Prologue: New England Trail End-to-End Adventure

The short story is that early yesterday morning, Debbie and I completed an amazing adventure that we have been planning for a long time. We ran/hiked north to south, from the summit of Mount Monadnock at Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey, New Hampshire to Chittenden Park on Long Island Sound in Guilford, Connecticut.

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We covered more than 242 miles with more than 41,000 feet of elevation gain in just under 5.5 days.

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This route included the entire length of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in New Hampshire, and the New England National Scenic Trail (aka New England Trail or NET) in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

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The New England Trail website describes the route:

The NET is a 215-mile hiking trail route that has been in existence for over half a century.  The NET travels through 41 communities in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and is comprised primarily of the historic Mattabesett, Metacomet, and Monadnock (M-M-M) Trail systems.

The NET was designated on March 30, 2009 as part of Public Law 111-11 (Section 5202). The law references the Trail Management Blueprint described in the report titled the ‘Metacomet Monadnock Mattabesett Trail System National Scenic Trail Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment’, prepared by the National Park Service, and dated Spring 2006, as the framework for trail management and administration.

Since the federal designation in 2009, there have been some noteworthy changes to the historic route, including a 4-mile extension to Long Island Sound in Connecticut and a 22+ mile eastward deviation from the historic Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in Massachusetts.

The NET  travels through classic New England landscape features: long-distance vistas with rural towns as a backdrop, agrarian lands, un-fragmented forests, and large river valleys. The trail also travels through colonial historical landmarks and highlights a range of diverse ecosystems and natural resources:  mountain ridges and summits, forested glades, wetlands and vernal pools, lakes, streams and waterfalls.

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What the description doesn’t say is that it is a brutally rugged trail with constant elevation changes, and unstable terrain punctuated by an unbelievable amount of rocks and roots. It is as tough a trail as it gets. Completing an end-to-end (E2E) made this project even more enticing. 15 years ago this week, in 2005, we hiked the Long Trail in Vermont. Back in 2010, I shared some highlights on our 10 years anniversary of the hike. The LT holds significance for us and a return to “run” it has allure, but we were equally as excited to try a new and different trail. We hiked the LT and it wasn’t for an FKT. The NET trip plan was entirely different. The same could be said for our New England 4,000 Footers. We ran many of them, but as a collective, there were no time goals. When we did the bulk of them, it was prior to consumer GPS availability, prior to the growth of social media, and prior to the surge in FKT activity.

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The M-M and NET aren’t foreign to us. We are quite familiar with it, as we have raced on sections, trained on sections, and scouted section (even while hiking with our kids). However, there were still many gaps in our knowledge base and trails change with weather, landscape, and time. Our lack of knowledge of the Menunkatuck Trail made the final 17 miles an absolute slog. One of the things that makes the NET unique, and even more significant in this era, is that it is a “backyard” trail. It travels through rural communities, but is never far from a huge population base. It is easily accessible and presents close to home opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, we love the White Mountains, Green Mountains, Adirondacks and other more remote areas of our region, but getting there is tough. During the COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis, we have all been forced to adjust. The NET presented an excellent opportunity. Unlike some other trails, it doesn’t yet have the resources to allow thru-hiking opportunity. Our project was something different and the full report will explain why it was possible, but it should be obvious that we didn’t hike the trail in a comfortable manner. This was not a camping trip. We barely slept. We simply took breaks on the trail in between 17 to 23 hours of running/hiking per day. The NET is a great trail to string together a series of one-day adventures on trails that are much more challenging to traverse than what you might expect. We think that anyone who tackles some or all of it will find it to be a worthy objective.

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Doing it as a Fastest Known Time (FKT) thru-run/hike with a tremendous amount of nighttime travel made for an even bigger challenge. Also, the reported distances from the trail stewards (National Park Service, Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA), blogs, and other resources are literally “all over the map.” In partnership with the NPS and collaboration with each other, AMC manages the trail in MA and CFPA manages the trail in CT. AMC also manages the NH portion of the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail. AMC and CFPA are a big part of our lives as we have been board members of both organizations for many years.

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Note that our totals include many wrong turns and backtracking, which happened a lot, and should be expected. Inconsistent markings, fallen trees, delirium, darkness, and other factors caused us to struggle with navigation at crucial moments. These distance totals also include the two mile hike to the start at the summit of Monadnock, the two miles of paddling on the Connecticut River and the foot travel on stretches between trailheads on the east and west sides of the river. Also note that the official NET includes a “spur” which is the rest of the Mattabesett Trail that continues to the Connecticut River. We did not do this section as it made no sense to backtrack. The elegance of an end to end hike is that we went from point to point and “Summit to Sea.” That is why we started at Monadnock and included the M-M Trail in NH with the main section of the NET in MA and CT to get one continuous route. Even with those bonus miles, we found the listed distances to be short of what we were experiencing. My Garmin Fenix 6s is reliable but it does tend to underreport mileage, and even my distances were greater than what we had researched. That was mind blowing as the trip took a bit longer than expected, but we persevered.

