New England Trail Adventure “Again”/Mattabesett Trail E2E

Yesterday, Debbie and I finished the job that we started back in June. The goal back then was to run/hike the entire New England Trail (NET). In June, we added a little spice by first running the New Hampshire Metacomet-Monadnock Trail from the summit of Mt. Monadnock to the start of the NET on the NH/MA border. We did the M-M, and then continued on the NET all the way until we reached Long Island Sound. It was a 242+ mile journey.

The Connecticut section that goes from the MA border to the Sound is also known as the “Connecticut Ultra Traverse” or the CUT112. The CUT is made of three trails, the Metacomet Trail, the Mattabesett Trail, and the Menunkatuck Trail. One of the quirks of the NET in CT is that it has a spur. That spur is the rest of the Mattabesett Trail and it goes from the intersection with the Menunkatuck in North Guilford to the Connecticut River in Middletown. So, it is impossible to do a self-supported thru-hike without backtracking.

So we returned to run that last section of the Mattabesett. I was only up for a half adventure, but Debbie wanted the full experience, so she actually ran the entire Mattabesett from Meriden to Middletown, which is no easy feat. I had no desire to repeat the first half of the Mattabesett that I painfully experienced in June. I only wanted to run the part I hadn’t seen, so I met her in Guilford after dropping her off at the start of the trail.

The Connecticut Walk Book description of the Mattabesett Trail described in the reverse direction from where she ran it:

Length: 60.8 miles

Towns: Guilford, Durham, Madison, Haddam, Middletown, North Branford, Wallingford, Middlefield, Meriden, Berlin

Trail Overview: The Mattabesett Trail (Mattabesett is the Indian name for Middletown) roughly forms a large horseshoe beginning at River Road in Middletown and extending to the Berlin Turnpike in Berlin. The trail begins traveling in a southerly direction, gradually becoming more westerly and finally, assumes a northerly direction. The trail is one of the first trails conceived of by early Connecticut trail builders and remains a popular and highly visited trail today.

The eastern sections of the Mattabesett Trail contain high ledges and bald knobs with vistas of the Connecticut River. A picturesque terrain of tumbled ledges, frequent brooks, shallow bogs, vernal pools, mountain laurel, and hardwood forest add to the trail’s beauty. The western sections offer some of the finest ridge walking and cliff views in the state as the trail traverses the southern end of the traprock ridges that extend north into Massachusetts. Some of the notable features hikers will encounter include the Chinese Wall in Middletown, Pisgah Mountain in Durham, Bluff Head in Guilford, Beseck Mountain in Middlefield, Mount Higby in Middletown, and Chauncey Peak and Lamentation Mountain in Meriden.

The trail connects incredible open space across its length. State forest and parks, land trust preserves, municipal parks and important conserved land are all linked by the trail. The Reservoir, Bear Hill and Seven Falls sections at the eastern end include 5 miles of loop trails. The trail intersects other major trail systems and offers additional loop opportunities in Millers Pond State Park and Mica Ledges in Durham, the Rockland Preserve in Madison, Braemore Preserve in Guilford, and Giuffrida Park in Meriden.

The Mattabesett Trail is part of the 215 mile New England National Scenic Trail (NET). The NET was designated as a national scenic trail in 2009 and connects from the Long Island Sound to the MA/NH border. The NET is comprised of the Menunkatuck, Mattabesett, Metacomet and Metacomet-Monadnock Trails. A detailed resource for hikers is the NET Map & Guide. For more info about the NET visit

I wasn’t up for running 60+ miles, but I figured that 30 was doable. I opted to mix in a little cross-training and speed work instead. So, after dinner with the kids and her parents, we spent Saturday night at the Schieffer’s in Prospect. Mr. and Mrs. Schieffer had a bunch of Sunday chores lined up for the kids, so they were also in for some hard work. Debbie and I got up at 3:15 A.M. I drove her to the northwestern terminus of the Mattabesett, which is at the intersection with the southern terminus of the Metacomet Trail at Rt. 15 and Spruce Brook Rd. It’s a nondescript spot on a normally busy road, but we had it all to ourselves early yesterday.

She started running at 4:03 A.M. and didn’t stop until 7:16 P.M. when we reached Middletown. That was about 15 hours and 13 minutes of elapsed time. It was about an hour slower than her goal, but that can partially be explained by a number of wrong turns, a significant trail reroute (that we didn’t know about and had us running confused in circles), and less road running. Regardless, she set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for a woman and mostly had fun doing it. I think that when she finished, she was knackered and momentarily questioned why she puts herself through so much pain. I guess we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t question the rationale of our endurance sports. She has had one heck of a year. She hasn’t raced one ultra (they were all cancelled), but her list of FKT’s is impressive. Most of those efforts have come on the amazing Connecticut Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail system.

