Author Archives: Jeff Byers

About Jeff Byers

I am on the faculty here at Middlebury, and an avid runner

A Bluebird Day at Breadloaf

With the recent dumping of snow, it was time to get up the mountain to the Rikert Ski Touring area at the Breadloaf Campus to enjoy the thick carpet of white on my cross country skis. The Breadloaf Campus is named for the backdrop of Breadloaf Mountain which looks kind of like…well..a loaf of bread. And it looked all the more stunning with the fresh snow. The Breadloaf campus buildings (other than the ski touring center) are usually only used during the summer as the campus for the Breadloaf School of English, and the writer’s conference. These were parodied on the Simpsons when Marge got to go to “Wordloaf”, so I guess that gives them some credibility, right? With the over-enrollment of students this year, a bunch of “lucky” students were given the privilege of living up on the mountain with the main campus dorms filled to capacity. As one might guess, this was not a popular choice, but I wonder how they will feel seeing the winter wonderland around their dorm when they return from break. I hope the opportunity to head out for a ski in the morning before class makes their remote accommodations more appealing!

Breadloaf Mountain

For my ski today, I chose to ski around the periphery of what I think of as the “tame” part of the Rikert trails. Like most trail systems in Vermont, you can pretty much go forever in any direction, so I chose the definition of skiing around the periphery as defined by the trails that are typically groomed. That proved to be an excellent choice today, both for the pleasure of gliding in deep set tracks, as well as the observation that as the warm sun beat down on the snow, it started to get a little bit heavy, making the groomed trails even more appealing. I started my ski tour in the fields across the street, enjoying the beauty of the white meadows, only interrupted by a few groomed skiers’ paths.

Field of White

For most of my history at Breadloaf, there were only two big loops in the meadows across from the Breadloaf Inn, but a few years ago, a more substantial loop was added in the form of the Brandy Brook Trail, which was added in part so that there was a place to ski when the trails closer to the touring center were in use for races. I stayed on this trail, looping through the meadows before returning to the road, to cross over by Earthworm Manor, the former home of writer W. H. Upson. Following the trail up the hill, I connected with the trail known as (surprise surprise) the Upton Trail, although old timers still call it the “Figure 8”, eventually arriving at the spot that I have always called “5 Corners”, an intersection where five trails come together, and has been marked by a massive dead tree for as long as I can remember.

Behind Earthworm Manor
Dead Tree at Five Corners

At this point I realized that my route was a little bit at odds with the way most people ski Rikert. Almost all of the races run at Rikert from the Breadloaf Citizens Race (which I have competed in countless times) to the NCAA carnival races go counter-clockwise, and I was going clockwise. Way to be a rebel, huh? I noticed this as I started to ascend the Rock Garden Trail, a nice easy switchback up the hill, and saw this badly faded sign letting me know that I was going the wrong way! Shame on me, but I chose to continue, since I didn’t sense any hordes of skiers descending at that moment. Maybe faded signs don’t count?

Wrong Way!

From here, I ascended to the high point on the trail, the Burgin Cabin, or as I prefer to call it, “The Ripton Hilton”. It is a lovely cabin for camping students, but since it is locked up, I have never actually been inside it. It was erected in part as a replacement for the old Worth Mountain Cabin at the top of the Snow Bowl, which was taken down due to “structural problems”, which I suspect is code for “college officials are not enthused about students camping overnight on college property to get first tracks”. That said, I suspect the Burgin Lodge, which looks beautiful, is much more comfortable!

Ripton Hilton

From here it was a pleasant descent down the Frost and Holland Trails until I got to the Crooked Brook trail, another great “recent addition” (as in less than 10 years old) trail, which I took through a series of short connecting trails to reach the Battell Trail (aka the “Turkey Trot”). After a short climb (once again, going the wrong direction on a one-way trail) I was ready for the long easy descent back to the touring area. At this point, the shady sections of trail were quite fast and fun, but I quickly caught on to the fact that in places where the trail had been in the sun, the snow had gotten quite wet and sticky, effectively putting on the breaks. So, my solution was to simply avoid the sunny sections, building up speed until I rounded a corner to see nothing but brilliant white snow in the sun, with the inevitable “SPLAT” as my skis suddenly stopped! Dusting off the wet snow, and regaining my dignity, I finished my ski, covering slightly less than 6 miles. While there were no major climbs, there were very few flat sections. It was good to be out today!

