It has been a few months since my last posting due to a myriad of injuries – nothing serious, but just the aches and pains that flare up with increasing regularity in middle age. So here it is, a relatively warm, sunny Saturday in early January, with the best snow cover in two years, and neither skiing nor running seeming like a good idea. So, it appeared like a good opportunity to add in a post dealing not with running, the primary focus of the blog, or cross country skiing, which usually keeps me busy over the winter, but with the slower, gentler pursuit of snowshoeing, at least until my body gives me the green light on the more vigorous activities.
I also decided to take it easy by doing this snowshoeing on the gentle passage of well-packed snowmobile trails, maintained by the VAST organization for snowmobilers, but open to skiers, hikers and snowshoe enthusiasts in the winter. One short stretch of trail had been piquing my interest for some time. I first discovered the winter trailhead accessing the Ripton end (as opposed to the Breadloaf/Rikert end) of Forest Service Road 59 about two winters ago, and described a short run on this snowy, well-packed route heading towards the Rikert Ski Touring Area. A quick look at some snowmobile trail maps indicated that it is also possible to follow this trail, traveling in the opposite direction, up over the summit of Robert Frost Mountain from the east, and descend to Middlebury International Airport. I wrote about the trail connection between the airport and the summit of Robert Frost Mt. as well a few years ago. Today seemed like a good day to reconnoitre this route for a future longer run or ski.
The trailhead can be accessed by driving up to Ripton, taking a left turn onto Lincoln Rd in front of the Ripton General Store, followed by a right turn onto Robbins Crossroad, and a left onto Natural Turnpike. Then, just follow Natural Turnpike until its seasonal terminus to park your vehicle. Strapping on my snowshoes over my Bean boots, I set off, taking a left up a short hill, following the well marked snowmobile trail, which paralleled and occasionally intercepted the dirt road on several occasions, before finally crossing to the left and heading into the woods. From this point on, most of the scenery was as expected with the well-packed ribbon of the trail ambling through the hardwood forest. Subtle signs of the Green Mountain National Forest’s logging use were apparent. While clear cutting does not appear to be as prevalent as it once was, heading through one stand of uniform small-circumference hardwoods and a total lack of ground cover shrubs indicated that this area had been selectively lumbered fairly recently.
One of the great pleasures of exploring these high-altitude forests is coming across large open meadows alongside streams, typically the result of beaver activity. This trip brought me past at least 3 or 4 of these. After almost two miles on the trail, which I learned from VAST trail signs was Trail 7A, I came to a hillside where, looking west, I could see the wooded summit of Robert Frost Mountain a few miles away, indicating that I was indeed heading in the correct direction, facilitating a run to come in the future!
Shortly after this, I could tell by the way the snow was packed that the trail was no longer groomed by and for the snowmobilers – although there was still ample snow on the ground, a snowplow had clearly come through, probably as part of more recent logging operations. Sure enough, a short distance later, I came across a clearing full of logging equipment, and the logging vehicle shown below really looked like a very serious ATV!
I could see from my Garmin GPS that I had been hiking about 2 and a third miles, so it seemed like a good time to turn around and retrace my steps back to my waiting vehicle for about a 4.5 mile trip. Some winter hikers and skiers are reticent to travel on snowmobiling trails, but I have always found the snowmobile enthusiasts courteous, and surprisingly rare! Over the course of the roughly hour and a half I was on their trails, I only saw two small parties of snowmobilers, and one other hiker. Not bad for one of the most beautiful Saturday afternoons of the year!
After getting my double dose of the Dalai Lama on Friday and Saturday, and taking his message of interdenominational cooperation to heart, I thought I might go for a short run on the “Spirit in Nature” trails up in Ripton. For those of you who may not be familiar with this small trailed area, you can get to it by taking a right turn on the Goshen-Ripton Road shortly after passing through “downtown” Ripton, and the well-marked trailhead and parking area can be found on your left in less than a mile. This quiet woodsy area clearly takes its inspiration from the much better known Robert Frost Trail, found nearby on Rt 125, but instead of having a gentle walk accented by Frost poems, the signs carry short spiritual readings from many different religious traditions, with each trail having its own denomination. In keeping with the theme of the day, I began my run on the Buddhist path, and one of the signs carried the following thoughts:
Despite its appeal, the Buddhist path was far too short to qualify as a decent trail run, and knowing that there were many more trails in this area worthy of exploration, I sought to make a longer run in this very pretty and contemplative place. Curiously, some hikers assume that trailrunners like me must be missing something as we pass by at our faster paces. In some ways, they are correct – one’s brain can only absorb so much information per second, and when traveling through the forest more quickly, some information is missed. On the other side – my brain seems much more actively engaged in the world around me when running, especially on trails, so some of my most contemplative thought actually does transpire when I am moving along faster than the average walker. So, and easy run through this area wasn’t as sacrilegious as it first sounded.
For those who aren’t as experienced with the trails, there is a challenge to hiking during the fall, which becomes apparent while trying to follow infrequently used paths such as these. Narrow paths can be easily obscured by fallen leaves! So, after a while, I felt like I was running in ” a maze of twisty little passages, all alike” (For any old computer geeks out there, I am paying homage to the ancient text-based computer game from the late 70’s called “Zork“). As a result, I found myself back at the trailhead far sooner than expected, and sought out another nearby, more easily followed trail to explore.