For extra fun, she has been participating in The Connecticut FKT Challenge. It’s a somewhat arbitrary “competition” meant to draw more interest to Connecticut’s awesome trails and to support the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA). I can’t object to that worthy goal! The challenge, made of a list of 16 tough CT trails is self-described this way:

Everyone will receive a medal for their efforts even if they don’t complete all 16 of the trails. Those who complete all 16 in their entirety, which is almost 600(!) miles, will receive a specially designed Connecticut FKT Challenge Buckle from Ragged Cuts. In addition, to make it easier for you to complete or do as many of these trails, you can signup with a partner or teammate or you can simply run them all as an individual. Both you and your teammate have to signup, but can split up the trails however you like during the challenge. We will also be awarding a prize to the runner who we feel has overachieved and gone the most out of their comfort zone on a single FKT push.

On the event page, they are listed in order from least difficult (still hard) to most difficult (wicked hard):

1. Menunkatuck
2. Natchaug
3. Saugatuck/Aspetuck(combo)
4. Nehantic (out and back) 
5. Pachaug 
6. Quinnipiac
7. Mohawk 
8. Nipmuck 
9. Tunxis 
10. Mattatuck
11. Mohawk/AT Loop 
12. Shenipsit 
13. Metacomet
14. Connecticut AT 
15. Mattabesett
16. Connecticut Section of NET

She needs to complete as many as possible during the official summer season from 20 June to 22 September. She has a week to go and I wouldn’t put it past her to knock another one off the list. She did several of these in 2020, but before the official start, including the NET. She even did a few before 2020. Regardless of this recent “competition,” all told she has done 12 of the 16 (counting overlaps) and set FKT’s on 10 of them. Bravo.

Yesterday’s weather was perfect for running. She started with a light jacket, removed it after an hour, and didn’t need it again. She started with her UltrAspire Lumen 600 waist light as planned, and sadly, finished with it (the last 15 minutes) too. I didn’t want to start my own adventure until daylight, so I spent the first 2.5 hours crewing for her. Since her run was “supported,” I was able to provide aid. After seeing her off at the start, I drove south to Guida’s on Rt. 66 where I dropped off two bottles of water and an energy bar just before the trail crosses the road. Then I continued on to Rt. 68 where I left three bottles of water and a bar right before the trail crosses the road.

From there, I returned to meet up with her on Bell Street around the nine mile mark. I waited for a short period of time before she popped out of the woods after about two hours. The sun was coming up. She ran the asphalt section up Country Club Road. I went ahead in the van and parked at the dirt turnout where the trail goes back into the woods. She dropped her light, filled her hydration pack, grabbed some food, and then took off. She planned to make use of the two subsequent “aid stations” and then continue to Guilford where I planned to meet back up with her. She was in good spirits and moving well.

Once I said goodbye, I drove to CFPA headquarters in Rockfall, just a few miles away. Behind CFPA is the Highlawn Forest Trails.

The Connecticut Walk Book description is:

Length: 3.5 miles

Towns: Middletown, Middlefield

Trail Overview: Situated behind CFPA’s headquarters, the Highlawn Forest is a gem on the Middletown/Middlefield town line. The trail system winds through a second growth forest, on what were once open farm fields, and features conifer plantations, mixed hardwood forest, and red maple swamps that support a diverse array of wildlife species. The trails follow many old fire lanes from the time the property was a tree farm and offer multiple loop opportunities.  These flat and gentle trails are great for young or beginner hikers. The property also features an outdoor amphitheater, pond, large vernal pool with an observation platform and a universal access trail.

The Highlawn Forest is protected and will never be developed thanks to the Camp family who placed a conservation easement (held by CFPA) on the property in 1987.

I’ve hiked there before and yesterday, I went after the FKT on a two mile section of trail called Camille’s Loop. Since I was planning to run sub-7 minute miles on a rocky trail, I opted to scout it first by jogging a loop while listening to a podcast. Unfortunately, my hardest fall of the day came on that warmup when slightly distracted, I caught my toe on a rock. The sun had just come up and it was still darker than I would have liked, but I had an aggressive agenda in order to get to Guilford in time, so I gave it a go and paid the price. I cut up my left knee (for the fourth time in a month) and cut up both hands. I stopped the bleeding on my right hand by wrapping it in leaves.

I was still up for the FKT attempt, so despite the bleeding, I gave it a go and was pleased with the outcome, covering the loop in 14:41. It wasn’t quite sub-7 minute miles, but it was close enough. Back at the van, I changed my shirt, and headed to the intersection of Wiese Albert Road and Foot Hills Road in Higganum, where the Mattabesett crosses. I dropped off two large bottles (3 liters) of water and a 550ML bottle of pickle juice. It thought this would be more than enough fluids for the two of us, but I miscalculated.

From there, I drove to the eastern terminus of the trail on River Road in Middletown. I scoped the finish, switched to cycling gear, and packed my UltrAspire Epic XT full of water and more food for both of us. I had my own emergency gear, plus my running gear. I locked the van and rode 10 miles to Coghinchaug Regional High School in Durham which borders Field Forest. I had been in touch with Debbie by text message and was also tracking her by monitoring uploads from her Garmin inReach Mini GPS, so I knew that if I pushed it, I could squeeze in another run of my own.

