Archive for the 'Family' Category

Menunkatuck Trail End-to-End Run

The Menunkatuck Trail isn’t nearly as hard as it seemed. Yesterday, we returned to Guilford to exorcise some demons. Two weeks ago when we ran/hiked the New England Trail (NET), we struggled to the finish with a grueling final 17 miles.

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The Menunkatuck is the final section of the NET and June 22nd (and 23rd), it took us more than six hours to complete the section from Route 77 (including the final bit of the Mattabessett Trail) to Long Island Sound (Chittenden Park). Yesterday, it look us less than half that time.

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Debbie and I were joined by Laura Becker and we ran it at a much quicker pace. We met at Chittenden Park, locked our bikes to a post, drove to the trailhead on 77, ran to our bikes, and then rode back. It was a fun round trip.

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Our time wasn’t anywhere close to FKT speed, but we still had fun. It was a lot more fun than the finish of our NET adventure. It was great to see the trail in daylight. It is actually a beautiful trail. I didn’t curse at all. Our wrong terms were minor compared to the slew of mistakes we made at the end of the NET trip.

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The weather was excellent. It was humid in the morning, but the haze burned off and by late morning, it was sunny and hot. Kudos to the FKT holders who have laid down super-fast times on this trail. The entire trail is runable and there are several dirt roads sections that are very runable. I felt OK, but not great. I’ve still got a bit of deep fatigue from the NET trip and my right leg is hurting in several places (Achilles, IT band, gluteus,  quad, etc.) I’ve got a leg length discrepancy that results in my right leg taking more abuse  when I run. Over the course of 5.5 days, I must have hit it  harder on many occasions (like every stride) and its going to take some time to get feel better and maybe even longer to get some speed back.

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The last four miles are on road through the lovely shoreline roads of Guilford south of Route 1. It was so nice to feel decent at the finish. The end of our NET adventure was ugly. It wasn’t anything like what we expected. It was dark, we were wrecked at the end, and there was no fanfare. It was past midnight and there was no chance of swimming in the Sound. We didn’t swim yesterday, but that’s OK because we had lovely views. The ride back to the trailhead was on some really nice roads that paralleled 77. It was great to run with  Laura (again). She is really strong, upbeat, and always ready for an adventure. I expect there will be more in the coming weeks.

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The Menunkatuck is yet another gem in the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System. If you are interested, here is the full description from the CFPA Walk Book:

The Menunkatuck Trail, named for the first human inhabitants of this region, represents the southernmost segment of the New England Trail, connecting the Mattabessett Trail with Long Island Sound in the town of Guilford.  The trail leaves the Mattabessett 1.3 miles east of Route 77 and heads south over land owned by the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority, two town preserves, and various properties of the Guilford Land Conservation Trust, before emerging onto secondary roads and reaching the shoreline at Chittenden Park. Chittenden Park is the official Southern Gateway of the New England Trail and the Park features a boardwalk and overlook platform on Long Island Sound.

The terrain of the Menunkatuck Trail is rolling, with little to no steep climbing, and consists of rocky wooded ridges, inland wetlands, scenic meadows, and residential areas.  Notable features include Timberland Preserve’s Upper Lake and the beautiful haying fields of East River Preserve.  The Menunkatuck also has the distinction of being the only CFPA trail to pass directly through a train station! (Note that this time we took the stairs. Too weeks ago, we took the elevator both up and down and the photo from the blog post is from inside the elevator!)

The Menunkatuck 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, click here

 

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

“Have a great vacation!”

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

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

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

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Why?

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

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Though the NET officially starts at the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border and goes south through MA and Connecticut until it reaches Long Island Sound, we opted to add to the route. We hiked to the summit of Mount Monadnock at Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey, and then started our run to Chittenden Park on Long Island Sound in Guilford, Connecticut. So, the route included the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in New Hampshire and the NET in MA and CT. We covered more than 242 miles with more than 41,000 feet of elevation gain in just under 5.5 days.

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Ever since the 2005 LT hike, we have yearned for another thru-hike adventure. Over that period, we had two children, got them to join us in our adventures, competed in hundreds of endurance events, and biked, hiked, and run all over the world. We also completed hiking all 67 New England 4,000 Footers and then started the list over again with the kids; that quest continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, it turned out to be quite a vacation!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 66 of 133

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

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 69 of 133

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 71 of 133

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 75 of 133

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

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 77 of 133

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

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 81 of 133

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 83 of 133

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

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 88 of 133

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 90 of 133

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

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 94 of 133

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

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

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 98 of 133

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

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 102 of 133

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

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

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

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

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 110 of 133

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

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

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

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

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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 120 of 133

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gear List

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

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

Hydration & Food

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

  • Picky Bars
  • Go Macro Bars
  • Clif Bars
  • Vega Bars
  • Verv Energy Bars
  • Lenny & Larry’s Complete Cookies
  • BRAMI Lupini Beans
  • Baruka Nuts
  • Various Mixed Nuts
  • Pretzels
  • Vegan Jerky
  • Bananas
  • Fritos
  • Picky Oatmeal
  • Whole Foods Rice & Lentils
  • YumEarth Organic Sour Beans
  • Hammer Fizz
  • Tailwind Recovery
  • Coca-Cola
  • MapleAid
  • Iced Tea
  • Lemonade
  • Smoothie
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Injuries

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

Flora and Fauna

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

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

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

Astronomy

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

Weather

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

Lowlights

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

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Highlights

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

Lessons Learned

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

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Summary

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

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

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

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

Prologue: New England Trail End-to-End Adventure

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

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

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

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The New England Trail website describes the route:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 11 National Scenic Trails are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shenipsit Trail End-to-End Run

Lately, many of my trail adventures have been with Debbie. That wasn’t always the case. In the past, many of her races, and particularly the ultra distance events, were solo affairs for her. She was the runner and I was the crew.

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Over the years, and on many occasions, our children joined me on the crew. When they were young, it wasn’t easy for both of us to compete at the same time, so I was on “Daddy Duty” too, but a weekend with the kids can’t be compared with ALL week with the kids.  If you have crewed at an ultra, then you know that there is a lot of downtime. The moments of quietude are interspersed with bursts of activity when your runner arrives at an aid station. Crew chiefs are good at managing logistics. I love that role and look forward to playing it again. Debbie has done more than 100 ultras and I crewed most of them.

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Yesterday, she ran the Shenipsit Trail End-to-End with our friend Laura Lindquist Becker, and the experience brought back many of the good vibes from ultras past. There was no crew as this was a self-supported effort by the two of them, but that didn’t stop us from helping out with some of the other logistics and showing up at the end to cheer their finish.

Debbie and I met Laura last year when she joined the Shenipsit Striders. She helped out at the NipMuck Trail Marathon and then ran half of the Shenipsit Trail End-to-End the weekend after Thanksgiving.

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The two of them have been running together ever since. At some point, they hatched a plan to do the entire trail as an FKT attempt. Debbie knows the trail like the back of her hand, and she took Laura out several times in recent months to scout different sections. A few weeks ago, they ran the top half north to south. Yesterday, they did the whole thing south to north. I actually think it was Debbie’s first time doing the whole trail at once. It cuts right through our hometown of Bolton and we are on it all the time, so it is probably the most special trail for us.

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The Connecticut Forest & Park Association 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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Given our 20 years association with the Shenipsit Striders, this trail has a lot of meaning. Debbie has been part of Striders leadership for a long time and was Race Director of the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race which uses sections of the trail. Laura is a very strong endurance athlete with a multi-sport background, but she is relatively new to trail running. She and Debbie make a good team.

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They started in Cobalt at the southern terminus of the trail on Gadpouch Road around 6:13 A.M. Their effort was self-supported which means no outside aid, and no accompaniment outside of your team. You can read about FKT definitions and guidelines at this link.  I provided more background in a post from last month. They left a car in Bolton Notch with extra food and water. The commuter lot is about 30 miles into the 50 mile total distance. It’s a trail, so these numbers are approximate. They reached the Notch around 11:15 A.M.

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Shepard was at Case Mountain riding with friends from the Team HORST Junior Squad. His teammate Sean was doing 6,288 feet of climbing for his CCAP Breakaway Benefit Ride, and he (and Alexandra) joined him for 30 miles. Of course, the Shenipsit Trail goes through Case. They didn’t end up seeing each other, but Laura and Debbie saw many other Shenipsit Striders friends throughout the day.

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Dahlia and I were hanging out at home to start the day. We took a walk and watched Launch America on YouTube. Then, around 9:00 A.M., I rode to Lake Terramuggus for a swim. I stopped at Case on the way, but only bumped into Junior Squad coach Tim Rourke. He is Sean’s dad. After my swim, I continued south to Cobalt to fetch the car. I returned home to have a snack with Dahlia and pack the car. Then we went to Case to pick up Shep. During this entire time, Laura and Debbie were making their way north.

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The kids and I drove to the northern terminus on Greaves Road in Stafford. They ate lunch onto way. When we got there, we hiked the trail south for two miles before turning back. Our timing was perfect as Laura and Debbie arrived when we were about 1/4 mile from the end. It was about 4:40 P.M. We cheered them loudly as they sprinted to the finish in just over 10 hours and 27 minutes. Laura’s husband, Steve Becker, was on Old Stafford Road and it was great to meet him and have him join the celebration.

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The kids and I have spent hours in the woods waiting for Debbie to arrive. With ultra races cancelled, this felt good. There was a lot less downtime as we got to do our own thing on a Sunday and then show up for the best part at the end. Congratulations to Debbie and Laura for their great run on a classic trail.

