Shenipsit Trail End-to-End Run

Lately, many of my trail adventures have been with Debbie. That wasn’t always the case. In the past, many of her races, and particularly the ultra distance events, were solo affairs for her. She was the runner and I was the crew.

Photos - 8 of 11

Over the years, and on many occasions, our children joined me on the crew. When they were young, it wasn’t easy for both of us to compete at the same time, so I was on “Daddy Duty” too, but a weekend with the kids can’t be compared with ALL week with the kids.  If you have crewed at an ultra, then you know that there is a lot of downtime. The moments of quietude are interspersed with bursts of activity when your runner arrives at an aid station. Crew chiefs are good at managing logistics. I love that role and look forward to playing it again. Debbie has done more than 100 ultras and I crewed most of them.

Photos - 7 of 11

Yesterday, she ran the Shenipsit Trail End-to-End with our friend Laura Lindquist Becker, and the experience brought back many of the good vibes from ultras past. There was no crew as this was a self-supported effort by the two of them, but that didn’t stop us from helping out with some of the other logistics and showing up at the end to cheer their finish.

Debbie and I met Laura last year when she joined the Shenipsit Striders. She helped out at the NipMuck Trail Marathon and then ran half of the Shenipsit Trail End-to-End the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Photos - 3 of 11

The two of them have been running together ever since. At some point, they hatched a plan to do the entire trail as an FKT attempt. Debbie knows the trail like the back of her hand, and she took Laura out several times in recent months to scout different sections. A few weeks ago, they ran the top half north to south. Yesterday, they did the whole thing south to north. I actually think it was Debbie’s first time doing the whole trail at once. It cuts right through our hometown of Bolton and we are on it all the time, so it is probably the most special trail for us.

Screen Shot 2020-06-01 at 9.31.33 AM

The Connecticut Forest & Park Association Walk Book description is excellent:

Towns: Portland, East Hampton, Glastonbury, Manchester, Bolton, Vernon, Tolland, Ellington, Somers, Stafford 

Trail Overview: The Shenipsit Trail system extends from the Cobalt area of East Hampton north to just shy of the Massachusetts border in West Stafford. The trail traverses the Meshomasic and Shenipsit State Forests on trails that are primarily woodland paths and offer several outstanding views. The Shenipsit also connects to the trail systems in Gay City State Park in Hebron, Case Mountain Recreation Area in Manchester, and Valley Falls Park in Vernon. Points of interest along the Shenipsit Trail include spectacular views of Great Hill Pond and the Connecticut River, excellent views of Hartford from the summit of Case Mountain, a junction with the Hop River Rail Trail in Bolton, scenic sections on the banks of the Tankerhoosen River in the Belding and Tankerhoosen Wildlife Management Areas in Vernon, and excellent views to the west, north, and southwest from the fire tower on Soapstone Mountain in Somers. The trail also crosses conservation lands protected by the Kongscut Land Trust and the Manchester Land Trust.

Photos - 9 of 11

Given our 20 years association with the Shenipsit Striders, this trail has a lot of meaning. Debbie has been part of Striders leadership for a long time and was Race Director of the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race which uses sections of the trail. Laura is a very strong endurance athlete with a multi-sport background, but she is relatively new to trail running. She and Debbie make a good team.

Photos - 6 of 11

They started in Cobalt at the southern terminus of the trail on Gadpouch Road around 6:13 A.M. Their effort was self-supported which means no outside aid, and no accompaniment outside of your team. You can read about FKT definitions and guidelines at this link.  I provided more background in a post from last month. They left a car in Bolton Notch with extra food and water. The commuter lot is about 30 miles into the 50 mile total distance. It’s a trail, so these numbers are approximate. They reached the Notch around 11:15 A.M.

Photos - 10 of 11

Shepard was at Case Mountain riding with friends from the Team HORST Junior Squad. His teammate Sean was doing 6,288 feet of climbing for his CCAP Breakaway Benefit Ride, and he (and Alexandra) joined him for 30 miles. Of course, the Shenipsit Trail goes through Case. They didn’t end up seeing each other, but Laura and Debbie saw many other Shenipsit Striders friends throughout the day.

Photos - 5 of 11

Dahlia and I were hanging out at home to start the day. We took a walk and watched Launch America on YouTube. Then, around 9:00 A.M., I rode to Lake Terramuggus for a swim. I stopped at Case on the way, but only bumped into Junior Squad coach Tim Rourke. He is Sean’s dad. After my swim, I continued south to Cobalt to fetch the car. I returned home to have a snack with Dahlia and pack the car. Then we went to Case to pick up Shep. During this entire time, Laura and Debbie were making their way north.

Photos - 4 of 11

The kids and I drove to the northern terminus on Greaves Road in Stafford. They ate lunch onto way. When we got there, we hiked the trail south for two miles before turning back. Our timing was perfect as Laura and Debbie arrived when we were about 1/4 mile from the end. It was about 4:40 P.M. We cheered them loudly as they sprinted to the finish in just over 10 hours and 27 minutes. Laura’s husband, Steve Becker, was on Old Stafford Road and it was great to meet him and have him join the celebration.

Photos - 1 of 11

The kids and I have spent hours in the woods waiting for Debbie to arrive. With ultra races cancelled, this felt good. There was a lot less downtime as we got to do our own thing on a Sunday and then show up for the best part at the end. Congratulations to Debbie and Laura for their great run on a classic trail.

Photos - 11 of 11

Hibbard Trail Loop & the Legacy of John Hibbard

Shepard and I rode our bicycles to Lebanon today. The purpose was to run the Hibbard Trail Loop in Whitney Forest. This is a lovely little trail named in honor of John Hibbard, the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s long time Executive Director, Secretary, and Forester.

IMG_3205

CFPA’s Walk Book and website do a good job describing the significance of this trail and of John Hibbard:

The Whitney Forest is an 84-acre gem of protected woodland, nestled in the heart of Lebanon. It was donated to CFPA in 1998 by Dorothy D. Whitney of Avon, CT.  It was the desire of the Whitney family that the property be managed as a working forest in perpetuity. The forest will now serve as an educational site for sustainable forestry practices. CFPA undertook a timber harvest on the property in 2015 to improve the forest for oak and pitch pine regeneration.  The same year, CFPA’s trails program built the loop trail to better showcase the property and open it to the public. The trail features red maple swamps, fieldstone corrals, a tumbling stream and views over a neighboring marsh.

The loop trail is named for John Hibbard, one of Connecticut’s premier conservation heroes. Hibbard served as CFPA’s executive director and secretary/forester from 1963 to 2000. Trained as a forester at UConn, Hibbard was a visionary who worked on big legislative issues that have had long-lasting impacts on conservation and recreation across the state. His forceful advocacy was integral to providing tax relief for farm, forest, and open space lands (PA 490) which currently totals 484,000 acres statewide. He worked on legislation that established town conservation commissions to protect our local air, water and open space resources. It is our hope that as you walk this trail, you are both aware of the path John Hibbard blazed, and are inspired to make a difference yourself.

