Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Richard H. Goodwin Trail End-to-End-to-End Run

It isn’t often that Debbie and I run a trail in Connecticut that is not a Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail, but today, we did just that. We ran what was a new trail for us, the Richard H. Goodwin Trail. We’ve been on sections before because the path links up trails from several preserves and parks, but we had never done the trail in its entirety.

The trail is part of the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Watershed that includes parks and forests in the towns of Colchester, Salem, East Haddam, and Lyme. The 13.5 mile Richard Goodwin Trail passes through East Haddam, Lyme, Salem, and East Lyme.

Who was Richard H. Goodwin? Consult the trail map because it explains:

This trail memorializes Dr. Richard H. Goodwin, a Professor of botany and ecology at Connecticut College. He was a founding member of The Nature Conservancy, pioneering the land trust movement, and helping to conserve 10’s of millions of acres of land world-wide. Dr. Goodwin and his wife, Esther, made their home nearby in East Haddam, donating their own land in 1960 to establish the Burnham Brook Preserve. They also inspired neighbors and students to protect thousands of acres of land in this region to save our native plants and animals.

The map also describes the watershed:

The Eightmile River was designated by the United States Congress as a Wild & Scenic River in 2008. The Eightmile River Watershed is 62 square miles with 150 miles of pristine waterways. Approximately 40% of the watershed has been preserved as permanent open space and is home to 160 rare, threatened, and endangered plant and animal species. The Eightmile River empties into the Connecticut River eight miles upriver from Long Island Sound, hence its name.

The trail which was created in 2016, crosses some of my favorite roads, including Darling Road, Gungy Road, and Grassy Hill Road. I love riding my bike in that area and often do so when visiting my parents at their home in Old Lyme. Today, we started shortly after 9:00 A.M. at the western trailhead on Route 82 and ran to the kiosk at the eastern trailhead off of Moslowy Road. Then we ran back. The total distance was just under 27 miles. It’s a twisty and windy trail that was mostly made from preexisting trails. You pass through Hartman Park and Nehantic State Forest.

It is a lovely trail with lots of rocks, stream crossings, and some fun dirt roads. It was pretty easy to follow, but expect to make a wrong turn or two because of the patchwork of crossing trails that it winds through. It’s been a few weeks since we had snow, so the only obstacles (other than the roots, rocks, and leaves) was some icy spots. We had a lot of fun. It took us 4h 40m 16s for our round trip adventure. Our GPS’ show about 3,500 feet of elevation gain for the round-trip, so it is pretty flat. Miles six to nine and 19 to 21 are the fastest sections. Those dirt roads helped our average pace because its quite technical in other spots.

This was our coldest run in a while. It was only 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) at the start and there was a persistent wind that made it feel even colder. Thankfully, there were clear skies (deep blue) and brilliant sunshine. We were adequately dressed. I wasn’t as sure-footed as recent runs, and had several hard falls. The worst one came with less than two miles to go. I tripped and slammed my left quad into a rock and then drove my left shoulder into the ground. It was a stinger for sure. The worst part is a ripped my favorite tights. A word of advice: if you are ever chasing Debbie at the end of a long run, take it easy. What I mean is that if you are trying to follow her down a steep and rocky descent, you are taking a risk. I wasn’t sure if I should close my eyes or keep them open.

Even though it was chilly, we saw a lot of walkers, hikers, and cyclists. There were several families enjoying the sunshine. Everyone was courteous, including the cyclists. With two miles to go, we came across a dog and his master. Cody wouldn’t let us go and it took a while for the owner to corral him. We didn’t want to keep running because every time we moved, he chased us and they were going in the opposite direction. Eventually, we had to get moving (because we were pushing to finish) and he turned back after the 100th or so time that his master yelled, “Cody!!!!”

It was a solid effort and we were back at our car by 2:00 P.M. From there, we drove to Prospect to meet up with our kids and Debbie’s parents. We were thirsty and hungry, but Mrs. Schieffer came to the rescue with a wonderful meal. The Richard Goodwin Trail is highly recommended for walkers and runners. On some sections, it is suitable for mountain bikers and gravel riders. I’m certain we will visit again.

Finch Brook Trail Loop & Scrooge Scramble (Bolton Edition)

The Finch Brook Trail Loop is a little gem in Wolcott, Connecticut. It’s a 12 minute drive from Debbie’s parents’ house in Prospect, which makes it the perfect post-Christmas location for a run. After yesterday’s deluge, the wind blew through, and the temperature plummeted overnight.

We woke up to brilliant blue skies, lots of sunshine, but a temperature of only 25 degrees Fahrenheit. It was chilly! We took our time getting ready, had a full breakfast, and then made the short drive to the trailhead on Barbara Drive.

The Connecticut Forest & Park Association Walk Book and website have a simple description of the 2.6 mile trail (note our Garmin GPS’ registered 2.4 for each loop. We chose to run it in the counter-clockwise direction.

Towns: Wolcott

Trail Overview: The Finch Brook Trail is an easy loop trail.  The sole access point is the trailhead at the end of Barbara Drive in Wolcott.  The trail meanders through a combination of wetlands and gently rolling hills, almost completely under a forest canopy dominated by oak species and interspersed with hickory, maple, and birch.  A stretch of the central wetlands of this preserve is crossed by a lovely 125-foot-long bog bridge, affording the hiker an intimate wetlands experience.  Further to the north, the trail follows a section of the Old Finch Road, a very old woods road said to have been once walked by Abraham Lincoln.

The Finch Brook Preserve, totaling just over 64 acres, has been permanently protected by the Wolcott Land Conservation Trust.

Allowed Uses: Hiking Only

Partners: Wolcott Land Conservation Trust

I love the historical reference and the chance that I ran on the same trail/road that Abraham Lincoln explored. Lee-Stuart Evans has an expanded description on his site. You can also read about this trail on the FKT site.

Debbie ran it for the first time back in November, but I was seeing it for the first time today. We decided to do two loops with the goal of running moderately hard while scouting the trail on the first loop, and then running all-out for a negative split on the second loop. Despite yesterday’s heavy rain on top of a foot of melted snow (it is nearly gone) the trail was in good condition. Lee-Stuart warned about doing this trail the day after a heavy rain. However the overnight freeze helped firm things up and there were only a few squishy spots.

There were also a few slippery spots, lots of leaves, some blowdowns, loose sticks, and some rocky sections, but we were still able to blast it. We met our goals and were back at the Schieffer’s house by noon. That meant we could join family for a nice big lunch.

I felt pretty good despite doing a hard effort yesterday. For the first time in 16 years, the Christmas Day Scrooge Scramble 5K in Rockville was cancelled. We had done the race 14 times since 2004, so it was only fitting that we recreated our own version at 10:30 A.M. in our Bolton neighborhood. Scrooge benefits the Cornerstone Foundation soup kitchen/shelter in Rockville, which is an important institution/nonprofit to support. The race organizers established a virtual version and you can do that to help raise funds, or you can just send a direct donation. To make it even easier for you to donate, here is the link too their site.

Debbie mapped out a 5K route through town on some of our regular roads. She put the invitation out to the Shenipsit Striders, and despite the rain, we got three runners to join the four of us. Catherine Koehler, Christopher Duffy, and Todd Brown (nemesis) ran with the four of us. The kids tried to come up with a good name. One suggestion was Rudolph’s Rampage. Another was Bolton Blitzen. I’ve taken to calling it the Scrooge Scramble (Bolton Edition). We hope and expect to be back in Rockville for the real race on Christmas morning in 2021.

Debbie and I also did two loops yesterday with the first one being a warmup and the second one being a hard effort. So, we may not have run long in the last 24 hours, but we did run hard, and it was fun.

Flashback: 2007 Death Race/Pittsfield Peaks Ultra Challenge

I tuned into this week’s episode of the Rich Roll Podcast featuring Joe De Sena. I listen to my podcasts through Apple’s app on my iPhone and this was a good one. Joe is a husband, father, accomplished endurance athlete, entrepreneur, businessman, and the founder of Spartan. You can listen to the podcast and you can find a ton of other info about Joe on the Internet, so I won’t be recounting his story.


Part of his life philosophy, approach to fitness/wellness, and business resonates with me. I don’t agree with everything he espouses, and I have my own approach, so I don’t need to adopt his style. However I did enjoy the podcast and I recommend that others dig into Joe’s story because aspects of it are motivational.

The point of this post is that the podcast brought back some great memories. Joe and Spartan are credited with playing major roles in the explosion of obstacle course racing as a worldwide participation sport. Spartan’s origin story is nuanced, but an important chapter is the 2007 Pittsfield Peaks Ultra and the inaugural Death Race. Both were first held on 09 June 2007. My blog was young in 2007 and my posts were simple. I was just getting warmed up. I wrote about the 55-mile ultra but didn’t really mention the Death Race.

The last line of my brief post was, “Others have covered the race and I’ll follow up with more detail in the future.”

Today is the future, it’s Thursday, and perfect for a throwback. I had only a handful of images from the event. Life was super-busy at the time (it hasn’t slowed down yet) and I never wrote the extended post that I promised. I did cover the 2008 edition when Debbie returned and the Death Race continued its evolution. This was also a brief post.

I mentioned the Death Race again in 2009 with a dedicated post after reading about the race in The New York Times. By then, the Death Race had really blown up and was getting international attention. It all started back in 2007 and it’s cool that Debbie, Shepard, and I were there to see it.

