Mount Colden: Trap Dike

May 3rd, 1993; thoughts and attempts at comprehending my all-encompassing newfound alpine environment flowed like flood waters from smokey-gray clouds high above. From 5115’ above the sea, my seven-year-old eyes felt as gigantic as the planet upon which I now stood; the views from Algonquin Peak allowed the most mesmerizing images of other nearby High Peaks.

That’s crazy! People actually climb that?!” I screeched out as my father pointed out Mount Colden on the other side of the puddle that I would eventually come to know as Avalanche Lake. The route his finger traced through the thin air was rarely traveled back then; he spoke of it as: The Trap Dike.

February 18th, 2017; snowshoes crunched through the blinding snow drifts as my hiking partners and I traversed the fluffy surface of Avalanche Lake at 2,885′ above sea level; gazing in all directions, we were surrounded by massive rising mounds of sleeping granite.

That’s crazy! People actually climb.. that.. IN WINTER?!”, I huffed through my balaclava, pondering in bewilderment at the brightly colored figures dangling from their ropes amidst the chute of white and blue ice flow.

I would come to find out climbers worldwide flock to this natural wonder year-round to test and hone their rock climbing skills, and to see what the hype is all about.

Despite the more recent reviews of the route necessitating fixed ropes, harnesses and all the modern climbing gear, the first recorded ascent of the Trap Dike took place by Robert Clark and Alexander Ralph around 1850, two trappers who ascended “to get a better view”, without the use of any gear other than their determination and crude work boots!

The prospect of ascending the Trap Dike for myself initially became reality just shortly following the summit celebration atop Haystack Mountain on June 4th, 2016 as my father, our hiking partner Wendy and I became ADK 46ers, #9480, 9479 and 9481, respectively.

A local climbing legend and guide had offered, as a birthday and finishing gift to Wendy, to take the three of us using ropes, harness, helmets and modern climbing gear through the treacherous Trap Dike, to the summit of Mount Colden.

The morning of our first attempt came and went as we watched the rain tumble from the sky, we would not be climbing that day; we set another date and prepared just the same, the result was simply another wash-out. This happened four times before contact with our guide simply ceased and it seemed as if an ascent of the famous Trap Dike for us three may never unfold.

Shortly after the excitement of possibility faded from our memories, I ended up moving east, further away from my hiking crew and into a new (to me) forest known as the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

I never forgot about my desire to climb the rocks within the Trap Dike, but unfortunately a commute requiring a third of a day kept me from frequenting the Adirondacks, especially the Trap Dike. In my mind, the weather, timing, training and mindset – all had to fall into an alignment of absolute perfection to take on such a task, an occurrence of perhaps once in a lifetime.

In what felt like a blink of an eye, 2020 began as normal as ever; winter ascents of Mount Washington, trail running across the frozen spin drifts high above the 5000’ alpine gardens, even an ascent of the 4680’ Mount Carrigain welcomed me as the 1013th member to stand proudly atop all 111 (really 115 by now) peaks in the Northeast states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York) above four thousand feet – in short, it felt like life as usual!

As April 2020 rolled in, my focus shifted on converting my 2005 flat-nose to a livable school bus; my heart craved the mountains but cringed at the idea of the hours required behind my steering wheel to access some of these far-off wildernesses.

It has been too long since a good hike”, I thought almost daily – nothing but local peaks and trails called to me.

There was a statement that I had read in the American Alpine Journal which resonated deeply within me, surfacing each time I thought of traveling for a trek: “careless mistakes occur more frequently when you hike without purpose or a desire in your heart.

After what felt like months of walking trails without purpose, the bulb in my mind’s eye appeared to shine with a glimmer of light: Trap Dike; the two words encompassing my every thought.

I began checking the weather, “just in case”.

I checked multiple weather apps and stations, studied recent trail reports as if they were holy scripture, learning my route quarter mile by quarter mile – always “just in case”.

Arriving back from work on Wednesday, July 8th, I had yet to fully commit to the idea that, tomorrow, I would be starting early and driving to the Adirondack Mountains.

Gear was brought out, dusted off and packed, soft flasks filled with water, dates pitted and tossed into a bag alongside cashews.

At 8pm, I had done all the prepping required, I could not dwell over the weather reports any longer, for, I had nothing left to learn from their charts and graphs. The mountains received a brief flash of rain during the prior 24 hours, aside from that they had been bone dry for the past 4 days.

I had my window. My time was now.

Without an ounce of anxiety in my blood, I awoke at 1am to make coffee and get some over-night oats ready for the long commute.

Fingertips traced the steel shell of my school bus-tiny home as I said my “see you in a few hours”, climbed into my Subaru and set my GPS to the South Meadows lot, located just northeast of the ADK Loj.

Arriving around 6am, I remember being remarkably calm and feeling at peace, still unsure if I would be successful or fall to my death during the next several hours.

Altra Lone Peaks were laced up, running pack straps were tightened, GPS watch set to record, outhouses used. Unsure of what else I could do to ensure a perfect day – following some light stretching, I simply began down my trail.

Next destination: Marcy Dam.

I had been to Marcy Dam dozens of times by now, but never via this northern approach, I often wondered about the trail on earlier excursions, few folks used it as a direct approach to these High Peaks, avoiding the over-crowded Loj parking lot on weekends.

This was a fantastic warm up, lightly running and swinging my arms, getting my body warmed up but not to tax it yet. The trail was much like any old jeep road, some lightly eroded areas which gave way to rocks and roots, but overall, this was the perfect path to initiate my journey!

With gradual ups and downs, I switch-backed gently, meandering through the forest; expecting to encounter bear or moose in this (what seemed like, at 6am..) desolate tract of land – I found none but the occasional red squirrel on its hunt for a nutty breakfast.

Reaching the 2.5-mile mark of my trek, there was a quick descent over delicately hand-placed stone leading to the Marcy Dam area. With the aroma of coffee and sausage in the air, I encountered my first group of fellow hikers, backpacking and now getting ready to begin their own day of adventures.

I knew these trails well, having traversed them in every season and essentially every hour of the day and night – the last time I had been on them was in snowshoes with likely 5-6 feet of packed snow on the trails, today the jutting rocks made their appearance, reaching up out of the rich, dark soil that I have come to remember the Adirondacks for. The scent of nutrient-rich dirt permeated the crisp morning air which lingered along the trickling brook at my ankles.

Swinging right and crossing the bridge which spanned Marcy Brook, I was now on a straight shot to Avalanche Lake. The wet boot prints that I had been following over the previous several miles were now gone; I was alone out in these woods.

With care, I placed each foot, knowing that a twisted ankle out this far – with no sign of cell service, would make for a much different kind of adventure, one which I did not care to be a part of today!

Crossing logs and boardwalks, I twisted and turned over freshly cut trail and became sandwiched between the sheer cliffs of Avalanche Mountain on my right and Mount Colden on my left.

Growing closer to my next destination, I was now able to employ hands to shimmy over fallen boulders and around trees to enable tight turns in the trail; my entire body began to feel more alive as I ran deeper into a more desolate forest.

Arriving at Avalanche Lake, I immediately remembered why I filed this view under the “my favorite places” tab in my memory banks. Complete serenity is what I found once again down at the shoreline of the Lake. Not a single sound of human existence broke the silence as I stood there, first with eyes open until they drifted shut and I let the slight breeze float off the water’s surface and henceforth my entire being.

This is what I came for; this is the experience that I did not know my soul had been missing.

After soaking in raw peace and solitude until my sweaty body reminded me that hypothermia was indeed real, I continued. Beginning in a counterclockwise fashion around Avalanche Lake, I now found myself in a ‘big kid’ playground!

Bouncing from boulder to boulder, up and over ladders, under trees and eventually making my way to the (newly rebuilt) long wooden planks which guide hikers over the surface of the lake, this area is known most commonly as the Hitch-Up-Matilda – the story of how this name came to be is quite fascinating – but not one for today, I’d recommend researching it, if you’re a self-proclaimed ADK history buff like myself!

One cannot cross this entire section without stopping briefly to let your jaw drop and gaze in awe at the view across the lake – the Trap Dike begins to come into focus and the mound of rock and tree debris becomes real, showing its massive scale of a landslide and geological rift in the mountainside.

The narrow section separating Avalanche Lake from Lake Colden now marked new terrain for me. I ducked out of view momentarily as a trail maintenance crew hiked by with bulging backpacks and axes swung over their broad shoulders, with the appearance of having lived in the forest for the past three months, they looked like some tough women for sure!

I momentarily assumed that if they learned of a solo hiker taking on the devilish Trap Dike at 7am on a Thursday, they may try to persuade me of an easier route, but they simply continued on their way having not noticed my presence.

Stepping onto the bushwhack which takes climbers from marked trail to the base of the ‘Dike, I had read reports of this section being near impossible to follow in one shot. I had no difficulty, there were several herd paths which meandered in several directions but having read folks advising to ‘stay down toward the lakeside’, I did not have to backtrack at all.

Within perhaps 10-15 minutes, the thick trees opened, and I was able to peer back across the lake to where I stood just minutes earlier, behind me lay the sleeping giant.

At this point, there was no question of where to go, of where to begin – so, with solid footing, I began into the narrowing slot.

It was immense. I felt microscopic standing in such a rock-fall zone as this.

All my climbing, hiking and running had led me to this point.

Thankful for low water as I began climbing, the rocks were like pedestals as two hands were used to get one foot, then two feet up onto each ledgy rock.

Periodically turning around, it became almost dizzying how fast I was losing the Lake below me. As it fell into the distance, the pinnacle of Avalanche Mountain at 3,800’ came into view, and beyond that – Algonquin Mountain, atop which I stood at age 7 with my father as we looked down into the very spot where my heartbeat thumped like falling rocks.

I wished for my father and Wendy to be there sharing the experience with me, yet thankful for absolute silence when I could lean into the rock and absorb the echo of nesting birds calling for their mates, or the crash of fresh rainwater tumbling downslope next to my palm.

At one point, my judgment took me for a swing to the right, just to climb about 30’ up steep but sticky rock to reach an area of loose rock and scree which I deemed a death walk if I proceeded, reluctantly I turned back to descend, fully utilizing my bum and all four extremities for maximum traction.

Its difficult to say if this is the time when my fear grew, for, I was not afraid of where I had found myself – simply heightened alertness, awareness that this was indeed real, one slip now and that was it.

Completing that descent, I ferociously fished around for another route: to the left was a wet, black rock chute which spanned about 15 feet, vertically and featured the waterfall – to the right were finger holds of perhaps fingernail width, enough for maybe ¼” of shoe material to grip off camber.

I stood momentarily weighing my options and letting my pulse regain a more normal pace upon coming off my scree slab just moments prior.

Finding that the consequence of a slip, although not completely vertical, would send me perhaps 25’ onto jagged boulders beneath, I decided to attempt the blackened chute where I could not avoid the rushing ice water.

Employing new techniques, I faced away from my ascent, braced the slick, moss-covered walls with elbows and scissor-kicked with my feet to apply maximum counterforce to all rock surfaces, inch by inch I began shimmying my way off the near-flat ground below me.

Upon finishing the crux move of my day, I again stood momentarily, peering back into the wet chimney-chute that I had somehow just climbed, “holy shit, holy shit, HOLY SHIT!!” was all I could think to say aloud as I looked all around, the realization sinking in that perhaps, today, I had survived the Trap Dike.

Knowing I was only just beginning my day, I could not stop laughing and enjoying my time on the rocks yet remained mindful that there was still serious climbing to do!

Above the full body climbing that I had just completed, the rocks in the coming section changed to a creamy-white, their texture turning from mere granite to coarse sandstone-like.

I followed this white stone as the water still trickled, now on my right. I judged my progress with Algonquin as an elevation aid, across the rift below. I was starting to level out with it, only moments earlier it seemed to tower as it watched its novice climber far below.

Trying to remember my trail reports, I carefully gauged when to jut out onto the slide itself to my right, following that the remaining couple-hundred feet to the summit cap of Mount Colden.

The tacky, creamy-white rocks followed me onto the newer slide (Hurricane Irene, 2011) where I followed bare rock with its remaining old forest growth to my left.

The rock on the slabby newer slide was pitted and incredibly tacky, especially for my trail running shoes – I made quick work of this slide, simply one foot in front of the next – but sure as hell my quads and glutes began to scream at the unrelenting climb! To stop for a moments rest meant standing at a 45-degree angle, which proved completely uncomfortable and encouraged me to press-on, up that hill!

Thankful for dry, optimal conditions, I imagined the outcome from one slip at this location: a tumble down the midline of the rock slab that could potentially send a climber for an unknown distance before careening off the drop straight behind me, truly nothing to stop a slide, certainly nothing to hold onto.

Still climbing ever higher, I began to see boot prints in rich Adirondack dirt up above me – was this the end of my route? Indeed, I was able to locate the marked trail and quick trek off to the open summit rocks of Colden.

How fitting that I spend my climb of the Trap Dike in solidarity, now standing atop the summit at 8:18am, the slight breeze engulfing my body as if to hug and congratulate it on an excellent climb, and good survival!

Refueling on some water and taking in the sights of alpine bog laurel around me, I decided to make my descend before the morning hoards of hikers swarmed the summit.

Group after group, the ascending hikers stood by in awe as I bounded down the trail and they inquired as to where I came from, what time did I start, where was I going in such a rush.

I was simply going at my comfortable pace with my sights set on a bowl of watermelon back at my car!

Spirits were high as I cruised back down to the false summit of Colden and could look back to first the slide which was my route up this massive pile of rock, then back on the forested dome that was quite simply: Colden.

On the run back out to my car, I was overwhelmed with the sense of gratitude for the mountain letting me explore once again.

The watermelon had never tasted so good, these shoes never felt so good to remove, my heart was full, I felt complete.

That was, after all, The Trap Dike of Mount Colden.


Of note from the writer:

Black Diamond climbing shoes went for a ride in my 8L running bag all morning, along with a GoreTex jacket, beanie, gloves, Sawyer water filter, compass, waterproof paper map, 16oz hydration and bag of dates & cashews

Consumed during the run was ~5oz of water mixed with mango/lime Muir Energy plant-based electrolyte powder, that is all. Outstanding day!


Overall stats for the day:

  • 13.9 miles
  • 3,268’ elevation gain
  • 4 hours 10 minutes
  • A million smiles
  • Avalanche Lake: 2,885’
  • Mount Colden: 4,715’

 

Happy climbing!

 

Erik

The Dartmouth Fifty, almost

The legendary Dartmouth Fifty Miler is the name by which I have heard it called; whatever name you prefer to give this long-haul, it consists of roughly fifty consecutive miles trekked along the beautifully scenic Appalachian Trail. Beginning in downtown Hanover on the Dartmouth College Green and following the 2×6 white blazes, which the AT is so well-known for, all the way to the 4,803ft summit of Mount Moosilauke.

Actually if tacking on the +3,200 foot ascent to Moosilauke at the end of a long run was not enough, the trek technically ends on the other side of the massive pile of rock, at the Ravine Lodge which stands at 2,460ft.