There are many rarely traveled forest service roads emanating from the Goshen-Ripton Road, so I thought I might explore one which began not far from the Spirit in Nature trails. Heading south a little further, I turned right on Forest Service 92, and after about a quarter mile, ducked under the gate to take the right turn onto Forest Service 92A, an even less travelled road. This 4WD road angled up the side of a hill alongside a stream, and crossed over the Oak Ridge Trail, which I had run earlier in the summer during a descent from Mount Moosalamoo. Despite the rapidly thinning foliage, this section of trail was in many ways more scenic that I envision it would have been midsummer. The foliage which might normally form an umbrella over the trail had thinned to the point where I could actually make out some rather pleasant views of the nearby mountaintops. The sun filtered through the last of the orange leaves made this a pleasant jog up a remote country lane.
After about a mile of climbing, I passed by the first of two nicely kept camps, and continuing past the second camp, the road got narrower and rougher, eventually turning into a true trail, before disappearing altogether, indicating that it was time for me to turn around, descend, and return to my car. Near the top of my climb, I came across this near perfect clustering of shelf fungus.
After an easy descent, I returned to my parked car after a little more than 4 miles running, with about 500 ft of vertical climbing. I have a hunch that on my next run, I will be running through bare trees, but the upcoming stick season does have one advantage – the views open up when the leaves are down.
Dear Freshmen Runners and Aspiring Runners:
As a member of the Middlebury College Faculty, I would like to welcome you to campus. In this first month of the new year, I have had several conversations with your fellow freshmen, and when the topic of running comes up, I inevitably get asked “Where are good places to run”. And while the real answer is “almost any direction from campus”, I thought I would share a moderate (slightly less than 5 miles, with no serious climbs) trail loop which passes by many interesting sights without really getting that far from campus. In other words, it is a good way to start your trail running in Middlebury. This route is also very easy to follow (except for maybe one section for the navigationally challenged) and has a few good bailout points if you aren’t quite up for runs this long.
This run starts out the back door of the fitness center – yup – that great place where you can work out on all the cool exercise contraptions your tuition dollars can buy (or our generous alums can buy for you – and a sincere THANKS). My advice is to save the ellipticals and treadmills for the cold of winter, and enjoy the out of doors for now. Head out the back door, and run just to the right of the high tech artificial turf field, and veer into the woods on the left – there are usually a few soccer goals stashed here, so the trail entry should be easy to find. The first, and tamest part of the run is on the trail which runs around the outskirts of our very own golf course, and soon joins into the the Trail around Middlebury (aka “The TAM”), a 16 mile trail which runs through the forests and meadows at the outskirts of town. The golf course trail is pretty easy, with no major impediments to its many runners and walkers. In fact, it is the course used my our college cross country running teams at their home races. Some other insights on this trail, albeit from the counterclockwise direction, can be found in a blog post from a few years ago entitled “Trailrunning 101“.
After about a mile, you pass the first noteworthy place. You can’t help but notice it, as it smells…well it smells like rotting food scraps…which is what it is. At the most odiferous point on the run, off to your left stands the mountain of compost generated by the college. Not long after this, a fairly substantial climb rises above you, and as you near the top, you will notice a lone gravestone off to your right. Until the last few months, this grave was partially hidden in a small grove of trees, but recent course renovations have brought it more prominently into the open. Take a second and read the inscription. In a rather macabre turn of events, the poor gentleman interred beneath it survived both the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War, to die when a tree fell on him. And trees were really big back then! Local historian Robert Keren has been doing some sleuthing into the history of this gentleman, William Douglas, and his fate, and has posted some of his findings in the Middlebury College Magazine Blog.
Continue across the ridgeline onto the new section of trail which enables runners to stay pretty well out of the range of some of the errant tee shots from the 10th hole, before emerging into the open, passing by a large white house on your left called “Hadley House”, rumored to be the sight of wild trustee parties. A short run along the old golf course entrance road brings you to Route 30, where you need to cross to continue the run. If you are out of gas at this point, it is a short downhill trot to the athletic facilities for a nice two mile run. However, if you cross the road, there is some more challenging trail running to be found. At the far side of Rt. 30 you will find the entrance to the segment of the TAM known as the “Class of 97 Trail”, honoring a deceased member of that class who passed away in a tragic car crash while allegedly intoxicated.
The much tighter, rootier, and frequently muddier descent from the ridgeline will challenge you to watch your footwork, but soon emerges into an open field, where a left turn will lead to a long loop through the farm fields which make up some of the great views to the west of the campus. This is the only section of the trail where one might get a little off track, but if you count out EXACTLY 478 steps (just kidding just follow the main trail around the periphery of the fields, behind the farmhouse) until you cross College St. and follow the dirt road to the organic garden on a peaceful hillock. I was fortunate to pass through when some of the last sunflowers of the season were still in bloom.
By now, if you are starting to feel a little tired, you are in the home stretch! Take the dirt road back through the fields towards campus, enjoying the views of “Hadley/Lang/Milliken/Ross/Laforce”, dorms which were known as “The New Dorms” for about 30 years (and used to be covered with what sure looked like bathroom tile), and the hulking shape of Bicentennial Hall, which was christened “The Death Star” by students at its opening 12 years ago. The solar panels are a relatively new addition to the fields, and they reflected the blue of the sky quite nicely, don’t you think?
Cross back over college street, and catch the sidewalk which skirts the side of the “Mods”. The Mods, short for Modular Homes, were set up over 10 years ago as temporary housing, but not surprisingly, they proved so popular with students that we seem to have made them a permanent part of the housing options on campus. Follow this sidewalk to the top of the hill, and cut through the graveyard before finishing the run back at the fitness center. The last cool sight to point out, if you have the time to look, is the gravestone of an Egyptian mummy buried in the otherwise Christian cemetery. Some hints on how to find this particular stone were given in a previous post on this blog entitled “Run Like and Egyptian“.
Well – I hope you like this almost 5 mile run, and use it to find inspiration for other runs in the area. And have a great seven…I mean four year here!
The Middlebury Trailrunner
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!