Over the last year or so, I have become increasingly interested in taking on longer, more challenging runs. After reading the book “Born to Run” by Christoper McDougall, I was fascinated by the world of the elite ultrarunners – they are a very quirky and adventurous bunch who find ways to push their bodies to physical extremes. As I was learning more about ultramarathon racing, I stumbled across the podcast entitled “Running Stupid”. This podcast, published every few weeks by a 40-something, self proclaimed “back of the pack” (that’s the nice way of saying “slow”), overweight, but joyously funny ultrarunner named “Coach Ken” regularly describes the challenges, successes and failures of an average Joe runner, and provides a window on the world of the more elite runners from his perspective. In short, reading this book, and listening to these podcasts had me hooked – I had to try an ultramarathon.
There was a problem with this dream, this check box on my bucket list – running long races requires a LOT of training. My life is pretty busy, and I knew from past experiences that my body almost always breaks down if I attempted to train for long or ultralong events. Over the last year, however, I discovered that I could do, and enjoy regular road marathons with far less training than is usually prescribed, as long as I got in one very long run (at least two hours) every week, and as a result was successful in completing and actually enjoying two marathons in the last year. Could this same regimen work for an ultramarathon? Could I finish? Could I feel good enough that I actually enjoy the race? Ultramarathons typically range from 50 km road races (about 31 miles) to 100 miles on road or trails, or even more. I knew I had better look for one on the short side, for obvious reasons.
A few months ago, I noticed an announcement for the “Moosalamoo Ultra” a 36-mile race to be held on the trail network of the Moosalamoo region on August 18. This seemed like a great one to try – readers of this blog will know that I am quite familiar with the trails here, and it had the added convenience of being close to home. In fact, looking at the race course, I had previously run almost all of the trails on the course at some point or another, and I described the course as “four or five great runs – all in one day!” The race was being organized by John Izzo, a Salisbury resident and avid local runner, with the Blueberry Hill Inn as its base of operations and start/finish area.
So, I lined up at 8 am on Saturday with about 100 other runners, about half of whom were doing the still very challenging 14 mile version of the race. Usually, in this blog, I go into a fair amount of detail on the route, but this particularly elaborate course pretty much defies a detailed description. I am going to include a Google Earth projection as I usually do, and also make a link to the course map. John clearly put a lot of thought into mapping out a great piece of running which covered pretty much every corner of the Moosalamoo region, with some very challenging climbs (the first loop up and over Mt Moosalamoo), an out and back section in the first half of the race, so that runners could have a feel for where they stood in the pack, some very muddy sections (yes, there is plenty of mud out there, even in this dry summer), and some particularly drop dead gorgeous sections of trail (the Chandler Ridge/Leicester Hollow loop comes to mind). The course was also well supported with volunteers, many of whom were John’s family, at aid stations throughout the course.
In any case, as a first time ultrarunner, I brought the following with me on the course:
- A 20-ounce water bottle that fit a waist belt. Hydration, of course, is the single most important concern in a long, midsummer race. With aid stations typically 3-5 miles apart, I usually tried to make sure that my water bottle was empty as I entered an aid station. The one time I neglected my hydration, I paid dearly for it – the terrain between the aid station at mile 21 (on the Goshen Ripton Road) and mile 25 (Silver Lake), was almost entirely easy downhill, so I neglected to drink enough. When I hit the next aid station, I topped off my water bottle without any extra drinking, and as a result ran out of water on the next segment – the arduous 5 miles on the Chandler Ridge. I got rather severely dehydrated there, even feeling for a short while like I was not entirely in control of myself, so I took it slow, and took a much longer than usual break at the next aid station where I made rehydration a top priority. Also, the two women (one of whom I found out later was John the organizer’s wife) had actually hiked in a mile carrying all the food that morning, so they deserved to have someone stop and chat for a while!
- Food – In almost all long workouts and races, I depend on the nasty, slimy, but wonderously rejuvenating little packets of Gu as my main source of sustenance. I always ingest one packet after every hour of running, so I went through 9 Gu packets over the duration of the race. Yup, I WAS out there a very long time – you do the math! I am no longer feeling the love for the “Espresso Love” flavor! The aid stations were supplied with lots of other calorie rich treats as well, and I found myself drawn to foods which otherwise would have made a typical 10 year old boy happy at lunchtime – PB+J sandwiches and potato chips. I always eat PB+J when I go on day hikes, but had no idea potato chips would taste so good in the middle of a very long exhausting day. I must have eaten a few bags worth. In retrospect, it makes sense that a body would crave the chips – they provide a lot of calories (a typical ultrarunner probably goes through 5 or 6 thousand calories), and have a ton of salt to help that replaced through sweating. I had one of the volunteers take the following picture at the last aid station on the shores of Silver Lake at mile 33, as I prepared to inhale a massive fistful of chips to power me to the finish line. I also brought along some granola bars and these did not work very well! While they are appropriately caloric, they are also very dry, so eating them required stopping long enough to catch my breath so I didn’t cough and choke. They were also reduced to crumbs very early in the race making them even harder to eat. Nope – granola bars are off the list!
- Camera. I am writing a blog, so it made sense to bring it.
- Music. I frequently run with an iPod, but never listen to it during a race – half the fun of racing is having conversations with people you meet along the way, and wearing an iPod tells other racers and organizers that you don’t want to communicate. That said, given the paucity of runners and length of the course, I knew that there would be long stretches of solo running, perhaps many hours in duration, and musical motivation might keep me going better. So, I put together the “jbr mix” (Jeff B running) and brought it with me. I ended up never listening to the music however – I had pretty steady company for the first two thirds of the race, and by the last third of the race, I was so depleted that I felt like I needed to pay full attention to my feet, my surroundings, and my general well-being in order to finish the race safely.