Google Earth of the Route – the Inn is right by the 125
Altitude Profile

The Middlebury Gorge Loop

This weekend will include the running of the TAM Trek 18 mile race, going the full length of locally famous Trail Around Middlebury. I have competed in this race many times, including a second place in the inaugural running, but with my training not currently up to the distance, I decided to help out this year – giving a little back to the local running community and the trail that I love. I volunteered to help flag the trail prior to the race, and was pleased to hear that I was given the responsibility of marking the most remote corner of the trail, the northernmost section going into the Middlebury Gorge. I also knew from previous races that this section has been known to confuse some runners who don’t know the trail already, so I planned on doing a good job of things. We will see on race day!

The trailhead for this run/walk (slowing down to hang streamers) was along Morgan Horse Farm road, about 0.8 miles north of the entrance to the farm itself, on the right. From the parking lot, immediately head over the sty (an Olde English countryside word for ladder, but hey, its a fun word) to the right, and a run across the cow pasture (no cows there…but the signs of their recent presence was quite obvious) to the back of the meadow, where the trail led over another sty and into the forest. I quickly came to one of the intersections which has confused runners in past years – there is a shortcut to the Belden Dam, going straight, and a sharp left turn, which actually leads to the gorge. I did my best to mark this corner with plenty of orange streamers, and even made an attempt at an arrow to the left from rocks on the ground. It isn’t so obvious from the picture, but trail runners are frequently looking down at their feet – if they don’t, their nose ends up on the ground!

Go Left!

At this point the trail in the woods passes just under the trees along open meadows, until it actually joins the periphery of a large scenic meadow. When I last ran this way, at the back of the meadow there was (and still is) a picnic table, and looking out, I noticed a shelter, complete with seats, and a few rope swings. I suspect this is part of the childrens’ programs run by the Middlebury Area Land Trust (Shout out!) which sponsors the race, and is charged with the upkeep of the trail.

Day Camp Shelter

From this point, the trail heads back into the woods for the easy descent to the riverside. I also made a curious observation – there were still some red streamers left behind from a previous running of the race. I also suspected that I had been passing by these along this section of the trail, and was glad that the streamers I was marking the course with were a much brighter orange….ah the perils of the red/green colorblind runner….Hint to race organizers – red streamers blend in with green foliage for myself and the similarly afflicted!

Colorblind Runner’s Dilemma

Arriving at the river’s edge, the trail goes up and down along the shore of the Otter Creek before reaching a mini- beach with a nice view of this remote and sparsely visited section of the creek.

After hitting the river’s edge, the trail gets pretty technical for about a half mile, with some beautiful views of the gorge on side trails, and some very “scrambly” sections – Some of them steep enough and slick enough that the trail crews (shout out to John Derick!) have placed cables to assist hikers and runners. I know from experience that this short section, late in the race, can be tough on the runners! In some places, the moss on the ground and the gnarly trees is quite lovely. A friend and local photographer and arts teacher Josh has christened this section “The Shire”.

The Shire

The trail hits the Belden Dam at about 2 miles, and with the wet summer we have had, the water was roaring through the natural sluice formed by the river as it plunges into the gorge.

Constricted Otter Creek

My return to the car was a right turn shortcut, not on the TAM race trail, and was mostly through the forest. One of the hidden gems of the TAM is along this path. When one reaches a thicket of small hemlocks on your left, once you pass them, and take a short bushwhack to the left, looking to the left for about 100 yards on a very weak herd path, there is a small family graveyard, most of the gravestones in from the VERY early 1800s, with the surname of “Belding”. I am presuming that the name “Belden Dam” is based on word of mouth communication of the family which once had a farm here very early in the history of the area!

Belding Family Graveyard

From this point, the run was pretty straightforward, and the late afternoon sun looked beautiful on the pastures. At the last few steps, returning to my car, the Blue Beetle, I saw that some of the local cows had blocked a section of the trail. This ended up being a very pretty, but short 3 mile loop. I took my time due to my trail marking, and the half mile section along the river was very slow going, but the rest is an easy trail run with excellent footing!

