Section 1, July 4, 2017
The first section of the Catamount Trail is an abandoned railroad bed turned moss-covered and grassy, with occasional spikes and ties poking through the detritus and mud. We run 1.8 miles south of the “start” to tag the Massachusetts state line, then turn around and retrace the route that hugs the shoreline of the Sherman Reservoir. Shaded from the hot sun, we can see the bright blue water through the leaves. Leaving the RR bed to parallel it, passing an ancient trestle, and then returning to the RR bed. Emerging from the woods and losing the trail. Climbing a steep hill in the wrong direction and asking a local for help. Turning around and running down the hill to the highway. Still not finding the trail but feeling our way through something that looks kinda right. Wrangling a rose bush. Climbing over and under debris. Finally finding the trail and bushwhacking our way through a tangle of side of the road opportunist weeds. Winding along the Deerfield River, the trail is mud, streams, and soft pine needle dirt. Emerging from the woods at our destination, Mia and I are surprised that it's over already. The first 8 miles are behind us.
Section 2, July 5, 2017
This section skirts the Harriman Reservoir on the same ancient railroad bed. Just before entering the woods we find a broken robin’s egg lying on the few remaining strands of nest. Grateful for the shade from an 80 degree day, we are off to a good start. Well, almost. About a half mile in I realize I've left my keys (the ones we'll need at the end of our run today) in Mia's car. Okay then, off to a bit of a clunky start. But at least I remembered nice and early in the run. I shudder to think what we would have done if at the end of 10 miles we reached my car only to be locked out of it. Thank you whatever spirits were floating by in that moment for yelling at me about my forgotten keys! I leave Mia on the trail and retrace my steps to get my keys, and we are off again. Flat easy terrain along the edge of the reservoir. Dramatic rock cuts tunneling the passage of long ago trains. The long gentle river-grade trail becomes a service road. Perfect raccoon prints in the mud. Easy endless gliding strides bring us out at the northernmost end of Harriman Reservoir. Following the trail / road through the crowded public picnic area, we glide past people lounging and grilling and swimming and boating. Leaving the road to bushwhack through beaver and hay meadows, we make our way through grasses as high as my chest, carefully avoiding the poison parsnip. More bushwhacking through an old apple orchard. More grasses and pricker-laden berry bushes and very slow going. Climbing and dropping and following a power line. Discovering wild blueberries. Following the prints of deer who use this trail as easier travel. Emerging on a busy highway. Crossing a high bridge with cars flying impossibly fast. It's hard to imagine skiers navigating this part when the roads are winter-covered. But now we have reached the car and today's 10+ miles are complete. On a long run in remote wilderness, company is better than solitude. I am about to find this out on Section 3.
Section 3, July 6, 2017
Heidi joins me for the first mile or so. Glad for her company and enormously grateful for help with shuttling cars. It's an easy start: beautiful, grassy, gentle, and flat. Parallel to the highway and river it takes a little while for traffic sounds to fade and water sounds to gain. Soon I trade my easy run-all-day pace and forgiving dirt trails for slopping through the mud and waist high weeds. Things slow down. Pretty soon the trail climbs up into a beech stand and things begin to look more like the Catamount Trail I recognize from running around Ripton. And then things become darker, denser, and something changes. Subtle, indiscernible at first, but soon I am uneasy. The woods are closing in and I'm feeling some seriously bad joo-joo in here. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Holy hell I am so uncomfortable. But what can I do? I slow down a little, try to make a little more noise, push down the anxiety, keep the legs moving. Heebie jeebies wash over me, whisper in my ear, tap me on the shoulder. I keep going, having a conversation out loud with myself about the winding trail and a couple of broken bridges in need of repair and the mama bird I spooked that tries to distract me from her nest and now look, moose prints, and here are some berries that will be ripe in a couple of weeks. Past a couple of beaver ponds, through the hilly woods, taunted by the musty smells of forest life and my discomfort keeping pace alongside me. But little by little I am getting closer to the end of today's trek. I can see the sky opening up ahead as I approach the reservoir. Climbing out of the woods and there is my car at the south end of Somerset Reservoir. Today's 8 miles are done.
Section 4, July 7, 2017
After much logistical chin scratching and brain yoga, I figure out that I will drive my car to the end of today’s run at Kelley Stand and then bike to the start where yesterday’s run ended at Somerset Reservoir. Then do the 10 mile trail run, drive back to the start to retrieve my bike, and head home. The bike ride is 14 miles on dirt forest service road 71. Mostly flat or downhill with a couple of gentle ups (but also a couple of miles of not so gentle ups). It takes awhile, longer than I thought it would, to bike this part. I find a tree off the beaten path and lock my bike to it, eat a little cashew butter, regroup, take a deep breath and head into the woods at an easy jog. The trail skirts the entirety of Somerset Reservoir. Most of it is frequently traveled so it doesn't look like I'll be doing much bushwhacking today.
