Only two weeks ago, one of the biggest snow storms ever to hit northern New England blasted us with about two feet of snow, but the relatively mild weather which followed made me wonder whether my weekend enjoying the mountains would be in the winter, the spring, or mud season? Or all of the above perhaps? After Friday’s wonderfully springy weather, I realized that if I was going to get in any last long ski outings, I had better do them soon, as I suspected that the snow cover would be melting away quickly. With that in mind, I set out along the Ripton-Goshen road on Saturday morning. The road was fine at first, but is shortly became a series of frozen muddy ruts which made the drive rather adventurous for my low clearance front wheel drive vehicle. By the time that I reached the Blueberry Hill ski touring area, I realized that I had been fortunate to arrive with my oil pan intact. The ample snow cover was tempting, but I also realized that I needed to get onto paved roads before the frozen ruts melted into a quagmire with a high potential to suck my poor old Ford Escort into the Vermont equivalent of quicksand. Thus, I decided to head back to civilization, through the better roads heading down towards the Goshen Village, and return to Middlebury via Forestdale – definitely the long way, but the right way back considering the road conditions.
Undaunted, I headed back up to the Rikert ski touring area, which was fully accessible by paved road. While the snow cover was starting to get a little on the thin side in the field, there was a ton of VERY HARD snow in the woods. On the limited trails where the Rikert staff had groomed, the skiing was actually pretty nice, especially for skating skis, but forays off the groomed trails led to very challenging and limited skiing. As I was skiing along, however, I realized that the rather unyielding snow might be good underfoot for ….the first trail run of the year! So after skiing around a variety of loops close in to the touring center, I vowed to return to the mountains on Sunday, in running shoes rather than skis.
Sunday, of course, ended up as a near perfect late winter/early spring/pre-mud season day, so I headed for the wide open and well packed terrain of Forest Service 59 ( also known as Steam Mill Road). I have mentioned previous runs and skis on this road which is closed to car and truck traffic in the winter, but maintained for snowmobile use. Rather than accessing it from the Rikert side, I thought I would try and reach it from the Ripton side, and looking at maps, realized it could be accessed from the Natural Turnpike. For those who don’t know this road, it departs from Rt 125 to the left just after passing the Ripton town buildings, and weaves its way up into the decreasingly populated higher elevations. While this road passes all the way to Lincoln in the summer, a forest service gate blocks vehicular passage at a convenient parking lot. I have never seen this parking lot before, but it seemed like a good place to head into the forest.
While the footing might have otherwise proven a little slippery, given the thin veneer of corn snow on a rock hard base, my recent acquisition of the perfect running shoe for the situation made for sure-footed running. Asics makes an amazing shoe called the “Arctic” which has small spikes in the sole for just these sorts of condition, which gave me confident footing throughout the run. Joining the snowmobile trail labeled by the trailhead signage as “7A South” I quickly joined the far north end of the closed off portions of Steam Mill road.
A steady climb on this wide snowy boulevard brought me to the Steam Mill clearing itself, the trailhead of the trail to Skylight Pond, and a wide open area with great views of Breadloaf Mountain to the left.
As I was running along, I realized that I was not the only person who saw the potential to enjoy this route on such a gorgeous sunny day. I saw numerous skiers, hikers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers out as well – the only thing missing was a few dogsledders! After a little over 3 miles, I reached the Forest Service gate at the Rikert end of the road, so simply retraced my path for a 6.6 mile round trip. I also noted a variety of other trails branching off from this newly discovered trailhead, and I am looking forward to exploring them this summer on foot!
I am not including my usual altitude profile for this run, as the run had only a few small climbs and descents, and my GPS actually gave some odd results, indicating a nonexistant 500 foot drop and climb in the first mile – no need to scare off other explorers with spurious data! The next question is – will there be more skiing? Is it really running season? Or will it be so much mud that attempts to take either off road will require a cleanup with the garden hose to rinse off before entering the house? We will see….
