2017 Long Trail Adventure

Saturday, Debbie and I returned to the Long Trail (LT) in the Green Mountains of Vermont. It had been too long since we were back! She and I have a tradition of crafting unique mountain adventures that combine two of our loves, trail running and cycling.


In 2005, we hiked the Long Trail End-to-End. It was one of our best trips ever. Over the past dozen years, we have been on sections of the LT many times. Last year, we did the Glastenbury/West-Ridge Loop together. In 2015, we did the same loop with our kids.


In the White Mountains, we have done a couple of Hut Traverses, including one adventure that combined the trail running/hiking and road cycling. We even completed our New England 4,000 footers quest with a trip that concluded with a bike ride through the mountains of Maine. Some day, our kids will join us on these harder trips.


When she and I first discussed a Memorial Day Weekend adventure in Vermont, I immediately thought of the Monroe Skyline section of the Long Trail. She has several big races on tap for the summer of 2017. In June, she is running Manitou’s Revenge. She is up to 4th (she started at 7th in December) on the wait list for the Hardrock Endurance Run in July, and she is doing the Cascade Crest 100 in August. Hardrock has been a long time coming. She has been in the lottery many times and has never been this close to toeing the start line. Cascade Crest is a Hardrock qualifier, so she has it covered if we end up in Silverton; and only get to volunteer, crew, pace, and watch others tackle the course. Fingers crossed. With those formidable races on the schedule, a super-long day of training in the mountains was perfect preparation.


My parents agreed to take our kids for half of the long weekend. That way, Debbie and I could “bang out” this trip. So, on Friday night after work, we finished packing, and then drove north. We stopped for dinner in Northampton at Bela. It had also been a while since we dined there, and we were both fueled up after a soup, salad, and entrée.


We headed for Warren, Vermont. It was late when we arrived, but our friends, Marilyn Ruseckas, and Adam Whitney, had made their driveway available to us. We got there around 11:30 P.M. after they had gone to bed, and our 4:15 A.M. wake-up alarm came fast! We were gone before they got up. We drove up Lincoln Gap and parked at the Long Trail junction. We locked our bikes to a tree and camouflaged a bag under some leaves. The bag had cycling shorts, cycling shoes, helmets, energy bars, bike lights, and reflective vests.


We drove down the western side of the gap and then north through Huntington towards Duxbury Road. Halfway there, I freaked out when I realized I didn’t have the key to the lock. I pulled over and checked every pocket. It couldn’t be found. We checked all over the van and it was gone. I figured it was lost in the woods. I had run back and forth to the van several times from the spot in the woods where we locked the bikes. I assumed the key fell out and that it would be a nightmare to locate it. I tried to set this awful thought aside, but the idea of arriving at our bikes after 30 miles of trail running/hiking and not being able to retrieve the bikes, was giving me serious anxiety. Debbie said, “Don’t worry. There is nothing we can do about it, so don’t let it worry you. There is no turning back now.” So, we continued on.


We parked on Duxbury Road made our final preparations, and were on the trail headed south by 6:30 A.M. Other than the key mystery, the only hiccup was related to our hiking poles. One of mine snapped when assembling it in the parking lot prior to the start. A duct tape fix failed, so I went with one pole instead of two. The Camel’s Hump climb started immediately. It was nearly six miles, more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and took 2 hours and 45 minutes. That was one heck of a warm-up. The weather was fantastic with partial sun and clouds, but good views and mild temperatures. It was a bit cooler on the summits, but we never had to pull out a jacket.


The section of trail between the summit of Camel’s Hump and Appalachian Gap is the most rugged and difficult on the LT. In 2005, heading north, this section of trail was super-challenging. I wrote about it in the 2006 Summer/Fall issue of Appalachia, the journal of the Appalachian Mountain Club. The AMC’s counterpart in Vermont and maintainer of the Long Trail is the Green Mountain Club. It is through the GMC that we annually help 30-50 other Long Trail hopefuls with advice and encouragement about their End-to-End plans. Mount Ethan Allen, Mount Ira Allen, and Burnt Rock Mountain are very difficult. In 2005, the logbook at Montclair Glen Lodge said, “Beware of the Allen’s.” That statement remains true today!


