The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe has long been among my favorite places to cross country ski – with lots of challenging climbs and breathtaking descents. It is also in a stunningly beautiful location – one can understand why Maria and the captain chose it as their home when they escaped to the US. I had often thought that it would be a great place for trail running as well, so when I learned of the Catamount Ultra a race with a 50 Km and 25 Km option, I immediately registered for the challenging, but hopefully not injurious shorter distance event. So, on a sunny Saturday that promised to get blisteringly hot before the day was though, I arrived at the starting line for what promised to be a fun event.
The starting line was set up right by the touring center building, and after getting my bib and race swag, I had some time to look around, and I was amazed at how the Trapp Lodge complex had grown over the years to become a rather extensive resort on the side of the mountains. It even has its own Von Trapp microbrewery now, which I knew I would be looking forward to at the end of the race. I was also amused by the oversized inflatable mammoth (perhaps a shark would have been better, since the race did indeed occur during the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week”), clearly related to one of the race sponsors, and briefly considered means of tying it to the roof of my VW Beetle to take it home, but then came to my senses and left it for others to enjoy.
The participants in the longer, 50 Km race had apparently started their two lap trek at 7:00, and start time for those of us who had chosen to only take one time around the daunting looking course lined up at around 8:30 for our start. Looking around at those lining up, I thought to myself that this bunch did not look at all like the “B-team” – they were as ectomorphic a bunch of distance runners as one would expect at a race like this, which promised 2500 vertical feet of climb and descent over the 25 Km distance. In the moments before the race started, the opening guitar riff of “Sweet Child of Mine” started blasting over the PA system, which seemed a good omen, as it has always been one of my favorite “get psyched” songs.
When the gun went off I stayed comfortably in the middle of the pack, as the group of runners, 150+ strong headed up the backside of the first hill “Telemark”. It was interesting comparing running styles with other competitors. I have always been gravity prone, climbing at a steady but slowish pace, but able to cut loose on downhills. I had fun chatting with another runner who joked that she was just the opposite – and as a result she passed me on every climb, as I roared off into the distance on the descents, only to be caught again on the next short climb. After coming down off of Telemark, there was a short flat section before the major climb of the race. The next few miles, with most of the climb coming on the Lower Parizo Trail and Chris’s Run (for those who know the ski area) followed by a short mild climb up to the high point of the race, the cabin. While the cabin has wintery snacks and hot chocolate during ski season, the water station, after the early challenging climb was just what the doctor ordered. Most, albeit, not all of the next six miles were descending, and this is where I made up most of my time – I found myself passing a fair number of competitors, some of whom caught me later and some didn’t.
By this point, the heat of the day was starting to kick in – while most of the run was in the thick forest, the second half, at lower altitude, had several large open meadows which had great views, but were starting to get pretty hot. I also found myself walking more and more of the climbs, the closer I got to the finish line. Many of these uphill sections were of the pitch that would not phase me had I been running at a normal workout pace, but in the later stages of an actual race, I had to get through them at a slower pace. Alas, I saw several men with grey hair pass me by at this point, which ended up costing me a few places in my age group place at the finish line. Finally, I came to a flat section which I recognized as the home stretch, and I picked it up a little until I ran under the banner signifying the finish, meeting up with a few friends who had finished before me, and waited, cheering on those who finished after me.
I don’t make a habit of talking about how well I actually did in races – I mostly want readers to learn about the pleasures of running trails in new places. But as I approached the finish line, knowing that while my race was less than perfect, it felt darn good to be out there and running well, I realized that I needed to think about the competitive component of these races with my own set of arbitrary age groups. So, I have decided from this point on, I will compare myself against the “Jeff age group” which only consists of runners my age, or older. Measured against this group, I did quite well, thank you!
Most races of this sort, have a post-race feed, and the Catamount Ultra was no exception. Besides finish line snack, the sponsoring microbrewery had a freebie for everyone (YES!), but the main course was pizza, which I am sure was delicious, but I passed on, as it wasn’t what I wanted at the moment. As I sat down in my car to drive home – I knew exactly what I wanted: Since my trip home passed through Waterbury, I knew that I would pass by Ben and Jerry’s old headquarters, so I stopped by there and treated myself to a generous (and frankly, pricey) cone of my favorite flavor, Cherry Garcia, and that energized me for the ride home!
All in all, this was a seamlessly run, fun race. The trails at Trapps are generally broad and fast, with good footing, and the scenery is spectacular. I would run it again in a minute…..or at least a lot of minutes.
One of the more popular “mini-hikes” in the area is the short jaunt from the top of Middlebury Gap (Rt. 125) to the viewpoint known as Silent Cliffs, which provides a great view of the College Snow Bowl, and on clear days, broader vistas to the south and east. Since I know from past experience that a lot of the hits on this blog are by people looking for hiking trails, if you want to see the short “normal way” to get to this nice little vista, I will describe it in a short paragraph at the end of this posting. Needless to say, I didn’t go that way on this run.
It was a gloomy looking Saturday morning and I was looking for my first truly “mountainy” run of the season. I had recently heard from a friend that the Burnt Hill Trail, which I had not hiked in over 20 years, made for a good means of ascending to the Long Trail, with a pitch and footing generally amenable to trail running. While the usual trailhead for this is a small turnout off of FS 59, the road which passes through the Breadloaf campus, I decided to park at the campus itself to add a little more mileage to my run. This also ensured that if I made a “loop run” out of this route, I would not have the climb back up to my car at the finish line.
