Every trail runner in town knows the Trail around Middlebury, aka “The TAM” well – it is our town’s gem, and a popular place to enjoy trail runs of a variety of lengths and challenge. One of the major fundraisers for the TAM has been the TAM Team Trek, an annual fall event in which walkers, mountain bikers, and yes, a few runners cover all or part of the trail for a modest entry fee. Many of the participants also line up sponsors, adding to the fund raising for this great cause. So, this gorgeous Sunday morning seemed like a great day to join in….and go for a run.
Arriving at the event registration on a pleasant Sunday morning, there seemed to be a lot more participants than I had noted the last time I ran as part of this event, 3 years ago. The big question at the start was, should I proceed in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction? A counterclockwise run meant running some of the more technical terrain earlier in the run, with the challenging climb of Chipman Hill looming at the end of the long run, while a clockwise run would get the only tough climb out of the way first, but might leave me tripping over roots and sliding though mud at the end. I decided on the counterclockwise run, and got the best of both – the previous evening’s heavy rain had left quite a lot of mud on the trail, and I managed two face-plant muddy falls in the first few miles, on the northern loop of the TAM which looped over the Belden Dam footbridge, before turning south at the point where it crossed Morgan Horse Farm Road. The first leg of this run was described in greater detail in my “Belden Dam on the TAM” posting.
The second loop of this trail, from Weybridge Street to the college has also been covered before, albeit in the opposite direction, on a post entitled “Muddy Meadows and Poison Parsnips“. This posting, which I made over a year ago is actually the most heavily read posting in this blog by far. While this stretch of the trail is very nice, I suspect that the high number of hits on this posting is due to the high level of interest in the poison parsnip, a recent invader of our fields.
Despite the above comments about mud difficulties, running on muddy trails really is a lot of fun. There were three sections of the trail, where the trail split, with one direction designated as a drier route, and the other the “wet route” – guess which one I took, as a matter of principle? At his trail sign in the fields near the College organic garden, I went right of course.
After a short climb up from the fields to the west of the college, I arrived at the Ralph Myhre Golf Course and its spectacular views of the Green Mountains. Fortunately the nice people running the snack shop there didn’t mind when a very muddy runner came in off the trail to refill his water bottles for the second half of his run.
Up to this point there were quite a few participants in the TAM trek over this first leg – it was early and the day, and a lot of hikers and runners were out enjoying themselves. However, from the golf course until the completion of the run, things were pretty quiet – apparently most of the participants were focusing on other sections of trail, or had done enough! The trail then looped around the golf course, crossed South St. and the southern suspension bridge over Otter Creek. Looping through the fields around Middlebury Union Middle School, led me back into the woods. This next section of trail was previously chronicled in one of my first postings, “TAM, Means, and Batelle Woods“.
The last leg of the day’s run was the long anticipated run up and over Chipman Hill to the finish line. By this point, I had been out for about two and a half hours, and there really wasn’t much left in my legs, so I ended up walking up some of the steeper portions of the trail. After cresting the summit, it was downhill all the way, however, to the Marble Works, where the Trek organizers were starting to put things away and call it a day. I, on the other hand, had one more task – a much anticipated chocolate milk shake from Sama’s!
The GPS track showed that this run was as long as it felt – 16.25 miles in total, making it my longest run since I began authoring this blog in 2009. Other than the final climb over Chipman Hill, however, the run was not particularly hilly by Vermont standards. Time to give the legs a few days to recover!
While Vermont runs are the focus of this blog, recent professional commitments have brought me to the little known and not particularly interesting city of……San Francisco! I couldn’t let an opportunity for running in a city which is pretty much new to me go to waste, so I thought it would be fun to do a run along the shoreline from my hotel across the street from Fisherman’s Wharf to that most famous San Francisco landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge. So, on my first morning in the city prior to my meetings, I set off from the hotel, heading west towards the bridge. My first curious observation was a group of people swimming in the nearby protected section of the harbor. What I found amazing was that some of these people were actually swimming laps in 42 degree water. To put it in perspective, part of the reason Alcatraz was so secure, was the fact that the water was so cold most escapees died of exposure in a matter of a few minutes! Do they make “people antifreeze”?
Much of the rest of the run was along land which long served military purposes, but has been spectacularly reclaimed for civilian enjoyment. The first former military site which the shoreline path (OK – it is an urban path, so most of it was paved!) passed through Fort Mason, the point from which most of the US troops departed for the Pacific theater in WWII. Angling from the fort heights back down to the waterfront level, the next section passed by a section of shoreline known as the Marina District, which not surprisingly, featured a marina! For those with longer memories, the Marina District made the news during the infamous Loma Prieta earthquake (aka the World Series quake) of 1989, when the early news flashes proclaimed that San Francisco was burning, and showed scenes of what appeared to be quite a conflagration in the Marina District. While this quake was certainly tragic, both in regards to human life and financial costs, when I asked about it, I found out that only a handful of homes actually burned down as a result of the quake! Ah, our news media, always looking for the big story. Running through this district, I also noted a few scenes which looked very typical California, at least to my northeast caricature of the culture – I saw a few men bodybuilding along the beach (I thought that was more an LA phenomenon?) and a young man walking his dog, while he rode a skateboard. A little further along, the oceanside (OK more specifically, San Francisco bayside) trail passed through the Crissy Field area, which had been the site of the city’s first military airfield until the 1930’s. This huge open space is now a wildlife refuge and park for the inhabitants.