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Hibbard Trail Loop & the Legacy of John Hibbard

Shepard and I rode our bicycles to Lebanon today. The purpose was to run the Hibbard Trail Loop in Whitney Forest. This is a lovely little trail named in honor of John Hibbard, the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s long time Executive Director, Secretary, and Forester.

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CFPA’s Walk Book and website do a good job describing the significance of this trail and of John Hibbard:

The Whitney Forest is an 84-acre gem of protected woodland, nestled in the heart of Lebanon. It was donated to CFPA in 1998 by Dorothy D. Whitney of Avon, CT.  It was the desire of the Whitney family that the property be managed as a working forest in perpetuity. The forest will now serve as an educational site for sustainable forestry practices. CFPA undertook a timber harvest on the property in 2015 to improve the forest for oak and pitch pine regeneration.  The same year, CFPA’s trails program built the loop trail to better showcase the property and open it to the public. The trail features red maple swamps, fieldstone corrals, a tumbling stream and views over a neighboring marsh.

The loop trail is named for John Hibbard, one of Connecticut’s premier conservation heroes. Hibbard served as CFPA’s executive director and secretary/forester from 1963 to 2000. Trained as a forester at UConn, Hibbard was a visionary who worked on big legislative issues that have had long-lasting impacts on conservation and recreation across the state. His forceful advocacy was integral to providing tax relief for farm, forest, and open space lands (PA 490) which currently totals 484,000 acres statewide. He worked on legislation that established town conservation commissions to protect our local air, water and open space resources. It is our hope that as you walk this trail, you are both aware of the path John Hibbard blazed, and are inspired to make a difference yourself.

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On Wednesday of this week, during the CFPA Board of Directors Zoom meeting, John Hibbard participated and spoke up during the discussion. It was great to hear him. I’ve known him for 20 years and he remains a CFPA Honorary Director and a conservation champion. His advocacy has inspired so many people to volunteer their time and contribute to the trails of Connecticut. Our old friend, Christine Woodside, who edited Connecticut Woodlands for many years, wrote this piece about Hibbard and other trail pioneers. Christine is a trail maintainer and pioneer herself. She currently edits AMC’s Appalachia journal which everyone should subscribe to. I’m biased, but I think everyone should be members of both CFPA and AMC. Just click the links to join! It’s $35/year for CFPA and $50 for AMC. Seniors and students are even less. You have no excuse, the benefits are fantastic, and no, I don’t get a commission.

With all of our pandemic FKT activity and time spent on Connecticut’s trails, I came across the info about the Hibbard Trail in the Walk Book. Our copy is “dog eared” as we have been pouring over it and reading about trails that we have yet to explore. This was one of them.

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My legs have been aching all week after last weekend’s Quinnipiac Trail End-to-End Run, so the plan was to do something “easy.” I came up with the idea of having Shepard join me for his first FKT attempt. So, this morning, we rode the Hop River Trail to Andover, and then took some lovely roads through the eastern CT towns of Andover, Columbia, Hebron, and Lebanon.

I carried our running shoes and some snacks in an UltrAspire backpack. The humidity of the last few days broke, and the weather was excellent with partial sunshine making it through the remaining clouds. It was about 17.5 miles of gravel and road to reach the Whitney Forest. There was one car parked in the trailhead parking lot, but we never saw the hikers. The mosquitos were biting, so we locked our bikes to a tree and quickly changed our shoes.

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I pulled up the FKT info, and clicked through to read Sarah Ports Connors’report.

Hibbard “Trail”… more like a briar tunnel.

“That’s strange, there is a short little trail on the FKT boards in my hometown. Kind of silly, but I will go grab it today during my errands. What could go wrong?”

It would be impossible to overstate just how overgrown parts of the trail are. I have never been so covered in scratches and blood from such a short run in my life.

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I made the mistake of reading this out loud and Shepard got psyched out. We determined that she went clockwise, so we decided to do the same. Though the Walk Book says it is 1.5 miles long, our Garmin GPS’ measured it as 1.3 miles. That’s really short for an FKT Route and we would never create one that short, but since it existed, and was so close to home, we had to do it.

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We ran a “warmup” lap to scout the trail. By the end of the lap, I had Shepard’s brain squared away again and he was ready to hammer lap number two. We grabbed a sip of water, pulled off our arm warmers, and then lined up for the sprint. He led the entire way and I had a hard time keeping up. The trail is incredibly “twisty and turny” with lots of slippery rocks and greasy bog bridges.

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Yesterday’s rain and the humidity kept the trail damp and the overgrowth hid the roots and mud, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as Sarah reported. She ran it in July of last year, and I’m sure that with the full spring and summer heat, the overgrowth had increased. Thankfully our spring has been colder and the plants have only really started to grow in the past few weeks, so we could run it hard and not risk life and limb.

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It is true that the bridges were deadly and I nearly lost Shep’s “draft” near the end of the loop. If it wasn’t for a 0.2 mile logging road section to finish off, I might not have caught up. He pushed super-hard and I was really proud of him. He gets stronger by the workout. We caught our breath, and then hauled the bikes and gear towards the road where the sunshine was making it through the trees. We did this to avoid the mosquitos while we were changing our shoes again.

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After our transition, we hopped back on our bikes and took a different route home. This time we explored parts of the Air Line Trail before connecting with Route 85. This led us to East Street and the nice roads back to Bolton. This adventure was Shepard’s virtual CCAP Breakaway Benefit “ride.” He is a member of the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad. CCAP has done a TON to support youth cycling in Connecticut. With the cancellation of this year’s in-person rides, these virtual rides are being held independently to support the nonprofit organization and it’s mission. Check out the pledge page. 

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I think it is fitting that we ran this trail today to honor John Hibbard’s legacy, and the work of all CFPA volunteers and staff. Connecticut has the best trail system in the country. I say it frequently, and I just said it again.

Quinnipiac Trail End-to-End Run

Today, Debbie and completed an end-to-end run of the Quinnipiac Trail. This is Debbie’s “hometown” trail and she trained a lot on it in the late-1990’s and early 2000’s. She grew up in Prospect, a mile from the northern terminus.

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The Quinnipiac is the oldest of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. CFPA’s website describes it this way:

Length: 18.3 miles

Towns:
 Hamden, Cheshire, Bethany, Prospect


Trail Overview:
 The Quinnipiac Trail is the oldest in the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System. Although essentially a wooded trail, it traverses a series of traprock ridges on steep, challenging terrain. The trail passes through Sleeping Giant State Park, West Rock Ridge State Park, Naugatuck State Forest, and, at its most northern end, follows the rocky ridgeline of the Prospect-Cheshire border. The trail additionally crosses forested property on this ridge that has been protected by the Cheshire Land Trust.

The trail offers a succession of commanding views of the central valley, with ascents of York Mountain in Hamden and Bethany, and Mad Mare Hill and Mount Sanford in Bethany. The trail passes the dramatic chasms of Roaring Brook Falls, which are recognized as Connecticut’s highest single drop waterfall. The Roaring Brook Falls are located 0.2 miles east of the Quinnipiac Trail, on an orange-blazed Cheshire Town Trail. The Quinnipiac Trail also connects to the north end of the blue-blazed Regicides Trail in Hamden, offering additional hiking opportunities.

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During the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, Debbie, the kids, and I have been spending a lot of time on BBHT’s. We’ve made several trips to the Natchaug Trail, the Nipmuck Trail, and the Shenipsit Trail. I covered a bit of CFPA and BBHT history in my FKT post from a few weeks back. In October 1929, CFPA established a Trails Committee and then in December of that year, established the first four sections of the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The Quinnipiac Trail (listed at 19.2 miles in the Walk Book but our GPS’ measured a bit over 18 miles on today’s run) was the first official trail. There are more than 40 main trails and many subsidiary and spur trails that make up the full 825 mile system.

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The CFPA BBHT network is one of the finest in the entire country and are marked with blue rectangular blazes. This trail system offers a great way to explore the woods of Connecticut. I am a longtime CFPA board member and proud of the organizations amazing conservation history. As noted, Debbie would frequently run the Quinnipiac to Sleeping Giant State Park, and sometimes run it there and back. Until today, neither of us had been on the backside of Sleeping Giant State Park. The 3+/- mile section from the summit to Old Hartford Turnpike was tough.

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Really, the whole run was tough. We spent Saturday night at the Schieffer’s (Debbie’s parents) house. The kids were thrilled to visit with their grandparents. We got up early, finished packing our gear, and drove to Hamden with our bikes. We locked them to a tree about 50 yards from the southeastern terminus of the trail, and left our helmets, shoes, and a backpack. Then we drove back to Prospect. Then, Mrs. Schieffer drove us the mile down Route 68 to where the trail starts near the Davis Auction on Chatfield Road. The auction is where Momma S (as I call her) has worked for more than a decade. Technically, the trail no longer starts on the road. The Walk Book still shows it starting there with the 0.8 mile road section, but the CFPA website now shows the official start at the end of Cornwall Avenue where there is a trailhead. Either way, this is a special section of road in a special town. I first ventured to Prospect after meeting Debbie in 1999. We were married by Bob Chatfield, whose family name, is on this road. Bob is a Justice of the Peace, but he is even more well-known for being “Mayor Bob” for the past 43 years. That’s right, he has been mayor of Prospect for 21 terms dating back to 1977. That’s quite an accomplishment and he even has a Wikipedia page!

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Ironically, he doesn’t live on Chatfield, but rather around the corner on Cornwall. I had to stop and take a photo of his mailbox. Bob married us at White Memorial in Litchfield on October 13th, 2001. I’ve only seen him a few times over the last 19 years, probably at a parade and/or at a funeral. After our run today, I told our daughter that we were on a “date,” and she asked where we went. She was serious. I cracked up and told her we were on the Quinnipiac Trail.