Driving up into the mountains on Sunday, I was initially undecided whether to head into lesser used trails, or confine my late afternoon ski to more groomed terrain. Noting the piles of fresh snow everywhere, but untracked paths at all my favorite trailheads, I decided that the old racing skis I had brought would lead to a far more pleasurable ski on the well groomed trails of the Rikert Ski Touring Center at the Middlebury College Breadloaf Campus. As I approached the touring center, I was initially surprised by the huge number of cars parked there, until I remembered that there was a Bill Koch League (the youth nordic ski racing program) festival happening there. There has been a resurgence in nordic ski racing over the last few years, in part fueled by Rikert’s active Bill Koch League program and the leadership of the Frost Mountain Nordic Club, as well as the very popular Middlebury Union High School Nordic Ski Team. Inspired by these eager young athletes, it seemed a good day to travel the entire 10 km racing trail used by the college racers for their workouts, and yearly Winter Carnival races.
Family events precluded my witnessing this year’s winter carnival races, but on most years, the Saturday race is a great spectacle. The men ski the 10 km loop twice, and the women ski a slightly shorter 7.5 km loop twice. The high point of both of these events is the mass start involving all the racers in a mass start, looping around the field a few times in their amazing splash of color before heading into the woods. While the waxing tents set up by Sunday’s much younger racers and their coaches and parents were not as plentiful as those set up by the collegiate racers, they created much the same festive competetive atmosphere.
Leaving the fields festivities behind me, I headed into the first of the three loops which make up the race course. While this loop is officially named “the Battell Trail”, it has long been known by its nickname (and long ago official name) “the Turkey Trot”. This is a favorite first loop for many local children and neophyte adult cross country skiers due to its modest length, climb and descents. It also makes a for a good stretch of trail for the early stages of a mass start race, due its wide boulevard feel, making for relatively easy passing as the racers stretch out their legs. It also made for very pretty skiing for this long retired racer, with the previous day’s fresh snows clinging to the conifers.
After about 2 km in the woods of the Battell trail, this spectator friendly course loops back into the field before taking a right turn towards Myhre Cabin and the first substantial climb of the course. A short, but steep climb followed by a short descent and yet another climb up the hill behind the Myhre Cabin leads to the most technically challenging part of the course, the “S-turns” which can be easily seen in the Google Earth GPS projection of the route at the end of this posting. While this section is not particularly steep, racers can build up some decent speed while taking on some tricky hairpin turns. Shortly before one of the last descents in the S-turns I noticed a curious sign. Existential skiing anyone?
Looping back below the cabin brings one back to the field again before taking on the last major challenge of the loop, the long arduous ascent of Craig’s Hill. One of the best places to watch racers is on the short flat stretch about 2/3 of the way up this climb – as the skiers make their second loop, you can often see their exhaustion and guess which racers are going to have the energy needed for the upcoming sprint finish. A little more climbing after this point, followed by a short descent takes you to the section known as “The Figure Eight” although only half of the 8 can be skied without forcing racers to cross each others paths. The fast final descent down the section of trail still bearing the name of an exiled former professor brings you to the finish line behind the touring center. I realized at this point that I had not yet covered a full 10 km, so two loops of the ballfield brought my distance up before calling it a day.
While I have not entered any citizens races for quite a few years, I felt like I was skiing this loop at a fairly brisk pace, which took me about an hour to complete, with just a little time off along the way for photography. The top college racers can do this loop in less than a half hour – and then do a second loop to complete a 20 km race in about an hour. Many exercise physiologists consider nordic racing the most demanding sport in that it works every muscle in your body while pushing it to aerobic extremes. The top racers achieve levels of fitness most of us can only dream of. Most impressive!
Sitting in my living room on a snowy Saturday night, I have a hard time believing how warm and sunny it was just a few hours earlier, as I set off to ski The Widow’s Clearing Trail. Since the posting on the history of the Widow’s Clearing from one of last summer’s runs elicited a lot of interest, I thought it would be fun to return to this site on skis once winter hit. Well winter has definitely hit! The snow cover is outstanding for cross country skiers, with almost all hazards other than the larger streams completely buried.
This ski began, as did many of last summer’s runs, at the Brooks Road (aka Chatfield) parking lot off of Rt 125 just past Breadloaf. Usually, this lot if pretty empty, but on this gorgeous morning, there were numerous cars from which other outdoor enthusiasts had already departed. The goal for the day was to cross over the to Widow’s Clearing parking lot on the Ripton-Goshen Road. After about a half mile of easy climbing, I reached the clearing, which was not unexpectedly enveloped in a sheet of white, with only a few brushy trees poking through the uniformly smooth cover of the freshly fallen snow.
