Last winter, while recovering from injuries, I snowshoed a route along a VAST trail at the higher altitudes of Ripton. This route, which begins at the end of the plowed section of the Natural Turnpike in Ripton heads south along the snowmobile trail marked as “7A” towards Robert Frost Mountain. My trip along this route was limited by the slower pace of snowshoe travel, and I have been looking forward to returning to explore it a little further on ski or on foot. The limited amount of snow on the ground made a run the obvious choice for now. To get to the trailhead, I drove up to Ripton, then took a left turn on the road across from the Ripton Country Store. A short while later a right turn up the hill on Robins Cross Road and a left turn on the Natural Turnpike followed by a few minutes’ drive brought me to the trailhead parking lot near its confluence with FS 59. In every previous winter trip to this spot, the Natural Turnpike was blocked at this point by a forest service gate, but this year, with the meager snow, the gate beyond this point was open, and the road was freshly plowed.
Setting off on the trail heading to the left (north in absolute coordinates) I could see that the snowmobilers had been faring about as well as the skiers this year, as the trail had been virtually stripped of its snow cover by previous snow travelers. I set off, as in my previous exploration, following the marked snowmobile trail, which crisscrossed a few Forest Service Roads over the course of the first mile. Between the thin snow cover, and my Asics Gel Arctic running shoes, equipped with short spikes making them the “studded snow tires of the running world”, I had very solid footing all the way, except for two easily traversed frozen-over waterbars. As I proceeded further into the woods, snow had covered over the most recent snowmobile tracks, and not much later, I could see where the trail had been bereft of human travelers all season, leaving the tracks of animals as the only sign of previous passage. One set of tracks were particularly interesting – I could see that what at first looked like one set of old tracks, soon diverged into two sets, which looked to be about the same age. Following them, I could see that the parallel sets of tracks stayed apart, as if the two animals which set them were going about their travels as partners, perhaps even mates? They seemed too big and deep for a squirrel, and squirrels never seem to travel as if they are actually going somewhere. I am going to guess that they were foxes, although they had faded enough that I could not have made out the fine print in them, even if I were a more knowledgeable animal tracker. I like to think that these two nocturnal animals had shared a long moment in the moonlight together on the way to whatever their final destination might have been. As I followed their tracks, I made sure not to step in them, leaving my record of passage between theirs.
Eventually, I reached a point where the animal tracks became more complex, and their unique trail became difficult to discern from other animals who had passed through. Not long after, I came to an open meadow which had been my turnaround last winter when I passed this way. Last winter, this quiet spot had the equipment of an active logging site, but this winter, the snow surface was unblemished, except for my footprints and a few tufts of grass poking up through the snow. It looked almost like I would envision beach grass poking out of the fine white sand of the Gulf Coast, although I have never been there.
At this point, continuing on, I was into new territory, and about a mile later my trail reached the Lincoln-Ripton road, a few miles north of the Ripton School. I could discern that the trail recommenced across the road, heading uphill along the eastern flanks of Robert Frost Mountain. I could see that I had found another short section of trail to connect a run on my bucket list – I had heard that is was possible to connect trails from the top of Middlebury Gap, to East Middlebury by a route which included the snowmobile trail up and over Robert Frost Mountain, which I have ascended from the west. The point at which my trail (which merged with a plowed road over the last few hundred yards) met up with the Lincoln- Ripton Road, was labelled as the “Norton Farm Road”.
Turning to return, my attention turned two the many crossing paths and abandoned logging roads I came across. One, which looked sort of interesting, and was labeled as “Rd 235A”. This one ended in about a hundred yards at a small clearing, so returning to the main snowmobile trail, I checked out another side trail about a mile further along. This right turn led to a huge clear cut in about a quarter mile, with outstanding views of Worth Mountain, and the rest of the nearby ridge of the Green Mts. I found it curious that a small stand of mature hardwoods had been left behind by the timber cutters, but they added to the beauty of the views.
Closing in on my parked car, I could hear that I was getting closer and closer to a “sportsman” who was blasting away at something with what sounded like a semiautomatic weapon. While I never actually saw this person, I felt like shouting something along the lines of “Is there ANYTHING left of that squirrel?”. Reaching my car, my GPS indicated that I had traveled 7 miles on this run, and had dropped about 500 vertical feet on the way out, and gained it on my return.
Saturday brought the long looked for break in the ski conditions thus far this year: It finally started to warm up to the mid-teens, and there was enough (I hoped!) snow to do my first backcountry skiing of the year. I knew the cover would be a little on the thin side (That always seems to be the case, somehow), so I headed to the higher elevations and a place where there was a high likelihood of being ample cover. Once again, I found myself drawn to my favorite trailhead, the parking lot off of Brooks road, found on the south side of Rt 125, midway between Breadloaf and the Snow Bowl. The Brooks Road itself, which climbs up the hillside to pretty high altitudes becomes part of the VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) trail system during the winter. As such, it benefits from the regular grooming offered to regional snowmobilers, making the VAST trails also ideal for skiing deep into the mountains, even on skating skis, which demand a wide groomed path. This excellent grooming makes high altitude forest roads, like the Brooks Road, some of the best places to ski early in the season before the first dumpings of snow come our way.
Setting off from the parking lot up the hillside, the late afternoon sun filtered through the branches arched over the road created the sense of trees covered with diamonds. I was surprised by the degree to which some of these trees were still encrusted with ice from the storms of the previous week or two.
Continuing upward I also came to a section where a stand of beech trees s flanked the road, the the husks of beechnut shells littered the snow. Looking at them more carefully, they kind of looked like a bunch of bearded little Pac-men. What do you think?
I went into this ski with delusions of a long a glorious exploration of mountain trails, but my late start (It is scary how starting a ski tour at 2:30 in the afternoon is late this time of year!) and the realization that the trail coverage wasn’t quite as good as I hoped it was forced me to reconsider my plans when I reached a trail confluence about 2.5 miles up the mountainside. To the right, I saw the much narrower trail which I knew would bring me to the Sugar Hill Reservoir, but looked rather bereft of snow. Straight ahead, on the continuance of the Brooks Road, but on a section which is not regularly maintained for winter travel there was more snow, but since I was touring on skating skis, this section’s loose ungroomed snow felt like a bit of a slog when I very briefly considered continuing further. And it was getting colder, fast! So, at this point, I turned my heels and sped back down the mountainside to the warmth of my car. Of course, in this fast snow it provided an opportunity to use my Garmin GPS and see what sort of speed I could generate on the two relatively steep descents. On the first steeper drop-off I became so enamored of staring at my watch that I had my first crashandburn of the season! Only slightly less worse for the wear, and covered in white I brought myself back up to speed and held a tuck without distraction for the second, and longer fast section of the descent, and after finishing discovered that I had gotten my speed up to 25 mph! Not exactly olympic downhill speed, but not bad for inch-wide racing skis with detached heels!
All in all, while this was a shorter than planned ski outing, measuring in at slightly less than 5 miles and 500 ft of climb and descent, it was a great way to spend a small allotment of time on a cold but pleasant weekend day
Up to this point, the post has had little to do with the title of the post, so I guess it would be time to conclude with a resolution. These solo skis or runs in the mountains leave plenty of time for quiet, introspective thought. Readers of this blog can probably tell that I enjoy setting myself up for personal physical challenges, and then meeting those challenges, but this resolution is a little different. While the personal accomplishments will hopefully continue, what I really want this year is to make great new memories with those who I care most about.
While running on the trails of Addison County still makes up the bulk of my posts, readers will notice that I also enjoy sharing my discoveries when I get the opportunity to run in other locales, sometimes on the trails, sometimes not. Trailrunning is indeed among my favorite ways to set myself up for adventure, but experiencing new places or new running events, and sharing them here, is also something I find quite rewarding. With this in mind, I am going to share a personal first – a short trip, including a commercial airline flight, for the sole purpose of going running. I guess this is the conclusion to the saying “You know when you are getting hardcore when….”
So, last Sunday, very early in the morning , I was milling around with 30,000 of my newest closest friends, awaiting the start of the Philadelphia Marathon. As this was my second marathon this fall, I was in new territory regarding distance events – never before had I done two such road races in such a short period of time. This particular race was of interest to me due to the easy access and inexpensive nature of flights to Philadelphia, combined with a sister who lived in the area, who for some unexplained reason was eager for my company and eager to transport me where I needed to be! Also, there was this little idea I had, about a year ago, when I first learned of the “50 States Marathon Club“, a club which requires that members do at least one marathon in each of the 50 states in order to gain admission. The fine print, however, says that you can get the T-shirt for it after only 10 states, and after all, that is the important part, right? I was further intrigued to hear that there is a local runner (who to the best of my memory I have never met) named John Lent who has actually completed all 50! So – off to Philly I went, working on state number……4. Yeah….a long way to go still for this trailrunner.
In any case, the race information made it quite clear that, in the aftermath of last year’s Boston Marathon incident, there would be an extensive series of security checkpoints before the start of the race, and runners needed to be at the start area by 5 am in order to ensure that they had enough time to clear the inevitable long security lines. Well – there I was in front of the famous Philadelphia Art Museum on the banks of the Schuykill (pronounced “Skookill”, derided as “Sure-kill” on the adjacent expressway) River, with about 20 other runners, who walked into the start area without so much as a check over from the bleary-eyed security forces standing around. Comforting. Having two hours to blow before the race start was actually kind of fun however, as it gave ample time to walk around, and strike up short impromptu conversations with other racers. I could offer my sage advice to those running their first ever marathon, as well as comment and learn from those runners who were clearly far more experienced than I.
The race went off without any real hitches, however! The last time I ran in such a large race was the NY Marathon, in 1992, and during that race it seemed as if there was no room to run until the race was more than halfway done due to the crowds. At that time, when the gun went off – the race started for everyone – if you were a few hundred yards behind the start line, it was more or less tough luck. As a result, all the runners crowded the startline as much as they could, and were more than happy to trample each other to get underway, with resulting crowding that took many miles to disperse. The advent of chip technology, where a microchip embedded in your race number ensured that your own clock didn’t start ticking until you crossed the start line led to a much more genteel start to the race, and people were far more willing to let things spread out. So, while the first few miles were pretty dense with runners, I never felt like my pace was dictated by the pace of nearby runners.
The first half of the race went through a series of neighborhoods in downtown Philly. We passed by the art museums, into the downtown business district, through Philly’s Chinatown, alongside the Delaware and Schuykill River, and through numerous residential districts. Other than brief slowdowns to grab water or Gatorade, the only stops I made were to take a picture of Independence Hall as all the other runners sped by, and find relief in a porta-potty. I had grown accustomed to long races in far more rural settings, and there weren’t exactly a lot of discretely wooded sections along the way in the course of this race! Frustratingly, this particular pit stop was complicated by the fact that the occupancy of each individual porta-potty was indicated by a small red or green sign by the door handle, and my red-green colorblindness forced me to try doors until I found an empty one, as other runners zoomed in on the correct choices much more readily.
The second half of the race was a long “out and back” along a city parkway road adjacent to the river. Just as I was leaving town, I saw the fastest athlete – a wheelchair para-athlete wheeling his way back into the finish area, and not long after that, I saw the first of several fleet-footed men of African, presumably Kenyan descent sprinting towards the finish line at a pace I could not match for one mile, let alone 26.2. The race course turned around in the formerly gritty factory town of Manyunk, which now is apparently quite gentrified. Curiously, despite the fact that I was wearing a Middlebury track singlet for the race, it gathered no recognition from the crowds of onlookers who lined the course until I hit Manyunk, where it garnered me many “shout-outs”. Must be a lot of former Midd-kids who are now yuppies living there!
I usually don’t care to talk explicitly about my running pace when authoring this blog, as it is primarily about sharing the joys of running and the out of doors, rather than as an online training log. And besides, my times are not that impressive, as befitting my age and modest training relative to most people who run longer distances. That said, I was very pleased with my performance in this race, in that I started off appropriately slowly, and accelerated throughout the race, finishing my final 10 Km at a pace which was pretty close to the pace at which I usually run a normal 10 Km race! Finishing a long race like this strongly is also one of the most empowering feelings in running. I might even call this my best marathon ever, with the aster-isk that it was the best I had ever performed relative to my age group, and frankly only a few minutes slower than a few marathons I did as a much younger man in my early 30′s. Yup- it felt good!
Finally – one of my goals for this race was to have someone get a picture of me running up the famous “Rocky Steps” of the Philly Art Museum, to post in this blog. Before the race, well it was just too dark! When I passed by these steps at the half way point, I realized that I was putting in a good time, and didn’t want to stop and mess around with a picture. By the finish, well the best I could muster was to stand in the foreground of the steps, raise my arms in victory, and let them frame this famous building, maybe with a little hop in my tired, sore legs. Of course, with the finish, my day was not yet complete – after a few hours of recovery, including a shower, nap, and a good meal at my sister’s house in the suburbs, I had to complete the short flight back from Philly and seemingly endless ride home from the Burlington airport before fluffing my pillows and collapsing to get a little sleep in before classes the next day.
While most residents of northern New England mention mud season as the most challenging time of the year to live here, the almost equally bleak month of November, less well-known as “stick season” also has it’s challenges. It has the same bare trees and overcast sky, but never quite brings out the worst in us like mud season. Perhaps we are all still feeling good after a great fall foliage season, and are anticipating the excitement of the first snows of the season? Perhaps it is because…well…it just isn’t as muddy, and the trails are arguably at their best for running, with soft leaves underfoot, and great views through the surrounding forest? In any case, I got together with two other local runners, Josh and Ben, early on a Saturday morning to do the grand loop around Middlebury, our own beloved TAM. Bits and pieces of this convenient and scenic gem have been the frequent subject of blog posts, but it has been a few years since I last described a complete circumnavigation of the village, and that was much earlier in the fall, prior to the peak of foliage season. We met up shortly before sunrise at the parking lot by Batelle/Means Woods on Quarry Road (at about 3 o’clock on the loop shown in the Google Earth projection included below), just east of town, and I convinced my running partners that we should take the loop counterclockwise to put the most challenging part of the run, the 300+ foot ascent of Chipman Hill, early in the run. We also had the additional benefit of catching a great sunrise over the mountains from the east side of Middlebury’s downtown summit! While most of the leaves were long gone from the limbs of the deciduous trees on the flanks of the hill, I was touched by the stubbornness with which a few trees clung to their leaves and to life when other sources of warmth and the ephemeral beauty of autumn was fading.
Continuing on down the west side of Chipman Hill, we wove through the village streets for a few minutes before heading north through Wright Park, and the longest contiguous section of trail not intercepted by roads. When we reached the northern suspension bridge crossing over Otter Creek, instead of taking the section of the TAM heading due west, we decided instead to take the last short loop to the north, heading into the gorge, and adding a mile or two of extra running to our proposed loop. The thick green moss alongside one particular section of trail led for Josh to christen this short passage “The Shire”. After a short section along the creek, the trail started its gradual loop back to the west, and then the south, emerging back into a meadow just to the west of Morgan Horse Farm Rd, where I managed to grab a quick photo of my fellow runners before they disappeared in the distance, forcing me to pick the pace after grabbing a photo, if I wanted to stay with them. That, and they also waited for me!
