Full Report: New England Trail End-to-End Adventure

“Have a great vacation!”

Those were the words of several of my HORST Engineering colleagues as I prepared for a week away from work. When I heard, them I graciously thanked them but thought to myself, “you have no idea…”

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Now, looking back on an adventure that just ended early Tuesday morning, I’m gaining the perspective that I need. This was a trip like no other before it. This blog dates back to 2006 and from “day one” it has been called “Life Adventures.” That spirit predates the Internet era as I have been adventuring for a lifetime, but only documenting it in this format for the last 15 years. I’m fortunate to have spent 21 years sharing these journeys with Debbie. She is a powerful woman with a similar desire to spend a maximum amount of time in nature while testing her own limits. We have a long history of adventuring together and this most recent trip feels like a high water mark, but we have said that about past trips and somehow we continue to raise the level.

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A Prologue post shared two days ago provides some basics on the trip, but much of it will be repeated here. Feel free to refer back to the shorter version for some additional photos and information including the background behind the New England Trail. It would be helpful to glance at it before digesting this longer post. This full report will cover each day of the adventure, discuss our preparation, gear choices, and get into so much more. I mainly write these for myself so that I have the history, but my children, the rest of my family, and so many friends and strangers have benefitted from following along. As always, thanks for reading.

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Why?

In 2009, the New England Trail officially became a National Scenic Trail. That was four years after we completed our Long Trail End-to-End hike and not long after I joined the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA). Debbie and I had both been on the Board of Advisors of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) dating back to the early 2000’s. She is still on the AMC BOA and I am currently on the Board of Directors. Regardless of these titles and roles, we have been AMC and CFPA volunteers and supporters for a long time. Since CFPA and AMC are the National Park Service’s partners in managing the NET, we were exposed to the process from consideration to designation. In 2014, we attended the Gateway Dedication in Guilford. At the 11 year mark, the NET finally got a revamped website and mapping system…this week. It literally launched two days after we got back. I knew it was coming, but we weren’t going to delay our trip for a new website. We have been working with the old site for a few months and used it (on our iPhones) extensively during the trip, but it is nice to see the overhauled site now.

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Though the NET officially starts at the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border and goes south through MA and Connecticut until it reaches Long Island Sound, we opted to add to the route. We hiked to the summit of Mount Monadnock at Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey, and then started our run to Chittenden Park on Long Island Sound in Guilford, Connecticut. So, the route included the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in New Hampshire and the NET in MA and CT. 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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Ever since the 2005 LT hike, we have yearned for another thru-hike adventure. Over that period, we had two children, got them to join us in our adventures, competed in hundreds of endurance events, and biked, hiked, and run all over the world. We also completed hiking all 67 New England 4,000 Footers and then started the list over again with the kids; that quest continues.

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This year was supposed to be a big year of trail running and ultrarunning. I had a few years following a broken leg suffered racing cyclocross, where I didn’t run as much. In 2019, I regained some of that running fitness and Debbie and I decided to aim for some big goals. Even though the Hardrock Endurance Run was cancelled in 2019 (too much snow on the course), she needed a new qualifier to go into the lottery for the 2021 race. The logistics around qualifying are a bit messed up as the COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis has resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 race as well. That means when she does requalify, it will likely be for the 2022 edition at the earliest. She is fortunate to have finished the race in 2017 and based on the current rules, has a better chance of getting in compared with someone who has never run it before.

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While we were running the NET, we learned that the Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run was also cancelled, which is a real bummer as it is our favorite race and this is the first time in its history that it will not happen. We have only missed one since 1999 when Debbie ran ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI.

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The race we chose was the Bighorn Trail Run, a 100-miler in Wyoming. We have never been to WY. The race was supposed to be last week, but of course, was cancelled. I kept the time off and instead, we did the NET. We wanted to use the fitness that we have been building. All of the lead up races were also cancelled. They included Tammany 10, Traprock 50K, and Run Ragged. Once it was clear that this year would be very different with few or none events, we shifted our focus to the surging  popularity of Fastest Known Time (FKT) adventures. We have dabbled with the FKT concept for more than 15 years, but we never participated in the original Internet discussion boards. We were doing big day and multi-day adventures in the mountains (primarily of New England) before people used GPS and other technology to record, document, and share their times. Examples include many of our 4,000 footers which we did as trail runs or fastpacking adventures. We were covering the distances in a fraction of “book time.” Regardless, we kept some spreadsheets but without the GPS technology or our monitoring of the FKT boards, we weren’t really tied into the community.

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That changed a few years ago as we noticed a shift towards these do it yourself adventures. Without a big number, course markings, aid stations, or the other support that comes with a race/event, it felt more like our training runs of the past. With the logistics and navigation, these efforts were like the adventure races we did in the early 2000’s. Adventure racing peaked years ago, but when we did them, we loved them. Debbie did some of the multi-day stuff with other teammates, but my preference was to stick to one-day “sprint” events with her or one other teammate. This year, we pursued FKT’s on many of our favorite local trails. We weren’t traveling far from home, so it was fun to push ourselves on routes we already ran on a frequent basis. Those include the Nipmuck Trail, Natchaug Trail, Quinnipiac Trail, and Shenipsit Trail.

Speaking of inspiration, the NET has never been about a speed record. The new website demonstrates all the wonderful virtues of this trail, including the connection between art and nature. Ben Cosgrove is one of our favorite musicians. We met him because he was an NET Artist-In-Residence (AiR). The AiR is a program that started in 2012. Ben’s video offers a great summary of the NET.

I mentioned adventure racing and our other do it yourself (DIY) adventures. I recently finished The Last of His Kind, David Robert’s biography of Bradford Washburn. Washburn is one of my all-time favorite explorers and photographers. His feats in the mountains are a legendary source of inspiration. A Washburn aerial image of the Franconia Ridge hangs in our foyer. I also recently listened to a great podcast about Ernest Shackleton. I’ll listen to or read anything about Shackleton as I learn something every time. There has been a lot of controversy about Colin O’Brady, the Antarctic explorer, but whether you like him or not,  I’ve enjoyed his conversations with Rich Roll. I constantly take in a lot of exploration and adventure related content and it has fueled my outdoor passion. Debbie even remarked after we finished that this made her “feel” like a National Geographic Explorer, which is saying something about the significance of the adventure. There aren’t too many feats yet to be accomplished but an explorer is always pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

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The timing of this trip also presented the opportunity to disconnect from the stress of the pandemic, and economic crisis. During the trip, we had very little connection with the outside world. We had to preserve battery life and our cellular connection was intermittent. I left my iPhone in Airplane Mode for 99% of the day. We would reconnect to update our position on an app like All Trails, or to check the NET website, search Google Maps, or research a question. I didn’t use Facebook at all and only posted on Instagram one time. Each day, I uploaded activity to Garmin Connect and that automatically populated my Strava feed which I edited and added photos to. Aside from that, there was little communication with the outside world. We had a tracking link for the Garmin Explore website that a handful of family and friends monitored. Long days were an opportunity to relax the mind and set aside worries. We were confident that our kids were safe with their grandparents Paul and Barbara, and having a blast.

So, it turned out to be quite a vacation!

In addition to the help we got from friends at AMC and CFPA, we did substantial research. Through the FKT site, we learned about Lee-Stuart Evans’ 2019 E2E. He did the official NET from MA border to the Sound. Lee-Stuart has been a guest on the CULTRA Trail Running Podcast a few times. Episode 38 covers his NET trip in depth. We subsequently read Lee-Stuart’s blog post, and then spoke with him. He was helpful in the latter stages of our preparation and stayed in touch during the trip, periodically texting us with tips and advice. His time of 5 days, 19 hours, 50 minutes is stellar. Though Lee-Stuart has a playful manner and his self-deprecating humor makes him sound “slow,” my assessment is that he is also a fierce competitor. His NET FKT preparation was thorough and his past experience is substantial. His website is a great resource for anyone planning a fastpacking adventure. It also has in-depth information about Connecticut’s trails, and particularly the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. He hails from England and has explored all over the world. We knew that besting his time wouldn’t be easy. Keep in mind that he is still the record holder for the solo supported E2E, but for the moment, our time is now fastest overall.

