Shenipsit Trail Duathlon

A long solo adventure on the Shenipsit Trail is just what the doctor ordered. Now that I did it, I’ll probably have to see a doctor! Actually that isn’t true. I’m fine. I’m just dehydrated, sun baked, tired, and sore after finishing what I call the Shenipsit Trail Duathlon.

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I was overdue for a solo adventure. After working the last few weekends, yesterday, I didn’t think about work once. All I could focus one was staying on my feet. It was a well-needed break from the day to day. I’ve been on the Shenipsit Trail many times over the last 25 years, but I had never run all of it end-to-end in one shot. With the Shenipsit Striders, I’ve done half of the route on several occasions when the E2E is held in its usual post-Thanksgiving spot on the calendar. Memorably, 10 years ago, Art Byram and I were the only ones to do the 2nd half/southern section finishing in the dark. A year later in 2011, Dave Merkt, Tony Bonanno, and I did the northern half and again finished in the dark. Dave went the whole way and we helped him get to the finish alive.

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Back in the spring, Debbie did the full trail with Laura Becker. Several others had done FKT’s including Steve LaBranche, who ran (supported) a stellar 9h16m02s for the 50 mile route in April. After Debbie and Laura’s run, I knew I had to go back and give it a shot, but I was determined to do it unsupported. After our New England Trail E2E, I knew I had the endurance to push it.

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Yesterday, I started on Steve’s pace, but by the 10 mile mark, I had blown up and knew that it was going to be a very long day. I started at Gadpouch Road in East Hampton at 6:20 A.M. Thankfully, I drove out to Greaves Road in West Stafford on Friday night to lock my bike to a tree at the northern terminus. Debbie and Laura were at it again. They drove to the White Mountains on Friday afternoon and ran the Pemi Loop at the same time that I was on the Shenipsit. Our kids were with my parents at the beach. We are headed there soon as a beach day sounds nice.

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I used my Garmin Fenix 6s and the PacePro feature with the Course loaded and it was really cool, but by the time I had fallen an hour behind, it became tedious to pay attention to the buzzing of the watch. Even still, I enjoyed testing this feature and can see its possibilities. One thing it isn’t good at is knowing the terrain. The algorithm can factor distance and elevation (hills), but it doesn’t know anything about rocks and roots on the trail. News flash: there are many rocks and roots on the Shenipsit Trail.

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Yesterday, there were also a lot more leaves, branches, trees, and other debris than usual. It’s only three weeks since Tropical Storm Isaias wreaked havoc on Connecticut. I paid the price. I had to climb over or around a lot of blow-down. The trail looked like fall with all the previously green leaves that fell in the storm, littering the ground. They were orange or brown. There were so many sticks on the trail that it was maddening. I made three significant wrong turns, and a bunch of minor ones, but in total, it probably only cost me 10 minutes. In most cases, a tree with the Blue Blaze had been felled, or I missed a turn when a tree was blocking it. Between the Garmin and some backtracking, I got it figured out. The trail will improve over time. Nature will heal it, but the dedicated trail maintainers from the Connecticut Forest & Park Association will also have their work cut out for them. Shout out to them!

The CFPA’s Walk Book description is excellent:

Towns: Portland, East Hampton, Glastonbury, Manchester, Bolton, Vernon, Tolland, Ellington, Somers, Stafford 

Trail Overview: The Shenipsit Trail system extends from the Cobalt area of East Hampton north to just shy of the Massachusetts border in West Stafford. The trail traverses the Meshomasic and Shenipsit State Forests on trails that are primarily woodland paths and offer several outstanding views. The Shenipsit also connects to the trail systems in Gay City State Park in Hebron, Case Mountain Recreation Area in Manchester, and Valley Falls Park in Vernon. Points of interest along the Shenipsit Trail include spectacular views of Great Hill Pond and the Connecticut River, excellent views of Hartford from the summit of Case Mountain, a junction with the Hop River Rail Trail in Bolton, scenic sections on the banks of the Tankerhoosen River in the Belding and Tankerhoosen Wildlife Management Areas in Vernon, and excellent views to the west, north, and southwest from the fire tower on Soapstone Mountain in Somers. The trail also crosses conservation lands protected by the Kongscut Land Trust and the Manchester Land Trust.