Crossing over Morgan Horse Farm Road, and veering south through another meadow and pond, we briefly considered leaving the TAM to seek out the entrance to the nearby Weybridge Cave on Cave Road, but decided against it on this day, as all of us confessed to having seeked out the cave’s entrance in the past, and all had failed. Someday we have to invite a runner who knows where exactly it is to show us. Any takers? Eventually, our counterclockwise circumnavigation brought us to the most civilized section of trail, the part circling the Middlebury College Championship Golf Course, where the TAM also serves as the running course for the college cross country races. The morning was getting a little later at this point, and we started to see other runners and walkers out for their Saturday morning strolls. The last few miles brought us back to the Batelle Woods, where I let my partners for almost 3 hours pull ahead, and I took a shot which I think exemplifies November running – grey skies, the trail softened by falling leaves, and of course, muddy sneakers.
As we returned to the parking lot where my car was, we high fived on a good long (almost 18 miles!) training run, we commented on how fast the time flew by. This almost 3 hour run seemed rather timeless due to the good company, and fun terrain. As my fellow (much younger) runners headed home, on foot, I sat my tired butt down in my car, and made a beeline to Middlebury Bagel where I treated myself to a cup of coffee…..and the most sugar- encrusted donut left on their shelves.
On a beautiful October Sunday, during peak foliage season, it was a great day to enjoy my first trail run in a few weeks. October has been a fun month! Not only has my birthday recently passed, but I also ran my fastest marathon in 22 years (fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon) a few days before said birthday, and have found that my recovery was easy enough to continue my running without a long layoff! Chatting with fellow middle aged runners, especially those who have stayed fit for all or most of their adult lives, it seems that I am not unique in my ability to run long distances without the excessive training regimens usually associated with marathon running. I guess our old bodies have learned how to go the distance? In any case, I just wanted to get out and enjoy the color, the scenery, and the fresh air on this run, so I returned to an old favorite, the Silver Lake trail, with a few variations. October is all pleasure!
The trailhead for this run is at one of the most popular trailheads in Addison County, the Falls of Lana trailhead just past Branbury State Park on VT Rt. 53. Fall foliage weekends are typically among the busiest days of the year on Vermont trails, and this day was no exception – the usually overly generous parking lot was nearly full, and there were even some cars parked on the apron of the road. Nonetheless, I found a corner in the lot where my rustbucket vehicle would fit, and started up the Silver Lake Trail. As expected, I passed numerous parties heading up and down the trail – and who could blame them? Nonetheless, at one of the short trails connecting the Penstock (fancy speak for “pipeline”) trail, I veered to the right connecting this in order to avoid the other hikers on the main trail. Realistically, the trail wasn’t that crowded – it was nothing like the conga line seen hiking up to, say, Tuckerman’s Ravine in the spring, but given the option to run away from others, I chose it. I also enjoyed the softer ground, and the sounds of the longer end-of-the-season grass rubbing against my leg as I ran. After a short distance on the Penstock trail, I took a right turn up to the Lake Dunmore overlook, a short ascent under the power lines. The view here was great in both directions – west, out over Lake Dunmore, as well as back towards the main ridge of the Green Mountains back to the east.
After soaking up the views from this vantage, I returned to the Silver Lake Dam, and took a right turn over the dam to return to my old nemesis, the Chandler Ridge Trail. The Chandler Ridge Trail runs along the hills separating Silver Lake from Lake Dunmore down below, although some topo maps apply this name to the ridge to the immediate west of Silver Lake. Semantics aside, I refer to this trail as my nemesis due to challenges I had running it during an ultramarathon last year, which left me fighting a hip injury for many months. I have also wondered how the views would be from this scenic wooded ridge during the foliage season, so I gave in to my curiosity. I was hoping that enough leaves would have fallen to open up the views towards each of the flanking lakes, but the mixed deciduous/coniferous forests, combined with the still intact colorful leaves left most of the views partially obscured, but shrouded in color. After heading about a mile south, I turned around and retraced my path back to the shores of Silver Lake, and followed its shores to the right, and spent a few minutes enjoying the late afternoon sun dancing on the water of this back country lake.
Circling through the campground before descending on the main trail back to my waiting car, I noticed the following sign of the times on one of the usually well-maintained remote privies. Needless to say, I didn’t check out the TP situation!
Returning to my car, with the parking lot thinning out as the afternoon turned to early evening, this made for a roughly 6 mile run, with about 750 feet of vertical ascent and descent. While this probably also marks my last trail run before the leaves are gone, it reinforced my sense that yes, October is a great month for running, birthdays, and pleasure!
