2019 Soapstone Mountain Trail Races

The good news is that we found Joe. The bad news is that we “lost” him in the first place. Much of the drama at the 35th anniversary Soapstone Mountain Trail Race occurred in the final two hours after most everyone had left. This was one final test for Debbie, who “retired” as Race Director after 17 years of directing or co-directing (with the late Jerry Stage).



The Shenipsit Striders pulled off another great event, but it wasn’t without a bit of worry. As the final runners came in, we shifted our attention to account for everyone. Our three sweep runners came in behind the final finisher, and it briefly appeared as if life was good. Then, our race timer published a list of people who had not crossed the timing mat. Two names appeared on the list, but one was quickly disputed as they had been previously reported as a DNF. The other name was concerning. We soon realized that one runner (Joe), had not made it to the finish–and he should have. If the sweeps didn’t see him, then that meant he had gone off course, at least for a period of time.

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We checked the aid station logs and saw evidence that he reached aid station #2, but not aid station #3. We had a rough description of him (i.e. he was wearing a grey shirt), and various volunteers recounted seeing him. We developed an idea of where he  may have gone off course based on where he was last seen and which direction he was headed. The Soapstone course is in an area of the forest where there is a patchwork of trails.

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There are marked trails, unmarked trails, and forest roads. It’s a real maze and if you get off-track, you could easily get lost. We checked his profile, and discovered he was from New Hampshire. We checked the remaining vehicles in the lot and there was one from New Hampshire. We called his mobile phone, but got his voicemail. I worried that he may not be carrying his phone.

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We organized a group of club members/runners who know their way around Shenipsit State Forest, and gathered as much information about Joe as we could. He was an experience runner, but he was also a senior citizen, which in itself is not an issue, but it was another factor when considering what might have happened. A few people knew him and that information was helpful. Based on his pace and position at aid station #2, he should have finished in about five and a half hours, which was 2:40 P.M. or so. Our “cut-off” was six hours, or shortly after 3:00 P.M. He had been on the course (or in its vicinity) since the 9:08 A.M. start.

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Club members spread out to cover as much ground as we could. We had volunteers drive the perimeter of the forest to see if he got off track and headed for one of the many perimeter roads. We had runners head for the various cross trails where he could have gotten off course. I simply started walking/jogging the course in reverse. I scanned the trail and looked left and right while calling his name every 30 seconds or so.

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I went up and over the the mountain via the Quarry Trail. I went down the backside and bumped in to club mates Julie Logan and then Emma Palmacci. Both had driven to the mountain and then gotten on the course. Julie was headed back to the car to get her bell. Emma and I agreed to go in opposite directions. I stayed on the course, continuing in reverse. She headed up the Shenipsit Trail to see if he had gone that way.

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I went another mile or so, calling his name even more frequently. I yelled, “Joe!” and heard another voice coming from a ways away. He was calling something out too. That voice was coming from Dominic Wilson, a club mate who was coming in towards the location of aid station #3 in the opposite direction from me. I heard his voice call back to me, so I yelled, “Joe” again. Then I heard a third voice and saw some movement farther up the trail. I ran towards the sound and in the distance I saw it was a runner and he was   wearing a grey shirt and he had a bib number pinned to his shorts.

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I introduced myself and asked if he was Joe. He was thrilled to see me, but I was even more thrilled to see him. I handed him the full water bottle that I carried in hopes of finding him, and he promptly drained it. I yelled for Dom, screaming, “It’s Joe, over here.” Dom ran up and we were all happy. Joe was elated, but tired, and a bit shaky. He had been on his feet for a long time, and was out of water, but thankfully, he was back on the course and headed in the right direction. However, he was more than 3 miles from the finish and wasn’t moving quickly. He had ample daylight, but it was critical that we found him and didn’t leave him to find his way out on his own. He was a bit short of aid station #3, but of course, there was no longer anyone there. He asked how far it was to the finish (as if we were going to let him continue), but I explained it was 4:20 P.M. or so, and well past the cut off. We would get him a ride back to the the finish line and to his car.

