I travel fairly frequently between Middlebury and the Mad River Valley, which brings me by the side road leading to Texas Falls on the descent from the top of Middlebury Gap on the Hancock side. On the way to Hancock, you can’t miss this left turn, which is a well-labeled Green Mt. National Forest roadside attraction. Most people in the area have stopped by this pretty little grotto and waterfall at some point in their travels, but few have explored beyond this well known attraction on the forest service roads and trails which continue above it far into the mountains.
Photo courtesy of northeastwaterfalls.com
After taking a look at this pretty little site, you can loosen up for the uphill run which awaits you. Head up the road a short distance past the picnic area until you get to the forest service gate, where the surface goes from a mix of paved and well maintained dirt, to a far more primitive dirt road. This road was passable to 2WD vehicles for many years, and people took advantage of it to access some primitive campsites up the road. The flash floods of 2008, however, have badly washed the roads out, making them unsuitable for even 4WD vehicles – in places the road narrows to a width of a footpath. Bad for the cars, good for the runners! The trail/road runs parallel to the stream for a while as it stairsteps uphill through the national forest. In previous runs I have seen coyote and wild turkeys up here, but there was no wildlife of note on this run. The run has a few short steep sections, but nothing too overwhelmingly difficult. After around 2 miles of climbing, there is a plastic mesh fence across road requesting that you proceed no further, but looking at it more closely, I could see that it was aimed at the snowmobilers who must find this area an appealing place in the winter. I have no idea why they are being discouraged, but it is simple for those on foot to step around the sign to continue on up. Immediately after this fence, the forest opens up to some spectacular meadows.
The low hills behind the meadow are actually high points on the ridge of the Green Mountains, further evidence that you have done just a little climbing. The road makes one last turn to the right for a final climb to what was once the auto turnaround, for a total climb of about 750 vertical feet and a round trip distance of 4.8 miles. I turned around and headed back to my car, but if you look at Forest Service maps, a few of the only slightly overgrown trails along the way look like they have some potential for interesting looking extensions to this run, or maybe even loops.
While my primary goal with this blog is to introduce fellow runners to new running options, I also recognize that from time to time, those of us who run the trails like to pin on a race number and push it a little harder. One of the best places to do this is at the Goshen Gallop, now in its 31st year. This is primarily a trail race, with all but about a mile and half on trails, the rest on a quiet country dirt road. It is also VERY hilly, with two major climbs adding up to about 700 ft of climb and descent, earning it the reputation as the “toughest 10.2 K in New England”. And yes, even in dry years there is always plenty of mud, but more on that later. You might guess, with a reputation like this, that it would be populated by the most hardcore racers, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is a friendly race which tends to generate addicts who come back year after year, and while many are first rate runners, people run this race for the scenery and the adventure. Given that the course record was about 38 minutes last I checked, and that was set by a former olympic biathlete, most of the elite runners bypass this for more reasonable courses. Most avid recreational runners add 10-12 minutes to their typical 10K time when running this one!
The race is held at the Blueberry Hill Inn (http://www.blueberryhillinn.com/), a plush country inn which is literally in the middle of nowhere. While it is far too pricey for me to consider staying at, I have always loved the location and its events. The Goshen Gallop is run on trails which serve as part of the vast network of the cross country ski trails, which are part of the ski touring area in the winter. The area used to host one of the cross country ski races in the Great American Ski Chase, the national marathon series, but now the legendary Pig Race (a race lacking in rules, ending with a pig roast and a keg) is the only “major” ski race hosted here.
To get to the start of the race, head east on Rt. 125 towards Middlebury Gap. On the outskirts of Ripton, take the right turn on the Goshen-Ripton Road, a fairly well maintained dirt road. The road heads into national forest, and it feels like it! After a few miles of driving through the near-wilderness, a few meadows open up, and a few homes become apparent signifying the entry into the town of Goshen, home to a few hundred hardy souls up in the mountains. About a mile later, the Inn, sitting at the foot of Hogback mountain will be apparent. Take a look up at this small peak, as in a short while you will be climbing much of it.
This year’s race was made even more interesting by the extreme rainfall which has plagued us this summer – days without rain have been rare, and most days end with thunderstorms and downpours. The day before the race had an inch and a half of rain, and just as I pulled into the parking lot, the skies opened up with a massive downpour. I just sat in the car laughing until the rain let up, and noticed that other racers sitting in their cars shared the humor of the moment. Fortunately, the rains subsided before the race, and the sun came out, making for a rather pleasant late afternoon.