IMG_3209

On Wednesday of this week, during the CFPA Board of Directors Zoom meeting, John Hibbard participated and spoke up during the discussion. It was great to hear him. I’ve known him for 20 years and he remains a CFPA Honorary Director and a conservation champion. His advocacy has inspired so many people to volunteer their time and contribute to the trails of Connecticut. Our old friend, Christine Woodside, who edited Connecticut Woodlands for many years, wrote this piece about Hibbard and other trail pioneers. Christine is a trail maintainer and pioneer herself. She currently edits AMC’s Appalachia journal which everyone should subscribe to. I’m biased, but I think everyone should be members of both CFPA and AMC. Just click the links to join! It’s $35/year for CFPA and $50 for AMC. Seniors and students are even less. You have no excuse, the benefits are fantastic, and no, I don’t get a commission.

With all of our pandemic FKT activity and time spent on Connecticut’s trails, I came across the info about the Hibbard Trail in the Walk Book. Our copy is “dog eared” as we have been pouring over it and reading about trails that we have yet to explore. This was one of them.

IMG_3199

My legs have been aching all week after last weekend’s Quinnipiac Trail End-to-End Run, so the plan was to do something “easy.” I came up with the idea of having Shepard join me for his first FKT attempt. So, this morning, we rode the Hop River Trail to Andover, and then took some lovely roads through the eastern CT towns of Andover, Columbia, Hebron, and Lebanon.

I carried our running shoes and some snacks in an UltrAspire backpack. The humidity of the last few days broke, and the weather was excellent with partial sunshine making it through the remaining clouds. It was about 17.5 miles of gravel and road to reach the Whitney Forest. There was one car parked in the trailhead parking lot, but we never saw the hikers. The mosquitos were biting, so we locked our bikes to a tree and quickly changed our shoes.

IMG_3198

I pulled up the FKT info, and clicked through to read Sarah Ports Connors’report.

Hibbard “Trail”… more like a briar tunnel.

“That’s strange, there is a short little trail on the FKT boards in my hometown. Kind of silly, but I will go grab it today during my errands. What could go wrong?”

It would be impossible to overstate just how overgrown parts of the trail are. I have never been so covered in scratches and blood from such a short run in my life.

IMG_3203

I made the mistake of reading this out loud and Shepard got psyched out. We determined that she went clockwise, so we decided to do the same. Though the Walk Book says it is 1.5 miles long, our Garmin GPS’ measured it as 1.3 miles. That’s really short for an FKT Route and we would never create one that short, but since it existed, and was so close to home, we had to do it.

IMG_3201

We ran a “warmup” lap to scout the trail. By the end of the lap, I had Shepard’s brain squared away again and he was ready to hammer lap number two. We grabbed a sip of water, pulled off our arm warmers, and then lined up for the sprint. He led the entire way and I had a hard time keeping up. The trail is incredibly “twisty and turny” with lots of slippery rocks and greasy bog bridges.

IMG_3202

Yesterday’s rain and the humidity kept the trail damp and the overgrowth hid the roots and mud, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as Sarah reported. She ran it in July of last year, and I’m sure that with the full spring and summer heat, the overgrowth had increased. Thankfully our spring has been colder and the plants have only really started to grow in the past few weeks, so we could run it hard and not risk life and limb.

IMG_3206

It is true that the bridges were deadly and I nearly lost Shep’s “draft” near the end of the loop. If it wasn’t for a 0.2 mile logging road section to finish off, I might not have caught up. He pushed super-hard and I was really proud of him. He gets stronger by the workout. We caught our breath, and then hauled the bikes and gear towards the road where the sunshine was making it through the trees. We did this to avoid the mosquitos while we were changing our shoes again.

IMG_3210

After our transition, we hopped back on our bikes and took a different route home. This time we explored parts of the Air Line Trail before connecting with Route 85. This led us to East Street and the nice roads back to Bolton. This adventure was Shepard’s virtual CCAP Breakaway Benefit “ride.” He is a member of the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad. CCAP has done a TON to support youth cycling in Connecticut. With the cancellation of this year’s in-person rides, these virtual rides are being held independently to support the nonprofit organization and it’s mission. Check out the pledge page. 

State Trail Overview Map

I think it is fitting that we ran this trail today to honor John Hibbard’s legacy, and the work of all CFPA volunteers and staff. Connecticut has the best trail system in the country. I say it frequently, and I just said it again.

Quinnipiac Trail End-to-End Run

Today, Debbie and completed an end-to-end run of the Quinnipiac Trail. This is Debbie’s “hometown” trail and she trained a lot on it in the late-1990’s and early 2000’s. She grew up in Prospect, a mile from the northern terminus.

Favorites - 1 of 19

Favorites - 15 of 19

The Quinnipiac is the oldest of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. CFPA’s website describes it this way:

Length: 18.3 miles

Towns:
 Hamden, Cheshire, Bethany, Prospect


Trail Overview:
 The Quinnipiac Trail is the oldest in the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System. Although essentially a wooded trail, it traverses a series of traprock ridges on steep, challenging terrain. The trail passes through Sleeping Giant State Park, West Rock Ridge State Park, Naugatuck State Forest, and, at its most northern end, follows the rocky ridgeline of the Prospect-Cheshire border. The trail additionally crosses forested property on this ridge that has been protected by the Cheshire Land Trust.

The trail offers a succession of commanding views of the central valley, with ascents of York Mountain in Hamden and Bethany, and Mad Mare Hill and Mount Sanford in Bethany. The trail passes the dramatic chasms of Roaring Brook Falls, which are recognized as Connecticut’s highest single drop waterfall. The Roaring Brook Falls are located 0.2 miles east of the Quinnipiac Trail, on an orange-blazed Cheshire Town Trail. The Quinnipiac Trail also connects to the north end of the blue-blazed Regicides Trail in Hamden, offering additional hiking opportunities.

Favorites - 4 of 19

Favorites - 5 of 19

During the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, Debbie, the kids, and I have been spending a lot of time on BBHT’s. We’ve made several trips to the Natchaug Trail, the Nipmuck Trail, and the Shenipsit Trail. I covered a bit of CFPA and BBHT history in my FKT post from a few weeks back. In October 1929, CFPA established a Trails Committee and then in December of that year, established the first four sections of the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The Quinnipiac Trail (listed at 19.2 miles in the Walk Book but our GPS’ measured a bit over 18 miles on today’s run) was the first official trail. There are more than 40 main trails and many subsidiary and spur trails that make up the full 825 mile system.

Favorites - 6 of 19

Favorites - 8 of 19

The CFPA BBHT network is one of the finest in the entire country and are marked with blue rectangular blazes. This trail system offers a great way to explore the woods of Connecticut. I am a longtime CFPA board member and proud of the organizations amazing conservation history. As noted, Debbie would frequently run the Quinnipiac to Sleeping Giant State Park, and sometimes run it there and back. Until today, neither of us had been on the backside of Sleeping Giant State Park. The 3+/- mile section from the summit to Old Hartford Turnpike was tough.

