With the above title, I probably have readers wondering if I had decided to channel my inner Forrest Gump on some sort of cross country running fantasy. While that would make for an amazing blog post, I am afraid this week’s posting is much more modest. I had the pleasure of spending time recently in San Diego, so while this post does indeed describe a run to the Pacific Ocean, it is from a starting point (my hotel room) which was considerably closer to the west coast than my usual starting points, say, Middlebury or Ripton. Since this was indeed an urban setting, the “trail” component is a bit of a reach, as the only trails in this run were on a bike path, and briefly, on the beach.
My hotel room was on Coronado Island, which strictly speaking, is a peninsula across San Diego Bay from the downtown district. It also bordered on a recreation/bike path which ran alongside the bay for about a mile and a half. This bike path is a real urban gem – it is used day and night by everything from avid runners (like me), to elderly walkers and their pets, and even the occasional happy couple on a bicycle built for two. And did I mention the view across the bay?
I started my run to the south side of the island, towards the towering Coronado Island Bridge, realizing that I was a mere 15 miles from the Mexican border. Since I didn’t have my passport with me, not today I guess! The path hugged to shore for a while before veering inland to pass around the obstruction provided by a large golf course, which usurped access to the shoreline. Well, at least it was a public course. The path returned to the shoreline, passing by numerous marinas before arriving alongside the landmark hotel known as the (how is this for original?) “El Coronado”, where Marilyn Monroe was filmed in the classic movie “Some Like it Hot”. I decided not to grace the interior of this classy joint with my sweaty self, so instead ran around it to get the view of the hotel from the beachside.
Since this was indeed a run to the Pacific, I took my shoes off, and ran headlong into the surf…..and froze dead in my tracks when I realized that the water temperature was in the 50’s this early in the season. Who knew the Pacific felt more like Maine than Florida? I stayed in the water, getting in no deeper than my knees, at least for now.
Putting my shoes back on, I resumed my run along the beach for about a half mile, enjoying the morning solitude before heading back inland, to run back to my hotel through the mostly residential side streets. I briefly entertained the notion that this might be a nice place to retire in 10 years or so. While I knew that the estates on the water would be far beyond my means, there were many cute little bungalows a mile or so from the water, that I naively thought might be financially feasible. I assumed that some of the homes which I knew would sell for about 250K in Vermont, might be million dollar homes here, but my jaw dropped when I saw one advertised for 4.8 million. Nope, retirement staying right here in Middlebury looks just fine thank you! Returning to my hotel room, this turned into a very pleasant, roughly 6 mile run. And since this was on a built-up barrier island, it was a very flat run. The San Diego weather lived up to its reputation as well – a daily high of about 72, and a low of about 62, with a constant cool breeze.
On yet another gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I decided to explore an area where I used to mountain bike regularly, but had not been to in a few years. While I used to be an avid mountain biker, a few summers in a row with crashes ending up with ribs which were “broken, sprained, strained, or tied up and twisted” (and it doesn’t make a difference which diagnosis you get, as the treatment is always “Ibuprofen, rest, and hurt for two months”) diminished my fervor for the sport, and actually led to my current focus on trail running. The area between Upper Plains Road and Lower Plains Road, which straddles the Middlebury-Salisbury town line is full of trails, which in the past seemed to be most heavily used by ATV’ers, but showed few signs of use on this run, at least not this early in the season.
I started the run at the parking lot at the East Middlebury playground, and headed past the Waybury Inn on Rt 125. Younger readers may not remember this, but a photograph of the Waybury Inn was used in the credits for the 1980’s Bob Newhart Show, where it was referred to as the “Stratford Inn“. After passing by the Inn, I headed over the bridge, and up the short steep hill known as Sand Hill, and took the right turn on a dirt road serving the highway department Quonset hut before reaching the top of the hill. Shortly after turning onto the Quonset hut dirt road, I took the broad grassy path veering to the left, and followed this to the first left turn. Another left turn brought me up a short steeper climb on a trail which appeared to have been built and actively maintained at some point, and left me wondering for what purpose it was built? It was too narrow to have been a logging road, and there were no signs indicating that it was or had been an active snowmobile trail. Reaching the height of this climb, I did a short bushwhack in the direction of Rt 125, and found a nice overlook at the top of the rock outcropping alongside the road at this point.