Late afternoon sun
Burgers on the hoof

The Finite Infinitus

The Moosalamoo region is growing a reputation as a great place for hiking, and yes, trail running. A lot of this reputation has been the result of the increasing popularity of three trail races, all of which start and finish at the Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center in Goshen. Over 30 years ago, I started running the granddaddy of these races, the Goshen Gallop, run by Tony Clark and his staff and family, and for many years, this was the high point of my running season, both in terms of challenge (6.6 miles on mostly mountain trails) and scenic beauty. In more recent years, two more challenging trail running events have emerged. The Moosalamoo Ultra, expertly run by John Izzo and his extended family has both a “Big Moose” version (36 miles, but when I ran it I found a way to extend it to 37.5) and the “Little Moose”, “only” covering 14 miles – still plenty challenging, but accessible to mere mortals. The most recent event, the basis of this posting is Andy Weinberg’s Endurance Society Infinitus race. Andy has a long resume both competing in, and running extreme running events. I first became aware of Andy when I met him at the Jay Peak Ultra 13 years ago, and later learned of his then-signature event known as the Death Race. He then went on to become the co-creator of the popular Spartan Race series, and now concentrates on his own “Endurance Society” events, of which Infinitus is the biggest. Oh, and he also has a day job as a college professor at Castleton University.

The Infinitus event is a close to two week long suffer fest with a sense of humor, run on many of the Moosalamoo Region trails. Many of the races are designed with the number 8 in mind, which is, of course, the infinity symbol standing upright, and the race which best follows this theme, covering 888 km in 10 days, with many of the competitors running through the nights. A few people have been able to finish this, but it is way out of my league. I did notice some humorous comments on the race progress board when I was up there today, with some competitors unable to cross the border from Canada due to ongoing Covid rules, and a few others making >PG comments about the challenges forcing them to throw in the towel.

888 Km Progress

Some of the lesser events include competitors attempting to run 10 trail marathons in 10 days, 5 marathons in 5 days, 250 miles, 100 miles, and the events commencing at 8:08 Saturday morning, the 88 Km, marathon, and the race of my intent, the 8 miler, or as I thought of it, the “Finite Infinitus”. You can guess which race had the most participants! This race was also a special one for me – first of all, I know the Moosalamoo trails about as well as anyone, have run/skied/biked them for 35 years, and frequently describe these routes in this blog. Like a lot of people, this race is my first as we all start to emerge from Covid. Finally, I have been dealing with cancer for about 2 years, and this was my first attempt at a race as a cancer patient, after beginning the gauntlet of surgery, radiation, and chemo about a year and a half ago. Since my current treatment regimen isn’t as debilitating as what I underwent in 2019-2020, and my strength is returning, it was time to get back to what I love. I have been gradually building up my endurance, but still, on many of my runs, I do have to slow down to a walk, so a mountain race was perfect – almost nobody runs the uphills on terrain this crazy! This particular race, in which most of the climbing was in one long ascent of Romance Mountain, would do a good job of masking my current limitations.

Of course, in a May race, you never know what you are going to get for weather, and as I got up early in the morning to head up to Blueberry Hill, I looked on the thermometer, and saw that it registered 40 F! I also suspected, quite correctly that it might even be chillier up at the race, so had to dress accordingly. Arriving at the race site, the in, the outdoor center, and the surrounding fields were buzzing with activity. In addition to plenty of cars, there were RVs and tents set up in a little city of runners – which makes sense given the number of runners in multi-day events.

Runners’ Tent City

And yes, it was cold! The weather was just fine for running, but not so good for standing around waiting for a run to start. I had a brief conversation with a running friend who had been there the night before, keeping her daughter company as she ran through the night while competing in the 100 mile race. Apparently, there were snowflakes at the higher elevations last night, although nothing collected! As the race started, a few runners bolted like it was the beginning of a much shorter race, but most of us started off nice and easy, and we all soon funneled into the narrow trails, typically two, and later one runner wide. A lot of the runners attempting the longer races carried hiking poles, so in the crowded early miles people had to be careful to avoid getting accidentally poked, although this as certainly not as challenging as it can be in ski races. At just past the 1 mile mark, the prettiest part of the run was reached, the great views of the Green Mountains from the side of Hogback Mountain, where the greatest concentration of wild blueberries can be found in July.