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We did a bunch of other research regarding fastpacking gear. Good resources include Greenbelly, Adventure Alan, and iRunFar. We also did substantial research on technology. In the end, Debbie’s older Suunto Ambit failed and didn’t make it to the finish. The memory was full and the battery died and it made no sense to waste our precious little backup battery chargers on it, so it ended up being dead weight. My newer Garmin Fenix 6s was fantastic and prior to the trip, I learned it’s functions from two great resources, the DC Rainmaker Fenix review and HikingGuy Fenix review. We also acquired a Garmin inReach Mini and to learn the functions, we went back to the DC Rainmaker for his in depth Mini review, and also the HikingGuy for his in depth review.

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I could do an entire post just on the Mini. In the end, my assessment is that it is a quality device in a small package, but with limitations for a trip like ours. I tested it over the course of a few weeks and was comfortable that we had it working well. However, there was no way to simulate the all-day conditions of our trip. Even though we had data logging set for every 1 second (uploading set for every 30 minutes), the GPS track we got was far less detailed. A post-trip phone call with Garmin customer service confirmed these previously unknown limitations and though they were apologetic, didn’t have any solutions for us. We spent a lot of time and energy keeping the Mini charged and running. We had one mid-trip failure where it shutdown during an attempted recharge, but after a restart, we got a new track started almost immediately. We figured we had the GPS detail we needed but that wasn’t the case. It worked well as a live tracker at the 10, 20, or 30 minute intervals, but we were not able to synch (with a cable) after the trip and export the 1 second data. It just didn’t exist. Thankfully, I used the Fenix 6s to capture each day’s (six of them) activity and we have detailed GPX files. The plan was to use the Fenix daily and turn it off during sleep, while letting the Mini run continuously.  Between the two devices, we got what we needed, but for the cost of the Mini and the Iridium subscription, we are not satisfied.

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We were aware that the NET isn’t a great trail for thru-hiking. The new website stresses that “stealth camping” is discouraged and Leave No Trace (LNT) is encouraged. The good news is that we always strive for LNT and have taught these principles to our children and other Scouts. As for the camping issue, though we were on the trail overnight, we didn’t really “camp.” We merely rested. We used a small tarp, ultralight sleeping bags, and ultralight sleeping pads. We had no more than 10 pounds of gear each, including these items, and didn’t have a stove. We spent 3-5 hours a night resting before we got moving again. I realize that you wouldn’t want hundreds of people doing this along a trail that goes through public and private lands, but alas, there were two of us and I don’t see a surge of NET thru-hike activity coming. I hope that the NET can develop more overnight accommodations, but it is highly unlikely that there will be a shelter every three to five miles like there is on Vermont’s Long Trail.

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Over the years, parts of the NET have featured races that we know and love. They include, the Lake Wyola Road Race, Northfield Mountain Trail Race, 7 Sisters Trail RaceTraprock 50K, West Hartford Quadrathlon, and the Bimbler’s Bluff  50K. Additionally, we have done numerous shorter adventures on various sections of the trail. In 2019, we scouted the Shutesbury section. In 2016, Debbie did two big days running the trail from Guilford to Rt. 66 in Middlefield, and then the next day going from Middlefield to Castle Craig in Meriden. I joined her for a portion of the trail each day. Our most recent trip to Monadnock was in 2018 with her Cub Scout Den. Over the last few months, we made a few trips to Massachusetts to scout the Connecticut River crossing and the Westfield River crossing. We didn’t know the entire NET route, but we were confident that we had enough knowledge to succeed.

Warmup (Monadnock Hike to Start)
17-June 2020, 10:52 A.M.
Jaffrey
1.97 miles, +1,778/-30 feet
1h, 10m, 29s

Debbie spent the two days before our start making final preparations. She took the kids mountain biking at Cowles Park in Granby and then spotted our food cache in a Bear Vault in nearby Suffield. She then transported the kids to her parents’ house in Prospect. I wrapped things up at work and finished packing on the Tuesday night before our start. I had been experimenting with gear for a few weeks and had done several runs with my pack to test it out, so we were ready to go. Laura Becker and her friend Bill Dougherty, drove with us  to Monadnock. On the way we stopped in Hadley to spot the kayak, paddles, pfd’s, a jug of water, and a bag of food. We made it to Monadnock State park by late morning and were on the summit around noon. The short two-mile hike was a nice warmup. After some lunch and photos, we were off. Laura and Bill hiked down and returned to CT with our car.

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Day 1, 17-June 2020, 12:33 P.M.
Jaffrey – Warwick (Start)
30.02 miles, +4,767/-6,785 feet
10h, 28m, 18s

We started the official effort by descending the White Arrow Trail. It was a beautiful day with amazing 360 degree views from the summit. Sadly, we missed the Royce Trail intersection and that became our first wrong turn. We got the situation sorted and were back on track after getting directions from a local hiker. The Royce led us to the M-M Trail. We found the NH section of the M-M too be maddeningly difficult to follow. The white blazes were small, faded, and inconsistent. Turns were not marked clearly. Instead of offsetting the blazes to indicate left or right, they were stacked one on top of the other, making it a guessing game as to which way the trail turned. We pulled the maps up frequently. Navigating the village of Troy was a challenge, but we finally figured out how to get out of the town center and headed in the right direction. Our worst wrong turn was on a long jeep road that crossed a power line. We didn’t realize the M-M paralleled this dirt road. We were only a hundred or so feet from the trail, but the mistake cost us a mile or so, as we diligently backtracked in order to correct the mistake and complete the route. We went over several smaller peaks, including Little Monadnock. Whenever we looked back to the north, we had great views of Grand Monadnock, where we started.

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We reached the Massachusetts border near Royalston Falls shortly before 8:00 P.M. The mosquitoes were bad, but we filtered water from a stream, took some photos, noted our time, and then continued south. We stopped around 11:00 P.M. and rested on a logging road turnout. We planned to get five hours of sleep, but despite using our tent poles to support our fly, we were hounded by mosquitoes. This made rest impossible, so we agreed to just get up earlier and start moving again. The decision to bring the fly instead of the actual tent was our biggest mistake. Insects dogged us the entire trip and posed a huge risk because they kept us from getting adequate rest. We had to accept them bothering us when we were moving, but the real frustration came when we were stopped or resting and we couldn’t keep them away. We wore headnets but they were inadequate.

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Day 2, 18-June 2020, 2:49 A.M.
Warwick – Pelham
43.69 miles, +6,873/-6,677 feet
17h, 04, 39s

The early start was good. We were tired from the prior day descending and lack of sleep, but our legs were still relatively fresh. We still covered a good distance for the day. We ascended Mount Grace and traversed Northfield State Forest. The mosquitoes were terrible. We had a long road run on Gulf Road and then made the big climb up above Farley. We rested at a gorgeous overlook that took in Rt. 2 and the Millers River. Navigating through Farley was fun and the markings were decent. It was a neat town. Debbie faded a bit as we traveled through Wendell State Forest and we made a plan to rest when we got to Lake Wyola.

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There was a lot of fast running and we made good time. Lake Wyola was busy with lots of families enjoying the water. We staked out a picnic table and spread out some of our gear to dry in the sun. We took a quick swim and then laid out our ground cloth (footprint). We took a 20 minute nap, but were awakened by the local police who were investigating a 911 call. It was originating from a location right near our spot. It wasn’t us but they suspected that someone had mistakenly called or crank called. We rested a bit more and packed up for the steady Jennison Road climb from Wyola towards Cooleyville.   The next section of trail had many old wells and foundations.

