superscript afterwards to show off my science side? While I considered this, I also realized that if I was going to put the effort in to do this, I wanted a picture, and the heavy snow and increasingly late afternoon lighting precluded meaningful photography of any such attempts to defile the scenery.
I also noticed the sign, describing this reservoir as the geographic high point of the hydroelectric project culminating at Lake Dunmore. This sign, by the way, is usually at eye level. We have a lot of snow!
I began my descent, but wanted to extend my ski, even as the light was fading, so I took a left turn about halfway back, heading into the Blueberry Hill trails on what is known as the Sucker Brook Trail, which had been packed by the skis of a few others who had preceded me. This section of skiing, continued with a sharp right turn and short climb on the Stewart Trail (none of these names are marked, by the way – I just know them from past experiences – they are labelled by signs bearing numbers, relevant to the ski touring area’s map) took me into denser hardwood forest. Big old trees make lots of loud cracking sounds when it is cold outside, and by this point the temperature was dropping. Eventually I reached a point where I realized that I would soon be descending into the touring center, and I didn’t want to have to do the extra climb to extricate myself, probably in the dark, so I turned around and headed back to my car. En route, I passed a sign with the number 7 written on it. Lucky? Not really – this was a 7 Km marker from another of Blueberry Hill’s races, the summer Goshen Gallop trail run.
Reaching the forest service road, I took a left turn and descended to my now snow-covered Beetle. This ended up as a pretty easy and short ski tour. The short climb to the reservoir is particularly nice for less experienced skiers. I ended up putting in about 4 miles on this, with no more than 200 ft of climbing at any point. I can also see that we are going to have some impressive spring skiing this year!
Finally, mid-week, we had a break in the polar-bearworthy weather with a warm day in the 20’s, so I chose to take a mid-week extended lunch break, and headed up to the Rikert Ski Touring area for the first time in longer than I care to admit. I had noticed the existence of a new trail meandering through the open meadows to the south of Rt 125, and west of the ski touring center (that’s on your right, and before Rikert for the directionally challenged) and had made a mental note that this was something to be explored as soon as possible! Arriving at Breadloaf, I strapped on my skating skis, did a quick warmup around the field, took my skis off, and crossed over the road to the fields directly across from the ski touring area.
I have not skied these open fields much in recent years – I seem to have spent a lot of time here in the late 80’s, when I and my “Team Ross” friends seemed to have to spend a lot of time racking up (inflated) kilometer counts trying to outdo each other in our training over the course of a few winters where there just wasn’t much snow, and the trail at the far side of these fields tended to be the last place that the snow held during the all-too-frequent meltdowns which cursed those winters. Nonetheless, I noticed from the map in the touring center, that this trail was the means to get to the new trail, shown on the map as the “Brandy Brook Trail.” The well-groomed start of the Brandy Brook Trail started in the southwest corner of the meadow, and immediately began an easy descent through a forested area for a short distance, before going over a bridge (over the Brandy Brook itself perhaps?) before entering one of the open meadows alongside Rt 125. From this point on, the trail meandered through the fields for about a kilometer, before skirting the Galvin Cemetery, final resting place of “The Widow on the Hill“, and crossing the road at the white house bearing the curious name “Earthworm Manor“.
I was curious to find out the origins of this odd name, and obtaining this information proved easier than expected, courtesy of Google. While his primary residence was at 24 Chipman Park in Middlebury, Earthworm Manor was the former second home of one W. H. Upson (where have I seen that name before?), who had been a prolific writer for the Saturday Evening Post, as well as other periodicals during the mid 20th century. Although he lived in quite a few parts of the country, including a stint at the Caterpillar Tractor Company in Illinois,when he eventually settled in the Middlebury area, he frequently attended the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, and taught creative writing on occasional at Middlebury College. Presumably he was a colleague of our better known poet, Robert Frost? So why was his Ripton summer home called “Earthworm Manor”? One of Upson’s most well known fictional characters was an everyman known as Alexander Botts, whose employer was the Earthworm Tractor Company- probably building off the author’s early career at Caterpillar.
Back to skiing! After crossing the road, my ski took me around behind the Earthworm Manor, and up what is probably an old logging road behind the house. As I ascended, I noted a fair number of trails diverging from the groomed ski touring trails, and made a note to myself that there just might be some fun trails here for further exploration by ski or on foot. After a short climb, the Brandy Brook Trail terminated at one of the older Rikert trails, and I then realized where I had heard the aforementioned author’s name before – this was the Upson trail, usually known by it’s nickname, “The Figure 8″. From this point on, I tried to make the widest loop I could on trails groomed for skating, so I bore left, eventually coming to the Frost Trail, which for many years was the outer limit of the in bounds Rikert terrain, and descending via Holland Trail to the impeccably groomed Tormondsen Racing Trail. The snowmaking on this trail can make for some rather unnatural snow buildup on the nearby trees, and noticing this tree, I couldn’t help but think it bore a striking resemblance to a rather long and bulbous nose. Jimmy Durante anyone?
Completing my descent, I crossed over the FS 59 road, and came across something I had never noticed before; The small summer swimming pond, which now also served as the water source for the snowmaking, had a small fountain at its center. I suspect that it is not used, except to help keep the pond from freezing over during the coldest portions of the winter (like the last week or so!), and I rarely ski on those sorts of howling cold days.
I could have called it a day at this point, but I also knew of another new trail which I wanted to check out. So to get to that, I began my second, shorter loop at the Battell trail. I side excursion down to the less traveled Cook Trail, led me through some dense pine forest. While, the uniformly spaced and sized monoculture red pines were undoubtedly placed there by humans in the not too distant past, they made for a lovely effect with the fresh snow.
Ascending the modest hill on the Battell Trail, I came to the short straightaway at the top where the ski trail is separated from a little-used snowmobile trail by a hedge of 30 ft pines. After reminiscing that I have been skiing here so long that I can remember when those trees were planted as saplings, I crossed over onto the snowmobile trail, which brought me past the Kirby Burial Ground, and onto the upper reaches of FS 59. From here, I scooted up the Forest Service Road, which is maintained for ski skating just as well as the touring center trails, courtesy of the snowmobile groomer, until I reached the Brown Gate, where I returned via the Upper Gilmore Trail (a great new trail which I first sampled last year!), until I reached the Gilmore House, where I explored the second new trail of the day, the Crooked Brook trail, which begins behind the Gilmore House. This trail, while probably only 1K long, is a blast to ski, as it descends through a series of fun, tight turns before traversing across, eventually joining the other well established trails near the Myhre Cabin. While writing up this posting, I discovered that a short Facebook posting showing the construction of this trail was published last summer. Thanks to Mike and his staff for building this great little trail!
One final descent brought me back to the touring center to complete what ended up being about a 9.5 mile ski. Once again, my aging Garmin GPS had a bad day, so I won’t be able to post the usual tech stuff from that. I got the darn thing back in 2007, so maybe it is time for a new one? Anyone want to throw some money in a Kickstarter account to help defray the costs of a new one?
Ok, so some of you must be asking “What the heck is The Blerch?”
The Blerch is a character, created by the author and cartoonist known as “The Oatmeal”, who has described The Blerch in the following words:
“Marathon runners often describe a phenomenon known as “hitting the wall.” They refer to ‘the wall” as the point in a race when they feel physically and emotionally defeated.
I do not believe in the wall. I believe in The Blerch. The Blerch is a fat little cherub who follows me when I run. He is a wretched, lazy beast. He tells me to slow down, to walk, to quit.
“Blerch” is the sound food makes when it is squeezed from a tube. “Blerch” is the shape of my tummy after a huge meal. If I am sedentary at a time when I have zero excuse for being sedentary, I call this “blerching.” The Blerch represents all forms of gluttony, apathy, and indifference that plague my life.
The Blerch always seems to appear in my life over the holidays – too much good food, too much good wine, and too much time on the road or in the homes of my extended family can make for a relaxing holiday, but not one in which I get much running in. “Its too cold outside Jeff – you don’t want to go out there”, or “Gee that football game, the Dingleberry Bowl between Okoboji State and Turkey Tech sure sounds good”, or “I shouldn’t run right after eating – where are the Christmas cookies?”. Yup – that’s the Blerch talking!
A few days ago, one of my running friends in Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts announced a run up, over and back on my old favorite, Snake Mountain, for this Saturday morning, and this sounded like a great way to jump start my running legs after the lethargy of the holidays. So, when my alarm went off at 7 am on a Saturday morning…..I hit the snooze button. Damn that Blerch! 10 minutes later, as the alarm resumed its insistent buzz, I realized that it was time to silence The Blerch along with the alarm, so I got up and poured a cup of coffee. Then, I looked at the thermometer, and it read “9 degrees”. Ugh – its too cold out there, but as the sun rises it will warm up, right? So I had my breakfast, and drank a few more cups of coffee, and when the time came at 8:30 am to drive off to the Snake Mt. trailhead on the west side of the mountain, I looked at the thermo-tormentor, and it let me know that the meager rays of sun had raised the temperature all the way up to 11 degrees. At least at this point, I realized I had drunk too much coffee to go back to bed, so off to the trailhead I went, donning about seven layers of clothing.
My mood improved considerably upon seeing four other runners ready to go at the start of the run. We had been forewarned to wear some sort of spikes on our shoes given the icing on the trails, so I brought my Asics Gel Arctic shoes – basically a normal running shoes with short spikes in the soles, for the winter ascent. The rest of the group had slip on spikes, known as MICROspikes, which they wore over their running shoes, and looked like they might offer even better grip. Sure enough, as we set off up the trail, while my shoes did well on the old styrofoam snow, frozen mud, and hard packed trail snow, they offered no grip whatsoever on the brief but challenging sections where the trail was essentially a frozen waterfall. My running partners with their MICROspikes seemed to be handling these sections much more adeptly.
As a result, my pace was much slower than usual, but nobody else was running much faster. Achieving the summit on this bitter cold morning, which seemed much more bearable after climbing for over two miles, we were treated to some amazing Adirondack views. I have always felt that if you squint your eyes just a little while looking west, you can almost convince yourself that our winter views of the ‘Dacks look an awful lot like views of the Front Range from Denver. Funny how squinting can keep an illusion completely clear!
After ascending from the more heavily hiked west side trail, we decided to descend down the east side. To get to this trail, you have to pretty much know where it is, as it is an unmarked trail. About one third of the way down the mountain, the west side trail takes a sharp, steeply descending right hand turn, and the east side trail is achieved if you go straight at this point. If you have never hiked this trail before, I would recommend ascending from the east side parking lot on Snake Mountain Road, so you can see where the trails meet. Given the lighter use of the east side trail, the snow was not as compacted as it was on the much icier west side, making for an easier descent, passing by some nicely terraced beaver ponds.
When we reached the east side parking lot, we had a decision to make: I was not looking forward to the climb back on the trails, and back down the west side, as my footing was much poorer than the others’ and I was not enthused about sliding down the mountain on a frozen incline. I knew there was a way to circle back to our parked cars by taking the Forest Road, a road which ran over the southern shoulder of Snake Mountain, but I did not have a clear idea what the mileage of this route would be. Some members of the group suspected that my mileage estimates might be a bit on the short side, and were not up for the potential of a significantly longer run. So, we ended up splitting the group- after all, this is supposed to be fun – and some went back up the mountain, while a few of us chose the road return, heading south on Snake Mt. Road, west on the climb over Forest Road, and then taking the right turn onto Mountain St. extension to return to our vehicles. Other than occasionally choking on the dust churned up by passing cars, this was actually a nice road run with views to the east and to the west at various points along the way. Although my initial conservative estimate of the distance was indeed shy of the actual mileage by about a mile and a half, I had not missed by as much as some of my running partners feared. The two groups met back at the parking lot within a few minutes of each other, and our version of the run worked out to almost exactly 10 miles, with the about 1000 ft climb up the mountain.
Happy New Year, and Death to the Blerch! (although he is kind of cute…..)
More often than not, the transition from autumn running to winter cross-country skiing is a long, frustrating period of time, derided as “stick season”. This year, however, a warmer than usual November, followed by more generous than usual early season snow, seems to have shortened the season in which it is “too cold and rainy to run, too warm or snowless to ski” to a few short weeks. That said, the seemingly inevitable Christmas rains have dramatically reduced the snow cover in Vermont, and when I checked the conditions at Rikert, and they were reporting 3 km of trail open for skiing, this did not bode well for holiday skiing in Addison County. So, I decided to look elsewhere, and followed the usual rules of thumb, which are 1: Go north and 2: Go high. So, I decided to make the slightly longer drive to the Trapp’s cross country ski touring center, high on a hillside above Stowe Vermont.
As most Vermonters know, the Trapp Family Lodge was established by the one and only Maria von Trapp of “Sound of Music” fame shortly after she and the rest of the family emigrated to the United States. They first established a modest ski lodge up on a hillside with views which reminded them of the views in their native Tyrol, and then pretty much introduced nordic skiing to the northeast with the opening of their touring center in 1968. Meanwhile, the original lodge burned down in 1980, sending poor old Maria out into the cold in her nightgown. The much tonier modern lodge, which I have driven by many times but never actually entered, was built a few years later. The Von Trapp family also has apparently flourished, as witnessed by the fact that there seem to be as many Von Trapps as there are Smiths in the northern Vermont phone books.
I skied at the Trapp’s Nordic Center a few times a year in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but as my commitment to nordic ski racing faded, corresponding to increased family priorities, I had not skied here in many years, perhaps as many as 20 years, so I was looking forward to this excuse to return. The Rikert ski touring area, while more convenient, has one major drawback – it is lacking in long climbs and descents. It isn’t flat mind you – the Tormondson Race Trail packs in about 400 ft of climbing and descent in each 5 km lap, but due to the limits of the topology, breaks these climbs and descents into bite size pieces. Trapp’s on the other hand, is literally on the side of a mountain, and has trails which take advantage of this – it is full of long, grinding climbs, followed by generous, multi-kilometer descents which which make you want to whoop with joy as you gather speed and maneuver through corners.
I was not disappointed in the amount of terrain under conditions which have virtually wiped out most of the cross country skiing in the state – they had 25 km of trails open, and with my Rikert season’s pass, I was able to get one day of free skiing there this year. Experienced skiers have known of the challenges of skiing Trapp’s, but due to the fame of the Von Trapp family, as well as the rather plush orientation of the tourism industry in Stowe, most of the skiers there are tourists who might ski once every ten years. I was also somewhat astounded by the many languages I heard on the lodge – Spanish, French, British English, Russian, German, and other languages which I didn’t recognize were within my earshot. They must be doing some rather brilliant marketing to get people who live much closer to real mountains like the Alps, to come to Vermont to ski!
The only consistently flat trail at Trapp’s is the main access trail which traverses the side of the mountain for a little over a mile. Given the less experienced nature of most of their clientele, this trail is almost comically crowded with beginners, wearing their downhill skiing attire with ski technique that could be described with the terms “wobble”. “careen”, and “sprawl”. But hey- we all have to start somewhere – I hope that these folks try this great sport again! This section of trail also had numerous benches for skiers to sit on, and plenty of trail signs to ensure the clientele that they were not yet lost in the wilderness. Curiously, they also had a sign with a Robert Frost poem (saying nothing about roads less traveled) inscribed, perhaps taking inspiration from our own local Robert Frost Trail? More experienced skiers inevitably strive to survive the long climb to “The Cabin”, perched at higher altitudes and achieved after a pretty steady 4 km of climbing. When I last visited this cabin, it had a small snack bar, providing free water, and selling hot chocolate, and hot soup to the proud skiers who managed to get up there. This time around, while the cabin was still backwoods rustic, it had a more complete menu than I remembered, also offering grilled sandwiches and baked goods. I wasn’t there to eat however, I was there to ski, and this cabin, at the highest altitude for skiers also provided the beginning of what I came there for – the screaming descents!
After a short water break, I continued past the cabin on the Haul Road, a long fast descent down the back side of the touring area. My past memories of this descent also included memories of great views of Mt Mansfield, but given how many years it has been since I last skied there, the previous open views along the trail were now mostly obscured by young birch forest. That was OK, as my downhill technique is not what it once was, so paying attention to my skiing rather than the views was probably a good idea. Of course, what goes down must come back up again, so after this great descent, I climbed up a different trail, known as “Bobcat”, circling back up to the cabin for another descent. For my second descent, I explored a trail which was new to my experience, apparently put in 5 years ago, known as “Chris’s Run”. This trail is probably the most spectacular descent in a groomed cross country ski trail in Vermont – it had pretty consistent pitch, with just enough steep sections to keep you literally on your toes, and zigzagged its way down the mountainside for what was probably 3 km, with excellent views through the hardwood forest. After this descent, I worked my way back to the beginner bumperpeople trail, with a side trip behind the Lodge, to complete my longest ski of the season and one of my best ski workouts in a few years.
All in all, this made for a 15 km ski with about 1400 vertical feet of climbing, and more importantly, descent. Yah!
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.
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.
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.
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.