Hogback Mountain Views

At about the 2 mile mark, the most intense climbing began, where the trail goes up over 1000 ft in about 3/4 of a mile, and as predicted, nobody was running here, at least mid-pack where I was. The lower level of pysical activity I have been trying to work my way out of was really apparent here; I didn’t have to stop to catch my breath, but the lack of leg and glute strength certainly slowed me down relative to many other runners. At one point, the Blueberry Hill Ski Touring center advertised this trail as the highest altitude groomed cross country skiing in the east, and I have enjoyed skiing up this many times in the past! Topping out at around 2700 ft, not quite at the summit of Romance Mt, the trail did a modest descent for a few minutes, before a short climb, and the long nearly unbroken descent to the finish line. Most of the trail from this point on was all well-trodden single track, running through the dense coniferous forest which characterizes most of the Moosalamoo region.

Trail Descent

The long descent from the 3 mile point was even easier than I thought it would be. There were a few muddy patches, and those competitors whose day was going to be a lot longer than mine due to the nature of their longer chosen events took care to avoid wet feet, but I just sloshed on through them, enjoying the playful mess I was making of my shoes and legs. After one last smaller climb up the Stewart trail, the gradual descent to the finish line brought me past a few beaver ponds, and I even mustered enough of a sprint at the finish line to burst past another guy who looked like me might be about my age. It really felt good crossing into the finish line corral – especially since a year and a half ago, I wasn’t sure I would ever get to do this again.

Finish Line Corral

While this race was listed as an 8 mile race (remember, the “8/infinity theme”) it was only 7.32 miles, and that was fine as I had plenty of fun. The total altitude gain was about 1200 ft, most of it in the crunch up Romance!

Google Earth of the Run
Altitude Profile

Old Snow to Voter Brook Overlook

We are getting into one of the more challenging times of the year for high quality trail time. On trails where the snow has subsided, mud has taken over. While mud on the hiking boots (or running shoes) is not something that bothers a lot of trail enthusiasts, we should refrain from hiking until Memorial Day, in order to limit trail erosion. Cross country skiing? That brings up other challenges, as the snow where it hasn’t been groomed is just plain crusty and nasty. However, there is a window of opportunity for trail running with microspikes, at least on trails which have been “well tromped” to make for better footing, at least as long as one dons their Microspikes on their running shoes. I was conversing with a friend yesterday, who was looking for good places to go hiking at this time of the year, and I suggested some of the forest service roads crossing the Ripton-Goshen Road, knowing of several that get steady winter use, either from hikers and skiers or snowmobilers. I also figured that the snow would be pretty hard early in the morning before being softened by the sun, making for easier traveling.

After this conversation, I decided it would be fun to get a taste of my own medicine, and try to do a trail run on one of these, and decided to try the road heading into the Moosalamoo Campground and Voter Brook Overlook. I also figured that Saturday morning would be a good time to run this, as the Ripton-Goshen Road can turn into a quagmire as the day warms up. By late morning, however, it was in pretty good shape. The dirt road heading to the Voter Brook Overlook is not terribly long (under 2 miles) and I often incorporate parts of it on longer loops in the Moosalamoo region. Arriving at the end of the road, gated for the winter, it was obvious that there was plenty of snow still on the road, although I could tell just by looking at it, that the footing would be less than idea for running.

At the Trailhead

After slipping on my microspikes, it soon became apparent to me that my concerns were well founded. While the snow was firm, it was badly pocked, making for awkward footing, even with good friction from my footwear. It was obvious that I was going to have to take it easy if I didn’t want to finish my run with twisted ankles and knees, turning this day’s activities into more of a run/walk. What was causing the bad footing? I didn’t see much indication of hikers “postholing” (crashing through crust making deep holes), but there were the remnants of people tracks (skis, ski poles, boots, and snowshoes), deer tracks, moose tracks, and dog tracks that had accumulated since the last snow. Also, it was interesting to note that wherever a leaf or branch had fallen, it made an inprint, often several inches deep, from the sun hitting the dark object, which in turn melted it into a hold. The patterns made in this way by dropped fir tree fragments made for interesting indentations, almost halos, in the surrounding crusty snow.

Fir Halo

Bad footing aside, it was a beautiful bluebird day, and despite the awkward footing, necessitating a more leisurely place, it was great to be outside. About halfway up the road, it drops to a stream crossing and makes a sharp turn, before climbing back up to the higher ground. The last time I had been here, in Oct 2018, the low point in the road was badly washed out, making summertime vehicular traffic impossible. I was glad to see that the road had been repaired at some time in the not too distant past.

