Archive for the 'Sport' Category

2020 CCAP Newtown Cyclocross & The Blue 2 Blue Challenge

The Newtown CX presented by CCAP has become an annual event for Team HORST Sports. I’ve done it seven of the last eight years. I only missed 2014. Last year, my race ended early with a puncture, but this year, I hung in there despite warm weather and the usual dose of hills at the 2nd Co. Governor’s Horse Guard farm.

The course is known for its undulating terrain and horse flops, which weren’t too bad this year. The Newtown CX has been around a while. For many years, it was held across the street at the Fairfield Hills complex, but in recent years, the horse farm has been the venue.

The race used to come at the end of the season in November or December, but again, in recent years, it has been early in September at the start of the season. During this weird COVID-19 pandemic impacted season, it is the first “official” race of the year. Today was actually supposed to be the Vermont 50, but it was cancelled like so many other events in 2020. The VT50 is very special for our family. This is only the second time since 1999 that we haven’t done the VT50.

CCAP has hosted the popular Rocky Hill Cyclocross Series each of the last three Wednesday nights. The finale is this coming week. CCAP has a good formula and so far, their efforts to promote cyclocross in 2020 have been well received. We are hoping for more races to come. We hear that there may be more in the works. The productions appear to be successful with good protocols in place to keep participants healthy. Of course, no one knows for sure, but being outdoors, wearing masks (when not racing), and maintaining social distance are all good ways to “live with” this virus.

The Team HORST Junior Squad had an excellent turnout. In the Junior 9-12 race, Dahlia Livingston was our sole representative. In the Junior 13-14 race, Boden Chenail, Lars Roti, and Alexandra Miller-Davey were our racers. Alex took the win amongst the girls. In the Junior 15-18 race, Shepard Livingston, Owen Wilson, and Ethan Wilson flew the team colors. Eli Skulte did the kids race on his blinged out bike.

I spotted a Dura Ace rear derailleur on his steed and noted to his engineer father (Andris Skulte), that I didn’t have Dura Ace when I was 4 1/2 years old. Andris’ reply was, “I’ve never had Dura Ace.” We had a good laugh about that one. Andris pulled the rear mech out of a scrap heap (of sorts) to upgrade Eli’s bike. All of the kids did great today and they were smiling behind their masks.

As for our Masters team, I was joined in the Men’s 40+ race by Andris. Racing at the same time in the 50+ race were Wade Summers, John Meyerle, and Paul Nyberg. It was great to see Paul back racing cross again. Brett Chenail was our lone representative in the Category 3/4 race. Wade was our highest finisher with 2nd in his age group.

Despite it being late September, it was warmer than normal for cyclocross, but it has been a hot summer and a hot start to fall. I had a good first four laps of my race, but faded in the final two. I could have used a drink and should have carried a bottle. There was no “feeding” in the race, which means no hand ups. I was mixing it up in the top three for a while, but then fell back to 5th. I had to work hard to hold that spot as Scott Rosenthal (quickly becoming a nemesis!) charged hard on the last lap to come up on my wheel, but I was able to put in another surge and hold him off. We’ve been battling at the Rocky Hill races too.

Shepard and Dahlia were both very happy with their efforts. To celebrate a fun weekend of activity, Debbie and I took them to Foundry Kitchen & Tavern for an awesome brunch. This was our first time at this restaurant. We dined outside and they had fabulous vegan options. There was a fantastic solo singer/guitarist playing tunes on the porch, and the place had a great vibe.

Newtown CX Race Results

It is also worth mentioning that yesterday, Debbie smashed the The Blue 2 Blue Challenge trail race. This was her first official ultra of the year. We have done many FKT’s, but she pinned on a number and pushed hard. The course started at West Rock and went out and back on the Regicides and Quinnipiac Trails. The turnaround was in her original hometown of Prospect. The total distance was 32 miles with nearly 7,000 feet of elevation gain and she finished in a fantastic 6:59:46. The rocky trail is rugged beyond belief, which is just perfect for her. She scored the win and finished 5th overall. I’m pumped for her. She also got to see many friends.

Debbie has been flying. She and I ran the Quinnipiac End-to-End earlier in the year and she is coming off of a win at the Cockaponset Trail Race last week and a bunch of awesome FKT’s including the Mattabesett Trail only two weeks ago.

It’s worth mentioning that Debbie is on a roll and just this week, the Trails Collective posted their interview with her from last month. Another top runner, Ellie Pell, conducted the interview and it is fantastic. It isn’t just about running, but it is about healthy living, nutrition, plant-based diets, teaching kids the value of exercise, yoga, and the mental fortitude that is as important as leg strength. Check it out.

It’s rare that I miss one of Debbie’s races, but I had too much going on and missed Blue 2 Blue. I was juggling the Appalachian Mountain Club Board of Directors Retreat (via Zoom), the HORST Engineering Golf Tournament, and some work.

