2016 New England Trail Adventure, Part 1

This past weekend, Debbie had a big adventure on the New England Trail (NET). We spend a lot of time on the NET, but we have never done a long continuous run or hike on it. Her eventual goal is to run the entire length of the trail from Long Island Sound in Guilford, Connecticut; to Royalston Falls, Massachusetts on the New Hampshire border.

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The total length is 215 miles, but that includes a spur in Connecticut, where most of the NET is on the Mattabesett Trail, and a small section is on the Menunkatuck Trail. In Massachusetts, the NET is on the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail. You could stretch the adventure even farther, and go to the summit of Mt. Monadnock. That would tack on another 25 miles or so. I last wrote about the trail in 2014 after attending the dedication ceremony.

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I’m not sure what her eventual goal is. We have to research it a bit more and decide if “running the trail” means doing every mile of it, or just going from Long Island Sound to the MA/NH border. You can’t run that length without scouting the route, so that is what she started.

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We know that there have been some “thru-hikers” who have gone “end-to-end” on the trail. Unfortunately, the NET doesn’t have many shelters or rustic trailside accommodations. That makes it more difficult to thru hike compared to the Long Trail.

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Saturday, I dropped Debbie off at Chittenden Park in Guilford. In Connecticut the trail is marked by blue blazes, and is part of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System (CFPA). We didn’t make it to Massachusetts this past weekend, but there, the trail is maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and marked with white blazes.

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I’m a big NET supporter, and it is worth noting that I am on the Board of Directors of both CFPA and AMC. The two .org’s collaborated on the NET Map & Guide that we are used. I put the map in Debbie’s stocking at Christmas.

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So, last Saturday, she ran from Guilford to Middlefield, stopping at the Rt. 147/Rt. 66 junction. After I dropped her off, I camped out at a Starbucks, and did a bunch of work. Then, I had lunch at the Shoreline Diner in Madison. Eventually, I drove to Middletown and bought her a protein filled smoothie at It’s Only Natural Market. She got additional crewing and support from her coach, Al Lyman, and his partner, Terry Williams. Both of them are great supporters of our family’s adventures. Coach Al ran with Debbie for quite a ways. Unfortunately, I didn’t see Al. We were in touch by phone and text, but he stopped at the Rt. 157 junction.

Late in the day, I drove to the Rt. 147 trailhead/pickup spot and ran backwards on the trail until I intercepted Debbie. I made it about five miles before seeing her. Actually, she spotted me. I was lost and confused (like usual), and if she hadn’t seen me from higher up on the ridge, I would have run right by her. Thankfully, she saw me on a side trail, yelled down to me, and I backtracked to meet up with her.

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We had a good run, though I’ve been suffering from a bad cold that won’t seem to go away. I haven’t done much exercise and don’t have my “trail legs.” I proved that point when clumsily, I took a hard fall and smashed my shin on a rock. I’ve been licking my wounds for the last several days.

The section I ran with her was along Beseck Mountain and had many nice views. We even ran across Powder Hill, the top of the Powder Ridge ski area. One lift was running and there were some youth skiers and snowboarders enjoying the slope. It was odd to see the man-made snow (one run) on a relatively mild afternoon. It has been a very warm winter in New England and a tough one for ski areas like Powder Ridge. We got back to our car just before sunset. She was on the trail for just over eight hours, and the map mileage indicated that she covered 34.4 miles. I don’t know the elevation change, but it was significant thanks to all the steep hills. She said it was more rugged than she anticipated.

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Some sections of the NET in Connecticut are heavily used. Being so close to civilization and with so many side trails, it’s a Catch 22. One of the beauties of this resource is that it is so close to so many people. Accessibility is a plus. The drawback of the proximity to heavy population, is the impact on the trail and the environment that it crosses.

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There are many cross trails, which  makes route finding a real challenge. Many of those trails get heavy ATV use. The NET itself is a mix of single track, double track, dirt roads, and paved roads. It’s a real mish mash of terrain. The trail was covered by lots of leaves, which concealed many sharp and loose rocks. The footing is terrible and presented a real challenge.

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Whereas some sections get heavy use, there are other sections of the trail that get light use. Running continuously, you see both the heavily used sections and the lightly used sections. This time of year, any trail in New England is hard to navigate, and the NET was true to form. The leaves and lack of other plant life, made it very hard to spot the trail. The blazes were often sparse and she did a lot of backtracking. Even the short sections I ran, were difficult to follow. The bright sunlight made it nearly impossible to see the blazes on the trees when you were running towards the sun late in the day.

On Sunday, I drove Debbie back to where she left off, in Middlefield. At the Rt. 147 junction, the NET crossed Rt. 66 and returns into the wood behind Guida’s Dairy Bar. Both days, she started running at 9:30 A.M. We used her parents house in Prospect as our base of operations, and our kids spent the weekend there. After dropping her off, I had to return to Prospect and take our son to a birthday party in Newington. I did that, spent a few more hours at a different Starbucks, picked up my son, and returned him to my in-laws. I took a call from her on the drive back to Prospect. She said she was lost. I said I would head in her direction and dig out some maps to see if I could help her locate the trail. Less than 10 minutes later, she called again to say that she found the trail. I reversed course and returned to my in-law’s. After a quick change, I got back in the car and drove to the spot on Edgewood Road in Meriden where she planned to stop.

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Her Sunday route required her to tackle Mt. Higby, then continue on to Chauncey Peak, and Lamentation Mountain, before she had a road section. After that, she had to climb Cathole Mountain, South Mountain, and Castle Crag. It was shortly after that section in Hubbard Park on West Peak, where I intercepted her. I ran backwards from the trail crossing on Edgewood Road. The sunshine was brilliant, which made it very difficult to follow the trail. The sun was low on the horizon and I was running west, straight towards it.

I made it three miles before we connected near a large complex of cell phone towers. The views on this section of the NET were spectacular.  I imagined what it must have looked like 200 years ago before civilization and suburban sprawl altered the landscape. This must have been a rugged and remote part of Connecticut. Now, Interstates 91 and 691 are in the shadow of these ridges, and you can’t get away from the hum of the vehicles.

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She was in good spirits and moving well. We took photos and then pushed hard on the descent back to the car. She covered another 26.2 miles in just over seven hours. Her total for two days was 60.6 miles in just over 15 hours, though several hours were spent with breaks and route finding. We returned to my in-law’s to collect our kids and head for home after a couple of long days of activity.

Judging the social media reaction from the pictures and comments that we posted from the trail, we already succeeded in stimulating interest in the NET. I predict that more and more trail runners and hikers are going to check it out. That would be good because the trail needs more use. That will drive more trail maintenance and make it easier to follow. The more positive attention that the NET gets, the better.

As always, Debbie is an inspiration, and I love to watch her in action.

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