Packing for this adventure was more or less a scavenger hunt; the notion to take on this section of trail came to me just shortly after running north from Mount Cube about 8 miles to the top of Webster Slide Mountain and back. The trail was generally dry, gently rolling with some leaf litter covering the rocks here and there. It seemed like a great idea and honestly with everything going on in the world, those hours spent cruising through the tunnel of wildlife had me contemplating a future of six months spent running, jogging, climbing, hiking – whatever would transport me from Katahdin to Springer Mountain down south.

My mind felt prepared to spend time with myself throwing down some miles!

Since I did not take weeks or even months to accumulate much gear or snacks, I used what I had. Rummaging through my Gregory 75L pack that accompanied me on the Northville Placid Trail thru-hike and most of my longer winter snowshoe treks, I ransacked through folded zip-lock baggies for unopened packets of Muir energy and any unfavorable bars that had henceforth been tossed aside.

Stockpiling 5 or 6 slow-burning and fast-burning Muir energy gels, an old all-fruit bar, along with my bag of thrown together nuts, seeds, raisins, this time I also threw in a handful of crystallized ginger chews which were purchased for who knows what reason so long ago, perhaps being excessively thirsty and hungry would make them palatable once again!

Like every other outing I go on, I always bring the essentials: map and compass, Sawyer water filter (packed two 16oz soft flasks and 1.5L camelback style pouch) knowing I would have a plethora of stream crossings to re-up at, I also brought along my long time ultra running favorite – medjool dates!

Part of the reason I had about 24 hours of packing and prepping (I knew the route from living more or less on one of the trail heads I would be passing, so route finding was essentially all set) was that all the stars miraculously aligned – the weather gave several days of sunny and dry allowing any snow to continue to dissipate (or so I thought..), a coworker who lives basically on the Green offered the use of his driveway for me to stash my vehicle while I had coordinated a pick up once finished at the Ravine Lodge – in my mind, this was my time and I didn’t know when or if I would get another chance in the near future to embark on the Dartmouth 50, my time was now!

Given the window of good weather, I was looking at 40s to start and warming up to roughly 65 degrees with increasing sun as the morning wore on, I opted for a favorite pair of running shorts (proved that I can run 54 miles with zero chafing back in September!), the blue Mount Desert Marathon longsleeve tech shirt that I basically live in, an option of buffs and Smartwool beanie and Gore-tex outer layer, just in case the sky wanted to throw me any curve balls during the day.

Opting for Altra Lone Peaks with matching gaiters; I stuffed my Injinji toe socks into each shoe, grabbed for my trekking poles to improve stability on the uphills and I was good to go. On a side note, I have found that toe socks, while I cannot stand the feeling of anything stuffed between my toes, they work for my long runs – especially if I know that my piggies will be wet for a while, just the added security decreasing the ugly chances of rubbing or blisters.

Let’s go run in the dark!

After a quick breakfast of rye oats topped with nuts and seeds, gear was loaded into the transport vehicle (Ciara’s Honda, she offered to be my ride for the journey!) and we began the early morning trek into Hanover, NH.

Arriving at the Green, we just sat in the car for a minute looking around, watching the early morning traffic which was minimal due to the Stay at Home orders while the COVID pandemic was taking place. Most traffic consisted of Dartmouth College Security which struck us as slightly funny since the college had not been in session for weeks!

The starting line doesn’t wait forever so with a long hug and a kiss or three I said my goodbye’s and thank you’s before using the short walk to Robinson Hall as a slight warm up for the calves before starting my timer.

I was now in this journey alone. Two people in this world knew who was running these dark streets and where this mad-man was running to.

Without really planning for it, my day began from the Dartmouth Green at precisely 5am.

I gave one last wave to Ciara and the doggies (who were now both heads out the back windows, tongues flailing, excited for anything at this point) as my headlamp clicked on and I began the slow shuffle past landmarks which only felt familiar during daylight hours.

Before I knew it I was crossing route 120 with no traffic (so strange.. this is such a busy stretch of college-town-road!), passing the Co-op where I patron so often and running behind the ball fields.

I was now on it; running the Appalachian Trail, on a section which I had never been.. and loving every bit of it, the trail was rocky and steep in sections as it switchbacked its way over bare granite to the split for the Velvet Rocks AT shelter.

Soon after passing the shelter signage, the trail began closing in as rocky moss-covered ledges were illuminated by way of headlamp beam, my trail started rolling over all of the contour lines that had been studied on topo maps in the months leading up to this fine morning.

Glimmers of light appeared occasionally off in the distance from where the layer of dense cloud ended, overall the path grew a blueish haze as the morning sun began to illuminate my way.

My mind was absolutely astonished at the places both my feet and the trail were taking me this morning! Through boggy areas which featured long, winding bridges, up and over boulders which lay in my path forcing use of hands to vault over, and naturally this wouldn’t be the Appalachian Trail without a foot submerged into a blackened muddy abyss to start my trek – all in all, I ran through a self-systems-check: breakfast was staying down, ankles were loosening up, pack felt good, nothing was rubbing, my mind was at ease: I just felt good.

Somehow the road crossings began to blur by; first Trescott, then Etna road was in my rear view mirror. I didn’t feel fast, but landmarks seemed to wiz by faster than I had anticipated!

Before long, I found myself on a beautifully manicured, PCT-style trail featuring a single-file beaten down pathway when a gun shot rang out a bit too close for my comfort. I later found out this was likely the 6am shooting of a turkey, either way a little unnerving that I was out there in the woods alone – my pace may have spiked just slightly during this section!

As the sun continued to break the night away, I could not help but laugh at myself – every fallen tree reminding me of my encounter of being followed by curious moose only several days prior, thankfully no moose were out to get me this morning!

Familiar territory

Through the dim morning light as I cruised in and out of picturesque boggy areas there grew the image of headstones in the distance, I was running straight toward them! Across the paved road, I had just passed a spot in which my drive home often took me; so many afternoons I had spent day dreaming of how nice it must be to encounter such a green velvetty-mossy knoll while the world needed me nowhere else but on the Appalachian Trail.

Moose Mountain, the South Peak

Through some old evergreen forests, across some winding brooks, up and around some mild ridge lines and before long, I was away from the road and entering logged territory. For a moment I seemed to be a lone trespasser, running the still blazed AT via single-file path through an old field.

My adventurous mind wanted to believe an old artist lived here, one who lived a lonely but fully content life, coming out to their field just to sit quietly under their trees and watch the seasons change, noting the change of hikers’ attire as the years passed from 70s to 80s, then 90s and eventually to present day.

Snapped back to Saturday, April 25th 2020. Checking the stats on my GPS watch, the time read 6:50am when I hit 8.5 miles into my 50+ mile day. Still feeling good, surprisingly good in fact – I had only tripped over my trekking pole once, luckily a forest floor of mud and leaves were there to break my fall!

Making the beeline up the shoulder of Moose, I encountered my first real wildlife – and shockingly not this peaks namesake moose but a chunky black bear lumbering up ahead, likely nosing its way around in search of breakfast. I began some encouraging hoots and hollers, making the 250lb ball of fur aware of my presence so I could politely pass by. Luckily, showing no interest in me it scampered off the trail, I was relieved to see that it had no wee baby bears tagging along!

Much like all other destinations along my trek up to this point, the bright orange DOC (Dartmouth Outing Club) sign stood proudly showing that I had now reached the high point, trying to slow my breathing, I was content to be back on familiar turf and heading toward home!

Last time that I had run from my home to the summit of Moose Mt it was somewhere around autumn with colorful leaves on nearly every tree – what a difference now! Early spring and no leaves blocking my view into the ravine east, I felt like I would be able to see any big animal before they could spot me (forget the fact that they would smell me from a mile away..!).

I began looking at the trail from which I came as chapters in my story; I had closed the Velvet Rocks chapter, passed the unknown road crossings that in the days leading up I had put in much time studying on Google Earth, I had the South Moose chapter softly closing behind me and within minutes the same with the North peak.

Descending Moose Mountain’s North summit the sun was now in full-warming effect, what a beautiful morning to be out on the trails, zig-zagging down from bare rock to leaf-covered AT, switchbacking my way steeply down to my next destination:

Goose Pond Road to Holts Ledge and onward to the Dartmouth Skiway

I had run this section of today’s adventure last fall while dull leaves still clung tight to the branches from which they came. It was much like a corridor or a hallway taking the walker from one set of rolling hills to another. This time around the wooden planks spanning the boggy area just upstream from Pressey Brook displayed much more wear and tear from the 3 million annual AT trekkers, some appearing new had snapped and were now shooting spouts of murky water straight up at the passerby!

From these planks peering in the northern direction, however, is one of the finest views that I have found along this stretch of trail, the southern portions of Holts Ledge forming the northern backdrop from the pool of water.

Shortly into my hill climb which traverses more or less right up the spine of the ridge, I decided this sixteen mile mark would be a fine point to actually take my 8L running pack off, let the sweaty back breathe momentarily and dive into my first snack of the day, a handful (..maybe two!) of deliciously moist medjool dates.

Each and every turn I took, finding views back toward North Moose first and finally the southern counterpart further in the distance, I was amazed at what distance I could see through the trees and down into gullies and to far away marshes – certainly I would notice any larger creatures before I snuck up on them? I hoped fate would work in such a way for me!

A little uncertain of where I was on my climb up to Holts Ledge, I simply took it a few steps at a time; a few turns at a time, remarking to my inner child about all of the moss covered boulders and how badly I wanted to jump off this trail and go climb on them – perfect for the bouldering enthusiast of the climbing world for sure!

Reaching the beautiful overlook spot, I stopped momentarily to shoot my first text message letting Ciara know of my progress and that I was still somewhat on track for the time schedule I had planned.

I could understand why this section of the Appalachian Trail had become so well trafficked and somewhat eroded, the views are easterly out to Winslow Ledge (the ‘other‘ side of the Dartmouth Skiway) with a bit of Smarts Mt just behind, even Cardigan can be seen off in the distance, such a relaxing spot if you can nab these open ledges to yourself on a calm day!

Beginning down, the trail does some switchbacking, passes some minor waterways, but the trail finally becomes packed dirt with some rocks sticking out – perfect terrain to get some speed going and really feel like a trail runner bouncing from rock top to rock top (just don’t catch the toe of a shoe or that may end your day!).

Within what felt like minutes, I zoomed passed the spur trail on the left over to the Trapper John Shelter. As the leaves had not yet grown in, I could still make out the 1,948′ summit of Bear Hill just beyond to the west, which was a fantastic bushwhack over fallen leaves with some bare rock on the steep ascent, great little rewarding climb!

Arriving at the Dorchester Road/Dartmouth Skiway trail head, the air was silent, most folks still at home while New Hampshire remained under Stay At Home orders, to keep the nasty COVID-19 at bay.

I pass this section of the AT daily on my way to work or into town as I live 4 miles down Dorchester Road, lovely little spot and such a sense of being incredibly lucky to have this all in our backyards!

But that did not mean that I had actually learned where the white-blazed trail goes through this stretch to Smarts Mt! I knew it cut into the woods from the Skiway, but in prior treks all around this area all I had found for the first mile or so were merely snowmobile paths, and today there was no snow!

Trails were indeed still melting as the days grew longer and had turned into a river of mud underfoot; I cautiously yet boldly tried to employ trekking poles to make the most of each leap, bounding from log to rock with the occasional foot plunge up to the ankle as I mistook a mound of grass for something sturdy!

What really brought my attention to the present and the fact that I was doing okay was a familiar face of two fellow runners who live basically across from the Skiway, they were out for an early dog walk together. Amazed at how far I had traveled under my own power, and partially at my ambition to go all the way, they wished the best and we parted ways, back into the woods I went.

Being fearful that Grant Brook would be high with the springtime melt water mixed with any recent rains we had accumulated, I was thrilled to see that today would not be the day I became washed away by white caps two miles from my cabin doorstep, and with that I was one obstacle closer to my next road crossing!

I had found several months back, here in the woods standing trail side along the AT a stone monument with both northern and southern AT distances. Everytime I see this, I can’t help but stop my mind and ponder the amount of long haul trekkers who had stopped here, maybe having their moment of enlightenment at this very spot.

Having friends who had hiked the AT come to find out that I live so close to this stone in the trail, several had sent me photos, selfies during their own excursion standing next to the very stone source of energy and will to keep walking; a sort of magic, I suppose!

Onward to Smarts Mt and beyond!

Still surprised that the US Forest Service had barricaded off the Smarts Mountain Trail Head, I was even more surprised to see that someone had actually driven into the bright orange barricade, to the extent that the laminated sign was torn from the impact and the entirety of gate was off to the side..essentially allowing folks to park in the lot if they disregarded this warning sign which was printed and signed USFS!

Still feeling decent, I took the inclines as efficiently as I knew how, being completely aware that I first had a 1,500′ climb to Lambert Ridge, just to drop back down a few hundred feet to the “base” of Smarts Mt to ascend the additional 1,000ft or so up to the tower location atop the mountain!

The sun was out, I had the trails to myself and the views to where I had come were spectacular! I could even see all the minor ponds and summer cabins of who made up my neighbors, certainly a view I don’t think I could grow tired of seeing!

My first “oh no!” moment came just on the backside of the Ridge as the trail changed from very runnable open rock sticking straight up to a sea of white as far as the eye could see. It was incredibly beautiful, but not the sight I wanted to see at the end of April – and definitely not when I still had twenty-eight miles to run!

The snow was rotten, completely hollowed underneath and each step gave way to a mystery of off-camber rocks below, and if I found reprieve from ankle-breaking rock, it was only to plunge my foot into fresh, frigid melt water down below – had my ankles needed an ice bath, this would have been very welcome indeed!

Deciding to press on, staying hopeful that once I hit the south-facing grade of Smarts Mt, hopefully the sun would have melted the trail and I could make some progress.

I was wrong as wrong gets.

As I gained altitude the melted snow that I had encountered a half mile earlier was now frozen solid. I stood, braced against a tree on this twenty percent grade, looking up.. then looking back down.

I had my Hillsound spikes which I absolutely expected to use on Moosilauke as I could see from a distance that mountaintop was still very white. I, however, did not expect to fumble with traction yet – with twenty-eight miles to go.

Quickly doing some crude math in my head I made the call. I determined that a fourteen-hour day was tolerable, but if I continued at this slower pace while dealing with rotten snow, solid ice and melt water – essentially if I couldn’t guarantee a clear path ahead, I would be running back into darkness during the descent of Moosilauke, not really what I had in mind for this trek.

To my surprise, I was totally content with what I had accomplished! I had run twenty-three miles from the Dartmouth College Green in downtown Hanover, through some of the most beautiful rolling hills I could have ever asked for. I saw bear and loads of wildlife and buds just starting their springtime journey to life, I was thrilled actually.

My biggest concern, I decided on the long arduous hike back to the main road and thence back to my home, was that if I had continued along out of sheer stubbornness, that I would run the risk of forgetting all of what I had seen and experienced up to this point and would only be able to focus on how crummy it was to break through snow and ice every step, or how long it had taken me to complete – and that was absolutely not what I was out running for!