I think the Pittsfield Peaks Ultra (Peak Ultra) and its various incarnations remain some of Debbie’s toughest and favorite trail races. She won that first edition, besting two amazing runners (Kate Pallardy and Mary Fagan Churchill), earning a hammer as one of her best ever trophies. She finished third overall behind Leigh Schmitt and Courtenay Guertin. She also beat the equally amazing David Goggins who we met for the first time at that event. He inspired me then and he inspires me now. Speaking of Rich Roll, the most listened to and impactful (my opinion) RRP episode (#266) of all time, featured David. That one is also worth checking out.

In 2008, Debbie finished second to the amazing Nikki Kimball. In addition to 2007 and 2008, she returned to do (and win) the race in 2014, and I wrote about it again. The Death Race finally got a little coverage in my story and I posted some good photos.

2014 was also the year that there was a 500-mile version of the ultra, which had evolved from 2007 and was getting tougher and tougher. Debbie “only” did the 55 (or so) mile division. Later in 2014, she went on to do her only ever Spartan, completing the Beast at Killington.

I always thought that the Death Race would have suited me. I’m not even going to describe it, but assume it is difficult. You can listen to Joe talk about it, you can Google it, etc. Many others have chronicled their experiences. Joe has several books. Even at that first edition in 2007, I thought that I should have done it, but I literally had my hands full. That day, top alpine skier Doug Lewis took the Death Race honors. I wish I had the full results.

I was fully committed to crewing for Debbie as she was coming back from her pregnancy year of 2006. I was looking after 10-month old Shepard and that was my primary responsibility. Over the years, I remained an observer of the Death Race. Hearing Joe talk about it this week with Rich Roll made me smile. That June day in 2007 turned out to be a pretty significant date for a lot of folks. It made an impact on me, and many others.

Paugussett Trail End-to-End-to-End

Today Debbie and I ran the Paugussett Trail out and back. We went south to north and back again. We had spectacular weather for mid-December. It was nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit with lovely sunshine, which was quite a change from yesterday’s gloomy conditions.

We picked the better day for a half-day adventure. Our kids stayed with Debbie’s parents in Prospect, so we were able to drive to Shelton for a mid-morning start. If you read Lee-Stuart Evans’ overview, you might be scared away. I didn’t think it was half as bad as his description. I actually like it. Sure, you are never far from civilization, and you pass through many neighborhoods, but it was kind of neat.

I guess you could be sad about the fact that this trail was probably a bit more rural in the old days. Many of the houses were new, so I guess we are fortunate that the trail is still accessible. It likely crosses a lot of private property.

The Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s official description from the website and Connecticut Walk Book is more basic:

Towns: Monroe, Shelton

Trail Overview: The Paugussett Trail meanders along Boys Halfway River, through Webb Mountain Park and Indian Well State Park, with occasional views of Lake Zoar and the Stevenson Dam along the way. Parts of this trail are challenging, with steep slopes and the occasional rock scramble or boulder climb. Keep a lookout for long abandoned mill foundations and the entrance to an old silver mine. Numerous side trails in Webb Mountain Park, Indian Well State Park, and the Shelton Lakes Greenway connect with the Paugussett Trail to offer loop opportunities. Camping is allowed at Webb Mountain Park. 

Thanks to the work of the Shelton Conservation Commission and Trails Committee, the Paugussett Trail has been restored south to Buddington Road on a corridor of land that was gradually acquired over time. Constructed by the Shelton volunteers the new trail route from Indian Well State Park to Buddington Road restores an historic trail connection in the City. The trail also provides a critical link to the Shelton Lakes Greenway offering extensive recreational opportunities.

For parking info, hours, park map and amenities at Indian Well State Park, click here.

Allowed Uses: Hiking Only

Partners:  Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (CT DEEP)Shelton Land Conservation TrustShelton Trails Committee

Consult the FKT site for additional info. Our GPS’ registered 13 miles each direction for a total of 26 miles with about 5,000 feet of elevation gain. The trail is mostly singletrack with some old roads, power lines, and a little bit of asphalt. There are several rugged sections with rocky scrambles. It is quite undulating and there is a lot of hillside off-camber running. The leaves were plentiful, wet, and slippery after yesterday’s rain.

Debbie and I were both feeling good. We got to the turnaround in 2h 34m 43s and finished in 5h 18m 17s, so we were a bit slower in the second half. We thought we were on track for a negative split, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. We had a lot of fun. This trail is definitely worth checking out.

We rewarded ourselves for burning nearly 3,000 calories by going to Claire’s Corner Copia in New Haven. I hadn’t been there since last year. I tried to go in June on my way back from a business trip to Long Island, but it was closed for renovation. When I called, Claire answered the phone herself. Founded in 1975, this amazing establishment is celebrating its 45th year. We sat at one of the tables that was crafted by our friends at City Bench.

Our New Haven walk was good for stretching the legs. After our late lunch, we visited Prospect to pick up our kids and help Debbie’s parents set up their Christmas Tree. With more snow in the forecast, outdoor (road) cycling looks a little questionable for this week and possibly the rest of the year. Let’s see how it goes. We can still run on snowy trails, but it might make a more FKT attempts difficult. There is always 2021.

Mount Frissell Hike

Debbie and I had never been to Connecticut’s highpoint until yesterday. Many people mistakenly think that Connecticut’s tallest summit, Bear Mountain in Salisbury, is the highpoint. This is not the case.

There is a point on the south slope of Mount Frissell at 2,380 feet that is higher than the 2,323 summit of Bear. It’s a bit of a buzzkill that our stat’s high point is on the slope of a mountain that peaks out in another state.

The summit of Frissell is in neighboring Massachusetts. Actually, on the Mount Frissell Loop, you walk through three states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. At one point, there is a marker that indicates the intersection of all three.

Interestingly, Connecticut is not listed on the marker. I heard from my friend Todd Brown, a dedicated highpointer, that Connecticut disputed the border and that is why it isn’t listed on the stone marker which is dated 1890.

Though we have hiked Bear Mountain on several occasions (Debbie last did it in July), we hadn’t been to this highpoint on Frissell. We also did the short out and back to the summit of Mount Brace. From the top, there was an excellent view of the Taconic Range and the valley below. It was the perfect Black Friday activity to do with the kids. We headed for the northwest corner of Connecticut after lunch and the five mile walk took a little more than two hours.

It was overcast and cool with occasional drizzle, but otherwise mild for late November. We had a fun time exploring these trails and then had a really good meal at Picante’s in Salisbury.

When we got there, we had the entire rear of the restaurant to ourselves. Eventually another couple arrived, but there was ample space for all of us. The trip required some time in the car, but it was worth it.

List of all 50 High Points

Even More FKT’s: Tunxis and Pachaug Trails

For me, the best part of my run was the bike ride. What am I talking about? Read on. This weekend, Debbie and I were back running on Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. Her run was on the Tunxis Trail on Saturday with her partner Laura Becker. My run was on the Pachaug Trail on Sunday, and it was solo.

We just couldn’t pass up this amazing November weather. The temperature climbed into the low 70’s (Fahrenheit) on both days and the sky was a brilliant blue with awesome sunshine. It was very uncharacteristic for this month, and it was likely record (or near it) warmth for New England. It was quite a contrast from the late-October snowstorm 10 days ago.

Debbie and Laura have had the Tunxis on their to-do list ever since running the Shenpsit Trail together back in June. They have tackled several other BBHT’s together this year including the Menunkatuck and Nehantic trails. They are regular running partners and make a good team.

The Connecticut Forest & Park Association calls the “mainline” section of the Tunxis 38.5 miles. Their actual GPS results read closer to 34 miles, but who is counting? The trail is rugged in the north on the Massachusetts border where they started, and eases up a bit as it goes south where there are more dirt roads in the second half.

CFPA’s Walk Book and website description are as follows:

Towns: Southington, Wolcott, Bristol, Burlington, New Hartford, Canton, Barkhamsted, Hartland

Trail Overview:The Tunxis Trail is the backbone of a larger trail system that consists of 19 trails and totals just over 83 miles of interconnected hiking adventure.  The trail system generally traverses the western ridge of the scenic central Connecticut valley.  The southern trailhead of the Tunxis Trail is in Southington and the trail runs north to the Massachusetts state line. The trail is interrupted near the Wolcott/ Bristol line and resumes in Plymouth. The Tunxis Trail and its myriad of adjoining trails offer a wide breath of loop hiking options and traverse a variety of terrain and landscapes.

The southern end of the Tunxis Trail is typified by woodland paths that travel through the top and sides of the Central Valley’s western wall.  The trail offers several outstanding views, including Julian’s Rock and Norton Outlook. The side trails in this southern region vary in length from a half-mile to just under five miles and travels over diverse terrain.  The mid-region of the Tunxis is primarily in the Town of Burlington. Features of the trail system in this region include the challenging Mile of Ledges, the historic Tory Den, connecting trails to other trail systems in Sessions Woods Wildife Management Area and Nassahegon State Forest, and opportunities to explore lands protected by the Burlington Land Trust. There are ample opportunities for loop hikes, longer distance hiking and shorter family rambles.

The northern section of the Tunxis Trail traverses some of the most beautiful woodland that can be found in Connecticut. Highlights include the Indian Council Caves and Pine Mountain, where 180-degree views provide prime hawk-watching during spring and fall migration. The trail crosses and sometimes follows several woods roads and old fire roads, passing along picturesque mountain brooks. Located primarily on Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) lands and Tunxis State Forest, the trail in this region climbs steeply near its northern terminus to meet the Connecticut-Massachusetts state line and crosses for a short distance into Granville State Forest in Massachusetts.

Lee-Stuart Evans’ site has an even better description with other helpful details, so be sure to check it out. There time of 7h 33m 33s knocked nearly 45 minutes off the previous best female FKT. They had another great run. Debbie was pretty knackered afterwards and has proclaimed that she is ready for some “offseason” rest. It’s been quite a year for her. This was her 17th FKT of the year of which at least six were ultra distance. Check out her list.

When Sunday’s weather looked even better than Saturday’s, I had to get out for my own adventure. However, I was slow to plan and didn’t decide until 9:00 A.M. on Sunday. I didn’t feel great and was lacking some motivation, but I knew that I could be passing up the last (and one of the best) good weather days of the year.

So, I announced my intention after breakfast and hastily pulled together the necessary gear. Debbie did the Pachaug Duathlon two weeks ago, so she had the lowdown. All I needed was a quick debrief and a few minutes with some maps. I loaded the courses on my Garmin Fenix 6s, threw my bike in the back of the car and headed east for Voluntown.

I dropped my bike at the western trailhead (the run route is shaped like a horseshoe), locking it to the steel gate at the end of the trail. By the time I got everything sorted and made my way to the eastern trailhead, it was past 11:00 A.M. I actually had a “false start,” missing the first left hand turn off the dirt road at the start. I had only gone 1/4 mile or so, so I turned back to start over. My official start time was 11:14 A.M., which is really late for me. Most days, my run is finished by 6:30 A.M. Starting close to noon is not playing to my strengths as an early riser.

The CFPA description of the Pachaug Trail follows:

Towns: Voluntown, Sterling, Griswold

Trail Overview: Primarily a woodland trail, the Pachaug Trail extends from Green Fall Pond in Voluntown to Pachaug Pond in Griswold. It passes ponds, streams, rock formations, travels through stands of conifers and hardwoods, and features a rhododendron sanctuary. It is almost entirely within Pachaug State Forest. There are side trails, connecting trails, and crossover trails that provide many options for further exploration. The crossover trails connect the Pachaug Trail to the Nehantic, Quinebaug, and Narragansett Trails allowing for great loop hiking opportunities.

Longer backpacking trips can be achieved by linking the Quinebaug, Pachaug, Nehantic, and Narragansett Trails. Four overnight shelters in the State Forest can be used by backpackers on a first-come, first-serve basis. For more info on the backcountry shelters and to reserve a space, click here.

Again, Lee-Stuart Evans’ site offers a helpful guide to the Pachaug Trail.

I started strongly running the first five miles in around 45 minutes, but it didn’t take long for me to slow down. Miles six through 10 were tough, but then things improved for me again. I picked up the pace from 11 through 15, but partially because the terrain was more runable. Then, I really fell apart and miles 16 through 22 were a humbling experience culminating with the “walk” up Mount Misery. You couldn’t have scripted it better. I died three deaths on that hike up the aptly named hill. It’s one of the high points on the trail at 441 feet. You read that correctly. My house is at 590 feet, nearly 150 feet of elevation greater than Mount Misery, but at the 22 mile mark of this so called run, I was dead on my feet.

I survived the descent and was able to pick up the pace a bit in the last few miles with a modest sprint that helped me just beat Debbie’s time from two weeks ago by 51 seconds. That gives me bragging rights in the household. I was hoping to go so much faster, but yesterday this was all I could muster. I still had to ride my bicycle back to the car, and since I hate running, it st be a surprise that the bike ride was my favorite part of this run!

Seriously, I do like these duathlon creations, so after a moderately quick transition, I pushed it hard on the 7.3 miles back to the eastern trailhead. Half of the distance was on busy roads in the fading daylight, and half of the distance was on rough gravel (dirt road). My ethic with these duathlons is to carry everything on the bike that I finish the run with. I don’t leave any gear behind even though one could drive back to fetch shoes, packs, etc. I like my runs to be unsupported when possible and my bikes to be self-supported.

I ran the Pachaug Trail in 4h 32m 38s. My bike leg was 29m 41s. The total time including transition was 5h 08m 41s. Debbie’s total time was 5h 16m, so now I really have bragging rights in our household!

More FKT’s: Pachaug & Naugatuck Trails

2020 is definitely the year of the FKT (Fastest Known Time). I’ve been reading about them all year long, I’ve been listening about them (podcasts) all year long, I’ve been writing about them all year long, and I’ve been doing them all year long.

My partner in crime for many of these adventures has been Debbie. She returned to the FKT game last week with a record on the Pachaug Trail. She made it a complete loop by also setting a Pachaug Duathlon “first known time.” I wasn’t there, so you will have to rely on her report. She hasn’t submitted her duathlon entry yet, but it’s in the works. Her run was 23.5 miles in 4h 33m 39s. The bike ride back to the start was a little over seven miles of mixed road and gravel, and it took her about 40 minutes. She was pleased with her solo effort on this moderately challenging trail. There isn’t a lot of elevation gain given it’s location in eastern Connecticut on the Rhode Island border, but it still isn’t flat.

The Connecticut Forest & Park Association description is concise:

Towns: Voluntown, Sterling, Griswold

Trail Overview: Primarily a woodland trail, the Pachaug Trail extends from Green Fall Pond in Voluntown to Pachaug Pond in Griswold. It passes ponds, streams, rock formations, travels through stands of conifers and hardwoods, and features a rhododendron sanctuary. It is almost entirely within Pachaug State Forest. There are side trails, connecting trails, and crossover trails that provide many options for further exploration. The crossover trails connect the Pachaug Trail to the Nehantic, Quinebaug, and Narragansett Trails allowing for great loop hiking opportunities.

Longer backpacking trips can be achieved by linking the Quinebaug, Pachaug, Nehantic, and Narragansett Trails. Four overnight shelters in the State Forest can be used by backpackers on a first-come, first-serve basis. For more info on the backcountry shelters and to reserve a space, click here.

She has been running super strong all year and especially since her smashing effort at The Blue 2 Blue Challenge last month. You can learn all about it on the CULTRA Trail Running Podcast. She was a guest on a post-race episode along with four of the other top finishers. She had the itch this week to do another FKT and recruited me for a team effort. With the likely abrupt end of the cyclocross season after the COVID-19 related cancellations of Mystic CX (yesterday) and Cheshire CX (today), I was game for some competition. So, after last night’s low key Halloween festivities with the kids, we all went to her parents’ house in Prospect around mid-morning. We had the benefit of the extra hour of rest since we set the clocks back last night. This gave me a little extra daylight in the morning, so I did one of my favorite bike loops that includes a few of my favorite roads. This 15 mile jaunt was a warmup for what was to come.

She selected the Naugatuck Trail which is very close to where she grew up in Prospect. CFPA’s description is short:

Towns: Bethany, Beacon Falls, Naugatuck

Trail Overview: The Naugatuck Trail is located within the Eastern Block of Naugatuck State Forest along an uneven east-west ridge.  To the east, the trail winds narrowly through laurel groves along contour lines with the occasional natural trailside rock bench upholstered in moss.  Several balds throughout feature seasonal wildflowers. Westward beyond a gorge, there are straighter, flatter sections through open forest with ephemeral ponds. The steepest elevation change is along Egypt Brook near Route 8 and marks the eastern slope of the Naugatuck River Valley.

A better summary of the trail and what it has to offer can be found on Lee-Stuart Evans’ site. We used that as our guide. The trail is about 5.6 miles including the out and back to the summit of Beacon Cap. Debbie got 10.4 for her round trip and I was 10.55 thanks to a wrong turn that I made (while leading her). I recovered to catch up, but I had to climb an extra bit as well since my missed turn sent me down into a “hole.” I got 1,923 feet of elevation gain which is stout for a short run. There was a lot of up and down. The trail was rugged in most spots with lots of loose and wet leaves that had recently fallen. They were still falling! They hid lots of rocks and roots, making for some tricky footing.

I had two epic falls. The first came when I was chasing Debbie on a downhill. Thank goodness the trail was smooth in that spot because I plowed all the leaves off it with my chest. A rake would have worked better. I did a total Superman and slid about 10 feet. I was lucky to get up after that one. I yelled, “keep going,” but apparently, she had no idea I had fallen and didn’t hear me clearly. Regardless, she kept going and I had to catch up over the next 1/2 mile.

The second fall came about 1/3rd of a mile from the finish when she was absolutely hammering the gradual descent to the trailhead along Route 8. I tried to come up on her left with the intention of leading the final stretch, but I got into some overgrowth that caught my left foot. I went down in a heap and that one hurt. I cut up my left knee and left hand. I’ll be sore tomorrow. I was able to gather myself and catch up to her right before the finish. We had not been tracking our time, and we got a bit of a surprise after we hit the gate marking the start/end of the trail.

The big bummer for us was that we came up 18 seconds short on the out and back FKT. Jeff Grant and Mary-Louise Timmermans ran 1h 46m 4s. We stopped our watches at 1h 46m 22s. They did their FKT from the opposite direction. They ran east to west from the Route 42 trailhead. They tackled the Beacon Cap Trail spur to the summit first, then ran to the Route 8 trailhead, and back. We did the reverse. We started at Route 8, in the west, and ran east. We did the Beacon Cap Trail spur out and back, then ran to the Route 42 trailhead, and then ran back to Route 8. The FKT only required one out and back to the top of Beacon Cap. On the return, we bypassed it. We hit the turnaround in 58m 29s. That was for 5.59 miles or so. Then, my Garmin Fenix 6s measured the “straight shot” return at 4.96 miles.

I could study Jeff and Mary-Louise’s data a bit closer to see where we lost the 18 seconds, but since they went a different direction and ran in March of this year, the trail conditions were likely different. I won’t surmise how different. The point of these FKT’s is to go faster and we didn’t. I’m cool with that. We will try again next year with the goal of doing it on a day where there are less leaves and drier conditions. We saw very little snow on the trail, but that area got several inches a few days ago, and nearly all of it had melted.

Good job to Jeff and Mary-Louise. We were pushing very hard, so I know they must have been too. If we went any faster on the last descent, there surely would have been another fall for me, and after 10+ miles, I probably wouldn’t have gotten up. I know my limits, especially when chasing Debbie on terrain like that. You plunge nearly 400 feet in a half a mile and it is all loose rocks, leaves, and gravel. As it is, when we got to the flatter section along the highway, I hit the ground anyway.

This was a lovely trail and would make for a great hiking route to do with the kids. We were pretty knackered after this one and Mrs. Schieffer had a nice lunch for us when we got back to the house. It was great to spend time with the kids and their grandparents. When we pulled up the driveway, our son was driving the tractor, which he enjoys very much. Our daughter also contributed by helping with various chores. Just as we got to the house, the skies opened up and the deluge began. It’s still raining hard now, but we are home for good and putting the final touches on a nice weekend. With November here and two months left in this crazy year, we still have some adventure left in our legs.

Debbie’s FKT’s

Scott’s FKT’s

Domnarski Farm, White Mountains, & Ascutney Trails

The long weekend (including Indigenous Peoples Day) that just passed was full of New England adventure. Our family got a little work done on Saturday morning before heading to the Ain’t No Cyclocross At Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike Race in Ware, Massachusetts.

We were last on the farm in 2017. I thought I swore never to return to this rugged course, but I must have forgot. The kids refer to this track as “old school 90’s rocks and roots.” That sums it up. It was hardcore on my rigid singlespeed and was no surprise that I was the only one in my category. I recall that I wasn’t alone three years ago, but either the other singlespeeders learned their lesson, or the COVID-19 pandemic really has changed the world.

All kidding aside, it was great to see our teammate Matt Domnarski, and convene with some mountain bike/cyclocross community friends. Several of them were from our own team. Debbie, Shepard, and I all started at 11:30 A.M. within minutes of each other. Dahlia hung out while we raced. She made some friends and explored the horse barn and other surroundings. Social distancing was in order, and once you headed into the woods, you were even more spaced out.

Shepard and Debbie did the one lap 10 mile event and I did two laps. I was slow but steady. I only had one fall, but the steep ups and downs combined with all of the rock made for a sore back, neck, shoulders, and arms. My legs were fine. This course beats you up.

After we packed up and said our goodbyes, we headed north into New Hampshire, stopping in Concord for dinner at Col’s Kitchen, a new plant-based restaurant. The tables were sparse and spaced, but the food was decent. From there, we headed north again until we reached Tripoli Road at the southern edge of the White Mountains. Tripoli goes from I-93 in the west over a pass until it reaches Waterville Valley in the east. Tripoli is the site of the legendary Pemi Valley Road Race, which I did six years in a row from 1993 to 1998. There are no blog posts from that era, which was a time of classic New England bicycle racing. However, the memories are vivid in my mind.

After we packed up and said our goodbyes, we headed north into New Hampshire, stopping in Concord for dinner at Col’s Kitchen, a new plant-based restaurant. The tables were sparse and spaced, but the food was decent. From there, we headed north again until we reached Tripoli Road at the southern edge of the White Mountains. Tripoli goes from I-93 in the west over a pass until it reaches Waterville Valley in the east. Tripoli is the site of the legendary Pemi Valley Road Race, which I did six years in a row from 1993 to 1998. There are no blog posts from that era, which was a time of classic New England bicycle racing. However, the memories are vivid in my mind.

Tripoli Road is about seven miles end to end and from west to east, it climbs steadily to its peak, with most of the climb on rough dirt. After the summit, the descent to Waterville is a patchwork of broken asphalt and dirt that has only gotten worse over the last 22 years. It was treacherous then and would be ridiculous now. Back then, we raced on traditional steel or aluminum road bikes with 22 cm tubular tires and 39 x 23 gearing. That setup is nothing like a modern gravel set-up and Pemi was long before gravel was popular. It was just a hard race with a dirt road. The distance ranged from 42 miles to 60 miles depending on the layout and laps. In the early years, it finished with a mostly downhill sprint on the west side of the course, but in later years, it finished at the Waterville base lodge.

Tripoli is known for “dispersed camping.” We experienced some awesome heat lightning on the rive up 93, but it didn’t rain until we reached the road. Then, the rain came in torrents as a massive thunderstorm blew through. We had no desire to pitch a tent in the dark storm, so we found a good spot near the Mount Tecumseh trailhead, and slept in our van. In the morning, Debbie and I got up early, found a good spot near Eastman Brook, and set up the tent. After the kids got up and we established camp, we drove around to the trailhead near the base lodge, parked, and hiked the Tecumseh Trail one way back to our campsite. It was about 5.6 miles over the top of 4,003 foot Tecumseh. It was chilly, but the sky was brilliant blue and we had a decent view from the top.

The roots were slippery from the prior night’s rainstorm, but the trail was in good shape and quite crowded. The hike took less than three hours. Our kids are keeping up with us now, which is awesome. That gave us all afternoon to relax, goof off, and hang out around camp. I rode back to the van on my mountain bike. It took less than 40 minutes. I drove back and we made an early dinner. We retired early, played some cards in the tent, and chatted about 2020, shared our highlights, and talked about our challenges. We were asleep in no time. The temperature dropped even more overnight and it was in the mid-30’s Fahrenheit when we awoke. It was cold, but inside our sleeping bags, everything was cozy.

Debbie and I got up early again, but not too early. We ran the East Pond Loop, which started only 0.2 mile from where we were camping. This turned out to be a five mile run with the first half all uphill. Little East Pond was the pretty spot on this route and the water level was amazingly low. We chatted and enjoyed each other’s company. We returned to camp and the four of us packed up for our departure.

I had taken Monday off from work, which was a welcome opportunity to spend some extra family time in the woods. We took a circuitous route to get to Brownsville, Vermont where we unpacked all the bikes and spent 90 minutes exploring Ascutney Trails. The Vermont 50 Mile Ride & Run may have been cancelled, but we were happy to be at Ascutney in the fall as we have been nearly every year since 1999. We have more of the trails to explore, but we covered some good ground. We spent a little extra time exploring the village before packing up again to head south in the direction of home. Once again, we had a pit stop at Pulse Cafe in Hadley. This has become a favorite place to dine. The tables and customers were spaced out as it was a quiet Monday afternoon. After our meal, we hit the road again and were home by 6:00 P.M. after a three days of fun.

Domnarski Farm Race Results

2020 Trails to a Cure (Cockaponset Trail Race)

It was a quiet return to the Trails to a Cure (Cockaponset Trail Race) for the inaugural COVID-19 edition. The Livington’s visited Chester, ran 8+ miles (4 in the case of Dahlia), and got out of town.

It was great that the organizers (Charlie and Becky Iselin + the SNERRO volunteers) put this classic race on in 2020 despite all of the challenges. This is the first trail running race we have done this year. Along with the two CCAP Rocky Hill Cyclocross Training Series races that I’ve done the last two weeks, the Bolton Road Race in March, and the Colchester Half Marathon in February, these are the only events I’ve done in 2020. For contrast, I did 38 races in 2019. That’s 38 vs. five.

The good news is there are still three months to go and now that we are “learning to live” with the virus pandemic, I gather there may be a few more socially distanced races added to the calendar. The New England Bicycle Racing Association (NEBRA) published results of a survey that we participated in, and there is a good chance that some promoters/race directors will step up and produce more cyclocross events before the year is over. The general consensus is that if organizers follow state guidelines, if health is the primary consideration, and if races are produced, there will be strong demand.

For Debbie and me, this has been the year of the FKT with lots of solo and tandem trail running, but we were still excited to toe the line at an actual race. Today’s race was done with wave starts (30 seconds apart) to minimize traffic on the narrow trails and spread people out. Everyone wore a mask before and after, including the volunteers, and with limited field sizes, we had no concerns.

We got a basic goody back that included our bib numbers and some baked breads. There were no t-shirts, no prizes, and no instant results which is fine with us. We didn’t socialize before or after. We were late to arrive, so we didn’t even have a warmup. I eased my way into the race, pushed hard for a few miles and then realized that I was not feeling good. My ankles and calves (a persistent 2020 problem) were bothering me and I was winded, so I backed off. This was a bit of a rest week for me. I got less than 12 hours of total exercise time for the first time since April. That’s nuts! This week, I didn’t even get nine hours, which is fine. Like I said, I needed a break.

Debbie nearly caught me at the finish. She was within a minute of me and started a wave behind me so we need to see the official results (promised in a day or two) to figure out who “won.” Shepard wasn’t feeling too hot (must have been a guy thing!) but he finished the race only a few minutes behind Debbie. Our hope is that there will be some sort of middles school cross country season. Debbie is the Bolton Center School coach and both of our kids are on the team. They started practice and are having a lot of fun, but both want some meets to train for. So far, there are none scheduled, but they are being planned.

We didn’t make it back to the water crossing in time, which means Shepard wasn’t too far back. Both Debbie and I did the crossing, but he opted to stay dry and ran the long way around. I wish I had some photos, but like I said, we were in and out. Becky may have gotten some photo or video of my at the crossing. All I can say is I was very wet and that I looked like the Swamp Monster with all of the weeds hanging off of me. It was kind of yucky, but that’s what makes Cockaponset special.

Today was the first real cold day since spring. It may still be summer until tomorrow, but it felt like late fall. In Bolton, we saw 38 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer early in the morning and in Chester at race time, it was no more than 45. It warmed up into the low-50’s after the 9:00 A.M. start, but there as a cool breeze. Unlike last year when everyone hung out and went for a “second” swim in Pattaconk Reservoir, we had to change up and get warm. Since Dahlia did the short course and had to wait for us to finish, she was shaking like a leaf when we got back. After we changed our wet clothes, we had a family picnic in the car, and then we took off.