Despite a few passing showers earlier in the morning, I drove up to Breadloaf and parked in the nearly-empty parking lot to being my run. I was surprised by how deserted the place was, as I knew the mountain campus had been used in the past for housing alums returning for reunions, but I guess they are now all crammed into dorm, just like in the good old days! I was amused, however, by the remnants of a fire ring set up in the parking lot. I can only guess that the lawyers must have warned the college about the dangers of mixing intoxicated 50-somethings and fire, as the fire pit was ringed by barriers to keep these happy kids from getting hurt!
I started my actual run on some of the trails in the “Battell Loop” section of the Rikert Ski Touring Area, the section of woods just east across the field, and wound my way up the Freeman Trail until I reached FS 59 by Gilmore House, where I crossed over and followed the Gilmore Trail until I got to FS 59 again, this time higher up and by the area where most people park for the Burnt Hill Trail. There is a detailed map of the Rikert Trails on one of the links to the right of this blog ( ——> thataway for the directionaly challenged) for those who don’t know the trails. Reaching the road, and short few yards to the right brought me to the beginnings of the combined Burnt Hill Trail and Norske Trail, which run together in their current incarnation (they were once totally separate trails) for the next .7 miles. Once the trails diverge, the Burnt Hill Trail brings hikers all the way to the top of the Green Mt Ridge, while the Norske Trail, which is designed for skiing (and was featured in this blog a few years ago) brings one up to the tight corner on Rt 125 just past the Snow Bowl. The climbing here is pretty gentle, and the trail is well-traveled making for a pretty easy ascent at this point. A little deeper into the forest, I came to a sign post announcing the boundary line between mere national forest, and the Breadloaf Wilderness. I stood on one side of the line, then the other, and didn’t notice a difference! I guess it is kind of comforting that I live in an area where, even with a well-trained eye, I couldn’t tell the difference between mere forest, and official wilderness. I also saw the trail log in, and dutifully inscribed my name and destination, using my blogging pseudonym of course. This was your standard trail use kiosk, lacking the “you’ve got mail” vibe of the sign-in I saw a few weeks ago on another run.
The trail at this point mostly wound its way through mixed forest, and the canopy kept me relatively dry despite the steady drizzle which had developed. Finally, after about a mile and a half on the Burnt Hill Trail (or 2.5 miles from the start of the run) the trail got a little too steep and rocky for consistent uphill running, so the next half mile or so was mostly just fast hiking. At about the 3 mile mark, I noticed that the sky was in front of me, instead of just overhead, signifying that I was near the top of the ridge, and sure enough, in a few moments I was at the Long Trail. A lot of the Long Trail is very rocky and rooty, as befitting a heavily used ridge line trail, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this section, going right (south) all the rest of the way to the top of 125 was actually very nice for running, at least by challenging Long Trail standards.
There were a few noteworthy sights along this heavily wooded stretch of ridgeline hovering at around the 3000 ft elevation line. One of these sights was an omission – it has been so long that I have been on this section that I was unaware of the removal of the Boyce Mt Shelter, but when I came to a small clearing and did a little googling, I realized this was the case.
I also discovered another, more puzzling mystery. I came across another patch along the ridge where there was an opening in the generally dense leaf canopy, and I saw the surprise – there was a small grove of apple trees! It was not surprising that apple trees could grow up there, as they are an exceptionally hardy tree in northern climates, but apple trees almost always serve as an excellent marker of past human habitation, as they don’t really exist in the wild, only where deliberately planted. Now the mystery is, who planted them up there? I can’t believe that someone actually lived and farmed at this altitude, and in fact have seen maps of olde Ripton, and can’t remember seeing any mention of a homestead on the ridge. But somebody took the time to clear land, and plant a few of these trees, now ancient, but why?
Passing this by, I skipped and hopped along the trail for a few miles until I came to a T in the road, and realized I had finally come to the trail spur to the primary destination for this run. A right turn would take me to the top of Rt 125 in about a third of a mile, while a left turn would bring me to the Silent Cliffs, so I took the left, and after winding through the forest for about a third of a mile, came to the outcropping with its views. One of the first things I noticed was that the Silent Cliffs was by far the noisiest place I had been on the run. The traffic below on Rt 125, compounded by the loose rock from the construction made it very obvious that civilization was not far away. The view, dominated by Worth Mt. and the Snow Bowl was as nice as I remembered, however, although a little limited by the clouds and increasingly heavy rain.
I returned to the “T” in the trail, this time going straight, and in a few short minutes I reached the top of Middlebury Gap. At this point, I could have elected to simply take the road back to my car at Breadloaf, but electing to maximize my time on the trails, I crossed over the short stretch of the Long Trail, continuing south until I reached the top of the Sheehan Chair, and ran down the service road on the Voter trail to the Snow Bowl parking lot, and rejoined Rt 125 for about a mile. Finally, I hopped into the woods on the Rikert Trails when I came to the Catamount Trail marker on the right, and came out into the Rikert field, finishing off a 9 mile run at my car, as the rain continued to soak me as I ran in the open.