The skier-packed trail continued through the forest, passing several minor trail crossings, but staying on the Widows Clearing Trail, which also coincided with the Vermont’s end-to-end ski trail, the Catamount Trail, with its characteristic blue blazes, for much of its path. Deeper into the woods, I came across a pleasant surprise – the groomer from the Blueberry Hill nordic ski area had set tracks beyond the normal confines of their more heavily used trail system offering the unexpected pleasures of smooth kick-and-glide skiing. Eventually the Widows Clearing Trail and the Catamount Trail parted ways, and I bore right down the short descent to the end of the trail at the Widow’s Clearing parking lot on the Goshen-Ripton Road.
I had originally planned on doubling back on the same route, but when I rejoined the Catamount Trail, the day was too nice to end prematurely, so I headed right, taking further advantage of the groomed terrain. A second short descent to the Goshen-Ripton Road provided a brief roller-coaster descent staying in the deep set tracks.
The return trip passed too quickly, but was made even better by a chance meetings with a few friends and acquaintances along the trail, and several energetic but well-behaved golden retrievers. This route covered a little less than seven miles….I mean 11 km…..with almost all the climb in the first half mile. If this snow keeps up, I hope to blog skiing, rather than running into April this year!
Last Sunday finally gave me what I was looking for – blue skies, blue wax conditions (for those of you on waxable cross-country skis) and great snow cover – perfect for the first ski posting of the season. I decided to begin the day’s ski from my home area- the Rikert Ski Touring Center operated by Middlebury College, and make the route a mixture of well-groomed touring center trails and lightly traveled remote paths. The day’s route began by reversing the route described in one of my posts from last winter, entitled “The Robert Frost Cabin”. Heading up Craig’s Hill, the beauty of the fresh snow and groomed trail provided all I needed to justify stopping for a picture.
At the top of the first hill, I took a left on the “Figure 8″ trail, and then followed the signs leading to the Frost Cabin. The lack of any truly bitter cold subzero days this winter have made it so that many of the surface streams are still running, rather than iced over, and in a few spots, I had to chose my path carefully to avoid waterskiing. Around the periphery of the Frost Fields, the 2-3 inches of snow from the previous nights snow on packed trail made for pretty easy skiing, but the snow was up to my knees in the unpacked powder! Joining the trail heading into the woods behind the Frost cabin at the top of the meadow, which by this point in the season was pretty well packed by previous skiers, brought me to the site of the title of this entry – the Wagon Wheel Road.
The Wagon Wheel Road was so named due to the presence of dance hall by that name which operated at the end of the road, where the Rikert Trails meet the road, until about 60 years ago. I wanted to try and find a source of information on this former Ripton hot spot, but found the best information from an unlikely source. A friend told me that a well-done booklet on the history of Ripton was put together by the 5th and 6th grade classes of the Ripton Elementary School back in 1996, and that it might have some information on The Wagon Wheel. Fortunately, I learned that a copy of this book was available on the bookshelves of the Rikert Touring Center. According to this source, the dance hall operated from 1950-1952 with dancing every Saturday night in the summer, and was owned an operated by one Leonard Zeeman. Although the language used to describe this site is appropriately guarded, given the age of the authors, one gets the impression that it was a pretty wild place! They also report that the owner, who was also a contractor, collected enough beer bottles that he used them to build the cellar walls of a home he constructed in Middlebury. The dance hall stood derelict until 1962, when it was torn down, leaving behind just another cellar hole. With all the snow, there was no chance of finding this, but a small clearing at the end of the road appears to be a good place to begin searching for it in the spring.
My original plan was to follow the Wagon Wheel Rd as far as I could towards its source in the more civilized parts of Ripton, but was surprised by the fact that the upper reaches of the road were actually plowed. There was enough snow at first, but after about a km, the cover got too thin to ski, so I reversed my path, and headed back to the touring center. When I reached the Frost meadow, I took the upper trail back, which led to the well-groomed tracks on the outer Frost trail. From this high point on the terrain, I descended to the touring center to complete this 11.5 km route.
Once again, I am reverting to the common use of metric measurements when describing nordic ski routes, as is common. Curiously, the only time I have received any “troll comments” on my postings was last winter when one reader took offense at my use of this Unamerican system of measurement!