It was kind of sad to not be able to hang out and chat with friends, but today wasn’t the day for that and 2020 isn’t really the year for that. It was nice to spend time on the trails of Cockaponset State Forest and it was nice to support a good cause.

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 newenglandtrail.org.

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.

Moosilauke Hike

This past Saturday, we returned to the White Mountains for a day hike of Moosilauke. We left Connecticut around 6:30 A.M. and started our hike shortly after 10:00 A.M. It was the kickoff of a fun Labor Day Weekend for our family and the first time that we did a serious hike with the kids since our Grafton Loop Adventure in July.

It had been 18 years since Debbie and I last set foot on this beautiful mountain. We were last there on 30 March 2002. That’s crazy. We have driven by many times, but for some reason, were not drawn back to the trail until now. Back then, it was the third New England 4,000 footers that we hiked as a couple.

We had done Adams and Madison the previous summer (before we were married in October 2001). I recall that it was snowy. The hike up was fun and uneventful, but we looped around and found that even with our snowshoes, the going was slow in the deep and heavy snow.

The weather this time was entirely different. We had a picture perfect day with awesome cloud formations and great views. It was mostly sunny and dry, though a few of those clouds were darker than we would have liked. They ended dup holding their moisture.

On the summit, it was breezy and a lot cooler, but that didn’t deter many other hikers from making the trip. Most of them came from the northern trailheads because we only saw a handful of other parties until we got to the intersection with the South Peak spur trail. Though you don’t get the 360 degree view of the main summit, the South Peak is pretty fantastic too and there wasn’t a crowd on top.

For our route, we took the Glencliff Trail out and back from the trailhead on High Street. Glencliff doubles as the Appalachian Trail. Back in 2002, our loop was more like a lollipop as we used the Hurricane Mountain Trail to return to the trailhead on High Street, which is off of NH Route 25.

Dahlia is getting much stronger. She powered her way up and down the mountain which is awesome considering that she takes two or three steps for every adult step. Shepard is always strong and we end up following him now. They are ticking off their 4,000 Footers.

As noted, Moosilauke was the third one that Debbie and I tackled on our way to finishing the full list of 48 New Hampshire peaks. We went on to hike the five in Vermont and the 14 in Maine. I’ll have to update the kids’ lists and don’t know how many are complete, but they are making progress and having fun too.

The round trip ended up being eight miles and our total time was just under five hours. That included lingering for a while on South Peak and the Moosilauke summit. We took ample breaks and didn’t push the pace too hard. I’m sure it won’t be another 18 years before we return.

Glastenbury/West Ridge Loop FKT

Yesterday while Le Tour de France was conducting a crash-fest in Nice, Debbie and I held our own crash-fest in Vermont. We returned to Glastenbury Mountain for the fourth time since 2015. More specifically, we ran the Glastenbury/West Ridge Loop for the third time, but this time we really ran it hard. I’ll get to the events of the day, but first, I’ll cover some background.

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We “discovered” this underutilized loop in 2015. At the time, we were celebrating the 10th anniversary of our 2005 Long Trail (LT) end-to-end hike. We wanted to introduce our young kids to the LT with an overnight trip. We found that the seldom used West Ridge Trail connected to the LT just south of the Glastenbury summit. The trail splits from the LT behind the Goddard Shelter. It was overgrown and didn’t have much maintenance, but it was still very cool. While hiking it, we agreed that we would come back and run it.

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So, we returned in 2016 and ran it. We had been crafting do-it-yourself (DIY) adventures for a long time, but we were not active on the Fastest Known Time (FKT) discussion board, so this return trip was never documented beyond this blog. A year later in 2017, Dan Rosenthal finally uploaded the route to the FKT site and gave a nod to the fact that we may have been the first to run it fast FKT style, or at least the first to talk about it. Since we had designed the route as a training run, we hadn’t pushed it. We opted not to go to the summit, which requires a little out and back on the LT (about .3 mile each way). I can’t remember why we opted to skip other than we were running a loop and had just been to the summit with the kids the year before. The official FKT loop that Dan created includes the out and back to the summit, which makes sense.

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In 2017, we went back to the LT for one of our “duathlon” FKT adventures, but this time we made our trip to the northern half on the Monroe Skyline. Then in 2019, we returned to Glastenbury again for a “duathlon.” This time we kept going north on the LT rather than looping via the West Ridge. We continued on to Stratton Pond via the Stratton Pond Trail and then reconnected with the LT until we made it to Prospect Rock. From there we took Old Rootville Road to our bikes. We had thought about doing the Glastenbury/West Ridge Loop, but we were intent on running and riding.

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So, we had unfinished business on the loop. In the meantime, FKT’s have blown up. Even Debbie and I have gotten in on the action. We have had a busy year. With most races cancelled (including all of ours), we have turned our adventuring to these challenges and we are having a blast. It has kept us motivated and fit.

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Of course, you are only fit until you fall! Yesterday, I had three hard falls. They all came on the West Ridge Trail between the 13.5 miles and 17 miles and after my legs had been weakened. On Friday, I was able to take the afternoon off from work, so we drove to Vermont after lunch. We parked at the LT trailhead on Rt. 9 just to the east of Bennington. We arrived in the early evening, and made some dinner. We brought vegan cheese from Divine Treasures to go with crackers. We boiled water and ate a Good to-Go meal. After dinner, we readied our gear and then slept in the van. We had a funny episode after midnight when a critter (probably a squirrel or chipmunk) ended up on the roof of the van. This had never happened before and after lot of clattering and scratching, it took a few “knocks” too convince him/her to get off.

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The next sound we heard on the roof was the falling rain. After a very dry August, the last week has been wetter and we knew that more heavy rain was forecast for Saturday. It started as drizzle but by the time we awoke around 6:00 A.M., the rain had become steady with intermittent downpours. After a little breakfast, we got started. We planned to hammer the route. Since our first time hiking this loop in 2015, it’s definitely become a lot more popular. Appearing on the FKT site will boost the attraction of most routes. The West Ridge Trail is still lightly used, but we could tell that over the last five years, it has become more popular.

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This loop is a tale of two trails. The Long Trail (which overlaps with the Appalachian Trail on this section) is heavily used. The treadway is more rocky and the hardened soil doesn’t drain as well. The West Ridge Trail is much softer. It has fewer rocks, but it has many more roots. The water doesn’t collect as much, but the trail is more narrow and heavily overgrown. It is lined with ferns and other plants and they disguise the hidden obstacles.

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Our run was “all business.” We only took a handful of photos. Our “A goal” was to break 5 hours. We also wanted the FKT for a Mixed-gender team and if we met our goal, Debbie would likely get the fastest documented time for any woman. We made it to the summit in about 2 hours and 31 minutes. The LT was soaked and the deep puddles were punctuated by tons of rocks. Debbie was very strong and she led most of the way. She distanced me on the downhills, but I caught back on the climbs. I was definitely feeling fatigue in my legs from last weekend’s Shenipsit Trail Duathlon. She also had a big Saturday last week. While I was on the Shenipsit Trail, she ran the Pemi Loop in NH with Laura Becker.

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There were no views at the top of Glastenbury, so we tagged the tower, took a few photos, and quickly turned back. There was a group of hikers holed up at the Goddard Shelter, and they didn’t look excited to venture out into the rain. We wished them a good day and then left the white-blazed LT for the blue-blazed West Ridge Trail. The rain continued, but as noted, the trail soaked in more of the moisture. The challenge was that it was hard to see the roots. This part of the loop has more descending so we were able to run even faster. The entire loop is gnarly and technical, which is a real advantage for Debbie, and a real disadvantage for me or any normal human. She is skilled at navigating trail obstacles and she is a fearless descender.

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I was doing my best to keep up, and ironically, my first fall (and the hardest) occurred when I was running in front of her. I caught my toe on a hidden root and did a “superman.” I jammed my left wrist, banged the heel of my right hand, and smashed my left knee into a rock. The impact cut my knee, but oddly, it didn’t bleed much. The laceration was across the bone. The real pain came from the impact. I sat there for a minute assessing my injuries. After a few more moments, I got up and started walking to test out my leg. Eventually, I was able to start running slowly again and then picked up the pace. A crash like that can end a run in an instant, so I was thankful to be able to keep moving.

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About 1.5 miles later, I was still running in front of Debbie (I think she was monitoring  me from behind!) and I caught my toe on a rock. Once again, I didn’t see it below the ferns. This time, I ended up off the trail in the wet brush, and I smacked the same knee. It wasn’t as bad as the first fall, but it was still discouraging. We made our way over Bald Mountain without further incident, but I was wisely fearful of the steep and rocky descent. That section of the West Ridge Trail is more trafficked and it exhibits some of the characteristics of the LT. It’s more eroded, and therefore more rocky. I’ve had trouble on it before.

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The lichen-coated rocks were slick as ice with the rain and within a minute of cresting the summit, I had a wicked fall. I planted my left foot on a rock and it just slid off. That resulted in another hard fall on my left knee. I hit a different spot a little higher up, and it was quite painful. There was no blood, but this time, it immediately puffed up. Debbie and I had agreed that she would run down at her own pace and that I would hang back before closing the gap on the flatter bottom section and then meet up with her on the dirt Harbour Road. She knew I fell because I yelped. I yelled for her to continue on as I shook off the pain. I think she backed off a bit to make sure I was OK.