While the distance in this run wasn’t that long, the nature of the running was a lot more challenging than most of my runs. The total climb from Breadloaf to the top of the ridge was 1600 ft, and the trails are considerably rougher than the much tamer TAM around town. This run took me over 2 hours, so my per mile pace was much slower than it is on the trails nearer to town. It is very hard for even seasoned trail runners to average much faster than 15 min/mile on this sort of mountainous terrain, even with some easier road sections averaged in.
INSTRUCTIONS TO GET TO SILENT CLIFFS THE NORMAL WAY: Drive to the top of the Middlebury Gap. Park your car or bicycle, and head north on the Long Trail. This is the trail on the opposite side of the road from the parking lot. After about 1/3 of a mile of steady ascent (a few hundred feet altitude gain), you will get to the fork on the trail. Take the right (actually straight ahead) trail. This is very well marked by trail signs at this point. After about another 1/3 of a mile of gently descending and climbing trail taking you to the cliff overlook. Sit down, enjoy, and return as needed!
The usual chaotic end to the academic year has limited my local trail running, but a short work-related trip to Chicago gave me the opportunity to explore a city that I have never been to before. Well, I guess I was there once – in my teens my family did our version of the Chevy Chase road trip, and piled into our trusty Wagon Queen Family Truckster and road tripped from coast to coast and back in 3 weeks. We didn’t have the funds to spend the night in Chicago, so we drove through, got out of the car for 5 minutes along Lake Michigan, and continued on to visit a cheese factory in Wisconsin. I am not making this up. And I digress.
One of the best ways to see a new city, and get the lay of the land, is to go for a run. So, on my first morning I stepped out of my high-rise hotel, just a few blocks from Lake Michigan and a little north of the Chicago River, and attempted to sync up my Garmin GPS watch. After a good 10 min of waiting for it to grab the satellite signals, I realized that the towering skyscrapers in this part of the city were having the same effect as walking under a canopy of maple trees – the signal filtering between the tall buildings was apparently too weak for the watch to sync. So, I ran a few blocks east to Michigan Avenue – Chicago’s version of 5th Avenue, and south to the broad bridge over the Chicago River where there was finally enough open sky to sync up my watch. This vantage also offered great views up “The Magnificent Mile“, the heart of downtown Chicago’s shopping, which to me appeared to be a lot of luxury mall stores in really pretty older high-rise buildings.
After crossing the bridge, I took the walkway down to the waterfront for a great view up at the famous Wrigley building, the iconic Chicago landmark, and a great view of some of the other classic buildings of Chicago’s skyline.
Adjacent to the Wrigley Building, and conveniently out of the above picture was a modern steel and glass monstrosity built by “he who must no be named”, the verbally flatulent presidential candidate known for emblazoning his architecture with the 5-letter serif font “TRUMP Stamp“.
After pausing to take this picture, I went a short distance alongside the riverfront, which was quiet now, but would be bustling with late morning tourists upon my return an hour later. In a few minutes however, I was alongside Lake Michigan on a crystalline blue sky morning, and enjoyed the bulk of my run on the the recreational path which runs along the lake for a few miles. Heading south, I enjoyed the lake on a windless morning, running by a mix of luxury yacht clubs and public parks until I reached the peninsula leading out to the domed planetarium. Turning around here, I caught a view of full skyline, including a nice angle on the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower.
I made my turnaround point a small park in front of the home of “Da Bears” Soldier Field, and its partner building, the famous natural history museum “The Field Museum”. And yes, the museum was built before the stadium. From here, I returned to my hotel room, for a 7.5 mile run which was as flat as you might expect a run in Chicago might be, except for the stairs down and up from the river to Michigan Avenue. It was a fun run, but I am looking forward to get back to the trails, and describing them here.
In this blog, I have often sung the praises of the trail runs accessible from the Brooks Road trailhead, reached after a few hundred yards on the forest service road on the right between the Rikert ski touring area and the Snow Bowl. The easiest run from here, terrain-wise is a roughly 9 mile run which I have described in the past, albeit six years ago. A good chunk of this run actually takes place on Brooks Road itself, a forest service road which is open to cars during the summer months, although rarely driven, and is used by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers in the winter. In late March? Since it has no snow anymore, and probably never had much this winter, it is closed to snowmobiles, but has not yet been opened to other motor vehicles, making it even better for running.
The run starts off with the most challenging climbing of the route in the first mile and a half on the dirt surface, until it levels off for another mile, reaching the point where the snowmobile trail up from the Sugar Hill Reservoir joins from the right. Those looking for a shorter run or hike can just take a right turn here, for a 6 mile out and back! On this run, however, I will be returning by this side trail.
Another mile on the dirt road, and another climb, not as long and steep as the climb at the start of the road, brought me to the high point of the run, with the total vertical climb a modest 700 ft. One of the big hurdles for road runners transitioning to the trails, especially competitively in Vermont, is the challenge of getting used to long, sometimes relentless climbs. I have found that this section of dirt road makes for a good place to time trial to measure one’s progress in the hills. Since it is on a dirt road, the footing is consistent, eliminating the variable of trail condition, so I will run this quite a few times each season, making a mental note of my time on the ascent, watching how my times get faster as the season progresses.
After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the upper reaches of the Sucker Brook, I headed on the trail into the woods, taking a right turn onto a ski and mountain bike trail which is part of the Blueberry Hill network. This particular trail used to be a regularly groomed part of the Inn’s system, but has not been groomed in the last few years due to the destruction of several small, but critical bridges along the trail by Hurricane Irene. The Moosalamoo Association, a non-profit, is currently raising funds for their repair, but fortunately the bridge washouts do not affect the use of these trails for running once the snow is gone.
