Saturday, June 13, 2015

27-Mile Ride in the Hilltowns

In an effort to stay off my aching Achilles for a bit, I've jumped back on the bike and started riding for fitness (and enjoyment) again. Since we moved to Williamsburg nearly two years ago, I've mostly focused on running. At first this was because I was training for my first ultra when we moved, and then because the ultra bug had bit me and my running was going well. Then it was due to the need to be out on trails to research Trail Running Western Massachusetts. But I was pretty heavily into triathlons a few years back, and I like the full-body fitness that comes with the swim/bike/run combo. I've been aware that there's some pretty sweet biking to be had just out the back door, and now I'm finally savoring it.

Today I left home near the center of Williamsburg and climbed steadily up North Road for about 7 miles. It was sunny and 80 degrees out, but the humidity had dropped and there was a nice breeze so it actually felt quite comfortable. The crest is at Ludwig Rd, which leads left into DAR State Forest and other adventures. I continued straight and descended past Chapel Falls, then climbed a bit more on the other side. Then there's a steep mile drop down towards the lower end of Ashfield. 

Turning right on Rte. 116, the road got a bit rough in places, and at one point it's closed down to one lane for some major construction just above the South River, but in general the ride is fun as you gradually descend the curves toward Conway. 

Just past the covered bridge, I turned right and crossed the river, then climbed Academy Hill on Hill View Rd. As I descended the other side, a bee or wasp flew into my open jersey and stung me. Ouch! Fortunately, the pain quickly subsided as I attacked the last significant climb of the day up Field Hill on Whately Road. Along the recently-paved rolling section between there and the Northampton Reservoirs I tucked down into the aerobars and cruised as much as my not-quite-bike-fit muscles allowed. It got a bit warm as I traversed the open flats approaching Haydenville, and my energy flagged as I made the final gentle climb up Rte. 9 back into Williamsburg, but in general I fared well and it was an all-around very satisfying workout. I know that the Northampton Cycling Club does regular rides more or less along this route, and I'd have to recommend it to anyone else looking for a good hilltown ride on the west side of the valley. 

the route

elevation chart

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Washington Mountain Marsh Trail

In Trail Running Western Massachusetts, I profiled 51 of the best sites for trail running in the region, but had to leave out all sorts of other good sites just for space and cost reasons. Sometimes other sites/trails got mentioned in the "nearby" section at the end of each profile, as was the case with Washington Mountain Marsh, which was included in the nearby text at the end of Site 15: Finerty Pond in October Mountain State Forest. This post describes the 3-mile loop at the marsh. While in my opinion it is not one of the "best" trail running routes, for reasons explained below, it is certainly an interesting one.

crossing boardwalk bridges below the beaver dam at Washington Mtn. Marsh

Washington Mountain Marsh was originally intended to be a lake. In the 1980s, a dam was built to create a reservoir, but the dam leaked and the project was abandoned (an extraordinary wasteful expenditure of resources that kind of boggles my mind). Now, beavers have taken over and a large dam impounds a western arm of the basin, creating a lake about half the size of the one intended, along with a wetland that curiously shows ecological characteristics of both a marsh and a peatland. A trail encircles the marsh, utilizing an ever-deteriorating series of wooden boardwalks whenever it crosses open wet areas. The sorry state of the boardwalks is the reason why this route can't be considered a great run, or even a "bonus site" profile, because you really have to slow down and check each plank before walking on it to make sure it won't break, or worse, fly up at one end and smash the friend following you in the face!

The trail starts on the north side of West Branch Rd, more or less right smack in the middle of October Mountain State Forest. We drove in on County Rd from Becket, MA, then veered right at a gate on Lenox-Whitney Place Rd. There is a small parking area with space for about 4-5 vehicles, though overflow parking would be possible in an open field just uphill to the east.