One of my all-time favorite short trail runs is the popular dash up to the summit of Snake Mountain, with its panoramic views to of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the west. Each September, I also like to present an easily accessible run for the benefit of Middlebury College freshman who might be looking for nearby runs or hikes that can be reached quickly from campus. While this trailhead requires (for most people) a short drive, there are enough snazzy SUV’s on campus (and we aren’t talking 10-year old Dodge pickup trucks -go Lexus!) that opportunities for transportation are not hard to come by. I have blogged runs up this mountain a few times in the past. From the well known western route, I have described the run under both midsummer conditions, as well as during Mud Season. I have also described the lesser known trail ascending Snake Mountain from the east side. Nonetheless, there were still some trails on this well trammeled mountain which I have not described, or even explored, and so I thought it would be fun to make them part of a new entry.
Rather than describe in detail the driving route to the trailhead, I will refer my readers to a previous posting with detailed instructions on how to get there. Setting off from the parking lot, and shortly before heading up the mountain trail, I noticed that the old building across from the end of Wilmarth Road at the trailhead had been repainted a bright red, and with this new paint job, it looked a lot like an old one-room schoolhouse. I have never thought of this abandoned building in this regard, but now I wonder if it may be an old schoolhouse. Does anyone know of the original purpose of this building?
The first section of the run involves a straightforward run up the broad trail, which was dry on this run, but can be a pretty major quagmire in the spring. As this section of the trail ended, it reached a “T”in the trail. It is pretty obvious to that a left turn takes you up towards the summit, but I have always wondered where I would end up if I were to take the right fork? Maybe on the way down? Staying on the obvious trail, through a series of switchbacks gets you to the main summit after about 2 miles. Many visiters to this summit have been under the impression that the large concrete slab at the summit is left over from the former small summit hotel which operated around the turn of the 20th century. This slab is actually of more recent origin, although I don’t know the exact decade in which it was built. It apparently is the result of someone’s aborted attempt to build a home on the summit, and the real foundations of the hotel can be found not far from this viewpoint in the woods.
Most hikers and runners don’t come up here for the history, however. They come up here for the spectacular views. Even though the day of this run was pretty cloudy, the views were still excellent – I could easily make out the smoke from the Ticonderoga Paper Mill, about 15 miles away.
Unlike my previously blogged runs on this small summit, I decided to take a different route on the way down. So, on this run, I took the first obvious right turn on the descent, and in a few short minutes arrived at the other, less frequently visited vista. During some summers, this other viewpoint has been closed due to peregrine falcon nesting, but apparently there wasn’t a nesting pair there this last summer. This “South Summit” (OK – stretching the Everest analogy here a little bit too much?) also has another curious feature. Directly behind the rock where most hikers enjoy the view, there is what appears to be a small marshy pond. What most people don’t know is that this is actually a man-made pond which was created to provide swimming opportunities for the guests of the long gone summit hotel! It’s anthropogenic origins are more obvious if you notice the man-made earthen berm along the east side of the pond. I might also add that this pond, now rather shallow and mucky, shows no sign of whatever appeal it might once have had to summit visitors!
Continuing on, the descent from this summit takes you down a trail which is steeper and narrower than the ascending trail, and eventually returns you to the main trail. At this point, you can simply retrace your steps to complete a 4 mile run, but as alluded to earlier in the posting, I decided to explore the continuation of the summit trail which goes straight, where most hikers and runners turn right. Not having the slightest idea where I might turn up, I headed down this trail, which eventually brought me into a lovely meadow, and shortly thereafter, to the side of the road known as Mountain Street Extension, where I took a right turn, followed about a half mile later by another right turn which returned me to my car, adding an additional mile to the run. The five mile run, combined with nearly a thousand feet of ascent and descent makes for a fun, and pretty intense mountain run. But remember, like a lot of fun challenges, it is only hard the first time!
On this, the last weekend before the start of my school year, I was looking for a good long run to complete the summer running season. August had been a disappointing month for running, due to back spasms which slowed me for most of the nicest days of the summer, but after a month of recovery, I felt up to a longer run than I had done in a while. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to revisit a route which I last ran (and blogged) three years ago under very different conditions, and entitled it “Stick Season above the Snow Line” This loop involves considerable time on the Long Trail along the Worth Mountain ridge, and when I last checked it out I was running through a bit of snow, and racing to get back to my car before darkness. While snow at the higher altitudes may not be that far off, this was most definitely a late summer run – the leaves are still all there, and mostly green, at least to this somewhat colorblind runner. Cooler temperatures also made for pleasant conditions on a cloudy September afternoon.
This loop is also of a length, and on terrain which most people would call “a hike”. While I love a long hike in the mountains, one of the great pleasures of trailrunning is that it can get you out in the woods covering a lot of terrain when you don’t have time for the more leisurely pacing of a day hike. So, before this run, I mowed the lawn, played the piano for a bit, read a few papers, and enjoyed a leisurely late lunch before setting off, and still got back in plenty of time for dinner. Live life to the fullest!