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Dom gave him some food and a few more friends arrived. Dan Tourtellotte, who is succeeding Debbie as Race Director, was with Barbara Sorrell, a friend of Joe’s, who had finished the race and come back out to help us look for him. The five of us walked a half of a mile or so back from the direction I came to the nearest forest road where Barbara had parked her vehicle. Dan and Dom ran to where Dom had parked. I got in with Barbara and Joe and she drove us to the finish where we met back up with Debbie and our kids. The drama was over and we were very happy. Debbie had saved some food (Rein’s veggie chili), and drinks to help Joe refuel. Barbara stayed with him, and she gave us the green light to finish packing up and head out along with the rest of the volunteers.

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During Debbie’s 17 years of active involvement, we have had a few other long days, but this one was the most challenging. The last time I was this worried about an unaccounted for runner, we got ahold of him…at home. He neglected to tell anyone that he dropped out. Our system work, we called his emergency contact, and they confirmed that he was not still in the woods. This year, the worry was real, but things worked out OK.

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This was a milestone year as Soapstone is the second oldest continuously run trail race in New England. Only the NipMuck Trail Marathon, which turns 36 this year, is older. Like NipMuck, Soapstone is a special race, and it is the race committee and volunteers that make it a success. Debbie has been a key part of it, but there are so many other club members who have contributed. This year alone, we had dozens of volunteers. It takes a small army to market the race, mark the course, prepare the food, make the awards, deliver the supplies, manage registration, man the aid stations, pay the bills, and so on.

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I’ve done the 24 kilometer long race 11 times and the 6 kilometer Sampler five times for a a total of 16 times, including yesterday’s race. My first one was in 2001. Yesterday I had one of my best races. The course changed last year, but I was still recovering from my broken leg, and only did the Sampler with my daughter, so it was my first attempt at the longer and more difficult 24KM+ route. My records and GPS show that the course has more climbing and is 1.2 miles longer than the previous course. The route changes a little every year, but last year’s re-route was the most substantial in the last 10 years. I like the changes, though there is a section in the middle that is very confusing as the course crosses over itself and we have runners going in both directions. We had some creative flagging and a volunteer (Dom) standing at that junction, and people still went the wrong way.

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I figured it out, but it was tricky. I was pleased with my run, finishing in 2:17:48. I think the course ran about 14 minutes slower than the 2017 race. That would have made this one of my top three or four Soapstone runs. Shepard and Dahlia did the Sampler and they both did very well. I’m proud of both kids for doing the race on their own. On the drive to the race in the morning, with our van packed with supplies, Shepard noted that he has been going to this race his entire life. Debbie said, “And then some.”

We had 123 finishers of the 24K and 103 finishers in the Sampler. There were a handful of DNS’ and a six DNF’s, including Joe. It’s been great to meet so many people through this event. Several years ago, we started a kids race, and it continues with many of those kids graduating to the Sampler and some soon to compete in the 24 kilometer long race. Some of the original Shenipsit Striders club members (notably Tom Curtiss and Willie Friedrich) came out to help. These two have been with the club since the founding in the mid-70’s. This race has done a lot for the community too, with support for the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, Reddington Rock Riding Club, Northern Connecticut Land Trust, and other organizations.

Next up in in the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series is the Goodwin Forest Trail Runs.

I’m sure Debbie, the kids, and I will help out at Soapstone next year and in subsequent years, albeit in a slightly different capacity. We drove home with less stuff and our basement will be a bit less cluttered. We sent a bunch of race supplies home with new RD Dan. For a moment after we found Joe, I was worried that the drama was going to scare Dan away. When we were all back at the parking lot standing around Joe, Debbie asked Dan if he was “resigning.” I hope not. All he has to know is that he isn’t alone and there is a team of Shenipsit Striders willing to help him continue this tradition into year number 36.

Race Results (24K)

Race Results (6K)

1 Response to “2019 Soapstone Mountain Trail Races”

  1. 1 2019 Manitou’s Revenge Ultra | Life Adventures Trackback on 23 June 2019 at 4:47 pm

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