2017 Mohawk Trail Misadventure

Debbie and I miscalculated everything about yesterday’s run/hike on the Mohawk Trail and Appalachian Trail. On Saturday, we envisioned a manageable eight-hour effort with enough elevation gain/loss to qualify as another solid training day in advance of next month’s Hardrock Endurance Run.


We figured that since were running trails in our native state of Connecticut, that they would be challenging, but nothing like our crazy Memorial Day Weekend run/hike on the Long Trail in Vermont. Earlier in the week, we consulted the Connecticut Forest & Park Association Connecticut Walk Book West. We have the 2006 version. Interestingly, the 20th (and latest) edition is hot off the press, but I haven’t put my hands on a copy yet. We (rather I should say I) consulted the Appalachian Trail Conference Appalachian Trail Guide for Connecticut, but it turns out that it was the 1985 edition. My feeble planning efforts proved costly as these guides/maps weren’t as accurate as they needed to be.


At a quick glance, we designed a route that consisted of the entire Mohawk Trail and the Appalachian Trail. By my math, if we parked at the Rt. 4/Rt. 7 junction at Cornwall Bridge, we could run the Mohawk Trail counter-clockwise for 23.5 miles until it intersects the Appalachian Trail, and then run 6.9 miles south on the AT back to our car. We had toyed around with the idea of bringing our bikes and instead of running the AT, riding back on Rt. 7. Debbie preferred to run the entire way, so that is what we decided without a whole lot of discussion.


Saturday was crazy busy with work in the morning,  a soccer game for our daughter in the early afternoon (I took her), and the Bolton Cub Scout Pack 157 Camporee at Camp Johnson near our home in Bolton. Debbie was in charge of the Camporee and built it around a Cubmobile Derby, which we held on our freshly paved street. The Camporee was filled with other games, fishing, dinner, and concluded with a campfire (which I built). By the time we crawled in to bed on Saturday night, we had done zero additional planning for the run/hike.


The goal was to get up early, pack, get our kids in the car, drop them at Debbie’s parents in Prospect, and then get to the trailhead by 9:00 A.M. On Sunday, we all woke up late, and by the time we packed, and got on the road, it was past 8:00 A.M. After we drop the kids off, and headed north on Rt. 8, it was closing in on 10:00 A.M. We hit Rt. 4 and after passing through Goshen, we crossed the Mohawk Trail and then saw a the sign for Mohawk State Forest. We pulled in to the parking lot and consulted the map. We realized this was several miles from Cornwall Bridge, but since we were running late, we figured this was as good a spot as any to start the run/hike. We figured that we would still go clockwise. The rationale wasn’t any more complicated than that, but nine hours later, it turned to be fortuitous.


We got ready, and hit “start” on our GPS’s at 10:16 A.M. The plan was to be back at the car by 5:00 P.M. or 6:00 P.M. We really didn’t have a plan. We were sort of just “winging it” which isn’t like us, but given the busy week, was how thing went. Despite our knowledge of trails all over Connecticut, the Mohawk Trail and this section of the AT were all new to us.


It was the warmest day of the year, with the temperature approaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit and heavy humidity to add to the challenge. We each carried a 70 oz (2 liter) hydration pack plus two 18 oz bottles. Debbie carried a third bottle inside her pack for “extra weight.” Like on our LT hike, she used her UltrAspire Zygos and I used an UltrAspire Epic. We used trekking poles to simulate Hardrock.


Right away, we realized that the Mohawk Trail was not heavily used, overgrown in spots, and rugged. We made decent progress and covered 14 miles, arriving in Canaan in 3 hours and 35 minutes. I was dragging a bit and concerned about my water. After the climb out of Dean’s Ravine, up and over Barrack Mountain and down the hill to Rt. 7, I needed a break. Debbie was ready to push on, but I spotted a restaurant literally 250 feet off the trail. It turned out to be the Mountainside Cafe. We bought two ginger ales and topped off all our bottles/bladders with the bathroom faucet. This turned out to be a very smart move. We drained our ale’s, and then got moving again.


We ran all the way to the AT, and around the fields in Salisbury, before starting to climb again. This fast section of trail lulled us into thinking we would make up some ground, but before we knew it, we were climbing (slowly) again. The AT proved to be equally as rugged as the Mohawk Trail, though the treadway was slightly more used. We pressed on, but appeared to be making little progress on the 6.9 mile section. Neither of us were in the mood to consult the maps, so we kept going.