Favorites - 7 of 19

Favorites - 9 of 19

Really, the whole run was tough. We spent Saturday night at the Schieffer’s (Debbie’s parents) house. The kids were thrilled to visit with their grandparents. We got up early, finished packing our gear, and drove to Hamden with our bikes. We locked them to a tree about 50 yards from the southeastern terminus of the trail, and left our helmets, shoes, and a backpack. Then we drove back to Prospect. Then, Mrs. Schieffer drove us the mile down Route 68 to where the trail starts near the Davis Auction on Chatfield Road. The auction is where Momma S (as I call her) has worked for more than a decade. Technically, the trail no longer starts on the road. The Walk Book still shows it starting there with the 0.8 mile road section, but the CFPA website now shows the official start at the end of Cornwall Avenue where there is a trailhead. Either way, this is a special section of road in a special town. I first ventured to Prospect after meeting Debbie in 1999. We were married by Bob Chatfield, whose family name, is on this road. Bob is a Justice of the Peace, but he is even more well-known for being “Mayor Bob” for the past 43 years. That’s right, he has been mayor of Prospect for 21 terms dating back to 1977. That’s quite an accomplishment and he even has a Wikipedia page!

Favorites - 2 of 19

Favorites - 3 of 19

Ironically, he doesn’t live on Chatfield, but rather around the corner on Cornwall. I had to stop and take a photo of his mailbox. Bob married us at White Memorial in Litchfield on October 13th, 2001. I’ve only seen him a few times over the last 19 years, probably at a parade and/or at a funeral. After our run today, I told our daughter that we were on a “date,” and she asked where we went. She was serious. I cracked up and told her we were on the Quinnipiac Trail.

Favorites - 10 of 19

Favorites - 11 of 19

The Fastest Known Time route includes the road walk (run), so we wanted to add the distance and make it official. I’m sure there were less roads, or at least less asphalt, 91 years ago when the trail officially became part of CFPA’s system. The trail is shaped like an L. It heads south from Prospect before turning east. There were two or three other segments where we were on roads and able to pick up the pace. We started right at 7:30 A.M. The first four or five miles are some of the most rugged on the trail, and it was slow going. This section takes you over Mt. Sanford in Bethany, the high point (889 feet) on the trail. There was a nice view, the first of several that we would see on this beautiful Sunday morning.

Favorites - 12 of 19

Favorites - 13 of 19

Debbie had an early mishap. She slipped on a wet rock in a streambed and slammed her left shin into another rock, dunking both feet in the process. This is the same shin she hurt on the Nipmuck E2E run when she slipped on a wood bridge. It took a while for her to shake it off, so I led for the first half of the run where there was more uphill. We knew what pace we had to average based on our target time. As we descended into Cheshire, we were able to pick up the pace and she started feeling better. By the time we got to Hamden, I was the one dragging. Over the last month, I’ve had a sore left glute that causes tightness in my hamstring and calf. When we hit the road section on Nolan Road, Shepard Ave, and the steep Rocky Top Road, I was the one who was hurting.

Favorites - 14 of 19

My calf was cramping and my gait was thrown off. We were moving well on the road, but I was in pain, and was much happier when we got back on the trail. Thankfully, I was able to keep it from getting worse, and managed the leg soreness for the remainder of the run. I avoided falling, which might have been a miracle given how rocky this trail is, but I did suffer a nasty stubbed right toe. I slammed my big toe twice in the last two miles, and it is now blue. I’ll likely lose it again. This is a perpetual problem for me. I pretty much lose it every year.

Favorites - 16 of 19

Until we got to Sleeping Giant State Park, we had only seen five people. There were two hikers at the Route 42 trailhead, there was a runner in Cheshire, and there were two bird watchers near High Rock. It was glorious to have the trail to ourselves. That all changed when we got to “the Giant.” It’s worth noting that in addition to including the road section at the start, we also included the short section of trail that entered the park at the corner of Route 10 (Whitney Avenue) and Mount Carmel Avenue. It goes past the bus stop, turns into the woods, and does a little arc before coming out on Mount Carmel. It is blazed and is part of the trail, but upon further review, it looks like the official FKT route doesn’t include it. It is 0.25 mile and added about 2.5 minutes to our time, but we included it. That’s the thing with these FKT’s; the routes can change and you have to be very specific. I would rather run a little extra and get it right, than cut it short. As soon as we entered the park, we encountered the masses. I wore my Buff to cover my face and we just kept moving. That section of the trail up and over the Giant’s rock slabs is awesome, and hugely popular, even more so during a pandemic.

Favorites - 17 of 19

The park was actually closed for more than a year between May 2018 and June 2019 after it was seriously damaged by a tornado that brought down thousands of trees. We saw evidence of this farther west on the Quinnipiac Trail as the storm had also ripped through the woods, felling many more trees. It took a ton of trail work both in the park and on the Quinnipiac, to make it right again. Today, the park proved its popularity and there were lot of hikers on the trails. In addition to the Quinnipiac Trail, there are many other color-coded routes to explore.

Favorites - 18 of 19

Once we got to the tower on the summit of Mount Carmel (736 feet), the crowds thinned a bit. We still saw people on the 3+ mile section between there and our finish, but there weren’t as many. I was hoping that this section of trail, which neither of us had ever been on, was going to be a bit milder than what we experienced on the 2+ mile climb to the top, but alas, other than the rock slabs, it was nearly as rugged and steep. It went up and down several times, before finally plunging down along the Wallingford border and dumping out on to the Old Hartford Turnpike. When we could finally hear the traffic on Route 15, we knew we were getting close. Debbie absolutely hammered the final mile and I hung on for dear life. It was in the last section where I smashed my toe for the second time and I was doing everything in my power to remain on my feet.

Favorites - 19 of 19

We were pleased with our time, 3:35:11. We made a few wrong turns, and stopped a few times for photos. Plus we did the marked section between the corner of Route 10 and Mount Carmel. The official route on the FKT site omits this segment but it’s on the Walk Book map and it is blazed. Our moving time was measured four minutes faster, but the total elapsed time is the official time. Our pace was 11:56/mile and there was about 4,300 feet of elevation gain. Our fastest mile was an 8:17 and our slowest (going hand over fist up the “forehead” of the Giant) was 17:12. We were happy to be done just as the morning was heating up. It was cool in the woods, but the sun was strong.

A “Double Q” has been done a few times. The best time going south to north, and then back is 9:17:19. That would be hard. We were in no mood to run back today, so we changed up, mounted our bikes, and rode back past the state park. Vehicles were parked for more than a mile on Mount Carmel Road outside the park and across from Quinnipiac University. There was an ice cream truck setting up for the day, and ready to make a killing. We rode over to the Farmington Canal State Park Trail and took it north, back into Cheshire.  The rail trail was also full with recreationalists. It’s nice to see so many people taking advantage of Connecticut’s amazing trails. Once we got off the bike path, that’s where the real climbing begins. Between North Brooksvale Road, Mountain Road, and Cheshire Road (Route 68),  we had a lot of elevation gain on our trip back to the house completed our Sunday sufferfest. When we arrived, we were very happy to see our family. Momma S. put together an amazing lunch, and we chilled out on a glorious afternoon.

