Once again, it is a beautiful Saturday, so I thought it would be a great day for a ski or trail run. A few days ago, I was talking to my colleague Joe the Geographer, and he mentioned how nice the running up to Silver Lake had been recently, and I realized then that despite the fact that I run there during most of the year (and blog about routes near the lake regularly), I had never been there before in the winter! I also knew that my spiked shoes probably wouldn’t provide quite enough traction, so I went to the Middlebury Mountaineer and picked up a set of “Microspikes” which are basically slip on mini-crampons designed to be worn over running shoes or lighter hiking boots.
I started this run, in the usual place, the Falls of Lana trailhead, and started up the steeper early sections of trail, which had been well groomed by and for snowmobiles, making for easy running with my spikes on. While the beaten down section of trail proved to be easy running, if I stepped off the trail, I quickly sank in, close to up to my knees, so there would be no trailbreaking for me today! Chugging up towards Silver Lake, I noticed that some snowshoers had beaten a trail to Lenny’s Lookout, the high point of the powerline clearing overlooking Lake Dunmore, so I headed up that way to enjoy the view after a short climb. I could see lots of ice fisherman down below, and it was curious that they were mostly clustered in one small part of the lake. Was the fishing better there? Or did someone bring the beer?
Returning to the main snowmobile trail, I continued up to the lake shore. I must confess, I was kind of hoping that some ambitious snowshoer had traipsed around the lake, making for easy passage in running shoes, but I could find no such tracks, so I had to content myself with a short slog through the snow, out on the ice, to get the sort of perspective that requires swimming in the summer. In addition to shoreline views, I also saw a few snowmobilers, off of their sleds and walking along the shore. With those big helmets on their heads, I kind of thought they looked like popular music artists “Daft Punk“, a duo reknowned for wearing face-obscuring helmets as they play.
Continuing on, I thought it might be nice to head down the Leicester Hollow trail, but was disappointed to see that trail had barely been broken on this, so I continued up the main route above Silver Lake. When I reached the trail split, half going right towards Goshen, the other half going straight towards Moosalamoo, I though I would head straight for a little while to check out the rarely-visited Sucker Brook Reservoir. Somewhat surprisingly, when I split off of the snowmobile trail to go to this small body of water, there was one set 4WD tire tracks heading down the steep road for me to run in. Somebody whose job it is to inspect the dam in the winter has one heck of a big set of snow tires, and a vehicle which does really well in deep snow! When I got to the reservoir, it was……empty. Apparently they drain it in the fall, probably to leave room for spring snowmelt?
Heading back up the hill to the trail junction, and not quite ready to return down to my car, I headed up the road further to the Goshen/Silver Lake trailhead parking lot, which was empty due to the fact that the road it lied at the end of was not plowed in the winter. I did notice that the snowmobile continued on however, and was surprised to learn that it followed the course of the Ridge Trail, up on the hillside above Leicester Hollow. I previously described the Ridge Trail in a summer running post, and found that there was nothing particularly remarkable about it, and had never run it again since. It took on a whole different look in the winter, so I am now eager to-re-explore it in the upcoming weeks while everything is still under deep snow. This time, however, I was not prepared for a longer run (no food or water), so after going a short distance on the well-packed Ridge Trail, I returned to the Goshen parking lot. From this point on, it was about 2.5 miles all downhill, and my Microspikes made it so that I could run fast, and confident in my footing for the duration of the descent.
Returning to my car, this made for a slightly longer than 7 mile run, with about 900 feet of climbing and descent. The day was so nice, that after I got home and had a light lunch, I managed to get out for an hour of cross-country skiing as well!
Finally, on Saturday, the howling cold weather which has kept me indoors far more than I would like gave us a reprieve. Saturday’s mid-teen temperatures, which under normal circumstances would still be a bit on the cold side felt absolutely balmy, so I went for a ski in the morning at the Snow Bowl. Some errands I had to do limited me to a half day, but by mid-afternoon I had completed them, so I decided to turn my ski day into the best of both worlds, and loaded my cross-country skis into the back of my Beetle, and headed out for round 2 of the day’s fun. I set off for the Ripton-Goshen Road, not really sure where exactly I would end up skiing as the afternoon’s snow started, and then increased in intensity. I was not in the mood to break trail, so I was looking for places where others had skied, snowshoed, or snowmobiled, but was looking for something a little less well groomed than the terrain offered by our local ski touring centers.
My first thought was to ski down the forest service road leading east to the Moosalamoo Campground and Voter Brook Overlook, but the ski track I found petered out in about a half mile, turning into a snowshoe track set by hikers intent on climbing Mt Moosalamoo, which would have required more time than I had at my disposal. So, I returned to my car, and looked for another entry into the forest. Heading south another mile or two, I came to a plowed turn off for the forest service road which heads up to one of my favorite backcountry sites, the Sugar Hill Reservoir. I didn’t make note of how exactly this is marked, but it is on your left as you head south, and is about a mile north of the Blueberry Hill Inn. I headed up this road, which is used by the cars of fishermen who use it to access the reservoir during the summer. I knew from past explorations that this road is heavily traveled and maintained for snowmobile travel in the winter. I also knew that this point of entry would bring me to the lesser-used northernmost nordic trails associated with the Blueberry Hill Inn’s Nordic Center. The ravages of Hurricane Irene took out a few bridges on this part of the trail network, and the funds have not yet been raised to revive them (although a funding campaign has been launched!), so I suspected that these trails would be skier-packed, but not groomed. While recent transplants to the area may not know this, older skiers (like me!) will probably remember that through much of the 70’s through the early 90’s (If anyone knows the full span of this, feel free to comment), Blueberry Hill sponsored the American Ski Marathon, which was part of the national ski marathon series known as the Great American Ski Chase. As a result this race, which galvanized the support of almost all the inhabitants of tiny Goshen, VT, brought in some of the finest ski racers from all over the country, and even a few random local college professors. My ski today covered a small segment of this race course.