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The Fastest Known Time route includes the road walk (run), so we wanted to add the distance and make it official. I’m sure there were less roads, or at least less asphalt, 91 years ago when the trail officially became part of CFPA’s system. The trail is shaped like an L. It heads south from Prospect before turning east. There were two or three other segments where we were on roads and able to pick up the pace. We started right at 7:30 A.M. The first four or five miles are some of the most rugged on the trail, and it was slow going. This section takes you over Mt. Sanford in Bethany, the high point (889 feet) on the trail. There was a nice view, the first of several that we would see on this beautiful Sunday morning.

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Debbie had an early mishap. She slipped on a wet rock in a streambed and slammed her left shin into another rock, dunking both feet in the process. This is the same shin she hurt on the Nipmuck E2E run when she slipped on a wood bridge. It took a while for her to shake it off, so I led for the first half of the run where there was more uphill. We knew what pace we had to average based on our target time. As we descended into Cheshire, we were able to pick up the pace and she started feeling better. By the time we got to Hamden, I was the one dragging. Over the last month, I’ve had a sore left glute that causes tightness in my hamstring and calf. When we hit the road section on Nolan Road, Shepard Ave, and the steep Rocky Top Road, I was the one who was hurting.

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My calf was cramping and my gait was thrown off. We were moving well on the road, but I was in pain, and was much happier when we got back on the trail. Thankfully, I was able to keep it from getting worse, and managed the leg soreness for the remainder of the run. I avoided falling, which might have been a miracle given how rocky this trail is, but I did suffer a nasty stubbed right toe. I slammed my big toe twice in the last two miles, and it is now blue. I’ll likely lose it again. This is a perpetual problem for me. I pretty much lose it every year.

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Until we got to Sleeping Giant State Park, we had only seen five people. There were two hikers at the Route 42 trailhead, there was a runner in Cheshire, and there were two bird watchers near High Rock. It was glorious to have the trail to ourselves. That all changed when we got to “the Giant.” It’s worth noting that in addition to including the road section at the start, we also included the short section of trail that entered the park at the corner of Route 10 (Whitney Avenue) and Mount Carmel Avenue. It goes past the bus stop, turns into the woods, and does a little arc before coming out on Mount Carmel. It is blazed and is part of the trail, but upon further review, it looks like the official FKT route doesn’t include it. It is 0.25 mile and added about 2.5 minutes to our time, but we included it. That’s the thing with these FKT’s; the routes can change and you have to be very specific. I would rather run a little extra and get it right, than cut it short. As soon as we entered the park, we encountered the masses. I wore my Buff to cover my face and we just kept moving. That section of the trail up and over the Giant’s rock slabs is awesome, and hugely popular, even more so during a pandemic.

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The park was actually closed for more than a year between May 2018 and June 2019 after it was seriously damaged by a tornado that brought down thousands of trees. We saw evidence of this farther west on the Quinnipiac Trail as the storm had also ripped through the woods, felling many more trees. It took a ton of trail work both in the park and on the Quinnipiac, to make it right again. Today, the park proved its popularity and there were lot of hikers on the trails. In addition to the Quinnipiac Trail, there are many other color-coded routes to explore.

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Once we got to the tower on the summit of Mount Carmel (736 feet), the crowds thinned a bit. We still saw people on the 3+ mile section between there and our finish, but there weren’t as many. I was hoping that this section of trail, which neither of us had ever been on, was going to be a bit milder than what we experienced on the 2+ mile climb to the top, but alas, other than the rock slabs, it was nearly as rugged and steep. It went up and down several times, before finally plunging down along the Wallingford border and dumping out on to the Old Hartford Turnpike. When we could finally hear the traffic on Route 15, we knew we were getting close. Debbie absolutely hammered the final mile and I hung on for dear life. It was in the last section where I smashed my toe for the second time and I was doing everything in my power to remain on my feet.

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We were pleased with our time, 3:35:11. We made a few wrong turns, and stopped a few times for photos. Plus we did the marked section between the corner of Route 10 and Mount Carmel. The official route on the FKT site omits this segment but it’s on the Walk Book map and it is blazed. Our moving time was measured four minutes faster, but the total elapsed time is the official time. Our pace was 11:56/mile and there was about 4,300 feet of elevation gain. Our fastest mile was an 8:17 and our slowest (going hand over fist up the “forehead” of the Giant) was 17:12. We were happy to be done just as the morning was heating up. It was cool in the woods, but the sun was strong.

A “Double Q” has been done a few times. The best time going south to north, and then back is 9:17:19. That would be hard. We were in no mood to run back today, so we changed up, mounted our bikes, and rode back past the state park. Vehicles were parked for more than a mile on Mount Carmel Road outside the park and across from Quinnipiac University. There was an ice cream truck setting up for the day, and ready to make a killing. We rode over to the Farmington Canal State Park Trail and took it north, back into Cheshire.  The rail trail was also full with recreationalists. It’s nice to see so many people taking advantage of Connecticut’s amazing trails. Once we got off the bike path, that’s where the real climbing begins. Between North Brooksvale Road, Mountain Road, and Cheshire Road (Route 68),  we had a lot of elevation gain on our trip back to the house completed our Sunday sufferfest. When we arrived, we were very happy to see our family. Momma S. put together an amazing lunch, and we chilled out on a glorious afternoon.

 

Natchaug Trail End-to-End Run

This morning, Debbie and I did a hard effort on the Natchaug Trail, running it end-to-end from the southern terminus at Goodwin State Forest to the northern terminus at the Nipmuck Trail junction. Then we rode back to our car on our bikes.

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Here is an excerpt from the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s description of the trail:

The Natchaug Trail traverses the James L. Goodwin and Natchaug State Forests. Together with the Nipmuck State Forest, Yale Forest and several large private tracts, they combine to form one of the largest areas of contiguous forest in southern New England supporting a large variety of wildlife.

The trail follows a short portion of the beautiful Still River and journeys along Bigelow Brook. Meandering over relatively easy terrain, it crosses several small brooks, passes stone walls, and slips through interesting stands of trees. State foresters actively manage these forests for wildlife and timber production and the trail traverses a diverse and interesting tree mix ranging from 2 to well over 100 years old.

There are opportunities to catch sight of a variety of wildlife including turtles, beavers, and many birds along the streams and in the areas around Pine Acres Pond, Black Spruce, and Beaverdam Marshes. Active forest management has produced a variety of young, early-succession forest habitats which abound with diverse species of birds and other wildlife.

History is abundant along the trail as it passes near old CCC Camp Fernow (1933-42) and through General Nathaniel Lyon Memorial Park (first General to be killed in the Civil War). A short northern section also coincides with the Old Connecticut Path traveled in the 1630s by settlers (driving over 100 cattle) from the Boston area to the Hartford area in one of the first major inland migrations of America by European settlers.

The Natchaug Trail joins the Nipmuck Trail in Ashford and hikers can continue exploring north to Bigelow Hollow State Park and the CT/MA state line or south to Mansfield Hollow State Park.

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The Connecticut Walk Book lists it at 17.6 miles and it goes through the towns of Hampton, Eastford, and Ashford. Our GPS’ measured it a little short at about 16.9 miles with about 2,100 feet of elevation gain. Two weeks ago, Debbie and I did a thru-run of the Nipmuck Trail. The Natchaug is the Nipmuck’s shorter sister. Both trails are maintained by NipMuck Dave Raczkowski and we thank him for it. The blazes, markers, and signage were excellent. So were the many bridges. There is still some blowdown, but some of that may be fresh from the nor’easter that blew through at the start of the weekend. We got a dusting of snow on Saturday morning that melted, and then Sunday evening snow squalls left another coating in shady spots this morning.

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We got started early. We were at the Goodwin State Forest parking area by 6:15 A.M. It’s a 30 minute drive from the house. With no races on the schedule, we have delved into the FKT world. Yesterday, I wrote about that interesting community of adventurers in a blog post. We planned this run/bike over the last couple of days. We have to score a few more FKT’s in Connecticut before Ben Nephew (who currently leads the FKT rankingswith 58) gets out of quarantine and drives south. Once he does, it will be hard to stay at the top of the leaderboard. He will crush all the established times. The good news is that from messages I’ve exchanged with him, he is planning to attack some of these routes and bring even more positive notoriety to our great trail system.

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To make this morning’s logistics more manageable, we drove to Iron Mine Road late on Saturday and took the kids on a Nipmuck Trail hike to Ladie’s Room Rock and Pixie Falls. At the start of our hike, we stashed our bicycles just off of the trail, which is about 1.3 miles from the Nipmuck/Natchaug junction. Our normal technique for these run/bike adventures is to find a good sized tree (out of view from the trail) and lock the bikes around the tree and together. We stash a waterproof bag with our cycling shoes, helmets,  a larger pack (for me to stuff all the running gear), and anything else that we need for the ride.

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It was a lovely hike and Pixie Falls was a real treat. The kids loved it. We opted to return home for dinner rather than doing take out. That meant we got to bed at a normal time, and were well rested for the early wake-up this morning. Everything was packed, so we just needed to fuel up and make the drive to Hampton.

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Debbie and I ran the Nipmuck together, but since the Natchaug is shorter, we opted to go our own pace. At a shorter distance, I’m quicker…most of the time. That was true today and I finished in 2:39:59. She finished in 2:59:48. I waited for her at the terminus since it is in the middle of the woods. She had her own cheering section as she completed the point to point route.

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Prior to today, records show that Dan Bates had the first and fastest official time on 04/20/2020. He ran 2:46:33, which is excellent considering it was part of a larger 45 mile loop that he made with the Air Line Trail, the Natchaug Trail, and the southern section of the Nipmuck Trail (East Branch). That looks like a fun loop that we want to do.