Staying on this trail for a little over a mile, and veering gradually to the right, this route took me to the dirt road access connecting the Goshen-Ripton road to the reservoir, and I took the right turn towards the reservoir. This road provides easy access for boaters and fishermen who need the convenience of driving to haul their gear to the lakeside. I have enjoyed noticing quirky rock cairns, built and left alongside trails and streams, and commented on them in past blog entries. On this run, I noticed a few rounded rocks, far too large to have been placed there by humans, neatly stacked alongside the road. Perhaps the glaciers didn’t want us to get lost?
A few minutes on the dirt road finally took me to the shores of the Sugar Hill Reservoir. This body of water was created exactly 100 years ago as the highest altitude component of the Silver Lake hydroelectric project, which culminates far below on the shores of Lake Dunmore. While this scenic lake is open to recreational use, it’s primary function is to store water for the hydroelectric project downstream, as well as flood control, and as a result its depth fluctuates tremendously, season to season and year to year. This spring, with our weak snowfall, the water level is particularly low, although it was interesting to see that it was still almost entirely frozen over still despite our warm late winter.
I also noticed a fair number of “improvements” since my last description of a run here. There used to be a quirky looking gate across the section of trail heading over the reservoir dam, clearly built to as not to behead errant mountain bikers, but this has been replaced by a more decorative forest service gate, and to my surprise, a mailbox. You’ve got mail? Out of curiosity, I opened the mailbox and saw that it held a logbook to be filled out by those passing through, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to sign it with my blog moniker. A little later down the trail, I realized that I should have added some sort of comment along the lines of “Happy Easter Egg Hunting”, since it was the day before Easter.
The next short section involved crossing the reservoir dam, and locating the trail on the far side, offering a snowmobile connection between the water and Brooks Road, and this involves a short climb of a little over a half mile, with one final view of the reservoir through the trees, which will soon be obscured as the season leafs out.
Returning to the Brooks Road in this way, I took the left turn for the easy descent back to my car, and the conclusion of this scenic, and despite the mileage, not terribly challenging run.
Sunday was a cool, sunny day, and instead of heading out for my usual longer weekend run, I decided to exercise my curiosity more than my legs. I have long wondered what I would find on some of the dirt roads and trails veering off of Quarry Rd. as the road heads east of the well used TAM trails which pass through Means and Battell Woods. Two trails in particular had caught my attention, having driven by them countless times over the last 30 years, so I parked my car at the TAM trailhead on Quarry Rd, put my ear buds in, setting up my “JBR” (Jeff B Running) running mix, and headed east to explore them.
After a short jog alongside the road I came to the first of my points of curiosity, a snowmobile trail heading north (left) a few hundred yards from where I had parked my car. I have long been a big fan of running snowmobile trails; Even though I don’t participate in that pastime, the snowmobile enthusiasts share a common love of the outdoors, and do a great job maintaining their network of trails. So, I turned onto the trail, marked with a bright yellow sign stating “Sensitive Area – Stay on Trail.” Hopeful, as always, for a good run, I quickly found that this particular trail was a mess of muddy ruts, and piles of trash. I enjoy a good relaxing sit on a couch, but in the middle of a field? It probably took more effort to dump it there, than it would have been to simply take it to the transfer station?
Despite the eyesore, I pressed on a short distance further, until the trail became a mess of ruts and mud, and from the sight of a barely street legal Subaru parked in the mud, I realized that I had stumbled upon a location where 4WD enthusiasts went to have a good time with their vehicles in the mud.
While I found it funny, in light of the signs about this being a “sensitive area, and I assume they are enjoying their recreation with the permission of the landowner, I realized that this would not be a great place for my chosen form of recreation, so I turned around and headed back to Quarry Rd. with a few pounds of Addison County clay stuck to my shoes, giving me the opportunity to run with cement on my shoes. Returning to the road, I continued to the east for the next, more promising entry into the woods, the left turn heading to what I have relatively recently learned is the reason why we call this street “Quarry Road”.
Pretty much everyone in Middlebury knows the Marble Works , and knows that this downtown commercial hub was the former site of the much of the activity based on the local marble industry for many years. However, other than the spectacular OMYA pit just south of town, few people know of some of the original quarry sites. I had remembered reading a history of the local Marble Industry written by local historian Jan Albers, and published in the Addison Independent a few years ago, and with a few moments of googling was able to find it. It is an interesting article, and worth a read! I knew that the dirt road heading towards the old quarry was the road reached after the descent just east of Happy Valley Orchards, so I headed left down this road. In Jan’s article, she referred to a still standing building that was used for storing marble chips, and I suspect that the dilapidated wood structure on a poured concrete foundation easily seen from the road is this structure. If you use your imagination, it kind of looks like the turret from a ruined castle.
After a very short run, I came to an obvious quarry site to my left. The vertical rock walls and a few blocks of quarried rock left behind were the giveaway, and I was also amused to see a slide set up for it’s use as a swimming hole, although the murky brown water did not look particularly appetizing.