Setting off from my favorite running trailhead, the Brooks Road Trailhead (also known as the Chatfield Trailhead), located off of a short dirt road a mile or so below the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, I started up the comfortable climb on the dirt road. While this road is open to car traffic, I rarely see any motor vehicles on it. The road climbs steeply for the first mile and a half, rising about 400-500 feet rather abruptly, but climbs more gently most of the rest of the way to its end, 3.7 miles up into the mountains. When you get to the end of the road, follow the well worn path over the obvious footbridge over Sucker Brook, until you reach the Long Trail Spur trail on your left. Take this trail, which also climbs pretty gradually with a lot of easy running terrain for another mile or so, until you reach the Sucker Brook Shelter, found in a saddle in the Green Mountains known as “Romance Gap”. I met a small group of hikers, one of whom was a Long Trail through-hiker, and after exchanging pleasantries for a few minutes, headed up the hillside, and joined the Long Trail itself in a few minutes, turned left, and headed north towards Middlebury Gap.
As expected, the running on the Long Trail was more technical than the rest of the run. As mountain ridge trails go, this was more runnable than most, with long sections of gradually climbing and descending dirt or mud path to run on. In the rockier sections, the running becomes more akin to skipping, with your feet doing all kinds of crazy things in order to maintain a decent speed! In sections where the climbing or descending got steeper, or potentially more slippery, I slowed to a fast hiking speed. This section of the Long Trail is not known for its sweeping vistas, although there were a few limited views through the trees in places. What I do love about this section are the more subtle sights one comes across when traipsing through the forest at around 3000 ft elevation. I have always been particularly fond of the shelf fungus growing out of the side of some of the older hardwoods, and one which I came across looked so sturdy that it was begging for something to display. So, I set up a small rock cairn on it, which will no doubt puzzle or amuse subsequent passersby if they have the presence of mind to look beyond their own boots or running shoes.
Not long after this, I reached the high point of the run, the summit of Worth Mountain (~3200 ft) and began the gradual undulating descent to the top of the Snow Bowl. I was amused to meet a hiker, who seemed so happy to get a signal on his cell phone that he couldn’t resist the temptation to check his facebook page. To each his own…. The wooden walkways signaled my approach to the Snow Bowl, and shortly thereafter, I broke out into the amazing view towards the east from the top of the Bailey Falls lift.
From here, I scrambled down the steeper upper sections of the Voter Trail at the Snow Bowl, named after Old Professor Perley Voter, one of my predecessors in the Chemistry Department at the college. He must have been great, as there is also a building named after him, Voter Hall! As I reached the bottom, I passed a fellow middle-aged trail runner on his way up the mountain, and after the mandatory exchange of complaints about our aging bodies, headed across the parking lot, and descended on Rt 125 to return to my car just as the drizzling rain started to get just a little bit heavier.
According to my GPS, this was a 10.5 mile run, with an 1800 foot ascent, probably closer to 2000 feet with the undulations along the way. Not a bad way to end the summer. Now, time to prepare for Monday classes……And bring on the Fall!
Typically, I make one or two blog posts a year from the lovely Mad River Valley, just outside the confines of our own Addison County. For one, it gives me an opportunity to share an area just a little farther away, but still within pretty easy geographical reach of most of my readers, as well as the fact that I am usually visiting my extended family when I am in the Waitsfield area, and it is good to get out of the house for a run when traveling. So, on a pleasant, spectacularly sunny, but not too hot August afternoon, I decided to explore a footpath that I knew little about – the Mad River Path in Waitsfield. Many people know of the heavily used and well developed bike path weaving alongside the river in Stowe, a few towns further to the north, but few know much about the Mad River Path. I only knew of its existence having seen a few signs alongside a few points where the path has road access, but prior to this run, knew nothing of its condition or extent.
I chose to start this run from a point which is currently the southern terminus of this path, near the Lareau swimming hole on the Mad River. This popular, family-friendly swimming hole has a large parking lot, which is often nearly full on hot weekend days, a small beach, a larger grassy area (which is starting to recover after the ravages or Irene!) and a great rock for exhilarating, but reasonably safe leaps into the deep pool below. I had presumed that the run north from this point would be on a path, more or less hugging the Mad River, and was initially disappointed to note from the map posted that the Mad River Path is, at this point, a series of short riverside sections which return to the highway as private property owners and/or terrain force the path away from the shore. So, I set off on this run guided mostly by the thought of hugging the shoreline whenever possible, returning to the highway for the shortest possible stretches when necessary, and respecting private property when posted. As a result, a quick glance at my GPS trace from this run looks somewhat disjointed, as a series of loops emanating from Rt. 100.
So setting off north through the woods between Rt. 100 and the Mad River, I came to the first obstacle to a continuous run – the Mill Brook, which is a broad stream cascading down from the higher elevations. There was a path which followed the south shore of this path to its confluence with the Mad River, but not obvious place to ford the stream easily. Maybe someday the town can raise the funds necessary to build a footbridge here? Doubling back to the highway bridge, I followed the shoulder of Rt. 100 until I reached a small side road called “Fiddler’s Green” which brought me back to the riverside, and the next segment of the path. The path here wove past intermittent views of the river, and a picnic table in a quiet place before coming across a small, and frankly more interesting car graveyard. While this place served as a stark reminder that this area was far from wilderness, I have always found abandoned old cars in out of the way places oddly attractive and photogenic. This particular vehicle’s door insignia indicated that it had once served the East Burke VT Fire Department!