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The entire trail is steeped in history. This is something I need to learn more about, but some sections were established by Native Americans and predate the English settlers of New England. The geology is another area to explore. In any case, these old ruins reminded us of Gay City in CT, which is an old abandoned village in the middle of the forest. After the early start, this turned into a long day.

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The climb up Cooleyville Road was nasty. The mosquitoes were biting us through our shorts and calf socks, decimating the backs of our legs. Debbie struggled on the hill and we agreed that we would get back into the woods and start looking for a place to rest. I was out front and stopped for a few minutes. I noticed that the bugs weren’t bad. When she arrived I recommended that we stop. We opted to skip the tent poles (we never used them again on the trip) and just rest under the stars. The erected rain fly would have only trapped the mosquitoes inside and made us overheat. It worked out and we got solid rest between 9:30 P.M. and 3:00 A.M.

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Day 3, Part 1, 19-June 2020, 3:24 A.M.
Pelham – Hadley
24.91 miles, +5,161/-6,112 feet
7h, 51m, 52s

We knew in advance that today would be a big day. We had to contend with the Holyoke Range, the Connecticut River crossing, and Mt. Tom. We knew it was going to be hot. We started strongly, taking the trail to Shutesbury Road in Pelham. The NET went on some trail and then back on to roads. The cumulative road running was several miles long and slightly downhill. The downhill grade was helpful because we carried a lot of water. Each of us had two 550ML bottles and a 3L HydraPak.

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This was our maximum load as we knew that there would be no water on the Holyoke Range. We were hoping to refill at the Skinner State Park Notch Visitor Center but we suspected that it could be closed due to the pandemic. Despite carrying all of that weight, we hammered that section. After Gulf Road and Federal Street, we were back on dirt and headed towards the successive peaks of the range. Long Mountain was tough, but Mount Norwottock was even tougher. It got hot and we were nursing our water. The rock scrambling was intense. Surprisingly, the trail markings were lacking and we struggled to route find over the top of Norwottock and on the descent to the notch.

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It was disappointing, but expected, to find the visitor center closed. There were no bathrooms, no outside water, and no way to charge our devices. We had just enough water to make it over the 7 Sisters, but it was going to be tight. We rested on a park bench behind the building. I recall being soaked with sweat in the midday heat. The six miles of trail between Rt. 116 and Rt. 147 is legendary. Debbie ran “Sisters” for 16 years in a row, but we haven’t done the race since 2014. It’s gotten too popular, with nearly 500 runners competing on the narrow course. The wear and tear on this section of trail has been substantial. Some of her best running has been on this section. The race goes out and back. The traditional finish was right where the NET intersects 116 across the street from the visitors center. So, we know this section well. It is rugged and hilly.

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The first obstacle is Bare Mountain. Loose traprock litters the trail. After Bare, you tackle Mount Hitchcock. Somewhere up there, we ran into Janice, one of Debbie’s yoga students. The crazy thing is that we also ran into Janice when we were climbing Katahdin in 2017. She insisted that she and her hiking friends were just discussing weird trail occurrences and the fact that she ran into us randomly in Maine.

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We had a fun chat on a steep slope. From there you go up and down traversing the ridge before descending to Taylor Notch. The final push is to the summit house on the top of Mount Holyoke. The views from the top were spectacular. Last year we took the kids on a hike to the summit. It’s a great spot. Normally you can access bathrooms, but everything was closed, which was what we expected. On the descent, I was slow, but Debbie was strong as usual. She knows that section of trail like the back of her hand. By the time we got to the bottom of Skinner State Park, I was hurting. We had a mile or so of road running to get to Mitch’s Marina where our kayak was stashed. We rallied and pushed to the end of stage one for this day.

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Day 3, Part 2, 19-June 2020, 2:36 P.M.
Hadley – Easthampton (Connecticut River Paddle)
1.79 miles
41m, 16s

The Connecticut River crossing gets a lot of attention for good reason. Sadly, the NET simply ends on Mountain Road in Hockanum. It restarts on North Street in Easthampton. AMC strongly discourages swimming the river. We gave it some thought. On at least two scouting missions, we explored the more narrow section of river off of Titan’s Pier Road. We considered ways to float across with the help of inflated dry bags. I made a list of criteria to deal with the river crossing and that helped us determine the best method.

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  • Safest – though I’m a strong and experienced open water swimmer, Debbie is less so. Swimming with gear would add to the challenge. As it turns out, we reached the river on a Friday afternoon and it was jammed with boats and personal watercraft. Swimming, even with float buoys for identification would have been very dangerous. If we got there in darkness it would have been ridiculously challenging. The narrow point at Titan’s Pier Road is down a steep embankment. The climb out on the west side of the river would be near the power plant and train tracks. There was no clear exit. There is a strong current, so chances are you would have to start much farther north if you planned to get across without floating down river and forcing a backtrack.
  • Quickest – we didn’t want to waste a lot of time and energy. Lee-Stuart Evans did his own analysis in 2019 and opted to call his wife Shona for a ride. He made a wise choice. The NET site recommends a ride sharing service unless you can hitch a boat ride across the river. That is a definite option, but timing is critical.
  • Human Powered –  we didn’t want to take a car or a boat. We wanted to get across with human power which was part of our own self-supported approach.
  • Least Energy – swimming would take a lot more energy than paddling. Paddling probably took more energy than driving or hitching a ride, but it was manageable.
  • H2O Quality – in hindsight, now that we have seen the river up close, swimming it would have been disgusting. There appears to have been a massive “die off” of river fish. We saw dozens and dozens of dead fish floating and this was just in a 1.8 mile stretch. There were probably hundreds. The river reeked and these bloated fish were belly up. It was not a pleasant site or smell for a couple of vegan adventurers. Debbie, who was in the front of the kayak, was appalled. I dealt with it OK and just told her “not to look.”
  • Keep Gear Dry – with the kayak, we were able to secure our gear and the risk of getting it soaked was much lower. We ended up going another 10 miles on our feet and it would have been miserable if we were soaked.
  • Don’t Trespass – all of the property bordering the river on the east side is private property, including Mitch’s Marina. The properties on Titan’s Pier Road were all marked with No Trespassing signs. We didn’t want to trespass and didn’t want to establish a route or method that was risky or unrepeatable. In the end, we politely asked permission from the gracious folks at Mitch’s Marina to leave our kayak there, and they obliged.
  • Repeatable – our assumption is that our respectful approach with Mitch’s Marina will pave the way for future attempts.
  • Fun – a human powered crossing that minimized risk was bound to add a fun twist to our already amazing adventure.

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The folks at Mitch’s Marina allowed us to use their hose to refill our bottles and bladders. We arranged our gear, unlocked the kayak and launched it from their boat ramp. We stopped at Mitch’s Island as we paddled south. We cooled off in the river and rinsed off the sweat and grime. As noted, the river was teaming with activity. Day campers were all over the island. Music was blaring from boats and flotillas formed with hundreds of people partying on the late spring Friday afternoon. We continued south to the Manhan River Boat Launch. We secured the kayak, paddles, and pfd’s there where it was picked up by my parents Lynn and Stan. We could have locked it to a another tree, but since it was a busy public launch, it made more sense for them to rendez vous and collect it.

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Day 3, Part 3, 19-June 2020, 3:47 P.M.
Easthampton – Holyoke
10.17 miles, +2,802/-2,260 feet
5h, 02, 39s

We swapped outfits and with fully loaded packs, headed up Mount Nonotuck on our way to Goat Peak, Whiting Peak, and Mount Tom. The late afternoon heat was hard on us and the extra weight made for slow going. The trail repeatedly makes its way to the western cliff edge and grew tiresome as it wound its way south on the ridge. The footing was poor as the soil was rocky and dry. At one point, we bumped into fellow ultrarunner Brian Rusiecki who was out for a late-Friday afternoon training run.