Shortly after this, I followed the farm road into a large field out of sight from the traffic on Quarry Rd., and came across an old RV trailer set back up against the woods. While it didn’t appear to be occupied at this time, I can’t help but wonder if it once may have housed immigrant farm workers, as I have come across similar “out of sight, out of mind” lodging for farm workers in other well-hidden locations in the course of my trail running. Whether or not this ever was the case at this particular trailer, our state doesn’t currently seem to have any great urge to deport hard working people who do the milking jobs that most of us would not consider taking. I also came across a very well-built hunting stand, painted in camouflage to remain well hidden (said with a note of sarcasm) standing at the edge of the field. Curiously, none of the land described in this run was posted, but there was a small “NO HUNTING” sign on the door into this tree fort hunting stand.
Winding through these farm fields, I came to a second, much larger pond, which didn’t look as “quarry-like” but didn’t seem to have a natural outlet, so it could also be a former quarry. A few migratory ducks and Canada Geese seemed to have found this to be a quiet place to take a mid-day break.
I tried to make a loop around the bigger pond, but had to retrace my steps as I realized that the terrain and barbed wire fence would make this difficult, returning to Quarry Rd, and eventually, my car. As I got closer to my car, I noticed a home with a few goats hanging out on the front deck, and they seemed mildly amused by my presence, and they did not seem as aggressive as the “attack goat” on Foote St., which a few years back seemed to enjoy accosting walkers and runners. I returned to my car, having stretched this into a 4.5 mile run. As long as the farm road to the old quarries remains unposted, it would make for a fun diversion by runners heading out on longer runs in the area.
The Shakespeare (and Steinbeck) phrase “Now is the winter of our discontent” seems to be very applicable to the past few months. I usually fill the pages of this blog with new discoveries on my cross country skis during the deep winter months, and although the Rikert ski touring area has managed to stay mostly open through Herculanean efforts, as well as snowmaking, most would agree that the nordic opportunities this winter were among the weakest in many years. So, with the weekend’s warm sunny weather, and the almost complete disappearance of this winter’s thin veneer of snow, I set out for my first substantive trail run of the season. I have long known that the forest service road heading north from the well known roadside attraction in Hancock, Texas Falls, makes for a nice run on a hot summer afternoon or early evening. In fact, a description of the run on this rarely driven dirt (but accessible to non-4WD autos) was the subject of one of my earliest posts on this blog.
One particular side trail has caught my eye in the past while running in this area – near the top of the maintained road, there is a snowmobile heading straight ahead when the road veers right. I have never explored this trail in the past due to the fact that it always seems to be overgrown with thigh-butt deep growth in the heat of the summer, but I have always assumed that it would make for good running in the winter or early spring, given that it would be well-packed down by snowmobile traffic. So, with a little time off on a Saturday morning, I made this my destination.
Reaching the lot nearest to the falls themselves I parked my car, and walked to the bridge offering views of the small gorge and the falls themselves. Given the minimal snow cover this year, the falls, while attractive, were not nearly as impressive as I have seen them during the snowmelt in past springs! An even better photographic angle of the falls is afforded by clambering down into the small gorge, but the ice deposited along the rock walls dissuaded me from attempting it this time around.
Having snapped my shot at the start of the run, I headed north, beginning my climb. One of my favorite things about running in the spring is how curiosities obscured by the cover of summer become readily apparent before the vegetation leafs out. This run was no exception – as I approached the developed picnic area on the left, I noticed some well built rock cairns in the midst of the stream bed. This was surprising, as during most winters these ephemeral sculptures are wiped out by the ice and spring runoff. I have often thought it would be fun to make one of these, with spray paint on the rocks to make the cairns look like a stack of jelly beans. Maybe this year?
After about a half mile on the road, I reached the point where the forest service road is blocked to traffic, and kept open only for snowmobilers and skiers for the winter months. The gate was open, however, although I saw little evidence that the road above this point had gathered much interest from the March drivers, although I suspect it is easily passable by passenger cars. I did see a sign that one of the resident moose, probably on the young or small size, had chosen the path of least resistance on its way down the mountain not long before I passed through. I could tell the moose must be a well-informed runner, as the tracks seemed to stay on the crest of the road, right down the middle. I learned the hard way 20 years ago, that running consistently on the left side of our highly “bowed” dirt roads in Vermont can lead to one hell of a case of IT Band tendonitis.
Most of this part of the run is a relentless climb up the dirt road, which opens up at 2.25 miles with excellent views of the smaller summits just to the east of the main ridge of the Green Mts.
At this point, the main road, which I have run frequently, veers to the right to its conclusion in about .25 miles. The aforementioned snowmobile continues in a direct straight(north) line from here, and it was almost as bare of snow as the prior forest service road had been. In fact, at the higher altitude, the ground was still well frozen making for an excellent running surface – not nearly as muddy as I expected it to be. From this point, it was an easy-to-follow run on a double track primitive road, most definitely not suitable to car traffic, although signs of recent tree harvesting was apparent, indicating that they had gotten some pretty heavy equipment up this route. In a short while, the icy snow pack on the trail got challenging enough under foot that I stopped and slipped on my “Microspikes” over my running shoes, more for peace of mind than anything, and kept these on for the last mile of my uphill run, and the first mile of the descent. At 3.5 miles into the run, I reached the height of land on this trail, and at this highest altitude (about 2200 ft) there was considerably more snow, and a few ice-bound ponds alongside the trail.