I had failed my attempt at the Dartmouth Fitty miler, but in my own regard.. I came out a winner!

I love the places I saw, the (very few..) people I got to wave to and say good morning to, the views breathed life back into my soul when I wasn’t even aware that my reserves were being exhausted in my day-to-day.

I feel that I made the call at the right time, I have nothing but incredible memories – one of the finest even being standing on the Green at 5am, trekking poles in hand, pack on my back in the dark as cars crept by and I could look over to Ciara and the pups and think to myself with a smirk: “I’ll see you in a few miles“.

And with one wave, a good long hug and a kiss I’ll always remember – they were gone and I was alone with my own mind on this dark tunnel before me.

– Erik


Overall stats for the day:

  • 28.24 miles
  • 7hr 10 minutes
  • 7,743′ elevation gain
  • Altra – Lone Peak 4.0 shoes
  • Dartmouth Green – 540′
  • Velvet Rocks Hill – 1,243′
  • Moose Mt, South Peak – 2,283′
  • Moose Mt, North Peak – 2,303′
  • Holts Ledge – 2,110′
  • Dartmouth Skiway AT TH – 878′
  • Lambert Ridge – 2,380′
  • High point on Smarts Mt – 2,782′
  • (Smarts Mt – 3,238′)

 

Exploring local trails

Have you ever experienced your backyard?

Not just peering at the beauty of it through your dismal kitchen window, but really gone outside to stand in the (hopefully) cool, crisp morning air while the finches and chickadees greet you; all around is the scent of wet maple and hemlock mingle with the familiar terpenes emanating from your swath of pine, spruce or fir.

Have you ever stopped long enough to notice the little fungi that flowers (yes, mushrooms do “flower“) on that fallen log everytime it rains?

Do you ever wonder what mysteries lay beyond that 200-year old stone wall that casts a moat of familiarity and would be safety around your property?

Secretly curious why someone, such a long time ago clear cut that path which calls to you daily during your morning commute? Where does it go? Could there be a lost pond at the end of that trail that no one has the time to explore lately, in such a digital world? Maybe that was the trail Huck Finn would take to go catch all of his fish.. you’ll never know if you don’t take the time to explore.

Be the explorer.

Now that the glorious high peaks with their expansive views and spiderweb-like network of trails are off limits for most of us who abide by the ‘no unnecessary travel‘ guidelines put in place by local and state agencies; and yes.. perhaps as you read this you can look out your kitchen window to find an alpine paradise.. but unfortunately, I along with many others, do not.

So, if you’re like me then you may find yourself feeling a little stuck indoors on the treadmill (I don’t own a treadmill.. and hopefully you don’t either!) reading about, and deeply craving the forests once again.

Want to explore local places but don’t know where to begin?

These days there are loads of free GPS and mapping apps that can be installed onto your smart phone. While this is hardly the most reliable method to employ when you are actually away from civilization, it can be the cheapest to start with; if nothing more, just to get an idea of local trails, nearby mountains, dog parks, and even some of the “lesser-used” paths!

Before taking to my local paths, I typically prefer to use any number of mapping websites while I have the luxury of a larger monitor (and somewhat reliable WiFi!) of which to view the network of linking paths; alltrails, caltopo, peakbagger are all some of the pages I will cycle through, you may notice that one source may offer you older logging roads while another may show other details like wetlands, not found on other maps – this is why I try to check as many resources as possible to get an accurate and up-to-date idea of which paths lead where.

Particularly in wintertime it can be nice to have access to trail reporting websites, where users can log in and give detailed (and often very helpful) logs of which trails they have used lately, including important factors as any blowdown to contend with, stream or river crossings and their status (height), even including what gear they recommend for a pleasurable and safe trek into the forest.

It should go without saying though: while it is nice and super convenient to have the access to GPS and mapping apps on our smartphones (many of which do operate in airplane mode, thus conserving battery life), if you don’t have the initial WiFi to download the topo for a region, you may find that your map is blank with you as a blue dot lost in a featureless ocean of nothing on your screen.

Also worth noting, while using a mapping app to track your location is very convenient – these apps have a way of sucking the battery power while using the screen near full-time. It can be helpful enough to simply use your phone’s app as a back up, checking occasionally where you are located at the moment; only if needed – this way the battery power will be conserved for in the event of an emergency, when you may really need to know and follow a certain direction back to safety.

What turf do you want to run, hike or bike on?

Often times it is possible to determine what kind of surface makes up a trail network by reading a topographic map; consult the legend, typically dirt logging roads will have a different line-type, color, or level of boldness than a foot-traffic only path. It may be possible to determine how remote a trail system is by even noting per the map if the area contains man-made bridges or waterbars, all indicators of recent (safe to assume within 10-20 years, this may not always indicate a path is maintained yearly or even monthly, check the date on the map!) trail maintenance.

While it is probably safe to conclude that if it is winter outside then there is likely snow covering the trails – but with a little preliminary digging online or into local maps (check local co-ops or coffee shops for maps or info for local trails!), you may be able to conclude if these trails garner the traffic that will give you a nice packed surface following a good dumping of snow, or if not – perhaps you need to be prepared to step into a pair of snowshoes and break your own trail through 12-inches of freshly fallen fluffy snow.

Some trails around where I currently reside cycle between being host to mountain bike and running trails by summer/fall and ski, snowshoe and even snowmobile trails by winter and spring – a little digging and research should help answer your questions of what you can expect to trek on!

So many trails, so many surfaces!

  • Hiking path – will probably be the most enjoyable for trail running or exploring with your pup; chances are you will find a maintained trail with the occasional rock or small boulder to step around or over; could be wide enough to permit anything from single file all the way up to four or more folks to trekking side-by-side (although with 6-ft for social distancing, this may not be applicable at this time!); likely a marked trail with painted blazes or color-coded discs
  • Mountain bike path – similar to a hiking trail with possibly more obstacles to contend with, this can be anything from roots, rocks, sandy trails, narrow wooden bridges to skirt over and through boggy areas; if you know you are on a confirmed mountain biking trail, don’t wear ear buds, stay alert to possible incoming traffic, yield to on-coming bikers if these trails are designated for bike-use; likely a marked trail with painted blazes or color-coded discs
  • Snowmobile path – similar to mountain biking trails as far as who has the right of way, at least with snowmobiles you should be able to hear them coming from a distance; these trails are typically groomed flat for snow machines in the snowy months, often times over-grown and appearing out of commission in the late-spring/summer months; can prove difficult to follow at times (especially once ferns and new growth comes in), with a bit of research you should be able to track down a copy (online or at a local convenient/gas store) of up-to-date snowmobile paths, or contact your local snowmobile club for more info; paths can be marked/emblazoned, some clubs will even have signage at trail intersections indicating refueling stations or distance/direction to the next town
  • Old logging roads – may not take you exactly where you want to go; certainly be mindful of active logging traffic; logging roads can be quite rugged, hosting stumps, logs or small downed trees laying directly in your path (perfect if you are training for an OCR..or obstacle course race!); underfoot you may encounter a muddy, slushy or sandy path depending on time of year, many logging roads are littered with tree and wood chips which may seem soft for running, but can prove to be strenuous on the ankles; these paths are likely not marked so do your research before setting out on them!
  • Herd paths – the forest really only needs three foot steps on the same patch of earth cover before soil becomes so compacted that drainage is impacted and many root structures simply die; mosses become trampled, ferns and saplings all pushed aside with twigs broken from repeated travel; while herd paths are also not marked or blazed (possibly not even listed on recent maps), these trails will begin to test your route finding instincts; if there has been any recent traffic, tracks will be naturally easier to follow in the winter; by the time autumn hits and leaves begin to drop, these paths can become difficult to follow – spend a bit of extra time before setting out really becoming familiar with the direction of travel such as “after the path circumnavigates Pond #1, it will climb East to 2400′ and swing North continuing along a ridgeline Northwest for 1.2 miles before reaching the old Kilkenny farm house and outbuildings”; you may find neon colored surveyors tape from prior parties in these woods, best to not follow or trust unless you placed the tape and are familiar with its direction!
  • Bushwhacking (off-trail) – make note of where you depart the marked trail or roadside; be super observant of your surroundings while off-trail, make mental notes of contours and nearby hills, valleys, ravines, steams, ponds as you pass to try to picture where you are currently on the topographic map – this will be easier in winter or early spring before new growth limits how far you can see; leave ‘breadcrumbs’ in your mind of which direction you went, keep the idea of a known object or mountain in the back of your mind such as “Peak #2 should always be to the south during my trek”, if that is true – this may not remain factual on longer traverses or as you crest a number of ridges and peaks, etc

A note on bushwhacking: while it is extremely rare that you will find markings along the trail, this is where having and knowing how to use a map and compass is imperative, this skill may be what stands between you stuck overnight on a trail.. lost, and your warm cabin.

Another option that can be used is to tie a small piece of surveyors flagging/tape every so often to mark your own path into the woods, can be used to follow your way back – but be cautious, if you do not travel in an “out and back” fashion, you absolutely must trek back in your original path and take down all of your flagging, do not leave a mess for others to clean up, or even worse.. for someone else to follow resulting in them becoming disoriented and possibly more lost than they were!

Will I see wildlife?

Depending on the time of year, yes – there could be a good chance on encountering critters as you explore new places! Typically, where there is water: brooks, ponds, bogs, wetlands you will be able to find the beginnings of the food chain. Beginning with lifeforms that live in the water, whether it be stagnant and swampy or flowing downstream there may be frogs, fish, insects or seaweed and mosses which give life to larger forms of life!

Around wetlands can also be a great place to run into moose and bear depending on where in the world you’re located, just outside of my cabin doorstep lay home to hundreds of square miles of protected land – the perfect environment for larger animals (currently my muddy driveway contains what looks like a highway of moose tracks); while you think it may still be winter in your neck of the woods, that doesn’t mean that bear are not beginning their waking cycle, coming out of hibernation in search of berries, wild edibles or your mushroom jerky (if you still consume beef jerky, might I recommend trying mushroom jerky as an alternative, its both healthy and delicious!).

While this article is in no way trying to scare you into believing nature is just waiting to devour your whole being the second you step into the forest, it is simply a pleasant reminder that we are surrounded by nature, upon stepping onto remote trails.. we are entering their world, we are the guests as we trek the woods.

Big animals are all around us, chances are we may just not see them – I think they would want it that way: they have the eyes on us, we are the visitors. Be aware that if you go into their habitat with a fist of salmon and expect to not be followed, you are being really very silly. Animals are naturally curious, especially if they smell something interesting while you have stopped to check your map (as in, you are not ruffling leaves or rattling a bear bell or making some noise), they may just creep in to check out what you are munching on – depending on just how hungry they are can dictate how this encounter goes.

As a good rule that I try to abide by – eat before you enter the woods, wash your hands of all foreign food scents, try to stick with water and things that don’t have strong aromas; save the savory foods for when you get back to your car (it’s a good idea to always bring back up food, but if possible keep it sealed up for an emergency – I do this with my bag of gorp.. Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts, it’s there in case I spend longer than anticipated in the woods, but I don’t want to invite the curious to my path!).

Travel times

Be aware of how long it may take you to adventure in these newer trails; you may want to slow your pace and really observe your new surroundings, take photos or just hang out at that new pond you just discovered! Being aware though, while you are planning your adventure, a clear path that has not had recent rain or flooding can be traversed much faster than a trail that just received 6-inches of snow that you now have to break through.

This is where having the luxury of recent trail reports can pay off, just so you have some heads up as to what you are getting yourself into.

Will you have to break trail through fresh powder?

Are the temps rising in the afternoons forcing you to glissade across melting snow that sticks itself like super glue to your snowshoes, adding pounds of unanticipated weight to each step and wearing out your leg muscles that much faster?

What about that recent windstorm that knocked down an entire growing season worth of leaves, camouflaging your path with a sea of wet orange, red and yellow leaves that slide like ice when you step on them?

Maybe this windstorm also brought branches and limbs.. or even worse.. entire stands of trees down that you will now have to climb up and over to gain any progress.

Whatever the current conditions are can either make your adventure a smooth one, or can slow you to a crawl; maybe you brought water and food for an hour long run while you find yourself stuck in a half mile of 10-foot deep blowdown forcing you to crawl under, over or around to get back to your car – turning your hour long adventure into a full afternoon (or more!) out in the forest.

Dress for the Temps

Think about what time of the year you are heading out into the forest; is it summer where the temperatures don’t typically drop below 65 degrees overnight, and you’ll retain good visibility underneath the forest canopy until 9pm, or is the calendar creeping toward spring or autumn with temps dropping as much as 30-60 degrees as the sun drops below the horizon, maybe once the sun starts to go down you only find yourself with half an hour before stuck in complete darkness.

A little planning can go a long way and make you much more comfortable should you find yourself being out on the trails longer than you anticipated!

Pack smart

What do you need to bring, if you are only planning on being on these new trails for an hour or two to stretch the legs, why bother weighing yourself down with any extra gear? Why would I pack a jacket if its sunny and 75-degrees now? I can last all day without food and water, should I even need to bring a pack?

There was a time I sounded exactly like this, that was.. until I learned the hard way that bringing extra is never a bad idea!

Sure, if you are planning on trail running, why would you want to be weighted down by a pack or with extra water sloshing around?

Be realistic when you make your plans to explore and just let the thought enter your mind for a moment: what will I realistically need to comfortably spend an unplanned night out?

Hopefully you won’t actually need your whistle to signal that you are lost without cell service. Seeing as prices have dropped significantly in the past years, many folks these days carry a Spot or InReach – some type of personal location beacon in case things really go wrong and cannot get themselves to safety under their own power.

But.. back that thang up! Before you let yourself need to be rescued, think about what you would need should you be stuck and not able to get yourself out until the sun comes back up.

During this wild time we find ourselves, with COVID-19 reeking havoc throughout the world – do not expect the same Search and Rescue efforts to even exist. Should you find yourself needing their help in the forest, it may take considerably longer to amass a team to rescue you, or even worse – this help may never come.

Do not expect anyone to have your back, pack extra because you need to.

Do you have extra snacks?

Did you bring your water filter that weighs next to nothing?

What about that spare jacket you didn’t think would be needed at 1pm when you set out?

Did you actually bring a pack with a map and compass that you know how to use, do you really know where you are or did you just run wild through the forest thinking the trail was 50-feet that way when it was really 50-feet in the opposite direction?

Wouldn’t it be nice to have brought extra socks, or a buff to wrap around your head or neck?

What about the headlamp that you didn’t think you would need, I’d bet now you do!

Did you carry your trekking poles that you never leave the trail head without? Sure, they may help with balance.. but what if you need to secure a twisted ankle, it sure would be helpful to have the poles then!

Remember those hand and toe warmers that you never left your car without all winter, why not toss an extra pair in your pack for an unplanned overnighters?