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He remarked how hot it was and we chatted for a while. It’s funny that we saw Brian because we have bumped into him in random spots before. One time, we were hiking in the White Mountains with the kids and heading over the Garfield Ridge early one morning. He came around a corner as he was running a Pemi Loop. He is part of another strong running couple. He and his wife, Amy, who is the Race Director of both 7 Sisters and the Vermont 100, are longtime friends from the New England trail running community. In 2018, Debbie joined the two of them for a Quebec trip to Ultra-Trail Harricana.

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We said goodbye to Brian and continued for several more miles before eventually deciding to break for the night. Around 9:00 P.M. we found a breezy spot at a nice overlook. We had a great sunset and the location wasn’t too buggy. Our sleep wasn’t great and we decided again to get an early start. Even though we set our alarm for 2:00 A.M., we didn’t need it to get up.

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Day 4, 20-June 2020, 2:30 A.M.
Holyoke – Bloomfield
36.93 miles, +6,575/-6,345 feet
17h, 52m, 57s

At the beginning of the day, we wound our way off of the ridge and down to the valley again. Off to the west was the Westfield-Barns Airport. We were soon able to hear traffic as we knew that we were approaching Interstate 90, the Mass Pike. It was a long way off and seemed like we would never get there, but we eventually emerged from a wooded section on the south side of East Mountain. We crossed some train tracks and then climbed some concrete barriers.

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On the other side was a tunnel under the highway. There was rubble, graffiti, and trash. It was an odd scene as traffic buzzed by on the road above us. It wasn’t very pretty, so we moved through quickly. This was the second Interstate we crossed on the trip after passing under Interstate 91 in Easthampton on the prior day. In addition to these interstate highways, on the trip we crossed I-91 a second time, went under Interstate 84, came close to Interstate 691, and passed over Interstate 95. We passed under or over many other major state roads including Route 2, Route 20, Route 5, and Route 15. These are some of the busiest roads in the northeast, which makes the New England Trail a really interesting track. You are never far from the hustle and bustle of civilization.

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The woods after the I-90 crossing were ugly and damp. We pushed on as day broke and eventually made it to Route 20 in Westfield. We were starving and in need of some food to augment what we were carrying. We knew there was a gas station nearby but were thrilled to see that Little Georges restaurant, which is literally on the trail, was open for breakfast. This diner was a classic. They only had outdoor seating, but they had a tent and it was filled with socially distanced locals. They were all men, and they were having a lively Saturday morning conversation. They had fun with the two sweaty trail runners who emerged from the woods to take a seat under the tent with them, but everyone was courteous. The menu didn’t have too many vegan options, but Debbie spoke with the server and she indicated that the cook would whip something up using home fries and “every” vegetable they had in the kitchen. I noticed that the menu advertised “real” maple syrup. I inquired if I could order “only” syrup and the server assured I could. She said they came in small individual bottles, which was awesome. I ordered two with the intention of saving them for a state-line toast.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 81 of 133

The meal was excellent. In addition too the veggie and potato platter, I had some toast. We filled our bottles and bladders in the bathroom, washed up, and felt satisfied and refreshed. We attempted to charge one of our battery packs in an available 110V outlet, but it didn’t do much in the 30 minutes that we were there. Several of the other patrons inquired how we were going to cross the Westfield River and we said we were going to wade it. We had scouted it three weeks earlier, so we knew what we were up against. One of the guys insisted on driving us around, but we told him we were doing this all on human power. We thanked everyone present before crossing the road to the corner of a church parking lot where the NET ducked down to the river. On the other side of this steep embankment was the gently flowing body of water. We knew from our scouting mission that it wasn’t a pretty spot.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 83 of 133

The rocks were coated in a slime with a crusty texture that seemed like chemicals from years of pollution. We spotted some small fish swimming in pools so we knew the water couldn’t be that bad. Our original plan was to keep our shoes on as we didn’t want to risk a foot cut or injury that could end our trip in an instant. However, we reconsidered and the goal became to keep our feet dry so that we could run easier after crossing. We removed our shoes and socks, packed them away, and hoisted our packs on our heads. I went first, searching for the most shallow point that was also a short distance. I picked my spot and slowly made my way to the other side. It was up to my waist and the rocks were slippery. It hurt my feet but as soon as I got to a set of dry rocks, I sat down and put my shoes back on. Debbie followed me and it was a bit deeper for her. She steadied her pack on her head until she got close enough to hand it to me. She too put her shoes back on and we followed the trail as it paralleled the river heading west for a ways before finally turning left and going south again.

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We picked up the pace despite carrying a full load of water. Our packs were a bit lighter because our food was getting low. We were about 10 miles from our cache. We made it to Rising Corner near the Southwick, MA/Suffield, CT border around 9:30 A.M. We had already been on the trail for seven hours. We rested at the parking area which was an open field with a NET kiosk and some nice signage.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 88 of 133

We did our maple syrup toast, not realizing that the actual state-line was still about 1/2 mile south in the middle of the woods. That didn’t bother us. We got moving again and when we got to the actual border, we took photos, noted our time, and marked a waypoint. We had already covered about 130 miles since Monadnock and we knew that there were 112 to go. We had never done the Connecticut Ultra Traverse (CUT) 112, but we knew it was a special event. Though not an official race, the run has attracted a reputation as being extraordinarily difficult. As we crossed the border, the CUT 112 course was ahead.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 90 of 133

The first part of the trail in Connecticut wound through an archery camp. Then the trail ascended Suffield Mountain. Our cache was stashed in a Bear Vault a short distance up the trail after the Phelps Road intersection. We sat on a log and swapped out wrappers for fresh food. We topped off our water. I changed my shirt and socks. We tried not to linger too long, as this was our third major stop in less than 10 miles after Little Georges and the state-line. Once we got going, we made our way to higher ground again, traversing West Suffield Mountain and Peak Mountain. Somewhere on that ridge, we slowed in the mid-day heat and decided that despite our progress, a nap was in order. We had been moving since 2:30 A.M. and after three days, we were tired. We found a nice view point, pulled out our ground cloth, and laid it flat in a shady spot. We pulled off our shoes, set the alarm for 20 minutes, and dozed off. After the break, we each took an energy bar with caffeine. Last year we attended a sleep seminar and learned from a noted sleep doctor that there was a study with endurance athletes that proved a short nap of 20 minutes followed by consuming caffeine would give you “power boost.” A longer nap could leave you groggy. The caffeine was an option, but it helped. Debbie and I rarely consume caffeine as we are not coffee or soda drinkers. Our only caffeine comes from dark chocolate and green tea, so when we do take it in, it makes a difference.

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We both felt better and descended to Route 20. From there we climbed Hatchett Hill. through Cowles Park, a noted mountain biking spot. We bumped into Michael Amisano, another friend. He and a buddy were out for a ride. He knew that he might come across us because he had seen my Strava posts. We chatted for a while and then continued. All of our stops were thwarting our forward progress. I had sent an email including the tracking link to our friends Ken and Aubrey Schulz, who live in Granby. As we descended to the Farmington River in Tariffville, we bumped into the entire Schulz Family. Ken, Aubrey, and their lovely kids came out to cheer us on. It was a great moment. In a normal year, we spend most summer Tuesday nights with them at the Winding Trails Tri Series. After every race, we have a “Grand Feast.” With the 2020 series cancelled, we will miss them, so it was great to connect by the Farmington. We intended to stop in Tariffville for our fifth stop of the day, so they met us at the town green where we paused again. We used the bathrooms at the Cracker Barrel Pub and ordered cauliflower “buffalo wings” from their menu. I used a couple of outlets in the bar to charge some devices and we hung out at the gazebo on the green.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 94 of 133

We chatted for a while and it was late afternoon when we got moving again. Once more we had full packs, and the hiking up through Wilcox Park and Penwood State Park was slow and tedious. The Traprock 50K course goes in the opposite direction, but it hurts regardless of which way you are headed. The hills are steep going up and down, and the loose stones make for unstable footing. Debbie struggled through Penwood and the bugs bothered us incessantly. We crossed Route 185 and started up Talcott Mountain around 7:00 P.M. At that point we had been moving for nearly 15 hours. It didn’t take long for her to melt down. She swore she couldn’t go as far as we had planned and we had several strategy discussions as she wallowed in her misery. We were afraid that with all the stop and go on this day that we were coming up short on our mileage goal and that it would impact our overall goal of getting to Guilford by Monday afternoon. It made no sense to push past our limits, so we agreed to stop when we reached Heublein Tower. This also proved to be the best option for an bug free night.

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There were a lot of people watching the sunset as it is a great spot. We only planned to rest for a handful of hours, so we found as breezy a spot as possible a little ways off the trail, and set up our ground cloth. We laid down and there was a mosquito bothering Debbie, so she moved to a different spot with her sleeping pad and bag. I stayed put and proceeded to hear some wild wildlife sounds over the next few hours. On a few occasions I grabbed my bear bell and rang it vigorously.

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That is big time bear country and I had not idea what I was hearing, but it was disconcerting. Each night, when we stopped, we put all our food into one of our dry bags and hoisted it up a tree at least 10 feet in the air with a length of paracord. Every morning, we had been hearing a different pack of coyotes conduct a “kill” but that was always when we were moving. The late night sounds while resting in a prone position were scary and I didn’t sleep much. Debbie eventually returned, and she claimed that this had been one of her better nights of sleep.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 98 of 133

Day 5, 21-June 2020, 3:15 A.M.
Bloomfield – Berlin
41.20 miles, +6,096/-6,841 feet
18h, 42m, 12s

We departed shortly after 3:00 A.M. and Debbie immediately indicated that she was feeling much better than the night before. We moved quickly on the descent to Route 44 in Avon. After we crossed the road, there was a lovely stream and we purified water, loading up for the day. This was the first water we had crossed since the Westfield area. As we made our way through the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) Reservoir area (West Hartford Res), we were able to push the pace. The trail eventually turned to a wide gravel road and it was runable.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 102 of 133

We eventually got to the Farmington side of the MDC land and I was showing signs of being tired. It was slow going over Killkenny Rock. When we got to Route 6 in Bristol, I was complaining of hunger and was seeking a restaurant or store to augment the food we were carrying. There was nothing at Route 6, so we pushed past Will Warren’s Den headed towards New Britain. This section of trail has huge rocks and caves. It’s got a lot of history and is the section of trail that our friend Rich Fargo used to run twice a day when he commuted to OTIS Elevator in Farmington from his home in Plainville. Many years ago, we joined Rich for a celebration of his 1,000 commute. I think he worked at OTIS for another 10 or 15 years after that celebration. He is retired now, but is still one of the best runners we have ever known. Rich dominated the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series for a long time, and is a multiple time winner of the NipMuck Trail Race and Soapstone Mountain Trail Race. He is retired and lives in New Hampshire now, but it was great to think about his exploits as we passed through his “home” trail.

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Thankfully, in that section, we met up with a young hiker by the name of Brandon. He caught up with us and enjoyed keeping pace behind us. He was walking in jeans, but every time we broke into a trot or run, he followed. He and I chatted for nearly six miles. I think I did 90% of the talking, but it was exactly what I needed to get through that section. I was hungry and tired, but turned my energy towards quizzing Brandon about his interests and then teaching him all about the NET, CFPA, AMC, Shenipsit Striders, CT TrailMixers, and just about everything else I knew about trail running and extreme hiking. He insisted he was grateful for the conversation and vowed to buy a copy of the Walk Book as he wanted to finish his section hike of the Metacomet Trail and try out some of the other Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. I told Debbie that he bumped into the right guy (me).

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When we reached Route 72, Brandon turned back and we turned our attention to finding some food. We had a road run and I had a hard time getting up to speed, so as I shuffled along, Debbie ran ahead. At one point, I saw her pause and turn into a parking lot. When I reached her, she was gesturing towards a large building. The sign said Big Sky, which is the gym chain that Debbie works at in Vernon. This was the New Britain location and at that moment I knew that I had seen the building before. It is clearly visible from I-84 when you are headed east towards Hartford. I had never seen it from this perspective, and there it was in all its glory. Debbie exclaimed that we should stop and if it was anything like Vernon, we would have access to a smoothie bar, multiple energy food options, and bathrooms.

We went inside and it was like an oasis. The gym had just opened a few days prior, having been closed for more than three months during the COVID-19 shutdown. The two staff members at the front desk were awesome. After Debbie introduced herself as a colleague, they took care of us. They made one of the best smoothies I’ve tasted. Debbie had her own. We plugged in some devices to charge and washed up in the bathrooms. Sadly, the showers were closed because of the pandemic, but we had access to the sinks. We lingered for a while, stocking up on energy bars and cookies. I had the most amazing smoothie induced head freeze and loved every second. It was hard to go back out into the heat, but we left with full stomachs. We finished the road section and were back on singlerack headed for Crescent Lake Park.

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This was an ugly section, but we trudged onward with full packs. When we got to Long Bottom Road, we came across Rogers Orchards Shuttle Meadow Farm Store in Southington. It was right at the beginning of a road section, so we stopped running, went inside with our masks and grabbed a lemonade and a single red pepper. Debbie needed some veggies and this would suffice. Back on the road, we ran all the way to start of the challenging Ragged Mountain Preserve. It was a long hot slog up to Ragged Mountain, but we eventually got some nice views looking back over Wassel Reservoir. Somewhere up on the ridge, we stopped for another nap. We laid out on some rocks, removing our wet clothes and shoes to dry in the sun. After 20 minutes, we got moving again as we needed to make it as far as possible if we expected to finish the run on Monday.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 110 of 133

Once we made it over Short Mountain and through Timberlin Park, we had a long road section. Somewhere in there we passed a house where two parents were playing in a kiddie pool with their young children. Their hose was in the yard and we asked if we could use it. They obliged and we topped off our bottles and bladders. This was the hottest day so far and we were going through our water quicker. After a long road section on fresh pavement, we refilled again at a nice stream before starting the big climb up the backside of Hubbard Park, headed towards Castle Craig. This was a long grinder. We reached West Peak and then were dismayed when the trail descended. That section of the NET may be some of the roughest and most challenging terrain anywhere on the trail. We slid out multiple times on the loose rocks and were vocally frustrated. The trail plunged downward before eventually making a hairpin left and then shooting straight up towards East Peak. I was beside myself, complaining about the trail builders. Debbie referred to this section of trail as “demonic.”

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It was early evening by the time we made it to the summit. The stone tower is beautiful, but we avoided it as there were a bunch of other hikers hanging around. We staked out a spot on a rock and ate the last of our “dinner” food. Afterwards, we called our children and that boosted our spirits. We learned that they were having a great time with their grandparents. We were tired, but we had to push on. The trail went up and down before eventually plunging towards Merimere Reservoir. While we stopped to refill our water, we heard someone yell at us. He said, “What are you crazy kids doing?” It turned out to be Stefan Rodriguez, a friend from the trail running community. He is a Shenipsit Strider and is well-known for his Ragged Cuts enterprise. He is clever with 3D printing and makes some of the coolest trail running trophies around. It was great to see him. Apparently, we were on his “backyard trail” and he heard about our trek from Art Byram and others. He must have gotten his hands on the tracking link because he was able to figure out where we would be and came out to say hello. That was great. We walked a bit and then said goodbye. The next section of trail ended up being my least favorite on the entire trip. Between 7:30 P.M. an 9:30 P.M, or so, we were hounded by insects (mosquitoes, gnats, and deer flies) as we walked on loose rock on a hard to follow section of trail. We made a few wrong turns and I grew increasingly tired and frustrated.