- Electrolytes. I always drink Gatorade during long races, and since the organizers were only providing water, I purchased some powdered Gatorade, and filled about a half dozen plastic bags with just enough for the 20 ounces of water in my bottle at refills. I used most of it, although by the end I was really sick of the stuff, and got my electrolytes from the aforementioned chips and from some salt tablets I had brought with me, and popped once in a while.
The race itself seemed to have 3 distinct phases – the first third, including the run up and down Moosalamoo had the most challenging terrain, and I had other competitors in sight nearly the whole way, since the short race (14 mile) and long race (36+ mile) runners were all together. This part went by pretty quickly. Curiously, one of the few sections of trail that I had never been on before here was the “dimple” between the two summits of Moosalamoo, and this was the only time I got off course – I probably wasted about a half mile and 5 minutes getting my bearings back there. I also saw two gentlemen hiking carrying what looked to be 100 pound bags of sand without the benefits of a backpack. At first I was mystified, but then I recognized one of the two as someone training for another local ultra-endurance test – the even more masochistic “Death Race”. Although this event had already taken place earlier this summer – perhaps they were training for next year already?
The second third had what was probably the gentlest terrain in the race, and it was here that I met and ran with a few far more experienced ultramarathoners who kept me company, and answered my stupid questions. We ran together for a few hours, and they did a very good job of mixing in running and walking so that we could maintain appropriate pacing for finishing. Thanks Josh and Grant from NH! I also knew that in the “long run” I would not be able to keep pace with these two experienced ultrarunners who were 25 years my junior.
The last third of the race ended up being, not surprisingly, the hardest part. As well it should – prior to this race, I had never run longer than 4 and half hours, and I went into the last dozen miles already on my feet for over 6 hours. I also bonked for a while due to dehydration, and the technical running on the Chandler Ridge also sucked a lot of the remaining life from my legs. Curiously, at around 4:30 in the afternoon when I was coming up Leicester Hollow – I had one final surprise burst of energy, and was able to muster some real running for about a half hour. I am not sure where this came from, but maybe my loved ones were thinking of me and sending some positive vibes my way right then! However, other than this too brief reprieve, the last 12 miles were walked – I tried in vain to get my legs to turn over quickly enough to muster a slow jog across the finish line, but they couldn’t respond. With one mile to go, even my GPS and camera were rebelling. My watch proclaimed that it was “Low on Batteries”, and when I went to take a picture of this “No kidding” moment, my camera had a hard time opening its iris! Nonetheless, I did finish, and I wasn’t in dead last place (although closer to last than first!)
What did I take from this race? First of all – my modest training regimen is enough for a road marathon, but it really isn’t sufficient for a trail ultra. I did finish, but I need to put more miles into my legs in training to keep a longer race like this fully enjoyable. No surprise there!
I would also like to thank John Izzo and his extended family (as well as other volunteers) for the great job they did putting together this new race. I would also like to thank Tony and the crew at Blueberry Hill for use of their facilities as a base of operation and start/ finish line. I think the rest of my blogged runs this summer will be much shorter…..
Finally, my GPS measured the course slightly longer than advertised, at 37.5 miles (although about a half mile was spent off course) or about 60 km. I agree with the estimation of about 3000 vertical feet of climbing and descent.
I enjoy going for runs in parts of the world beyond Vermont when I have the opportunity to travel. Typically, I have a full day of activities whether I am visiting for work reasons or solely for vacation, so the logical time to fit in a run is first thing in the morning. I am usually not much of an early morning runner, but running through the streets and parks of unfamiliar locales provides a great way to explore before the touring throngs descend on the attractions as the day progresses. I recently had the opportunity to visit Quebec City with the Trailrunner family, and decided to go for a leisurely city run on our first morning in this beautiful city, only 6 hours away. We were staying in the old city, inside the city walls, and this made for a great starting point for some exploring on foot.
At the start of the run, I was drawn to the most famous sight in Old Quebec, the Chateau Frontenac Hotel. This really is a grand hotel, and quite a spectacular building on a bluff above the St. Laurence River. The Frontenac, with its tower and turrets looks remarkably like the fictional Hogwarts Castle of Harry Potter fame, but is of surprisingly recent construction, having been built “only” a little more than 100 years ago in 1893. There is also a huge promenade deck on the river side, high above the lower city and the river, providing for some more room to run, and I was far from the only person out there enjoying a pleasant summer morning.
After soaking in the views from up on the bluff, I jogged down the long set of stairs which brought me to the riverside, into the oldest inhabited part of the city. I discovered that the cobblestone streets of this ancient section of the city require much of the same care that is needed when running the trails – I had to run “eyes wide open” at all times so that I didn’t careen head over heels on an errant stone, much like I have to do on the less urban trails of Addison County, VT.
The view of the Frontenac itself from this lower level (about 200 feet lower than the higher city bluff) was also particularly breathtaking.
Before setting off on this run, I had noted that, just to the west of the Chateau and the Citadel, there was a large expanse of park land, called “The Plains of Abraham“, which looked like a good place to get in some true trail running. If you remember The Plains of Abraham from your high school education, you will remember that this was the sight of one of the battles which changed the course of history, where the British defeated the French, effectively ending French colonial ambitions in most of North America. What you probably didn’t know was that this battle, this turning point in world history, lasted all of 20 minutes. I will resist the temptation to insert snarky comments about French military prowess.