While not even large in size any longer, it has become so easy to carry a good blade with us into the wild to be used as needed: cut sticks into a smaller size, open plastic packaging on that candy bar that you cannot grip since the sun went down and left your fingers without all of their natural feeling capability; while you no longer need to look like Davy Crockett running mad through the forest with a machete, there are hundreds of multi-tool companies out there these days, and with such lightweight materials (metals or ceramics), why not carry one – likely you will never need it, but when you do.. you’ll be happy it went along for the ride in your bag!

So many little things that can be tossed into a pack and thrown on your back that weigh next-to-nothing, can all either be never needed, or that extra little detail that make survival possible – or just endurable enough to get you through the night as needed.

On top of carrying extra things to make your survival life easier, take the extra couple of minutes while at home and learn how to use everything that goes into your pack, likely amenities and various equipment can be doubled into dozens of other uses.. with a little ingenuity and practice-work before entering the forest!

And lastly, just remember that nature is like a second home to us; respect nature and we will be rewarded ten-fold. But nature is truly wild, anything can happen – and if we spend enough time in nature, everything will happen; things will go wrong, we will get hurt, we will run into big creatures in the forest.. but if we prepare our minds and bodies and try to learn from others mistakes.. we will be that much more likely to turn a negative experience into an opportunity; to remain calm, learning and growing with nature.

Stay healthy and found out there!

Happy climbing!

– Erik

 


Beebe Farm 12hr

Mixed Emotions.

In two words, that is precisely how I would have to describe the Beebe Farm 12hr running-fest that took place yesterday. The actual main event of the weekend was a grueling 48 hours of running, walking, crawling.. whatever mode of travel the runner chose to pass the time and pack on as many miles as one could in the allotted time. Nor’East Trail Runs hosted this gem of a race back in Dorset, VT (we were just there for the Lost Cat 50k and Dorset Hollow road race..found here!) and featured a 6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour, 48 hour, marathon and 50K distances, a little something something for everybody, I suppose!

If I remember back correctly, the decision to run this event came while I was still riding the ‘runners high’ of the aforementioned events last month in Vermont.. thinking to myself that it would be a splendid idea to ‘try anything once’.

Lists were made well in advance to try to avoid forgetting any necessary clothing or piece of food that might be my savior on race day – and I have to say, I think I did quite well looking back! I had my grapes all washed and ready to go when I wanted something juicy at mile 11, Ciara’s gracious mother brought clementines which I scarfed down somewhere around mile 20, then came my trusty dates when my calves needed some nutritional loving around mile 36, but what really hit the spot was the rye bread dipped into pickle juice once I hit the 40 mile mark!

Nor’East Trail Runs of course had anything and everything to offer up, keeping the weekend runners bellies satisfied and fueled for the long miles ahead; pancakes and eggs were on the stove when I arrived early Saturday morning, shortly after they got the grills all smoky and filled the surrounding air with the tantalizing scents of burgers and hot dogs. The best part? They offered everything for the dietary restricted also, featuring gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options!

Unfortunately (or fortunutely for me!), I just did not feel like tackling the grease-fest.. so I opted for a glass (yes, you read that correctly.. a glass) of real, local maple syrup followed up several hours later with apple cider..and several glasses of the refreshing nectar!

The one thing I truly wish that I had brought.. which honestly were just forgotten were headphones! Twelve hours on the circle gravel track is really quite a mind game. While there were plenty of amazing and kind folks (some I recognized from previous events!) to pass the time in conversation with.. I think a podcast would have been a great addition to break up the hours, or even to be able to listen to any of the 400,000 musicians that scrolled into my head as the day cranked by!

So what did I do about this? I turned the music up real loud on my drive from New York to Vermont.. trying to get my fill of decent tunes before being trapped inside my head with my wacky thoughts for the on coming twelve hours.

Nine AM

I arrived early enough to check in with the team and pick up my new Beebe Farm fleece jacket and super cute coffee mug with matching spoon, but had I given myself an extra half hour, I think I would have actually remembered to put the ankle bracelet timer on my leg prior to heading over to the runner briefing at 8:50! A quick trot back to my car a quarter mile away and my problem was solved.. but certainly helped add to the rushed chaoic sensation of the morning.

Watches set to record and all of us were off, some quicker than others of course. I tried to stay reserved to start, hovering somewhere around a ten-minute mile pace, which afforded me the breath to chat it up with a mother next to me – she was running with her autistic son, they were here to run his first full marathon – and let me tell you.. the two of them absolutely crushed it! He was in the zone just trotting along when she would remind him to eat, drink and use the potty – really quite a remarkable sight to see!

Lots of “nice work!“, “lookin good!” and “you’re crushing it!“-‘s were exchanged and before I knew it the sun had rose to full force, I had thrown down my first eleven miles – each one of those miles had me eyeballing the 1 gallon jug of local maple syrup on the aid station table. I suppose one would assume this real maple syrup would be for the pancakes? I finally got up some courage, slowing to a walk near the table.. “hey.. could I have a shot of maple syrup?”, I asked Adam (from the awesome Race Director team of Adam and Eliza).

“We don’t have any shot glasses.. yet.” he replied.

I conjured up my inner Ciara as I replied, “My mouth is the perfect shot glass!!

Turns out they just happened to have a red solo cup filled about half-way with the sweet, sticky nectar. “Here you go.. *hands me the red solo cup as I peer into it*, WAIT! Erik that’s not a challenge, man!“, Adam went to the other table to grab a spare biodegradable cup to split the 10oz of syrup. So I poured, drank about 4oz of pure heaven.. then refilled, and downed another 4oz.. and before I knew it the contents of the original red solo cup were coasting south, straight into my belly. Such bliss, washing it all down with a quick blast, 8oz of some of the best race coffee I had ever had and I was on my way, super satisfied with my decision!

The miles clicked by (literally clicking as I ran across the timing mats) and I grew curious (and hungry!) about when Ciara’s mother was planning on dropping by – I figured I would have one of my tomato and vegenaise on rye bread sandwiches since I would be happily slowing my pace to spend time with her.

Not only did she bring my pickles (I left some food in her fridge as I spent the night at her cabin to make the morning commute shorter) but the cooler she brought could barely zip! Packed with oranges, apples, carrots, ginger ale, a full block of tempeh – it felt like I could have survived the week out there on the track with all the treats she brought!

I thought I was spacing the food and drink out far enough while trying to avoid ornery leg muscles seizing up or becoming dehydrated in the afternoon sun, which I did.. I felt great but there was a point that my stomach said “no more” and detested all solid food.

Next up at the aid station, I pulled in again once I saw the jug of apple cider come out – I wanted it cold and fresh!

“Mind if I have a glass or two?” I asked the youngsters who were now our hosts of all things delicious.

“Go ahead, we have another jug in the back.. and if we go though that.. well there is an orchard right over those mountains!

This young fella had the right attitude toward this fresh apple cider!

Ciara’s mother, Tuesday had been gone for several hours and I was limited to a run-walk technique. I’d like to say it was a methodical and thoughtful technique, but I was now fighting off the occasional acute stab that would oscillate from side to side if I tried to pick up my pace.. so I was basically limited to a 16-minute power walk around the track.

Just then a fellow runner came trotting up and slowed to my shuffling pace and asked how I was doing, this would be the most interesting man I would meet all day.

Regretfully, I never did get his name, I simply remember him as #48.. I’m sure I will learn his name once the results are posted and give him a big thank you for all of his help during the day!

You’re in FOURTH PLACE!” he disclosed and continued on for the next couple of minutes giving me backstories on the other racers who made up the lead pack; everything from the ‘guy in the blue shirt up there’ who is more of a bicyclist and has a torn tendon in his leg, turns out our friend in the blue shirt had gone out too fast and despite being 5-6 laps ahead had faded fast and was talking about throwing in the towel at 50 miles. I was at 36 and upon doing some quick ‘ultra-math’, I knew I should be passing 50 miles if I kept up this mediocre pace!

If that doesn’t put a little pep in your step, I don’t know what will!” Yelled number 48 as he hastened his shuffle and took off. Throughout the remainder of the event, we talked a lot as he would pass by: he used to be extremely overweight as a child and his father put him on the track team, he had not stopped running since – and man, he sure enough looked like a lean running machine!

Up to that point I was completely unaware that the current stats were being displayed, I honestly assumed I was hovering somewhere around 14th place, and that would have been fine with me – I was watching the miles fly by 38, 39, then FOURTY MILES! Up until September 28th I had never pushed past 33.25 miles, this was all new and exciting territory for me – but to do it and be in fourth place? Un-freaking-real!

Mile 45

I had one thing on my mind: Dates. I knew dates had always treated me and my finicky belly very well at any other event, or when running in the mountains – reliable and predictable energy that takes care of any leg calf fatigue.. such an amazing burst of ‘everything is okay‘ energy!

I’m sure curious minds were fixed on me as I ran-walked another lap, this time with my arms held high; the sun had fallen behind the surrounding mountains and a slight breeze had coasted in. There were threats of storms, but we saw nothing more than a few flashes of lightening off in the distance.

Arms in the air, breathing slow and thoughtfully: slow inhale held for several seconds and then releasing through my nose, I was able to shut my eyes and live in the moment – almost in a meditative trance-like state. It was truly blissful. I actually felt okay in those minutes.

Being able to relay all of the many emotions that welled up from 11 miles all the way to 53 miles to Ciara back at home was unlike anything I had in the past, my own secret weapon of encouragement at my fingertips!

She kicked my ass into gear when my ass needed kicking, and I cannot thank her enough for that!

The sun was gone and finally at mile 46, I did not want the company of anyone around me.. I was hurting all over and I just wanted to collapse into my mind, experiencing all I could.

Friends tried to talk, so I forced conversation about mountains and what life was like while not on this doggone circle. I just wanted my peace and quiet – that is.. until I saw a familiar face: Tuesday was back for more fun – and this time donned her Altra running shoes!

Big hugs were exchanged and we were off down the track! Pretty sure by this time I had slipped into such a tired state that I rambled and went on down the rabbit hole of not making sense, but I didn’t care, I wanted to share the chaos that now traversed my scattered brain.

Since number 48 had told me about the scoreboard, I made it a habit to veer over and scope it out – thinking that perhaps I would slip up into third place and not realize it, but I was also able to monitor their calculated mileage and my lap count.

Mile 47.6

So close, and with an hour and fifteen minutes to go, I was still in fourth place. Our friend in the blue shirt was pulling off more and more frequently, but he was still out here – and he was running! Tuesday offered to jog a bit, I politely declined – being completely satisfied with my 16-minute per mile shuffle and potential fourth place finish!

We talked and talked, as much as I wanted to just tuck away into my pain cave and just auto-pilot the last hour away, I felt extremely lucky that she wanted to come back at such a late hour of the night to help.. even if I did stumble sideways into her a few times!

By now, I began to feel a certain taste of pain in my quadriceps that was henceforth unknown to me.

Just. Keep. Moving.

One more beep from the timing mat as yet again I veered over the left to check the stats: 49.68 with time to spare.. I would surpass my fifty miles for sure! In fact, two more laps brought us to 52.29 miles with 10 minutes 28 seconds left to hammer out as much steam as possible!

Just then I heard my name, it was the timing guy running after me with a little red flag. We were instructed to jab that sucker into the ground on the right side of the track when the clock hit 9pm. The end was in sight and it tasted so sweet.

All those miles that I had endured, the sun burnt legs, the chaffing, the shuffling feet, the pickles and rye bread eaten; it was all for this moment.

9pm. Game over.

We made our way (a little stiff-legged on my part) back to the aid station and starting line for the finishers’ medal where I was greeted by Eliza, “here’s this.. and.. you got Third Place.. right?”

Whaaaaat?! I never saw my place bump from fourth to third – that literally happened as we began our final lap in the last 10 minutes (I didn’t see it happen). Holy heck, all I could do was keep quiet.. I truly believed she erred, but without questioning her, I took my 3rd Place piece of slate award.. still, slightly in shock, I suppose!

It wasn’t until later that night, going through the photographs that I found that I did take third place after all!

What a magical tormential experience.

I write this now, merely 12 hours after completing my first 12 hour, 53 mile travel by foot with restless, tired, beaten up legs.

Mixed emotions.

Those words running through my head so early on in my day and continuing to swim violently upstream, trying to stay afloat in my mind. I love the crew, Adam and Eliza are absolutely incredible Race Directors, and rad folks for sure! They just seem to get better and better at what they do, becoming more organized with each event! The weather was just lovely out at the horse farm, I got to experience a side of myself that I rarely find at the mountains, pushing gravely deep past the point where I just want to curl up in the grass and whisk away.

Despite reaching 2,733 feet of vertical gain over the day: I miss my mountains. I miss time spent on the trails with Ciara and our doggies. Twelve hours after running 53 miles, I can safely admit: I want to finish hiking the 48 high peaks of New Hampshire with Ciara, I want to thru-hike more, I want to sink my trekking poles into the glacial slopes of Mount Hood, I want to travel to new places and see new things in our bus – knowing me though.. I’d give it another 48 hours and I’ll want to do this crazy adventure all over again!

I cannot thank Ciara and her awesome mama, Tuesday enough for helping me kick butt (or.. get my butt kicked!) and helping me get my mind through the grueling, tough times! Of course to all the friends I got to see again and new friendships made through running silly distances! Many thanks to everyone at Nor’East Trail Runs for giving us all a stellar venue to destroy our bodies and truly see what we mortals are made of!

It really was an incredible day!

Thanks for following along – got a question about running plant-based? Let me know.. shoot a note!

Have an awesome day – time for me to refill my coffee and limber up a bit!

Cheers!

– Erik


Overall stats for Beebe Farm 12hr

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 53 miles
  • 12 hours
  • 2,733′ elevation gain
  • 0 bathroom breaks
  • 1/2lb green grapes
  • 4 clementines
  • 1/3lb dates
  • 10oz maple syrup
  • 8oz coffee
  • 2 pickles
  • 1 slice rye bread
  • 6 cups apple cider
  • many ounces of water

 

Chasing the FKTs

There are quite a many acronyms that roll seamlessly easily off the tongue, then there are those that contain such strident consonants that demand all the hooting and hollering. F! K! T! As if in celebration we describe this acronym.. but what the heck does it mean? The three letters that have been gracing headlines of hundreds of recent blog posts and instagram stories: Fastest Known Time. 

At a time when folks need to take a deep breath, slow down for a minute and take a good long walk in nature – why the heck would we want to speed up our endevours? For bragging rights? Perhaps self-gratification? A sense of new adventure or fulfillment? Is it an ability to quantify the results of your training regime? Heck, I don’t know why people want to ‘own’ these things.. or do I?

Many folks take on the attempt of a Fastest Known Time on their own, solo; but that isn’t written in stone – the FKT certainly can be undertaken as a team effort, but that’s the catch 22 – the team attempted FKT is only as strong, as capable and swift as their weakest or slowest member, which is likely why most enthusiasts choose to take on these self-created events completely on their lonesome.

Since your FKT attempt is completely up to you – which route you take: a loop.. clockwise or counterclockwise? a traverse.. north to south or south to north? The beauty of this game called FKT… You make the rules! Do you want to try something on your home trails or pick something far away and allow yourself to get psyched up for months in advance while prepping yourself, drooling over maps and gear lists. You could even go so far as to base an entire destination vacation around your attempt!

Will you go un-supported, supported, or self-supported? 

Do you prefer to work in a group where each member shares the daily tasks or do you have trust issues and like to take on everything yourself? If you prefer a solo journey.. you don’t necesarily have to be alone, you still have options in this wicked game! Do you want the support of friends or family near by to ready supplies and smother your toes in vaseline or would you rather drop all of your supplies yourself, in advance of your trek?

All of these factors will help determine how much gear and re-supply you have to carry, which in the end will decide how far and fast you can travel – generally the longer you plan to be on the trail, the more you may want to consider dropping some extra food, water or clothing along your route! In a completely un-supported journey out into the forest, you may need to think about how exposed you want to be when sleeping under the starts; a hammock, minimalist tent or quick/light emergency bivy can always work for a few days, but never forget that this all adds weight to your pack – and always consumes valuable real estate, decreasing the extra food or water in your pack.

How will you document your trip? 

By far the easiest way to write your amazing trip in the books of history is to record yourself via GPS (satellite) watch, which can then be uploaded in a matter of seconds to any number of popular activity platforms (ie: Strava).

Do you prefer to journal? Make it a point to document your experiences, highs and lows at the end of each day (assuming you are doing a multi-day trek!). For those youngsters who have taken to solar power, it may be easier to break out your phone or GoPro and do a Vlog of sorts recording your endevour in a video format to bring home.

Do you have to document your trip?

Well.. technically no! This is one hundred percent your journey, you make the rules! Don’t want to tell others about it? Don’t! You may not get credit for owning the fastest known time on the route you just destroyed, but you will always have your own memories to recount your incredible effort put forth!

Not a runner? Many folks don’t like to run, don’t hike.. totally okay! Again.. this is your FKT attempt: run, bike, hike, kayak, fly, ski, rollerblade.. whatever sport you may fancy, do your sport to the best of your ability and no one can ever say you are wrong!

Not a summer person? No problem! Since this is your trek, I state yet again: You Make The Rules. 

You pick the season. You pick the weather. Did you wake up with a bum ankle the size of Rhode Island? Put off your FKT kick off for a day, week or month! While you may lose your aid if you chose to be supported.. this is completely up to you, just do what feels right – you probably won’t have your absolute best day out there if you have to force the effort anyway!

The best part (in my modest opinion..) of picking your own FKT attempt? The cost! 

How much you spend will depend entirely on you, do you need more gear to undertake this attempt? What about those pesky entry-fees into a State or National Park? These fees (hopefully) are minimal, but what is really awesome about your FKT..? The fee to undertake your Fastest Known Time is.. free. There is no charge to put your name on this acheivement!

Lastly, how do you actually track your accomplishment? Keep a favorite finishing photo and keep completely humble about your knock-out FKT. But should you want to compare and share it with the rest of the world there is a blog-chat forum-turned website out there now known as: fastestknowntime.com

Do you live and breathe FKTs and strive to beat every one of them out in the record world? Then you may want to check out the podcast (by the same name) that the website hosts have forged!

So what about me? I need to write this quickly and share my epic adventure before someone goes out and beats my time.. which is just one side of accomplishing (and documenting!) something like a Fastest Known Time; when someone finds out what you did, naturally.. they congratulate you, then they want to go out and destroy your time and make it their own. It’s a never-ending disease of back and forth, becoming faster than the next guy, really.

 

FKT: Mad River Notch Loop 

I picked this for many reasons, lets see if I can name them all..!

As most know, I have hiked and ran quite a bit around the White Mountain National Forest in all seasons, in fact.. I cannot decide which I truly prefer! I love the winter for the quiet, the solitude, lack of crowded trail heads, and the snow is just an insane amount of fun to slosh around in, cruising down a snow-covered rock shute is one of the closest to actually flying under my own power that I could possibly imagine! Spring is great to see all the green leaves unfold and new colorful life that the winter thaw births. I know summer for warm sun and a time when the black flies are beginning to taper away from my beloved hillsides. Autumn is rad because of the artists pallette of bursting yellows, oranges and reds; but unfortunately results in ankle snapping rocks on the trails being covered with these lovely bursts of color!

Of all the routes, loops, circuits, point-to-point traverses that are well known among climbers and mountain adventurists on the east coast.. why choose something no one had heard of? Actually.. that was my reason precicely. I wanted to do something I had never done! Upon reading and researching routes that hikers had taken on, I never once discovered that anyone had actually ran this loop! All reports were involving backpacking; every trip report I found boiled down to one person who had done this loop as a multi-day backpacking trip!

As for the weather, it is just toward the beginning of Autumn so the extreme heat of summer afternoons is simply not a factor in this FKT attempt. I began this route several times and proved unsuccessful, for my final attempt I decided to start just at the break of day (an hour earlier than previous weeks), but without the need of a headlamp. Honestly, I really didn’t care what the weather was like – I didn’t want to attempt this over moss-covered slick rocks in the rain, but had that been what the day dealt.. that would just be one of the conditions that I would have to contend with – not every day is a bluebird day here in the mountains!

How much gear would I decide to bring? 

Just enough, that’s all! Armed with my less-than-ideal Altra Superior 4.0’s (the grip is an absolute nightmare on any wet rock, I just didn’t have my Altra King MTs at the time!) on my toes, Altra gaiters to keep pesky sand, rock and pine needle bits out of my shoes and Injiniji toe socks to keep my toes from mashing together into one large yucky fleshy mass over the mountain miles!

I decided to not go out on a limb too much, I kept with clothing I knew – an FKT attempt is (in my humble opinion..) not the time to experiment with new fabrics and techy things. While I may have reeked of week old, sweaty running clothes – I was comfortable and that’s all that mattered! I knew straining over the three mountains and many miles would put enough hurt on my body and muscles, definitely did not need to add to the torment with chaffing fabric!

A few other ‘must-haves’ that stay in whatever running vest or pack I decide to adventure with is my Sawyer water filter, which has saved my ass on several occassions now – so take my advise and don’t ever assume your 40oz of water or spiked electrolyte junk is going to be enough, pack a small (reliable!) water filter for any outdoor trip! My compass and a bear bell also stay in my vest: know how to use your compass if you are going to carry it, hope that you won’t need it, but especially when alone in the woods, be ready to use your compass! Lastly, the bear bell: while some claim that it does not detract wildlife from checking you out.. it does not require batteries and it’s a little piece of mind for me as it is always jingling in my pocket! 

What do people eat on their Fastest Known Time attempt?

Whatever the heck I want! Realistically.. whatever I know works! I am clearly no expert in the nutrition field, but I know enough to know what works: and for me, that is real nutrition that comes in the easy to carry, 99.9% mess free Muir Energy (think: real fruit, real nut butters, real molasses and trace amounts of salt..that your fatigued body really needs!) and dates. I carry about 1/2 pound of just plain dates because they settle excellently in a stomach that (by the laws of running) does not want to digest anything!

Just from my experience – I know my body can only consume nutrition on the ascents. While climbing or running uphill, naturally (I’m realistically not that fast..) I have to slow down to keep the risk of cramping or ‘going out too hard’ down. If I need to walk a hill to keep my heart rate from spiking, this is when I eat, this is when I drink water – or my favorite: coconut water!

Since reading a topographic map, or an elevation profile of a person’s route does not realistically do their adventure any justice.. what was it like during my day? Like any run in the mountains, highs and lows around every corner, it felt like a long day but once it was over.. it feels as if the run truly flew by.

Beginning on the seasonal Tripoli Road, I decided to park this time at the Osceola Trail head lot and start my day with the dirt road run prior to hitting the shoulder of Tecumseh. I wanted to stop and take so many more photos on this foggy morning in the forest – the greens were never so green and the pine needle laden trails never appeared so warm and lush as they did this morning.

I could actually see the trail now, as the past several attempts were in the rain with a very wet (+6″ deep puddles) trail. The rocks were easier to bounce off of, muscles felt good on the inclines and before long I had topped out at the mild summit clearing. Today, I was in ‘go-mode’, so a stop at the summit was not in order. Down the Sosman Trail I bounded and began to encounter my first hikers of the day, wishing them well, most head my bear bell from far away and gave me plenty of room as I cruised by.

Fancy-footwork was the name of the game for the several mile descent off Tecumseh, most of this trail has been reinforced with man-made stairs that, luckily were not super slick this morning – I just tried to be extra light and quick on my feet.

Into the parking lot, I knew where to go and slowing down was not on my agenda! Back into the woods along the crosscountry ski trails would take me over to the Livermore parking lot and trail head where I would catch the old logging road for a short stint.

I had missed the trail for Greeley Ponds in the past, cutting off too early.. well not today! I knew where to go after all of my previous screw-ups. I may have found images of the Greeley Ponds trail after hurricane Irene, and it was certainly not a pretty sight – but what a trail I was on now! The newly graded trail allowed for maximum cruising and easy foot work as I still tried to glimpse around the forest for anything big and shadowy moving out amongst the trees.

I had been to one edge of the Greeley Ponds on past hikes, but this was spectacular – cliffs on my left, drop off into the pond on my right and a hard packed trail below my feet with just enough roots to need to keep my fast-twitch muscle fibers alert and ready for any last second corrections.

I refueled my belly some before hitting the final intersection and beginning the short but quad-busting ascent up East Osceola. I had only been on this trail during the winter, so today it really brought me joy to see the trail in warmer wearther, to see what really was under that snow! And what was under that snow? A steep and rocky trail that’s for sure! Both hands were hired now to hoist myself up the slick iron hued jagged rocks – I couldn’t help but notice how amazing the Altra Superiors do on jagged rock such as this – as long as they have anything to grip, they crush it!

Just prior to topping out at the East Osceola cairn marking the high point, I had my first scare of the day when a woman came running out from the trees – my mind heard her first and believed she was any kind of animal out to eat my soul.. we laughed it out and wished each other a great day once I saw she was not a moose on the trail!

I always forget how far down into a col the trail over to Mount Osceola seems to be, but after some muddy steps and more epic views looking at my final destination and beyond, I was back on the ascent. I remember upon moving to New Hampshire I had read some trail reviews about “The Chimney” between East and regular ol’ Osceola being super tough and needing a re-route and such; it wasn’t bad the day that I climbed it in winter (some ice, but do-able!) and it certainly wasn’t bad today! Once again hands were employed, some fancy steps were placed and with about 2 minutes of hideous grunts and groans (sorry to the ladies out there on the trail!) I found myself topping out and back on flat land heading to Osceola’s open summit.

The summit is nice and open, plenty of room for hikers to spread out and eat their PB&J sammies – today we were all in the clouds. I’m sure some were upset by the lack of views, this never phases me – I actually quite like the eerie feeling of being in a cloud: it’s a different feeling internally than summiting on a clear day with vast views in every direction, it’s the ‘not knowing’ what is out there that intrigues me! Plus, I didn’t stay long enough to care – one aid stewart asked me how far I had come, I told him my plan for the loop and received “Helluva hike – great choice!”.. as if he was the one soul who had undertaken this route in the past.

Beginning my trek/run down, back to my car at last and very content with my decision to skip the summit antics as I passed puppies, one after another – and none of them on leash. Some families even asked if their dogs were seen up ahead – wanting to let into them about keeping their dogs on leash and yadda ya.. I bit my tongue and continued on my way.

I must have passed 50 people beginning their trek up the mountain as I was finishing my descent, and the parking lot certainly reflected this as the cars lined Tripoli Road in both directions. When I see this, I will never complain about waking up early to start a hike or run in the White Mountains at or before sunrise!

I could have teared up when I saw my path level out and now become the classicly groomed entryway from parking lot to forest and travelling henceforth to my car: I stopped my COROS watch, 4 hours 23 minutes 55 seconds. Done and done.

That night, after submitting my .gpx file out of my watch, a brief write up of my adventure and some stats, I received an email from my new friends at fastestknowntime.com – I had done it. I dreamt of running this route, step by step for weeks leading up to this moment and while I know holding this record is only for the moment – as it will be beat, I will enjoy my accomplishments for now!

If I left you with any questions – let me know!

I can be found all over (when I’m not roaming the hillsides) – email, instagram, facebook, or just comment right on here!

If reading this makes you want to take on (not my route!) your own FKT, let me know! I’d love to hear about it – working towards it, planning, I love it all and would enjoy hearing about it!

Happy trails and lovely running, cheers!

Erik


Overall stats for the FKT:

Recored with COROS Pace

  • 17.07 miles
  • 4hr 23min 55sec
  • 5,787′ elevation gain
  • Mount Tecumseh: 4,003′
  • Greeley Ponds: ~2,300′
  • East Osceola: 4,156′
  • Mount Osceola: 4,320′

 


Dorset Running-fest 2019

The Dorset Running Festival weekend has arrived in western Vermont once again! Hooray!!

..or at least it had at the time of writing this, by the time of you reading this.. it is slightly passed for 2019. But the memory of sweaty running shorts, rockin’ awards and rad friends are still very apparent in my mind thanks to the three day event put on by Nor’East Trail Runs!

I say ‘three day’ event because technically that’s really what it was;

Day One: The Wild Card Friday

Or better known as The Up-hill Mile. For a very modest $5.28 (one penny per ten feet..) runners would be able to tackle this paved mile while climbing somewhere along the lines of 450 feet of elevation gain.

Unfortunately, I was not in the area for the kick off of this spectacular event, so I cannot report on the Up-hill Mile nor the plethora of adorable, adoptable kittens greeting racers at the finish line. Wait… what was that..? Kittens you say?! YES! The entire weekend-long running festival put on by Nor’East Trail Runs worked paw in hand, donating all proceeds to the Second Chance Animal Shelter, pretty darn awesome if you ask a pet lover!!

Day Two: The Lost Cat

An epic race indeed! Racers can take their pick of either the full 26.2mi marathon or the quad-busting 50K distance, both of which began at 8am simultaneously. For those weekend runners who are not early risers, Nor’East also offered the 13.1mi Half Marathon which was also saw a huge turn out!

I chose to sign up about 9 months in advance for the 50K distance (still riding the high from the Nor’witch 50K back toward the end of 2018!) and conveniently was rewarded with a surprise free-entry into the Dorset Hollow Road 10K which would be taking place the following day.

After a brief pow-wow with Adam and Eliza, the friendly Race Directors over at Nor’East Trail Runs, the clock was ticking and we were off scooting down the road. Knowing to not go out too fast, I tried to just run as efficiently as possible while transitioning from asphalt to gravel – which made up the initial miles of the day.

Somewhere around mile 4 we began the gentle climb up the first out and back – I mention this because I really enjoy having the opportunity to wave and cheer on the front of the pack.. and scope out the competition (knowing they will destroy my attempts at any speed records!), all were extremely friendly – no surprise there, I have found the running community is comprised of some totally awesome folks!

Just as I was having my fill of gravel descents and a ~7 minute pace we slammed passed the Sheriff watching traffic and jammed out onto the Route 7 blacktop and before long we were all greeted by crowds cheering us into the Emerald Lake State Park.

Emerald Lake State Park, where to begin with this gem of a natural environment.. immediately after stepping cautiously over active (not this morning luckily!) railroad tracks, runners were treated to what I would find to be perhaps the most scenic and west-coast-style single track of soft packed blackened soil surrounded by the most picturesque ferns and every other bit of plant life in varying shades of green.

Hills and switch-backs were the name of the game for the foreseeable future, that is, until we looped back into on-coming runners for a short bit of trail. Here, where the trail made a Y and I proceeded in a lefterly direction, is where I saw my first runner going literally in circles, unsure of where to go; seeing me, she turned back while I proceeded ahead along the shimmering lake.

I desperately wanted to look up and take in the lovely lakeside vistas that flickered just inches beside my dusty Altras, but assumed if I did.. I would probably eat the trail, which was now extremely washed out with roots, rocks and other obstacles – but don’t read that as me complaining, still an absolute blast to find myself on these trails, it just took a certain level of concentration – that’s all!

Just shy of hitting the 15mi point on my GPS watch, I entered another aid-station – this one staffed by none other than Ciara, Boone and Crockett!! I took my short opportunity to stop, stretch the legs a bit after the last climb up from the campground and visit with her, she always has a way of tugging some enthusiasm back into my steps just when I need it most!

Unfortunately, the miles during the next couple of sections had one theme amoungst my fellow runners: too much road. Sure there was a bit of gravel and road, but when Nor’East dished out “trail”, they dumped bucket loads of sweet, sweet trail right on top of us!

I heard talks of “rabbit-ears” earlier on in the day, and admittedly I had no idea what folks were talking about. Now I knew! A slew of two more out-and-backs before we could hang up our 50K hats for the day! Runners hit their high-point of the day (literally!) between miles 25-28 where we were treated to a 650 foot climb where we hole-punched a heart into our bibs (the proof we did the climb!) followed by a direct reversal and fast-paced shimmy back down.

The best views of the day came from the first climb where we were treated to the expansive vistas of a green mountaintop skyline, it was hard to not stop to snap several photos!

Passing Eliza’s aid station for yet a third time, I had the option of filling up on some water.. but when I heard the shout of: “hang a right down that road and you’ll find the finish line about a mile down there..”, I had to blast past and boogey my kicks right down the last gravel and dirt descent of the day. I found it in my tired and hungry heart to perform one final heel-clicking leap off the last mound of dirt for our event photographer, Joe Viger, just prior to hitting the last stretch of asphalt and being greeted by loads of spectators and friends who had already finished their day.

‘Last right turn of Saturday’, I repeated in my mind until feeling entirely rejuvenated with raw plant-based power engulfing my legs, my aim was now set on the Finish line flags and Adam, there at the finish with my prized new pint glass, finishers dog tag medal and my very own inch-thick block of marble.

What a day it had been!

Day Three: Dorset Hollow 10K

This one had been a reward for running in the winter snowshoe series months prior, I can still remember shaking my head when I received the invite email from the Race Directors and thinking: “welp.. I always wanted to do back-to-back races.. I suppose!

Today I had the joy of running with Ciara and her mama, Tuesday as all of us were signed up for the 10K distance.

Waivers signed, good morning greetings shared, porta-potties used, we three then began our three quarter mile trek to the starting line, enjoying the classic Northeast farm vistas all the way! Stone driveways lined with leaves on the brink of color changing led to crisp red barns, as if we had been dropped in a postcard-like farm village on this cool, clear August morning.

One by one the Forrest Gump clones appeared at our starting line, legs bent in every position imaginable, stretching the morning stiffness out of their running legs. Buses crawled by dropping folks off who did not want the warm up trek and to bring the 5K-ers further down the road to their starting point.

All 56 of us gathered around listening to Eliza break down the flow of the morning and before long we all did the “3,2,1.. start the watches” count down!

My initial attempts of taking this 10K easy were squashed with a punch to the arm, a kiss or three as Ciara told me to ‘go run!’ .. hard to say no to that, so I promised them I would wait and catch some finish line shots of the happy ladies as they ran it in!

One by one I began passing folks, amping up the running intensity and trying to not blow snot on anyone.. it was a crisp morning for sure. I was even lucky enough to run into a friend from the winter snowshoe series, what a lovely little running community we have!

The gravel hills rolled by as the sun gained elevation, my core was toasty by now but my stiff fingers still craved all of those sun rays. Lots of families and local residents were out and about this morning to cheer us on.

Somewhere around the 4 mile mark aid station I was reliving my early hiking days of telling folks “the summit is just ahead, couple of minutes”, thinking I was bringing hope to someones day as I was dished a dose of my own harsh medicine when a friend yelled “its all downhill from here!”

He was wrong, I found those hills and I crushed those hills (at least, I survived the hills and pressed on further down the road!).

Passing our friendly Sheriff who had shut the roads down for us wild runners, I knew we were close to home, I knew where we were now.. time for hyper-speed!

Hyper-speed is not at all what I should call it.. perhaps something like ‘lead feet’ is a wee bit more accurate as I now began to feel the effects of 31+ miles the day before.

Knowing my discomfort would dissipate the instant I stepped over the finish line, and if I were to give into comfort now, not pushing harder than ever in this moment, that I would be left in a world of disappointment for the rest of my life: I kicked hard. I ran it in, completing 6.3 miles in 47 minutes and 8 seconds; good enough for Third Place in the men’s division and Fourth place overall. I was thriiiiilled!!!

Waiting for Ciara and Tuesday to run it in, I had the opportunity to meet some of the local running legends, making more new friends than I can count, and finally getting to talk to many of the friends that I run with in the Lost Cat yesterday.. today they exchanged their hats to be ‘Volunteers’, such an incredible community of wacky running folks out here for sure!

Not too sure that I have ever witnessed smiles so big and laughter so loud as my favorite mother-daughter team brought it in with high fives and hugs galore! Despite what they say, they both crushed these miles.. they bring the type of spirit to these events that makes the most distant stranger glisten with glee inside, their joy and laughter is truly infectious!

Once again, thanks so much to Nor’East Trail Runs for giving all of us a place to come together, hooking us up with a place to shimmy our feet down the dusty trail and fill us all with a huge sense of accomplishment! And of course all the volunteers who came out and staffed the aid-stations in the most remote locations and allowed our grubby little fingers all over their chips and Twizzlers.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds for all of us. Roads, mountains, forest roads, running with doggies, whatever is in store for us.. it is sure to make us better people inside and out when we crush our training and reach the finish line together.

 

Oh.. and I just signed up for the Beebe Farm 12hr.. 

See you there! 😉

Much Love,

Erik


Overall stats for the weekend:

Recorded with COROS Pace

 

Lost Cat 50K

  • 31.34miles
  • 5hr 44min 32sec
  • 4754′ elevation gain
  • 9th Place overall

 

 

Dorset Hollow 10K

  • 6.3miles
  • 47min 8sec
  • 545′ elevation gain
  • 3rd Place for the guys
  • 4th Place overall

 

 

The Joys of Volunteerism.

In the midst of ten thousand missed messages, phone calls, and random alerts chiming out of my phones speaker box, one headline stayed prominent in my mind all day: “Looking for Trail Running Expert!” The note came from a co-worker who had Wrong wayme in mind and assumed that I could be ‘their expert’, I couldn’t help but laugh a little!

I would definitely not classify myself as an expert in anything to do with running, but I sure do love to let loose out on the trails! The race director was on the prowl for a volunteer to help mark their track through the New Hampshire forest.

Sure, it sounded like a sweet gig.. but I had never volunteered for anything in the running community, despite how much fun I had heard it really could be!

Tossing around the idea in my mind to pay-it-forward to all of the volunteers who had helped any of my past running events go as smoothly as they could, I decided to just shoot the Race Director an email to let her know that I would be the ‘expert’ that they longed for.

To my surprise after I hit the send button for my probably-too-lengthy email describing my elevated level of stoke for the STOAKED Trail Race, I almost immediately received a note back thanking me and breaking the news that someone (probably more qualified!) had already volunteered and filled the position!

I wrote off the whole event, content that I could remain in the cocoon of safety that I had woven for myself over the years.. because, after all.. if I don’t step out of my comfort-zone, then no one will see me fail.

Runners of STOAKED

Several days passed until my email box dinged back to life – it was the UVTA Race Director again.. on the prowl yet again!

After a multi-day game of tag over numerous emails I was thrilled to write on my calendar: “Saturday August 3rd: STOAKED Trail Run, 8am. Be there.

Having ran the Stoaked trail race in Hanover, NH back in 2018 during the Western New Hampshire Trail Running Series, I was truly excited.. yet still nervous to say that I would be helping out – giving back to a community of runners who had helped whip my butt into some-sort of shape one year prior.

My official title as a volunteer: Course Sweeper

Being a creature of habit who likes to be in control of his environment, I had plenty of time in the preceding weeks to ponder the multitude of questions: Why did I volunteer? Why should anyone volunteer? What will I get out of this? ..and possibly the most important and frequently reoccurring question: What if I suck at everything I do and everyone sees me?

All I could do now is just show up.

That Saturday morning was like any other: wake up, coffee, check the weather, stretch and pile gear into the Subaru. I decided to remain calm during this entire ordeal by convincing myself that, if I arrived to utter chaos that would tail-spin me into a slew of panic, then I would simply hop back in the Subaru and drive away. I knew that I had that option, sure it may On the quest for arrowshave made any situation more awkward, but that was my end-game escape plan!

The parking lot was a happening place as I dodged stretchers, sprinters, joggers to nab a parking spot. Quickly noticing how much I had actually missed the running environment and all of the excited bustlement that comes along with it, I found our Race Director who quickly broke down my task for the morning and handed me a big yellow “Volunteer” pin and my radio, should I find runners incapacitated.

Helping injured runners? That was beyond my scope of proficiencies – but ‘what could go wrong, it’s only a 10k!’, I gently reassured myself.

I would be taking to the trails 5 minutes after the start of the event, following the last few runners and removing the orange arrows and stapled signage from the trees.

I had a button, a radio and a purpose; time to run!

Immediately, I remembered the layout of the course: a turn here, up that hill, turn and scoot down over there.. and now jam over that-a-way.

Being instructed that I only needed to remove the signage on the sections of single-track trail where the ATVs could not access, I made quick work of the first mile and a half of this lush green pathway.

Then I saw my first friend just up ahead, ironically enough she wore a bright red shirt with huge white letters that filled the entire backside of her shirt – the letters plainly read “BEEF”.
Single track dreams

Here I came from behind.. the dreaded Course Sweeper wearing my bright white “Vegan Power 50K” t-shirt.. the combination of shirt themes brought a wave of chuckles over me, I was having an absolute blast as the Stoaked Trail Race Course Sweeper!

As to not startle the heck out of the woman in the Beef shirt, I politely and softly said “Good morning! Doing great up there!”, she remarked by noticing how fast I looked and that I should just pass her. I reassured her that was not my plan, today I was not a racer, today.. I was a fun-haver!

She was gone once we did finally hit the single-track section and it would be many miles of arrow-removal before I would see her again!

So why did I volunteer? Easy enough to say that I was tossed into the whole ordeal as instantaneously as the original email hit my inbox. In my heart, I had always wanted to give back – I always thought, somehow owning the title of “volunteer” would make me a better person. And did it? Yes, I like to think so!

It made me incredibly grateful to see the running and racing world from the inside, not trying to beat some other dudes time, or my own PR time, but just out there because friends counted on me. I was there to do a job, and that job (finally) was not just simply handing over $40 to throw on shoes and run to there and back.

It felt amazing to be out there, on the course as I was clearly in ‘last place’, picking my orange cardboard with black arrows off the trees, to stop, breathe in deeply, look around and just pause.

That’s what I could do, just pause and think about anything and everything all at once: the friendly faces at all of the aid stations I had thanked in the past; the times I had watched the sun make its way into the sky as my feet beat down rhythmically, leaving my mark on the soft blackened soil; all of the doggy-slobber that had lathered my beard from the post-race puppy kisses during the days running mountains with Ciara, Boone and Crockett.

I was in a good space as I gathered up my arrows.

Running these familiar trails became an unforgettable experience as the thought of several hundred sweaty runners plowing through, dipping and dodging the chilly streams, mud and trees on their quest for their best trail run yet!

I never caught up to another runner until I had radioed in to let my team know that all of my signs had been picked up and dropped off with the last aid station attendant. Then I heard the words crackle through the radio waves: “Thanks Erik so much, well that is it.. you are good to just RUN IT IN!!!

My hands were completely free now as I blew by the reservoir and over the ATV paths, destroying the one beast-of-a-hill that I recalled had annihilated me one year ago as I threw down footsteps in this dirt – this time the tables were turned, I was rested. I destroyed that climb and made it beg out for mercy.. okay maybe that is taking it a bit too far, but dang did I have such a blast!

Waving to the cars on Route 10, I meandered my way now out in the sun, tracing the outline of a mowed teardrop in the alfalfa field before returning to the tree cover.

With my head held high and feeling like a rockstar – I kicked harder, breathed slower and waved to the campers who were still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.

Making my way through the campground, I could hear the mega-phone echoing out the automated voice reading off the winners and raffle prize winners.

“Last hill, get it!” I thought, now seeing the same red shirt with huge white letters, “BEEF” was still in front of me.

Cheers rang out for my friend just ahead of me as I now crossed my imaginary finish line to the sound of “..and now everyone put your hands together for this years COURSE SWEEPER… ERIK!!!!

I received lots of congrats and hand claps during my first full marathon back in 2018, but that was nothing compared to the deafening hoots and hollers that I received today.. and for what? Removing staples from trees? Maybe.. but perhaps also for finally doing something selfless, for putting other folks ahead of myself, my own aspirations and wills.

Today I helped other friends aspire to kick some booty and take that step – one step closer to reaching their goals!

I am thrilled to say that my story is not dissimilar to so many other folks out there: earlier this year Ciara volunteered at several events which I assumed would simply be a terribly mundane and boring experience for her – she brought her camera and photographed runners coming into her aid station! I heard for several days after the events that she had a great, memorable time helping runners with water bottles or PB & J sammiches (even the time I ran into her station and simply tossed my soft flasks right at her and continued running the 1 mile out-and-back.. upon realizing what I had done and how much of a jerk I must have seemed to be – I was all apologies when I returned to Ciara and her positive-vibed aid station! We both laughed it off when we got home!).

Should you volunteer? Do you want to get a different experience from the same old running event? Do you want to meet other like-minded (sometimes overly energetic, smelly and sweaty) runners? Do you like free stuff? Do you want to develop new skills? Do you want to be productive? Are you injured to the point that you cannot run?