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We emerged from the Blue Hills Conservation Area at dusk and made our way towards Orchard Road. We were close to a major road crossing at Route 5/15, but I was done. I told Debbie I had to stop and sleep. I was starving and tired. She was frustrated with me as I stumbled through the dark. She eventually said, “Fine,” but insisted we weren’t going to sleep on the edge of the road. We retreated 50 feet back onto the trail and in a childlike fit, I lay down in the middle of the trail. I insisted we were staying put, but after about three minutes and 10 mosquito bites, I changed my mind and said we would keep moving.

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It didn’t get any better. She was capable of running, but I could only walk. As we made our way down the road towards Route 5/15, we both started to look for bail out spots to spend the night. It was residential, but a few miles down the road I spotted a dirt lot that looked like a truck or bus turnout. It appeared to be a great spot to spend a few hours. It was safe and didn’t intrude on anyone’s privacy. We could hear vehicles on I-691 in the distance and it almost sounded like the ocean.

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 120 of 133

It turned out to be the best spot we slept on the trip. Despite it being in the lowlands, the bugs were manageable and after setting up the ground cloth, we dozed off quickly. We set the alarm for 1:00 A.M, knowing that it was going to be a short night with less than three hours of rest. We hadn’t made it as far as we planned and by our math, had about 45 miles to go to the finish. The goal was still to do this in one big push even though we had not covered 45 miles in a day since the trip started.

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Day 6, 22-June 2020, 1:41 A.M.
Berlin – Guilford (Finish)
51.51 miles, +7,815/-7,789 feet
22h, 38m, 16s

This was to be our final day and we knew it would be a big one. We were slow to get moving and it was 20 minutes before 2:00 A.M. before we really got going. We were able to immediately start running and it wasn’t long before we reached the main road. There was a Mobil station with a large convenience store right on the trail. We stocked up, buying more energy bars, a bag of chips, pickles, water, and some other drinks. Once moving again, we made good time. The Metacomet Trail ended and the Mattabessett Trail started. We made our way up Lamentation Mountain in Giuffrida Park. This is great section of the trail and it was interesting to climb it at night. There is a massive gravel lot/mine on the east side of the mountain. This is easily visible from I-91. We were moving well.

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The next obstacle was Chauncey Peak, which was a real challenge. There was a lot of rock scrambling and Debbie’s light died. At one point early in the morning, she was having a hard time following, and was feeling low, so we agreed to nap again and wait 25 minutes for the sun to come up. We figure it would be easier to navigate. We laid out the ground cloth, set the alarm, and took the break. After the short rest, it was easier to navigate, but the markings were still a bit hard to follow and we made some wrong turns. I was feeling 10 times better than the night before and was pushing the pace. Once we exited the park, we made it to a flat section where there was a mix of road and trail but both were runable. There was a beautiful marsh and we saw several turtles. We eventually made it to Country Club Road and crossed I-91. We know that area well and had been on Mount Higby before. The climb was long and steady and the mosquitoes were bad.

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We stopped at the first high point to have our pickles and chips, a “breakfast of champions” as Debbie called it. The view back to Lamentation Mountain was spectacular. It was crazy to see where we had come from over the last 12 hours. You could also see Chauncey Peak and Castle Craig. We steadily made our way across Higby. We descended to Rt. 66 where Guida’s restaurant sits. Just as we approached the trailhead, I took a hard fall. I came inches from smashing my face into a rock. We both agreed that we had to proceed with caution as we had made it this far and couldn’t risk a trip ending injury.  It was Monday morning and the restaurant was closed. I didn’t want food, but would have welcomed the opportunity to fill up with water. We checked around the restaurant for a faucet but it required a special wrench. We have similar tap at HORST Engineering, but I didn’t have the wrench handy. The adjacent abandoned house had a spigot but the water main was off. The only other building was a tattoo parlor and it was closed.

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We crossed 66 and kept going. This was a section of trail we were both familiar with. We climbed Beseck Mountain. When we made it to Powder Ridge Mountain Park ski area, a familiar runner approached us headed in our direction. It was Art Byram, and he was thrilled to see us. In addition to being the Run Director of the CUT 112 and the principal host of the CULTRA Trail Running Podcast, he is a longtime friend. Art and Jordan Grande have the supported FKT for the CT section of the NET. In addition to being a Shenipsit Strider, Art is also a longtime member of the Silk City Striders. We are members of both local clubs. Years ago, Art and I finished off the southern section of the annual Shenipsit Trail E2E in a nighttime snow squall. We were the only ones to do the southern portion and completed the route. We got to know each other during that long run.

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So, when he showed up to encourage us, that was cool. He followed us for several miles as we made our way to Rt. 157. This turned out to be our hottest day on the trail, which would be a factor as the day wore on. After Reed Gap, we added some water too our bottles and bladders. Just past the location of the Cattail Shelter, we laid down the ground cloth and took one of our naps. I wasn’t as refreshed as I was following prior siestas. The next section through Trimountain State Park turned out to be very difficult with some of the worst footing on the trail. It was as rough as the Holyoke Range and Penwood. The trail twisted and wound its way through woods that had been subject to heavy ATV use. If it wasn’t going straight up, it was going straight down. We got a little break when we reached Rt. 17. The Quick Stop Convenience Store was 500 feet off the trail. We spent some time there, acquiring more water, coconut water, Fritos, a two liter bottle of Coca-Cola, and some other snacks. This would be our final sustenance on the trip. Our packs felt like a ton of bricks after this stop and after a ways, we stopped again to draw down some of the water in an effort to lighten the load.

When we got through Northwoods and on to Bluff Head, Laura Becker showed up to cheer us on. She was hoping to come to the finish, but had an evening commitment and instead, came earlier. This worked out for the best as we were running way behind schedule, at least according to our original plan. Laura was a huge help driving with us to Monadnock and returning with the car. She has been a tireless cheerleader for us. She was Debbie’s partner last month when they set the Shenipsit Trail FKT. Laura’s enthusiasm will motivate you and after she left us, we pushed hard over the Bluff. Unfortunately, we got confused by some markings and a made a wrong turn. Normally, we would brush this off, but I was not feeling good and let the mistake eat at me.

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We were anxious for the Mattabessett Trail to intersect with the Menunkatuck so that we could start the final part of our journey south to the Sound, but the Mattabessett kept winding left and right. It was exhausting and frustrating. We were hoping that the Menunkatuck was 15 miles and that most of it would be runable with the final four miles  on Guilford roads. It turns out that the section was more than 17 miles long and less runable than thought. What we thought was to be a 45 mile day ended up being 51 miles.  The first part of the Menunkatuck was OK and we made good time for a few miles, but eventually, we were back to rock scrambling. At one point, we saw a fisher cat. This was one of the coolest animals we saw on the trip. He made a wild sound and glued himself to the side of a tree after I alerted him to our presence. The cat lifted my spirits for a moment, but my feet were really hurting and I developed a funk.

The darkness made matters worse as we only had one functioning light between us. My light was strong as I had switched to my second battery, but both of her batteries were dead, as was my first battery. Our iPhone batteries were less than 10% and she was using hers to navigate the maze while periodically using the light. Things got tougher from there. I had been diligent about caring for my feet throughout the trip. I had one small blister on my right pinkie toe, but I had taped it and it hadn’t gotten worse. That all changed on the last day. Whether it was the sheer accumulation of miles, or it was the warmer temperatures, or it was the longer day, I don’t know. The end result was that I ended up with two blisters on that toe, two blisters on the other pinkie toe, and a huge blister on the side of my right heel. In addition to the blisters, my feet were burning up from inflammation and bruising. My Lone Peak’s had lost their integrity and no longer offered support, cushioning, or traction. On the few times I logged into Strava, I got repeated warnings: “Time for Some New Shoes.” I was thinking, duh, I know that! I wish I had left a second pair of fresh shoes where we picked up our food cache because it could have made a difference. The trail conditions would have trashed any shoes.