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This was our first extensive time on the trail. She has run sections that are part of the Goodwin Forest Trail Run, and I’ve been on the Air Line Trail, which overlaps for a short section at the start. The first five miles were pretty flat and kind of ugly, but the trail conditions improved. These state forests have been heavily logged. Once we got to the five mile mark, the climbing started and it was up and down the rest of the way. That’s typical for a Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail.

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The other typical feature was that the terrain was rough. There were copious rocks and roots. Debbie describes the rockiest sections as “rock gardens.” I’m not the best on the hard stuff, but I stayed on my feet. My only fall came on the final uphill with a quarter mile to go. I slipped and ended up in the leaves.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the trail. We didn’t see anyone else on the trail. I only saw one hiker on the entire trail. Granted, we started early, but from what I gather, the Natchaug is a gem that doesn’t get a whole lot of traffic beyond the state forests that it passes through. It wound through various marshes and there were many beautiful streams. We also went past some lovely old foundations and chimneys. This is an historic area and you can tell that there was civilization in those woods back in the day. The old logging and forest roads were fast and they linked up with the technical singletrack sections. There were a few short road sections and those were good for making up time and stretching out the legs.

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As noted, it was cold enough for snow. In the morning, it was about 34 degrees Fahrenheit, so it was chilly. It warmed up into the mid-40’s. We finished around 9:30 A.M. and we jogged the 1.3 miles south on the Nipmuck to get to our bikes. We packed some dry layers and had to bundle up as it was a cold and blustery ride with intermittent sunshine. We took a scenic route that meandered through the lovely Natchaug towns that are at the edge of Connecticut’s Quiet Corner. I love riding up that way.

We were back at the car by 11:20 A.M. and home by noon. The kids were pumped to see us and after lunch, we celebrated by playing some basketball. The Livingston’s are gifted ballers with great height and we’ve got game!

Fastest Known Time (FKT)

This morning, I went for a little ruck on our neighborhood trail, the Clark Trail, and listened to the latest Fastest Known Podcast episode (#86) featuring Connecticut native Sarah Connor. It was fantastic to hear a Connecticut runner interviewed on a podcast that is produced in Boulder, CO. I think there is a west coast bias when it comes to trail running and outdoor adventure, and I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder regarding the west vs. east debate, but this is sport, and it’s all in good fun. CO may not be on the coast, but it’s part of the mountain west that gets much attention relative to our part of the country here in New England.

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Sarah made FKT news for her surge of activity in April. In recent years, she discovered the FKT concept and community. At the moment, the FKT leaderboard lists her with 17.  All of them were at least partially in Connecticut. Her interview with podcast host Buzz Burrell focused on Connecticut as a hotbed for FKT’s. He was quite surprised that our little state had so much activity.

She explained her background and perspective on why there has been more interest. With the pandemic and race cancellations, many runners, like Sarah, have come into the season raring to go but with nowhere to run. The FKT phenomenon has taken off here in Southern New England, but is not foreign to many of us in the region. Many of us have been adventuring for years, but without formally documenting the efforts or capturing the details as the guidelines set forth. There has to be many folks who don’t even care to document their adventures, but for those of us interested in a little competition, FKT’s serve a purpose. The FKT leaderboard is currently topped by Ben Nephew, from nearby Massachusetts, who has traveled a similar trajectory as Debbie. He started running short and mid-distance races (including many in the New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series), continued with mountain running, delved into ultras, and is now focusing on FKT’s. Even Ben has done quite a bit of running in Connecticut over the years.

I figured a blog post would be a good companion to Sarah’s podcast interview and would shed more light on why Connecticut is a perfect place for FKT activity to thrive. Debbie and I have been running the trails of Connecticut for more than 20 years. One important reason why FKT’s are growing in our state is simply because the trails exist. Another is because the recent attention and social media are spurring others to discover the FKT format.

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Many of Sarah’s FKT’s were on Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails that were established and are maintained by the dedicated volunteers of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association. I have been on CFPA’s Board of Directors since 2008. This is my 12th and final year, as I have served the maximum three full terms. I’m recruiting others to take my place so that they can help move our wonderful organization forward even more. CFPA describes itself this way:

The Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting people to the land in order to protect forests, parks, walking trails, and open spaces in Connecticut for future generations.

With a Staff of experienced conservation professionals and a Board of Directors who strongly support CFPA’s mission and values, CFPA delivers programs on Blue-Blazed Hiking TrailsEnvironmental EducationLand Conservation, and Public Policy.

CFPA is on the cusp of launching our next three to five year strategic plan. What is remarkable is the organization was founded in 1895 and was the first private, nonprofit, conservation organization to be established in Connecticut. CFPA is one of the oldest and most respected conservation organizations in the country and has inspired the land trust movement in Connecticut and beyond. It is important to note that CFPA is a creation of the descendants of Connecticut’s settlers 17th century settlers, but the Native Americans were exploring the landscape long before Europeans arrived. It is fitting that many of our trails are named after Native American tribe names and other words.

In October 1929, CFPA established a Trails Committee and then in December of that year, established the first four sections of the Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The 19.2 mile Quinnipiac Trail extending from Prospect to Hamden was the first official trail. There are more than 40 main trails and many subsidiary and spur trails that make up the full 825 mile system. Debbie grew up in Prospect and her first true introduction to trail running was on the Quinnipiac. She would frequently run it to Sleeping Giant State Park, and sometimes run it there and back.

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One thing I’m proud of during my time on the board is that CFPA has embraced the trail running community, and the trail running community has embraced CFPA. The BBHT’s are one of the best and most extensive systems of “close-to-home” trails anywhere in the country. It’s no surprise that Connecticut leads the nation in National Trails Day events. Every year, I write about Trails Day and the impact it has had on our state. Last year, Connecticut had more than 200 official events. That’s a lot for a small state, but many of the same reasons for this high level of activity are what also drive the growth of FKT’s.

I could delve deeper into the history of CFPA and the BBHT’s, but two references do a fantastic job of this. Check out George McLean Milne’s Connecticut Woodlands: A Century’s Story of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and the Connecticut Walk Book: The Complete Guide to Connecticut’s Blue-Blazed Hiking TrailsI’ve consulted these books many times over the last 20 years. Milne’s book is from 1995, and out of print, but you can find copies online. The “Walk Book” was first published in 1937 and the 20th edition was published in 2017.

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The 825 miles of trails in the system, and all of the spur trails, park trails, town trails, land trust, and other trails make Connecticut a state with more trails per-capita than any other state in the nation. I don’t have the specific facts to back this assertion, but I have heard this stated several times, and it is likely true. There are 3.5 million residents and 5,567 square miles. We are the third smallest state (land area) behind Rhode Island and Delaware. There are a lot of trails, and they are literally right out our front doors. Furthermore, these are not federal trails, but rather state and local trails. They are on rugged, rooted, and rocky terrain, and all at low elevations. They were designed for walking and hiking, but these factors make them perfect for running too.

As members of the New England and Connecticut trail running community, Debbie and I have witnessed the amazing growth of trail running, ultra running, and now FKT’s. Admittedly, we hadn’t paid much attention to the formal FKT process. We knew that there was an active message board community that emerged during the early Internet era, but we didn’t officially pay attention until Debbie uploaded one to the modern website after her 2018 Mohawk/AT Loop adventure. We’ve been doing FKT style runs since the early 2000’s. Others were doing them long before us. Many of ours came during the years that we were focused on climbing the 67 New England 4,000 footers.

Most were before GPS technology and we don’t have good records of our times, but we frequently pushed it on these routes. In 2008, along with our friend Matt Schomburg, we were the first to do the entire Grafton Notch Loop in Maine. When my blog post of the trip inspired Ryan Welts and Adam Wilcox to run it in 2014, they mentioned us as inspiration, which is pretty cool. That was likely the first time I heard the abbreviation FKT. We have subsequently done other epic routes in White Mountains of New Hampshire/Maine, and Green Mountains of Vermont. Our White Mountain Hut Traverses in 2011 and 2013 were notable adventures. This route dates back long before the Internet and was established by Hut Croos from the Appalachian Mountain Club. Speed hiking was a thing decades ago as these Croos developed massive strength during their time spent in the Huts. They very well may have been early pioneers of the trail running, mountain running, and FKT movements.

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In the podcast, Sarah mentioned the CT Trail Mixers running club. By historical standards, they are a relatively new group. The longest standing trail running club in Connecticut is the Shenipsit Striders, founded in 1975. There is a lot of history on my blog about the Striders. Debbie joined the club in 1999, was the president for many years, and after 15 years, in 2019 she retired as the Race Director of the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races. Our club promotes the two oldest trail races in New England, the NipMuck Trail Marathon (36 years), and the aforementioned Soapstone (35 years).

Both are part of the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series, which has 12 events in any given year. These stats demonstrate the growth and popularity of this series. In 2019, a cumulative ~20,000 miles were run during the series, with 780 individual men runners and 511 individual women runners. The most finishers by race were the HMF Events (Hartford Marathon Foundation) Summer Solstice 5 Miler with 195, the Shenipsit Striders Events Nipmuck South with 153, the Shenipsit Striders Events Soapstone Mountain Trail Race 14 Miler with 123, and the Connecticut Traprock 17K & 50K Ultramarathon Traprock 17k with 120. Overall, the Solstice 5K/5M combo had 295 finishers, the Soapstone 6K/14M combo had 226, and the Traprok 17K/50K combo had 200. These are big numbers for a small state. 