I had hoped that there might be some way to access the Plains of Abraham park from the riverside, but was disappointed to see no trail connection. (Note, there apparently is a rather precipitous trail up from the riverside, but I did not notice it in the course of this run.) So, I added some mileage to this run with a job on a bike path alongside the river front road, through a mix of parks, docks, and construction sites. After a few minutes along the river front, I more or less retraced my steps back up to the Frontenac, getting a few odd looks from some early morning walkers as I jogged up the seemingly endless stairs, and back to my hotel and a waiting cappuccino. This came together as a slightly less than 5 mile run with a pretty steep descent and climb.
Over the last few summers, I have blogged quite a few running routes through the Moosalamoo region, but somehow never managed to work in a run over the region’s eponymous peak, Mt. Moosalamoo itself. So why the sudden urge to actually ascend this rather gentle peak? First of all, I love the way the name rolls off your tongue – is it possible to say the word “Moosalamoo” without smiling? I didn’t think so! Secondly, looking at the Forest Service map of the area, I realized that I could…so why not? In the course of my hiking, I had climbed Moosalamoo from the Lake Dunmore (west) side – the summit can be easily reached by hiking another mile or two past the popular Rattlesnake Cliffs lookouts. This route takes a different approach, from the East side on the Goshen – Ripton Road.
Looking to try a point-to-point run, I had my daughter deposit me at Moosalamoo Campground Road, where it meets the Goshen-Ripton Road at about 5 in the afternoon on a sunny, but not too hot afternoon. After a short time on this dirt road, I took the Mount Moosalamoo Trail heading off to the right immediately before entering the campground area. You will know you are on the right trail, as it is pretty well labeled! This trail zigzags behind the campground for a few minutes, before reaching an old dirt road. At this point, take a right turn for about 50-100 yards before the well marked left turn descending down to a wooden footbridge over a small stream. At this point, the serious climbing begins! The Moosalamoo Trail angles along the northeast flank of Moosalamoo before reaching the Oak Ridge Trail, an easy half mile or so from the summit. Taking this left turn brought me to the “true summit” of Moosalamoo, which has only limited views through the trees. I knew from previous hikes that the slightly lower, southern summit, has some decent cleared overlooks, but since I had a pretty long run planned in the opposite direction I chose to forego this diversion and save my legs for a lot more miles planned in the opposite direction. It is easy to find the true summit however, as like everything else in this run, it is well labelled!
Retracing my steps back to the trail junction, I set off on a very wild stretch of trail, the rarely traveled connection between Moosalamoo and Rt. 125 on the Oak Ridge Trail. The good news – this trail is well marked (What in the blue blazes! They are everywhere!) and almost entirely downhill. This did make for a very challenging trail however – it is very narrow, and in many places pretty rough going since not many footpads of hikers, let alone trail runners have beaten down this trail. So, while the terrain itself was not particularly severe, the true single track nature of the trail made this slower going than one (that one being me) might expect. I really felt that I was out there, by myself on this one. Passing by a few high altitude puddles which looked like ideal moose wallows, and even noticing some fresh bear poop got me so nervous that every Hyperactive squirrel in the woods made my heart beat faster! Nonetheless, this was a gorgeous stretch of forest. Most of the run was through mature hardwood forest, with the relatively little ground cover. In quite a few sections I felt that there would be excellent views to the north in the fall. I will have to come back and report on this.
With the slower than expected pace, and the late start, the forest started to get pretty dark, even though sunset was still some time away. The sun got to be too low in the sky to permeate the forest, leading me to run cautiously, especially at the lower elevations, rather than attempt to shave a few minutes off my time.
Somewhat suddenly, after what seemed like an eternity of downhill running, the trail broke out into the diminishing sun, as the narrow single track trail joined the Old Town Road. This “Road” is only used by motorized vehicles for logging operations at present, and has never borne vehicular traffic in my 25 years in Addison County, but its level of development and the fact that the power lines leading up to Ripton following this route seem to indicate that it was once a real road. Does anybody know anything about the past use of this road? Did it always run parallel to Rt 125, or did Rt 125 supplant it at some point? Finally, reaching this broad easy former road did allow me to stretch my legs out a little and really run, however, without worrying about tripping over stumps and rocks, and it brought me after about a mile and a half of easy descending to Rt 125, where I caught the now setting sun, before descending into East Middlebury, ending the run at the playground parking lot on Schoolhouse Hill Road.
This long and challenging run ended up at about 11 miles in length, with 1000 feet of climbing, and 2000 feet of descent, most of it at a slow jogging pace.
Last October, as a long season of trail running came to a close, I pondered the semi-unthinkable: Would it be possible to compete in and complete a marathon without the single-minded training regimen that is inevitably recommended by “the experts”? Training for marathons by traditional methods (60-90 training miles per week, for many many weeks) had only accomplished one result for me- injuries before I ever reach the start line. Well, I found the answer for this, when I raced in a marathon, and completed it, feeling great most of the way – the description of that race has already been described in my post entitled “Questioning Conventional Wisdom – A Marathon Story”.
So far this season, I have done a fair number of longer runs (up to 13 miles), but let’s face it – one’s conditioning can’t be as advanced in July as it is in October. Add the loss of training time due to a nasty cold, and worse than usual allergies, and well, my legs have definitely felt better. Nonetheless, I have always wondered if I would be able to enter, and complete a marathon, treating it as “just” a very long training run. Why did I think this was even possible? For one, there are a fair number of older athletes (*ahem* like me) who run in large numbers of marathons each year, and while they don’t compete for prizes, they appear to have fun chugging along at a more leisurely pace than the younger thoroughbreds. These people have to have day jobs right? An early summer marathon also might be a springboard to more, and maybe longer races later in the season. So, I set out to find a mid-summer marathon to test some new questions about physical limits.
