Friday, August 7, 2015

Bonus Site: Mormon Hollow at Wendell State Forest

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 or that would have been nice to include had to be cut for space. I occasionally post profiles of some of those "bonus sites" here and link to them from the book's Facebook page. (see the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail post for a previous example).

In this case, the bonus site is a second sweet loop option at Wendell State Forest. The one profiled in the book, as Site #32, is a fantastic run that begins and ends in the Ruggles Pond / Park HQ area of the property. This loop is located just to the northeast, and can be accessed either from below at a small, very inconspicuous parking spot near the east end of Davis Road off of Farley Road, or from a more prominent (though not much larger) parking area by the boat launch at the north end of Wickett Pond. Beware that Wickett Pond Road can be extremely muddy in spring. 

The loop combines portions of four trails: the Mormon Hollow Trail, the Nipmuck Trail (not to be confused with the one in northeastern CT where the Nipmuck Trail Marathon takes place), the Maple Leaf Trail, and the Hannah Swarton Trail. The running is really good on all of them. There's a lot of swooping and curving and climbing/descending on switchbacks. The loop can be run just as easily in either direction and from either end, though the Nipmuck Trail portion is probably more fun to descend. There is one section of the Nipmuck Trail, just north of Baker Road, that can be a bit challenging to follow in late fall or early spring when the leaves are down, but it's much easier in summer. While there are no scenic vistas along the completely forested route, short side trips can take you to Wickett Pond and Whale's Head, a large boulder just uphill from the trail.

site map

(photo by Ben Kimball; copyright 2015)
Hannah Swarton Trail at Davis Road
(photo by Ben Kimball; copyright 2015)
Whale's Head at Wendell State Forest
(photo by Ben Kimball; copyright 2015)
Maple Leaf Trail along the edge of a wetland at Wendell State Forest

Monday, July 27, 2015

Vermont 100 photos

Early on the misty morning of July 18, hundreds of badass runners and riders (the horseback kind) set out to race a hundred miles, or in some cases a hundred kilometers (you know, just a mere 62 miles), in central Vermont, at one of New England's premier ultrarunning events, the Vermont 100 endurance race. It's one of the four "Grand Slam" ultra events in the U.S., and based on the number and steepness of the hills I saw just trying to photograph it, it's REALLY HARD!

The light was dim at 6 a.m. when I arrived at the Taftsville covered bridge at mile 15 of the hundred-mile race, which makes race photos tough since the shutter speed needs to be set so slow and the ISO set so high, but I still managed to eke out some fun shots like this one:

mile 15 of the VT 100 ultramarathon

volunteers from western MA's BURCS running club at the mile-16 aid station

Later, after a botched but enjoyable attempt to hike out to "Sound of Music Hill" (to protect private landowner privacy, there are no course maps for this race), I headed over to mile 49 just past Camp 10-Bear aid station and caught this shot of Scott Traer, the eventual winner of the men's full hundred race: 

Scott Traer, overall winner of the 2015 VT 100 ultramarathon

Soon after, the sky darkened, lightning flashed, and thunder boomed. For a good ten to fifteen minutes, it poured hard and ensured that the dirt road would be full of mud puddles for passing pickup trucks to veer towards, hit, and splash me with for the next few hours (thanks for being so considerate, guys!). To protect the camera from the deluge, this shot was taken from inside my car: 

Late in the day, after spending over 6 hours taking shots of runners passing the mile 49 spot (and/or whatever mile that was for the 100K runners; I'm not sure!), I headed over to a site high on the hill above Brownsville / West Windsor, and got this shot of the women's 100-mile race winner with Mt. Ascutney rising majestically in the background before the sky got too dark for more photos: 

Ashley Lister, female winner of the 2015 VT 100 ultramarathon

In the 100K race, the women runners triumphed spectacularly. The ladies took the top two spots overall, and the first 3 women all went under the previous course record. Impressive stuff! Here's a shot of first and second place winners, Emily LeVan (first place, #445) and Neela D'Souza (second place, #426):

second- and first-place winners of the 2015 Vermont 100K race

L: Men's 100K winner, Brian Marshburn
R: Running along the Ottauquechee River near mile 16

a reasonably iconic image of rider, runner, and verdantly pastoral scenery at the 2015 Vermont 100 race

My full photo galleries for each race can be seen at Northeast Race Photo:
Vermont 100 full hundred race100K race

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bonus Site: Whiting Street Reservoir

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 or that would have been nice to include had to be cut for space. I occasionally post profiles of some of those "bonus sites" here and link to them from the book's Facebook page. (see the Chapel Brook to D.A.R. Trail post for a previous example).