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I got going again and just focused on the finish. When the trail started to flatten out, I could see her about 30 seconds ahead. When I finally got past the worst of the rocks and dumped out on the dirt road, I could see her up ahead. I slowly pulled her back and as we got to Rt. 9, we were together again. The final asphalt section is not pretty, but it is the price you pay for completing the loop. It’s safest to run on the left side facing traffic, but the shoulder is narrow, and periodically, you are pinned up against a guardrail. The vehicles come towards you at a high rate of speed as they are descending into Bennington. The road had just been paved, so the speeds seemed even higher. There are a few spots where you can run just off of the edge of the road on the gravel shoulder, but it is still unnerving. It’s not a nice stretch of road. You definitely want to be visible to the oncoming traffic. The road winds uphill for a mile or so until you get back to the LT trailhead.

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We pushed it hard all the way to the parking lot. We finished in 4 hours 53 minutes and 2 seconds. Even though speedsters including Josh Ferenc, Dan Grip, Neil Clauson, and Ben Nephew have lowered Dan Rosenthal’s original time to an incredibly fast 3 hours and 19 minutes, we were happy with our time with more than a few miles on our legs.

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Other than a few LT backpackers, including those at Goddard, we had the loop to ourselves. We didn’t see anyone on the West Ridge Trail until we got to the dirt road where a few day hikers were headed towards Bald Mountain. We were back at the van by noon, and after a quick rinse in City Stream, we drove back to Debbie’s parents’ in Prospect. We stopped twice to stretch our legs and we were reunited with our family by 3:00 P.M. I like it when I can get my weekly running goal (20 miles) in one run. I’ll be stiff and sore for a few days, but after a good night of sleep, my body is already making the necessary repairs so that we can keep on running.

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!

2020 Grafton Loop Trail Family Adventure

Last weekend, Debbie and I returned to the Grafton Loop Trail for the first time in 12 years. Over that time, we have been to the Sunday River region and Mahoosuc Range on a few occasions, including a family wedding in 2019, but it had been a while since we spent any time in Grafton Notch.

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Back in 2008, she and I were joined by our friend Matt Schomburg when we became the first to complete the loop (new at the time) in one day. That wasn’t the specific goal, but it seemed like something fun to do. Matt is a White Mountain National Forest ranger and he has bigtime backcountry credentials. The Appalachian Mountain Club had just finished new sections of trail during the prior summer in 2007. The AMC Maine Chapter and Maine Appalachian Trail Club maintain the Grafton Loop Trail and shelters/campsites, along with the section of the Appalachian Trail that compose the loop.

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The 2008 trip was one of our classic adventures, and I wrote about it a the time. Debbie, Matt, and I enjoyed the run/hike despite it being a damp and humid day with limited views. We weren’t aiming for a Fastest Known Time (FKT), but just by running the runable sections and pushing it on the steep sections, we were able to establish a time that was orders of magnitude quicker than backpacking it in two, three, or four days. Back then, we started at the state park at the northern end of the notch where the trail crosses Route 26, and went clockwise finishing with the ascent/descent of 4,170 foot Old Speck Mountain. In 2014, Adam Wilcox and Ryan Welts discovered the loop and created the official route that appears on the FKT site. They chose to start at the southern road crossing parking lot on Rt. 26 and go counter-clockwise. Now that we have experienced both routes in both directions, we believe that the route they chose is the faster version.

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This time, we didn’t run the loop, but rather, we backpacked it. The best part about this latest adventure is that we did it as a family. We’ve been wanting to bring our kids on this loop and thanks to the cancellation of other summer plans, we finally made it happen. We think this worked out for the best. With our beloved AMC Huts closed for the year and New Hampshire trails seeing a surge of activity, we chose the “less-loved” Maine  end of the White Mountains, and had an awesome time.

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As a refresher, the route is about 39 miles long. The AMC site has a good description:

The Grafton Loop Trail (GTL) is located on both sides of Route 26 and links with the AT on Baldpate Mountain and on Old Speck. The eastern half of the GLT consists of a 21-mile arc that leaves Route 26 in Newry, Maine, and returns to the road in Grafton Notch State Park via four miles on Appalachian Trail (AT). Seventeen miles were newly constructed trail in 2007, which traverse four mountain peaks and include five primitive campsites. Approximately two-thirds of the trail’s length is on private lands with the remainder located on public lands managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. Construction of the 2007 leg of the trail involved many individuals and organizations, including the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, the Maine Conservation Corps and the AMC.

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The western half is a 13 mile stretch, beginning on Route 26, south of the eastern half’s trailhead. Traversing the Bear River, Sunday River-Whitecap and Miles Notch, this part of the trail ends on the summit of Old Speck Mountain at its junction with the Mahoosuc Trail/AT. This section includes three primitive campsites.

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With side trips to viewpoints, waterfalls, water sources/streams, and campsites, you can’t really hike this loop without walking several extra miles. We likely did 41 or 42, but who is counting?

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Well, our kids were counting! This was a big hike for them. With nearly 13,000 feet of elevation gain on rugged (rocks and roots) trails in extraordinary summer heat, this was not easy. We hiked about 10 miles each day.

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On Day 1, we drove from Connecticut and didn’t get on the trail until noon. We hiked until nearly 8:00 P.M. tackling Puzzle Mountain and Long Mountain on the way. Everyone was tired when we reached the Town Corner Campsite. We spent the night there after making dinner, which mostly consisted of Maine-made GOOD TO-GO dehydrated food.

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We find that the first night on a trip is usually a rough night for sleep and that proved to be the case. The four of us were tired and groggy on the morning of Day 2, but we got on trail shortly after 8:00 A.M. We stopped mid-morning and hiked a spur trail to the Lane Campsite. From there we continued to the swimming hole and waterfall that are just below the site. We had a fantastic “swim” frolicking in the chilly waters. It was a nice oasis and we will return!

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The trail took us over Lightning Ledge, East Baldpate, and West Baldpate. They were all long climbs and the viewpoints were fantastic. We finished the day at the Baldpate Lean-to. The lean-to is technically closed, and we had packed our two-person and three-person Big Agnes tents anyway, so we used a clearing to pitch camp. Dinner was more dehydrated food and was followed by our best night of sleep. We could hear a babbling brook beyond our campsite. That allowed us to fill all of our water bladders and bottles.

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Day 3 was a tough one. We got a late start shortly after 8:00 A.M. and made the long descent to the northern end of the notch. From there, we spent the better part of the hot day climbing Old Speck. The view from the top of the fire tower was spectacular and we earned it. We had a modest descent to the Bull Run Campsite where we loaded up on water. We pushed a little farther to the Slide Mountain Campsite where we stopped for the night.

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We ended the day a bit early but that was OK. The next site was miles away and we had all pushed hard enough. Slide was our favorite site. We had our final dehydrated meal of the trip and made use of the bear box as extra precaution. We had carried our BearVault and made good use of it on the previous nights. Inside the canister, we stored all of our food, our trash, and all toiletries/body health stuff that might attract a critter.

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Speaking of critters, we saw a fair amount of wildlife on the trail. We saw lots of birds, toads, chipmunks, and squirrels. Within the bird category, we saw several grouse. Another hiker we ran into referred to a grouse as a “mountain chicken,” which is something I had never heard before. We got a good chuckle out of the concept. We saw tons of moose poop but never saw a moose.

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The trail conditions were rough. Given the pandemic and the late start (or no start) to this year’s trail maintenance program, there was lots of blowdown and overgrowth. Two sections on the Grafton Trail (in particular) were “jungle-like” with so much overgrowth that you couldn’t see the trail or your feet. There were many trees to climb over or under. It’s going to take a lot of work to whip the trail back into shape. The Appalachian Trail section gets more traffic and more maintenance so it was was easier to traverse.

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We are so very appreciative of the dedicated volunteers who look after these trails. We did bump into a fellow AMC volunteer by the name of Bill who we have met before. He was doing trail work on the slopes of Old Speck and we had a fantastic conversation with him. Our son is very interested in trail crew, so it was neat to chat with Bill.

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The more remote sections of trail were very quiet, especially on Thursday and Friday. On the weekend and on the AT, it was a bit more busy. There were more day hikers on Old Speck and the Eyebrow loop. We only saw a handful of backpackers doing the entire loop. One neat thing, and probably due to the extreme heat, is that the wild blueberries were already ripe. I remember picking blueberries on Labor Day Weekend in 2008, so it was odd to be picking them on the last weekend in July in 2020. That demonstrates how much has changed in a dozen years.

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After our decent night of sleep at Slide, we got an earlier start for the final day. The goal was to get down to the notch by 2:00 P.M. so that we could manage the drive home and have it not be too late. I had an early workday on Monday. We were on the trail before 7:00 A.M. and met our goal, reaching the parking lot by 1:30 P.M. The last bit of trail was gradually downhill, but very windy. The last 0.7 of a mile was on Rt. 26 and is quite ugly. The kids were fried by then and the mid-day heat didn’t help. Everyone was in a sour mood by the time we got rolling back towards Connecticut.

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This was definitely a case where we were suffering in the moment and not ready to look back and recognize how great of a time we had together on a lovely trail. We made a quick stop for food in Newry as we had to ration what was left on the final day. We were all hungry. After some debate, we decided to take the slower, but more scenic route across New Hampshire and then south through Vermont. We made a pitstop in Chatham to visit our longtime friends Ann and Rich Fargo. They were so kind to host us. We got to swim in Lower Kimball Pond and tour their lovely home. I wish we had more time, but it was getting late. After another quick stop in North Conway for take out pizza at Flatbread, we really got rolling. It was a long drive across the Kancamagus Highway and then over to Interstate 91. By the time we pulled into the garage, it was past 10:00 P.M. We were all cranky.