It didn’t take me long to learn of a race in Waitsfield VT called “The Mad Marathon“, and I thought that with a name like that, it would be a perfect venue at which to attempt this latest experiment. There was one slight problem with this plan – a marathon with truly minimal training should probably be undertaken on a flat course, and this race has 1000 vertical ft of climbing and descent. Yikes! Nonetheless, there I was at 7 am Sunday morning…lined up with about 1200 runners (most of whom seemed to be running in either the half marathon, or as members of marathon relay teams) for the starting gun.
I knew I had to do things differently if I was going to survive this race. I tend to start of long runs slowly, and accelerate as the run or race proceeds. In this run, however, I knew that I was cutting it awfully close in terms of my abilities, so I picked a pace which I knew I could maintain for long distances, and stuck to that pace, no matter how good I felt at various times in the race. I also knew that for a sunny summer run, even in comfortable weather (and nature obliged with high temperatures in the low 70’s by the end of the morning race) hydration would be even more critical that usual. With this in mind, I forced myself to take water at EVERY water station, and walk through the station so that I could drink the full cup. As a curious aside, at the first water station, only about a mile into the race, the volunteer offering me my hydration seemed shocked when I drank the gatorade, and poured the water on my head! This is another old runner’s trick for staying cool on long runs, but apparently this particular volunteer had never before witnessed the practice. And speaking of the volunteers – they were great! Water stations were abundant, amply staffed, and I don’t think that I have ever seen a more enthusiastic bunch.
I am not going to go into the particulars of the race course, as it is well described on the race website linked to above. In general, it started in the village of Waitsfield, climbed up to the roads high on the east side of the Mad River Valley (where a few past runs, including one a few weeks ago have been posted), did a loop to the north towards Moretown, and reversed its course into East Warren, before plunging back into the valley for the finish line. I am going to share a few fun quirks of this well run race. At about the 9 mile mark, I approached a woman who seemed to be struggling on the second of many climbs in the race. She also had a sign on her back saying “Today is my birthday”. So, as I pulled alongside her, I inquired if anyone had sung the Happy Birthday Song to her yet that day. Hearing that nobody had, I asked her name, and sang her the song before passing her by. I hope you finished the race Barbara! Another fun little semi-surprise was……free beer! The catch, was that in order to get the beer for free…..you had to drink it at mile 24 of the race – beer at the finish line cost 3 bucks a cup! I loved the novelty of this, and despite the fact that I knew it would cost me a few minutes, I was running this as a “Timeless” race, so I couldn’t resist the temptation for at least a few sips of delicious cold beer, even with a few painful miles to go. I also thought it was funny, that due to Vermont liquor laws, I had to go stand inside the roped in area to enjoy this treat. Many thanks to my new friends from the Sam Adams distributor! Finally, the finish line had a little barn structure to run under as one crossed the finish line, and the race announcers went out of their way to welcome each and every finisher by name over the PA system, and say something about where they were from. The race participants also seemed to come from a lot of different places, for such a small race (only 271 finishers in the full marathon!) It seemed that a disproportionate number of the entrants were striving to complete a marathon in each of the 50 states, and they found this marathon appealing, since it was a mid summer marathon, a rarity, in a cool climate.
So, here I am, a day later, and I really don’t feel too bad! The legs are a bit tight, but I suspect I will be able to resume at least short runs in a day or two. I think I will call this experiment a success! Thanks to the organizers for putting together a challenging (hence slow) fun race. I don’t have any pictures of the race, but the race web page has a lot of nice shots up from the 2011 race, which will give one a great feel for the great scenery accompanying this race.
Starting around 15 years ago, I began exploring the Mad River Valley while visiting family members who have a home in the area. One of my first discoveries was Scrag Mountain, the modest peak which is nonetheless the most prominent geographical feature on the east side of the valley. At that time, the main trail accessing the summit was at the end of Palmer Hill Road, and the first few times I ascended this moderately challenging peak, it seemed that the trail, while still easy to follow, was falling into some disuse. For one, the landowners in the vicinity made it very clear, through numerous threatening signs, that they would not abide any cars parked in the vicinity of the trailhead, which apparently did not have any public parking spaces available for hikers. Also, the summit had a fire tower for many years, giving an otherwise tree-enshrouded summit spectacular views, and with removal of the tower, the appeal of this pleasant hike was diminished. I am not sure when the fire tower was removed, but a sign alluding to its presence (incorrectly) was still in place when I first ascended the peak. Some of the history of the summit and the fire tower can be found online.
Fast forward to a year ago, when I set off to explore the summit, admittedly scouting out a potential trail run/blog post, from the location of the original trailhead, which I had not ascended in at least 10 years. While the trail was far more overgrown than my memories of it, as I neared the summit, I could see why this was no longer a commonly used trail – blowdown in the ensuing years had taken a pleasant half day hike, and turned it into a nightmare of climbing over, under and around a seemingly infinite number of downed trees, rendering the passage impossible to all but the most intrepid of hikers…..me! After a seeming eternity of route finding, climbing, and badly scratched arms and legs, the blowdown subsided, and I found the original trail, which seemed oddly easy to find – and I was puzzled as to the use it was receiving given the ordeal I had to go through to achieve its higher reaches. Nonetheless, once past the blowdown, the summit was easily achieved. I was pleasantly surprised that the ancient fire tower warden hut at the summit was still standing, and from the look of the log book there, was a frequent overnight place for the young stoner crowd, who indicated the herb of their choice in the graffiti on the walls, and their ramblings in the log book. I also noted that there were still a few limited views to the Roxbury (east) side visible from summit ledges through the trees. On my descent, however, following the trail, I realized that the in my ten year absence, the original trail had been re-routed, so I followed its descent not really sure where it would deposit me. In fact, upon reaching the East Warren Road after descending Sherman Road, I was relieved to realize that I was indeed on the correct side of the range, and not in Northfield, which would have necessitated a long drive by family members to recover me.
So, with these slightly confused memories only a year old, I thought I would try out this new trail as a run, on the late afternoon of Father’s day 2012. It was a rather hot afternoon, so I delayed my departure until the late afternoon in the hope of catching some cooling temperatures. Nonetheless, it was still in the low 80’s when I set off on my run, at least with a decent supply of water. The described section of this run begins well above the valley floor at the intersection of the East Warren Rd. and the Common Rd., on the far eastern edge of the Mad River Valley. There is a good parking lot here, with room for a few cars, and many runners, bikers, and walkers park their cars here to begin and end outdoor activities from this vantage with excellent views of the main ridge of the Green Mts, and the three ski areas in the area.
Heading south, the very first challenge was “The Dip” a sudden drop and climb of about 200 vertical feet, which is a blast on a bicycle (or a car in neutral, if I must confess) but a bit of a drag for runners on their approach to an already significant climb. At the top of the hill, take the left into the high rent district of Vermont, aka Sherman Road. The beautiful , expansive gentleman farms are reputed to have been the ski homes of members of the Kennedy clan back in the 60’s, when Sugarbush had much poorer skiing, but a much more evolved après ski and night life, leading to its “Mascara Mountain” nickname. After about a half mile of increasingly steep uphill running, I took a left turn onto Bowen Road, which gave me a breather as I traversed the hillside, enjoying the early summer patches of that friendliest of flowers, the daisy. After about another half mile, noticing the little brown jelly beans, indicative of a healthy deer population, the semi-developed road turned into a wide double track trail and headed into the woods, angling up the hillside in a northerly direction. After the first half mile or so, it became apparent to me that this was not the best choice for a “run” – the trail got steeper and rougher, forcing me to turn most of the rest of the trip into a fast hike rather than a run. About half way up, I came across a clearing with a beaver pond, and could see from the vantage point that I still had a fair amount of climbing to do!
Resuming my labored ascent, made all the worse by the heat, I came to a section of trail where my passage was further complicated by the undergrowth and debris hiding sections of the trail, necessitating some route finding, further slowing my progress. I knew I was near to the summit, as a look to my right showed mostly blue sky through the trees rather than hillside, but at this point, my increasing dehydration, and time limitations (not wanting to miss the upcoming Fathers’ Day feast!) after a few more minutes of messing around making slow upward progress, I decided to forego the summit, and return for the pleasant evening in front of me. Turning the corner back on to Sherman Road, I took a short pause to enjoy the sun starting to approach the ridgeline over the ski areas in the distance. I also met the funny, inquisitive looking musk ox hanging out at one of the gentleman farms previously alluded to. I suppose he looked somewhat like me, when a haircut is overdue, at least if you ignore the horns.
In the end, this hike/run/climb ended up covering about 6.5 miles, with1500 feet of climbing, counting the extra descent and climb in The Dip. While the distance sounds modest, I actually covered a few more miles and climbed more vertical feet, having begun my run farther away, and further down the valley, but chose not to include this considerable extra mileage on the roads in a trail running post.
The warm weather of the Memorial Day weekend gave me a great excuse to explore some more new terrain in the vicinity of my favorite local backcountry destination, Silver Lake. Most of my trips into the Silver Lake backcountry have begun at the Falls of Lana trailhead, and have involved climbing, then finishing with a downhill. The reasons for this are pretty obvious – on a longer run, it is easier to finish on a downhill than on a climb. I had been considering starting a run into the Silver Lake environs from the uphill side, a popular trailhead in Goshen, which of course would require a significant uphill climb at the end of the run. It seemed like a good day to give it a try! To get to this trailhead, take 125 up to Ripton, but take the Ripton-Goshen road ( a right turn) shortly after passing through town. Stay on this road, passing the Blueberry Hill Inn, until you get to the right turn onto Silver Lake Road. Take a right turn here, and stay on Silver Lake Road until you get to the end of the road, where there is a pretty good sized parking lot. I decided to make my first ever run along the Ridge Trail, which follows the ridge just to the west of Silver Lake, and return by the more commonly traveled Leicester Hollow Trail, effectively mirroring a run I did last year along the Chandler Ridge, the ridge just to the east of the lake.
Reaching this parking lot in the early evening hours on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, I was fortunate to sneak my compact car into the last spot in the lot! I was greeted in the lot by the gentleman who was the host at the Silver Lake Campground a mile below, who was stationed at the trailhead to inform would be campers that the campground below was full. I smiled, and pointed to my small fanny pack, and I think he understood that I was not planning to spend the night on the shores of the lake, but who knows?
I began the run with a short downhill on the Goshen Trail, the shortest route to Silver Lake. within a few yards, I passed through the power line clearing – It is kind of funny that this wonderful semi-wilderness area is also a source of hydroelectric power, using the stored water in Silver Lake, and the power station below near the shores of Lake Dunmore.
Shortly after passing the power line, the Ridge Trail takes and obvious, well marked turn to the left, heading south along the ridge. Much of the first mile or two of this trail is slightly overgrown and muddy, a reflection of the relative rarity in which it is traveled. While it climbed some early on, and had a few small ups and downs along the way, it was generally a downhill trip in this section. I was hoping to find views comparable to those on its eastern twin, the Chandler Ridge Trail, but saw none – this was “just” a run through the woods. At about 3 and a half miles, I came across a complicated series of crossing paths, but staying on the well labeled trail, I managed to stay on course. A short, easy descent alongside a small stream brought me to a lovely quiet country lane, where I assumed (correctly) that a right turn would connect me with the Leicester Hollow trail for my return.