In this case, the trail profiled is about as easy as a trail run can get. It's really just a dirt road around a lake and would serve as an excellent introduction to anyone looking to take their first venture off of running on pavement. Motorized vehicles are prohibited, though mountain bikes are allowed. Located at the southeast base of Mt. Tom in Holyoke, it is a pleasant run with nice views and is somewhat reminiscent of the carriage trails in Acadia National Park. 

the road around Whiting Street Reservoir below Mt. Tom

Whiting Street Reservoir Trail
Distance: 3.8 miles
Difficulty rating: Moderate
Trail style: Lollipop Loop
Trail type: Dirt Road
Towns: Holyoke

Directions: From Rte. 5 on the north side of Holyoke, take Moutain Park Rd about 0.5 miles west up to the bridge over I-91. Just past the bridge the roads are gated in all directions. There may be parking for a few vehicles on the right side of the road just past the bridge, but take care to not block the gate. The area is fairly popular, however, and more likely you will need to park along the side of the road on the east side of the bridge. Do not park on the bridge. 

An alternate approach to the site is from the Whiting Street Reservoir trailhead along Rte. 141 south of the lake. If you choose this option, be very careful crossing the road from the parking area as traffic moves fast along the road and there is a curve in the road just uphill. 

Trail: From Mtn. Park Rd, go left (south) just past the bridge and pass through a gate. The paved road descends parallel to the highway for about 0.2 miles and then curves right at a small pumphouse building and turns to dirt. In 0.2 miles the road arrives at a T-junction just below a wide dike on the east side of the reservoir. 

Go right and rise gradually to the height of the dam and then continue around the northern edge of the lake. The wide dirt road runs right along the edge of the water with nice view of Mt. Tom on the other side. Entering the woods near the north end, it begins to curve left towards the mountain. Right at the northern end you will pass a short singletrack spur path that leads up to the upper part of Mtn. Park Road and the base of the steep, mile-long B-17 road to the summit. In spring there is a gorgeous waterfall just off the left side of this path. 

From the B-17 spur trail, the road begins heading south along the west shore of the reservoir. It alternates between being in the shady woods and being out in the open right along the water. In about 0.3 miles, just past a stream bridge (stream may be dry in summer), an unmarked and rough (but blazed) singletrack trail branches off to the right and rises southwest at a gentle grade to a junction with the M-M Trail. In another 0.5 miles, a fainter trail leads straight up the steep slope to the M-M Trail (this junction is very easy to miss). 0.3 miles from this junction, a wider doubletrack trail leads right at a set of old stone gates where there is sometimes a pile of gravel. This trail also leads uphill to the M-M Trail, very near where it comes out on Rte. 141. 

Continuing around the south end of the reservoir in the woods, the road rises slightly to a junction with the spur road that leads 0.4 miles up to the Whiting Street Reservoir trailhead along Rte. 141. Go left at the junction and descend back to the level of the lake. In just under a mile you will arrive back at the spur road below the dam.

Nearby: A similar easy / introductory trail running experience can be found at Ashley Reservoir a few miles to the south, where dirt roads encircle several reservoirs and small ponds, sometimes following along scenic narrow dikes with water on both sides. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

36-Mile Ride in the Valley

Following up on my last blog post, I upped my cycling mileage by what I hope is an appropriate amount this week, and did a 36-mile ride up and down the western side of the Pioneer Valley. It came 2 days after a hard hill climb up Chesterfield Road (Northampton to Chesterfield, MA), and one day after an easy trail run with Jen on Yokun Ridge in Lenox. The very scenic route was much easier than the hilltown ride, with plenty of long, straight flats, fewer big climbs, and a lot less elevation gain all around. As a result, my legs felt fantastic when I finished, humming with that happy-to-have-been-exercised buzz rather than a holy-crap-I-feel-overworked ache. Here's the map and elevation for this one:

(map rotated so north is to the left)

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: