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....

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. 

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.