The path then veered to the left, up the hill past some private residences and businesses until it rejoined Rt 100 just north of the Mehuron’s strip mall. Continuing north, the next opportunity to join the river bank was afforded by the wide expanse of the town ball fields, which were also recovering nicely post-Irene. The lush green of these fields make it hard to believe that just two years ago, they were muddy flats, left behind as the Mad River, swollen by Irene, subsided. This right turn towards the water, brought me to a small muddy riverside beach, where I noted a few water enthusiasts exploring the river the best way – by innertube. I also noted several abandoned child’s toys alongside the river bank – not inappropriately toy trucks with tires suited to imaginary driving in the muddy riverbank.
Unfortunately, most of the riverfront near to the ball fields was separated from the parkland by a thick hedge of trees, so after a loop around the field looking for secret passageways to the water front, I returned to the highway having found none other than the one access point. Continuing north, I reached the more developed section of waterfront close to the Waitsfield covered bridge, which miraculously escaped Irene’s fury more or less unscathed. The official trail commenced along this short section of waterfront, which also serves as another popular mid summer swimming hole. I found myself cursing the fact that I had left my wallet back in my car, so couldn’t get a cone from the hard ice cream store in the village. This store is a favorite, as they are one of the increasing number of ice cream parlors which make ice cream in non traditional, sometimes savory flavors, in addition to old favorites. On this perfect August afternoon, there were quite a few families hanging out, enjoying the cool water just upstream from the bridge.
While this segment of the Mad River trail ended at the covered bridge, the open meadows to the north invited further exploration, so I continued on. I couldn’t figure out if the mangled chunks of steel alongside the river bank were the results of some grievous damage from past floods in the area, or misguided attempts at modern sculpture. Really. After about a half mile in this meadow, I turned around to make my return, as I only came across one short path with river access. My return to my car mostly involved reversing my path on the way out, other than the fact that I did discover another path accessing the riverside from the back of the cemetery alongside Mehurons. At the end of this run, which ended up at about 6 miles, I enjoyed the bracing waters of the Mad River before heading out. Why is it that I am usually the only person over 18 ever swimming in these cold waters?
As my professional activities brought me to the west coast for the second time this summer, I thought it would be fun to describe another run, far away from the usual treks into the woods of Addison County. Life on the road in business hotels can seem like a blur of mini-bars, USA Todays (although those can be welcome from time to time!) and alarm clocks, so I always enjoy sneaking out for a run to explore whatever neighborhood I am holed up in! A few months ago, while in the San Diego area, I described a “Run to the Pacific” through the bike paths and streets of Coronado Island, while on this trip, I was in an even more heavily urbanized corner of Southern California, Orange County. My first thought was to make the Pacific Ocean in nearby Newport Beach the goal of this run as well, but balked at this target when I realized that it would be a longish run (12-14 miles, but I could live with that, right?) alongside very busy expressways, which of course made this possibility far less enticing. So, my next thought was to chat with the hotel concierge, and ask about more nearby sites of interest, and all they could suggest was the adjacent luxury shopping mall. No thanks! So, I took my GPS and set off towards interesting looking buildings and did my own exploration, without the slightest idea where I might end up.
The hotel itself was in a fairly compact area of high rise buildings with some pleasant park grounds to start off in. If it wasn’t for the plentiful palm trees, these buildings could have been anywhere modern and developed, although the perfect weather (72 and sunny!) was Southern California all the way. As it turns out, I was actually in an artsy section of Orange County, and there was an outdoor sculpture garden and performing arts center in this complex.
Heading out past this steel and glass oasis, I headed down a broad boulevard, and was astonished to find myself running alongside an actual strawberry farm in the midst of this heavily populated area. In true California style, it was of course flanked by a series of highway overpasses, and even a few planes landing at the nearby “John Wayne” Airport.
Exemplifying once again how suddenly the nature of neighborhoods can change, even on a short easy run, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a very blue collar neighborhood, where all the modest homes of each block were ensconced behind stucco walls, and the sidewalks were devoid of pedestrians. This was perhaps a little unnerving, but I was comforted to hear the strains of a live mariachi band playing from behind one of the walls. I also had the pleasure of running alongside what qualifies as a river in this part of the world – an ugly concrete drainage with a little bit of muddy water and a lot of litter at the bottom.
By this point, I could once again see my high rise hotel rising in the distance, and made a beeline for it, making for a slightly less than 5 mile run- not bad for a quick run after a conference, but before dinner. All in all, it was an interesting run, especially for someone like me who had never spent any time in the LA metropolitan area before. I couldn’t help but ponder the notion that this was how most of the rest of the runners in the country do their workouts. On the plus side, the weather out there is almost always perfect for running. While our winter months often make running difficult for much of the year, and I can imagine the heat of a Phoenix, Arizona, or Macon, Georgia afternoon might make things difficult in the summer months. Weather aside, the constant stop and go at road crossings can also be maddening when running in urban settings – it often felt like I had to stop and wait for a light to turn every time I was getting into a rhythm. So, while this run had its novelties, I came away from this trip feeling lucky for the great running options which we have back in Vermont! The Google Earth projection of this run looks very different from my Vermont runs – note the expressways and high density of buildings!