Race start photo courtesy of Blueberry Hill website
Most years, this race seems to have about 150 runners, but with the conditions, the race only had about half that number this year. Their loss! The race starts with about a km on the dirt road, before making a sharp left turn onto the trails, weaving its way up the side of Hogback Mountain, before coming out into the open meadows of the Blueberry Management area. This open area on the flanks of the mountain is almost entirely wild blueberry bushes, and by mid-July most years, is full of pickers filling their freezers full of wild berries for the upcoming year. Not this year, however, as the rain has apparently postponed the harvest. A short descent ensues leading to the first water station, followed by more climbing back in the woods. At around the 4 km mark a short steep descent leads back to the Inn. On most years, this is a good place to make up time, but with the very slippery footing this year, that seemed foolhardy. The course half way point point serves as the finish point for the mostly younger racers competing in the 5K race, and after another water station, the course bears right, back up the hill again for another long, steep climb.
The course section between the 6 km and 7 km marker is quite muddy, even in dry summers. As you might guess, the recent rains on top of an already saturated ground surface, combined with the footprints of runners created the anticipated quagmire. Oh well, mud may be slow, but it can be fun. After a few ups and downs, the race switchbacks its way down to a forest service road where the final water station awaits, descends, turns left onto the Goshen-Ripton Road for the final mile to the finish line. The last mile is surprisingly tough with a series of short climbs and descents before the final climb up to the finish line. A detailed description of all the turns in the race course would be futile, given the complexity of the trail network. A rough map of the course is available online, however. (http://www.blueberryhillinn.com/course.pdf)
There is always a good post-race party, complete with a picnic dinner, awards (not relevant to me!) and on some years, even live music- a great way to finish a run with a great vibe.
The Race Profile
Now while I usually don’t show the results of the heart rate monitor, I can’t resist this time, as if you look carefully, it shows that I did give better than 100%! And they said it couldn’t be done……
Heart rate as a % of max
Here’s one familiar to most active runners in town, but I thought I would write this one up for visitors, or neophytes to trailrunning. I am talking, of course, about the short section of the TAM that circles the golf course. A run around this loop over lunchtime or late afternoon is pretty much guaranteed to involve passing (or being passed by) other runners on the trail. Despite its convenience, this trail is not without its interesting features.
I am going to describe the counterclockwise version of the run, for no other reason that that was what I felt like. Starting at the Middlebury College Fieldhouse, head uphill on Rt. 30 for about a third of a mile and take a left along the golf course entry road at the top of the hill. Follow this paved road past the clubhouse, and stay along the edge of the golf course with the woods on your right as the paved driveway veers right. As you follow the path along the woods, be aware that golfers are behind you, and hope that the old man teeing up doesn’t have a bad slice (or is that a hook? I never had that straight, pun intended). At the end of the 10th hole, the trail re-enters the woods, where shortly you are faced with the option of going straight, and lengthening your run by about 50 yards, or going left. I went left this time. If you look carefully on your left as you run down the short steep hill, you will see a lone gravestone. This is worth taking a second to look at, as the poor fellow who lies buried there died in a rather macabre fashion, and no, he was not hit by lightning. The rest of the trail has its share of ups and downs, with none of these very significant. At a little over two miles, you reemerge from the woods into the open area behind the fieldhouse. Realizing that this is way too short to call a legitimate workout, you can do the loop again!
This time, head uphill to the left of the Panther Memorial Stadium, taking a moment to be impressed by the massive panther statue on a rock behind the stadium. Apparently some of our most generous alums went panther statue crazy 10-15 years ago, and now the campus is adorned with the outcomes of their generosity. The stadium panther is rather innocuous, but the sculpture of a panther eviscerating a deer is well hidden in the gardens of the President’s house. I might argue that their generosity might have been better used to establish, say, a new endowed chair in the Chemistry department, but who am I to argue?
Panther poised to pounce on unsuspecting runners
Completion of a second loop brings you to the backdoor of the fitness center at about 4.5 miles, a more respectable distance. Here you have the option of pounding on the back door and putting your face up against the glass longingly until someone disrupts their workout to let you in, or you can do the courteous thing by taking the 3 minutes to walk back around to the front door, and you needed the warmdown anyways.