 

Weekend (Pandemic) Adventures

During the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis, I’ve gotten even more exercise than normal. Movement is always healthy and I’ve found with no travel, no outside meetings, and more “at home” time that I’m craving more adventure.

IMG_2946

IMG_2957

I’ve had long days at work, but I’ve been commuting at least one way nearly every day of the week. This has done wonders to boost my activity level. I typically vary my route to get a distance between 10.5 and 15 miles. I can always go longer, but depending on my direction I can get to work in an hour and I can get home in less than 70 minutes.

IMG_2950

IMG_2972

It isn’t just my cycling that has been boosted by the pandemic. I’ve been running more, which was part of the original 2020 plan. All of the races have been cancelled, so far, but I’ve kept up my running and used my fitness to tackle some FKT’s. Last week we did the Natchaug Trail E2E, and two weeks before that we did the Nipmuck Trail E2E.

IMG_2969

IMG_2955

Those trails are rugged singletrack for most of the way, and they have a fair amount of hills to contend with. Today, I took on a different challenge. Two weeks ago, Debbie established a new loop route that started in Bolton Notch. I connected the East Coast Greenway with the Cheney Rail Trail, and the Hop River Trail. This loop is now possible because of the expansion of the ECG (Charter Oak Greenway) paved path from Manchester to Bolton Notch, and because of the improvements on the Cheney Rail Trail in Manchester. The Hop River State Park Trail is the oldest section and it goes from Manchester, through Vernon, to Bolton. Of course, it extends through Andover, Columbia, and to Willimantic where it connects with the Air Line Trail.

IMG_3005

IMG_3001

The ECG section is paved, the Cheney is gravel, and the Hop is gravel. This loop requires two road sections. The first (when going clockwise) is between the ECG and the Cheney where you have to take Prospect Street to Hartford Road and then to Elm Street. From there you cut through the mills to access the Cheney Rail Trail after crossing Forest Street. The second road section is between the Cheney and the Hop. The route we established has you cut through Farr’s parking lot on Main Street. From there you cross North Main Street and follow North School Street as it bends around past Union Pond. You cross Oakland Street and take Sheldon Street into the Manchester industrial park. You take Sheldon until you get to Colonial Road where the Hop starts.

IMG_2977

IMG_2984

Once you get on the Hop, it’s all gravel and slightly uphill through Vernon until you get back to Bolton. This section is a leg burner and today I had to rally to hold my pace. I faltered a bit, but hung on to finish with a decent time of 1:57:38 for the 16.5 mile loop. When Debbie did this two weeks ago, my plan was to join her, and I did until we reached Camp Meeting Road on the ECG, but I wasn’t feeling it that day and pulled the plug. I ran home from there. The next morning, Shepard and I did the route on our gravel/cross bikes and loved it. I think this route will become a standard.

IMG_2990

This week’s running was made more fun because of the Shenipsit Striders Normally, today would be the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races. It would have been the 35th year, but with the pandemic, the race was cancelled in 2020. So far, all of the Striders’ 2020 events have been cancelled, but that hasn’t kept us from “getting after it.” The Striders Board of Directors under the leadership of Emma Palmacci has done a fantastic job at creating commuting by using the power of social media.

IMG_2992

 

This weekend, we did the Outside Alone Virtual Charity Run, and it has been a hit. There are four distance options and some people are doing combinations or all of them.

Distance Options:

  • The Burglar 6k
  • Ya Filthy Animal 5M
  • Christmas in May 25k
  • The Macaulay Marathon
  • (or the Wet Bandits Challenge – all 4 in the 3 days!)

I sort of did my own version of this. I did the Burglar on Thursday morning, the Filthy Animal on Friday morning, “most” of the May 25K with Debbie yesterday morning/the “rest” of the 25K with Debbie and the kids yesterday afternoon, and most of the marathon today. After running to the Notch, doing the loop, and running home (about 20 miles in total), I was done. I thought I about banging out another six miles, but rather than hit the wall at 20, I figured I should stop at 20. I’ve had a few niggles and there is no reason to make them worse.

IMG_2986

IMG_2994

One of my hopes during this pandemic is that more people will discover the benefits of movement, especially in nature. Judging by the number of trail users that I see, I think this is happening. I’ve chosen to get out early in the morning (like today) to avoid the crowds, but I know that mid-day, the trails are very popular. Despite the pain and suffering, a lot of good will come out of this pandemic, and the return to exercise (including cycling and running) is one of them.

IMG_3012

Natchaug Trail End-to-End Run

This morning, Debbie and I did a hard effort on the Natchaug Trail, running it end-to-end from the southern terminus at Goodwin State Forest to the northern terminus at the Nipmuck Trail junction. Then we rode back to our car on our bikes.

IMG_2830

IMG_2824

Here is an excerpt from the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s description of the trail:

The Natchaug Trail traverses the James L. Goodwin and Natchaug State Forests. Together with the Nipmuck State Forest, Yale Forest and several large private tracts, they combine to form one of the largest areas of contiguous forest in southern New England supporting a large variety of wildlife.

The trail follows a short portion of the beautiful Still River and journeys along Bigelow Brook. Meandering over relatively easy terrain, it crosses several small brooks, passes stone walls, and slips through interesting stands of trees. State foresters actively manage these forests for wildlife and timber production and the trail traverses a diverse and interesting tree mix ranging from 2 to well over 100 years old.

There are opportunities to catch sight of a variety of wildlife including turtles, beavers, and many birds along the streams and in the areas around Pine Acres Pond, Black Spruce, and Beaverdam Marshes. Active forest management has produced a variety of young, early-succession forest habitats which abound with diverse species of birds and other wildlife.

History is abundant along the trail as it passes near old CCC Camp Fernow (1933-42) and through General Nathaniel Lyon Memorial Park (first General to be killed in the Civil War). A short northern section also coincides with the Old Connecticut Path traveled in the 1630s by settlers (driving over 100 cattle) from the Boston area to the Hartford area in one of the first major inland migrations of America by European settlers.

The Natchaug Trail joins the Nipmuck Trail in Ashford and hikers can continue exploring north to Bigelow Hollow State Park and the CT/MA state line or south to Mansfield Hollow State Park.

IMG_2816

IMG_2818

The Connecticut Walk Book lists it at 17.6 miles and it goes through the towns of Hampton, Eastford, and Ashford. Our GPS’ measured it a little short at about 16.9 miles with about 2,100 feet of elevation gain. Two weeks ago, Debbie and I did a thru-run of the Nipmuck Trail. The Natchaug is the Nipmuck’s shorter sister. Both trails are maintained by NipMuck Dave Raczkowski and we thank him for it. The blazes, markers, and signage were excellent. So were the many bridges. There is still some blowdown, but some of that may be fresh from the nor’easter that blew through at the start of the weekend. We got a dusting of snow on Saturday morning that melted, and then Sunday evening snow squalls left another coating in shady spots this morning.

