Monday, April 20, 2015

Exploring Honolulu

photo by Ben Kimball (copyright 2015)
A leaf-off vista from a sharp switchback about 2/3 of the way up the Honolulu Trail

Pittsfield State Forest is just loaded with excellent trail running possibilities. I profiled one great loop in Trail Running Western Massachusetts. Here is a quick recap of a second sweet option.

This past Sunday, Jen and I headed an hour west from home, over the central Berkshires, to the base of the Taconic Ridge along the NY/MA state line. We parked at the spacious Lulu Brook picnic area in Pittsfield State Forest, joining a handful of other vehicles that were parked there (most with empty bike racks suggesting mountain bikers). After chatting briefly with Keith from the Arcadian Shop who was getting ready for an early season ride, we set out on the start of our 6-7 mile trail run.

The base of the Honolulu Trail (presumably named as a clever combination of the nearby Honwee Loop and Lulu Brook Trails?) isn't hard to find, but it does help to have some hints. To reach it, you head due east from the center of the parking lot, just a little bit downslope from the old cabin. After passing a rough old road that is the base of the eastern side of the Honwee Loop Trail, you come to a second old road heading left. Here, a narrow singletrack trail leads left as well. This is the base of the Honolulu Trail.

For 3 miles, the Honolulu Trail steadily climbs the southeast ridge of Honwee Mountain via a series of well-constructed switchbacks. The grade was gentle enough that we were able to run the entire way, albeit at a very slow pace. Along the way, the singletrack trail repeatedly crosses the old road / Honwee Loop Trail, which in comparison is rough and steep and straight and really, really boring. The two trails share the same route in two places, once about halfway up where the the slope levels out briefly, and again at the top.

At 2,309 ft., the summit of Honwee Mountain is one of the highest points around on this part of the Taconic Ridge. There are no views, though we could occasionally catch glimpses of nearby ridges and peaks through the still leafless trees.

Just past the summit, the singletrack trail veers left and desends the northwest slope for a quarter mile or so, crossing over the loop trail once and briefly joining the "Old Timer" trail in a saddle. A brand new section then leads right and slabs across a slope to meet up with a trail very near the top of the Lulu Brook Trail. A nice option would be to take the William Berry Way and Taconic Crest trails to the summit of Berry Mtn. from here, but due to occasional patches of leftover snow, we chose to take the Taconic Skyline Trail south up the top of Turner Trail. This rough old road has been heavily chewed up by ORVs and is not very fun to run, but it did serve as a useful connector for us.

Descending the Turner Trail is extremely fun. At first, the path is a mostly flat grassy lane along the crest of the ridge. After about a quarter mile, a short spur leads left to a vista overlooking the northern end of Onota Lake. Just past the vista spur, a singletrack path veers left off the main trail. Both paths appear to be named Turner Trail, but in my opinion the straight one should just be discontinued for all but winter use (it's pretty rough and eroded). As we flew down the 2 miles of rocky and rooty switchbacks, I was just ahead of Jen and at one point I heard her say "Well this is basically just too fun for words."

We sailed right past the 5-way junction where I had intended for us to go left in order to make use of the longer gentler switchback path just to the north (Roller Coaster), but it didn't matter. The trail became less rocky near the bottom, and we really were flying around the tight turns and along the short straight stretches. At the 4-way junction, we took a left and returned to the parking lot via the trail that crosses just above the old ski jump.

This is a very highly recommended trail run. Presumably it would be just as fun in the opposite direction, and probably even more fun if an extra mile was added to it at the top (using the William Berry Way, Taconic Crest, and Berkshire Ranger trails).

Monday, April 6, 2015

Springtime Trail Running

Every year, I struggle with finding the right balance between 1.) dying to get back out on dirt trails and 2.) leaving those trails be for a bit as the snow melts and mud season reigns. I know it's not good for the trails to be out on them when they're most vulnerable. It's hard, though; I love trail running!