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The following table lists our times for each route (trail segment). There is even some confusion as to whether the M-M Trail (in MA) completely mirrors the NET. For purposes of calculating FKT’s, these have to be accurate and validated. There may be a few areas where it varies. We followed the NET signage and white blazes (in MA) and blue blazes (in CT). There will be much more regarding route finding and signage in my full trip report. It’s yet to be validated but we suspect that we have the Self-Supported FKT’s for the established NET route, the MA only route, and the CT only route. We may also be able to establish the new variation route that includes the NH section from Monadnock. On some maps, the section from the summit to the NH/MA border is shown as a dotted line which gives me hope that some day, it will be added to the rest of the NET so that our route is the one federally designated. Debbie and I are both fiercely competitive, so the FKT angle added to the fun. Doing it Self-Supported was yet another level of difficulty. Without support or aid stations, in addition to our gear, we had to carry our food and water for long distances. For definition on this, consult the FKT Guidelines. This has been a crazy year where all of our big races have been cancelled. Instead, we channeled our energy into this objective. One of the cancelled events was the Bighorn Trail Run, which would have been this past week in Wyoming. I had time away from work scheduled, but after we were forced to cancel the trip, we decided to use the time off for the NET adventure instead.

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For Debbie and me, this trip was the culmination of a life’s worth of adventuring, exploring, and competing in endurance sports. Our 20+ years of trail running, ultra running, adventure racing, and even Scouting skills were essential preparation. There were many reasons for embarking on this journey and we will explain in the full report. We suffered like never before but this was a deeply satisfying effort and we are grateful for our abilities to achieve such a goal. It’s unclear if we could have stayed out there a day longer as we were at our breaking point. Each day got harder. Thankfully, we were inspired by many other adventurers who have had similar experiences and we just kept pushing until the finish.

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The NET is one of only 11 National Scenic Trails and is part of an esteemed group. The NPS describes them this way:

Intended to showcase our country’s spectacular natural resources and beauty, National Scenic Trails are routes of outstanding recreation opportunity. These routes are primarily non-motorized continuous trail and extend for 100 miles or more. The routes traverse beautiful terrain, and connect communities, significant landmarks and public lands.

The 11 National Scenic Trails are:

  • Appalachian National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail
  • Continental Divide National Scenic Trail
  • North Country National Scenic Trail
  • Ice Age National Scenic Trail
  • Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail
  • Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail
  • Florida National Scenic Trail
  • Arizona National Scenic Trail
  • New England National Scenic Trail
  • Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail

Interestingly, the Long Trail (LT) is not one of the federally designated National Scenic Trails. There is some history behind this and it was written about in a recent issue of the Green Mountain Club’s Long Trail News quarterly magazine. Of course, the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail overlap for 100 miles, so at least part of the LT does carry the designation. In my opinion, the quality and significance of the LT qualify it for the list,  but I’m sure there is politics behind it.

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As noted, there will be a substantial trip report that covers a myriad of details:

  • Mission/Goal/Inspiration
  • Fastest Known Time
  • Preparation/Research/Training
  • Gear/Technology
  • History/Geology
  • Wildlife
  • Weather
  • Trip Strategy, Logistics, and Execution
  • Highlights
  • Advocacy
  • Lessons Learned

The longer report will also expand on the teamwork required to get this done. Certainly Debbie and I were a team, but we got help from others too. The current FKT holder for the NET is Lee-Stuart Evans, and his account of his 2019 trip was helpful in our planning. He also spoke with us leading up to our start, and checked in with us at different points during the journey to offer encouragement and tips. My parents Lynn and Stan Livingston helped with logistics and the all important Guilford pick up (in the middle of the night). Debbie’s parents Barbara and Paul Schieffer helped look after our kids. Laura Becker and her friend Bill helped get us to the start.

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It is worth noting that we traveled through many parks and properties that for technical reasons don’t permit use “after sunset” and “before sunrise.” Essentially they are closed from “dusk till dawn.” Those limitations are a common thing to see. Even our local rail trail technically doesn’t allow running or riding at night. The rules vary and we aren’t rule breakers, but we are stewards of the environment. In our opinion, a handful of extreme athletes or adventurers using these resources in a responsible manner shouldn’t be an issue. If anything, our project will raise positive awareness about this trail system and the future possibilities while also inspiring others to push themselves past their perceived limits.

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Our route didn’t go through pristine wilderness. On the contrary, the trail goes through areas that have been heavily logged or used for other industrial uses. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a tremendous amount of beauty to be found. We saw it with our own eyes. We strive to observe Leave No Trace principles and that is what we have taught our own kids and other kids. We look forward to sharing the full report soon. It will take a few more days for us to recover from the effort. We have to return to our family, return to work, and pick up other responsibilities while catching up on sleep. Thankfully there isn’t much gear to clean and stow because we barely had any gear with us!

We posted this shorter and more timely update to let everyone know that the trip was a massive undertaking and it resulted in success.

1 Response to “Prologue: New England Trail End-to-End Adventure”



  1. 1 Full Report: New England Trail End-to-End Adventure | Life Adventures Trackback on 27 June 2020 at 8:12 pm

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