Well.. I really hope that you are not injured to the point that you cannot run!! But YES! Everyone should volunteer from time to time! I did not think it would amount anything to ..write a blog post about.. but it was such a memorable experience!

It is deeply gratifying to be thanked and applauded for doing something that seemed so.. simple!

There is no doubt in my mind that I will be volunteering again – hopefully next time Ciara and I can both be at the same aid station making days brighter for fellow friends who shelled out hard-earned cash to punish and push the limits of their bodies!

Don’t know where to start?

These days there are so many small 5K’s and local shin-digs that it really shouldn’t be difficult to find an event that fits your schedule and what you want to do with your time, or perhaps what you want to get out of your volunteering experience – or if all else fails, hit up Google or ultrasignup.com, check the bulletin boards at your local Co-op, ask around – chances have it that someone you see every day knows of an event looking for your help!

I hope this helped make the decision easier for you – to go volunteer and give back a few hours of your day.. it will be worth it and pay you back ten fold!

Have an awesome day out there – go out and enjoy nature – enjoy giving back!

Thanks for following along this wild journey!

Much love!

Erik


 

Baxter State Park, Maine – Day 2

With day one successfully written in the history book of my epic memories, I was softly jarred awake by my alarm.

It was 4am: game time once again.Katahdin

One thing seemed to be missing though: for days leading up to my Baxter State Park road trip the weather waxed and waned, clear skies with low wind to heavy precip with plenty of gusting winds.

Which would it be?

I sat motionless, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the fact I was awake once again, and in the darkness of a backwoods Maine morning – “hmmph, well that’s rad”, I thought as I reached for the french press to start my morning rituals; luckily for myself, it appeared that the weather folks were wrong once again (for now!) – the rain had held of so far and the cry of 10,000 peepers on the lake battled with the ominous sounding loon, both making their early morning presence known.

Still surprised by the rain not beating down on the fly of my tent as I thought it would be, the stove got fired up and coffee would soon be further brightening my day!

The previous evening had me on a mission to find drinking water – turns out I was not alone in this search: 3 other campers passed by, each stopping to ask about water in the park, I had unfortunately found none to tell them of. I would have been content using my MSR filter to strain out some potable lake water, but when could not get beyond the murky sludge along the shore I knew this disorganized summer camp must have something available to its patrons (..at least I hoped they would!).

Empty nalgene bottles filled my left hand and a single glass growler dangled from the other, I walked in circles trying to find a spigot to fill up at and continued to attract questioning glances from other campers (at least one fellow camper assumed I was toting around a 1/2 gallon glass jar of beer through the recreation area). Being left nearly ’empty-handed’ and refusing to not find water in this campground, I happily broke into their kitchen (okay, fair enough.. I merely walked right into the ’employee only’ area..) and stole some tap water that I hoped was not straight up pond water.

Mission accomplished.

With coffee firing up on the stove and to my very pleasant surprise – a moon overhead, the camping gear swiftly began making its return back into my trunk from whence it came! I could sense the minutes ticking by as the morning grew closer and closer to 6am when the park gates were said to open for the day!

I could not believe my luck – there were indications of a purple and orange sherbet colored sunrise cast directly on the slopes of Katahdin, my lovely view as I fought the biting bugs and patiently waited for the gates to open. Other folks in line cooked breakfast on the trunk of their cars, some changed clothes, it was a regular boondocking Woodstock scene as we waited patiently for those green gates to let us go play!

Eagerly parked next to the only other car in the Abol day-lot, gear once again got jammed into my Salomon hydration vest, water flasks were filled, gaiters and Altra’s got laced up, and my watch got set to track those satellites in Trail Run mode.

Gently warming up and stretching the quads through the sleepy Abol campground, it sure seemed like a Sunday as other trekkers were already awake, packing their vacation homes into bundles of tent.

First mistake of the day came when I missed the cut-off for the actual Abol trail, but that’s okay because the 0.8 mile trek down to Abol falls was such an incredible piece of single track trail, still I had to turn back and return to the campground to catch my correct trail – which, in my defense, was basically camouflaged behind a lean-to, with signage down the trail beyond.

First ‘oh shit’ moment of the day occured about 1 1/4 miles into the Abol trail after departing the campground for the second time in the form of one super-sized thunder clap. I stopped briefly to collect a few thoughts.. the rain had not yet begun, so on I continued down the trail – I decided I would simply hike on until the rain came in.

It did not take long before there were several flashes, more booming and then came the rain drops. I pressed on into the storm. First, a father with three daughters passed by likely retreating to safety. In a matter of minutes several other trekkers had passed by, we were all going the opposite direction.

The rain intensified now into sheets blowing through the trees, the thunder remained steady which had me settled – when I became nervous I would return, defeatedly back to the trail head – for now though, I was okay.. simply exploring new trails, for the moment.

Peering up the switchbacks I could see a neon green pack cover, moving slowly despite still ascending, the hiker appeared determined. I set my short-term goal to just catching up and saying “hello!” to this other crazy trekker out in a thunderstorm on the shoulder of Katahdin.

Turns out this fellow with the green pack cover was named “Joe”.

Joe was section hiking the Appalachian Trail and trying to grow his ‘trail legs’ before he retired from a life of 9-5 jobs and adopted the trail-life full time. Today found Joe ascending up to the Thoreau Spring where our trail converges with the AT, if he felt the conditions were safe enough – he would ascend Baxter, and if not – well, he still had to reach the AT where he would descend west and cut down to Daicey Pond where his wife would be waiting for him.

His options proved limited, ascend that trail!

Offering his tarp to cover up, my new friend stopped to add a rain jacket to his layers, this would be the last time that I would see to Joe today – I proceeded out onto the rock slide where I climbed above the low-hanging rain clouds.

The thunder continued but now echoed in the far off southeastern distance! The torrent of rain drops now ceased. The mountainside was completely silent. Hand over hand, I slowly put this rock slide beneath me. I cannot say this rock slide scared me; I only remember being hyper-alert to my every movement, ensuring every footstep was meaningful and was 100% glued to the rock below – with every step I reminded myself that I was now alone up on the highest peak in Maine – on my own up here.

The images of warning signs posted up back on flat ground reminding hikers that self-rescue was a necessity began to float through my mind, all worries of my car, my bank account, my rent, everything that was not right here in front of me in this minute, on this mountain had slipped away and my mind elevated to the most “in the moment” state.

Hand over hand I climbed.

The weather continued to just float on by, right around my feet – skirting through the surrounding valleys as I reached the top of the slide and back onto flat land.

Glancing toward the west, searching for the Brothers from yesterday’s adventure – I may have shed a tear.. it may have been rain water from my soaked hair, but there is a high probability that I may have actually shed a tear – what I saw in the sky was blue!

From left to right my eyes scanned the now mostly flat horizon from 4,600ft. What an absolutely stunning landscape laid out before me – directly northeast was my path, but beyond all of that I found a certain A-frame.. this was the summit of Baxter – the very northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail!

I could not waste any more time – I ran along this martian terrain, bouncing off the tops of rocks, splashing through the mineralized red puddles; next stop the 5268′ summit that I searched for in so many of my childhood dreams.

My watch his 9am as I stood atop Baxter Peak and Katahdin, the highest location in the state of Maine. I had done it!

The rain continued to hold off as I snapped photos of the bronze-colored USGS survey marker, the distant ‘Knife Edge’ trail, and beyond the valley to Hamlin peak. Time to pack up and move on.

That’s when the loudest, ear drum shattering thunderclap I had ever experienced rang out just above my head, somewhere within the clouds which layered just feet above my head. I jumped, hair on my neck stood straight – I figured this was mother natures cue to stop dicking around on her mountain top and move along. I was lucky today.

A full on sprint began as I turned away from the summit rocks, descending toward The Saddle about a mile away – it seemed that I encountered every type of rock on earth here, the most brutal being the section of red softball-shaped rock-balls that seemed to disintegrate underfoot – I more-or-less skied through these over-sized ball bearings.

From The Saddle around mile 6.5 I motored through the next mile, gradually ascending over wet rocks, new puddles of red mud, and soon disappeared into a scrubby alpine forest where all branches had it out for any open eyes.

Minutes later, heading down the Hamlin Peak spur trail and over a 1/4 mile sea of jagged rocks – I stood at the cairn marking the high point of this landmass. It was still early enough in the morning to roam around, take in some sights and walk over toward the trails drop-off point before making my return to New Hampshire.

The high point of Katahdin where I had stood only thirty minutes earlier was now shrouded in cloud cover. My timing could not have been any better!

The rain again picked up, which was my cue to move along and keep warm. Upon returning to the col of The Saddle, I glanced back to where I had just stood – another high point in which I once stood now tucked deeply into a cloud layer. For what I was dealt, this climb could not have gone any better.

Finger joints grew stiff as I made my way back up those red softball-like rocks from earlier, searching for the cut-off and fearing with every fiber in my body that I had missed it completely – I totally did not want to ascend Katahdin once again in this weather, but at least the thunder and lightening had not yet returned!

Now my trek was completely in a cloud, vision limited to maybe 25 feet in any direction as I found the cut-off trail and took off, sloshing through every puddle. There was no time to turn the Katahdin trails into an obstacle course and hop rocks to avoid the freshly re-hydrated muddy puddles, fingers continued to grow stiff in the chilly alpine air as the rain beat down in soaking sheets.

So relieved to finally see signage! Finally, back at the Thoreau Spring junction – I looked around but found myself still shrouded in dense cloud, nothing else to do now but continue back where I had ascended earlier this morning: back down the Abol Slide!

This was even more of an upper body ordeal now that the rocks had been soaked, puddles had formed and one could even see where thousands of mini-streams had pushed aside sand particles, rushing off the cliffside in the dumping rain as I was on the other side of the mountain only minutes earlier.

It was nice to be back on familiar turf, making good time again running the switchbacks.

I snickered to myself at the sight of flat-bottomed Converse All-Stars and said a warm “good morning!” to three dudes making their way up the hillside, I wished them a very nice day and good hike!

Five hours and fifteen minutes after I had departed the day-lot, I was able to put a check mark next to my name at the trail register. I was back. I was safe. I had done it. Nearly thirty years of dreaming of this moment and I finally defied my fears to stand among on the summit rocks of Katahdin.

Super pumped that my weekend in Baxter State Park had worked out; I had all the gear that I needed to run, hike, camp, explore and be safe here in the park, but most importantly of all – I had a lovely lady and two pupper-dogs to get home to nearly 350mi away.

These runs, climbs, treks, and crazy getaways are the moments I can remind myself of everytime that I get bummed out – what an absolute joy I have turned my life into, one decision at a time, one foot step at a time. Heck – two years ago, I never could have imagined that I could feel so good to do what I truly enjoy.

Of course – thanks to Ciara for encouraging me to be a kick-ass human being, pushing the limits of what I was confined to yesterday, stepping out on that ledge to see what else I can accomplish today.

Thanks to you for following along my epic journey through this life!!

Got a question or just want to tell me how silly I was to keep climbing Katahdin in a thunderstorm? Hit me up with a comment below or follow along daily on Instagram!

Where will life take us next?

Just be sure to enjoy the ride!!

Much love,

-Erik

 


 

Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 13.45miles
  • 5hr 29minutes
  • 5,833′ elevation gain
  • Baxter Peak, 5268′
  • Hamlin Peak, 4756′

 

 


Favorite Gear of the Day!

 

While it’s a marvel of technology to have maps on our phones, what happens in the winter when our batteries get zapped?

Paper maps to the rescue!

My go to for any trails – National Geographic maps are not only water-proof but also tear resistant for getting stuffed back into your pack and being open and folded back up for many years to come.

 

 

Baxter State Park, Maine – Day 1

As if I never even drifted to sleep, I jumped out of bed at 2am to the sound of Led Zeppelin blasting from the four 16″ JBL’s directly beneath my pillow.

This was how the Hamilton’s knew it was time to shovel in some apple cinnamon oatmeal, wash it all down with several tall glasses of fresh orange juice, lace up our Merrill boots and pack like sardines into the ’91 Toyota Corolla with all of our gear. Our weekend routine looked a little something like this for many years, making the trek to our secret hiking and camping destinations that my father would give tantalizing clues about; with names like “Giant” or “Hurricane”, my 6 year old brain would run wild – assuming these were the hidden spots where dinosaurs still ran wild.

Our hiking adventures back then all took place pre-internet, so the bookshelves where I was known to nap (I could still fit behind the books!) were filled with huge manuals and text books; one could find my fathers college books, early writings of astronomy – and also by far my favorite cluster of books: the Mountains. He owned books on climbing, backpacking, snowshoeing, a small library of maps and Appalachian Mountain Club trail guides, and several books recounting early expeditions up Everest; tucked neatly next to the Everest texts, one would find the guide to Maine mountains and trails along with crisp maps of Katahdin.

Back in those days this mammoth pile of rock was no different in my mind than.. say.. the book it butted up against: Everest. They were both beyond my scope of understanding – I only knew each mountain as one and the same: they were big, scary and they killed those who did not respect the mountains.

Fast forward nearly thirty years later and still no one in my family had attempted this hike, granted it was quite a drive to get to – pushing +11hours one way from where I grew up, there were so many other summits to relax on and lovely trails to explore in our own backyards!

Ciara and I made a list of ‘goals’ for 2019, wrote these goals on pieces of paper and tacked them on the wall where they hung out in plain daylight to glare us in the face, as if to mock us for not attempting them yet. One of our recycled pieces of paper simply read: “Katahdin, 5268ft”.

Honestly, it was a reminder for myself that I had always wanted to stand atop its summit, but knowing that it was still a 7hr drive from where we now resided in New Hampshire – I did not consider it to be a likely goal for 2019 – unless I could get Ciara to join, but overall I did not know how to tackle this as dogs are not allowed within Baxter State Park, but yet the recycled piece of paper remained there glaring at me, laughing at my longing to attempt Katahdin.

It may have been a combination of checking mountain-forecast.com, baxterstatepark.org, and knowing that Ciara was working all weekend – but finding a decent weather forecast for Sunday, realizing that the entire parking lots where the three main Katahdin trails initiate – I jumped on a $5 parking pass for the Abol trailhead as the lot where I had done all of my research thus far was sold out deep into the future every day.

I was happy with my decision, it signaled my trip to Katahdin as officially ‘begun’, knowing that I.. if nothing else.. I now held a parking pass for Baxter State Park – should the cards fall in my favor and I actually take the long trek North. This literally was the only planning set in place up to this moment: well at least I had Step One checked off – so pumped to actually be the proud owner of a Baxter State Park parking pass! I assumed that I would simply sleep in my car, or better yet, drive up the night before and not have to find a place to rest – just drive up, hop on the trail, summit this behemoth and drive back home, seemed easy enough to me if I turned on my stubborn genes and just get the task done!

The following day found me looking around for a small tent spot, at the request of my lovely adventure partner! Finding all of the campgrounds were booked to the max within the State Park, I ended up with a $30 site at the New England Outdoor Center – despite having no campground map or being able to choose a particular site, it looked promising based solely on the quality of the website. I would find out if this still proved true upon my arrival Saturday evening.. assuming the plans continued to unravel in this positive direction.