Road Bend

At about 1.7 miles, I reached the end of the road, with the expected payout – the view from the Voter Brook Overlook. Very few people in Addison County know of this lovely little vista, even though it is fully accessible by car in the summer months, on slow, but 2WD roads. The lookout is even more dramatic in the winter, when there are no leaves on nearby trees to obscure views. On a typical summer weekend day, countless hikers make the trek up to the Rattlesnake Cliffs, just to the right of the frame of the view in the picture below, while this overlook only gets a trickle of attention despite far easier access.

Voter Brook Overlook in Early Spring

After pausing for a few minutes to enjoy the view on this perfect early Spring day, I retraced my route back to my car. The footing was starting to get even more challenging as the sun started softening the snow more, making for an even slower pace, much of it barely discernible as running. I also added in a short extra loop through the Moosalamoo Campground. This lovely little gem is very much off the beaten path, and I have never seen more than a handful of groups camping here at any point in time. It doesn’t have the obvious draw of a lake or river to swim in, but is surrounded by many trails, including the moderate ascent up adjacent Mr Moosalamoo. It always struck me as a place to go to just to hang out and relax in a quiet place. Amenities? Hah! It has a few outhouses, and drinking water. I also discovered an addition to the sites that I didn’t remember from previous visits – bear boxes to put food in! Does this count as my first bear sighting of the year?

Bear Sighting?

The entire run/walk was only slightly less than 4 miles, and had no climbing of any significance, but I think that this time of the year is when it is at its prettiest. Since it was over a dirt road, rather than a true trail, it would make for a nice place to have a long walk (or short hike – I am not sure when one ends and the other one begins) during mud season.

Waxless Wonders in Frost Country

Throughout my 20s, 30s and into my 40s, I fancied myself a passable nordic ski racer. I, and a group of friends calling ourselves “Team Ross” (named in honor of long-time Middlebury College ski team coach and former olympian, Patty Ross) made the rounds to many local races, including the Breadloaf Citizens Race, the Stowe Derby (my favorite for many years!), and the now defunct American Ski Marathon at Blueberry Hill, which was part of a National Ski Marathon Championship Series formerly known as “The Great American Ski Chase“. In addition to the usual technique and conditioning skills, this sport required a certain level of mastery in the art of ski waxing. The difference between a great race and a miserable frustrating day was often the choice of ski wax, and the care with which it was applied, especially in races where the “classic” technique was required. For many years, I found great pleasure in this art. On days when I chose to ski in the classic style, I would head up to the Rikert Ski Touring Center, bringing along my full kit of waxes, and once I checked out the temperature and snow conditions (wet, or dry? Fresh, old, or rock hard?) I would go into the waxing room at Rikert, spending anywhere from 5 min to a half hour waxing up before heading out. And, of course, I secretly scorned the beginners and their noisy, slow, waxless fishscale skis! As the years went by, and the time that I had to dedicate to careful waxing diminished (cough I found that my waxing time diminished to the point where I would “nail” the wax about 25% of the time, get it “good enough to have fun but not quite right” about 50% of the time, and totally “miss the wax” about 25% of the time, leading to either spinning my wheels, or slogging along with glue under my skis. Fast forward to the current covid era – while my passion for waxing has been fading for years, this year the social distancing requirements prohibit spending time indoors in the old Rikert waxing rooms, so I was forced to guess the wax from my home down in the valley. And, I kept guessing poorly. Add to this the fact that my decades old gear, once state of the art, was now badly worn out and ancient technology. So, I swallowed my pride, and drove up to Burlington to buy a pair of (shudder) cheap waxless fishscale skis! I had heard that all outdoor gear, including cross country ski gear was in short supply this year, due to a surge in outdoor activity and upset supply lines, and was fortunate to be able to purchase the last pair of skis and boots in my size in the store. I have to admit, skiing on them has been a pleasure! They are a little slow at times, but realistically, the aging version of me is as well. And, I will never ever ever have to wax my skis again! My new “waxless wonders” reside in my car for the winter, ever ready for a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to use them. My blog posting today describes one route I took on them.