I headed up the hill towards the reservoir, not really remembering how far I had to go. I realized that this would be a pretty short ski if this was my sole destination, as I reached the height of land above the reservoir only after 3/4 of a mile, and hit the reservoir shores after only a mile. The snow was starting to fall pretty heavily at this point, but there in front of me was the snow-covered lake, and I realized that I had, there in front of me, an opportunity to write my name, or at least my initials, in the snow on a scale which might be visible from space, or at least by our spy satellites. Perhaps a “JB” a quarter mile high, with a superscript afterwards to show off my science side? While I considered this, I also realized that if I was going to put the effort in to do this, I wanted a picture, and the heavy snow and increasingly late afternoon lighting precluded meaningful photography of any such attempts to defile the scenery.
I also noticed the sign, describing this reservoir as the geographic high point of the hydroelectric project culminating at Lake Dunmore. This sign, by the way, is usually at eye level. We have a lot of snow!
I began my descent, but wanted to extend my ski, even as the light was fading, so I took a left turn about halfway back, heading into the Blueberry Hill trails on what is known as the Sucker Brook Trail, which had been packed by the skis of a few others who had preceded me. This section of skiing, continued with a sharp right turn and short climb on the Stewart Trail (none of these names are marked, by the way – I just know them from past experiences – they are labelled by signs bearing numbers, relevant to the ski touring area’s map) took me into denser hardwood forest. Big old trees make lots of loud cracking sounds when it is cold outside, and by this point the temperature was dropping. Eventually I reached a point where I realized that I would soon be descending into the touring center, and I didn’t want to have to do the extra climb to extricate myself, probably in the dark, so I turned around and headed back to my car. En route, I passed a sign with the number 7 written on it. Lucky? Not really – this was a 7 Km marker from another of Blueberry Hill’s races, the summer Goshen Gallop trail run.
Reaching the forest service road, I took a left turn and descended to my now snow-covered Beetle. This ended up as a pretty easy and short ski tour. The short climb to the reservoir is particularly nice for less experienced skiers. I ended up putting in about 4 miles on this, with no more than 200 ft of climbing at any point. I can also see that we are going to have some impressive spring skiing this year!
Finally, mid-week, we had a break in the polar-bearworthy weather with a warm day in the 20’s, so I chose to take a mid-week extended lunch break, and headed up to the Rikert Ski Touring area for the first time in longer than I care to admit. I had noticed the existence of a new trail meandering through the open meadows to the south of Rt 125, and west of the ski touring center (that’s on your right, and before Rikert for the directionally challenged) and had made a mental note that this was something to be explored as soon as possible! Arriving at Breadloaf, I strapped on my skating skis, did a quick warmup around the field, took my skis off, and crossed over the road to the fields directly across from the ski touring area.
I have not skied these open fields much in recent years – I seem to have spent a lot of time here in the late 80’s, when I and my “Team Ross” friends seemed to have to spend a lot of time racking up (inflated) kilometer counts trying to outdo each other in our training over the course of a few winters where there just wasn’t much snow, and the trail at the far side of these fields tended to be the last place that the snow held during the all-too-frequent meltdowns which cursed those winters. Nonetheless, I noticed from the map in the touring center, that this trail was the means to get to the new trail, shown on the map as the “Brandy Brook Trail.” The well-groomed start of the Brandy Brook Trail started in the southwest corner of the meadow, and immediately began an easy descent through a forested area for a short distance, before going over a bridge (over the Brandy Brook itself perhaps?) before entering one of the open meadows alongside Rt 125. From this point on, the trail meandered through the fields for about a kilometer, before skirting the Galvin Cemetery, final resting place of “The Widow on the Hill“, and crossing the road at the white house bearing the curious name “Earthworm Manor“.
I was curious to find out the origins of this odd name, and obtaining this information proved easier than expected, courtesy of Google. While his primary residence was at 24 Chipman Park in Middlebury, Earthworm Manor was the former second home of one W. H. Upson (where have I seen that name before?), who had been a prolific writer for the Saturday Evening Post, as well as other periodicals during the mid 20th century. Although he lived in quite a few parts of the country, including a stint at the Caterpillar Tractor Company in Illinois,when he eventually settled in the Middlebury area, he frequently attended the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, and taught creative writing on occasional at Middlebury College. Presumably he was a colleague of our better known poet, Robert Frost? So why was his Ripton summer home called “Earthworm Manor”? One of Upson’s most well known fictional characters was an everyman known as Alexander Botts, whose employer was the Earthworm Tractor Company- probably building off the author’s early career at Caterpillar.
Back to skiing! After crossing the road, my ski took me around behind the Earthworm Manor, and up what is probably an old logging road behind the house. As I ascended, I noted a fair number of trails diverging from the groomed ski touring trails, and made a note to myself that there just might be some fun trails here for further exploration by ski or on foot. After a short climb, the Brandy Brook Trail terminated at one of the older Rikert trails, and I then realized where I had heard the aforementioned author’s name before – this was the Upson trail, usually known by it’s nickname, “The Figure 8”. From this point on, I tried to make the widest loop I could on trails groomed for skating, so I bore left, eventually coming to the Frost Trail, which for many years was the outer limit of the in bounds Rikert terrain, and descending via Holland Trail to the impeccably groomed Tormondsen Racing Trail. The snowmaking on this trail can make for some rather unnatural snow buildup on the nearby trees, and noticing this tree, I couldn’t help but think it bore a striking resemblance to a rather long and bulbous nose. Jimmy Durante anyone?
Completing my descent, I crossed over the FS 59 road, and came across something I had never noticed before; The small summer swimming pond, which now also served as the water source for the snowmaking, had a small fountain at its center. I suspect that it is not used, except to help keep the pond from freezing over during the coldest portions of the winter (like the last week or so!), and I rarely ski on those sorts of howling cold days.
I could have called it a day at this point, but I also knew of another new trail which I wanted to check out. So to get to that, I began my second, shorter loop at the Battell trail. I side excursion down to the less traveled Cook Trail, led me through some dense pine forest. While, the uniformly spaced and sized monoculture red pines were undoubtedly placed there by humans in the not too distant past, they made for a lovely effect with the fresh snow.
Ascending the modest hill on the Battell Trail, I came to the short straightaway at the top where the ski trail is separated from a little-used snowmobile trail by a hedge of 30 ft pines. After reminiscing that I have been skiing here so long that I can remember when those trees were planted as saplings, I crossed over onto the snowmobile trail, which brought me past the Kirby Burial Ground, and onto the upper reaches of FS 59. From here, I scooted up the Forest Service Road, which is maintained for ski skating just as well as the touring center trails, courtesy of the snowmobile groomer, until I reached the Brown Gate, where I returned via the Upper Gilmore Trail (a great new trail which I first sampled last year!), until I reached the Gilmore House, where I explored the second new trail of the day, the Crooked Brook trail, which begins behind the Gilmore House. This trail, while probably only 1K long, is a blast to ski, as it descends through a series of fun, tight turns before traversing across, eventually joining the other well established trails near the Myhre Cabin. While writing up this posting, I discovered that a short Facebook posting showing the construction of this trail was published last summer. Thanks to Mike and his staff for building this great little trail!
One final descent brought me back to the touring center to complete what ended up being about a 9.5 mile ski. Once again, my aging Garmin GPS had a bad day, so I won’t be able to post the usual tech stuff from that. I got the darn thing back in 2007, so maybe it is time for a new one? Anyone want to throw some money in a Kickstarter account to help defray the costs of a new one?
Ok, so some of you must be asking “What the heck is The Blerch?”
The Blerch is a character, created by the author and cartoonist known as “The Oatmeal”, who has described The Blerch in the following words:
“Marathon runners often describe a phenomenon known as “hitting the wall.” They refer to ‘the wall” as the point in a race when they feel physically and emotionally defeated.
I do not believe in the wall. I believe in The Blerch. The Blerch is a fat little cherub who follows me when I run. He is a wretched, lazy beast. He tells me to slow down, to walk, to quit.
“Blerch” is the sound food makes when it is squeezed from a tube. “Blerch” is the shape of my tummy after a huge meal. If I am sedentary at a time when I have zero excuse for being sedentary, I call this “blerching.” The Blerch represents all forms of gluttony, apathy, and indifference that plague my life.
The Blerch always seems to appear in my life over the holidays – too much good food, too much good wine, and too much time on the road or in the homes of my extended family can make for a relaxing holiday, but not one in which I get much running in. “Its too cold outside Jeff – you don’t want to go out there”, or “Gee that football game, the Dingleberry Bowl between Okoboji State and Turkey Tech sure sounds good”, or “I shouldn’t run right after eating – where are the Christmas cookies?”. Yup – that’s the Blerch talking!
A few days ago, one of my running friends in Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts announced a run up, over and back on my old favorite, Snake Mountain, for this Saturday morning, and this sounded like a great way to jump start my running legs after the lethargy of the holidays. So, when my alarm went off at 7 am on a Saturday morning…..I hit the snooze button. Damn that Blerch! 10 minutes later, as the alarm resumed its insistent buzz, I realized that it was time to silence The Blerch along with the alarm, so I got up and poured a cup of coffee. Then, I looked at the thermometer, and it read “9 degrees”. Ugh – its too cold out there, but as the sun rises it will warm up, right? So I had my breakfast, and drank a few more cups of coffee, and when the time came at 8:30 am to drive off to the Snake Mt. trailhead on the west side of the mountain, I looked at the thermo-tormentor, and it let me know that the meager rays of sun had raised the temperature all the way up to 11 degrees. At least at this point, I realized I had drunk too much coffee to go back to bed, so off to the trailhead I went, donning about seven layers of clothing.
My mood improved considerably upon seeing four other runners ready to go at the start of the run. We had been forewarned to wear some sort of spikes on our shoes given the icing on the trails, so I brought my Asics Gel Arctic shoes – basically a normal running shoes with short spikes in the soles, for the winter ascent. The rest of the group had slip on spikes, known as MICROspikes, which they wore over their running shoes, and looked like they might offer even better grip. Sure enough, as we set off up the trail, while my shoes did well on the old styrofoam snow, frozen mud, and hard packed trail snow, they offered no grip whatsoever on the brief but challenging sections where the trail was essentially a frozen waterfall. My running partners with their MICROspikes seemed to be handling these sections much more adeptly.
As a result, my pace was much slower than usual, but nobody else was running much faster. Achieving the summit on this bitter cold morning, which seemed much more bearable after climbing for over two miles, we were treated to some amazing Adirondack views. I have always felt that if you squint your eyes just a little while looking west, you can almost convince yourself that our winter views of the ‘Dacks look an awful lot like views of the Front Range from Denver. Funny how squinting can keep an illusion completely clear!
After ascending from the more heavily hiked west side trail, we decided to descend down the east side. To get to this trail, you have to pretty much know where it is, as it is an unmarked trail. About one third of the way down the mountain, the west side trail takes a sharp, steeply descending right hand turn, and the east side trail is achieved if you go straight at this point. If you have never hiked this trail before, I would recommend ascending from the east side parking lot on Snake Mountain Road, so you can see where the trails meet. Given the lighter use of the east side trail, the snow was not as compacted as it was on the much icier west side, making for an easier descent, passing by some nicely terraced beaver ponds.
When we reached the east side parking lot, we had a decision to make: I was not looking forward to the climb back on the trails, and back down the west side, as my footing was much poorer than the others’ and I was not enthused about sliding down the mountain on a frozen incline. I knew there was a way to circle back to our parked cars by taking the Forest Road, a road which ran over the southern shoulder of Snake Mountain, but I did not have a clear idea what the mileage of this route would be. Some members of the group suspected that my mileage estimates might be a bit on the short side, and were not up for the potential of a significantly longer run. So, we ended up splitting the group- after all, this is supposed to be fun – and some went back up the mountain, while a few of us chose the road return, heading south on Snake Mt. Road, west on the climb over Forest Road, and then taking the right turn onto Mountain St. extension to return to our vehicles. Other than occasionally choking on the dust churned up by passing cars, this was actually a nice road run with views to the east and to the west at various points along the way. Although my initial conservative estimate of the distance was indeed shy of the actual mileage by about a mile and a half, I had not missed by as much as some of my running partners feared. The two groups met back at the parking lot within a few minutes of each other, and our version of the run worked out to almost exactly 10 miles, with the about 1000 ft climb up the mountain.
Happy New Year, and Death to the Blerch! (although he is kind of cute…..)
More often than not, the transition from autumn running to winter cross-country skiing is a long, frustrating period of time, derided as “stick season”. This year, however, a warmer than usual November, followed by more generous than usual early season snow, seems to have shortened the season in which it is “too cold and rainy to run, too warm or snowless to ski” to a few short weeks. That said, the seemingly inevitable Christmas rains have dramatically reduced the snow cover in Vermont, and when I checked the conditions at Rikert, and they were reporting 3 km of trail open for skiing, this did not bode well for holiday skiing in Addison County. So, I decided to look elsewhere, and followed the usual rules of thumb, which are 1: Go north and 2: Go high. So, I decided to make the slightly longer drive to the Trapp’s cross country ski touring center, high on a hillside above Stowe Vermont.
As most Vermonters know, the Trapp Family Lodge was established by the one and only Maria von Trapp of “Sound of Music” fame shortly after she and the rest of the family emigrated to the United States. They first established a modest ski lodge up on a hillside with views which reminded them of the views in their native Tyrol, and then pretty much introduced nordic skiing to the northeast with the opening of their touring center in 1968. Meanwhile, the original lodge burned down in 1980, sending poor old Maria out into the cold in her nightgown. The much tonier modern lodge, which I have driven by many times but never actually entered, was built a few years later. The Von Trapp family also has apparently flourished, as witnessed by the fact that there seem to be as many Von Trapps as there are Smiths in the northern Vermont phone books.
I skied at the Trapp’s Nordic Center a few times a year in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but as my commitment to nordic ski racing faded, corresponding to increased family priorities, I had not skied here in many years, perhaps as many as 20 years, so I was looking forward to this excuse to return. The Rikert ski touring area, while more convenient, has one major drawback – it is lacking in long climbs and descents. It isn’t flat mind you – the Tormondson Race Trail packs in about 400 ft of climbing and descent in each 5 km lap, but due to the limits of the topology, breaks these climbs and descents into bite size pieces. Trapp’s on the other hand, is literally on the side of a mountain, and has trails which take advantage of this – it is full of long, grinding climbs, followed by generous, multi-kilometer descents which which make you want to whoop with joy as you gather speed and maneuver through corners.
I was not disappointed in the amount of terrain under conditions which have virtually wiped out most of the cross country skiing in the state – they had 25 km of trails open, and with my Rikert season’s pass, I was able to get one day of free skiing there this year. Experienced skiers have known of the challenges of skiing Trapp’s, but due to the fame of the Von Trapp family, as well as the rather plush orientation of the tourism industry in Stowe, most of the skiers there are tourists who might ski once every ten years. I was also somewhat astounded by the many languages I heard on the lodge – Spanish, French, British English, Russian, German, and other languages which I didn’t recognize were within my earshot. They must be doing some rather brilliant marketing to get people who live much closer to real mountains like the Alps, to come to Vermont to ski!
The only consistently flat trail at Trapp’s is the main access trail which traverses the side of the mountain for a little over a mile. Given the less experienced nature of most of their clientele, this trail is almost comically crowded with beginners, wearing their downhill skiing attire with ski technique that could be described with the terms “wobble”. “careen”, and “sprawl”. But hey- we all have to start somewhere – I hope that these folks try this great sport again! This section of trail also had numerous benches for skiers to sit on, and plenty of trail signs to ensure the clientele that they were not yet lost in the wilderness. Curiously, they also had a sign with a Robert Frost poem (saying nothing about roads less traveled) inscribed, perhaps taking inspiration from our own local Robert Frost Trail? More experienced skiers inevitably strive to survive the long climb to “The Cabin”, perched at higher altitudes and achieved after a pretty steady 4 km of climbing. When I last visited this cabin, it had a small snack bar, providing free water, and selling hot chocolate, and hot soup to the proud skiers who managed to get up there. This time around, while the cabin was still backwoods rustic, it had a more complete menu than I remembered, also offering grilled sandwiches and baked goods. I wasn’t there to eat however, I was there to ski, and this cabin, at the highest altitude for skiers also provided the beginning of what I came there for – the screaming descents!
After a short water break, I continued past the cabin on the Haul Road, a long fast descent down the back side of the touring area. My past memories of this descent also included memories of great views of Mt Mansfield, but given how many years it has been since I last skied there, the previous open views along the trail were now mostly obscured by young birch forest. That was OK, as my downhill technique is not what it once was, so paying attention to my skiing rather than the views was probably a good idea. Of course, what goes down must come back up again, so after this great descent, I climbed up a different trail, known as “Bobcat”, circling back up to the cabin for another descent. For my second descent, I explored a trail which was new to my experience, apparently put in 5 years ago, known as “Chris’s Run”. This trail is probably the most spectacular descent in a groomed cross country ski trail in Vermont – it had pretty consistent pitch, with just enough steep sections to keep you literally on your toes, and zigzagged its way down the mountainside for what was probably 3 km, with excellent views through the hardwood forest. After this descent, I worked my way back to the beginner bumperpeople trail, with a side trip behind the Lodge, to complete my longest ski of the season and one of my best ski workouts in a few years.
All in all, this made for a 15 km ski with about 1400 vertical feet of climbing, and more importantly, descent. Yah!
One of the challenges of running deep into the autumn is the dreaded clock resetting, away from daylight savings time, and back to “normal” time. The days are short enough to begin with this time of the year, and the loss of an additional hour of daylight at the end of the work day can complicate scheduling runs into my busy day. There is one solution to this problem however – the headlamp! Now, I have rarely run with a headlamp in the past, but when my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday a month or so ago, I responded that I wanted a headlamp so that I could continue to run after work, at least as long as the weather allowed. I, of course, had never shopped for a headlamp before, and the previous headlamp I owned was “pre-LED”, was dependent on heavy D cell batteries to run, and provided the light of a decent flashlight. This was fine for it’s purpose at the time – those hiking days which required a start before the sun rises, but was a lot of weight to be carried on a strap around my head while running. Now, I can see what my parents were thinking – “Our trailrunning son runs a lot, so he needs the brightest, safest light out there!” So, I was a little bit chagrined to see the superdeluxe ultra high power headlamp my parents had purchased for me. Let me tell you – this lamp could work for spelunking. Nevertheless, I put it on, and it really wasn’t that heavy. The first time I ran after dark with some friends in the Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts, I received a modest ration of grief for my rather elaborate headgear – but – when it got dark outside they were more than happy to run in my headlight! This thing is really bright – at the end of one evening run, I pointed it at the Middlebury Falls from the Marble works – it lit up the falls from quite a distance! Curiously, when I ran alongside the road wearing it, I would have cars flick their brights at me if I allowed my headlamp to stray into the eyes of oncoming drivers. So yes, this lamp is a keeper!
The recent spate of unseasonably warm weather, combined with a full moon, inspired me to go out and several nights in the last two weeks, so I thought I would describe an old favorite run on the TAM from a very different perspective. So, one evening after work I set out onto the Red Kelly Trail segment of the TAM, heading out the back door of the College Fitness Center to start this run circling the golf course. One of the first things I noticed was that I barely needed my ultraluminous headlamp at all out in the fields, but as the trail entered the woods, it provided extra security, helping me avoid roots and slippery rocks. Some people are scared of the dark, and while I don’t have any issues in that regard, this was kind of like leaving the TV on, or the door to the bathroom open, letting in just enough light for security.
As I progressed around the golf course, I wondered what sort of wildlife I might awaken – perhaps there were bears out and about? A random skunk sauntering in the trail? As it turns out the only animals I saw were numerous rabbits out for their evening nibbles, and I only saw them as their little white butts scampered away as I upset their dining. Approaching Rt 30 out in the open, many of the older trees took on far creepier shapes than they usually appear to have during the daylight, and I was kind of surprised to see that my point and shoot camera was actually able to catch their mood in the light of the full moon.
Continuing across Rt 30, I joined the segment of the trail where my headlamp was most needed – the narrow, twisting second of the Class of 97 trail which connects the road crossing with the open fields to the west of the college. This was somewhat slow going, as even with the headlamp, the trail was difficult to follow due to the fact that it was covered in fallen leaves. Just as I was wondering if anyone else in their right mind would be running here in the darkness, I saw the headlamp of another lone running heading towards me. After our extended greetings, we passed each other by and continued in our respective loops – mine, clockwise, hers, apparently counterclockwise. Once I reached the open fields, I actually no longer needed my headlamp at all, except for one short jog through a thin strip of forest land – the moon was that bright – bright enough to leave moon shadows behind every tree. Crossing Rt 125, I reached the top of the modest glacial drumlin which makes up the college organic garden. From this vantage I had a great view of my workplace, Bicentennial Hall, and its glowing windows against the night sky.
At this point, I left the TAM, and took the footpath back to campus, crossing over Rt 125 by the “Mods”, the small cluster of homes which were set up at the outskirts of campus for temporary housing 15 years ago, and up the service road which connects them with the rest of campus. Of course, given that it was only a few days after Halloween, I had to complete the course with a shortcut through the graveyard, and since this run was not a filming for a horror movie, I reckoned I was safe enough. The monuments do make for an eerie sight in the low light – I almost felt like I was running through some sort of ancient ruin.
Since this run precisely follows a route I have previously blogged, I am going to link to the Google Earth image, which currently resides elsewhere in this blog. Overall, this is about a 5 mile run, with numerous ups and downs, but no serious climbs or descents, and yes, it is fun to run in the daytime as well.
On a cool mid-October day, I realized that it had been a few weeks since my last blog posting, so I thought about some good possible runs, and went online to perform a little cleanup to this blog. Then I realized that this was going to be my 100th posting! Should I come up with something particularly epic, or maybe even a little bit dangerous? Nahhhhh…. Instead, I decided to retrace the steps of the same run that I did for my very first posting, way back in June 2009. So, here goes – my inaugural run for “The Middlebury Trailrunner”, the run from the Falls of Lana/Silver Lake trailhead, up past Silver Lake to the Goshen Trailhead on the hillside above the lake, and back. I have done more runs from this trailhead than from any other starting point, but had not written up a new posting on this identical route, although I have run it countless times. Whilethis is probably not a recommended for for running neophytes, it is an appropriate, adventurous run for folks for whom road 10K’s are “about right”, but want to start exploring more adventurous terrain. This particular route has some significant hill climbing, but is primarily on double track forest service roads (only open to maintenance vehicles), so it is a great place for decent runners to start exploring trails. Kind of like me, 5 years ago.
A lot has changed in the last 5 years, at least as far as my running goes. When I first blogged this run, I thought of this as a pretty adventurous route, between the significant climbing, and its backcountry feel in a very scenic part of Addison County. Regular readers will note that while I do continue to weave in runs of moderate length, my longer runs have gotten…well….longer! I have also become more adventurous in my choice of new routes, with my attitude to new routes evolving from “Gee, I would like to know where that trail goes, so I can give it a try”, to “I bet that trail goes somewhere new, let me check my map”, to “OK – there is a path I have never noticed before, here goes!”. Adventure follows! Trailrunning has also rejuvenated my running, as I have found that I can go out on longer runs with greatly diminished frequency of injuries. This is key for middle-aged athletes, as every ache and pain becomes an excuse to not run, and a gradual acquiescence to the inevitability of old age – prematurely. Trail running puts one in the situation where every footfall is unique, and that fact, combined with its slower pace, minimizes the repetitive use injuries so common in distance runners. The other wonderful discovery I have made is that a steady diet of trail running on challenging terrain, with a longer runs every few weeks, is great preparation for marathon running, an empowering aspect of running which I had given up on for close to 20 years due to frequent annoying injuries.