So I find compromises. I run dirt roads and I run carriage roads, both of which can be a bit muddy too, and could probably benefit from some fallow time as well, and sometimes I'll tackle ski trails. Today I parked at the base of Mt. Tom near the Mtn. Park entrance to Whiting Reservoir and ran up one side of the old ski area to the summit ridge, then back down the other, and then around Whiting for some extra mileage. A mixed difficulty / mixed terrain workout that was initially challenging (sometimes straight up the slope), then delightful (on the roller-coastery descent), and finally easy and smooth (for the lap around the lake).

the view about halfway down the southern ski slope at Mt. Tom in early April

Friday, April 3, 2015

Real Recovery

It's early April, after one of the toughest winters around here in recent memory (I love winter, but even I'll admit this one was pretty long and cold), and I'm recovering. In a couple of ways.

First, I'm back on my feet again after sustaining a stress fracture last November (an injury which came a mere 3 months into a recovery from a previous injury). This week I'll have run 20 miles. The previous 2 weeks were only 15 miles each. But this is good, hopefully. Smart recovery. I'm really easing into it this time. I don't want to make the mistake of jumping back in too fast and risking re-injury. I just couldn't take that, not again. I still feel a dull ache in my left foot, and it almost seems like there's a small marble I need to work out beneath the ball of my left foot, but it's very slowly getting better. Fingers crossed.

Second, I'm recovering financially. After getting laid off about 2 years ago and then wrestling with the twin horrors of unemployment and the rollout of the Massachusetts healthcare website, I got a part-time editing job and have been doing the race photography that gets mentioned a lot on this blog. But it hasn't been enough. I also spent a lot of time last year researching, writing, and creating the western MA trail running guidebook, and that's an investment that won't pay off for a while. The huge heating oil bills this past winter didn't help. So I've also been writing occasional articles and doing various contract work to make ends meet. Hopefully this is all gonna work out.

So, where to from here? I'll keep running until I lose some of these extra pounds that have appeared and feel ready to sign up for a race or two again. Then I would really like to try out some new trail races and explore new trails in the greater New England area. Maybe get another book proposal out the door, and... who knows? Maybe 2015 will turn out to be the year that wanted 2014 to be.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Embracing Winter

Deep in the woods on a cold, snowy night in south-central Massachusetts, a cluster of colorful lights quietly bobs in anxious anticipation. Most face forward, but occasional roving wayward beams pierce through the fuzzy darkness to the side, suggesting the moody atmosphere of a spooky X-files investigation. Amidst the static of the falling snow, the faint illumination reveals glimpses of last-minute lace tying, scarf adjustment, and binding checks. Then, the time comes. After a brief countdown and that familiar "Go!" they all surge ahead in a furious burst of snow spray.

racers ready to go 

When the last of the fading lights disappears around a bend in the distance, the race director starts to make his way back to the registration area where the finish line is located. "Gotta go stoke the barrels," he says cheerfully, referring to the several metal BUMDRUMs with roaring fires at which the returned racers will later be able to warm themselves. 

The event is the annual Wallum Lake Twilight Tour trail race hosted by the MRA Multisport club as part of their diverse, all-season DurtyFeets trail series. Held about an hour after sunset in Douglas State Forest, the event attracts a wide variety of participants, from competitive runners to local outdoors enthusiasts just looking for another fun way to enjoy the long New England winter. A common trait to all of them is a lively spirit of adventure, along with an obvious determination to get the best of winter rather than the other way around. 

The only gear that's mandatory is some kind of headlamp. Beyond that, runners get to choose whatever type of footwear they want to race in, from regular snowshoes to running snowshoes to Yaktrax to microspikes, or even just running shoes if that's what they prefer. 

The region received several feet of snow a week before, and the trails are still completely covered in it. Snowmobiles packed it down somewhat beforehand, but it never really hardened and running on the surface feels like running in sand on a beach. In such soft conditions, the snowshoe-clad runners clearly had an advantage. 

Out on the course, all turns at intersection are well-marked with glow sticks placed inside see-through water bottles. No one takes a wrong turn or gets lost, though at some point nearly everyone experiences that adrenaline-raising sense of dread that maybe they might have. 

a runner returning at the end of the race

By the time the racers return from their four-mile trek, the falling snow has stopped and the orange glow of a nearby town brightens the eastern sky. One by one, headlamp lights bound back across a small open field to the finish line. Hearts race, sweat pours, and smiles flourish in the flickering light of the barrel fires. For these exuberant athletes, there's no better way to warm up on a frosty early February night, or feel like you've earned that hearty bowl of hot chili later. And to everyone else, they exhibit an excellent, all-in example of the full spirit of embracing winter. 

full photo gallery by Northeast Race Photo

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Henhawk in February

2014 was a very up-and-down year for me. I had initially planned to run 2 ultras, a 50K and a 50-Miler, but in the spring I developed a nasty groin pull injury that lingered for months. By late summer it had cleared up and I was running again. Maybe too much. I was running well and getting back up to speed quickly. I did a few short races and had great time exploring some new trails. Then in mid-November I ran an unofficial 15-mile trail race with my local trail running club on Mt. Tom. At the end of that run, my left foot felt "tight," and it turns out I'd given myself a stress fracture.  Cue "das boot" and a winter of alternate exercise.