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The idea of doing the trail solo unsupported and as a duathlon is just something that popped into my head. Debbie and I love combining a cycling with our trail running and I like these mixed adventures more than her. She is fine as long as there is an hour or less of riding. For me, the longer the better. I have no problem pedaling no matter how badly my legs are hammered. I even thought about a bigger challenge. You have to ride by Crystal Lake and come very close to Lake Terramuggus. A lap of each would add about 9,000 yards of swimming. Of course, swimming after running is a cramp-fest waiting to happen and would have been quite dangerous without a spotter/boat along side. I thought about it, but then discarded the ideas. The challenge of yesterday’s adventure was enough and it was on par with our 2017 Long Trail Monroe Skyline ++ “duathlon.” We finished that one in the dark around 9:00 P.M. as well.

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Yesterday, it took me 11h19m50s to run the trail. I changed my shoes, shoved the run gear in my pack (I used my UltrAspire Epic XT again), and departed Greaves at 5:57 P.M. This was much later than I hoped, but that is how it goes. I had a route back to East Hampton mapped in my mind, but altered it slightly to cut a few miles off. I had lights, but the moon was only a little bigger than a crescent and I knew I was going to spend more than 90 minutes in the pitch black. The good news is that the last bit is quite rural. I got the busy roads, routes 190, 30, and 85 behind me while it was still light or at least partially light. The ride ended up being 38 miles and it took me 2h49m55s. The route is hilly, especially at the end when you have to climb Clark Hill. That hill hurt.

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I have faster bikes, but I rode my Seven Evergreen XX, which is by far my most comfortable bike, and was a perfect choice for a bike ride after running 50 miles. Total time for this adventure including “transition time” from start to finish was 14 hours and 26 minutes. My original goal was to do the whole thing in 12 hours, which was probably a pipe dream, even on a cooler day. I don’t plan to do it again, so someone else will have to give it a try.

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Other than the challenging trail conditions, my other big issue was the heat. It got up to about 90 degree Fahrenheit and I think I boiled from the inside out. I decided to carry everything and not stop. You pass some stores and restaurants (particularly in Vernon), but I decided to just carry it all, including more than 5 liters of water. I always have an ID, credit card, and $20 cash on these trips, but kept it tucked away. I had two HydraFlask bladders including one with a hose, and I carried two 550ml UltrAspire bottles. I had two more bottles with my bike. That’s a lot of water to carry and it still wasn’t enough. I’m sure carrying a heavy pack with my food, water, and gear caused me to slow considerably. It got lighter as the day went on, but I was parched. I had my Katadyn BeFree filter with me as a precaution, but opted not to take the time to treat water. It’s been very dry, so the only good stream running was the Tankerhoosen. I could have filled up at Belding and I could have gone over to Snipsic Lake, but the water was pretty stagnant and I wasn’t keen on drinking it. It’s one thing to treat water from a mountain stream, it’s another to treat water that flows out of Rockville!

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I saw a lot of walkers, dog walkers, and hikers, but no trail runners. Surprisingly, I didn’t know anyone that I passed. In Tolland, I passed a couple walking their dog. It was in the heat of the day and they said, “Good job.” All I could muster was a surly, “This sucks” as I shuffled along the old rail bed along the lake. They knew I was half-joking and  remarked that it was quite hot and said, “You are doing awesome.” I thanked them. That perked me up a bit. On the long dirt Shenipsit Lake Road, I passed a house that had a sign out front. It said, “Don’t Give Up.” I’m sure it was in reference to other challenges in 2020, but it became my mantra for the rest of the run. I kept repeating it out loud. I wish I had stopped to take a picture, but I’ve got the picture in my mind. I took very few photos yesterday. I was exhausted.

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By the time I got to Shenipsit State Forest and Soapstone Mountain, I was in agony. The last 10 miles were awful and felt like they would never end. I put one foot in front of the other and blocked out the pain. I missed having Debbie as my teammate. It would have been nice to have some encouragement and someone to pace with, but solo adventures are special in their own way.

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Finishing the trail felt great, but I knew that I still had to ride back to the car. I had to go right through Bolton (less than a mile from my house), so I knew that for some reason, if I had to bail, I could just ride home and get the car on Sunday. I also thought about stopping at home to get some extra lights, but I knew that if I went home, there was a chance I would throw the towel in. I also wanted a truly unsupported adventure. The good news is my light batteries made it to the finish, I drained the two bottles of water on my bike, and I got it done.

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After retrieving the car in East Hampton, I called the kids to catch up. Shortly after, Debbie called from the car. She and Laura were on their way back from New Hampshire. They had a great adventure of their own. By the time we met back up at the house, it was 10:30 P.M.

Now, we are headed to the beach!

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