So, with all of 2020’s races canceled for now, there is a huge void. Many people are filling that void with FKT’s. Over the last 90 years, many people have hiked all or many of the BBHT’s, but now folks are running them too, and in droves. Now, this may sound like the trails are crowded, but that’s not the case. Sarah pointed out how she can run for hours without seeing anyone. Some popular trails are busy but many of these trails are little known and quiet. That factor has also contributed to the surge in FKT activity as runners seek new places to go. Connecticut is a tiny state, but there are trails everywhere.

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We have the dedicated trail maintainers led by CFPA’s Trails Committee to thank for making sure we have access to these trails and assuring that these trails are open to all residents. CFPA itself is an under-recognized nonprofit organization that deserves more respect and increased membership. Though the Connecticut DEEP has a long history, we can no longer count on the government to maintain our parks and trails. With a staff of about 10 that is augmented by hundreds of volunteers, the nonprofit CFPA is based in Rockfall, and works tirelessly to protect the landscape of Connecticut. That landscape includes our own 825 miles of trails (crossing private and public lands) and many state parks.

I’m biased, but Connecticut has the best trails in the world. Debbie and I have hiked and run all over the world and our trail network and trail community are the best. I’m torn because I want to shout this from the hilltops while also keeping this secret to ourselves. From time to time, a journalist or trail advocate will pick up on the fact that Connecticut’s trails are extraordinary, but then people soon forget. The glossy running magazines spend little time featuring New England trails. Whenever you see a “best of” or “top 10” list, there is frequently a token New England trail or trail town thrown in for good measure. It isn’t new for me to point this out. In 2013, Meghan Hicks wrote a story for Trailer Runner magazine. Somehow she reached Debbie and me and we nominated Manchester, Connecticut as a top trail town. It was great to be chosen and we touted many of the great facts described throughout this blog post. Typically when east coast or northeast trails are cited for excellence, they are in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Other accolades are given to trails in Maine or Vermont, where you can get above treeline. However, some of the best trails are those closest to home. So, during a pandemic, when you have to stay home or at least close to home, the local trails are the best trails.

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In addition to CFPA, the Appalachian Mountain Club has a strong presence in Connecticut. I am also on AMC’s Board of Directors. I’m at the start of my third two-year term so my love of AMC is strong. AMC is much larger than CFPA, has a regional mission, and is also a pioneering nonprofit. We were founded in 1876. AMC’s website describes our mission well:

Founded in 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. We believe these resources have intrinsic worth and also provide recreational opportunities, spiritual renewal, and ecological and economic health for the region. Because successful conservation depends on active engagement with the outdoors, we encourage people to experience, learn about, and appreciate the natural world.

Like CFPA, it’s younger sibling, AMC does substantial work advocating for and maintaining trails throughout New England. In addition to managing the White Mountain Huts, AMC was instrumental in the creation of the  Appalachian Trail Conservancy, another key nonprofit in the trails movement. The ATC oversees the entire Appalachian Trail. The AT goes through 14 states including 51 miles in Connecticut.  That’s important to note. The AT is iconic, and even though it is a short stretch, it highlights Connecticut’s status as a state with awesome trail resources and an even better trail culture.

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So, all of this info and history supports what Sarah described during her interview. She may not have known all of this background, but she can read it here and will likely be even more proud of her heritage as a Connecticut trail runner. Debbie and I have been inspired by so many legendary New England trail runners over the last 20+ years. Each of us have done hundreds of races.  We had a full slate of ultras planned for this spring and summer including Tammany 10, Traprock 50K, Run Ragged, and the Bighorn Trail Run. We were going to use many shorter races in our training. With all of our events cancelled, we have also turned to FKT’s for fun and adventure. We have uploaded a few past routes where we were able to scrape together the necessary documentation, and we have done a few new ones. One example is our Nipmuck Trail End-to-End Run.

With all of the event cancellations, I haven’t had as many stories to write about on this blog. I’ve been flat out at work trying to keep things going there and not writing as much, but sharing this post makes we quite happy. Chances are we will try another FKT tomorrow.

Nipmuck Trail End-to-End Run

I missed blogging, so I did an adventure to have something cool to write about. Today Debbie and I ran the entire Nipmuck Trail from the southern terminus of the East Branch to the northern terminus. The run was just over 35 miles with a little under 5,000 feet of elevation gain and our total time was 7 hours 25 minutes and 29 seconds. Our Connecticut Walk Book says the distance is 36.3 miles but my Garmin GPS track measured it shorter. Since much of the trail is on private land, it changes from time to time and the distances can vary year to year.

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The southern terminus of the East Branch starts in Mansfield Hollow State Park. The West Branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in Mansfield, but there is no way to combine a run of the full trail including both branches, without backtracking.

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 10.33.20 PMWe desired one continuous point to point run, so we chose to use the slightly longer East Branch since we recently hiked (with the kids) on the West Branch and wanted to see something new. The northern terminus is at the top of Bigelow Hollow State Park next to Breakneck Pond and on the Massachusetts state line.

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The Nipmuck is part of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s 825 miles of Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails. The CFPA BBHT network is one of the finest in the entire country and are marked with blue rectangular blazes. This trail system offers a great way to explore the woods of Connecticut. I am a longtime CFPA board member and proud of the organizations amazing conservation history.

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The CFPA’s official description of the trail is worth sharing:

The Nipmuck Trail extends from Mansfield north to the Massachusetts border. It is shaped roughly like an upside-down fork and has two southern branches: the West Branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in Mansfield; the East Branch starts in Mansfield Hollow State Park in North Windham. The northern terminus of the Nipmuck Trail is in the beautiful Bigelow Hollow State Park.

The trail crosses through a number of recreation and conservation areas including Mansfield Hollow State Park, the Natchaug and Nipmuck State Forests, Schoolhouse Brook Park, the Yale Forest, Bigelow Hollow State Park, and other lands owned by towns and land conservation trusts, most notably Joshua’s Trust. Highlights on the trail include Wolf Rock (an enormous glacial erratic), lookout over Mansfield Hollow Lake, 50’ Cliff, Pixie Falls, Ladies Room Rock, Coye Hill (highest point on the Nipmuck Trail), and the Fenton and Mount Hope rivers. The Nipmuck Trail crosses open field, follows along ridges and woods roads, and provides a continuous spine to which numerous other trail systems connect.

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We are quite familiar with the trail. Four of our all time favorite races, and all of them classics, use the Nipmuck for some or all of their courses: Nipmuck South, NipMuck Trail Marathon, Northern Nipmuck, and Breakneck. Only the first two remain active. Nipmuck South is a relative newcomer, but NipMuck is the oldest and most famous trail race in New England. In 2020, it will celebrate 37 years of continuous running, assuming the Shenipsit Striders are able to host it in October as planned.

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I’ve never run the 14 mile Nipmuck South, but Debbie has. I’ve crewed, watched, and photographed, and I’ve been on that section of trail a few times. I’ve run the 26.4 mile NipMuck Trail Marathon seven times. I first did it in 2004, and I last did it (on a relay with Debbie), in 2019. The 16 mile Northern Nipmuck is one of our all-time favorite races, but it is not held anymore. I did it eight times, between 2002 and 2010, though that first time was a 12 mile DNF that motivated me to train a little more (running) than I previously did in that era. I recall that day vividly. I had done very little trail running after a decade of competitive cycling. I figured I would give it a go at the April race, but halfway through the return leg, I couldn’t move my legs anymore. They were absolutely hammered. I got a ride back from the aid station on Barlow Hill Road.

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I ran the 13 mile Breakneck six times between 2002 and 2009, but it is no longer held. The first time I ran it was also a DNF, but that was because I smashed and gashed my knee in a hard fall at the four mile mark. The wound required many stitches to close. Things were better the last time I ran it. It was one of my best and fastest trail races of all time. If Brian Rusiecki hadn’t shown up, I would have notched my only ever win in a long course New England Grand Tree Trail Running Series event.

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With no races during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, we figured we would test ourselves on familiar trails that were at low elevations and close to home. Our intent was to push it. I still took a bunch of photos, but we kept moving. The Nipmuck Trail is about 95% rugged singletrack. The trail is amazingly beautiful and challenging. As noted, it winds through some lovely northeastern Connecticut towns including: Mansfield, Ashford, Willington, Eastford, and Union. There are about 17 road crossings, a few short road sections in the first half, and then a one mile off-trail section (dirt and asphalt) on Oakes Road at about the 20 mile mark.

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Debbie and I had plans to run several ultras this spring including the Tammany 10 and the Traprock 50K, both of which were cancelled. I haven’t run an ultra since last July’s Never Summer 100K. I’m fit right now as I kept up my exercise regimen after the fall cyclocross season, and I’ve taken advantage of the mild winter weather in New England. I’m mostly cycling, but I’ve done a couple of 15+ mile training runs and have been averaging 20 miles of total running each week. Most of my riding has been accomplished by commuting to and from work. The lockdown has made that easier since I have no meetings after work. I’ve been feeling pretty good, but a pulled left “butt muscle” slowed me down over the last two weeks. It improved enough this week, so I was ready to do something big this weekend. Plus, I needed that adventure to write about.

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It was awesome to be out in nature for the better part of the day and we had the warmest temperature of the week. We are fortunate that our kids are self-sufficient and it benefits the whole family when Debbie and I can get away for can short trip. Speaking of nature, the day started off with four deer sprinting across the field that is just beyond the trailhead at the southern terminus There was low fog, and the deer were a good omen for the day. We also saw a beautiful Great Blue Heron in the Fenton River. We saw many squirrels and other critters too. We didn’t see any beavers, but we saw their handiwork.