At first, the trail surface is a fine crushed gravel, making it somewhat universally accessible for about a quarter of a mile. Numbered posts match the Interpretive Trail points of interest mapped here. Just past post #3, the trail splits and the surface becomes rougher.

start of the Washington Mountain Marsh trail

Bearing left at the split, the trail quickly descends to the edge of a cove of the open marsh and heads out into it on a long series of boardwalks. The boards are generally in pretty good shape here, but you can see the first hints of the deterioration to come. At the far end, the trail veers right and climbs to a junction with the (former) Knob Loop trail.

boardwalks leading west across the marsh towards Knob Hill

Rant Interlude: The Knob Loop Trail. Perhaps MA DCR will get around to doing trail maintenance at some point, but at the moment the Knob Loop should be avoided at all costs. It is NOT currently maintained, and you will almost certainly lose your way should you try to follow it. I have never seen a worse case of poor trail maintenance, ever, on a trail that is officially still considered open. They really need to get in there and do some work, or close it off. Trout lily leaves and hobblebush branches grow in the trail bed to en extent that suggests the route has not been maintained in well over a decade. Also, many of the trees that blue markers had been nailed to have fallen down and are rotting away on the ground. I realize that DCR is underfunded (which is why they significantly raised fees starting last week), but give me a break. I wish they would stop spending resources on mowing picnic area lawns and put more effort into ensuring basic standards of safety on the trails of state parks and forests.

Anyway. Skipping the Knob Loop, the trail continues west and then north through forest. At marker post #8, a worthwhile spur trail leads a few tenths of a mile right over to a rocky ledge overlooking the middle of the wetland. Originally, a boardwalk path led east from here and formed a shorter route called the Inner Loop, but the water levels have since risen (due to the beavers) and all traces of this former path appear to have been obliterated. Back at post #8, a large sign still indicates that you are starting out on the Outer Loop, which really is now just the outer portion of THE loop.

beaver dam (and several mid-lake lodges in the background)

Heading north, a series of boardwalks and a bridge cross a very wet area and stream below an impressive beaver dam. On the other side, the trail re-enters forest and continues north. As it circles clockwise around the outer perimeter of the marsh, the trail crosses a number of wetland coves on boardwalks in between drier patches of forest. Some of the boardwalks in this section are disintegrating badly, and are definitely in need of repair or replacement soon if the trail is to remain usable. Conditions were dry at the time we visited in late May 2015, but during wetter periods some of the lower boardwalk sections may be wet or inundated.

Overall, the route is very scenic, and makes a great hike or nature walk. It would also make a fantastic 3-mile trail run under the right conditions and if the trail is properly maintained. Hopefully this will be the case again in the near future. At present, however, it cannot really be recommended for running until some of the boardwalk bridges are replaced, especially in the back portion near the northern end of the marsh. Or rather, it can be run, and the woodland portions are in good condition (except for the Knob Loop), but runners in particular should take extreme care to slow down and check the condition of any wooden bog bridge planks before bounding out onto them.

Friday, May 22, 2015

FORWARDED POST: Running Rusieckis: Team USA

Shared from local trail runner Amy Rusiecki's blog:

Running Rusieckis: Team USA: The count down begins - I am now less than 2 weeks away from the 2015 IAU World Trail Championships , where I will be representing the USA....

Thursday, May 14, 2015

2015 Wapack and Back Trail Races

Last year an "equipment issue" (euphemism for My Nikon Crapped Out On Me) kept me from returning to the Wapack and Back Trail Races. Since running the other Wapack Race (from Windblown to Watatic and back) in 2013, I've been wanting to take shots of runners up on the semi-open ridge portion of New Ipswich Mountain, and this year I got the chance.

Ideally the skies would be deep blue with nice puffy white clouds, but it was not to be, sadly. I got a couple of shots like that early on, where, with a little post-processing push, there was nice blue and good cloud contrast. But soon afterwards the weather really changed and it got hazy and muggy. I was definitely not the only one to notice; many runners really began to suffer late in the day. I saw seasoned ultra runners get knocked down pretty hard by the heat (to their credit, many of them got back up and kept going). The other issue of the day was voracious blackflies, which were out in force. I cloned a lot of little fuzzy black dots out of these shots, and they weren't dust or oil spots.