Of course, it's been as good a winter as ever for that. Very cold and lots of snowstorms making the roads dangerous and not very pleasant. I've been plenty happy picking up the swimming (which I hadn't done much of lately), popping the bike on the trainer, and getting back out on snowshoes and cross-country skis once my foot felt somewhat better.

Today I skied an out-and-back on the Henhawk Trail, an old woods road that leads up to Conway State Forest from a small trailhead about 5 minutes up the hill from where I live in Williamsburg. I've never been a huge fan of this trail in any conditions; it's very rough, eroded, and wet in summer, too leafy in fall, and in winter there needs to be a ton of snow because there's a bunch of small rill streams that don't seem to freeze (maybe coming from springs just upslope?) and you need to constantly find ways to get across them on skis or snowshoes. Also, there's one slightly steeper pitch that's just on the edge of control on cross-country skis, even backcountry ones with edges.

However, after recent snowfall, the conditions today were as good as I've ever seen them there. It was very cold, only about 6 degrees at most, and the wind was whipping a steady 20-25 mph, but I was thoroughly suited up and went at a pace to keep the cold and my internal heat in balance (mostly). I used my trusty Karhu 10th Mountain backcountry skis, and they worked perfectly. There were only two flowing stream crossings, and the steep part had enough snow to slow the descent on the way back. I skied out about 2 miles up to the first major signed junction (it's occasionally used as a snowmobile corridor), just north of the Conway State Line and the boundary with Conway State Forest.

The Henhawk Trail in winter

I hope my Henhawk Trail appreciation is on the rise. It's a very nice undeveloped area with lots of potential for good running and skiing. Apparently repair of the roadbed has begun, with some new loose gravel added, and a bit more work (such as a few small bridges over the rill streams) would open it up to being a really nice all-season trail.

map of the Williamsburg portion
of the Henhawk Trail in western MA

Sunday, February 1, 2015

TRAIL RUNNING Western Massachusetts

I'm very excited to officially announce that I recently created a trail running guidebook for western Massachusetts. It features 51 in-depth site profiles, with descriptions, route directions, maps, and scannable/clickable links to "enhanced" maps and color photos. The project was a lot of work (especially exploring and mapping all unmarked side trails and mystery paths), but it was also very rewarding, and I really hope others enjoy using it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

The print edition comes out in three months (though it is now available for pre-order on Amazon), and the digital version should be available a few weeks earlier. In the meantime I've started a Facebook page for it here. I'll be adding a bunch of cool stuff to the FB page in the coming months, including highlights, previews, bonus sites (sort of like deleted scenes, that got cut for various reasons), trail trivia, and more. If you live in the area or are just a fan of trail running in New England, please check it out, and help me spread the word about it by liking the Facebook page, sharing it and the Amazon link (and this link too!), and letting me know what you think. If it's successful... maybe more to come? Thanks, and see you out on the trails!

If you would like to receive updated information about the book or would just like to add a drop in the bucket to help me promote it (every drop counts!), please "like" its Facebook page here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Shoein' Season

It's snowshoe season again! Despite some early and recent race cancellations in the New England region (such as the popular Sidehiller snowshoe race that had been scheduled for this coming weekend in Sandwich, NH), some locations have fared better than others in terms of snow cover. Specifically, the northern Berkshires and southern Green Mountains have actually received and kept a fair amount of snow.

WMAC's annual Dion snowshoe race series has held two races already. The first was the Greenwood Gallop at Prospect Mountain Ski Area just east of Bennington, VT, and the second was the Hilltop Orchards race at Furnace Hill Winery in Richmond, MA (just SW of Pittsfield on the eastern slope of the Taconics). Both were 5K races, and both were won by Ross and Ashley Krause of Easthampton, MA. The third race in the series, the Hoot Toot and Whistle, is still on for this Saturday along the banks of the Deerfield River in scenic Readsboro, VT.