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I had another hectic work week, but the weather forecast for Saturday was better than Sunday, and I wanted a recovery day before returning to work on Monday. So, after a short night of sleep, we drove to Mansfield and started just before 6:00 A.M. Debbie and I both wore our UltrAspire packs (vests) with 70 ounces of water. We each carried a bottle in our vests that had a concentrated mixture of Un Tapped Lemon Tea Mapleaid. I brought three Go Macro Bars, a Clif Z Bar, a fruit rope, and a Clif Shot gel. By the end of the run, I was hungry and thirsty, but I was still effectively hydrated and fueled. We both wore Altra Lone Peak shoes. I think hers are the 4.5 model and mine are the older 3.5 model. I opted for shorts and a short sleeve shirt with a base layer, while she used knickers and a long sleeve shirt. We both started the day with our Air Shed pullovers and after it warmed up, we switched ear warmers/bonnets for trucker caps.

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We only had a few problems finding our way. The delays and turnarounds didn’t cost us too much time; maybe only a few minutes each. The blazes and signs were very good. Much of the trail work was done by NipMuck Dave Raczkowski, the legendary former Race Director of the NipMuck Trail Marathon. He and other CFPA trail maintainers have done an awesome job with the trail. This trail has been his passion for much of his lifetime. I think I’ve heard him joke that he was “married to the trail.” It was easy to recognize his handwriting on the signs. Thank you NipMuck Dave for all you have done! Note the upper case M is a touch he added to the name of the race (and his name), many years ago. That’s not how the trail name is spelled on maps, but any time I refer to the race or Dave, I follow his preference.

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In addition to the great signs and markings, there were awesome stone and bridge work for much of the way. There were muddy sections and a fair amount of standing water. The Nipmuck is quite challenging with lots of rocks and roots that are typical of Connecticut trails. I think it is more rugged and hiller than our other favorite, the Shenipsit Trail. The full distance of the Shenipsit is just under 50 miles, so it is longer, but the terrain is a bit easier with more dirt roads, roads, and less pure singletrack. It isn’t as hilly as the Nipmuck, but it is still a tough trail. I like them both, but I think the Nipmuck is prettier.

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The hills really start to hit you after Perry Hill where the second part of the NipMuck Trail Marathon course begins. Those hills get more and more severe until they reach the high point on the trail at Coye Hill. The Northern Nipmuck section has the toughest inclines and declines. By the time we got there, around 26 miles, I was really starting to fade. I was stronger in the first half and led Debbie, but her endurance and running skills shown at the end. She led the final six miles because I had cracked. I revived a bit in the last mile as we neared the finish, but credit goes to her because she could have easily dropped me. The good news is that we were aiming to make this adventure a Fastest Known Time (FKT) in the Unsupported Mixed Gender Team. Debbie has one official FKT from her 2018 Appalachian Trail/Mohawk Trail Loop. The Mohawk is another great Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail. As for this FKT, I’m sure others have done this route before, but I don’t know who. The official record is void of an official FKT, so we will submit ours. Given the East vs. West branch issue and the clear difference in running this south to north vs. north to south, I hope they permit some variations of this iconic trail route.

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With our early start, we didn’t see many people in the first five hours. We saw one trail runner at Mansfield Hollow, and several fisherman along the Fenton River and the New Hope River. We didn’t see any hikers until we got to the section of the trail that goes from Boston Hollow Road to Bigelow Hollow. Once we got to Bigelow Hollow, the trails were more congested with lots of hikers and walkers. That part of the trail is narrow, so we did our best to social distance from the other folks. The distancing is a challenge with so many people spending time on the trails. The last three miles of trail are some of the most difficult. There isn’t much elevation gain, but the trail hugs Breakneck Pond and is very challenging with repeated short and steep ups and downs.

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Unfortunately, the northern terminus is 2.5 miles from the nearest parking lot at Bigelow Hollow. That meant that after running 35+ miles, we had to hike a few more. A big thank you to our friend Laura Becker who hiked out to meet us and then helped us get from Bigelow Hollow back to our car in Mansfield. We were home by 3:00 P.M. and then spent the rest of Saturday hanging out with the kids. Their dinner request was pizza, so we safely picked up two larges at Mulberry Street in Manchester. We ate one and saved one for tomorrow when I’m sure I’ll be hungry again. After that, I’m sure to be hungry for our next running or cycling adventure.

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Journal Inquirer: Conversation with Scott Livingston

An interview I did was published in this weekend’s Journal Inquirer.

Click here for the full link.

The reporter, 

MANCHESTER — It was 1938 when Scott Livingston’s grandfather Horst Liebenstein emigrated from Germany to the United States, where he eventually established what would become Horst Engineering, now based in South Windsor and East Hartford. Livingston, who lives in Bolton, is the third generation running the business and discusses his family’s history and taking over the family business.

Q: Did you grow up in Bolton?

A: I grew up in Vernon.

Q: What was life in Vernon like for you?

A: I grew up on Hickory Hill Road. I started on Taylor Street. My parents moved there in 1969, the same year they got married. They were married Woodstock weekend. My father jokes that he had friends choose the concert over the wedding and wishes he was there himself, but instead got married.

I’ve lived on the Rail Trail all my life; four different locations, twice with my parents and twice since I’ve been out on my own, including where we live now in Bolton. The trails are a central part of my life. Growing up in Vernon was just exploring the woods and the trails. I went to Lake Street School. I have a younger sister, Stacie. She lives in Coventry. She’s not involved in the business, but she’s still an important part of the family. She’s a physical therapist.

Q: Since this is a family business, were you groomed from the get-go to potentially take over?

A: No. My grandfather founded the business in 1946. He had three sons. My father is the oldest of the three. The middle son is Steven, and he became partners with my father, Stanley, early in the ’60s, but wasn’t official until the late ’70s. They had a younger brother, Bert, and he only briefly worked in the business in the ’70s after college; my father, Stanley, and Steven had been really firmly involved with the business for years at that point. There really wasn’t room for all three.

My mother joined the business in the early ’80s, and she’s been here for more than 35 years. The three of them really were the partners that ran the business in the second generation. She deserves as much credit as Steven and Stanley.

I got involved as a kid growing up in the business like anyone else in a family business would. I was exposed to the business along with my sister being exposed to the business. I had the good fortune of seeing my grandfather still working day-to-day until he passed away in 1998. By then I had started there full-time. But there was a period during my high school years going into college where I did not plan to work here. I was looking for something different.

Q: What did you want to do?

A: I wanted to be an Airborne Ranger. I was in ROTC briefly, but because of some medical disqualifications in the early ’90s I wasn’t able to pursue that path. In the subsequent period where I was rethinking what I wanted to do career-wise, I worked here and that exposed me to the opportunity. It also exposed me to the challenges, which I thought I could help my family with. I went back to school.

Q: Where were you going to school?

A: I went to Boston University to start and I ended up finishing at Boston College. If you know anything about Boston schools, they’re opposites. I needed a change of pace and I went from downtown BU to somewhat suburban BC just to get through it. I studied economics and I came back to work in the business full time after college. I went to high school at East Catholic in Manchester, even though I grew up in Vernon. I went to the Middle School in Vernon.

I wasn’t going to work here and I didn’t study engineering. It was my grandfather’s dream that I did work here and all his kids and grandkids would work here because that’s the whole reason why he built the business. He came from Germany and he didn’t do it the easy way. He persevered and got the business to a point where, when Stan and Steven got involved and then with the support of Lynn, they were able to take it to the next level. My Uncle Bert remained involved and had an ownership stake. So once it was clear that I forged a career path here, he and I became allies. It was an opportunity for him. He lives in Florida. He wasn’t involved in the day-to-day running of the business, but he was an advocate in transitioning the business in a proactive and healthy manner from the second generation to the third generation.

My father, uncle, mother, and I; the four of us engaged experts to help us and we’ve invested heavily in family business education over the years. We’ve invested in non-family management to build a strong professionally managed business that still has the qualities and core values of a family-owned business.

Q: What year did your grandfather move to the United States?

A: October 19, 1938, Ellis Island. He came here with almost nothing. His birth name was Horst Rolf Liebenstein and that’s the name he arrived at Ellis Island with. He changed his name. He Americanized it. Horst became Harry, Liebenstein became Livingston. My grandmother was Sylvia Hurwitz and she grew up in Hartford. She was born here. Her roots are also Eastern European but I believe a mix of Russian and Polish.

The German culture is really what dominated the business. My grandfather got a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Ilmenau (University of Technology), but he had to leave his life in Germany behind and start from scratch here. He had two brothers, an older brother, Berthold, and a younger brother, Hans, and both of them kept their names and they both ended up in Africa in the mid-’30s. They left Germany prior to Horst. There were German colonies in Africa and Berthold ended up in Kenya and Hans ended up in South Africa.

Berthold passed away at a young age around 1940 so they didn’t see each other again. Hans raised three daughters in Cape Town and I believe that my grandfather reunited with his brother after 30 years in 1964. Ultimately, approximately 15 years later, he moved the bulk of the South African family to Connecticut. One or two end up in Israel. There’s Jewish roots in this family and it’s a big part of the origin story of the business.

Q: Was the tension in Germany part of the motivation to move?

A: Yes. Kristallnacht was in November that year. It was a long process to reclaim the home he had abandoned in 1938. His parents remained behind and perished during the subsequent period. He was the last of his generation in the family to remain there. His parents didn’t want to leave. They weren’t in great health. They operated a small store on the first floor of the home in this town, Bad Liebenstein.

 

The house was returned to us in 1999 a year after he passed away. It was through a formal process with the United Restitution Organization. It was East Germany and what happened was a family moved into this house after the war.

I don’t know the particulars … but the same family that lived there for decades in the house bought it back from us after we got it back. So it was effectively a paper transfer.

Q: When your grandfather came here, how did his business start?