Eventually, the day wore on and we became disenchanted. We started to question the math. We had gone all day without seeing anyone on the Mohawk Trail. After six hours, we had only seen one hiker on the AT. We eventually saw five more people in two groups. We consulted both sets of hikers, but neither group really knew when we would hit the Mohawk Trail again. We figured that once we got to Cornwall Bridge, we would have another six or so miles to go on the Mohawk to get back to our car. I was counting on there being another store or restaurant when we got down to the Rt. 4/Rt. 7 intersection. I banked on it and drank more than I would have if I had to make my water last all the way to the finish.


We had all the gear we needed including the 10 Essentials, and we have been talking about getting a new lightweight water filter/water purification system precisely for trips like this. As it turns out, Debbie ordered one, but it didn’t arrive in time. The 6.9 mile section of Appalachian Trail turned in to be a long 11.6 miles. I still haven’t taken the time to figure out how my math was so wrong. It’s possible that since 1985, the trail has changed. I assume it has moved and my old guide was wrong. It was a rookie mistake.


We had great views, especially overlooking Lime Rock Park, but we both suffered in the heat. Debbie is running Manitou’s Revenge next Saturday, so this wasn’t supposed to crush her. It was supposed to be an additive workout. I was scuffling and shuffling, as I like to say. I had a hard time keeping up with Debbie on the downhills. I stopped at every stream crossing to splash water on my face and rinse my arms. Eventually, we got to the Pine Knob Loop. We talked about cutting down to Rt. 7 and taking the road, but we kept going on the AT until we finally reached the Mohawk Trail junction. We took the Mohawk down to Cornwall Bridge.


I finished the last of my water on the descent and was rewarded with a Citgo Station across the street from the trailhead. Debbie was anxious to get moving again, but I took my time, purchased three liters of water, and two iced teas.  We consulted the clerk inside the station. I couldn’t get a cell phone connection. When we told him where we were headed, he said, “That’s 10 miles away…and all uphill.” Debbie and I were both dismissive, thinking, no way. He checked the Internet and seemed to confirm this, though we didn’t know exactly where the car was because there was no address for that spot.


We went outside and sat on the curb. We drank the tea and refilled our bottles. We stuffed the empty bottles in my pack and made a command decision to run the road back to our car. The trail would have taken too long. We were already at 27 miles and we were hurting. Plus, our kids were still at my in-law’s and it was getting late. We had headlamps, but the trail would have been way too slow. Debbie set the pace on the road. She was still surprised by what we perceived as the snarkiness of the clerk, but we were tired and irritable. I was dismissive of his “all uphill” assessment and we pushed a bit harder. Rt. 4 started out flat, but then we came around a bend and it pitched upwards in a nasty way. Debbie stayed 500 feet in front of my for the next 90 minutes as we each went through our own personal hell. I was shot, but kept moving. I think we put down three miles in 30 minutes, which was pretty good given the severity of the climb. I don’t know if either of us ever gave serious thought to hitching a ride, but by the eight-hour mark, I just wanted to finish the loop on my own power. I thought that the car might have been four miles (at the most) from the gas station, but it turned out to be seven miles, and the road never let up.


That clerk deserves much more credit than I gave him. He was right. It was more than seven miles and pretty much uphill the entire way. We got to the car and didn’t say much. Debbie hadn’t even brought a change of clothes. I was dealing with some chafe, so I opted to just wear a towel. We were a sight to see. On the drive back to Prospect, we killed a bag of Salt & Pepper Chips. The total time for the trip was 9 hours and 40 minutes. Moving time was 8 hours and 35 minutes and we covered more than 34 miles with more than 8,500 feet of elevation gain, which is pretty big for Connecticut.


I was disappointed that we didn’t “close the loop” so to speak and finish on the trail, but we vowed to go back and focus just on the Mohawk Trail. Next time, we will start at Cornwall Bridge as originally planned, and run the trail counter-clockwise to Rt. 7. We will use our bicycles to get back to the car. I don’t need to see that section of the Appalachian Trail again (until we thru-hike it). Looking at the profile on Strava, that last section of the Mohawk from Cornwall Bridge to our car would have been nuts. I think if we attempted that, we would still be out there in the dark.

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