IMG_2820

IMG_2823

We got started early. We were at the Goodwin State Forest parking area by 6:15 A.M. It’s a 30 minute drive from the house. With no races on the schedule, we have delved into the FKT world. Yesterday, I wrote about that interesting community of adventurers in a blog post. We planned this run/bike over the last couple of days. We have to score a few more FKT’s in Connecticut before Ben Nephew (who currently leads the FKT rankingswith 58) gets out of quarantine and drives south. Once he does, it will be hard to stay at the top of the leaderboard. He will crush all the established times. The good news is that from messages I’ve exchanged with him, he is planning to attack some of these routes and bring even more positive notoriety to our great trail system.

IMG_2834

IMG_2841

To make this morning’s logistics more manageable, we drove to Iron Mine Road late on Saturday and took the kids on a Nipmuck Trail hike to Ladie’s Room Rock and Pixie Falls. At the start of our hike, we stashed our bicycles just off of the trail, which is about 1.3 miles from the Nipmuck/Natchaug junction. Our normal technique for these run/bike adventures is to find a good sized tree (out of view from the trail) and lock the bikes around the tree and together. We stash a waterproof bag with our cycling shoes, helmets,  a larger pack (for me to stuff all the running gear), and anything else that we need for the ride.

IMG_2777

IMG_2804

It was a lovely hike and Pixie Falls was a real treat. The kids loved it. We opted to return home for dinner rather than doing take out. That meant we got to bed at a normal time, and were well rested for the early wake-up this morning. Everything was packed, so we just needed to fuel up and make the drive to Hampton.

IMG_2793

IMG_2792

Debbie and I ran the Nipmuck together, but since the Natchaug is shorter, we opted to go our own pace. At a shorter distance, I’m quicker…most of the time. That was true today and I finished in 2:39:59. She finished in 2:59:48. I waited for her at the terminus since it is in the middle of the woods. She had her own cheering section as she completed the point to point route.

IMG_2847

IMG_2845

Prior to today, records show that Dan Bates had the first and fastest official time on 04/20/2020. He ran 2:46:33, which is excellent considering it was part of a larger 45 mile loop that he made with the Air Line Trail, the Natchaug Trail, and the southern section of the Nipmuck Trail (East Branch). That looks like a fun loop that we want to do.

IMG_2848

IMG_2849

This was our first extensive time on the trail. She has run sections that are part of the Goodwin Forest Trail Run, and I’ve been on the Air Line Trail, which overlaps for a short section at the start. The first five miles were pretty flat and kind of ugly, but the trail conditions improved. These state forests have been heavily logged. Once we got to the five mile mark, the climbing started and it was up and down the rest of the way. That’s typical for a Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail.

IMG_2851

IMG_2854

The other typical feature was that the terrain was rough. There were copious rocks and roots. Debbie describes the rockiest sections as “rock gardens.” I’m not the best on the hard stuff, but I stayed on my feet. My only fall came on the final uphill with a quarter mile to go. I slipped and ended up in the leaves.

IMG_2857

IMG_2858

I thoroughly enjoyed the trail. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail. I only saw one hiker on the entire trail. Granted, we started early, but from what I gather, the Natchaug is a gem that doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic beyond the state forests that it passes through. It wound through various marshes and there were many beautiful streams. We also went past some lovely old foundations and chimneys. This is an historic area and you can tell that there was civilization in those woods back in the day. The old logging and forest roads were fast and they linked up with the technical singletrack sections. There were a few short road sections and those were good for making up time and stretching out the legs.

IMG_2832

As noted, it was cold enough for snow. In the morning, it was about 34 degrees Fahrenheit, so it was chilly. It warmed up into the mid-40’s. We finished around 9:30 A.M. and we jogged the 1.3 miles south on the Nipmuck to get to our bikes. We packed some dry layers and had to bundle up as it was a cold and blustery ride with intermittent sunshine. We took a scenic route that meandered through the lovely Natchaug towns that are at the edge of Connecticut’s Quiet Corner. I love riding up that way.

We were back at the car by 11:20 A.M. and home by noon. The kids were pumped to see us and after lunch, we celebrated by playing some basketball. The Livingston’s are gifted ballers with great height and we’ve got game!

Fastest Known Time (FKT)

This morning, I went for a little ruck on our neighborhood trail, the Clark Trail, and listened to the latest Fastest Known Podcast episode (#86) featuring Connecticut native Sarah Connor. It was fantastic to hear a Connecticut runner interviewed on a podcast that is produced in Boulder, CO. I think there is a west coast bias when it comes to trail running and outdoor adventure, and I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder regarding the west vs. east debate, but this is sport, and it’s all in good fun. CO may not be on the coast, but it’s part of the mountain west that gets much attention relative to our part of the country here in New England.

State Trail Overview Map

Sarah made FKT news for her surge of activity in April. In recent years, she discovered the FKT concept and community. At the moment, the FKT leaderboard lists her with 17.  All of them were at least partially in Connecticut. Her interview with podcast host Buzz Burrell focused on Connecticut as a hotbed for FKT’s. He was quite surprised that our little state had so much activity.

She explained her background and perspective on why there has been more interest. With the pandemic and race cancellations, many runners, like Sarah, have come into the season raring to go but with nowhere to run. The FKT phenomenon has taken off here in Southern New England, but is not foreign to many of us in the region. Many of us have been adventuring for years, but without formally documenting the efforts or capturing the details as the guidelines set forth. There has to be many folks who don’t even care to document their adventures, but for those of us interested in a little competition, FKT’s serve a purpose. The FKT leaderboard is currently topped by Ben Nephew, from nearby Massachusetts, who has traveled a similar trajectory as Debbie. He started running short and mid-distance races (including many in the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series), continued with mountain running, delved into ultras, and is now focusing on FKT’s. Even Ben has done quite a bit of running in Connecticut over the years.

I figured a blog post would be a good companion to Sarah’s podcast interview and would shed more light on why Connecticut is a perfect place for FKT activity to thrive. Debbie and I have been running the trails of Connecticut for more than 20 years. One important reason why FKT’s are growing in our state is simply because the trails exist. Another is because the recent attention and social media are spurring others to discover the FKT format.

CFPA-Oval-with-Formal-Logo-website

Many of Sarah’s FKT’s were on Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails that were established and are maintained by the dedicated volunteers of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association. I have been on CFPA’s Board of Directors since 2008. This is my 12th and final year, as I have served the maximum three full terms. I’m recruiting others to take my place so that they can help move our wonderful organization forward even more. CFPA describes itself this way:

The Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting people to the land in order to protect forests, parks, walking trails, and open spaces in Connecticut for future generations.

With a Staff of experienced conservation professionals and a Board of Directors who strongly support CFPA’s mission and values, CFPA delivers programs on Blue-Blazed Hiking TrailsEnvironmental EducationLand Conservation, and Public Policy.

CFPA is on the cusp of launching our next three to five year strategic plan. What is remarkable is the organization was founded in 1895 and was the first private, nonprofit, conservation organization to be established in Connecticut. CFPA is one of the oldest and most respected conservation organizations in the country and has inspired the land trust movement in Connecticut and beyond. It is important to note that CFPA is a creation of the descendants of Connecticut’s settlers 17th century settlers, but the Native Americans were exploring the landscape long before Europeans arrived. It is fitting that many of our trails are named after Native American tribe names and other words.