Over the years I have had the pleasure of spending a considerable amount of time just over the mountains in the Mad River Valley. While I was visiting family in Waitsfield over the holidays, I thought it would be fun describe a short run over there, especially since it is such a pleasant little community with a lot to offer the outdoor enthusiast, and is only about an hour from Middlebury by car. My previous running in this area has been mostly on the far side of the valley, on the smaller range east of the main ridge of the Green Mts., so I thought I would share a route which begins up on the ridge just to the east of Rt. 100 on the valley floor. The additional allure to running on this side of the valley is the great view it offers of the three major ski areas, Sugarbush, Mt. Ellen (technically part of Sugarbush) and Mad River Glen. The rather arbitrary starting point for this run can be reached by turning off of Rt. 100, through the Waitsfield covered bridge, followed by a left turn onto Joslyn Hill Road, and a right turn onto the Cross Road. There is ample room along the shoulder of the Cross Road near its intersection with the Common Road (the main N-S road on the hillside on this side of the valley) to park your car.
Heading north on The Common Road (the mountains should be on your right) brought me past the von Trapp farm and greenhouse. Yes, this is owned by a member of THAT von Trapp family – think about how many kids Maria and the Captain had, and then envision how many kids their kids must have had……and you get the picture why the von Trapp name is so common in the Mad River Valley and Stowe! That said, their farm has one of the best views in the state from accessible from a car or bike.
Shortly after passing the greenhouses, I arrived at the former site of the Waitsfield Common village, with its characteristic village green, older homes, and hillside graveyard. I refer to this as the “former” site of Waitsfield Common due to the fact that all of the commercial activity in the town has moved down to Waitsfield proper, a mile or so down the hill. Immediately after the common, I took a right turn towards the mountains on East Road, another easy-on-the-knees dirt road. A gradual climb of about a mile, past small hillside farm led to a point where the main road goes to the right, and a rarely travelled dirt road continues straight towards the mountains, albeit with a short steep dip in elevation. At the bottom of this dip is a pretty little valley which is another favorite mountain spot – its coniferous forest open meadow, and meandering stream normally looks more like a Colorado than Vermont, but a small herd of cows (heading north, of course) juxtaposed a little bit of New England on the pastoral scene.
Climbing back into the forest after crossing a small bridge, and taking the right fork in the now derelict road led me up a steeper incline, past a series of higher meadows, each with its own uniquely spectacular vistas, As the road bore left to the north, I could see the wreckage of a few derelict homes and cellar holes. After about a half mile along this segment, I chose to return, but past explorations following this trail further have led me to the top of the mountain ridge between Scrag Mt. and Mt. Waitsfield along what appears to be an abandoned stage road (which might be a VAST snowmobile trail at present) leading to Northfield. Perhaps I will have to come back to describe that continuation of this route next summer!
Returning by the same route brought me back to my car after a five mile run which was easier than expected due to the still thin Christmas Day snow cover. There were a few modest ups and downs, but not enough to really call this a hill climb route.
Happy New Year everyone, and THINK SNOW!
I had hoped that by this time in December, I would be sharing new ski touring adventures. While there is some cross country skiing to be enjoyed, the cover is a little too thin to get out of well-groomed fields and into the more uneven terrain of the woods. That said, I have no objection to trail running in the snow, at least shallow snow, and on this gorgeous sunny day, it seemed a great day for a run on paved road, dirt road, and trail.
For this run, I am revisiting a segment of a run I first described two summers ago entitled “Secret Meadow” where I described an infrequently visited meadow up on the hillside above Upper Plains Road on the Middlebury/Salisbury border. Today’s run started on the road, however, at the parking lot by the playground on Schoolhouse Hill Road in East Middlebury. Heading east up the Middlebury Gap Rd. past the Waybury Inn brought me to what ended up as the hardest part of the run – the short steep road ascent of Sand Hill. Shortly after topping out this challenge, I took the right turn on Upper Plains Rd., which was not surprisingly snow-covered. Looking through the normally thick woods enveloping the road, I spied a variety of trails which remained largely hidden in the undergrowth during the summer, and made a mental note of their location for future exploration. After a little over a mile on Upper Plains Rd., there is an obvious trail heading to the left on the other side of a forest service gate. A few yards up the trail, the main trail bore left, with a steeper, more narrow trail to the right. Curiously, there was a sign directing ATV’s to this trail, but guess which way the tire tracks went? Guess which way I went?