Another covid era complication, has been the need to quarantine after travel out of state. My life required a trip to Boston earlier in the week, and although I eschewed all unnecessary human contact, I returned to Vermont willing to continue human isolation until I am cleared by time or a negative test. That said, I was not going to let all this great snow go to waste! The main entrance at Rikert was clearly off limits, as it is busy with people at the entrance, and in the vicinity of the lodge and inner trails. An alternative place to begin my skiing was up the short road from Rt 125 at the parking lot for the Robert Frost Cabin. While this parking lot, and the immediate vicinity is part of the Rikert trail network, a few hundred yards bring one onto national forest, and these outer trails are infrequently skied. For the duration of this ski, I only saw three other skiers who were easily avoided.

Heading straight up the hill past the old farmhouse and the Frost Cabin, I found myself immediately in a forest of Red Pines, their lower branches still heavy with snow.

Red Pine Forest

While the snow was still pretty fresh, it had been skied out just enough, and my waxless wonders were performing marvelously. At about 3/4 of a mile, the trail forked, and I took the right turn continuing uphill towards the Blue Bed House. I have written on this house in the past – when I first started skiing back here in the 80’s it was still a discernable, partially standing home, but the eponymous blue bed was nowhere to be seen. When I was last here, chronicled 11 years ago in the summer, the house was reduced to a pile of rubble, but still recognizable as a former structure. It’s current status? Frankly, if I hadn’t known it was once there, I probably couldn’t have discerned it’s location, especially with all the fresh snow. Nature is quickly reclaiming this spot!

Jumble Formerly Known as the Blue Bed House

Continuing on this trail, at the next trail junction, I took a sharp left on the trail whose sign indicated that it was heading towards the Blue Bed House meadow – probably the remnants of the old hill farm associated with the house. This open area is one of my favorite places in this part of the woods, and its former use as a farm site can also be identified by one of the surest signs of its former habitation – the old apple trees planted many generations ago.

Blue Bed House Meadow

Going straight at the bottom of this meadow (the left turn here is where I went on my return), and after a short steep descent, I came down to the terminus of the Wagon Wheel Road, one of the back roads in Ripton, where the road had been plowed, but not sanded, and was fine for skiing. This location was probably the site of what was probably a pretty rowdy dance hall from the early 1950s called – you guessed it – “The Wagon Wheel”. I did a little looking into the history of this former den of sin for the residents of Ripton in a previous post. Curiously, uphill, not far from here, I once found the rim of an old wagon wheel laying down on the ground, and I made the point of leaning it against a tree, but have never found it again since then.

At this point, I turned right up the plowed, but skiable dirt road beyond the locked gate. There is clearly someone who lives up this road during the winter months, but fortunately they leave this section open to foot, ski, and snowshoe travelers during the winter. After a short ascent on this section, the trail system takes a well- labeled right turn onto a true trail, with the continued road ascent at this point well-labeled with No Trespassing signs. I knew from past experiences that there were options to loop back to the Blue Bed House from this point, and that was my original plan. Passing by a beaver pond meadow, I came to the next trail junction. Most of the tracks continued straight, heading towards Forest Service 59, but I had had enough climbing for the day, so I chose to take the right turn onto the old trail called “Kiwi”.

Kiwi had long been one of the most primitive trails in the Rikert trail network, and is still marked on contemporary Rikert maps. Decades ago, while not maintained, it was easily followed, and skiing in the winter I could guess that it was braided with tiny streams which were easily covered by snow and ice in the winter. More recent runs back here were a little bit disorienting, and I soon realized that beaver activity, and erosion had created a real stream here, requiring wet feet. Since this trail was still shown on some Rikert maps, I was hoping that it could be crossed more readily in the winter, or that perhaps the Rikert staff had added a primitive bridge. However, as I followed the tracks to the edge of the stream, I looked across and saw nobody had passed this crossing since the last storm, for obvious reasons! So, I turned around, and retraced my tracks to the site of the old Wagon Wheel site.

U Can’t Cross This

On my return, I chose a shorter route, following the signs pointing towards the Frost Cabin, and soon found myself in the red pine forest, enjoying a gentle descent back to my car. The sun, low in the sky, made for a lovely view by the cabin!

Late Afternoon at the Robert Frost Cabin

The total length of this semi-loop ski was about 5 miles, with a modest 530 ft of climbing and descent. And the best part? I won’t have to scrape and clean the nasty old wax from my ski bases!