Debbie also struggled with some blisters, but mine were worse. At one point, we were running in an attempt to make up some ground and I felt one of the blisters on my left foot burst. I screamed in agony as I felt the wetness soak into my sock. I was limping and in a very bad mood. Guilford is a huge geographic area and the trail felt like it would never end. We messaged my father, who was scheduled to pick us up. At first we thought we would finish by 8:30 P.M. Earlier in the trip, the goal was 6:00 P.M. and the stretch goal was noon. Now it was past 8:00 P.M. and we had a long way to go. We revised our pick up to 10:30 P.M. and he said he would be there. When you look at the map, you can see the the trail makes a lot of turns, but it was far worse than that. I know we were exhausted and out of light, but we were moving at a snail’s pace. Debbie wasn’t happy with me as I was an emotional wreck, complaining about my feet, my tiredness, and my hunger.

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Unlike me, she showed true grit as a veteran runner with more than 100 ultras under her belt. She has been through the hallucinations and craziness in the wee hours of the night. I have less experience, but we were at an unprecedented point in our travels. Neither of us had been at the 235+ mile mark of an adventure like this. My tears flowed freely and I was mad. It was pitch black in the woods and we resorted to holding hands so that she could follow the trail. We passed through several fields and it seemed like we were going in circles. It turns out that they just looked similar, but our minds were playing games.

Finally we made it to Clapboard Hill Road. I swore I couldn’t run, but I wanted the trip to be over with, so I forced myself to shuffle. Eventually I was able to trot and then run a bit. I went from an 18 minute mile to a 15 and was able to run a 14 minute mile or so. Unfortunately, we made an egregious error missing a fork in the road. We ended up under I-95 when we should have been passing over it. This was at the bottom of a long hill. I threw a fit. We had to walk back up the hill and find the correct turn. After that episode, I was really done, and the next four miles felt like the longest of my life. It was very challenging to navigate through the streets, but we eventually found our way to Guilford Station. It was a surreal moment.

We had the option to climb the stairs and cross the train tracks, or we could take the elevator. I had heard about this anomaly from CUT 112 finishers. We opted for the elevator. Once on the second floor, we took the footbridge across the tracks and then took another elevator down on the other side. After that we were very close to the finish. There were a few more streets to go down before entering Chittenden Park. My vision of what our finish would be like was nothing like reality. I dreamt of finishing with a handful of friends and family (possibly including our kids) cheering. I planned to swim in the ocean and soak my feet in the salt water. I figured we would wash up, change into fresh clothes (which we had packed in my father’s truck in advance), refuel, and celebrate the accomplishment. If it had been six in the evening, all of that may have been possible, but instead, it was midnight and we were on our own.

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When we got to the park, we spotted my Dad’s truck. I had been there before and thought I knew how to cross the ball fields and find the boardwalk that juts out into Long Island Sound. We found the boardwalk and then I had second thoughts. For some reason, I thought there was a different one. We returned to the park and walked along its edge, looking for another opening that went out onto the water. We hadn’t stopped either of the Garmin’s. We returned to my Dad’s truck and since both of our iPhones had died in the minutes following our exit from Guilford Station, we borrowed his. We looked up our position on Google Maps and confirmed with satellite view that we had indeed been on the correct boardwalk. We carried the phone down to the end of the boardwalk, stopped the Garmin devices, dipped our toes into the water, and snapped two blurry photos. One is of Debbie. The other was a selfie with the two of us. It felt like a total buzz kill at the time, but after a few days, I recognize that those few moments won’t define the journey.

We returned to the truck, warned my Dad about the smell, and loaded the most vile gear and our shoes in the back. We gingerly put on sandals and climbed into the cab. My mother sent a few bottles of seltzer for me and some watermelon for Debbie, which were our requests. That was awesome. Within minutes, Debbie was out like a light. I tried to stay awake and chat with my Dad, but it was nearly impossible. Every few minutes I would wake up and say something and then doze off again. We got home around 2:00 A.M. and headed straight for the shower. The layers of grime didn’t come off in one session, but it felt good to clean our feet and apply some bandages. We went to bed and awoke around 9:00 A.M. feeling fulfilled.

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We spent part of the day cleaning up our gear, reading email, and documenting the adventure. I did some work in the afternoon and we had dinner outside at Flatbread. We got two large pizzas and ate one at the restaurant. When we got home, we ate half of the second pizza.

This truly was a team effort. Debbie and I were the core team and we have a long history of leaning on each other. It was unfortunate that so many of our highs and lows were opposite each other. I can’t recall a moment when we were both firing on all cylinders, but that is one of the challenges with a team effort. You may not both be feeling good at the same time and have to be there to support the other. You can only go as fast as the slowest member of the team. We have opposite strengths (she is a super descender and I’m a strong climber), but we are compatible. Beyond our duo, I’ve mentioned how much support we have gotten from others. Though they couldn’t support us directly during the run, they helped with many of the logistics and offered encouragement. Our parents and kids were awesome. My colleagues at HORST Engineering covered me while I was away.

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Laura was there at the beginning and end. Lee-Stuart was a key helper. Bryce Thatcher at UltrAspire helped us decide on the perfect packs. We got cheers on the trail from the Schulz Family, Stefan, and Art.

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Gear List

Screen Shot 2020-06-27 at 4.06.35 PM

My pack weighed 9.5 pounds with all gear, but no food or water. Debbie’s was about 8 pounds. My full pack weight (4L of water and food) was about 21 lbs. Debbie’s was a few pounds less.

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One funny gear story is that Debbie started the trip with two hair ties, but lost them both by the second day. She thinks they fell off her wrist at night. She went the better part of a day without one. She improvised with her Buff, but it wasn’t ideal. At one point, I came across a hair tie on the trail. It was miles and miles south of where she last saw hers, so it had obviously come from someone else’s head. I packed it away and then washed it up. Eventually I presented it to her as a “gift.” She accepted it as it was a good find and she made it to the end of the trip with it.

Hydration & Food

As noted, we are vegan. Debbie did a great job at preparing these items. We had the smaller cache at the kayak in Hadley and the main cache in Suffield. A third would have been prudent. We augmented with the various stops at stores and restaurants. I’m estimating that I burned 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day. I weighed 146.6 pounds at the start of the trip and afterwards, was 140.8. When I rehydrated I gained a few pounds, so I definitely burned some of the little fat I have.  There was no way I could carry enough food to replenish what I was burning.

  • Picky Bars
  • Go Macro Bars
  • Clif Bars
  • Vega Bars
  • Verv Energy Bars
  • Lenny & Larry’s Complete Cookies
  • BRAMI Lupini Beans
  • Baruka Nuts
  • Various Mixed Nuts
  • Pretzels
  • Vegan Jerky
  • Bananas
  • Fritos
  • Picky Oatmeal
  • Whole Foods Rice & Lentils
  • YumEarth Organic Sour Beans
  • Hammer Fizz
  • Tailwind Recovery
  • Coca-Cola
  • MapleAid
  • Iced Tea
  • Lemonade
  • Smoothie
  • Salt Capsules/Vitamins2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 11 of 133

Injuries

There were no serious injuries. After my fall coming down to Guida’s, I had a second fall coming down from Powder Ridge. That was scary, but I survived that one too. Debbie had a few falls and smashed her knee once, but she was OK. Sleep deprivation took its toll and caused “brain fog” while dulling our senses. The blisters were bad, but not really until the last day. My right ankle was very stiff and it took a while to warm up after stopping. In addition to the blisters, our feet were swollen and very sore. I had chafe on my inner arms, inner thighs, and undercarriage, but nothing that was debilitating. It was just uncomfortable and likely caused by a profuse amount of sweating, a little rubbing, and a little grit. We got many scratches from the brush, tall grass, and branches. I consider all of this to be normal and manageable.