The Blue 2 Blue Challenge Race Results

2020 Trails to a Cure (Cockaponset Trail Race)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New England Trail Adventure “Again”/Mattabesett Trail E2E

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

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

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

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

Length: 60.8 miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Connecticut Walk Book description is:

Length: 3.5 miles

Towns: Middletown, Middlefield

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Connecticut Walk Book describes the trail:

Length: 2.2 miles

Towns: Durham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moosilauke Hike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glastenbury/West Ridge Loop FKT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shenipsit Trail Duathlon

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CFPA’s Walk Book description is excellent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, we are headed to the beach!

2020 Grafton Loop Trail Family Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grafton Loop Trail Map

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Appalachian Trail (a Connecticut Story)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some more AT resources:

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

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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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 41 of 133

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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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 47 of 133

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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2020 NET Adventure (Blog) - 63 of 133

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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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.

 

Weekend (Pandemic) Adventures

During the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis, I’ve gotten even more exercise than normal. Movement is always healthy and I’ve found with no travel, no outside meetings, and more “at home” time that I’m craving more adventure.

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I’ve had long days at work, but I’ve been commuting at least one way nearly every day of the week. This has done wonders to boost my activity level. I typically vary my route to get a distance between 10.5 and 15 miles. I can always go longer, but depending on my direction I can get to work in an hour and I can get home in less than 70 minutes.

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It isn’t just my cycling that has been boosted by the pandemic. I’ve been running more, which was part of the original 2020 plan. All of the races have been cancelled, so far, but I’ve kept up my running and used my fitness to tackle some FKT’s. Last week we did the Natchaug Trail E2E, and two weeks before that we did the Nipmuck Trail E2E.

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Those trails are rugged singletrack for most of the way, and they have a fair amount of hills to contend with. Today, I took on a different challenge. Two weeks ago, Debbie established a new loop route that started in Bolton Notch. I connected the East Coast Greenway with the Cheney Rail Trail, and the Hop River Trail. This loop is now possible because of the expansion of the ECG (Charter Oak Greenway) paved path from Manchester to Bolton Notch, and because of the improvements on the Cheney Rail Trail in Manchester. The Hop River State Park Trail is the oldest section and it goes from Manchester, through Vernon, to Bolton. Of course, it extends through Andover, Columbia, and to Willimantic where it connects with the Air Line Trail.

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The ECG section is paved, the Cheney is gravel, and the Hop is gravel. This loop requires two road sections. The first (when going clockwise) is between the ECG and the Cheney where you have to take Prospect Street to Hartford Road and then to Elm Street. From there you cut through the mills to access the Cheney Rail Trail after crossing Forest Street. The second road section is between the Cheney and the Hop. The route we established has you cut through Farr’s parking lot on Main Street. From there you cross North Main Street and follow North School Street as it bends around past Union Pond. You cross Oakland Street and take Sheldon Street into the Manchester industrial park. You take Sheldon until you get to Colonial Road where the Hop starts.

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Once you get on the Hop, it’s all gravel and slightly uphill through Vernon until you get back to Bolton. This section is a leg burner and today I had to rally to hold my pace. I faltered a bit, but hung on to finish with a decent time of 1:57:38 for the 16.5 mile loop. When Debbie did this two weeks ago, my plan was to join her, and I did until we reached Camp Meeting Road on the ECG, but I wasn’t feeling it that day and pulled the plug. I ran home from there. The next morning, Shepard and I did the route on our gravel/cross bikes and loved it. I think this route will become a standard.

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This week’s running was made more fun because of the Shenipsit Striders Normally, today would be the Soapstone Mountain Trail Races. It would have been the 35th year, but with the pandemic, the race was cancelled in 2020. So far, all of the Striders’ 2020 events have been cancelled, but that hasn’t kept us from “getting after it.” The Striders Board of Directors under the leadership of Emma Palmacci has done a fantastic job at creating commuting by using the power of social media.

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This weekend, we did the Outside Alone Virtual Charity Run, and it has been a hit. There are four distance options and some people are doing combinations or all of them.

Distance Options:

  • The Burglar 6k
  • Ya Filthy Animal 5M
  • Christmas in May 25k
  • The Macaulay Marathon
  • (or the Wet Bandits Challenge – all 4 in the 3 days!)

I sort of did my own version of this. I did the Burglar on Thursday morning, the Filthy Animal on Friday morning, “most” of the May 25K with Debbie yesterday morning/the “rest” of the 25K with Debbie and the kids yesterday afternoon, and most of the marathon today. After running to the Notch, doing the loop, and running home (about 20 miles in total), I was done. I thought I about banging out another six miles, but rather than hit the wall at 20, I figured I should stop at 20. I’ve had a few niggles and there is no reason to make them worse.

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One of my hopes during this pandemic is that more people will discover the benefits of movement, especially in nature. Judging by the number of trail users that I see, I think this is happening. I’ve chosen to get out early in the morning (like today) to avoid the crowds, but I know that mid-day, the trails are very popular. Despite the pain and suffering, a lot of good will come out of this pandemic, and the return to exercise (including cycling and running) is one of them.

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