A short steep ascent brought me to the Secret Meadow itself, which looks quite different in the wintry landscape than it does during summer runs! While it was all blue sky overhead, haze and clouds to the west obscured the often spectacular Adirondack views from this hillside. Turning around, and gazing uphill to the east, I was impressed by rugged appearance the low rounded hills behind me took on when snow covered and devoid of foliage.
Returning down the gentler route chosen (apparently inappropriately) by the previous ATV’er, and retracing my steps in descent brought me back to the start, for a slightly less than 5 mile run with a very sane 550 ft of climb and and descent. Have a great Christmas, and hope for more snow!
There haven’t been any posts for a few weeks now – hunting season is not the best time for exploring new trails, and the weather has not been particularly accommodating. However, with Christmas coming up, it is a good time to suggest some toys for the runners in your life. One of the allures of running is its simplicity – a decent pair of shoes and gym shorts, and you can have a great time. That said, I have found a few gadgets which certainly enhance my running experience.
One would have needed to have spent the last few years in a mayonnaise jar to be unaware of the now ubiquitous iPod, and many runners use this great little device as a training partner. While it is clearly not appropriate to listen to one’s iPod when running with friends (too antisocial) or when running alongside busy roads (too unsafe), they can certainly make the miles go by faster, especially on those runs when the weather isn’t right, the body isn’t right, or you just plain don’t feel like it. Personally, the greatest benefit of the iPod to my running is how it has substantially diminished the frequency of my running injuries. I have a tendency to push solo runs too hard sometimes, but relax and slow down a little when listening to my favorite music or podcasts.
Associated with the iPod Nano – the small version of the iPod most suited to running, is perhaps the greatest value in running gadgets ever – the Nike Plus system. This consists of a small receiver attached to the iPod itself, and a tiny transmitter which you put in your shoe. Nike shoes have a pocket for this transmitter built into many of its running shoes, but one can purchase miniscule pouches which tie into your laces if you, like me, don’t find Nikes a good fit. This, with the associated software, gives you your elapsed time and distance (where it is remarkably accurate for so simple a device!) and pace throughout your run. The associated software allows you to see your pace at every point in the run after a routine iPod sync. and even keeps a training log for you. It also has social networking tools for runners, which aren’t my cup of tea, but clearly a source of enthusiasm for a lot of people. This little device is all yours for a mere 29 bucks! The major negative of this device is the unpredictability of its built in battery. I have have had these last as little as a few months, but my current transmitter is over a year and a half old and going strong. Finally, you can purchase narrated workout downloads from iTunes which fit just about all musical tastes and training needs. What could be better than a workout narrated by Lance Armstrong spouting platitudes such as “pain is temporary, but quitting is forever”?
The “gold standard” for running gadgets, of course, is the Garmin wrist GPS. If there are other manufacturers of this sort of device, I have not seen them. I use my Garmin for all of the stats in this blog. There are features to this device which I haven’t even tried yet, but in a nutshell, it gives you high accuracy mileage readout, as well as your current pace at any time during your run. After the run, when you sync the watch to the Garmin software on your computer, you can get your altitude at every point in the run, as well as your heart rate if you were wearing the optional heart rate monitor. Readers of this blog will recognize the utility of the altitude readouts. I am not as enamored of the heart rate monitor, however, as it tends to tell me things I usually knew already, like “Guess what – you pushed it too hard today”, as your heart is pounding out of your ears at the conclusion of a long climb. Finally, the software syncs to Google Earth almost effortlessy, allowing me to map my runs on geographical features quite easily. Since it is based on satellite signals, it sometimes loses its signal on trail runs when too much of the sky is blocked by trees. This does not seem to throw off the mileage, or average pace, but does make for annoying spikes in graphs of pace versus time due to the fact that it temporarily assumes the runner isn’t moving when it loses its signal. These GPS’s can get quite pricey (over $300), but if you just want the basic functions and don’t need the heart rate monitor, you can pick them up for the low-mid 100′s if you look around online.
Hope Santa is good to everyone!
Stick season can be a tough time of the year for outdoor enthusiasts. As the last of the foliage is blown off the trees, the days get shorter and colder without the distraction offered by the ample snows of winter. While the occasional day with bright blue sky and crisp late fall air can offer a reprieve, it seems that cold rain and grey skies are more abundant than other seasons of the year. That said, a brief glimpse of acceptable weather over the weekend inspired me to seek out one last long mountain run to close out the trailrunning season, at least at higher elevations. Autumn yard chores, questionable weather, and other assorted responsibilities kept me busy until late afternoon, but I finally hit the trail at 3:30 pm, confident that there would be ample time to squeeze in a run before darkness set in on the last day before the end of daylight savings time.