At this point, the trail continued on, with an immediate descent, and while still curious as to its final destination, I knew I had family commitments to return to, so I turned around and retraced my steps back to my waiting car, for a run just a little shy of 7 miles, with about 900 ft of vertical climb and descent. After uploading the GPS track of my run onto Google Earth, I could guess that had I proceeded another mile or two to the north, I would have crossed one of the Forest Service roads heading into the mountains west of Granville Center VT off of Rt 100. I am planning on making these roads the target of scouting out new trail running routes this summer!
Now, of course, we have all seen these bumper stickers all over the state of VT – In fact my previous vehicle bore this bumper sticker proudly. That said, given the lack of much in the way of snowmaking at this great old ski hill, the “Ski it if you can” moniker sometimes takes on a more cynical meaning. Alas, this was the case on Christmas Day this year. With the ridiculously warm temperatures in December this year, even the resorts with ample snowmaking have been hanging on for dear life, while poor Mad River Glen is yet to see an open day. That said, the warm Christmas morning temperatures in the 40’s made for an idea running day, so after the presents were all open, and I was chased, quite deservedly, out of the kitchen while others with superior Christmas dinner cooking abilities were preparing the evening’s feast, I thought it would be a great time to get out of the way, and spend a little time on the slopes, just in a different manner than I usually do.
As I pulled into the parking lot, and gazed up at the bare brown slopes, the sense of the season thus far was summarized by the greeting sign for the resort:
The sign pretty much says it all, huh? So, I took my usual route when I decide to run a ski area. Almost all ski areas have some sort of access road, passable by 4WD vehicles to their summit, to provide access for summer maintenance, as well as for a bunny run back to the base when covered in snow. I found the obvious road zigzagging its way up the face of this rather steep mountain, and found that >95% of the route up to the top of the double chair, admittedly the lesser of the area’s two summits, was actually runnable at a slow steady plod. As I started my ascent, looking across to the race training slopes at the far right, I could see the futile attempts to make enough snow to open at least one run, laying there in rapidly diminishing blotches of white.
A short way up the slope, however, I did note a sight which was rather pleasant. I remembered that one particular ledge, almost directly below the double chair, was covered in icicles during the winter, and with the warm weather this day, I could see why – it was actually a rather pleasant little waterfall!
The rest of the route to the top was mostly on open slopes, following the obvious 4WD road to the top of the double chair. I saw numerous groups out for their Christmas day hike as well, and we all commiserated on the lack of snow, but generally agreed that if there wasn’t any snow, we might as well have nice days for running and hiking. When I reached the point where the rest of the run was up a pretty easy slope to the right, I looked up at the legendary “Paradise Trail” and noted that it looked even steeper and hairier without snow, than it did with. Thinking of the waterfall I had passed a few moments earlier, I briefly thought of exploring further up Paradise to scout out its waterfall, which happens to stretch across the full width of the trail necessitating an icy leap in the winter, but decided that the soft, muddy ground would probably suck the running shoes off of my feet if I ventured up onto less trodden terrain. Finally, after what ended up being an only modestly difficult ascent, I reached the top of the chair, and enjoyed the expansive views on the gray, but high visibility day!
After a short stop at the summit, and the obligatory selfie for Facebook, I turned and sped back down the mountain, greeting even more hikers on their way up, until I returned to my car to head home to my turkey dinner and Pinot Noir. This ended up as about a 4.5 mile run, with a 1400 ft vertical. I didn’t have my GPS watch with me for this run, but am including the less useful GPS trace of my run, created through the “Runtastic” app on my iPhone.
And of course, as I am writing this, it is Tuesday, and we are getting the first snows of the season! Happy New Year readers!
Several years ago, I described a run where I crossed over a lot of the terrain commonly associated with the Robert Frost environment – the Frost Cabin, the Robert Frost trail, and the Breadloaf campus in Ripton. This run begins at the Robert Frost (note the theme!) turnout and picnic area, and proceeds up the dirt road behind the Frost Cabin, known as the “Old Farm Road” on Rikert trail maps, before going deep into the forest behind Breadloaf. When I attempted to run this earlier this summer, I discovered that the blowdown from last December’s ice storm had rendered this stretch of trail impassable. More recently, I had heard rumor that the trail had been cleared, as it is often groomed by the staff at the Rikert Ski Touring Area, and so I decided to revisit the route for the first time in over 5 years.
On a cool Saturday morning, I joined a friend from the Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts, noticing some of the first dustings of snow on the ground, signifying that just maybe winter is finally here? We headed eagerly up the hill, past the cabin, and I could see that the rumor was indeed true, and that the trail had been cleared.
From this point, the route becomes more difficult to describe, as the trail system can get pretty complicated. The good news is that if you get off-route, you will hit a road sooner or later, and you would have to work pretty hard to not be somewhere in Ripton! We followed this trail until it forked by a sign labeled “Blue Bed House” on the right fork, but we took the left fork, and later when we came to a T in the trail, with a short steep downhills to the left, we chose the left again, until we got to the terminus of one of the Ripton dirt roads, known as “Wagon Wheel Road”, although there was no sign indicating this. Taking an immediate right turn, past a forest service road gate, on the trail labeled as “Wagonwheel Road” on the Rikert map, passing by the first of several beaver ponds, before coming to a more primitive trail with a sign calling it “Kiwi”, where we took a right. I knew from past experience that Kiwi is a trail which has been minimally maintained over the years, providing a more bushwhacking cross country ski experience than most of the Rikert trails, and this was apparent while running this short connector. The big surprise however, was the observation that what I had remembered as a tiny stream crossing, had been enlarged significantly by beaver activity at some time in the last few years! A series of small beaver dams were indeed crossable with wet feet but no wading, but I will be curious to see how well this freezes up for skiing this winter.