Now – on to the run! When I first blogged this run 5 years ago, it was an early summer run in June of 2009, and the run reflected that season. This time? Mid-October, while still lovely, at least this year, is the very end of fall foliage, and the summer resort around Lake Dunmore is mostly shut down for the season. The Kampersville Squirrel? Still there, but she somehow looks a little creepier on a grey day. As I drove around the shoreline towards Branbury State Park, I also noticed a lot of “For Sale” signs in front of lakeside homes. I suppose their owners wanted one last summer on its shores before starting the process of turning over their summer haven to new owners? I also noticed that, at least on this blustery Sunday afternoon, that there were no cars or beachgoers along the shoreline of the state park. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Falls of Lana trailhead, just south of Branbury, was pretty close to full. I guess trailrunners and hikers are a hardier sort than beach folks? Apparently, although I suspect some Maine coast beachcombers would beg to differ, or even those who brave the Atlantic coasts further south in the off-season.
I am not going to spend a lot of time describing the details of the route – it is pretty easy to follow. Run up the forest service road departing from the Lake Road a hundred yards or so south of the parking lot, and follow its switchbacks all the way to Silver Lake, at about a mile and a half, and continue up the hill above Silver Lake on this road until you reach the Goshen trailhead , at which point you follow the trail descending back to Silver Lake, reaching the lakeside Leicester Hollow Trail, where you take a right turn. After slightly less than a half mile on this trail, take the left turn, following the campground sign pointing to the picnic area, which will bring you to the Silver Lake “beach” and then back to the original road on which you initially climbed, where you complete your descent back to your waiting car, for about a 5.6 mile run, with about 800 feet of climbing and descent.
That said, since I have run this trail countless times, but never at this specific time of the year (past-peak foliage, segueing into stick season), I made a point to look for things I had never noted before. So, for the rest of this posting, I will share these bits of minutiae. So – here goes!
1. A little over a mile into the run, if you look to your left through the trees, you will notice what looks like a small body of water to your left. I had always called this “Moose Pond” in my mind, but had never done the very short bushwack to actually stand at its shores. I associated it with moose, as I had envisioned it as a great place to see a moose someday. I finally took a few moments to actually step onto its shore, and while moose sightings continue to evade me when I am running, I realized that my name was a moosenomer: This is a rather substantial beaver pond! If you look at the picture carefully, you will see the beaver hut in the middle of the pond. There is also a rather substantial beaver dam, just to the right of the frame of this photo.
2. When you get to the shores of Silver Lake, you will notice a campsite for a campground host to your left. Over the last few years, there was an elderly gentleman who filled this role, and while I stopped to chat with him a few times, I never inquired as to his name. He was not there this summer, and for most of the summer, the campground host camp site was empty. I hope he is in good health? That said, I had always romanticized he notion of spending a summer in the forest, away from the comforts of home. On this run, I took the time to look around the empty site, and found its dirty little secret – it has electrical power. Set me up in the campground, and let me rock tunes on my portable electronic devices!
3. Much of the road ascent during the summer has a tunnel-like feel. The overhanging foliage blocks most views, and keeps the road more or less permanently in the shade. On this run, with most of the trees bereft of leaves at the higher elevations, rather expansive views opened up!
4. As I approached the Goshen parking lot at the end of my ascent, I noticed an old wooden sign, with the number 9 painted on it. Does anyone have any idea what this means? It was not one of the blue signs with yellow numbers, which the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring Center uses to mark its trails. Nor was it one of the far more polished numerical signs which grace the shores of Silver Lake, which I assume accompany a pamphlet which I have never seen, probably with a name like “Groovy Trees of Silver Lake”. Maybe the Number 9 was referring to one of my favorite summer microbrews? I doubt it!
5. There are a few well placed marble blocks on the shoreline of Silver Lake. I have never noticed these before, and I can only assume that these remain from the old Silver Lake Hotel. If you would like to learn more about this long gone hotel, you should purchase “Leicester Vermont’s Silver Lake — Beyond the Myths” By William Powers. You can find it on Amazon, or at the Sheldon Museum!
I am going to finish with a few observations I have made associated with management of this blog, as I have learned a few interesting things about how the internet really works through the use of WordPress (the software I use for this blog) analytics.
1. About 90% of the information transferred on the web is total spam. We are all familiar with the junk mail that fills our inboxes, but the amount that assaults this blog, in an attempt to post links leading to god knows where when clicked, blows my mind. I probably see 10,000 spam messages for every real reader response. Fortunately, the brilliant software which the WordPress programmers have added to the blogging software is ruthlessly efficient at blocking this, so it only takes me a few moments each week to delete, and it never clogs up the blog comments. For some reason, spam touting the wonders of Luis Vuitton handbags, and Adam and Eve sex toys seem to be the worst offenders. I have also noticed that every time I mention my Garmin GPS watch, I get inundated with Garmin spam for a week or two. Yes, the web is dominated by spam bots!
2. One of my very first posts, describing a run I did in Bristol entitled “Things to do in Bristol when you are bored” seems to get a lot of hits due to people Googling the terms “bored in Bristol”. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why almost every day, one or two people somewhere in the world google “bored in Bristol” and end up on my blog. I have googled these terms, and seen nothing of note. I wondered at one point if my mischievous teenage daughter was messing with me, but she claims innocence.
When I first posted this run, I also mentioned the ready availability of creemees and other frozen treats at the Kampersville Deli. Alas, this summer attraction is also closed for the season, but its whiteboard price list is still inviting. I wonder if the price list will still be there in the spring?
So now, I have to ask my readers (both of you?)- Do you know of any good treasure troves for trail traversing which I (we) might explore at some point? I have a few good ideas of new places in the vicinity to explore, but am always looking for some new suggestions. Feel free to respond with any of your inspirations!