Once again, I sought out a new running variation from my favorite trailhead entry into the Moosalamoo Region, the Brooks Road Parking lot. In the course of one of my runs last year, entitled “Almost Like Running up Worth Mountain“, I attempted to summit Worth Mountain, the peak just south of the Middlebury College Snow Bowl from the north, passing through the Snow Bowl. Much to my bemusement upon completion of the run, I only realized after completion of the run that the high point which I had assumed was the Worth Mountain summit, was actually a subsidiary summit, and the true summit was a mile or so further south. I knew I had to get back to the actual summit at some point, and knowing that the summit could also be reached from the south on the Long Trail, I put this run on the “I have to try this in 2010″ mental list. Well, 2010 is fading fast, so this was my last opportunity to attempt this run.
Once again, my entry to the mountains coincided with the climb of Brooks Rd. for the first segment of the run, but instead of veering to the west toward the Sugar Hill Reservoir, or the Sucker Brook Trail, I headed east at the dirt road’s terminus, taking the left spur trail leading to the Sucker Brook Shelter on the Long Trail. This connecting trail made for about a mile of pretty easy running until the last few hundred yards of ascent to the actual shelter. At this point, there was a healthy dusting of snow along the trail, but it was still easy to follow due to ample blue painted tree blazes, and the obvious indentation in the ground from the boots of countless hikers over the years. I am sure that this easily accessible shelter is heavily used during the summer months, but at this time of the year, there was no sign that it had seen any recent occupants.
Immdediately beyond the shelter, the Long Trail proper was attained, and I headed left, planning to pass to the north over Worth Mt. to the Snow Bowl before returning to my car. A short way up the ridge I was treated to a limited westerly view, and realized that I had to maintain a decent pace in order to complete the run before sunset, but also knew that I would be fine as long as I got as far as the Snow Bowl before darkness, as the trailfinding from that point on would be pretty easy.
Of course, the trail got pretty slippery with even the modest increases in altitude at this point, and the Long Trail is not exactly a runner’s superhighway. Routefinding in the fresh snow and diminishing light got a little tricky in a few places, but I was determined to keep this adventure from becoming a misadventure – the last thing I needed was a headline announcing “Local Trailrunner Found Frozen”, or worse still “Boneheaded Trailrunner Rescued”. These concerns aside, this was a gorgeous stretch of trail made even prettier by the inch or two of fresh wet snow which clung like lacework to the altitude-thinned trees. After a seemingly endless stretch of ups and downs I passed a lone backpacker heading south. I was comforted by the fact that he assured me that my guess that I had about a mile and a half to reach the top of the Snow Bowl was correct. I also knew he had further to go before sunset than I did, but he was probably smart enough to be carrying a headlamp. As expected, I hit the top of the Snow Bowl with just a few minutes to spare before darkness – definitely cutting it a little closer than I should have, though.
An easy run down the Voter Trail brought me to the Snow Bowl parking lot under suboptimal lighting, but not before one last treat – a young bull moose greeted me as I rounded a corner on the lower stretchs of the trail. I was a little too close for comfort to have that good a view of him in the rapidly diminishing light, but fortunately he was not interested in this odd spectre dashing down the slopes, and he loped away in the opposite direction before I could snap his portrait. A short jog up and out of the Snow Bowl parking lot, and a little longer, but fast descent on paved road back to Brooks Rd. and my car brought the run to a close. Given the lateness of the hour and near total darkness, I attempted to call home to the undoubtedly justifiably concerned Mrs. Trailrunner, but the lack of any cell signal this high up on the mountainside prohibited this courtesy, so I hopped in the car and coasted home. This run covered a little less than 11 miles, much of it on rugged trail with slow going, and an altitude difference of 1800 vertical feet between the lowest and highest altitude, but probably a lot more climbing than that given the nature of the terrain. This made for a great way to wind down the running season, so bring on the snow!
In case you find the maps in this blog difficult to view, or would just like to see the photography at a larger size, I recommend viewing the blog in the Mozilla Firefox browser, which allows you to right click (for PC’s at least, I am not lucky enough to have a Mac) on the illustration with the “Open Link in New Window” command for easy viewing.