Flora and Fauna

I’ve mentioned some of the animals we encountered. There were so many more. We didn’t see moose, but we saw moose poop. I think I saw a bear climb a tree, but it could have been a raccoon. I saw a different raccoon. The fisher cat may have been the highlight, but there were some awesome birds too, including several kestrels. Debbie recorded one bird when it woke us up at 1:00 A.M. with its beautiful sounds. The largest snake we saw was about four feet long and it was black. We saw many other smaller snakes and heard even more slithering off the trail into the brush as we approached. We saw one rattlesnake, but it was dead. 2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 113 of 133

  • Bear
  • Racoon
  • Fisher cat
  • Deer
  • Frogs
  • Toads
  • Snakes
  • Birds, so many including kestrels, hawks, heron, etc.
  • Worms
  • Salamanders
  • Squirrels
  • Chipmunks
  • Fish
  • Insects

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In addition to the fauna, we were living in the flora. Some of the trees were immense. We had to climb over many that had blown down. The flowers and particularly the Mountain-laurel, were gorgeous. I think I’ve managed to avoid Poison Ivy. I know I was in it and I’m highly allergic. I either have it and don’t know it, or the other rashes I got are simply worse.

Astronomy

We saw the sun rise and set every day of the trip. That was amazing. In MA, we had some great views of the sky, but as we made our way further south, it was harder to see the stars because of the increased light pollution.

Weather

I’ve mentioned the weather several times. The day time temperatures rose into the high 80’s. Most days it was hot and dry. A few of the mornings were more humid. Overnight, the temperature ranged from the high 50’s to the mid-60’s. It was quite warm, even at night. The skies were generally cloudless with a bright sun. There was zero precipitation, which is remarkable

Lowlights

  • Debbie and I were discussing the highlights and lowlights. The main lowlight was the bugs. We wish we had prepared better by carrying the full tent.
  • Another lowlight was the failure of my Lifeproof case on my iPhone. By the end of the trip, the lens cover had deteriorated which made my photos washed out and blurry. I’ll be getting a new case. I’ve had repeated problems with their products. The challenge is there really isn’t anything on the market that protects a valuable phone the way I need it too. With all the running, cycling, paddling, and other outdoor pursuits, their products remain the standard.
  • We never go to convenience stores. Buying stuff there and then having to throw out the packaging with no option to recycle it was painful. There has to be a better way. We felt guilty chucking the bottles and other packaging into the waste bins.
  • Struggling to keep all the devices charged and running was a real energy drain. I hike and trail run to get away from some (but not all) of the technology. The Anker chargers worked well, but we really had no time or ability to recharge them, and when the died, we were stuck. I had ordered a third one that I intended to put in our cache, but it arrived the day after our trip started.
  • The failure of the Garmin inReach Mini to capture the 1 second data intervals was a problem. We paid good money for that device and the subscription, and I was hoping for more. Finding out after the fact that it couldn’t do what we needed it to do was a disappointment.
  • The deterioration of my feet was a problem. They held up fine for most of the journey, but on the last day, I was really hurting. I have some ideas to share in lessons learned.

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Highlights

  • I would have to say that I never doubted Debbie’s ability to get through this. On the other hand, a lot could have gone wrong for me. A real bright spot was my ability to actually run after miles and miles and hours and hours. I was pleased with my fitness.
  • Little Georges diner was awesome. Not much more to say about that experience other than to say we came across that place at just the right time. The server’s t-shirt summed it up, “I pigged out at Little Georges.”
  • Seeing six days of sunrises and sunsets was excellent.

Lessons Learned

  • You can never have enough shoes and socks.
  • Bring a tent that is completely enclosed if you want to avoid the mosquitoes.
  • Keep that water weight a few pounds lighter and you will move a lot quicker. A total of 2.5 to 3 liters is about the tipping point. When we carried 4 liters, we were bogged down.
  • My gaiters gave me problems the entire trip. I bought them new after trashing a previous pair at last summer’s Never Summer 100K. They were overly complicated with a hook, zipper, and drawstring. Debbie has handmade gaiters that have lasted years and we simply should have gone to her source. Instead, I bought these new ones on clearance and “paid the price.” I was constantly fiddling with them as the zipper would come undone. By day four, one failed completely and on day five and six I couldn’t wear them at all. This let a little more grit into my socks and could have contributed to my foot problems. I won’t make that mistake again.
  • It’s nearly impossible to communicate with the outside world by social media or other means when you have to put out such effort just to get the mileage in.
  • The mind is always stronger than you give it credit for. If you allow it, your head will give in before your body does.
  • Most people have no idea that you do this crazy stuff and in the end, it doesn’t matter. Do it to fulfill yourself and not to impress others. I think about the people we encountered at the convenience stores. They had no idea what we were up to and so what.

Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 12.54.37 PM

Summary

There is no question that Debbie and I have done some impressive endurance events over the last 30 years. Some have been with a number and others have been the DIY variety. For me the hardest races include the events in my Toughest Ten. I’ve got to make a separate list for the DIY stuff, but it includes our two White Mountain Hut Traverses, a few of our Long Trail run/bike adventures, and many of our 4,000 footer run/hikes. It’s hard to rank this effort relative to them because it was different in many ways. The multi-day format made for a lot of suffering. I’ve never been interested in events with sleep deprivation as a factor. I prefer to compete on speed, strength, and the mental fortitude that goes with them. That being said, this effort required all of that and the challenge of doing it for the better part of a week. It was a complete effort. Of course, on Day 6, I would have told you, “never again.” Now, only three days later, I’m dreaming about our next adventure.

For now, we will focus on rest and recovery. We live by the adage Stres + Rest = Growth.

Other than some gear, the food, and a tank of gas, this was very cost effective “vacation.” Wyoming would have cost more, but with the cancellation, most of that investment was refunded. Five nights of sleeping on the ground will pay dividends. I said to Debbie, “With the money we saved on this trip, we already have a deposit towards a stay at the Mohonk Mountain House. Let’s go!”

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Coda: following the publication of this post, we were guests on Episode 83 of the CULTRA Trail Running Podcast. We had a fantastic conversation with host Art Byram. You can find past and future episodes here.

8 Responses to “Full Report: New England Trail End-to-End Adventure”


  1. 1 Josh Katzman 30 June 2020 at 3:23 pm

    Brilliant! Simply brilliant. I’ve hemmed and hawed about a thru-run of the bay circuit trail, but after reading this, I’m going to go for it by the end of the summer. And then then the NET at some point.

    I also learned the lesson about bugs and sleeping last year on the long trail. I tried to go as light as possible, but the extra 16 ounces would have made for much more pleasant nights!

    Hope the stress+rest equation is working out well for you both!

    Logistics question: do you think a SUP would be adequate to get across the CT river?

    • 2 SL 2 July 2020 at 9:27 am

      Josh, if you tackle the NET, you should be able to smash our time. Go for it. Use our knowledge and build on it. The tent would have been a game changer. If we could rest easier, we would have been stronger when moving. If you kept your gear dry and crossed at a “quiet time” then an SUP would do it. The wakes were quite large as Friday afternoon was VERY busy with motorboat and personal watercraft traffic. There is a channel that they have to stay in, but you still have to cross it. We didn’t see anyone on SUP’s, at least not in that 1.8 mile stretch. If there were any, they were likely sticking close to shore. The growth formula comes from Peak Performance. We enjoyed the book and various podcasts with the authors, including the one on Rich Roll. https://www.outsideonline.com/2327746/equation-will-make-you-better-everything-stress-rest-growth

  2. 3 photonfanatic 2 July 2020 at 7:52 pm

    Congratulations team Livingston! Great accomplishment and a fantastic write-up which will help anyone following in your footsteps.

    ~ Fred Pilon


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