After this view, not entirely sure where I was going, I proceeded further uphill, until the path emerged from the woods, joining Upper Plains Rd near to the point where it empties into Rt 125. Not wanting to leave the trails just yet, I found a bear path (as in barely there) and went in a direction where I thought I might find some beaver ponds whose location was hinted at by Google Earth. Soon, the boggy terrain under my feet told me I was probably going to find what I was looking for, and sure enough, I came across an semi-open meadow with many fallen trees, and of course, a mound of sticks in the distance where the little engineers made their home.
As I turned around and backtracked my way through the mud, I caught site of the first wildflowers of the year. I will have to send a note to my botanical colleague at “The Middlebury Landscape” to ID this flower for me.
I also noted one of the more intact stone walls I have seen for some time. The woods in Addison County are full of these of course, but the mature state of the hardwood forest led me to guess that this is a rather old stone wall, and that the hill farm it probably served was long defunct, making the condition of the wall all the more remarkable.
Up to this point, a lot of what I have been referring to as trail running was really a mix of jogging, exploring, and even a little bushwhacking, and I sought a better defined trail to stretch out my legs a little more. Fortunately, at this point, I found a strong trail heading south, and spent a solid mile on it before it bore downhill to the right, and curved back to the start of the run. I was just beginning to wonder who actually owned this land, as there were no forest service or “Posted” signs, but as I neared the Quonset hut, I noted that the land to my left was suddenly heavily posted. Guess I won’t be going that way! Once I returned to the Quonset hut, I simply retraced my steps back into East Middlebury and my waiting car, for a 5.25 mile, and surprisingly, 400 vertical feet of climbing run.
Early spring trail running is a pleasure. Spring fever on the first semi-warm days always inspires me to get out and explore the nearby forest trails. Additionally, before the summer foliage sets in, one can see deeper into the woods, and get a much richer feel for the surrounding topology. Little scenic nuggets which would otherwise go unnoticed appear with a surprising clarity. On the other hand, one must also be sensitive to the need to stay off of heavily used trails during “mud season”. The Green Mountain National Forest recommends staying off of high elevation trails, especially the heavily used Long Trail, until after Memorial Day. They don’t do this out of misguided attention to our muddy boots and running shoes, but due to the excessive erosion and inadvertent trail widening which can happen from hikers and runner stepping around the large mud wallows. With these concerns in mind, I chose to go for a run which my previous experience told me was lightly trodden, and rather rocky rather than soft and muddy.
With these concerns in mind, I decided to go for a run from the Moosalamoo Campground parking lot. This Green Mountain National Forest campground, found on the Ripton-Goshen road is pretty well deserted even in the middle of the summer, but the road leading into it was open and driveable. Parking at the campground, I simply ran down the remainder of the dirt road in the direction of the Voter Brook Overlook. I was immediately impressed by the handiwork of quite a few eager beavers, whose numerous ponds and mounds of sticks, most of which I had never noticed before, were apparent due to the unobstructed views.
After a mile and a quarter of easy going on the road, I reached the Voter Brook Overlook. This little known gem provides excellent views to the Champlain Valley to the west, and towards the popular hiking destination, the Rattlesnake Cliffs above and to the right.
After this point, I headed deeper into the woods for some more adventurous running. A short descending trail heads down from the overlook, and meets up with the North Branch trail shortly. I had run this trail previously, under very different circumstances in mid August last year in the course of a very different running experience, but I could see that this spring there was still significant winter blowdown in the trail which slowed my progress in a few places, and made me appreciate the trail crews who maintain the Moosalamoo region trails during the summer months. After about a mile on this trail, I took a left turn onto the Keewaydin Trail, which led to the only truly muddy section of the run before climbing back up to the road. After a short section on the road, I took a left turn onto a trail lacking a forest service sign, only labeled by a small Blueberry Hill Ski Area trail sign bearing the number “43”. This trail eventually looped back to the Moosalamoo campground, and a short run around this brought me almost back to my car. A few yards from my car, I came to a the even smaller loop in the campground, which was set up as a small nature loop for the families staying there in the summer months when it is officially open. I got a little bit of a kick out of the signs pretty much labeling every tree along the way!
Returning to my car at this point, my GPS recorded this as a 4.25 mile run with some modest ups and downs, but no serious climbs, at least by Vermont standards. This general vicinity has a lot of nice hiking and running trails, but the forest service map of this little corner of the Moosalamoo Wilderness is pretty out of date and inaccurate as to where trails come and go. That said, it is all great, so just go explore!
The advent of early spring and the diminution in the aches and pains of various “old man” injuries inspired me to hit the trails up in the mountains. Last fall, I parked my car at the Spirit in Nature trailhead on the Goshen-Ripton Road, and after turning right onto Hale Brook Road, explored Forest Service Road 92A which split off to the right and wandered up into the mountainside before fading into a rarely used track. Near the start of this road was another road, bearing left where 92A bore right, heading in a similar direction, known by the unique and original name “Forest Service 92”. So, on a cool (high 30’s) but marvelously sunny Saturday afternoon, I decided to explore this track.