Taking the right turn, the country road quickly met a forest service gate, marking what is probably the official start to the Leicester Hollow Trail. The smooth running on this hardened trail, met a bridge coming in from the left (and based on previous experiences, where the crossover from Chandler Ridge joins) and stayed on the runner’s right side of the rocky stream. The easy running soon ends, as the trail gets much rougher – NOT due to Irene (the usual blame for washed out trails these days) but due to flash flooding from the summer of 2008. After about a mile of rough going, in, out and around stream beds, the trail became easier going, with only a slight uphill tilt. The trail eventually entered a clearing, where the presence of old apple trees indicated human habitation at some point in the past. Examination of an 1871 Leicester map shows this site as the former home of one Mrs F. Glynn, who I know nothing else about!
At about a mile past this homesite, as my mind was wandering with the sense of timelessness that often accompanies a long trail run, seeing the sunset over Silver Lake, I realized that I should conclude this run soon if I did not want to have to complete it after dark. I could also smell the campfires from the happy campers in the full backcountry campground.
Mindful of the time, I stayed on the trail along the east shore of Silver Lake, going a little faster now, until I joined the dirt road trail connecting the Falls of Lana parking lot below with the Goshen parkking lot above, aned took the right turn for one last climb to my awaiting car. This measured in at about 9.5 miles, with about a 900 foot descent and climb.
In one of my winter posts a few years ago, I described a great ski route at the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring Area in Goshen, on the trail traversing the high flanks of Romance Mountain. It has been claimed that this trail is “the highest altitude groomed cross country ski trail in Vermont”, and on skis, it certainly made for a challenging climb, and a fun, fast, and yes, slightly out of control descent. After a few longer runs in the previous weeks, I thought it would be fun to try and haul my early season body up Romance Mountain from the Ripton side. So, on a very cloudy and threatening Saturday afternoon, I parked my car at my favorite trail head on Brooks Road,the dirt road between Breadloaf and the Snow Bowl (for new readers). This trailhead never ceases to amuse me – there are two great directions to go – up Brooks Road past the Forest Service Gate, or out on the Widow’s Clearing Trail, and then a seemingly infinite number of “loop” or “out and back” runs to be tried as the two major trails branch out and interconnect. On this run, I chose the former, opting for the pretty serious climbing to be had along Brooks Road and trails beyond.
The run up this dirt road, was relatively uneventful – I saw a few moose tracks in the mud alongside the road, but none of the actual critters. Despite the general leafiness starting to spread across the valley, things were still pretty brown on the ground and grey in the sky, other than a few small streamlets, which supported some of the lush golden green of early spring, bringing to mind a favorite short Robert Frost poem:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
As a curious aside, when googling this poem to get the words right, I discovered that it “embodies the ambiguous balance between paradisiac good and the paradoxically more fruitful human good“. Oh…and I thought it was about leaves?
If you look carefully in this photo, you will also see some of the first springtime ephemerals, the flowers which appear and disappear as the season progresses. If I am reading the great posting on this topic by my fellow blogger Tim over at The Middlebury Landscape blog, the tiny flowers shown in this shot are known as “Spring Beauty”.
A little further up the dirt road, I also came across the following shelf fungus, which was so big it was almost scary. With a little careful cropping (and some imagination), it kind of looks like a duck bill, don’t you think?
Eventually, after about 3.5 miles, Brooks Road came to an end, and I entered the true trail running segment. The first trail to the left provides a connection with the Long Trail, and it is described in another earlier post, when I ran up and over Worth Mountain and through the Snow Bowl from this side. Bypassing this turnoff, I came to a T, and a ski/mountain bike trail which forms part of the Blueberry Hill trail network. Now, I took the left, and this trail took me to the high point of the trail over the next 2 miles, in a series of gradual and sharper ascents. I briefly contemplated bushwacking to the true summit, but looking up, I realized it would involve getting my head stuck in the clouds, which were starting to envelope the highest altitudes. I took a moment to enjoy the limited view from my perspective.
I also did a quick search up here for a small sign proclaiming it “Cindy’s Summit”, which used to grace the trail at this point, and was disappointed not to find it. Curious as to the story of the sign and its demise, I emailed Tony down at the Blueberry Hill Inn, who told me that he had placed the sign there after promising a frequent guest named (surprise!) Cindy that he would do so if she could ski all the way up there. Alas, new Forest Service regulations involving place names rendered this sign contraband, so he had to take it down. So much for poor Cindy’s immortality on Romance Mt!
My return trip went much easier, of course, being almost entirely descent. The long promised colder weekend rains began just as I returned to my car, so I got lucky this time. This ended up as the most challenging run of the young ski season, with an 11 mile round trip distance, and about 1200 ft of climbing up to about 2700 ft- not bad for April!
With more great weather this weekend it was time to take to the trails again. I had yet to visit one of my favorite locations, Silver Lake, this season, but I prefer not to blog the same runs too frequently, unless there is some unique perspective to be presented. Last summer, while exploring the Chandler Ridge Trail, the trail traversing along the ridge separating Silver Lake and Lake Dunmore, I noticed the high-quality recent trail maintenance, and speculated that the formerly very rough and unrunnable trail circumnavigating Silver Lake might also have seen similar sprucing. So, I set out on this run with my camera and GPS, planning on running around Silver Lake, hoping that the lack of leaves on the trees might provide a unique perspective on this popular locale.