I locked my bike to a fence at the edge of Field Forest and went after an FKT on the short Field Forest Trails. I won’t create FKT routes on such short trails, but my policy is that if the route exists, I’ll go after it, especially if it also helps me knock off another Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail. I have the goal of hiking all 825+ miles of them. I’m well on my way.

The Connecticut Walk Book describes the trail:

Length: 2.2 miles

Towns: Durham

Trail Overview: Towering tulip poplars, shaded woodland trails, a vernal pool brimming with aquatic and amphibian life, streams harboring fish, wild turkeys, red-eyed vireos and pileated woodpeckers, views of the traprock ridge, and magnificent trees- you may be lucky enough to encounter all of these on your visit to the 152-acre Field Forest owned by CFPA.

This property was given to CFPA by Howard Brigham Field, Jr after his death in 1999. Mr. Field was a conservationist and longtime resident of Durham who loved the property and wanted it to be protected in perpetuity for the community. Members of the Field family still maintain an important connection to the property today.

Stone walls, cedar posts, and remnants of wire fencing indicate that the property was once agricultural land. Abandoned at the end of the 19th century, the farm fields subsequently grew into forest. Today, the dominant ecological process is forest succession. The wooded property consists of a variety of mixed hardwood trees which provide important wildlife habitat. To learn more about management of the Field Forest, click here.

The FKT is on an 1.5 mile point-to-point route. I didn’t have time to scout it, so I saw it for the first time as I was running it. I wasn’t that fast, but posted a 10:16. I jogged back, briefly getting lost (how did that happen?) and switched back into my cycling gear. I was cutting it close to meet up with Debbie on time. I flew down Rt. 17 and then onto Rt. 77. It was 5.6 miles and with about a mile to go, I got a text from her that she was coming down the Bluff and would be at the road crossing soon. I messaged back that I was close. A minute later she said she was at the road, and then she called. I answered from the bike and told her to get moving and I would catch up. She decided to wait until I got there so that I could fill her hydration pack and transfer some food.

Once she got what she needed, she headed up the trail. I had to change my shoes again, lock the bike and my gear bag (cycling shoes and helmet) to a tree, transition to running again, and settle down after pushing to get there in time. It took me more than five minutes to sort this out and I figured I would catch her quickly. It turned out that it took me nearly two miles to catch up to her. She was running strongly, and I was hurting. When I caught up, we were happy to see each other and chatted about our respective morning adventures.

As noted, this Mattabesett run was marked by some wrong turns, course confusion, extra mileage, and a lot of suffering. It warmed up and I consumed my water quicker than planned. Our worst turnaround/confusion came after Mt. Pisgah when we didn’t realize we were on a newly marked section of trail.

It wasn’t until we backtracked and reviewed a posted trail notice that we were in fact ON COURSE, but thought we were off because the new route didn’t match our physical map OR the digital maps (including GPX files) online.

I guess no amount of preparation is ever enough. We should make it a habit of researching the latest trail conditions. I had loaded the GPX file on my Garmin Fenix 6s and it was wrong, even though we were right. An encounter with four hikers/dog walkers resulted in further confusion. We saw them once, and then again 45 minutes later and it made us think we had gone backwards on the course, or just gone in a big circle. The course does double back and the hikers insisted that WE were NOT on the Mattabesett Trail. Well, they were right, because they also didn’t know the trail had been rerouted.

Anyway, those challenges are all part of trail running, especially this version of it where you have to find your own way on marked (sometimes) trails. The last water drop turned out to be short of what we needed to make it to the finish. She was fine nursing her water, but I had to fill two bottles in one of the only running streams we saw all day, and thankfully we had some chlorine tablets to treat it. After waiting 30 minutes, I was able to quench my thirst. Even with this extra supply, I still had to mooch water off of her to make it to the finish. At times, I was dragging and she was pulling me along. At the end, I think it was my encouragement that helped her make it to the finish. We are a good team.

The up and down nature of the course was relentless. She gained more than 11,000 feet and that is with a high point of just over 900 feet. Those stats prove just how undulating Connecticut trails are. In addition to the vert, the Mattabesett is loaded with rocks and roots. It is a true New England trail. Heck, that is probably why it is called the New England Trail!

When we got to the finish, we changed clothes, wiped down, and hit the road. We had a convenience store stop for a post race supply of chips and Fritos, and then headed back to Guilford to get my bike. We were back in Prospect before 9:00 P.M. and in need of some rest. The kids were happy to see us. We decided to stay the night. Today, we got up early so that they could drop me off at work in East Hartford by 7:30 A.M. and then get home to start the kids’ “virtual” school day soon after.

This was just another normal 2020 weekend for the Livingston Family.

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