CT Section 6 Wednesday July 26 with Tom
After Section 5 we leave my car parked at Gringo Jack’s in Manchester to save on some driving. Three days later we return to pick it up and travel to the trailhead on South Road — our ending point of Section 6. Back to Kendall Farm Road we go to park and get started on today’s run: a 9 mile mix of well-maintained trail, forest roads, dirt roads, open fields, and woods that will take us from Bromley to South Road.
Up the logging road toward the town gravel pit we see what looks like the world’s tiniest owl staring at us from a pine branch a few yards to the east of the trail. We duck into the woods, scoot around a marshy section, cross under a power line and take an old grassy (beautifully mown) service road that climbs straight uphill for over a mile. In winter when the deciduous trees have shed their leaves the views are beautiful. Today, we are trying to outrun the deerflies and pace ourselves up this long climb. We run through beech and maple filled woods wearing a cape of mottled sunlight.
A long, switchback descent through the forest dumps us out on Route 30 where we dodge traffic and pick up French Hollow Road, admiring some sweet little homes with pretty stellar mountain views. Forest Road 314 brings us away from the civilized world and back into the dense pines and maples where we fly up and down hills until a magnificent beaver pond stops us in our tracks. Such beautiful views of still water, deep green grasses, standing dead wood rising into bluebird skies. The work of the beavers is awe-inspiring. The trail has to be re-routed up the hill and around the pond as they have completely flooded the area. We spook a couple of ducks and a great blue heron as we pass through the north end of the pond. Thick bushes are laden with not yet ripe blackberries and the brambles destroy our legs. Something big has been this way which makes our work a bit easier for a few yards, but the animal doesn’t follow the CT so we are bushwhacking again soon.
As we climb we enter a heavily logged area and out into an overgrown path chock full of poison parsnip. We slow down and pick our way through it carefully, trying hard not to make contact for fear of the painful blisters that will cover us if the parsnip oil on our skin is hit by sunlight. We won’t know our parsnip fate for 24-48 hours as there is quite a delay between contact and outbreak. Fingers crossed.
Out of the woods and into an enormous field of wild grasses and ripe red raspberry bushes encircling a rock outcropping. We pick and eat for a few minutes in the hot sun, putting off the chore of locating the trail again. No markers, so we bust through chest-high grass and brush. Guessing, we aim ourselves mostly north and eventually find the next marker at the far end of the field. The final bit crosses what looks like someone’s well manicured driveway, then drops into a pine stand. We haul ourselves out of the woods and onto South Road. Section 6 is complete. It’s not hard to find a stream to cool off in and we scrub mercilessly at our skin hoping to rid ourselves of the clinging parsnip oil. A cold beer awaits.
CT Sections 7 & 8 July 29 and 30 with Jane
These two sections will prove to be the most impressively maintained sections of the Catamount Trail yet. I later refer to them as the “country club” sections: pine needle dirt, beech leaves and mosses, magical stone walls, carpets of wild blueberry bushes, rolling terrain, beautiful views. We interrupt our easy, run-all-day pace several times to eat fistfuls of wild berries. Somewhere around the Burnt Meadow Bridge and Mud Pond area — about one-third of the way through Section 7 — we pass through a heavily logged area. The trail has held onto some of the moisture of this rainy summer and a slightly muddy section offers the perfect cast for a freshly-made kitty track. We stop and study it and take some photos. This kitty is big. There are no claw indentations in the mud so we tend to think it’s feline, not canine. Next to my hand for scale, my palm and its print just about match in size. Even without my Ranger Rick badge I’m convinced it’s a Catamount track. Equal parts excited and nervous, we snoop around looking for more evidence and occasionally peer into the branches above us, just in case… The print looks pretty fresh, but I know it’s far more likely that this critter is long gone and not waiting to pounce on us from the trees. Even so, I’m feeling extra glad for Jane’s company at this point so I can keep the focus on how exciting it is to find this track and not succumb to a massive case of the yikes-who’s-watching-me heebie jeebies.
Saturday’s 9 mile run feels like a walk in the park in comparison to Section 8 on Sunday. Mostly this is because I start the day with a mistake (making mistakes seems to be some kind of repeating theme on this Catamount adventure) and fail to fuel properly in the morning. Before a long run I like some protein along with some veggies or fruit. My favorite would be a hard-boiled egg and/or a few bites of last night’s leftover steak, followed by some fruit or last night’s leftover salad. But I forgot that I was beginning the day a bit depleted from yesterday’s run and failed to add some extra easy carbs. Oatmeal would have been a good idea. Shoot. I start slow and get progressively slower — not that we’re going for any kind of speed record on these trail runs, but it’s oh so much more fun when I’m well prepared and have good energy and plenty of reserves. Every inch of today’s 10 miles is a struggle. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced the runner’s “bonk” but it’s got to feel something like this.
About 3-4 miles in, Jane saves me with some sort of sugary chewy gummy thing she pulls from her pack when she notices I just about topple over after stopping to tie my shoe. This pause in the run gives us the opportunity to notice a humble but spectacular hand-constructed stone bridge. All the stone work — old foundations, miles and miles of stone walls deep in the woods, this bridge — they all remind me that we humans have gotten kind of soft. It’s inspiring to think of bygone farmers clearing these fields by the strength of their backs, humble plows, earnest animals, and strong will. I doubt they had a stash of quick-energy gummies in their pockets when they felt their energy lagging. That thought both shames and inspires me. Time to toughen up.
So on we go, piling on the miles through hard-wood maple and beech groves that stretch forever. Running is joy, even when it's a struggle. Today it's hard, but it's not a race and we're not going for time and there's nothing much at stake except a strong desire to complete this thing. We do it because we can and so that we can, and not many things are more happy-making than that.