On long solo runs, the oddest thoughts pass through one’s mind. For example, on my last run I suddenly realized that the vast majority of my loop runs proceed in a clockwise direction. I have no idea why this is the case, but set out to rectify the situation with at least an occasional counterclockwise loop! On this sunny October afternoon, I chose to take on a short section of the Trail Around Middlebury (aka “TAM”) in the counterclockwise direction, and given that I was recovering from a head cold, went for a shorter and slightly less adventurous run than those described on the last few blog entries. With this in mind, I headed out of town from the college athletic complex passing through the campus and exiting via Weybridge St. After heading into the surrounding farmland, I passed a small herd of Belted Galloways (or as I prefer to call them, “Cows with Racing Stripes”) which provided irrefutable evidence that standing cows always point north. OK, maybe I edited out a few recalcitrant data points with my photo editing software, but can I still publish?
Shortly thereafter, this run finally started hitting the trails, with a left turn onto the TAM. This short stretch of trail between Weybridge St. and Rt.125 is a very satisfying mix of partially open meadows, mowed fields and forest, and was previously featured (in the opposite direction, of course) on a run described in the post entitled “Muddy Meadows and Poison Parsnips“. A few minutes later, I passed through the Middlebury College Organic Garden, a quiet and contemplative tract on a knoll just west of campus……which I always just run by.
By now you must be wondering what the point of the title of this post is – what could an Egyptian possibly have to do with a late autumn run at the outskirts of town? Well, as I was heading back towards town on the dirt road connecting the organic garden with Rt. 125, my iPod, which was set on “shuffle” mode switched to the classic 80′s song by The Bangles entitled “Walk Like an Egyptian“. Taking this as an omen, I thought it would be fun to try and locate the burial site of Middlebury’s most ancient inhabitant, which had been pointed out to me on one occasion several years ago. Angling through the back of campus on the paved path passing through some dorms behind the tennis courts, I ran around the periphery of the St. Mary’s Cemetery for the last leg of the run. Passing through the gate into the West Cemetery, and shortly after passing the prominent Battell Family enclosure on the right, if you look carefully to the right you will find the ankh and cross-bearing gravestone of Amun-Her Khepesh-Ef. In the late 1800′s, Henry Sheldon of Sheldon Museum fame purchased the mummy of the infant Egyptian prince who passed away at the age of two, nearly 4000 years ago. The mummy was never in good enough condition to be displayed, however, and languished in the Sheldon Museum storage until 1945, when he was cremated and given a proper Christian burial.
After locating and recording the Mummy’s Marker, a short jog across the street brought me back to the college fitness center, making this an easy 4.25 mile run with only a few easily surmounted climbs.
In the late 1980′s a popular “out of bounds” ski tour from the Rikert Touring Center at Breadloaf included an abandoned homestead which people referred to as “The Blue Bed House”. Mind you, there was never a blue bed in this derelict, but still partially standing home in my memory, but some more experienced skiers claimed that at one point in the not too distant past, there actually was a blue bed in the house. Over the years, some trails were rerouted and extended in other directions, and while the turnoff from the Rikert trail system towards this formerly popular destination could still be seen, I gradually noted fewer and fewer ski tracks heading in its direction. The one time I set off to visit the site several years ago, the snow cover was not sufficient for good skiing on the partially grown in trail, so I reversed direction and found another route. It has been about 20 years since my last visit to the site of the Blue Bed House, and I thought that I might follow the trails to its site to see how it had weathered the elapsed time.
This run, like the run I described in “Circumnavigating Robert Frost Country“, begins at the Robert Frost roadside rest area, and follows Frost Rd., past the Robert Frost Cabin, and beyond to the well-trodden trail directly behind the cabin. A few minutes after passing the cabin, I came to a trail split, and while in the aforementioned run, I took the left branch, on this run I stayed right, entering a gully which was actually a stream bed after the previous days’ heavy rain. The trail was in bad shape at first, with quite a few downed trees which slowed my progress on the otherwise easy climb, but after the trail leveled out, its condition improved as I approached the area where I remembered the actual house to be.