Arriving at the Silver Lake trailhead near Branbury State Park, I was surprised to see the parking lot almost full. Apparently, I was not the only person looking to get out in the woods on a warm early spring day! After about 1.6 miles of climbing this well worn trail (actually a dirt road, suitable for small 4-W-D vehicles, but closed to them) I arrived at the dam marking the outlet to Silver Lake, and took the trail leading over the dam to the west shore. The early going on this trail was fine as expected, but when I reached the point where the trail up to the Chandler Ridge diverged, and chose the lake shore trail as planned. It very quickly became obvious that this trail had not seen the tender loving care which I had hoped it had. In fact, as I was listening to that great old blues song, “Try a Little Tenderness” which happened to pop up on the day’s running mix, the song proved prophetic, as I stubbed my toe on an ill-placed rock. I don’t think that was the sort of “tenderness” that the songwriter had in mind – Ouch!
So, I decided that my planned route was not what I was looking for, but had my first inspiration, on my now improvised run. According to my memory of the Chandler Ridge from last summer, the views were limited by the deciduous forest cover. However, with the trees still totally bare, the views on both sides of the ridge should be spectacular, so I backtracked a few hundred yards, and took the trail leading up to the ridge, and was not disappointed by the views.
After enjoying the sights from this ridge for a while, I retraced my tracks back to the shore of the lake, where I came across a lone pine tree, sentinal-like, on a rock near the lake shore that I had never noticed before.
Returning back across the dam, I stayed along the shoreline until I reached the small beach, were I saw numerous families out fishing and enjoying the day. At this point, I had felt like I had explored enough, and was planning on heading down the trail back to my car. Shortly after beginning my descent, and still in sight of the lake, I saw a curious sight- I had been noticing the total absence of budding leaves on the trees at this higher elevation, but there was one small eager tree which was trying to get its leaves out in advance of its competitors.
A few moments later along the trail, my next inspiration formed. In my many previous runs up to and near the lake,I had noticed a wide trail heading to the north, but had never taken the time to explore it – since it was not on any maps, I presumed it went a short way into the woods, and disappeared. My legs felt like the had a lot of energy left in them, so I decided to finally explore this trail. Much to my surprise, the trail kept going, and was soon joined by a high berm to my right, which I presumed was a pipeline coming from some other source, emptying into the spillway feeding Silver Lake from the north. After a short distance, the trail forked, and I randomly chose the left fork, which ended shortly in an open hillside meadow, which looked like it had been some sort of landfill once. I suspect that this may have been what remained of the dump for the long gone Silver Lake Hotel – and thanks to Gary Spaulding for putting together the short history of the hotel which I have linked to. After hitting this dead end, I doubled back and decided to explore the right fork of the trail to see where it might lead. I had long suspected that the source of the water for the Silver Lake spillway was the much smaller, and very rarely visited Sucker Brook Reservoir, shown on maps a little further uphill. After following this broad, easily discerned trail for some time (much of it bordered by the berm covering an occasionally obvious pipeline), I finally started to tire, and when the opportunity came for a trail which looked like it might take me home, a sharp turn climbing to the right, I took it, leaving the final discover of the trail’s final destination for another day. However, upon loading up my GPS track after the run, I discovered that I was probably only a few minutes from the Sucker Brook Reservoir, confirming my guess as to its role. My return trail actually followed right alongside the previous trail, surprising me that I had not noticed it on the way out. In the course of my return, I surprised a small flock of deer, who started as I grew near, proving far too Shy, lest I got too close.
Doubling back like this, I returned to the more developed campground and picnic area around the lake, and completed my final descent to my waiting vehicle below. Upon completion of a far longer run (over 8 miles) than I had planned, I had one last moment of inspiration – I treated myself to a Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Peace Pop purchased at one of the several general stores between the trailhead and my home – a great way to end a great run!
In keeping with my observation that things just look different when the trees are bare, but the weather isn’t too wintery, I decided to re-explore an area which has been the subject of two previous posts. In this case, I decided to go for a run in the terrain roughly delineated by Rt 125 to the north, and Upper Plains Rd. to the west. The small peak which emerges from this corner is known on topo maps as “Pine Hill”, a curious name for this modest bump, which seems to be entirely covered in deciduous forest. I described a run in this area as one of my first posts in this blog, entitled “Secret Meadow“, as well as in an early winter run entitled “Snowy Scenic Sauntering on a Sunny (Almost) Solstice Sunday“. The high point of both of these runs is a little-known hillside meadow with outstanding westerly views. The run described in this post was just a little bit more ambitious, covering some slightly rougher terrain with more climbing.
While there are a few appropriate places to park one’s vehicle closer to the trails, I chose to start the run on the Oak Ridge Trailhead, just above East Middlebury on Rt. 125, so that I could make it a longer workout. I headed towards East Middlebury for a few hundred yards before taking a left turn on to Upper Plains Road. This road used to have a “tree tunnel” feel to it, but recent “improvements” have involved removal of many of the trees which were encroaching on the road. Too bad! After about a mile, a Forest Service gate on the left marks the start of the trailed section. I couldn’t help but notice the rerouting of the path created by the incessant efforts of ATV-ers – earlier paths were blocked off, leading to generation of new paths. Be forwarned that the entry into this run off of Upper Plains Rd. is unposted private property, so please be particularly respectful of this, so that this lovely area can remain open to exploration. But…I didn’t need to tell you that, right?
After getting past the gate, the next section of climbing was on a dirt road, which switchbacked up the hillside until it broke into the aforementioned meadow by a small pond. As soon as you pass the birch grove on your left, take a sharp left turn, and veer back towards the forest to find the true trail heading north along the west side of Pine Hill, which now stands to your right. There are quite a few other trails in this vicinity, which can be a little bit confusing. In fact, if you look at my GPS track for this run, you will notice a short diversion to the right, which the result of mistakenly following a path which disappeared after about a hundred yards, forcing me to backtrack and choose another. Not long afterwards, I reached the saddle between Pine Hill (to my right) and a lower summit to my left. I also couldn’t help but notice one of the most spectacularly situated hunter’s blinds I have seen in my explorations. It undoubtedly provides great views, and let’s face it, what kid, young or old, doesn’t love a treehouse? Even the ladder had a whimsical, Dr. Seuss-like feel to it!