A: His metalworking skills came from working in a bicycle factory in his teens in Germany. He was highly educated as a mechanical engineer, but he also was a tool and die maker. He was a hands-on engineer and he knew how to make stuff. He came from New York to Connecticut around 1940. He met my grandmother. She helped him learn English. They lived in the north end of Hartford and he had this plan to start his own business. There was no intent to work for others after experiences he had gone through. But he needed to learn. He needed to learn the language, he needed to learn the industry in the area. He basically sampled a variety of processes at area shops and manufacturing companies in 1940 and 1946. He worked wiremold (at Wiremold).

He worked at John’s Hartford Tool Company and a handful of other companies over that six-year period. He started to moonlight, and he was doing engineering design work on the side in the evenings.

When he founded the business in Hartford in 1946, he called that Horst Engineering and Manufacturing Company. That’s our full legal name and it was at 602 Garden Street on the second floor of a barn. The business moved to East Hartford in 1950 and we’ve effectively been headquartered in East Hartford ever since.

But his designs didn’t take off enough to pay the bills, so he started making parts for other people and really evolved into a contract manufacturer. There’s so much industry here.

My father really took that to the next level. They didn’t have design engineering capabilities in the next generation. My father brought the sales, supply chain, the front end of the business expertise. My uncle was a disciple of my grandfather and he was the engineer and the manufacturing expert; tool and die maker himself. Their combination, with the support of my mother and HR and finance, allowed them to develop as a contract manufacturer and push into higher precision products because between 1979 and 1989 everything changed.

By 1995 all of the commercial industry was under pressure here in Connecticut. If you were in basic products it first went elsewhere in the country, particularly the South and Midwest and then it went offshore. What remained was high precision, and in Connecticut that’s primarily aerospace and medical. High precision aerospace components are one of Connecticut’s greatest exports and that’s where we really carve out our (spot).

Q: Are you the sole family member now running the business?

A: The three second-generation leaders still work here part-time.

Q: Is there a following generation?

A: They’re too young. My children Shepherd (Shepard) is 13 and Dahlia is 10. My sister has children who are 16 and 13. I have a first cousin from the youngest brother who was involved in this business, and she’s only in her early 20s. She interned here a couple years ago. For the foreseeable future we are continuing with our non-family member (management strategy). We have a lot of families who are in our business that are not Livingston family. That’s common in this industry. We’ve got brothers and sisters. We’ve got fathers and sons, multiple father and son combinations. Cousins, nieces, nephews. It fits in with our core values … and our core purpose. Our core purpose is to help people fly safely. Who knows what the future brings, but we’re making a major investment, and we wouldn’t be doing that if we didn’t see a good path in front of us. We’re expanding. We’re going to be consolidating the three Connecticut plant sites underneath one roof in Prestige Park. We’re renovating a 101,000-square-foot building. It’s a massive project and a big commitment to this community and to the industry.

2020 Bolton Road Race (+ NEAM & Boston)

Our hometown Bolton Road Race returned after a one year hiatus due to last year’s last minute snowstorm cancellation. My records show that I hadn’t run it since 2017. Now, I’ve run it eight times since 2005, the year we moved to town.

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HORST Engineering has been sponsored this race many times, and this race is a family affair for us. All four of us rode to the start on our bikes. Bolton High School is only two miles away. Shepard, Debbie, and I ran the hilly five miler while Dahlia looked after the Schulz kids so their parents could both run.

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Today’s weather was so much better than last year’s race day weather. We have had a very mild winter and now that March has arrived, you can hear the sounds of spring. We had a busy weekend leading up to this afternoon’s race.

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Yesterday, Dahlia and I joined several of my colleagues from HORST Engineering participate in the Women Take Flight event at the New England Air Museum. HORST was an exhibitor. It was a great event. When our “shift” ended around 1:00 P.M., we returned home to meet up with Debbie and Shepard who were at the CCAP Team HORST Junior Squad mountain bike practice at Case Mountain.

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By 3:00 P.M. we were back in the car and headed to Boston for the night. We parked at the Alewife MBTA station in Cambridge and took the shuttle bus to Harvard Square. From there, we took the Red Line to Downtown Crossing and then walked to our hotel in the Financial District. The kids hung out there for the night while Debbie and I visited the Museum of Science. It was my second museum of the day! I hadn’t been to the MOS in years but we were there for a special event.

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The Appalachian Mountain Club hosted a special party to honor Walter Graff for his 45 years of service to the organization. Walter was most recently the Senior Vice President and he has been instrumental in the AMC’s success over the last five decades. I’m a current member of the Board of Directors and Debbie is a member of the Board of Advisors. We have been active AMCers for more than 20 years and that isn’t even half of Walter’s career!

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We saw many great friends and got to explore a portion of the museum. We vowed to return with the kids. Speaking of the kids, we were back at the hotel by 10:30 P.M. We moved our clocks ahead by an hour and then headed to bed. Debbie and I arose early and ran from downtown back to Alewife. We saw a great sunrise over the city and the Charles River and had a glorious eight mile adventure along city streets and paths.

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We returned with the car to pick up the kids and then on our way home, we took a short detour to Central Square in Cambridge where we “refueled” at Veggie Galaxy. That was a treat for all four of us including the 9:00 A.M. Oreo Frappe.

We made it home around 11:45 A.M. and quickly changed into our running gear. If you are wondering (and worrying) about our activity level, well, don’t. This is normal for us! We mounted our bikes and rode to Bolton High School to hang out with many of our running friends. The race started at 1:00 P.M. and by 1:20 P.M. I was hurting. That was at the three mile mark. I realized that the last two miles were going to be total suffering.

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The last mile of the course is a doozy. The signature Brandy Street “hill” comes at 4.2 miles and it is a tough one. I had moved up to 9th place by the top of the hill, and had run most of the race in “no man’s land,” but a young Columbia teen outkicked me in the last quarter mile after attacking on the short descent after the hill that leads to the final uphill finishing drag.

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I was 10th and that’s OK given that I’m just training through every race right now. Shepard had his best ever BRR and he broke 35 minutes for the first time. My fastest ever time was in 2013, but I’m uncertain if I can get back to that level for a short road race requiring so much speed. Debbie wasn’t far behind Shepard.

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Will Sanders, the winner of last week’s Colchester Half Marathon, absolutely crushed the course in 25:41. I don’t know if that is an official record. Thomas Paquette has run pretty quickly in the past. Will averaged 5:09 per mile, and he finished more than a minute ahead of the second place runner, so congrats to him. That’s two amazing performances in the last eight days. The first woman was Linda Spooner in 34:18. She had a nice run too. It was noted at the post-race awards that her daughters were first and second in the U-12 division which means it was a great day for the whole family.

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We returned home by bicycle and that last little bit of exercise capped an excellent weekend of activity. Thank you to Race Director Brian Miller, key helper Kelly Taylor Catlin, and all of their “staff.” The volunteers were very helpful and I’m sure the 270 runners who finished appreciated their work. Along with HORST Engineering, there were many other great sponsors. Some of the proceeds supported raffle prizes, and I know that some will support the Bolton Booster Club. I’m glad that this year’s race wasn’t snowed out!

Race Results

2020 Colchester Half Marathon

Today I awoke with stiff and sore legs and it was a good feeling. Yesterday, Debbie and I had our first solid training day of the year. The fact that it was Leap Day made it even more fun. We rode from our home in Bolton to the Colchester Half Marathon, ran the race, and rode back. HORST Engineering was closed for the day so I could put work out of my mind and focus on five hours of movement.

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With the ride to the race, warmup for the race, race, cool down after the race, and ride home, we covered more than 50 miles on a very cold and blustery day. Our kids spent the day with Debbie’s parents, so we had extra time to execute this adventure. A shout out to Tony Bonanno who did THREE laps of the course with a little extra to get a total of 40 miles. That’s impressive. One of the things that I love about endurance sports is that just when I think that we put together a tough workout, there is always someone who is just a little more crazy.

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The Colchester Half is known for frightful weather. I’ve run it in 2007, 2010, 2015, and now in 2020. It looks like I’ve fallen into a pattern of running it every five years. I checked my blog and the 2010 and 2015 images look like those were snow years. I also recall that 2007 race and it was cold, snowy, and muddy. In that edition, I pushed our son in the Chariot CX-1 jogging stroller and it was quite the challenge as he didn’t really want to go that far on that day and the tires were sinking into the mud which made it even harder.

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The winter of 2019-2020 has been extraordinarily mild, so there was no evidence of snow  on the course. Ironically, minutes after we got home, a massive snow squall hit but I was safely inside standing by the fireplace. The Colchester course is known for being hilly (about 1,100 feet of elevation gain) and also for having two sections of dirt road that cover a few of the 13 miles. The footing and traction are often dicey, but yesterday’s surface conditions were perfect with no ice to speak of.

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My fastest ever edition was in 2010, so it was satisfying after 10 years to “only” run three minutes slower. I’m sure I trained more specifically in 2010 and I know I didn’t ride 18 miles as a warmup. Even still, I always want to go faster. The last two miles of the course are notoriously difficult as it is a long straightaway with a series of hills that grind steadily upward. Most people run their slowest miles on this section of the course and I was no exception. I feel like I faded badly though the data shows I only faded slightly. I felt terrible and gave up two spots in the last miles, which sucks because I’m overly competitive.

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I ended up running 1:28:27 for 20th, which is very good and I’m happy. There were 676 finishers which was remarkable. That has to be the record. This race is one of the best values around. The $14 entry fee created massive demand and people came from all over New England and some came from even farther away. The female winner was Alayna Bigalbal, and she came from Virginia. She did say that she grew up in New London and had family in Connecticut. I was with her for the first half of the race and by the end, she was gaining on me. She only finished 14 seconds behind me and she appears to be a very strong runner.