In October 1929, CFPA established a Trails Committee and then in December of that year, established the first four sections of the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The 19.2 mile Quinnipiac Trail extending from Prospect to Hamden was the first official trail. There are more than 40 main trails and many subsidiary and spur trails that make up the full 825 mile system. Debbie grew up in Prospect and her first true introduction to trail running was on the Quinnipiac. She would frequently run it to Sleeping Giant State Park, and sometimes run it there and back.

s-l640

One thing I’m proud of during my time on the board is that CFPA has embraced the trail running community, and the trail running community has embraced CFPA. The BBHT’s are one of the best and most extensive systems of “close-to-home” trails anywhere in the country. It’s no surprise that Connecticut leads the nation in National Trails Day events. Every year, I write about Trails Day and the impact it has had on our state. Last year, Connecticut had more than 200 official events. That’s a lot for a small state, but many of the same reasons for this high level of activity are what also drive the growth of FKT’s.

I could delve deeper into the history of CFPA and the BBHT’s, but two references do a fantastic job of this. Check out George McLean Milne’s Connecticut Woodlands: A Century’s Story of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and the Connecticut Walk Book: The Complete Guide to Connecticut’s Blue-Blazed Hiking TrailsI’ve consulted these books many times over the last 20 years. Milne’s book is from 1995, and out of print, but you can find copies online. The “Walk Book” was first published in 1937 and the 20th edition was published in 2017.

9780819577146-us

The 825 miles of trails in the system, and all of the spur trails, park trails, town trails, land trust, and other trails make Connecticut a state with more trails per-capita than any other state in the nation. I don’t have the specific facts to back this assertion, but I have heard this stated several times, and it is likely true. There are 3.5 million residents and 5,567 square miles. We are the third smallest state (land area) behind Rhode Island and Delaware. There are a lot of trails, and they are literally right out our front doors. Furthermore, these are not federal trails, but rather state and local trails. They are on rugged, rooted, and rocky terrain, and all at low elevations. They were designed for walking and hiking, but these factors make them perfect for running too.

As members of the New England and Connecticut trail running community, Debbie and I have witnessed the amazing growth of trail running, ultra running, and now FKT’s. Admittedly, we hadn’t paid much attention to the formal FKT process. We knew that there was an active message board community that emerged during the early Internet era, but we didn’t officially pay attention until Debbie uploaded one to the modern website after her 2018 Mohawk/AT Loop adventure. We’ve been doing FKT style runs since the early 2000’s. Others were doing them long before us. Many of ours came during the years that we were focused on climbing the 67 New England 4,000 footers.

Most were before GPS technology and we don’t have good records of our times, but we frequently pushed it on these routes. In 2008, along with our friend Matt Schomburg, we were the first to do the entire Grafton Notch Loop in Maine. When my blog post of the trip inspired Ryan Welts and Adam Wilcox to run it in 2014, they mentioned us as inspiration, which is pretty cool. That was likely the first time I heard the abbreviation FKT. We have subsequently done other epic routes in White Mountains of New Hampshire/Maine, and Green Mountains of Vermont. Our White Mountain Hut Traverses in 2011 and 2013 were notable adventures. This route dates back long before the Internet and was established by Hut Croos from the Appalachian Mountain Club. Speed hiking was a thing decades ago as these Croos developed massive strength during their time spent in the Huts. They very well may have been early pioneers of the trail running, mountain running, and FKT movements.

2019_soapstone-mountain-trail-races-6

In the podcast, Sarah mentioned the CT Trail Mixers running club. By historical standards, they are a relatively new group. The longest standing trail running club in Connecticut is the Shenipsit Striders, founded in 1975. There is a lot of history on my blog about the Striders. Debbie joined the club in 1999, was the president for many years, and after 15 years, in 2019 she retired as the Race Director of the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races. Our club promotes the two oldest trail races in New England, the NipMuck Trail Marathon (36 years), and the aforementioned Soapstone (35 years).

Both are part of the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series, which has 12 events in any given year. These stats demonstrate the growth and popularity of this series. In 2019, a cumulative ~20,000 miles were run during the series, with 780 individual men runners and 511 individual women runners. The most finishers by race were the HMF Events (Hartford Marathon Foundation) Summer Solstice 5 Miler with 195, the Shenipsit Striders Events Nipmuck South with 153, the Shenipsit Striders Events Soapstone Mountain Trail Race 14 Miler with 123, and the Connecticut Traprock 17K & 50K Ultramarathon Traprock 17k with 120. Overall, the Solstice 5K/5M combo had 295 finishers, the Soapstone 6K/14M combo had 226, and the Traprok 17K/50K combo had 200. These are big numbers for a small state. 

So, with all of 2020’s races canceled for now, there is a huge void. Many people are filling that void with FKT’s. Over the last 90 years, many people have hiked all or many of the BBHT’s, but now folks are running them too, and in droves. Now, this may sound like the trails are crowded, but that’s not the case. Sarah pointed out how she can run for hours without seeing anyone. Some popular trails are busy but many of these trails are little known and quiet. That factor has also contributed to the surge in FKT activity as runners seek new places to go. Connecticut is a tiny state, but there are trails everywhere.

untitled

We have the dedicated trail maintainers led by CFPA’s Trails Committee to thank for making sure we have access to these trails and assuring that these trails are open to all residents. CFPA itself is an under-recognized nonprofit organization that deserves more respect and increased membership. Though the Connecticut DEEP has a long history, we can no longer count on the government to maintain our parks and trails. With a staff of about 10 that is augmented by hundreds of volunteers, the nonprofit CFPA is based in Rockfall, and works tirelessly to protect the landscape of Connecticut. That landscape includes our own 825 miles of trails (crossing private and public lands) and many state parks.

I’m biased, but Connecticut has the best trails in the world. Debbie and I have hiked and run all over the world and our trail network and trail community are the best. I’m torn because I want to shout this from the hilltops while also keeping this secret to ourselves. From time to time, a journalist or trail advocate will pick up on the fact that Connecticut’s trails are extraordinary, but then people soon forget. The glossy running magazines spend little time featuring New England trails. Whenever you see a “best of” or “top 10” list, there is frequently a token New England trail or trail town thrown in for good measure. It isn’t new for me to point this out. In 2013, Meghan Hicks wrote a story for Trailer Runner magazine. Somehow she reached Debbie and me and we nominated Manchester, Connecticut as a top trail town. It was great to be chosen and we touted many of the great facts described throughout this blog post. Typically when east coast or northeast trails are cited for excellence, they are in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Other accolades are given to trails in Maine or Vermont, where you can get above treeline. However, some of the best trails are those closest to home. So, during a pandemic, when you have to stay home or at least close to home, the local trails are the best trails.