Special cheers to Chris Agbay for being a wicked good volunteer and impromptu first-aid / heat exhaustion helper at the Binney Pond aid station, and to Jesse Veinotte for very successfully pulling off his first race directing gig. Anyway, here's the full photo gallery, and here's a sampling of some of the shots:

Men's 21.5-Mile Trail Race winner Ryan Welts on New Ipswich Mtn. in the Wapack Range

Women's 21.5-Mile Trail Race winner Kristina Folcick-Welts on New Ipswich Mtn. in the Wapack Range

Jeremy Merritt on New Ipswich Mtn. in the Wapack Range

A 50-mile ultra trail racer on New Ipswich Mtn. in the Wapack Range

Thursday, May 7, 2015

2015 Seven Sisters Trail Race

On May 3rd, for the fourth year in a row, I got out onto the course to take photos of the insanely challenging 7 Sisters Trail Race in the Holyoke Range of western Massachusetts. I caught shots of everyone in the open powerline swath just before the turnaround, and then zipped around to the finish to catch as many varied shots of the final descent as I could. Here's the full photo gallery, and here's a sampling of what I got:  

Friday, May 1, 2015

Thanks for your support!

Dear trail running friends,

I hope that people are finding Trail Running Western Massachusetts to be a useful and enjoyable resource. I certainly had a great time researching and creating it, and am very encouraged that so far people seem to be digging it.

As you might expect, it’s a fairly niche book category. The geographic area is relatively small, and the number of trail runners is only a fraction of the number of runners out there (though I hope some hikers discover it too). So I’m writing to ask for your help.

Through word of mouth and good buzz, you have the power to help the book succeed, and to make future editions and/or companion guides possible. If you have the time, please consider writing and posting an online review. Do you like it? Are there things you don't like? I’d love to hear what you think; your honest, thoughtful feedback would be extremely welcome. Here’s a link to the book’s page on Amazon:

Thank you so much for checking out Trail Running Western Massachusetts, and for all your support.

Ben Kimball 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bonus Site: Chapel Brook to DAR Trail

My new guidebook Trail Running Western Massachusetts (click here to view the book's page on Amazon) profiles 51 of the best trail running sites in the region. It was a challenge to whittle the final list to be included in the book down to just 51 sites, and some sites that I really like had to be cut for a variety of reasons. There were even a couple of "deleted scenes" where a site profile had actually been written but the trail got cut in favor of including a different site. As promised earlier, I will be posting some of those sites here and linking to them from the book's Facebook page. Consider them "bonus sites" in addition to the ones included in the book.

In this case, the trail profiled is a relatively little traveled local favorite. Located just a ways up the road from where we live, it is very fun to run and we like to run it often. I've actually written about it on this blog before here. The reason it got cut from the book was that the two sites it connects did get included, and there were just too many profiles lumped into one part of the region. Anyway, end of blathery introduction. Enjoy! 

Chapel Brook to DAR Trail

Distance: 4–6 miles, with several options for more at either end
Difficulty rating: Moderate
Trail style: Out-and-back
Trail type: Singletrack
Towns: Ashfield / Goshen

This 3-mile trail connects The Trustees of Reservations’ (TTOR’s) Chapel Brook Reservation in Ashfield to the to D.A.R. State Forest in Goshen. Roaming across a variety of terrain types, it’s interesting both geographically and ecologically. As an out-and-back run it makes for a greater medium-intensity workout on its own, and has several potential turn-around spots for shorter workouts as well as an option to make a longer loop out of it at the far end. At present, the trail is saddled with the rather unwieldy official name of "Chapel Brook Reservation to DAR State Forest Trail," which is shortened slightly here for ease of use. Conceived as a way to link trail networks on two larger conservation properties, it was created as a collaboration by the Town of Ashfield, TTOR, and the Franklin Land Trust. The trail passes by several rustic wooden benches, crosses a couple of scenic streams, skirts a pond, and comes close to two old stone foundations. It's all very runnable, and it’s a real pleasure to run on this trail. It can be combined with a five-mile out-and-back on the Two Bridges Trail (see Site 25: Two Bridges Trail on p. 107 of Trail Running Western Massachusetts) for an 11-mile run with a water stop back at your vehicle in the middle. It can also be combined with a  roughly 2-mile loop (the Moose Run Trail) at its western end at D.A.R. State Forest. Larger loops at D.A.R. are possible too, any of which would make for a very nice long, scenic, and fun trail run (see D.A.R. State Forest on p. 103 of Trail Running Western Massachusetts).

Site map (click to link to larger version):

NOTE: This is what the "enhanced maps" that you can link to with the QR codes (those little pixelated black squares on the maps in the book) look like.

Directions: The parking area at Chapel Brook Falls is about 7 miles north of Rte. 9 in Williamsburg on North Street (which becomes Ashfield Rd, then becomes Williamsburg Rd), and about 2 miles south of Rte. 116 in Ashfield on Williamsburg Rd. In the pullouts on either side of the road (on opposite sides of the brook), there is parking for about ten cars.

Trail: From the parking lot along the Ashfield/Williamsburg Rd, a wide doubletrack trail leads up the slope to the west from a locked metal gate and soon arrives at a junction below Chapel Ledges on Pony Mountain. A large wooden signboard offers information about the ecology and history of the area and encourages responsible recreational practices for climbers at the ledges.

Optional Extension (~0.5 miles): From the big sign, a set of wooden steps cut into the hillside leads up to the base of the ledges. This site is very popular with rock climbers, and it's easy to see why. From the base of the ledges you can take either leg of a loop trail that goes to the summit. Going straight up the steeper part, the trail ascends along the base of the ledges via a series of impressively constructed log cribs. Near the top, a spur path leads up to the actual top of the knob. The true summit is mostly forested, but the tops of the steep ledges are open and there are very nice views to the southwest from there. From the spur path junction, the loop trail continues traversing along the west side of the hill and soon swings back around and drops down to the saddle below, where it then heads south over occasional loose rocks back to the start of the loop. 
     Behind the sign, a barely noticeable singletrack trail heads southwest up the slope to the west. The trail gently rises and falls, but in general it climbs as it heads towards D.A.R. State Forest. Early on, it passes by several rustic wooden benches, crosses a couple of scenic streams, and comes close to a few large boulders and lichen-encrusted ledges. 
     About 0.5 miles from the start, the trail crosses a stream on a wooden bridge and then begins a sustained climb up the east side of a hill. Swinging around a southern ridge and turning north briefly, the grade levels off and you proceed across an upland area with a series of short dips down into small drainage swales. At one point, the trail swings left (south) and briefly coincides with the route of the Old County Road that connected Williamsburg to Ashfield. Then it bears right off the old road and continues west. You will cross and/or parallel several old stone walls in this section too. The well-marked trail zig-zags past several intersections with unofficial side trails, and, at 2.0 miles from the start, arrives at West Road. 
     Cross West Road (go a few feet to the left/south and pick up the trail at the far end of the guardrail) and then follow the trail around the edge of a wetland, across a scenic woodland stream on a bridge, and through a marshy area on boardwalks. Continuing west and climbing gently, the very well-constructed trail uses several long sections of plank bridges to cross a few perennially wet areas. At about 2.8 miles, the trail skirts the south side of a beaver pond, where a very short spur leads across planks to a wooden bench overlooking the water (Note: as of October 2014, the beaver pond had drained and had become more of a marsh). From the pond, the trail briefly dips just below the beaver dam and then climbs 0.2 miles to its end at a junction with the Moose Run Trail in D.A.R. State Forest. 

Lush ferns along the eastern (lower) end of the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail

Bridge along the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail

The Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail briefly paralleling a stone wall

Switchback along the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail

Boardwalk section of the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail

short spur to a bench by a beaver pond along the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail

Ashfield Trails, a volunteer collaborative with an impressive history of recent trail work, has also created a map of this trail.