From the col, I decided to save the true summit for another day, instead taking a short bushwhack to the left to the minor northern summit. Despite the gray skies, the view here was excellent, and given the ledges and lack of foliage to the west from this vantage, I suspect that the view will not be badly hemmed in once the trees are in full leaf. This pretty little summit also had a lot of low lying bushes which I suspect will bear blueberries mid-summer, as well as many weather-twisted small trees which gave the summit a slightly haunted feel.
With the advent of a slight drizzle, I continued on the path, which got very muddy in places, before descending to an intersection with a more developed trail behind the hill. Here, I took a right turn to complete the loop, stopping to take a picture of the pretty waterfall found in the rather steep notch behind Pine Hill. I was always curious why the dirt road, meadow, and broad, well built trail reaching the waterfall were built in the first place, and while mountain biking last summer, I happened to meet the landowner who told me a little bit of the “back story” to this property. Apparently, at some point in the 60’s or 70’s (a seemingly generic way of saying “A long time ago, but not THAT long ago”) the man who owned the land had received federal funding to develop this waterfall as a rest area, as part of the National Forest. For reasons unknown, after the initial stages of the roadside development, involving roadbuilding and a few other modest improvements, the project was abandoned. Well, the waterfall and surroundings are still quite beautiful!
After pausing at the waterfall, the trail re-emerged from behind Pine Hill into the meadow, and by staying to the far left, I caught the short steep path returning me to the forest service gate, where it was an easy mile-long return to my car. The total length of this run was about 4.25 miles, with a climb of 500 ft – not bad for the beginning of April.
I also decided to have a little extra fun with this run – with the advent of routine access to portable GPS devices, a new pastime has emerged known as “geocaching“. Geocaching hobbyists leave hidden containers with logbooks, souvenirs, and sometimes even disposable cameras at locations of interest, and then post the GPS coordinates as well as other hints for others to find the site. If you take a look at www.geocaching.com, you will see that there are many geocache locations in Addison County. Since geocachers and trail runners both share an interest in discovering new places of interest, I thought it would be fun to set my first geocache on this run. My geocache, which contains a logbook and disposable camera for finders to share their experiences, as well as a small souvenir can be found without a lot of difficulty by someone completing this run. The actual GPS coordinates, which will also be posted soon on the aforementioned geocache website are N 43 degrees 57.934′, W 073 degrees 04.248′. Happy Hunting!
Note added 10/27/12 – I went up to check out the fate of my geocache, and found that it had been stolen. I guess the allure of a 10 buck fishing tackle box with a few toys in it was more than one of the visitors could resist. So – this is still a fun run, but not geocache, until I get around to replacing it.
Ok, what’s up with 70 degree weather in March? While the ski season was a bitter disappointment, the lack of snow on the trails translates into an early start on the trialrunning season! My running fitness is certainly not where it was last fall, but the running still feels good, and in many ways, this is an ideal season for running. Many vistas which are well hidden by the leafy canopy for most of the running season open up into glorious vistas prior to the emergence of the foliage. With this in mind, I chose my first true spring run to take advantage of the season. On a few previous posts, I have described a great entry into the Green Mountain National Forest starting behind East Middlebury International Airport, a snowmobile train beginning near the 4-way stop sign on Munson Road and Schoolhouse Hill Road, just to the northeast of the airport. Munson Road is a short road heading directly towards the base of the mountains to the east, and can be found about 2 miles south of the junction of Quarry Road and Rt. 116. There are a few small turnoffs on Munson Road where a car (or perhaps a vigilant police cruiser) can park for those driving out of town to begin this run.
The run began with a short stretch of trail running adjacent to Burnham Drive, a residential street, before turning to the north. The trail crosses a bridge over a small stream, before beginning the challenging climb in earnest. This first hill climb of the season is always difficult, and this was no exception, but my efforts were rewarded by the emerging views to the west. Half way up the day’s climb, I noticed scratch marks on the rocks, similar to what one would find in higher elevations resulting from climbers’ crampons. After a second, I realized the source of these scratches – the snowmobiles which make use of this trail during the winter. They too, like the skiers, probably tried to have a little bit of fun in this snowless winter, and instead of damaging their skis on the rocky terrain, probably tried to drive their snowmobiles on the all-too-brown terrain, leaving their marks behind.
After a little over a mile of climbing, the views were temporarily blocked as the trail entered a stretch of coniferous forest, and made a sharp turn to the right, heading more directly towards Robert Frost Mt. A few hundred yards after the sharp turn, a small rock cairn appeared on the left, marking the turnoff to a wonderful, rarely visited, scenic vista which provides for great views to the west, even during the summer. A few hundred yards on this easy-to follow trail brought me to a small rocky outcrop, the turn-around point for this run. The famous OMYA pit, the world’s largest open-pit marble quarry, is one of the noteworthy sights from this point.
At this point, my early season legs had climbed enough, so I reversed directions and headed down the hillside. I ran into a friend who had chosen to undertake the short walk up to the bridge, and we exchanged pleasantries concern our fortunes, living in such a beautiful locale. At this point, I diverged from the main trail, taking a short uphill trail which ran adjacent to the stream, following in to a modest viewpoint, where I could see the brook cascading down the mountainside.
After this short side trail, I continued on to the point at which the VAST snowmobile trail rejoined the road. While this run was only a little over 3.5 miles round trip, it did include a 900 vertical ft. climb, making for a challenging early season run, undertaken at a leisurely pace.