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Looking back, everyone learned something. We helped the kids continue to hone their mountain skills. They also built their endurance. I don’t think Debbie and I need any more endurance training, at least not in 2020. All of our gear worked out great. We now all have Osprey brand packs and they were fantastic. Debbie, Shepard, and I wore Lone Peak Mid “light hikers” and Dahlia used a pair of kids lightweight boots from L.L. Bean. We used our Katadyn BeFrde water filter.

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This trip merely wet our appetite for more hiking. We’ve had the kids out several times in 2020 and they are getting stronger by the day. Learning how to deal with the elements, fend for yourself, and navigate are just a handful of tools needed to venture into the wild. They come with practice.

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Grafton Loop Trail Map

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Appalachian Trail (a Connecticut Story)

Our summer of adventuring continued yesterday in the northwest corner of Connecticut. Debbie and Laura Becker set out to run the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail (AT). On a very hot and humid day, there was a lot of drama, and most of it the good kind.

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It was disappointing for Laura to stop after 34.1 miles (of 51.6), but lessons were learned, and as I told her, “she will live to fight another day.” Debbie forged ahead and finished in 14 hours and 32 minutes or so. The plan was for them to stick together, but Laura struggled with stomach issues throughout the run and the combination of nausea, dehydration, hunger, and fatigue finally did her in. The rest of her story is for her to tell, but I assure you there is no “quit” in this woman. She fought through the adversity and ultimately, it was not her decision to stop. She would have kept putting one foot in front of the other, and would have walked for as long as it took to get to the northern border. However, with health, and longer term goals in mind, I called a technical knock out (TKO) before she could start another brutal “round.”

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So how did we get the point where we were standing on the side of a mountain debating what to do next? In late May, Debbie and Laura ran the Shenipsit Trail end-to-end. They have done a lot of training together in 2020 and that run was a big one for the two of them. Laura was a very helpful on our NET Adventure and she has continued to build her trail strength. She joined us when we returned to the Menunkatuck Trail to figure out what it really looks like (in daylight). She even did the bicycle ride back to the trailhead. I figure that after a few more of these trips, she will be an official member of our family.

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The two of them wanted to take a step up in trail difficulty. Originally, they planned to run the 62 mile Metacomet Trail, but Debbie and I just did that as part of the NET and after further discussion, they settled on the Connecticut section of the AT. This hilly segment has nearly 14,000 feet of elevation gain on rocky and challenging terrain. The high point is the summit of Bear Mountain at 2,316 feet which comes very close to the finish. Much of the ascent is done on hills that peak out around 1,200 feet, so “undulating” would be the best way to describe the route. Relentless is another good definition. Both Laura and Debbie are signed up for the Connecticut FKT Challenge, which ranks this trail the third toughest in the state. Debbie has now done about 11 of the 16 listed trails, though many of her runs predate the window for this particular competition. I’m conflicted as to whether we have to turn FKT’s into a “race,” but if the challenge gets more people to explore the trails of Connecticut then I’m fine with it.

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Debbie was strong all day. Despite no races in 2020 she has made the most of these “do it yourself” (DIY) adventures, and with four months to go, I’m excited to see what she may do next. Over 22 years of trail and ultrarunning, she has experienced her own share of bad days. Yesterday, she suffered in the heat (and dealt with some ugly chaffing), but she was able to pick up the pace and finish strongly. The original plan was for the two of them to do the run self-supported, but as soon as I met up with them to provide aid, it became a supported run. Given how dry it has been, they didn’t want to take chances with finding available water sources, so on Friday, Laura cached water (only) at three different spots on the trail. They had a water filter with them, but leaving their own water was a wise decision as Saturday turned out to be one of the warmest days of this already hot summer. I was doing my own thing (more on this later) when I got a text message from Debbie requesting that  I meet them with more water near Sharon Mountain. I had dropped them off at the New  York border around 5:15 A.M (we left Bolton at 3:30 A.M.) and stayed in the area just in case they needed help. I wasn’t planning to see them until the finish in Sage’s Ravine, but after she reached out I altered my plans. Debbie continued on her own and I walked with Laura back to the car.

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The fact that Laura stopped also changed the FKT type to “supported” as her teamwork with Debbie is considered assistance, much like it were a race. Regardless of all these definitions,  it was a hard run on a blazing hot day. Laura’s husband Steve Becker was very supportive. He had intended to come to the finish with me, so when plans changed, he met Laura and me at the Route 44 road crossing. Laura and Steve waited with me until Debbie arrived, before heading home for some much needed rest.

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I located a Mexican restaurant in Salisbury and placed an order over the phone. Debbie had mentioned that she wanted something “savory” for the finish and the fact that Picante’s was only 1.5 miles from where I was parked was perfect. In their parking lot, I pulled all the gear from the back of our Subaru Outback and laid it out on the ground. I had been living out of the car all day and it was a mess. While I waited for the food, I rearranged and repacked everything. I even figured out how to get my bike into the car, as I didn’t want to drive up the dirt Mount Riga road with it bouncing on the hitch mount rack. I picked up the order and stashed it away for later. As I started up the mountain, I spotted our teammate Paul Nyberg’s truck on the side of the road. I saw him earlier when he met up with Laura and me on Route 7. The original plans for the day included a two-man ride up and around Mount Washington State Forest (in MA). Paul ended up doing the ride solo, and as I was making my way to the border as the sun was setting, he came flying down the dirt road one his cross bike.

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We had a great chat about cyclocross, work, COVID-19, the economy, health, and life. It was awesome as the two of us hadn’t seen each other in quite some time. I kept glancing at my watch and occasionally checked the Garmin tracker to see where Debbie was. Our inReach Mini is OK, but not foolproof and there had been lags between updates. With the spotty cell coverage, our telecom strategy was far from perfect. I think Paul and I chatted five minutes too long. By the time we parted, Debbie was making her way up Bear Mountain and neither of us remembered how fast that last section can be. I also think that at that point of the run, she was absolutely flying.

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Paul and I parted and I parked at a turnout near AMC’s Northwest Camp lot, packed a ruck, including some watermelon for Debbie, and walked in. It was about a mile of walking to intersect with the AT. I located the border using my  Garmin Fenix 6s and Google Maps and made a makeshift “finish line” but dragging  my heel in the dirt. I walked north a bit but it was getting dark so I didn’t go too far. Apparently, I stopped 50 feet short of the Sage’s Ravine sign. I’ve been there a few times, but at the end of a long day, I was confused. I waited and waited. Debbie’s final text read, “In bear” which I interpreted to mean on Bear or climbing up Bear. It turned out that she was already over the top and roaring down the hill towards the finish.

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After 20 minutes I thought she should have been there already. My texts back to her failed to go through, so I started walking south (uphill) on the trail and yelling her name. I yelled her name for another 20 minutes before she finally called. Miraculously at that moment, we both had a cell connection. She was frantic and worried about stopping her watch at the right finish line. She knew she was on the AT and I knew I was on the AT, but we couldn’t figure out where. It seemed illogical but she described where she was. After a few more texts and phone calls, she shared her location with Google Maps and it was clear that she had already passed the border and was more than a mile into Massachusetts, headed for Vermont! The AT crosses the border and then hooks right, paralleling the border for a mile or so. It turns out that the signage indicating where the CT/MA border is located, is nowhere near the spot where the trail crosses. That’s nuts. It isn’t our only gripe about the publicly available info. We LOVE the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, but the Walk Book mileage is wrong. It says the trail is 56. 6 miles long, whereas the AMC Connecticut Chapter info describes the more accurate 51.6 mile distance.

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I was hoarse from all the yelling, but she would never have heard me as she was more than a mile away. This was a ridiculous situation and it wasn’t until 9:00 P.M. or so that we finally found each other. She had been wandering around for more than an hour and we both got munched on by mosquitoes. At one point she ran into some hikers, but they actually pointed her in the wrong direction. Thankfully when she first passed the sign in the ravine, she had taken a photo, so we have adequate proof within a minute or so of her true finishing time. After we finally figured out where we were in relation to each other, she had to come back south (all uphill) to meet me. In reading through prior FKT reports (after the fact), we realized that just about every previous runner indicated that they were confused as to where to stop. I’m embarrassed that we fell into the confused camp, but you just aren’t thinking straight in these circumstances. We intend to make some clarifying comments on the FKT site so future attempts get this right without all the confusion. “People, use the first Sage’s Ravine Sign (with the other locations listed below) located a short distance past the official border as your stopping (or starting) point for any FKT attempt!”  We were both tired and frustrated when she got “back” to the state line, but the watermelon helped relax us. We still had to walk a mile back to the car, which means her effort ended up being more than 54 miles. As I’ve said many times, in trail and ultrarunning, mileage doesn’t matter. What’s another mile, or two, or three?

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We changed our clothes, sat in the car, and devoured our burritos. They were fantastic. Picante’s gets five stars from us! We have had countless adventures together and this one is just another great one to add to the list. It would have been even sweeter if Laura and Steve were with us. We could have eaten vegan burritos (and gluten free for Laura!) together. With a few more brains to do math, we might not have lost 90 minutes wandering around the CT/MA border in the dark. Once refueled and hydrated, we got rolling again. I drove us back down to Salisbury. We stopped at a lovely spring to fill our water bottles, before reconnecting with Route 44 for the drive home. It took a little under two hours and we were in bed by 11:45 P.M.

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So far, I’ve only described my interaction with the two main protagonists in this story. While they were in the woods, I had some fun of my own. Without the early-afternoon plan change, I might have done even more exploring (including some with Paul). As it was, I still squeezed in some “exercise” of my own. After my last activity was logged (the hike in and out of Sage’s Ravine), my Garmin “Training Status” was indicated as “Overreaching.” That’s probably true.