It was slow going on this section, and after five hours on the trail, we knew that this adventure was going to take longer than anticipated. However, we were prepared for this. We had the gear we would need to safely finish the bike ride at night. We were a little short on food and water, but we knew we could stretch what we had if necessary. It wouldn’t be enjoyable, but it was doable. Throughout the day, we traded hard falls. We both used Altra Lone Peak 3.0 trail running shoes, and they were fantastic, but it was so wet and slippery, that no amount of grip would have made a difference. It’s worth noting that we both had great socks. I’m a big fan of Darn Tough socks and Debbie alternates between Darn Tough and Injini socks. On Debbie’s hardest fall, she whacked her chin on a rock after going face first. My worst fall bent my left wrist backward, straining my forearm. It was a suffer-fest, but to quote Debbie, “”We are at a point (in our lives) where being miserable makes us happy.”


We kept pushing, over Molly Stark Mountain, Baby Stark Mountain, and all the way to Appalachian Gap. Debbie was a little concerned about our food and fuel, but I nudged us along. The climb up to the Stark’s Nest at Mad River Glen on General Stark Mountain, was slow and arduous. We met a young couple on the deck of the warming hut. There was a rain barrel on the deck, but it had a warning sign about treating the water before drinking. In hindsight, we should have carried our purifier or some tablets, but it was an oversight. After some idle chatter, they offered to treat a quart of water for us. We each refilled a bottle and that turned out to be a real difference maker. We would have made it without any issues, but the extra water was thirst quenching.


Mercifully, the ridgeline from the summit of General Stark over Mount Ellen, Nancy Hanks Peak, Lincoln Peak, and Mount Abraham, is much more moderate. The LT weaves around Sugarbush Resort. The few times we popped out on to an open ski slope gave us energy and allowed us to run a bit. Those little bits of running make a dramatic difference. By this point in the trip, I was shuffling more than running. Debbie had recovered and seemed to be gaining strength.


We saw a little snow remaining in the deeper hollows, but the trail was clear. However, you could tell that the snow had recently melted because all of the vegetation was matted down. The trail had been closed since mid-April after the heavy snow melt, during mud season. It officially opened for Memorial Day Weekend despite a week of heavy rain. We did our best to tread lightly on the wet trail by staying on the treadway, hiking straight through existing puddles, and sticking to the rocks as much as possible. It was so beautiful; the ferns and Trillium were in bloom, and the Balsam smell was amazing. A trail crew must have come through earlier in the week because there was evidence of “brushing” where they trim back the vegetation that overhangs the trail. Even still, there were numerous blow-downs that contributed to our slow pace. A crew will have to go back through with an axe. This is a good time to give all trail maintainers a big shout out of appreciation!


As we approached Mount Abraham, we were able to push the pace and make up some time. We were monitoring our minutes/mile progress on our GPS devices (I use a Garmin and Debbie uses a Suunto) so we knew that we were on track to break 12 hours. That’s still a long time to be on the trail. One hiker, Eric, was on the summit of Abraham. He took a great picture of the two of us. We had 360 degree views with Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to the northwest, the Green Mountains to the north and south; and the White Mountains to the northeast. It was spectacular. It would have been great to linger until sunset, but we had to get to the bikes ASAP. We said our goodbyes to our summit companion, and finished the run/hike in 11 hours and 43 minutes. Debbie was a few minutes ahead of me. I gave her the green light to drop me on the descent. Depending on what you believe (GPS vs. guide-book/map), we covered around 30.4 miles with more than 11,500 feet of elevation gain and more than 8,500 feet of elevation loss on the point to point route.


Just as I got down, she was getting to our bikes. I heard her let out a “whoop” as she discovered that I had left the key in the lock. That was a huge relief. As I came down from the Battell Shelter, I was devising my plan if we didn’t find the key. We didn’t want to call Adam and Marilyn. I figured I could break the lock. Before the start of the hike, when I realized the possibility, I grabbed my Leatherman tool and carried it with us with the thought that I might have to “hack” through the steel cable or pry off the head of the lock. Thankfully, that wasn’t required.


Lincoln Gap was inundated with flies. They attacked us with vigor, so we didn’t linger. These were the only insects that bothered us all day. We changed shorts, swapped shoes, and mounted our lights. The sun was getting low in the sky. We figured that the ride would take 2.5 to 3 hours, getting us back to the van between 9:00 P.M. and 10:00 P.M. Debbie was ready sooner, so she mounted her steel Seven Tsunami and started down the steep, winding, and treacherous descent. We had recently tuned her brakes, so she was in good shape. I remembered this downhill well. A year ago to the day, I did a Vermont Six-Gaps Ride. Marilyn and Adam were also helpful on that prior trip. Before Debbie took off, I warned her to take it easy and told her I would catch up.