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I can’t overstate the value of this race. Longtime Race Director Rick Konon was all over the course, running around and cheering for everyone like a madman. He has infectious energy and passion and it shows. I always enjoy watching him in action. Debbie handled our pre-registration but I don’t think there were any additional fees. The online registration cost was included, which is remarkable. There was also pre & post race massages, a post race party (complete with multiple vegan options) in the Bacon Academy cafeteria, and ample non-alcoholic beverages. The website also says you get “results, excuses, tales of woe, and camaraderie.” It’s also worth pointing out that there were several volunteer-manned aid stations with fluids. All of the folks affiliated with the race were enthusiastic and helpful. I’m not sure what they do with the race proceeds, but I imagine they are put to good use.

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In an era where some 5K’s cost $40 or more, Colchester is a throwback, and if this race cost twice the current price they would still get 500 people to run it. I’m not suggesting that they charge more because the low cost makes lot of people happy. The Shenipsit Striders approach the promotion of the Soapstone Mountain Trail Race the same way, so if you want a trail version of a half marathon that is also a great value, check it out and we will see you in May. Full disclosure: Debbie was the Race Director for more than 15 years and we still have a vested interested in seeing Soapstone succeed!

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The men’s winner was Will Sanders and he absolutely crushed the Colchester course record, running 1:10:20 which is amazing. As noted, the surface conditions were excellent, but the temperature was only 25 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind was a factor, so conditions were not ideal and he still had a great day.

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I dressed appropriately. After the bike ride, I had a complete change of clothes which included Patagonia Capilene underwear, undershirt, and long sleeve shirt. I wore Darn Tough socks, Altra Impulse shoes, CEP compression sleeves, Cw-X tights, gloves, a Capilene bonnet, Rudy Project sunglasses, and my Shenipsit Striders trucker cap. I also wore my UltrAspire waist belt so I could carry my iPhone and a bottle filled with UnTapped MapleAid. The first few miles were chilly and I was wishing I had a high collar or something on my neck, but by the halfway point, I warmed up. For a period of time, I actually pulled up my sleeves. I also removed the bonnet and shoved it in my waist band.

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The sun came in and out for a while, but after an hour or so, it went in for good. The skies clouded up and the breeze picked up. It was cold and raw but still good conditions to run in. I mentioned my suffering on the finishing stretch, but overall it was a good race. My pacing was good. I avoided a fast start and ran for several miles with Olivia Mondo. She is training for the Boston Marathon and sometimes we are evenly matched Lately, in the shorter races, she is much faster…but I’m more than twice her age so I have an excuse! She only finished a minute or so behind me, but she looked much better at the line. I was doubled over and my legs were already seizing up. I doubt that she will be walking like a duck (like me) today. I bet she even goes for another run. I won’t!

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Debbie had a good run and we saw a lot of friends. I mean, a LOT of friends. Between the Shenipsit Striders, Silk City Striders, and other folks from the running community, I bet we knew 200 people. It was a great way to kick off the 2020 season. After the post-race meal, we changed back into our cycling kits. I should have brought another pair of socks, or at least I should have changed back into the socks that I originally rode in. I was lazy and kept on the socks that I ran with and that was a bad call. They were damp and once the cold air penetrated my cycling shoes, I paid the price. The ride back took longer and it was colder. We suffered but made it home by 3:00 P.M. and before the precipitation started. By 5:30 P.M., we were back in Prospect to pick up our kids. Debbie’s Mom rewarded us with another home cooked meal followed by blueberry muffins that our daughter helped bake. All things considered, it was a really good day.

Race Results

Park City, Utah

Over the Presidents’ Day Weekend our family made our first ever western ski/snowboard trip. We have been to the mountains of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Washington but never together in winter.

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I’ve had the good fortune to ski at Deer Valley, Park City, Telluride, and Vail, but Debbie had never been west for snowsports. That’s odd because she has been snowboarding since her youth and I just came to skiing as an adult.

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It hasn’t been easy for me to learn as it didn’t come naturally like skating, running, or cycling. For me, skiing has been more like swimming, another sport that I didn’t groove as a youth.

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Our kids learned snowboarding from Debbie on the smaller slopes of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, but they are still progressing. It was a real thrill for them to ride the massive Park City resort.

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We stayed in Canyon Village which was merged into Park City. Park City is part of the Vail Resorts portfolio and in the Epic Pass program. It’s a wonderful mountain town. I’ve been there twice in winter and once in the summer. Debbie and I were also on the other side of the mountains at Snowbird when we did the Speedgoat 50K.  Snowbird is on my winter adventure bucket list.

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This would have been an awesome year to go as they just got more than three feet of snow two weeks ago bringing their season total to more than 400 inches. A friend of mine skied there a few days before we arrived in Park City and he said it was spectacular. He said that Little Cottonwood Canyon (the road) and all the resorts on that side were closed for three days because of avalanches, but he was fortunate to get to Snowbird the day they reopened.

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Canyon Village was a good spot. Every day, Debbie and I ran down to the bike path that connects the Old Town and Kimball Junction. There is more than one path, but we mostly went back and forth with a few small loops as we wanted to keep building our running fitness for the upcoming trail season.

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We skied/snowboarded from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. each day with only a brief stop for lunch. We stayed at the Grand Summit Hotel and our room was conveniently located at the base of the Orange Bubble lift. Saturday was partly sunny and mild with good conditions. Sunday was snowy all day long. In the afternoon, it sleeted a bit.

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Conditions in the morning were good with fresh powder, but by afternoon, the snow was heavier and the wind and cold made for challenging conditions. We toughed it out. We were rewarded on Monday as the the precipitation switched to all snow and it came down all night. We awoke to more fresh powder and incredibly blue skies. This is the true definition of a “Bluebird Day.” Bluebird Day’s aren’t just any sunny day, but particularly one after a big snowfall.

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It was much colder but the sun was brilliant. The conditions were fabulous and that lasted all day long. By the end of the three days, both kids had improved their skills immensely. We went to Old Town twice and had lovely evening meals.

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We walked around, visited the Park City Museum, and checked out some of the galleries. The other two nights we ate at the room where we had a small kitchen. The Whole Foods at Kimball Junction was fabulous and we used the convenient and free Park City mass transit system (bus) to get around.

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There are so many other great resorts to visit in the USA and Canada, but I would say that we would return to Park City in a heartbeat.

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2019 Scrooge Scramble

Our Christmas Day tradition of running the Scrooge Scramble 5K in Rockville continued. Debbie and I have run this classic 14 times since 2004. Once again, Shepard and Dahlia joined us for this festive affair that benefits the Cornerstone Foundation.

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As usual, we saw many old friends. The Silk City Striders and Shenipsit Striders always have a good turnout. Todd Brown and the Wilson Family have become an integral part of our Christmas morning celebration.

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This year’s course as again a loop affair. We lapped it six times. The twist was that they started the “elite runners” 15 minutes ahead of the rest of the pack so that we had more open road to run. That made me chuckle since the only elite runner I saw was the winner (aka Santa). The rest of us in the first wave were good, but hardly elite! We did have fun.

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It’s true that with a 1/2 mile loop and 200 people, it can get crowded, but that’s all part of the fun. Shepard and I stuck together and didn’t have to weave through the crowd until our last lap.

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Debbie wasn’t far behind us in group one and Dahlia ran with group two. That meant we could cheer for her. After the race, we mingled a bit and then I changed into my cycling kit. I took a lovely 30 mile route home and nailed my 4,000 mile 2019 goal with a week to go.

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Now, I can shift from riding to running and see if I can hit a distance milestone on my feet. Debbie and the kids returned home and they spent some time with their gifts. Debbie and I are grateful for the ability to provide for our family and to support organizations like the Cornerstone Foundation.

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Race Results

2019 Santa’s Run

Today we returned to the Glastonbury Santa’s Run for the first time since 2011. It was my 9th time running this local 3.5 mile race. I first did it back in 1989. This year’s race had 912 finishers. The low entry fee and community vibe have always made this a fun one for runners and walkers of all abilities.

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This was the first time for the kids, though I’ve pushed them in the jog stroller before. I knew that my legs would be heavy after yesterday’s NBX G.P. of CX, but I still pushed hard. I had to stretch my legs on the final 1/2 mile uphill to hold off Laurel Manville who went out hard. She finished second behind Lindsey Crevoiserat who had a strong run. Olivia Mondo was hot on Laurel’s heels, finishing only two seconds behind. In recent years, Melissa Stellato has had a lock on the top spot, but she didn’t run this year as she is pregnant with her second child.

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The top men were Philip Mitchell, Pat Dennen, and Nick Blanchard. Special mention goes to Brett Stoeffler who was 5th. At 52, I’m still chasing him! He runs such a smooth pace, its maddening. I kept him at 15-20 seconds for the first two miles but then he pulled away. Of course, he didn’t speed up at all. I just slowed down!

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Debbie and Shepard each won their age groups. Shepard had to hold off hard charging age grouper. His legs were a bit weary after giving it his all at NBX yesterday, but he too persevered and had a strong run. Todd Brown and Debbie had a great battle up the final climb and all the way to the line. Debbie needed 10 more feet to beat him, but he survived. Dahlia also had a strong run, breaking the 10 minute per mile barrier for the second race in a row.

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We saw a lot of other friends. Now that cyclocross season is coming to a close, we will likely return to running more races, though I expect we will focus on trails. The Santa’s Run always gives an ornament to each finisher, so we plan to get our Christmas tree this afternoon and now we have four more ornaments to decorate it with.

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Race Results


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