Google Earth of the Ski
Altitude Profile

Postscript: Heading out of another ski, on the next day, I noticed that road access to the Robert Frost Cabin has been closed by Middlebury College. This is understandable, as the possibility of accessing “in bounds” Rikert Trails by those not holding a seasons pass (I did purchase the pass) was possible here. Also, probably more importantly, current Covid rules require that the touring center maintain records of all daily visits, should contact tracing be required.

Trailhead Closure

Middlebury International Airport Run

This is a tough time of the year to get out on the trails. For one, the “stick season” weather can be kind of grim, and most of the people out on the trails are carrying their guns, in search of the elusive slow buck. I don’t begrudge the hunters their time, or at least not much. We have the trails for the rest of the year, and they get them for a only a few weeks. I was thinking to myself…..”Where would people carrying guns, even for non-nefarious reasons, not be allowed, where I might want to run?” And then the answer came to me – what is the one place in the US where guns are never allowed? Airports of course! Now, I have no interest in doing laps on an airport concourse (although I have done that to kill time on long layovers), but thought that a run around the periphery of our own Middlebury International Airport might be the safest place around to run. I had also recently noticed that the fencing which was put up around the tiny airport (can’t have enough airport security!) also had a 6 foot wide apron around its periphery for maintenance. Sounds like a good place for a run.

Starting the run down by the corner of Munson Road and Schoolhouse Hill Road, I came face to face with the fence that would soon be my companion. The dire warnings sent a shiver up my spine. No way I was crossing that wall…Oops…I mean fence.

Stern Warnings!

I started my run to the right, alongside the fence which seemed to stretch on forever! The footing was perfect, and I even saw a few deer prints in the soft sandy soil. Perhaps they too had figured out that Homeland Security made this a safe zone for them? I also thought it was cool how the wire fence semi-shaded the path in front of me – it looked almost like it was meant to be lanes, but there was no sign of oncoming traffic.

Heading further south, I turned the corner at the end of the runway, running past the “back yards” of some of the auto repair and storage facilities on Schoolhouse Hill Road, before returning north, closer to the airport facilities. When I reached the paved road, the gates were open allowing me to peruse the airplanes, as after all, it was a quiet work day there. Some of the planes were lined up tidily, clearly ready to be flown.

Neatly lined up

On the other hand, there were also some real “beaters” – the remnants of older planes that were clearly being scavenged for parts, or a few that looked like fixer upper specials, that were a long way from being airworthy. One oldie was the following airplane, with the name “Comanche 250” inscribed on the side. Looking up the details on this plane, clearly missing some major parts, like a tail, I found that it was a model put into service in 1958.

Comanche 250

Running past the “control tower” – actually not a tower, but just one of the buildings, I realized, much to my dismay, that the official name isn’t “Middlebury International Airport” after all. “Middlebury State Airport” sounds so much less grandiose, and to think, I had been naming it incorrectly all these years. Finally, I sought out an old jet aircraft, that had been sitting alongside one of the runway sheds, partially covered in a tarp, for probably 20 years. It was no longer in its rusting place, but as I headed towards the main tie-down area, I saw it there, actually up on its wheels, and looking considerably healthier than I last saw it. Asking around, I found it was an aircraft called the “Fouga Magister” and was an old French training jet from the early 50’s – literally the dawn of jet aircraft. How on earth did someone every fly it in to such a short runway? How on earth was anybody ever going to fly it out of there? Finally, who on earth would ever fly a jet like this, which literally looked like not much more than a few seats strapped on an engine? In any case, this oldie is the blue plane in the back of the picture below.

Fouga Magister

Realizing that I was indeed on the wrong side of the fence, and liable for who knows what kind of federal offense, I headed out, and followed the fence further to the north. Quite a few paths joined in, although I expect that most of them were paths from people’s back yards, and at one point, literally was on someone’s back yard. They must have been bummed when the airport put up the wall, I mean fence, spoiling their view! Finally, returning to my starting point, I concluded an easy, and kind of cool 2.6 mile run. And no, I am not going to include the altitude profile for this one, because, you know, airports are kind of flat!