The lower reaches of the route, which was really a dirt road, were rather icy due to compaction by the occasional vehicle over the winter, but I was able to get good footing in the corn snow at the periphery of the road. I took a left at the junction of 92 and 92A, with rapid fire blasts of a too close for comfort gun enthusiast as my only concern. A paint can was probably having a very bad day! There was another trail junction a little further up, with the left turn leading to the Wilkinson Trails, and my planned right turn continuing its climb. Once I was past the short section of dirt road and onto the grassy forest service road, the footing improved, alternating between soft granular snow and bare grass. A short way up this, I was treated to the site of the Goshen Brook as it babbled its way down the mountainside.
Soon after passing this trail junction, I met one of my readers, Lynn from East Middlebury, and her 3 hiking partners (one human, two canine) as they were on the way down the mountain. After sharing our amazement at the underutilization of many of the trails in the area, we parted company as we continued in opposite directions. Given that Easter Sunday was last weekend, I thought it would be fun to place a plastic Easter Egg somewhere in semi-plain site on the outside chance that runners esploring this run might have fun keeping their eyes open for it. So, if you are interested, there is a plastic Easter Egg, placed a week late, in the crook of a very curious looking tree right alongside the trail. If you ever find the egg on a hike or run up there, please leave a comment on the blog! The “tree” where I placed it was actually two trees, one birch, and the other (oh heck – all these years in Vermont and I am terrible at naming tree species!) is a different species, but these two trees clearly found their futures interwoven many decades ago. The photograph of the hidden egg is not up to my usual standards, but I only had time to click off one picture before the demise of my camera batteries. Happy Hunting!
As I got higher and higher up the hillside, the trail became more consistently snow covered, but never impassably so. I suspect that in a week’s time, concerns over snow will be moot, however. At about the two mile mark, the trail crested in a saddle, with the trail turning south, and partially obscured views to the west towards the Champlain Valley. I could see through the trees that the trail was getting ready for some more serious climbing into deeper snow, so it seemed like a good point to turn around and trot back to my car. Consultation with my Moosalamoo Region map when I returned home reinforced what I had assumed – that I was about two miles north of the Moosalamoo summit. What I did not realize prior to this run was that the trail I was running on would lead directly to the summit! I am planning on returning to the ridge in the summer, as I suspect that it will be a gorgeous stretch of trail along the Moosalamoo Ridge.
Returning to my car by the same route, this ended up as a 4.25 mile round trip run, with 800 ft of climbing.
I find myself in the Mad River Valley fairly frequently, and while technically, it is not part of Addison County, it is less than an hour away from Middlebury by car, and has it’s own outstanding opportunities for running and cross country skiing. One of the two nordic skiing establishments in “The Valley” is known as Ole’s, and is named after a fellow named, not surprisingly, Ole, who developed the area for skiing many years ago before returning to his native Norway. This rather expansive ski touring area has a very different feel to it than the nearby Rikert and Blueberry Hill touring centers. While the nearby ski areas have the wilderness feel befitting areas on or near national forest, Ole’s is entirely on land which serves other uses in the summer months, and weaves its way in and out of active farmland, private homes, and is actually based on a summer landing strip, aka “Warren International Airport”, used primarily to serve gliders in the summer months. I am not going to bother to give detailed instructions on how to find it, since everyone has either a GPS or a cell phone with Google Maps, but it is up on a plateau to the east of the Mad River, and just below the ridge of the Roxbury Mts.
This is a ski center with some definite selling points. It is very “beginner friendly”, since the shorter trails are on a landing strip, and are very flat. When I ski there over the Christmas holidays, there always seem to be quite a few families there giving nordic skiing their first try! Also, since most of the terrain is in open farm fields during the summer, Ole’s can open up, and provide nice skiing when there is very little natural snow, unlike wilder areas which need more snow to cover over rocks, stumps, bear dens, and other natural hazards. The shortcoming of Ole’s is that it doesn’t have any substantial climbs and descents (at least not on the trails I routinely ski). Nonetheless, most of their terrain could be aptly described as “rolling”, so athletic skiers can get a good workout, albeit without lung wrenching climbs or long adrenaline-inducing descents.