For this run, I am returning to one of my favorite destinations, Silver Lake, the pristine pond perched on the hillside about a mile and a half above Lake Dunmore. I have noticed, and blogged about some sections of the pipeline connecting Silver Lake to the small hydroelectric plant just south of Branbury State Park. So, I thought it would be fun to follow this pipeline from start to finish, and this required that I start the run at the smaller unmarked parking lot just past the small bridge immediately south of Branbury Park, rather than the usual Falls of Lana parking lot. Beginning in this lot, I immediately headed towards the clearing where the pipeline completes its journey down from Silver Lake, and scrambled, rather than ran on the unmarked but easy to follow footpath which ascends alongside the pipeline. While the terrain really wasn’t good for true running, this ascent, rather than the more heavily traveled double track path most frequently used, had the advantage of an excellent view of the longest cascade in the tiered series of drops constituting the Falls of Lana. The area around the falls is a very cliffy, ledgy area with numerous opportunities for injury, so I found it interesting that of all the viewpoints, this was the only one with fencing to protect errant runners.
Shortly after this overprotective fencing, I joined the main trail, where I had the option of bushwacking up the steep hill, literally following the pipeline in what would be a steep scramble, or actually following the normal trail and rejoining the pipeline further up the hill where it ran a more runnable course. I chose the latter, and ran up the main Silver Lake trail for about a mile until I reached the point where a major trail broke off to the right, meeting up with the pipeline at the point where the tall venting tower easily seen from below juts out from the mountainside. Here, reading the signage, I learned a new word – “penstock” apparently what I had been calling a pipeline is also known by this noun as well! I also noted, the sign warning of dire consequences for walking on the penstock, right alongside a ladder used for…..climbing on the pentock!
From this point on, I had the opportunity to follow the penstock/pipeline across more level terrain, and in fact, the running was easiest right across the top of it, as long as I was careful not to trip over the bulges where segments of pipeline were jointed together. Much of this section was flanked by ferns, until I reached a point where the brush had been recently cleared. This portion of the run concluded at the base of the Silver Lake dam, Yes, Silver Lake, like Lake Dunmore, is a naturally occurring lake which has been enhanced in size and utility through the use of damming. Unlike Lake Dunmore, which was enlarged for recreational use, Silver Lake has more practical purposes – hydroelectric power and flood control!
Climbing to the top of the Silver Lake Dam, I followed the easy lakeshore path, until reaching the small beach, before taking the spur trail heading to the hike-in campground alongside this very scenic lake. At a small footbridge over a sluiceway, the second, less well known segment of this hydroelectric project becomes apparent. I was also surprised to see that this sluiceway, for the first time in my memory, was devoid of water. My suspicion was that with the incessant rains of the last month, water was being withheld or diverted to keep water levels in Silver Lake and/or Lake Dunmore at safe levels.
I tried to follow the side of this sluiceway, but the footing at it’s edge was not quite secure enough, so I doubled back and found a small trail which brought me back to the main Silver Lake trail/dirt road, and followed it up the hill for a few yards, reaching the point where the sluiceway submerged beneath the road from my right, and at this point I noted a small building to my left whose function was undoubtedly connected to this segment of the pipeline. I turned back into the woods at this point, mostly running along the high berm covering the pipeline, although in some sections, it seemed to submerge, rendering the trail more level. The running through here was very nice for about a mile, but the trail disappeared into the semi-open hillside eventually. I followed the cleared section paralleling Sucker Brook, but for this short stretch it was once again more of a bushwhack than a trail run, but this rough section only went on for about a quarter of a mile, when it joined a maintained dirt road which climbed up the hill in front of me. This wound its way up the hill to the little known body of water known as the Sucker Brook reservoir, not to be confused with the much larger Sugar Hill reservoir, which confusingly, is the further upstream source of Sucker Brook – got that? The Sucker Brook reservoir, which feeds this highest section of pipeline, and in turn, Silver Lake, has been more of a stagnant swamp than a pond in all of my previous visits, but the recent rains have swollen this body of water to the point that it was actually a rather pleasant place! The light rain on its surface, and the early summer daisies (my favorite wildflower!) starting to wilt as the midsummer Black-Eyed Susans came into bloom made for an attractive shoreline.
Continuing across the earthen dam forming this reservoir, I came to a surprise – a sign, in the middle of nowhere, telling the history of this dinky little pond! A fun fact – this small body of water was created in 1917, and at the time was the highest altitude earthen dam east of the Mississippi. Who knew? Especially since most outdoorspeople don’t even know it exists!
The run continued up a steep incline for a few hundred yards, until it joined the Silver Lake trail, and at this time, I decided I’d had enough of pipeline traipsing, so I took the easy way back to my car by taking the path of least resistance down to the Falls of Lana parking lot, and from there a short quarter mile run to the minor parking lot where my car was stowed. Overall, this was indeed a rather pleasant run, with a few short bushwacking or scrambling sections, a healthy dose of mud, and about 700-800 feet of climbing and descent in its 5.75 miles.