What it doesn’t indicate is how sore my feet are. They still haven’t recovered  from the NET run. My right heel has some bruising that was made worse by the northwest Connecticut rocks. My right Achilles continues to bug me,  and though I’ve indicated I need a few weeks off from running, this time, I’m going to take my own advice.  The plan is to hike a little and then stick to riding for the rest of July.

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Going back to the pre-dawn hour, after I dropped them off at the border, I drove to Macedonia Brook State Park. It was my first  time there. I didn’t realize that they had an organized race there before, but apparently that is the case. I did the loop trail, which is also part of CFPA’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail system. Here is the official Walk Book description of the trails in the park:

Macedonia Brook State Park is situated on 2,300 acres of rugged terrain in Kent, less than a mile east of the New York border. The bulk of the property was originally gifted to the State from the White Memorial Foundation of Litchfield in 1918. The land was once the domain of the Scatacook Indians. After Kent was settled in 1738, the native inhabitants and settlers shared the area in harmoniously. During the Revolutionary War, Scatacook volunteers operated a signal system along the summits of the river valley.

A primary commercial activity in Macedonia was the iron industry. The Kent Iron Company’s iron furnace operated both in Kent and the village of Macedonia. Today remains of a forge and a stamping works are still visible at the southern end of the park. In 1865, competition from larger mines forced the Macedonia furnace to close. Many years later, the National Park Service established a Civilian Conservation Corps camp at the park to undertake park improvements.

The park has 11.5 miles of foot trails, all originating at the graveled park road (Macedonia Brook Road). Several side trails cross or connect with the blue-blazed Macedonia Ridge Trail, an oval loop encompassing much of the park. In general, trails east of the park road are not as steep as those to the west. The Macedonia Ridge Trail offers outstanding views of the Taconic Range and Catskill Mountains from Cobble Mountain (elevation 1,380’), located on the west side of the park. In the valley below, numerous streams tumble into Macedonia Brook, which wends its way south through the park and is flanked on both sides by peaks and ridges over 1,000 feet high. Numerous springs and streams in the park add to the great hiking experience.

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It’s 10 kilometers of rugged, rocky, and steep climbing and descending. There are short runnable sections in between sections of tough singletrack. I took Lee-Stuart Evans’ advice and went counter-clockwise. It was safer to climb the worst of the rocks rather than descend them. At the top of Cobble Mountain, I had a spectacular view as the clouds were below me. I was running all out but still wanted to stop and take a photo. The problem was that my iPhone was stuck in the front pouch of my hydration belt. I gave the zipper a tug and it broke off leaving my iPhone trapped. I eventually got it out, using the pliers on my Leatherman, but that wasn’t until I was back at the car. Thankfully, a few miles away on the NY side of the border (where the AT briefly curls), Debbie and Laura were ascending a different hill while experiencing the same clouds. They got a photo of the early morning beauty.

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Despite a few brief wrong turns, I knocked out the loop in 1:06:19, good for 4th on the Strava list that includes runners from the 2018 and 2019 editions of the race. My run was unsupported so I think I can post it to the site with confidence. I ran hard, didn’t fall, and felt good. Thankfully, I brought enough clothes for multiple wardrobe changes because I was drenched in sweat. I changed up and drove back towards the AT before eventually heading north, the direction of the day. I got some nice photos at the Macedonia Road crossing before continuing on to Bull’s Bridge, and then through Kent. Kent Falls State Park is officially closed during the pandemic, otherwise I would have stopped. It is one of Connecticut’s most visited parks.

I made my way up Route 7 to the Pine Knob Loop Trail, yet another CFPA trail that I would do for the first time. Here is the CFPA info:

The Pine Knob Loop Trail is located in Housatonic Meadows State Park and Housatonic State Forest on the west side of the Housatonic River, north of Cornwall Bridge. A short and challenging trail, it coincides with the Appalachian Trail for a portion of its length. Hikers will enjoy beautiful vistas over the river valley. The trail is accessible from the state park’s campground and group camping area via unmarked trails. For more info on Housatonic Meadows State Park, click here.

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Once again, I went counter-clockwise. The unsupported FKT was a fast 32:12 but I figured I could beat it. It turns out that some guy (as posted on Strava) ran like 25 minutes as part of a much longer run, which seems crazy, but possible. After all,  I’m not that fast! Anyway, I’ll submit my time of 29:19 for the 2.6 mile loop and see what happens. I made a few wrong turns, but that didn’t cost me five minutes. This loop was also very hilly and rocky. I enjoyed it and also liked seeing all of the day hikers. The trail actually overlaps a bit with the AT, so for a few minutes, I was on the AT headed south. Laura and Debbie were still many miles south of me at that point, so there was no chance of an encounter.

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When I finished around 9:45 A.M. the temperature was really rising. In reviewing this data, Strava indicated that the pair of shoes I was using have more than 500 (trail) miles on them, which is not good. No wonder my feet are sore. I made another wardrobe change and headed north again. I drove to Beckley Furnace Industrial Monument in North Canaan. This was a first time visit for me and I wasn’t disappointed. There were two interpretive volunteers sitting under a picnic table umbrella, and they talked my ear off. One of the volunteers was an elder gentleman who was extremely knowledgeable.

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Given my metalworking background, I could have listened to him all day, but it was 85 degrees (and getting warmer by the minute) so I had to cut our conversation short. His assistant was a young high school intern who is a descendant of the clan that created this  nearly 200 year-old iron furnace, mines, and related enterprises. I plan to return with the kids as there is a lot to learn. I took some photos, checked out the display they had set up for visitors, and grabbed some brochures. As I said, we will return.

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I  locked my Seven Evergreen XX to  an electrical conduit on a nearby park shed. I left a bag with my cycling shoes and helmet. Then, I drove 11 miles around Canaan Mountain to the start of CFPA’s Iron Trail. Here is the Walk Book description:

The Iron Trail runs through Housatonic State Forest and the Canaan Mountain Natural Area Preserve.  From the southern terminus at a metal gate on Canaan Mountain Rd in Canaan, the trail heads north and west to the State’s Beckley Iron Furnace Industrial Monument on the banks of the Blackberry River in North Canaan.  The trail mostly crosses through mixed hardwoods— including white oak, black cherry, and beech—punctuated by islands of pine and hemlock.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the area was regularly cut to produce charcoal to feed nearby iron furnaces, including Beckley.  Repeated coppice cutting has resulted in many multiple trunked trees.  Visible in a couple places are flattened areas where mounds of wood were stacked and “cooked” with slow, smoky fires to produce charcoal.  About halfway along the trail is a pile of stones that was probably once the fireplace of a collier’s hut.  From Wangum Rd the trail follows a broad woods road bounded in places by stone walls.  Upstream of a narrow brook crossing there is a beaver flowage.  Upon veering west, the trail narrows and winds through thick woods while skirting the edge of Canaan Mountain.  The last three-quarters of a mile descend to Beckley Furnace along a narrow charcoal road.  The upper part features beautiful rock outcroppings on the upslope side.  Pieces of slag from the furnace can be found on the lower part of the trail.  Pass slag piles overgrown with vegetation just before crossing the Blackberry River and arrive at the stone furnace stack which produced iron between 1847 and 1919.  Picnic tables and interpretive signs make this a nice spot to spend some time learning about a part of Connecticut’s industrial history.

I had print outs for three more possible FKT’s, but by now, the temperature was approaching 90, my feet (especially my right) were aching and each successive run was getting slower. Thankfully, I was only going one way. The out and back record is a stout 58 minutes. I wanted to at least make it to the northern end in 29 minutes, but alas, it ended up being a painful 32:42. So, this is another case where the calculated Strava segment is faster than what is officially noted on the FKT site. I’ll debate whether I submit this one or not.

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When I got back to my bike, the information volunteers had moved into the shadow cast by the large furnace. They were smart! I ended up riding back to the car in the peak noon heat with the sun beating down on the road. The climb up Canaan Mountain was hard but the farms and fields that I passed were lovely. I have to explore these roads again. The plan was to meet up with Paul as we had gotten in touch, but when I was making my way up the mountain, I got the first text message from Debbie indicating their struggles and the request to meet them with water. She also suggested that ginger ale might help settle Laura’s stomach.

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It took me nearly an hour to get back to the car and then 10 minutes to conduct another wardrobe change. I dug some food out of our cooler and ate it on the way back towards Falls Village. I stopped at the Mountainside Cafe, a restaurant I knew well. Debbie and I stopped there in 2017 on our ill-fated Mohawk Trail/AT Loop Misadventure. It was good that Debbie returned to the Mohawk in 2018 to get the job (that I couldn’t finish) done. It was take-out only so I called from the parking lot. I ordered three ginger ales and they had a nice locally sourced craft version in glass bottles. They delivered them to me out front and I got moving again. After a little driving around to figure out where I could get closest to them, I parked at the AT trailhead on Route 7. I packed a ruck and hiked south until I met them a mile or so down the trail. That’s the point at which the earlier part of this story began. With my individual pursuits for the day paused, and a raincheck from Paul issued, I became the “crew chief” again, which was fine with me.

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I know that if either or both of our kids were in tow for this trip, there would have been a lot of complaints. Thankfully, they were spending another long weekend of “summer camp” at Debbie’s parents house. During this summer of cancellations, this has been a fun substitute for them. We did FaceTime with them this morning and they are having a blast. Apparently their Satuday consisted of climbing fences, skateboarding, go-karting, truck washing, bickering, bike riding, and chores.

Sunday will be about recovery as tomorrow is another important workday. I’m motivated and ready.

Some more AT resources:

AMC Connecticut Chapter AT Page
Appalachian Trail Conservancy Site
NPS AT Page
CFPA AT Page (with some erroneous data)


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