Cheers, and hope to see you at post #200
I was in the Upper Valley for a few days over last weekend, and had some time to run, so decided to come up with another “run on the road”. While this blog does focus on Addison County runs, the Upper Valley, roughly centered around the Hanover, NH, Lebanon, NH, and Norwich, VT is only an hour and a half away, so might provide opportunities for other locals on the road! Running in this area holds special meaning to me: Many years ago, as a graduate student at that moderately known institution of higher learning in Hanover, I got my first taste of trail running, running on the trails tucked into the forest between the Hanover Country Club and the Connecticut River. When I lived in the area, I was vaguely aware of some little-used trails in the undeveloped forest, just south of the Hanover Village, bounded by Rt. 10 alongside the Connecticut River to the west, Lebanon Rd, aka Rt 120 to the east, and I-89 to the south. But, at that point in my life, my trail time was focused on bagging the highest peaks in NH, so I rarely explored the trails in my own backyard! Although I don’t usually do this, I have included a map of this area courtesy of Google Maps. This most important thing to note is that there are no roads going into the interior of this accessible semi-wilderness. While it is not apparent at this scale, if you zoom in on this area in Google Maps, the trails are shown, many of them with their names! More on that later…….
Looking over the maps of the region a little more closely, I realized that I had been to one location in this region numerous times in the past. The small lake, about a half mile uphill from the Wilder Dam Parking lot, just south of Hanover, was the location of many weekend afternoons with grad school friends, swimming, cooking burgers, and yes, drinking beer. So, I chose this lake, known as Boston Lot Lake, as my destination from a trailhead along Lahaye Drive, the road which runs along the southern boundary of the Dartmouth Medical Center access road.
So, I set off on my run a little later than usual, planning on a 4-5 mile run to Boston Lot Lake from this trailhead. The first complication here was that my cell phone, which I was counting on for access to Google Maps for navigation in a area which I was not familiar with, was down to the end of its battery life. The second complication was that since it was rather late in the afternoon, I had to be concerned about darkness. Arriving at the trailhead, I spoke with a mountain biker who was loading up his car, who warned me that there were a lot of trails back there which were not actually on the map which I was using. OOOOOOKKKKKKKKKK…….
Setting off from the trailhead, I indeed found many of the aforementioned unmarked trails, and found myself constantly checking my phone for bearings. The trail network in this section was complex, but traveled through a lush, dark, hemlock forest with plenty of tree roots to keep the running “interesting”.
The trail at this point went by the not surprising name of “The Hemlock Loop”, and it eventually connected to the Northside trail, which in turn brought me to the shores of Boston Lot Lake, which I had not visited in more years than I care to admit. It was a very cloudy early evening, but for some reason the Lake didn’t look quite as big as I remembered it. Isn’t it funny how time does that? Running around the lake, the vegetation seemed to transition from hemlock to oak, with the associated danger – it seems that the oak forest was infested with super squirrels who were knocking down and collecting acorns left and right – I heard these rodent-sized projectiles crashing all around me, but fortunately none knocked my noggin!
After the mile or so jaunt around the lake, I realized that I had to get back to my parked car….soon. There wasn’t a lot of light left in the day, and frankly, the woods were pretty dark. Finally, my cell phone, which I was counting on for actually finding my way home, was warning me that it was down to the last gasps of its charge. So, consulting the map with the notion of finding the straightest possible route back to a real road, I picked a trail called “The Indian Ridge Trail”, which appeared to be more or less straight and easy to navigate on weak sunlight. The challenge to this trail was that it left me a little farther from my car than I would have preferred. The Indian Ridge was probably the prettiest part of the run – as the trail name implied, the route was along a ridge, and I suspect that after the leaves fall, it might actually offer a few limited views of the surroundings. I also passed by an intact stone wall from a hill farm which probably bad not been in existence for at least a hundred years, judging from the girth of the surrounding trees.
And of course, a few moments after I took this last picture, my cell phone went black with a dead battery, but fortunately my on-the-fly route planning proved correct, and I reconnected with the roads surrounding the medical center, and was able to follow this in the fading light to my returning car.
My four-five mile run ended up being more like a six and a half miler, and while there were no serious hill climbs in this route, it was hardly flat. Also, a perfunctory look at the maps of the region indicate that there are a myriad of trailheads which offer access to this extensively forested area. Good running!
As the summer draws to a close and the days get cooler, my runs tend to get longer and longer in anticipation of a few Fall marathons, or other longer races which depend on a full summer’s training. I have been wanting to knock off a big chunk of the Oak Ridge Trail for some time this summer, and I found some good running partners for this endeavor through a new Meetup, called “Middlebury Trail Enthusiasts“. For those of you are not familiar with this group of runners and trail seekers, it began just this summer. For the time being, most of the group runs have been in town, after work (5:45), leaving from the Marble Works on Tuesdays, and some Thursdays. While I have been a regular participant on these after work runs, which usually proceed at a pace amenable to conversation, this was the first time I had joined in one of the longer group runs. So, at 8 am on a beautiful Saturday morning, I joined up with Heather, the group founder, and John, the organizer of the local race, the “Moosalamoo Ultra” for a run up the ridge. We started at the parking lot on Rt 125, between East Middlebury and Ripton, and headed up the trail. One sign of good conversation is that you miss trail signs, so I guess we got off to a good start by missing a well marked right turn, where the Oak Ridge Trail veered off of the Old Town Road, an abandoned road which serves as the northern terminus of the nearly 20 mile long Oak Ridge Trail. After about a quarter of a mile of running in increasingly higher grass, we realized our error, and backtracked to the incredibly obvious correct turn, and from this point we had no further routefinding difficulties!
I had done this section of trail once before, as a point to point run, after being dropped off at a significantly higher altitude, the turnoff for the Voter Brook Overlook on the Goshen-Ripton Road. Running the same trail in the opposite direction added an additional 500 ft or so of climbing! The trail angles up the north side of Mount Moosalamoo, rarely becoming steep, over the course of over 6 miles. At one point, pretty high up, I grabbed a shot of my running partners as they attempted to escape me.