1562594750866

In addition to CFPA, the Appalachian Mountain Club has a strong presence in Connecticut. I am also on AMC’s Board of Directors. I’m at the start of my third two-year term so my love of AMC is strong. AMC is much larger than CFPA, has a regional mission, and is also a pioneering nonprofit. We were founded in 1876. AMC’s website describes our mission well:

Founded in 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. We believe these resources have intrinsic worth and also provide recreational opportunities, spiritual renewal, and ecological and economic health for the region. Because successful conservation depends on active engagement with the outdoors, we encourage people to experience, learn about, and appreciate the natural world.

Like CFPA, it’s younger sibling, AMC does substantial work advocating for and maintaining trails throughout New England. In addition to managing the White Mountain Huts, AMC was instrumental in the creation of the  Appalachian Trail Conservancy, another key nonprofit in the trails movement. The ATC oversees the entire Appalachian Trail. The AT goes through 14 states including 51 miles in Connecticut.  That’s important to note. The AT is iconic, and even though it is a short stretch, it highlights Connecticut’s status as a state with awesome trail resources and an even better trail culture.

2b4893ba0ddafb3ad4990b8fed509a60

So, all of this info and history supports what Sarah described during her interview. She may not have known all of this background, but she can read it here and will likely be even more proud of her heritage as a Connecticut trail runner. Debbie and I have been inspired by so many legendary New England trail runners over the last 20+ years. Each of us have done hundreds of races.  We had a full slate of ultras planned for this spring and summer including Tammany 10, Traprock 50K, Run Ragged, and the Bighorn Trail Run. We were going to use many shorter races in our training. With all of our events cancelled, we have also turned to FKT’s for fun and adventure. We have uploaded a few past routes where we were able to scrape together the necessary documentation, and we have done a few new ones. One example is our Nipmuck Trail End-to-End Run.

With all of the event cancellations, I haven’t had as many stories to write about on this blog. I’ve been flat out at work trying to keep things going there and not writing as much, but sharing this post makes we quite happy. Chances are we will try another FKT tomorrow.

Nipmuck Trail End-to-End Run

I missed blogging, so I did an adventure to have something cool to write about. Today Debbie and I ran the entire Nipmuck Trail from the southern terminus of the East Branch to the northern terminus. The run was just over 35 miles with a little under 5,000 feet of elevation gain and our total time was 7 hours 25 minutes and 29 seconds. Our Connecticut Walk Book says the distance is 36.3 miles but my Garmin GPS track measured it shorter. Since much of the trail is on private land, it changes from time to time and the distances can vary year to year.

IMG_2512

IMG_2521

The southern terminus of the East Branch starts in Mansfield Hollow State Park. The West Branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in Mansfield, but there is no way to combine a run of the full trail including both branches, without backtracking.

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 10.33.20 PMWe desired one continuous point to point run, so we chose to use the slightly longer East Branch since we recently hiked (with the kids) on the West Branch and wanted to see something new. The northern terminus is at the top of Bigelow Hollow State Park next to Breakneck Pond and on the Massachusetts state line.

IMG_2588

IMG_2590

The Nipmuck is part of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s 825 miles of Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The CFPA BBHT network is one of the finest in the entire country and are marked with blue rectangular blazes. This trail system offers a great way to explore the woods of Connecticut. I am a longtime CFPA board member and proud of the organizations amazing conservation history.

IMG_2505

IMG_2508

The CFPA’s official description of the trail is worth sharing:

The Nipmuck Trail extends from Mansfield north to the Massachusetts border. It is shaped roughly like an upside-down fork and has two southern branches: the West Branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in Mansfield; the East Branch starts in Mansfield Hollow State Park in North Windham. The northern terminus of the Nipmuck Trail is in the beautiful Bigelow Hollow State Park.

The trail crosses through a number of recreation and conservation areas including Mansfield Hollow State Park, the Natchaug and Nipmuck State Forests, Schoolhouse Brook Park, the Yale Forest, Bigelow Hollow State Park, and other lands owned by towns and land conservation trusts, most notably Joshua’s Trust. Highlights on the trail include Wolf Rock (an enormous glacial erratic), lookout over Mansfield Hollow Lake, 50’ Cliff, Pixie Falls, Ladies Room Rock, Coye Hill (highest point on the Nipmuck Trail), and the Fenton and Mount Hope rivers. The Nipmuck Trail crosses open field, follows along ridges and woods roads, and provides a continuous spine to which numerous other trail systems connect.

IMG_2517

IMG_2524

We are quite familiar with the trail. Four of our all time favorite races, and all of them classics, use the Nipmuck for some or all of their courses: Nipmuck South, NipMuck Trail Marathon, Northern Nipmuck, and Breakneck. Only the first two remain active. Nipmuck South is a relative newcomer, but NipMuck is the oldest and most famous trail race in New England. In 2020, it will celebrate 37 years of continuous running, assuming the Shenipsit Striders are able to host it in October as planned.

IMG_2529

IMG_2532

I’ve never run the 14 mile Nipmuck South, but Debbie has. I’ve crewed, watched, and photographed, and I’ve been on that section of trail a few times. I’ve run the 26.4 mile NipMuck Trail Marathon seven times. I first did it in 2004, and I last did it (on a relay with Debbie), in 2019. The 16 mile Northern Nipmuck is one of our all-time favorite races, but it is not held anymore. I did it eight times, between 2002 and 2010, though that first time was a 12 mile DNF that motivated me to train a little more (running) than I previously did in that era. I recall that day vividly. I had done very little trail running after a decade of competitive cycling. I figured I would give it a go at the April race, but halfway through the return leg, I couldn’t move my legs anymore. They were absolutely hammered. I got a ride back from the aid station on Barlow Hill Road.

IMG_2536

IMG_2541

I ran the 13 mile Breakneck six times between 2002 and 2009, but it is no longer held. The first time I ran it was also a DNF, but that was because I smashed and gashed my knee in a hard fall at the four mile mark. The wound required many stitches to close. Things were better the last time I ran it. It was one of my best and fastest trail races of all time. If Brian Rusiecki hadn’t shown up, I would have notched my only ever win in a long course New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series event.

IMG_2539

With no races during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, we figured we would test ourselves on familiar trails that were at low elevations and close to home. Our intent was to push it. I still took a bunch of photos, but we kept moving. The Nipmuck Trail is about 95% rugged singletrack. The trail is amazingly beautiful and challenging. As noted, it winds through some lovely northeastern Connecticut towns including: Mansfield, Ashford, Willington, Eastford, and Union. There are about 17 road crossings, a few short road sections in the first half, and then a one mile off-trail section (dirt and asphalt) on Oakes Road at about the 20 mile mark.

IMG_2544

IMG_2548

Debbie and I had plans to run several ultras this spring including the Tammany 10 and the Traprock 50K, both of which were cancelled. I haven’t run an ultra since last July’s Never Summer 100K. I’m fit right now as I kept up my exercise regimen after the fall cyclocross season, and I’ve taken advantage of the mild winter weather in New England. I’m mostly cycling, but I’ve done a couple of 15+ mile training runs and have been averaging 20 miles of total running each week. Most of my riding has been accomplished by commuting to and from work. The lockdown has made that easier since I have no meetings after work. I’ve been feeling pretty good, but a pulled left “butt muscle” slowed me down over the last two weeks. It improved enough this week, so I was ready to do something big this weekend. Plus, I needed that adventure to write about.