The years have not been good to this long abandoned farmhouse. All that remained of the Blue Bed House was a pile of wood. This also probably explains its diminished interest to cross country ski tourers – when the snow is deep there probably isn’t much to see. Does anyone know anything about the former residents of this site, or how long it has been left to decay?
Some of my readers have mentioned that while they are interested in trying out the runs I describe, they are concerned that they will not be able to follow the actual route. My response is usually something along the lines of “do you think I really knew where I was going when I set out to do the run?” In fact, if you always know where you are going, you never discover anything new. What happened next is a great example of that. I only “sort of” knew where I was going, and decided to explore where I was not entirely confident I knew my way. I did know that the badly overgrown country lane heading downhill to the left of the blue bed house would take me to a lovely meadow, so while I briefly considered turning and heading back to my parked car, I chose instead to keep exploring. This lane, which I also remembered from ski excursions long ago, was also starting to to succumb to the encroachment of the forest. Interestingly, someone had placed blue blazes on many of the trees alongside the path, probably marking them for removal, but apparently the spray painters were not as ambitious with the chainsaw as they were with the spray paint can. After a few minutes of descent, I briefly joined the trail described in the Robert Frost run, but when it hit an obvious T, I turned right, rather than left, taking me to the base of the backcountry meadow. I presume this meadow was part of the farmland used by the former inhabitants of the Blue Bed house, and it is starting to get a little overgrown, indicating that it has probably been a few years since its last mowing. Nonetheless, the twisted old apple trees in plain sight gave evidence for its formerly domesticated use.
This was where curiosity got the best of me. Noting the 4WD tracks heading into the meadow, I thought that I might follow them back uphill to rejoin my original trail after it passed the house. At the top of the meadow the double track in the high grass mysteriously turned into a single track more characteristic of an animal herd path. I wonder what sort of animal ate the vehicle whose trail I had been following? As the trail reentered the forest, a huge recently fallen fir tree blocked my path, and after jogging around it, followed what looked like an overgrown road. A few yards later, the putative road disappeared, leaving me standing in the woods. Knowing that there at least USED to be a trail just a little higher up the hill, I continued through, with a few zigs and zags following false herd paths, until I stumbled upon another interesting relic of the area’s past. Laying on the ground, in the middle of the forest, was a large ring of iron or steel, which looked like the rim of a wagon wheel. I was surprised by this, as I was clearly a least a 100 yards away from the house at this point. I picked the rim off the ground, and leaned it against the tree, in case I ever wanted to search for it again.
Eventually, sticking to an uphill bearing, I came to the obvious path. Presuming that a right turn here would take me back to the house in a few minutes, there was only one thing to do – go left! While the trail was easy to follow at first, it faded badly in sections, especially with all the leaves on the forest floor which made it hard to follow in places. When the trail became less obvious, there were usually a few plastic strips hanging off of branches, or colored plastic nailed to the trees, probably many years old. Eventually this rather vague trail rejoined one of the major Rikert trails, which is also part of the Catamount Trail connecting the Frost trail with the Brown gate trail. A ski tour passing by this section was described in a prior post entitled “Norske Trail to Brown Gate“. I finally knew exactly where I was, and that I was on well maintained trails. Looking forward to some easier uptempo running through Rikert trails I should have guessed there would be another hurdle in my path, and there was. The beavers who created the ponds alongside this stretch of trail have apparently been quite busy this summer, and one rather substantial section of the trail had a new purpose – beaver pond! I thought it couldn’t be too deep, but after a few steps into the pond which brought the water up to my knees, I thought better, and bushwacked to the right and managed to avoid most of the water.
Following any of the numerous obvious trails after this point will bring one to FS 59 (aka Steam Mill Rd) which runs behind the Breadloaf campus. A right turn on this road led to Rt. 125 a few minutes later, and an easy run on paved road to return to the parking lot. Not content to call it a day however, one last distraction delayed my return. Passing by the small, but maintained graveyard on the left side of the road, I thought I would stop and take a look, given that I had driven by it hundreds of times. There were a few prominent Addison County names in this small graveyard, known as the Galvin Cemetary, but the stone that caught my attention was this one:
I had stumbled across the final resting place of Lucina Chatfield nee Billings, the widow whose story made up one of my earlier posts this summer. I found it amusing that she was buried with her maiden name, rather than that of her bigamist husband! Returning to my vehicle, I was surprised to see that this run was only 5 miles long- a rather short run, but this one was long on discovery and adventure.