Shortly after this point, I parted company with my running friends, as they were looking for a longer run than I today – they continued along the ridge toward the now near Moosalamoo summit, and I chose to descend on the Moosalamoo Trail to the Moosalamoo Campground, and return to my car by country roads. The descent was much easier than the ascent to this point – the Moosalamoo Trail gets much heavier foot travel than the longer Oak Ridge Trail. Some recent local new articles had alluded to trail maintenance on this trails, to make them more accessible to mountain bikers as well, but other than a few cut up trees which had fallen over the trail, it looked like this plan was not fully underway yet!
I reached to Moosalamoo Campground, at around mile 9 in the run, and was surprised to see that, even on Labor Day weekend, this primitive campground only had two groups of campers staked out for the last holiday of summer. At this point, I knew my return would be by road, but the Goshen-Ripton Road is about as quiet as a road can get- in my 4 miles or so on this road, returning to 125, I saw only 3 cars. I also made mental notes of other trailheads to be explored in future postings, most notably the Wilkinson Trails across the road and to the west of the Widow’s Clearing parking lot. In one sunny section, I also noted some of the last daisies of summer, clinging to the side of the road.
Rejoining Rt 125, I passed through Ripton, and realized that while I had passed through the village countless times by car, and by bicycle, the only time I had actually been on foot in the village was racing in the Ripton Ridge Run back in the 80s when it started and finished at the old Ripton School! I also took a moment to enjoy the whimsy of the reproduction of the old sign for road tolls on this route, posted in the yard of the Chipman Inn. Do you think they accepted Easy Pass?
The last mile of the run was the most unnerving – the run through the twisty turny section of 125 below Ripton. The shoulders here were less than ample, and I took care not to run on the side of the road on the inside of the many blind corners where cars tended to cut it a little close! I did indeed survive this short section without a scratch, to return to my car in time to get home for lunch. Overall, this was a pretty long run for me, covering almost 16 miles, with about 1500 ft of climbing on the trail sections.
Finally – it would be great to see some new faces at Middlebury Trail Enthusiast events – check it out!
On a recent west coast swing for a few conferences, I had a few days in Orange County, just south of LA, followed by a few days in downtown San Francisco. While both of these are very urban areas, I looked for elements of trail running at each of the locales. How can one do true trail running in the cities? I always look for parks, or parkways alongside water, or hills. Even though this is not QUITE the same as a good Vermont Trail, as long as one can put up with the stop and go of frequent traffic signals at road crossings, this is a great way of shaking off the lethargy of long sedentary hours in conference lectures, on airplanes, or in airports.
My first stop, in Orange County, held less promise for a memorable run. While “The OC” is well known for its excellent beaches, I was stranded about 10 miles inland, in an area which seemed to be mostly made up of featureless modern office buildings, 6 lane wide city streets, manicured corporate lawns, and generous sidewalks which seemed curiously devoid of walkers or runners. Looking at the map more carefully, I noticed that I was only a mile and a half away from the “Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve“, which held promise as a site for finding actual trails in this otherwise concrete jungle. As expected, the early part of the run involved running on the sidewalks, while sucking in the exhaust of rush hour traffic, and stopping at numerous traffic lights. As I turned one corner, however, I saw the oasis which I sought, and realized I had found a runners’ gem. Apparently, as this area of California underwent rapid development in the 1970’s they had the wisdom to save this estuary from development, and while the pressure of encroaching homes, roads, and even a major airport (John Wayne Airport) was always evident, other than the roar of a jet every few minutes, it was a great place to run. I suspect that at times other than 5 pm, the hottest time of the day, I would have seen more wildlife, but on this run I had to be satisfied with a few skittish rabbits and iguanas.
There were many more miles of pleasant waterfront running to be explored, but I had to return to my sterile business hotel for a planned dinner, so I turned back to the open road for my return. This route brought me alongside the airport, and the wealth of Orange County was obvious from the extraordinarily high concentration of private jets moored there, and the Rolls Royce dealership I came across at exactly 4.78 miles into my run. Apparently, only 19 of the 50 states are prestigious enough to harbor one of these dealerships, and not surprisingly, Vermont is not one of them.
Completing this run after about 5.5 miles, I was offered a bottle of water by the kind bellmen who must have thought that the sweaty middle aged fellow coming in their front door was ready to die – apparently Californians don’t sweat?
The second half of my west coast swing brought me to San Francisco – one of the most glorious cities in the US. It too, has large parks, such as the Presidio, for the avid trail runner, but my location in a downtown hotel sandwiched between the Financial District and Chinatown put those locales out of reach with the limited time I had available for runs. So, I built my run around the aspect of trail running which downtown San Fran has in abundance – HILLS!
Setting off from my hotel and passing briefly through the bustle of Chinatown, I came to the first of my hill climbing challenges – a steep incline which necessitated steps on the sidewalks for pedestrians, “The Macchiarini Steps“. At first, I thought that it must be some sort of sick joke on the tourists, calling this paved wall a road, but when I noticed the garage doors flanking it, I realized that people really do drive up and down this precipitous incline!
Once past this challenge, I continued uphill to my first summit, the top of Telegraph Hill, which is occupied by the Coit Tower, and offers some of the best views of San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island. My descent brought me back to the lower elevations of the city, and uphill to the base of what is arguably San Francisco’s most notorious climb, the twisting gardens of Lombard Street. Again, the steepness of this road demanded steps on the sidewalk, and my passage was slowed by countless other tourists doing more traditional vacation activities on this scenic climb.
The high point of Lombard Street is very close to the summit of Russian Hill, and I was pleasantly surprised to note that the top of this hill, which has to be some of the most valuable real estate in the US, was capped with a public playground with tennis courts and a basketball court! All directions from here were downhill, so I headed towards my final summit of the afternoon, that of Nob Hill. This hilltop was the high point of the run, and is crowned by a cathedral and several rather posh looking hotels and apartment houses. The long steep descent, entailing just as much “shuffling” as most trail descents brought me back to my hotel. While the distance of this run was not a big deal, only about 3.5 miles, it did entail over 1000 ft of climbing and descent. To put it in perspective, I can’t think of any trails I have done in Vermont which pack this much altitude change in this short a distance. So, while this run was entirely on concrete, it had the feeling of accomplishment comparable to a run up Snake Mountain, with the views just as good as mountain top views.