IMG_2551

IMG_2554

IMG_2555

It was awesome to be out in nature for the better part of the day and we had the warmest temperature of the week. We are fortunate that our kids are self-sufficient and it benefits the whole family when Debbie and I can get away for can short trip. Speaking of nature, the day started off with four deer sprinting across the field that is just beyond the trailhead at the southern terminus There was low fog, and the deer were a good omen for the day. We also saw a beautiful Great Blue Heron in the Fenton River. We saw many squirrels and other critters too. We didn’t see any beavers, but we saw their handiwork.

IMG_2556

IMG_2561

I had another hectic work week, but the weather forecast for Saturday was better than Sunday, and I wanted a recovery day before returning to work on Monday. So, after a short night of sleep, we drove to Mansfield and started just before 6:00 A.M. Debbie and I both wore our UltrAspire packs (vests) with 70 ounces of water. We each carried a bottle in our vests that had a concentrated mixture of Un Tapped Lemon Tea Mapleaid. I brought three Go Macro Bars, a Clif Z Bar, a fruit rope, and a Clif Shot gel. By the end of the run, I was hungry and thirsty, but I was still effectively hydrated and fueled. We both wore Altra Lone Peak shoes. I think hers are the 4.5 model and mine are the older 3.5 model. I opted for shorts and a short sleeve shirt with a base layer, while she used knickers and a long sleeve shirt. We both started the day with our Air Shed pullovers and after it warmed up, we switched ear warmers/bonnets for trucker caps.

IMG_2562

IMG_2563

We only had a few problems finding our way. The delays and turnarounds didn’t cost us too much time; maybe only a few minutes each. The blazes and signs were very good. Much of the trail work was done by NipMuck Dave Raczkowski, the legendary former Race Director of the NipMuck Trail Marathon. He and other CFPA trail maintainers have done an awesome job with the trail. This trail has been his passion for much of his lifetime. I think I’ve heard him joke that he was “married to the trail.” It was easy to recognize his handwriting on the signs. Thank you NipMuck Dave for all you have done! Note the upper case M is a touch he added to the name of the race (and his name), many years ago. That’s not how the trail name is spelled on maps, but any time I refer to the race or Dave, I follow his preference.

IMG_2568

IMG_2570

In addition to the great signs and markings, there were awesome stone and bridge work for much of the way. There were muddy sections and a fair amount of standing water. The Nipmuck is quite challenging with lots of rocks and roots that are typical of Connecticut trails. I think it is more rugged and hiller than our other favorite, the Shenipsit Trail. The full distance of the Shenipsit is just under 50 miles, so it is longer, but the terrain is a bit easier with more dirt roads, roads, and less pure singletrack. It isn’t as hilly as the Nipmuck, but it is still a tough trail. I like them both, but I think the Nipmuck is prettier.

IMG_2572

IMG_2575

The hills really start to hit you after Perry Hill where the second part of the NipMuck Trail Marathon course begins. Those hills get more and more severe until they reach the high point on the trail at Coye Hill. The Northern Nipmuck section has the toughest inclines and declines. By the time we got there, around 26 miles, I was really starting to fade. I was stronger in the first half and led Debbie, but her endurance and running skills shown at the end. She led the final six miles because I had cracked. I revived a bit in the last mile as we neared the finish, but credit goes to her because she could have easily dropped me. The good news is that we were aiming to make this adventure a Fastest Known Time (FKT) in the Unsupported Mixed Gender Team. Debbie has one official FKT from her 2018 Appalachian Trail/Mohawk Trail Loop. The Mohawk is another great Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail. As for this FKT, I’m sure others have done this route before, but I don’t know who. The official record is void of an official FKT, so we will submit ours. Given the East vs. West branch issue and the clear difference in running this south to north vs. north to south, I hope they permit some variations of this iconic trail route.

IMG_2580

IMG_2589

With our early start, we didn’t see many people in the first five hours. We saw one trail runner at Mansfield Hollow, and several fisherman along the Fenton River and the New Hope River. We didn’t see any hikers until we got to the section of the trail that goes from Boston Hollow Road to Bigelow Hollow. Once we got to Bigelow Hollow, the trails were more congested with lots of hikers and walkers. That part of the trail is narrow, so we did our best to social distance from the other folks. The distancing is a challenge with so many people spending time on the trails. The last three miles of trail are some of the most difficult. There isn’t much elevation gain, but the trail hugs Breakneck Pond and is very challenging with repeated short and steep ups and downs.

IMG_2585

IMG_2586

Unfortunately, the northern terminus is 2.5 miles from the nearest parking lot at Bigelow Hollow. That meant that after running 35+ miles, we had to hike a few more. A big thank you to our friend Laura Becker who hiked out to meet us and then helped us get from Bigelow Hollow back to our car in Mansfield. We were home by 3:00 P.M. and then spent the rest of Saturday hanging out with the kids. Their dinner request was pizza, so we safely picked up two larges at Mulberry Street in Manchester. We ate one and saved one for tomorrow when I’m sure I’ll be hungry again. After that, I’m sure to be hungry for our next running or cycling adventure.

IMG_2590

IMG_2591

 


HORST Engineering Family of Companies

Cross Spikes™ by HORST Cycling

Instagram

Fantastic run and bike involving an end-to-end trip on the @ctforestandparkassociation #quinnipiactrail with @trailrunningmom We visited a bunch of conserved forest land including #sleepinggiantstatepark and we rode the Farmington Canal rail trail. #shenipsitstriders @horstcycling #teamhorstsports #trailrunning #cycling 🏃🏽‍♀️ 🚴🏽
‪Over the last 10 weeks, I filled my Subaru’s gas tank four times. In the prior 10 weeks, I filled it 13 times. I’ve gone to work every day @horsteng but my other travel stopped. Both the pandemic and my cycling have been major factors. #carfreecommute #cycling #sevencycles ‬#teamhorstsports #horstengineering #bicycle
Friday evening date with @trailrunningmom 💕 🚴🏽 #teamhorstsports #cycling
A good day on the #nipmucktrail with @trailrunningmom We went End-To-End from the southern terminus of the East Branch to the northern terminus at the MA border. #shenipsitstriders #teamhorstsports #trailrunning 🏃🏽‍♀️
The weather during this week’s rides (and run) has been absolutely frightful. The pictures show the various “calms” before and after the various storms. My timing has been good. #carfreecommute #teamhorstsports #shenipsitstriders 🌍 🚴🏽🏃🏿
#running #boston
Fantastic evening with many @appalachianmountainclub friends @museumofscience to celebrate 🎉 Walter Graff’s 45 years of service. 🎒#boston
It’s a Livingston Family tradition to attend the @banffmountainfestival World Tour. @thebushnell in #hartford is a great venue. #banffworldtour @banffcentre
I love watching the kids climb @stoneagerockgym It’s awesome “offseason” training and they get better and stronger at every session. #rockclimbing #teamhorstjuniorsquad 🧗‍♀️

Follow me on Twitter

Categories

Archives

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 392 other followers