Crossing the stream, we soon came to the more developed Brown Gate Trail, where we took a left up a modest climb which brought us to Forest Service Road 59, aka Steam Mill Road, a well developed dirt road which will hopefully shortly be closed off for the pleasure of skiers and snowmobile enthusiasts. From here, we took a right turn, heading gradually downhill for about a km, until we came to the left turn onto a trail clearly labelled as a snowmobile trail, past the small Kirby family graveyard, until we came to a short section where the snowmobile trail was separated from the Rikert Battell trail. These side by side trails, one for skiers and one for motorized winter travelers were now were more clearly separated by the planting of a line of pine trees in the late 80’s, and now the trees are about 30 feet high! I guess I have been here a long time.
The trail then veered to the right, and descended to Rt 125, where we crossed the road, and onto Brooks Rd, one of my longtime favorite trailheads, and when we got to the parking lot, we ran to the back of it and started uphill on the Widows Clearing trail, our last real climb of the day, until we reached the actual clearing. I discussed some of the story of the widow herself a few years ago, and it was the most commented on posting I have ever done – apparently a lot of people were curious as to the story of this place. Not long after the Widows Clearing, we came to a T in the trail, where we went right on a trail called “The Crosswalk, a muddy descending trail which brought us after about a mile to the back of the well-loved Robert Frost Trail. After crossing over the new (as in a few years old new) handicapped accessible bridge, we finished off the trail portion of the run with a few moments at the last beaver pond of the day, ringed with the first traces of the season’s ice.
Returning to Rt 125, we had a short run alongside the highway, returning to our cars, for a round trip run of about 8.5 miles.I usually post the Google Earth projection of these runs, but I apparently had a malfunction on this run, so I am going to refer readers to a previous posting, where I included this, as well as the altitude profile.
During the last week, I had a meeting requiring my attendance in Charleston, SC. Of course, my friends and family were very concerned for my safety, given the recent news of rains and flooding from South Carolina. So, I called the hotel in Downtown Charleston, and they assured me that the flood danger had passed, and that the airport, hotel, and the route between the two were in no danger. Whew! So I flew off to Dixie for a few final days of summer weather before hunkering down for our more seasonal autumn. As I have mentioned in the past in this blog, I enjoy undertaking a run on my first morning in a new city – It orients me to the local roads, sights, and geography, and should further opportunities for exploration come up. I have some idea where I might want to go. Also, a good run is a great way to chase the travel stiffness from my legs. So on a warm, clear southern morning, I set off on a run.
The touristy section of Charleston, where I was staying, is on a lowland peninsula, bounded by the Cooper River on the east, and the Ashley River on the west. My hotel was adjacent to the central square, celebrating “The Swamp Fox”, Francis Marion, who led much of the colonial resistance against the British in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. I noticed the monument celebrating General Marion at the start of my run, and from my perspective, he seemed to be flashing the southern part of the peninsula, home of the most aristocratic of the city’s population, then and now.
I began my run heading east towards the Cooper River on a street named after one of the strong early defenders of state’s rights, and the institution of slavery, early 19th century Vice President John Calhoun. Reaching the waterfront, I noticed a mix of uses- industrial and tourist-oriented. I could see an aircraft carrier across the bay, and later found out that this was the WWII-vintage USS Yorktown, which confused me, as I had learned in history classes that the Yorktown had been sunk in the Battle of Midway. Apparently, this carrier was built a year later, and christened with the same name in honor of its sunken predecessor.
Continuing south along the east side of the peninsula, I passed through some of the most beautiful homes in the city. Charleston is known for its architectural preservation, which I noted in both the tonier, as well as the poorer neighborhoods just to the north of my hotel. Well, these homes on the southeast shores, not unlike waterfront properties in most well-off neighborhoods, were beautiful and well-preserved.
I also noticed a funny site, where in an attempt to keep waders out of the fountain, the following sign was posted:
Continuing south, I came to the far southern tip of the city, the fortification known as “The Battery”, where I could spy the flag waving over the distant fortifications of Fort Sumter. Cannons, with a curious graffiti message were poised on The Battery, but these were not the guns used to shell Fort Sumter, which was still several miles out into the bay and out of their range.
Rounding the horn at the battery, I headed north up the somewhat less scenic Ashley River for a short distance to return to Calhoun St. This time, my trip back to my hotel passed through the campus of the College of Charleston. This campus is a beautiful mix of the “Old South” with shady streets and moss-covered trees, despite its urban setting. There was one disconcerting observation however; Namely, here I was at a state-supported school in the deep south, in a state with a sizeable African-American population, and I barely saw any students of color any where on campus. My New England liberal brain kicked in, and I started wondering if this was some artifact of Jim Crow laws, in a state which also has historically black universities? As a reality check I looked at the numbers; about 5% of the students here were self-identified as African-American in a state where close to 30% of the population is African-American. This was worrisome, but before I got too smug about it, I compared these numbers with those from Ohio State University, and the even more progressive (at least by reputation) University of Michigan, two northern flagship state universities in states with large minority populations. As it turns out, their percentage of students of color is no better. I can’t blame this on the old south – it is a seemingly universal challenge in higher education.
