A blog for runners in and about Addison County, VT
January 3rd, 2015 at 8:26 pm
Posted by Jeff in Running

Ok, so some of you must be asking “What the heck is The Blerch?”

The Blerch

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.

Icy Trails

Icy Trails

 

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!

Adirondack Views

Adirondack Views

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.

Beaver Ponds on Snake Mt

Beaver Ponds on Snake Mt

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…..)

Google Earth to beat the Blerch

Google Earth to beat the Blerch

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile


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January 1st, 2015 at 11:23 pm
Posted by Jeff in Ski Touring

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!

Trapp's Ski Cabin

Trapp’s Ski Cabin

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.

Mountain Views from Trapp's

Mountain Views from Trapp’s

All in all, this made for a 15 km ski with about 1400 vertical feet of climbing, and more importantly, descent. Yah!

Google Earth of Trapp's

Google Earth of Trapp’s

altitude profile trapps