I was pretty knackered after 12 hours on my feet, but I’m at home on my bike, so I shot down the hill in hot pursuit. I didn’t make it far. I was riding my Titanium Seven Tsunami and on Friday afternoon, I had just swapped out wheels with cyclocross tires for wheels with road tires. I immediately gained too much speed, and had underestimated how hammered my arms were. I had no strength to brake, totally botched the second hairpin turn, got way out of control, and had to make an evasive maneuver. I was out of control and headed for the woods with a steep drop-off to the left, so I decided to ride into the soft stuff (leaves, branches, sand, etc.) at the edge of the road and lay it down. Thankfully there was no oncoming traffic. It all happened very quickly, but sliding into the ditch was better than crashing into the trees or on the asphalt.


It all worked out. I wiped out, but came away with only a few scratches on my left knee. My bike was OK. I only had to bend my brake hoods back into place. I was covered in leaves and dirt, but that was better than blood. It took a few minutes to get going again, so I didn’t catch Debbie for nearly five miles, until she was off the descent. She was wondering where I had gone, so I explained the story while we swapped lights. Despite a recent charging, one of the headlights was dead.


We took a mix of paved and dirt roads. When we were going up Quaker Street, Debbie suggested that I push ahead. She was concerned about how long it would take, did the math in her head, and figured that if I went to get the van, I could get there quicker. She wanted me to go ahead, and then drive back to intercept her. That worked out. We split up, and I was able to increase the pace. I took Rt. 17 to Gore Road to Main Road, to Bridge Street, and then Pond Road. By then it was pitch black. The plan was for Debbie to stop and wait at the Rt. 17/Gore Road junction. I eventually got back to the LT trailhead/parking lot on Duxbury Road. It took me 2 hours and 4 minutes to cover the 30.8 miles.


I loaded the bike and immediately headed back towards Debbie. I tried to call a few times, but assumed that in the shadow of the mountains, she had no cell signal. When I got back to the meeting point, she was sitting on the side of the road, wearing every piece of available clothing, and draped in her emergency blanket. She said that several Good Samaritans had stopped, but she had a little food, water, and was warm enough; so she waited. Once back in the van, we were both tired and thrilled with the success of our adventure.



We drove over Appalachian Gap, and headed for Marilyn and Adam’s house. It was finally great to see them. They fed us and we washed up, before retiring for the night. Our route was inspiring, and on Sunday, they did a “junior version” taking an alternative route up Camel’s Hump via the Burrow’s Trail, hiking to their bikes in Appalachian Gap, and then riding back to their car.


Another key gear choice was our UltrAspire packs. We shared tech tips with Marilyn and Adam before they departed. Debbie used her Zygos and I used an Epic, which was a fitting name for this trip. We lingered a bit at the house, before heading for Connecticut. We stopped at the East Warren Community Market. Farther south, we stopped in Putney to visit both the Co-Op and Farmers Market for more provisions. We stopped again in Northampton, or rather Florence, and had brunch at Cafe Evolution. By 2:45 P.M., we were in Old Lyme, and reunited with our kids. Despite the sore legs, we are already plotting our next adventure. Oh, and from the start of writing this blog post to the finish, she moved up to 3rd on the Hardrock wait list. She still needs more luck to get to the start line, but between now and 14 July, she also needs a few more training days like the one we just had in the Green Mountains of Vermont.


11 Responses to “2017 Long Trail Adventure”

  1. 1 Scott 30 May 2017 at 12:15 pm

    Aw hell yeah, Scott and Debbie! Sounds like an amazing run-ride combo, and almost as gnarly as hut traversing. If you did the route again, would you go Duxbury-Lincoln or flip directions? I’m thinking that ridgeline would make an excellent pairing to the Camels Hump-Mansfield traverse.

    Was great seeing you and the kids at Galehead last summer. Maybe our paths will cross at Manitou’s — I’ll try to bum some wisdom off of Debbie!


  2. 3 SL 8 July 2017 at 10:29 pm

    The Jay Mountain Marathon (33+ miles) was an epic but now defunct event. We did it several times. It was part of three three day Jay Challenge. Moosalamoo had s race on similar terrain in VT, but no current on the LT.

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