I started out at the touring center headquarters, which was festooned with the requisite US and Canadian flags, a Norwegian flag in honor of it’s founder, and a German flag. I had to ask what the significance of the German flag was, and apparently they were displaying it because “it looks good!”. The biggest climb in the area involved the trail immediately to the west, to the top of the modest knoll called “Warren Pinnacle” a 5 km loop which provided for a few nice views back in the direction of the touring center fields. This trail looped in and out of meadows and young birch glades, typical of farmland in the process of reverting to its natural state. Returning to the center after this loop, I headed south to the short 2 km trail which is one of my favorites there, a loop called “Rock n Roll” which makes a series of short loops through active farmland, as evidenced by the corn stalk stubs from the fall’s harvest, which probably provides great wild turkey habitat when there is less snow on the ground. This trail probably has an altitude difference of only 30 ft between its high and low points, but no flat sections, and lots of short fast turns which make for interesting skiing.
After this stretch, I returned to the airstrip field to the north, and after pausing for a moment to enjoy the panorama of the Green Mt ridge to the west , veered to the east, until I hit the East Warren Road, making on last long loop to the north, before returning to the touring center by a short wooded trail.
The entire loop ended up at about 14 km, and while it is hard to figure out the combined vertical climb for lots of small climbs rather than a few big climbs, it was a scenic ski with enough climbing to make for a good workout.
The Rikert Ski Touring Area at Breadloaf remained pretty much unchanged over the course of my first quarter century in Addison County. Sure, there were a few minor trail reroutes, and a few less-used trails disappeared as several more remote trails appeared on the trail map over the years, but it was very much a timeless place. Even the interior warming hut and ski rental shop had not undergone any renovations in anyone’s memory. Two summers ago, those who hold the purse strings realized that this wonderful resource, really a local institution, was in severe need of some modernization if it was to stand a chance of ever breaking even financially. So, in the words of one of the employees there, the college went “all in”, fixing up the interior, and more importantly, adding snowmaking and rerouting the racing trail. The new racing trail was named after the Tormondsen family, who presumably donated some of the funds needed for these renovations (knowing how things work at colleges!). This family has clearly been quite generous, since the Great Hall in Bicentennial Hall was also named after this family – so “Thanks Folks!”
The old racing trail, which was 7.5 km long (10 km if the section on the Battell Loop was added) was very narrow, and had several very tight turns which forced racers to check their speed, or at least know the course well in order to ski it their fastest. The nature of the trail made it such that it was very difficult for skiers to pass each other when skate skiing, and since this technique has been a part of ski racing for about 30 years, it made sense to find a way to widen the trails. Finally, while we all love seasons with great snow, there have been many years where Ripton has been pretty much snow-repellent – like last season! I seem to remember hearing that there was one group of nordic racers in the late 80’s who never had a chance to race on their home course over their four years at Middlebury. The addition of snowmaking to a significant section of trail not only keeps the area open for carnival races, but may turn our little local area into a ski touring area with greater regional appeal.
After the recent January thaw, and a week of howling cold weather, this weekend brought a few inches of fresh snow, and Sunday turned beautifully warm (if 20 degree weather is “warm”!) and sunny. Snowcapped Breadloaf Mountain in the background gave the scene “pinch me is this real?” beauty.
The new race trail, listed as 5 km, is a little shorter than the old trail, but this makes sense given the economics of setting up the permanent plumbing required to supply its outer reaches with snowmaking. Some of the new trail uses segments of previously existing trail, much of it is set on new trails created during the summer of 2011. The course has a similar layout, with one shorter loop in the Myrhe’s Cabin side, and a longer loop on the Craig’s Hill side of ski touring area. While the Tormondsen Family Trail does not have as much altitude gain as the old trail due to its shorter length, it doesn’t have any flat sections either, so it will definitely challenge competitors. The trail is well marked from the beginning and, in addition to greater breadth, can also be distinguished by the snowmaking pipes which follow the course.
While older racers may bemoan the loss of the technical challenge of the old “S-turns” or the long hard climb up “Craig’s Hill”, the current and future generations of racers will have a blast on the wide, banked, fast turns which characterize the new course. When I thought I had finished the trail, I looked at my GPS, and realized that I had not yet covered the full 5 km, and realized that the races usually start with a big loop of two in the open fields for the benefit of spectators, so I threw in one loop around the field at the end, and brought the distance up to about where it should be. Conservatively, there is about 400 feet of climbing on this course, which doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that the longer races will loop around it as many as 4 times!
We have the opportunity to see the first Winter Carnival race held on this new trail next weekend (Feb 15, 16), and the NCAA championship races in early March. Come on up and check it out!
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.