Route around the Airport

Old Dudes’ run to the Sugar Hill Reservoir

The Sugar Hill Reservoir, a man-made lake held in place by a large, earthen flood control dam, has been one of my favorite destinations since I began this blog 11 years ago. In fact, one of my earliest postings from 2009 had this lovely highcountry lake as its centerpiece, as well as numerous other postings over the years. There are two primary ways to get to this lake – the easy way, and the hard way. The hard way, of course, with about 500 ft of climbing, is the path of the trailrunner. The easy way is simply to drive there; access can be achieved by driving towards Goshen on the Ripton-Goshen Rd, and taking the left turn up a well-maintained forest service road heading to the left. This easy access has made the lake popular with fishermen and kayakers, as well as the hikers and runners who usually come at it from other directions.

I first learned that something was up at this reservoir earlier this summer. I was driving home from another nearby run by Silver Lake, and noticed that a good chunk of the Ripton-Goshen Road was being torn up, and it looked like they were putting in buried cable at the edge of the road. Asking around, a “reputable source” (OK – one of the old guys I run with, who joined me on this run) told me that they were bringing electricity to the Goshen Dam holding back Silver Lake, so that in times of flood, the sluice gates could be opened and shut remotely. I am sure this brings comfort to the people who live downstream! A little later in the summer, while helping out at one of the feed stations for the Moosalamoo Ultra, I noticed that cars with roof kayaks were driving past us on their way to the reservoir, only to see them departing past us again on the way out a few minutes later. At this point, I learned that much of the water had been drained while they repairs. I am were performing some dam repairs, also glad I couldn’t see the disappointment on the no doubt surprised kayakers as they drove away. The same semi-reputable source told me later in the day that the water level had been dropped 17 feet!

Of course, my curiosity got the best of me, and I wanted to see what the place looked like missing most of its water. I know I could have driven to it, but that seemed like cheating! Also, my recovery from past medical challenges had proceeded to the point where the run up to the reservoir, or at least a run/walk, seemed like a reasonable goal. Sending out feelers to running friends, the only takers I found were two of my best running partners. What makes them among my best? They are among the few people I can find to run with who are my age or older! So, on a crisp fall day, we met up at the Brooks Road parking lot (Brooks Rd is the dirt road on your right, about a half mile past Breadloaf, and the parking lot is about a quarter mile in) for a run up to the reservoir. In addition to the opportunity to spend some time with old friends on a beautiful run, we also wondered if we might be able to walk out to the island in the middle of the lake, with the water so low.

Most of this run is on Brooks Road – it is a modestly maintained Forest Service road which slow moving non-4WD cars seem to do fine on, but car traffic is so rare that it might as well be a trail run. Starting up the long climb, one of my friends reminded me that the way to do this was “start slow, then taper” and we followed his sage advice. This also gave us a great opportunity to actually talk, rather than gasping for breath. And we did talk…..while conversation inevitably finds its way to 30-year old PR’s (runners’ slang for “I used to be fast”) most of our conversation revolved around recent running and outdoor adventures, and that is a good thing. After all, with two 60-somethings and one 70-something, there is still a lot of adventure to be had, and shared. Yeah – we had some good tales to tell.

After about 2.4 miles, and 500 ft of climbing, we reached the point where the snowmobile trail heading on a short rise to the right, followed by a half mile downhill, brought us to the shores of the reservoir.

View from the Goshen Dam

To be honest, the lake didn’t look half bad! It was plain to see that it would be disappointing to a paddler hoping to explore a larger lake, but it was still an attractive place. We continued around the shore on the far side, walking rather than running, given the sketchy footing – after all this part used to be under water! We eventually realized that our goal of walking to the island, while keeping our feet relatively dry, was not going to be achieved, at least from this side. A rather broad stream, probably a feeder to the lake, was cutting off our path, and since none of us came prepared for swimming, or at least slogging, we decided to forgo the “island expedition”.

View towards the island

We also took a quick look at the new modernized “remote control” sluice gate. We were underwhelmed – there seems to have been a ton of work going on for many months, and this was the only element of the dam that seemed changed!

Underwhelming repairs

We made note of the fact that the little piece of tree-covered land formerly known as “the island” might be more accessible from the other side of the lake, and commented that it might be fun to come back at some point before winter to test that premise. From this point, we retraced our steps, starting off with the short, steep climb away from the lake, and the long easy descent back to our cars, the conversation made all the easier by going downhill (that is, the terrain went downhill, not the conversation). We ended up spending a little over 7 miles on our feet, mostly running, but with a little walking. This constituted my longest run in over a year, so it felt really good!

Google Earth of the Run
Sugar Hill Reservoir When Full
Altitude Profile