Continuing to check the weather daily, almost obsessively as the clouds turned to rain which then turned to ‘chance of t-storms’ Sunday afternoon, I still remained hopeful as the weather never seemed settled for even 5 minutes leading up to the weekend!

When a new waterproof National Geographic map landed in my Post Office box Thursday evening – I think this was the realization that things were getting pretty serious, my pilgrimage to northern Maine would indeed take place!

Friday evening all I wanted to do was teleport home from my work day to begin the task of packing; I foraged through all of our running, tenting and backpacking gear – throwing anything and everything that I thought might be useful in an “organized” pile: if I thought there was a chance I would want a certain piece of gear out on the road, I packed it. I had my entire Subaru Impreza for all of my junk (*very important gear..), so I filled that sucker up with anything to make my weekend top-notch (and a successful one)!
The drive was literally 6 hours and 47 minutes from our cabin to the entrance to Baxter State Park, which consisted of one stretch of asphalt upon entering Maine that my GPS rattled off in a robotic SIRI-esque voice “continue straight for ONE HUNDRED and EIGHTY MILES!!” All I can say is – thank the good heavens for the Rich Roll Podcast and for snacking on peaches, apples and my 5lb bag of carrots that I had picked up in Plymouth, NH during my grocery run earlier in the morning!

Saturday was most definitely the better-weather-day, the Subaru read 91 degrees outside and sunny, some humidity.. nothing brutal and all enjoyable! Driving straight to Baxter State Park and informing the gate attendant of my parking pass for Sunday, he asked “are you sure you still want to enter the park today??”, heck yeah I still wanted to enter the park today! It was just barely 1pm, which meant my day still had plenty of time for exploration.

I held secret a desire to scope out several other summits should I arrive in time on Saturday, which I did, so bring on the dang mountains! Being on my internal radar for days prior, I researched the loop beginning at the Slide Dam parking lot/trail head and trekked up to and over North Brother, South Brother and one I had never heard of – Mount Coe.

From the gate house the parks Tote Road began west, circling under and around the massive bump in the earth known as Katahdin. I was able to see the other parking lots as I made my way, the Abol campground and day-use lot where I would begin the next morning, as well as several ponds that all looked rather lovely for a picnic.

What the actual hell is that?!“, I exclaimed to myself – peering through the trees at a slab of gray rock that appeared to be pushed up damn-near vertical rising up from the forest floor. Checking the map to see where I was directed and trying to narrow my options, I guessed it to be an anomaly in the topography marked appropriately on the map as ‘Doubletop’. Remembering that I had heard its name tossed around in some trail guides or text somewhere or another – the climb looked epic!

I began to fall deeply in love with this part of Maine and the forest where I now found myself!

I must have been wearing my lost puppy face as the State Park Ranger left his truck and walked over to my side of the car. Being totally prepared for him to break the sad news that this lot was full and that I would unfortunately not be able to adventure in the forest surrounding these Brothers that I had read so much about after all – nope! I found myself speaking with one of the kindest Rangers yet as he talked highly of the campground where he was care-taking (in the park) and how special these mountains and trails were to him.

Asking if my intention was to climb North Brother, I sighed and confessed that it was and I could clearly see that I showed up just a few minutes too late. He pointed to a spot of grass next to a white BMW and said “there you go.. just don’t hit the trees!”

My love and respect for Baxter State Park continued to grow!

Quickly prepped the gear, filled all water flasks and hit the trail before the sun could get any higher or hotter in the sky!

Instantly, I stepped my Altra’s onto what I would not hesitate to claim were the ‘sweetest’ trails I had ever run on.. up to that moment! Of course, they had their share of rocks, roots, and streams running underfoot – these northern Maine trails had me reminding myself that I was indeed still in the east.. and not running somewhere in Oregon, truly a magnificent place!

I stopped in the sun to watch a beaver drift by with absolutely no sense of urgency around his pond, craving my own switch to a more relaxed mindset, perhaps that of the floating beaver!

Departing the beaver pond I continued up the Marston Trail climbing beyond the 2400ft contour line, passing several hikers in the opposite direction. Finally found myself catching up to a gentleman heading up to the summit rocks of North Bro who said hello and immediately directed his complaining to the “bushwhacking” that he found himself doing to make any progress up the trail, this was where he confused the heck out of me, as I found nothing but smoooooth sailing up these incredible Maine trails!

The summit of North Brother at 4143ft is completely exposed with open boulders making for a scramble that would have made any agile youngster on the playground screech with joy! The Altra’s clearly giving ample traction as I leapt from one rock to the next, making my way to the weathered wooden sign at the high point of the mountain!

After soaking in the views, getting my first real glimpse of Katahdin and thinking “ehh..it really isn’t that mean looking!”, I retraced my steps, wished my new bushwhacking friend an exceptionally great day and continued due south to my next Brother of the day.

Within what seemed like minutes I reached my next destination, the signage indicating that I now take the spur trail and cut southeast to the 3942ft summit cone of South Brother. Again, leaping from boulder to boulder (admittedly I was searching for any signs of an old USGS survey marker!) taking in the sights, soaking up the vitamin D and attempting to outwit the blood suckers of the mountaintops!

Between South and Coe is where the trail really showed any signs of blowdown or insecure footing – but dang did I continue to grow fonder by the footstep of these mountains and trails!

What I knew was that the loop trail basically passed directly over the peak of Mount Coe, and that was about it. Despite being a mere 3795ft at its high point, Mount Coe’s views definitely did not disappoint!

Peering back to where my feet had taken me, the sights were breathtaking! Glimpsing off to the east at tomorrows task, the views were completely reminiscent of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, these ginormous beasts of mountains spiking up above tree line and their ever-reaching shoulders seemingly stretched for miles and miles in either direction!

Atop Mt Coe, I just by chance turned my phone off of airplane-mode after snapping a few panoramas and videos – despite what the brochures read, I immediately found full bars – which led my thoughts straight to Ciara! I sent several messages to let her know where I was and that I had survived the mind-numbing drive, I think she was relieved to hear from me!

But as a precaution, I don’t ever assume that service will be there.. I just happened to be completely lucky to find it around 4000ft with no trees to block the signal!

Not long after leaving the summit rocks of Coe, I found myself standing tall among the scree and bare slabs of an enormous old rock slide (perhaps the ‘J’, of the O.J.I trail.. named for its neighboring slides?). The slide had its share of mini-waterways trickling down the bare rock which made my mind on high alert before trusting any footsteps!

Believing that all of my epic ‘west coast style’ trails were behind me for the day, I reached the end of the slide..and yet again onto an even more beautiful trail heading back to the junction! This time I was graced by the calming sound of rushing stream running directly next to my feet, an even more welcome perk amongst this mid-summer heat!

What was a joy to run on during the beginning of my trek heading in was now an extreme blast to let loose and cruise  for the final miles of my day! I somehow had soaked both feet making the jaunt up and down North Brother so by this time I was in a playful ‘go-mode’, splashing and cooling my tootsies off in the fast flowing streams.

The parking lot was near-empty as I finished my first day of running the mountains of Baxter State Park. Drippy shoes were ripped off and strewn out in my backseat with hopes that they would dry ever so slightly before stuffing stiff feet back into them tomorrow morning.

Following the dust storm from a pick-up truck heading back to the main entrance of the park, I couldn’t help but notice how sore my face had become – that’s what a day of laughing and big ol’ grins will do, I suppose my situation could have been worse!

My park exploration of day #1 had come to a close as I pulled onto the NEOC campground road and tried dearly to figure out how this place operated. Convinced that it was a ‘free-for-all’, ran by high schoolers – yet happy enough to have a place to watch the sun drift behind the mighty Katahdin, and a flat piece of earth to rest my tired eyes for the evening.

Tomorrow would be an even more epic day.. 

 


 Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 10.56 miles
  • 3hr 59minutes
  • 4,163′ elevation gain
  • North Brother, 4143′
  • South Brother, 3970′
  • Mount Coe, 3795′

 

 

 


Want to continue on and see what happens, I’ll tell you…

Katahdin happens, that’s what. Read all about it.. HERE!!! 

 

Finding yourself on new trails.

Today is a holiday for us folks who work on the clinical side of hospital operations and with Ciara 2600 or so miles away having a ball, roaming somewhere in the Sawtooth mountains – all this can mean only one thing: I am on puppy-watch until she returns to the east coast!

I’ve been hitting our favorite trails every day after work; lace up, collars on the boys, then start right from home. Boone and Crockett damn near pull me like a kite down the murky trails as we meander our way to their favorite spot on the lake – they know this spot well and need no guidance – the best place to jump in for a quick dip in the water, I suppose!

Today I craved something more, something that I had not done before.. which is really not at all difficult having nearly 80K of old abandoned roads and trails, with the addition of about 1,790 miles of Appalachian Trail to the south, with about 400 miles more heading north.

As of writing this, I actually have not found myself seeking out the AT.. sure, I know it is there and I know there are some absolutely stunningly beautiful sections of it nearby – but I always felt that I would like to leave its mystique and draw for the actual thru-hikers.. heck, I may actually be one of those rad long-distance trekkers soon!

There has been a loop poking at the “hey, I haven’t done this yet.. so let’s get to doing this..now” side of my brain.. but with so much to explore, I just had not settled on it – until today!

The map packed (yes.. a paper map which I reviewed the night prior just to amp myself up!), topped off all of the 60 or so ounces that my running vest will hold, stretched just about every muscle in my body, had a mini-breakfast of tofu (I had an open block in the fridge that needed eating!) and a few bananas, laced up the Altra’s, slapped on my gaiters that I tore at Chocorua thinking “these are going to fall right off!“, set the Coros to record in trail run mode – and my adventure was unfolding right under my feet!

The initial miles slipped by, feet became wet from the mud seepage and before I knew it.. shoved myself right into the thick knit of pine branches that I knew would lead right to Smarts Mountain summit.

Breaking through to the official AT, I was drawn to the left, trekking south for those 10 feet or so – just to see the sign in a new light, focusing on the lettering and classic A over T logo harder than ever this time before scooting down the side of the mountain. I had read this sign many times leading up to today’s encounter, it read: AT North.

Sure, technically the Appalachian Trail does run back down the south side of Smarts Mountain – sure, I had been on that trail a few times now.. but something just felt different about heading down this side of Smarts, I was heading away from that cabin that I call home.

I noticed something different.. immediately as I passed that sign and concentrated on my feet as to not catch every root (heck, I do that enough.. always trying to not catch a toe!).

One white blaze after another, passing those marked trees, each 3×6 white paint strip took my thoughts deeper into remembering the time Ciara and I spent recently on the Northville Placid Trail. It took me back into the depths of my mind to each and everytime I had been anywhere else, be it north or south, riding in the car or hiking down (I see a lot of those white blazes hiking the Whites and living in New Hampshire..) the trail. My path was quiet as I was certain hikers were finishing in celebration at either end of the trail, but at least for a minute or five – no one was here with me.

The AT itself seemed to contain a shimmer of magic, perhaps all of the past trail magic dispersed its way through these hills had settled into the soil, trees and water itself. Looking down, trying to keep myself up-right and moving forward, I was taken back by so many simple things – the most tangible, of course, being the AT itself – the amount of time plugged into these sections – to install waterbars, placing rocks to ford bottomless mud pits, all the wood beams carried in to build iconic White Mountain bridges.

The trail was clean, like.. really clean.

Sure, it sees its share of hikers annually, perhaps it will see another 700 or so finish their trek this year – flying over roots and rocks at 10am, these are the thoughts barraging my mind. I felt truly content to be sharing this section of the AT with so many other determined individuals – is it possible to soak up the energy, the laughter, the will to simply push on from these roots, rocks and flowing water? Some may argue: Yes.

I did see some thru-hikers, and it was a simply amazing experience to see their faces light up as I wished them an excellent rest of their journey – and of course, a super happy Fourth of July! I could tell quite a few out there on the trail had in fact forgotten what day it was, or perhaps just chose not to remember, only the present moment to be alive in – the way of life that I grew dearly to while traveling cross-country several years ago!

I should to add also that my perception of the AT between Smarts over to Cube may have been slightly biased because I finally finished reading last week a very excellent book by an incredible ultra-runner/athlete known by some as Scott Jurek, the read is simply titled: North.

It was an amazing read, and much like this trail today – it took me back to all of the places we have traveled, recounting the USGS marker on Cubetowns and nameplaces Ciara and I had encountered. Toward the final pages of this book there are several photographs.. the back of Jurek out on Lambert Ridge as he heads away, up to the summit of Smarts. In short: it reminded me of all persevering that friends and hikers exuded which then fell in the form of sweat into this soil and onto the rocks all around, a rather humbling thought for me to be on these trails at that very moment, sharing muddy footprints with so many others!

There were, of course, several thru-hikers who decorated their packs with the iconic American flag. Remembering this is a holiday and nice days such as today have a way of bringing everyone out, I took a few photos and moved on.

Some longhaul trekkers turned their weighty packs into pillows, catching some good ol’ vitamin D atop the summit of Cubebut even with hats over their eyes, everyone still gave a pleasant ‘hello!’ as I passed by, and I even tried to travel lightly as to not wake them!

For the route down.. sadly, I was now off the AT. The trail seemed to lose its charm as I passed families with their dogs all off leash – the encounters so frequent in fact, I had a mind-game going on, trying to figure out whose pup belonged to which family!

Let’s remember the day as what I already mentioned.. and not the overgrown, old logging roads that made up the remainder of my day. It only took two decent bushwhacks pointed in the general direction of “home” – and here we are! Writing about it, eating watermelon and listening to the gentle rhythm of the inhale-exhale cycle of both Boone and Crockett.

They ran, they ate, they are happy now.

I ran, I ate (a lot of watermelon!), and I am also quite happy now.

So keep an eye out on your morning commute, or afternoon bike ride – the looked over trailhead you’ve noticed a thousand times just may be the ticket you were looking for, the trails you’ve been dreaming of! Don’t be afraid of what you might find, make the time and decide to go check it out – after all, has anyone really been in a worse mood after spending time outdoors? Just get out and explore anywhere! See what nature has to offer, and while you are at it – pick up that wrapper that someone dropped, move that stick out of the trail before it trips someone! Say ‘hello’ and wish someone a nice hike, these things are small and so simple yet go so far! Let’s get more hikers and trail runners on the wagon! What can you do? Just be a thoughtful, decent human being.. and that alone should put you as well as everyone else around you in a better mood! 🙂

 

And if you made it this far: don’t forget to check for ticks after you and your pups spend any time outside!

It’s quick and easy to do – my boys love the attention of fingers running through their fur.. seeking out those dreaded little bloodsuckers, find ’em and crush ’em!


Today’s fun run stats:

Recorded with Coros Pace

  • 27.2 miles
  • 5hr 50minutes
  • 5,387′ elevation gain
  • Smarts Mt, 3,238′ – mile 5.7
  • Mt Cube, 2909′ – mile 13.6