Finishing the run, I got back to my hotel, making this a slightly over 5 mile run, with a lot of stopping for photos. I am not going to bother showing the altitude profile, as stepping up onto the sidewalk is probably the biggest climb I saw on this run.
It is no secret that there is a good sized cave somewhat off the beaten path, in Weybridge. After all, there is a “Cave Road”, and if you look at maps of the area, you will see a “Weybridge Cave State Park” out there, although it is not alongside any major roads. Realizing this cave, purportedly the second biggest known cave in New England, was within running distance of Middlebury, I thought I would try to figure out more precisely where it is, and make a run for it. Of course, I did what everyone does, and tried googling for its precise location, and found nothing! I have never spelunked, at least in public, but according to what little I know of this particular pastime, those who participate in cave exploration are sometimes reticent about openly publishing all the gory details of how to find their favorite holes in the ground. With this, I realized that I had to find this particular cave the old fashioned way – actually talking to people. Like from the bad old days before Google!
I parked my car in the small parking lot at the corner of Weybridge St. and Pulp Mill Bridge Road, and set off on Weybridge St out of town, until I came to the right turn onto the segment of the TAM known as the Jackson Trail a short distance later. This is a fun little segment of trail – it goes through a heavily wooded gorge with a small stream for the first mile or so, and the second half of the trail emerges into open fields for the better part of a second mile before reaching Hamilton Rd. The wooded section has some challenging footwork due to the fact that much of it is on the side of a hill. Earlier in the summer, the field portion can be quite muddy, but on this pleasant Sunday morning, it was a dry run, made even nicer by the wind rustling the dense cattails alongside the trail.
Emerging onto Hamilton road, I took a left turn, and passed by a farm full of what looked like a bunch of very happy cows! They were all having breakfast, munching away happily from their common trough, when this random runner (me) came up to them and shouted “look up ladies”, and of course they all looked up, clearly obeying my command so that I could get their family portrait. Who says cows aren’t smart?
Shortly after this, I came to the point that allows most locals know that we do, indeed have a cave -Cave Rd, where I took a right turn,and followed the road to its conclusion about a mile later. Cave Road makes a tight turnaround loop at this point, but stay left, and take Lafontain Lane, which is conveniently not signed, but it is the road which is NOT Bunny Lane, which is conveniently signed, and is the only other road. You will know you are on the right road if you look to your left and see a home with a confederate flag as a window shade. Yup – we still have a few of those in Vermont! About 50 yards down the road, you will see a fork in the road, and a No Trespassing sign. Stay left here, and you will shortly enter a large cornfield. Once you are in the State Park, you are no longer on private property, and I have been assured that the landowners have no objection to allowing passage to respectful individuals who don’t block passage by parking their cars here. This is also where I turned off my GPS watch for a while, in keeping with the apparent cavers’ sense of not making it too easy to find cave entrances.
I, on the other hand, had done my homework, and had a good idea where to start looking for the cave entrance, so I wasn’t looking for a needle in a haystack at this point, and I was a little bummed when I realized that once I was close, the easiest way to find the cave entrance was simply to follow the trail of trash and beer cans. It wasn’t just the usual can’s of Bud Light which tend to litter most roadsides – I saw a few empty cans of Vermont’s favorite cult beer, Heady Topper. So, apparently, spelunking, littering, and expensive microbrews are all part of the experience. Who knew? Following the trail of debris, and armed with a Geology 101 understanding of cave topology, I was able to locate the cave entrance.
I had no desire to crawl into the cave on this trip, as it was dark, cold and wet in there. Also, it apparently takes a few rappels to get to the cave floor. Maybe someday with a friend who is appropriately equipped the guide me in? A few years ago, an unprepared explorer tried to climb in, and fell, injuring himself, and required a rescue.
After achieving my goal, I retraced my steps back to the end of Cave Road, where I turned my GPS watch back on, and began my return. Looking for a different return route, I took a right turn onto Hamilton Road, until I reached Weybridge Hill, where I realized that I had never stopped to see whose name was on the obelisk in the town green. The monument is inscribed with the name and the bust of Silas Wright, a Middlebury College alum from Weybridge who became a congressman and governor of NY after his graduation. Funny how everything sculpted in marble looks like an artifact of ancient Rome after a few years, huh? This obelisk also serves as the inspiration for Monument Farms, the local milk producer.
From here, I continued back towards Middlebury for a few hundred yards on Weybridge St, but instead of coming home on the road, I took a left turn onto the new segment of the TAM, which connects the main loop of our trail to Prunier Road and Snake Mountain. This short section of trail was also created to connect the TAM to the North Country Trail, a long distance trail which currently has Crown Point as its eastern terminus. The next mile on this segment of trail, passing through a mix of forest and farm fields brought me back to the main loop of the Jackson Trail segment of the TAM. I was pleasantly surprised to see a healthy little patch of buttercups, which I usually think of as more of a midsummer wildflower.
At this point I could retrace my steps the mile and a half back to my parked car, where I did the short run down to the shore of Otter Creek, to bring my mileage for the day up to about 10 miles. Since apparently chocolate milk is considered the latest and greatest recovery drink after long runs, it seemed only fitting that I chugged a pint of Monument Farm’s legendary offering when I got home from the run.