I got out on the course at both of the races that have taken place so far and took action shots of everyone, usually more than once. The weather was great for photography, with overcast skies and bearable temperatures with little wind, though it was a BIT chilly in Vermont and it did start to drizzle a bit at the end of the Richmond race. Some samples:

full galleries can be found at

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Best 2014 Race Photos

As Northeast Race Photo, I took pictures at about 30 races in 2014. The number was drastically down from last year, for several reasons. For one thing, I took a part-time editing job in Hadley, which took up a good chunk of time and energy. Also, it's a tough gig. The processing time required for race photos is substantial, and from a financial perspective it doesn't really pay off. It's really more of a labor of love than an actual job (though I really do love doing it and am still trying to figure out ways to make it pay off). And lastly, I spent a LOT of time and energy on a little passion project that is just about ready to come to fruition; here's a little tease for anyone paying attention and curious (I promise the link is legitimate).

As with last year's version, it's impossible to create a truly "best of" album since there's so many variables for what it would be the "best" of. So, again forgoing any attempt at objectivity, here's my totally subjective Best of 2014 album:

If you have a favorite shot from any of the 2014 Northeast Race Photo galleries, and you think it belongs in the Best Of gallery, please drop me a line with the link to it and I'll gladly add it to the album. 

It was a lot of hard work, but I'm really pleased with the galleries for most of the races I took photos at in the past year. I'm planning to keep shooting at races in 2015, so stay strong, look sharp, and happy racing in the coming year, my tribe. Cheers!

Here's a sampling from the album:


Friday, September 26, 2014

back to pisgah

Another year, another visit to the excellent Pisgah Mtn Trail Races in southwestern New Hampshire! Only this time I didn't run (see here for last year's 50K recap). For a variety of reasons, I decided it was time to try out a Northeast Race Photo shoot for this event. And I'm really glad I did; I love how these shots came out.

I arrived at the Kilburn Road trailhead with plenty of time to spare, but dawdled on my way to the summit, which was a decent 2-mile hike over to the east. It's easy to get distracted, as the scenery is fantastic and the photo possibilities endless, especially on a misty morning in the woods.

heading east into the park along Kilburn Road

So when Greg Hammett, the lead runner of the 23K race, came silently rocketing past me about a quarter mile down from the top, I knew I had to kick it in gear. The light in the woods was WAY too low to catch runners. For the first few racers, I left the camera set at a really high ISO (around 1600; pretty grainy) and a shutter speed of less than 1/60th second and just attempted to get lucky with a couple of panning shots (always a gamble).

Once on top of the mountain and mostly in the open, the light was a lot better and I was able to bring the ISO down to a reasonable amount and use more appropriate shutter speeds for catching runners. When I got a chance, I switched lenses from the wide angle to the 200mm and caught some pretty nice shots of runners coming along the slick ledges just past the summit vista.

Everyone remarked on the oppressiveness of the 100% humidity and people were drenched, but it was still a remarkably upbeat and positive group of athletes. During the several hours I spent up there I saw an uplifting number of smiles and leaps and got lots of high-fives and thanks from people going by. I started down with about 10 runners or so left to come past, which provided the opportunity to get some shots of descenders in the dark woods. And I was also able to catch several runners again on their completion of the infamous Kilburn Loop. All in all, a very rewarding day at Pisgah. Some sample photos are included below, and the full galleries can be found at Northeast Race Photo.

2014 Pisgah Mtn 23K Trail race Photo Gallery

2014 Pisgah Mtn 50K Trail race Photo Gallery

Descent off the final summit during the 2014 Pisgah Mtn 23K Trail Race

Cruising along the summit during the 2014 Pisgah Mtn 23K Trail Race

 Kristina crossing the summit

Bob Dion in motion

Ultra Leap!

smiles, ears, partners, and steady strength at Pisgah

Coming off the Kilburn Loop during the 2014 Pisgah Mtn 50K Trail Race

Coming off the Kilburn Loop during the 2014 Pisgah Mtn 50K Trail Race

Approaching the final five miles of the 2014 Pisgah Mtn 50K Trail Race