Leaving Crissy Field brought on the only true climb of this run, the 2oo vertical ft ascent to the headlands of yet another former military base, the beautiful and legendary Presidio, now used for pricey housing in old barracks, and public parkland, where the bridge itself abuts. The contrast between the view towards the city in the above picture, and the bridge itself was amazing. While most of the city was having a glorious sunny California day, the bridge itself was wrapped in varying degrees of fog for my entire stay in the city. Nonetheless, as the fog cleared a little bit, I enjoyed a very dramatic view of at least part of the bridge – views of the Marin Highlands behind would have to wait for another day.
At the 3.75 mile mark, the real goal of this run began – the run across the slightly longer than a mile Golden Gate Bridge itself. I wish I could tell you of the great views on this run, but as the above picture shows, they were rather limited. There were countless tourists on the pedestrian walkway, and yes a few other runners and bikers enjoying it. I also noted the scaffolding for the bridge painters -apparently the sea spray is so corrosive, that the bridge in a state of “perpetual paint job” which takes 3 years per cycle, only to be immediately restarted upon completion. Unfortunately, a short way across the bridge, my GPS ran out of power – despite what the GPS track shows, I really did make it all the way across……and back to Fisherman’s Wharf for a round trip run of about 10 miles, and some great California culture and scenery.
Completing the run, I had another opportunity to savor the flavors of California – my west coast friends have been regaling me with stories of their favorite burger joint, the institute known as “In-N-Out Burger“. I certainly felt like I had deserved this treat after a long run! I had also been informed that there is a poorly kept secret (not on the public menu!) that if you ask for your burger and fries “animal style” they would put all kinds of extra stuff on them for you. While the animal style burger looked good, and I enjoyed it immensely, the animal style fries looked way too much like the Quebecois treat, poutine. I knew I could afford a few more calories than usual for lunch, but didn’t want to have to go to a cardiologist after lunch.
I, like pretty much everyone else, has been hearing of all the damage inflicted by the recent visit of Tropical Storm Irene. Eager to get back up to the mountains, but unsure of the current condition of the roads, I drove up Rt 125 on Saturday to take a look at my favorite trailheads. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the road was fully passable at least all the way to the top of Middlebury Gap. I could also see a caravan of large dump trucks heading over the gap to patch up the connection to our isolated neighbors in Hancock and chose not to explore beyond the summit so that I didn’t hinder the road repair efforts. Not knowing what to expect on this run, I decided that my first few runs post-Irene should probably be on more straightforward terrain – I also decided to stick to “out and back” runs in case one of my circular routes had some new impediments courtesy of the storm.
With these stipulations in mind, I started this run from my favorite local trailhead on Brooks Road, just below the Snow Bowl on Rt.125. Reading the trailhead kiosk, I noted the following bulletin – nobody should have been surprised by the arrival of this storm!
I also noted that the Forest Service gate across the road was shut, prohibiting cars on this primitive road, indicating that it had seen some damage. I started up the road, wondering what I would find. Despite the road closing, I was pleasantly surprised by the condition of the road – there was only one significant washout, which a motor vehicle could get around in a pinch, and a modest number of fallen trees, many of which had already been cleared already! It may well take a few months for this road to be fully repaired, but lets face it, the road crews have a lot more important things to do for a long, long time.
After climbing up hill for about 2.4 miles, I took the side trail to the right towards the Sugar Hill Reservoir, wondering how this lake with its large earthen dam had fared. I was relieved to see that it appeared untouched, at least from the side of my approach. There was no sign of any water having flowed over its spillway, and more importantly, no apparent evidence of any weakening to my untrained eye.
In fact, there was even one particularly promising sight – there were more Monarch butterflies in the meadows alongside the reservoir than I have seen in one place at one time in many years. Although the Monarch population is still officially in decline, their numbers appear to be increasing in Addison County this summer – I hadn’t seen a Monarch in years, and there were at least a dozen up in this meadow!
At this point, I doubled back to the Brooks Road, and continued my run to its terminus, where it joins in with the Blueberry Hill ski trails. My next concern was the bridge over the Sucker Brook, which had just been put in place after the August 2008 floods. Fortunately, this new bridge seemed to make it through Irene with no difficulties at all! Relieved by what I saw on this run, I reversed my car, and ran the 3.5 mile descent to my waiting car, making this an 8.5 mile run with about 800 accumulated feet of climbing- I will hopefully be checking out some rougher trails for my next posting.