I am hoping hard not to repeat my "Mole in the Wild Woods" experience of yesterday. Side streams feeding in from the east flow into the reservoir on my left. I get frequent and stunning glimpses of the open water and mountains beyond. Mosquitoes and deer flies swarm madly the couple of times I slow down or pause for photos or a pee or to pick my way through a tricky stream crossing. This section feels effortless and it's a relief to just focus on breathing and stride and bird song and blues and greens and the joy of being in the woods. I'm certainly feeling the demands of being Day Four into the challenge, but I’ve got some good flow. On I go. The miles fly by. Under two hours in, I enter the Grout Pond area. Many campers are quietly going about their morning rituals as I cruise past. Their presence energizes me. I know I am close to completing Section 4. The trail is easy here. Just humming along and feeling great. As suddenly as they appeared, the campsites begin to fade behind me and the CT becomes wild again as it branches north. The grasses and ferns are knee and thigh high here, but I am almost there. I can see the trail opening up and things brightening ahead and know I am close. Emerging from the woods onto Grout Pond Road I have just 1.8 miles to go to get to my car. One untied shoelace flapping. I trudge on. Legs and brain are fatigued but I feel great with the anticipation of completion. Up the hill, onto Kelley Stand Road, and I have arrived.
Re-entry July 8, 2017
Holy hell, re-entry is weird. This day is unexpectedly difficult. Arrived home last night tired but energized from my adventure. Today has been strange. I forgot to prepare myself for the bumps and downhill slide of returning to regular life. Especially as today is a rest day — much needed — but not necessarily welcome. I have been up up up and now… a slower pace and the reality of bills and weeding and laundry and returning calls and emails and a reminder that life has been going on as always while I’ve been in the woods. I miss my endorphins. I am struggling through this day, unable to find any kind of groove. Productive even so: laundry, unpacking, tidying up, cleaning. And the outdoors are calling: gardening, weeding, mowing. Still, nothing is quite right. The indecisive weather is not helping. It rains. The sun comes out. It gets hot. Oppressively humid. It clouds up. The temperature drops. It pours. The sun is out again. The weather is a mirror to my all over the place unsettledness.
Settling in July 9 & 10, 2017
Things on the home front are cool. I’m back in the swing of non-trail life again. I get a lot done at work. I'm remembering how this part of life works and that it's summer and there's so much to enjoy about being home. I have this great conversation with my friend Kate. I tell her about the Section 3 spooky woods experience. Kate lives in Tucson and knows a thing or two about the natives in her area. She tells me about the Tohono O’odham and their closeness with the land and their custom of giving thanks to the land for its many gifts. When things are unsettled or feel threatening, whether in the form of an animal threat or dangerous weather or what have you, they simply “talk to it.” And offer blessings. Maybe just a little pinch of cornmeal thrown to the wind and a whisper of thanks. Not sure I'll have the presence of mind to remember it the next time I find myself inexplicably fearful in the woods, but I am suddenly madly in love with this concept.
Shitfuckdamn July 11, 2017
On my sweet little 4 mile trail run this morning, I zip along unburdened, enjoying a jolly and effortless pace. I know the trail well and remember the places to stop to eat a few wild blueberries. I do a little hill work for good measure and fly around corners and up hills. Pleasantly sweaty a mile from home on a no-brainer section of dirt road, something… happens. I still don’t know what. I must have stepped on a rock or onto the edge of an unnoticed pothole. My left ankle buckles and rolls violently. I’m floating along one second, and hobbling the next, releasing a blue streak of obscenities, bent over, hopping on my good right foot. What the actual hell? Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit. In a few moments I realize I’m okay enough to put weight on it, okay enough to get myself home. But just like that, everything changes.
Dr. Mirkin’s 1978 recipe for RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) — a protocol coaches and athletes have been following for years — is now out. He recently published a paper about how the first two components of RICE, rest and ice, can actually delay healing. Inflammation serves a purpose. When tissue is damaged, the body responds by sending microphages — immunity cells and proteins — to the traumatized area. The body receives the pain messages to slow down or stop, the area becomes inflamed, and the cells go to work. Our typical human response is to relieve that pain, maybe throwing an ice pack and an ibuprofen or two at it. Turns out, this is not helpful. It’s good for the pain, but not the healing. I am sidelined. And my happy little endorphin fix is the last one I’ll get for awhile.
I go about the rest of my day as best I can. Alternating between walking oh so gingerly and elevating. I have an appointment to give blood. I decide not to think about how long it might be before I can run again. Instead I will focus on the life-affirming act of handing over a pint of the good old universal O positive. My finger is pricked to check my hemoglobin and… I fail. Somehow, despite a diet consisting almost exclusively of red meat and leafy greens, I fall below the acceptable level of iron for blood donation today. This day is making me sad. I hold it together and march (okay, limp) bravely through the rest of today's to-do list. At least until Tom comes home. Then, because I can, and because I have been a very brave soldier all day, I fall apart. He helps me come up with a plan and some rehab exercises for sprained ankles and reminds me, sternly, 17 times, that this could very well mean I will not be running again for many days and probably a couple of weeks. No 10K race this Saturday. No Catamount Trail section 5 on Sunday. No Catamount Trail section 6 on Wednesday.
It’s embarrassing to admit to the level of despair I am feeling. Poor little white girl can’t go for her daily run. Boo-hoo. I am acutely aware of my privilege in this moment. That I can even conceive of an adventure like running the Catamount Trail in its entirety — that my needs are so well met that this can even enter my thought process as a personal goal to go after… this is privilege. Having first become aware of my white privilege in 1985 at St. Lawrence University, I am familiar with the feelings of guilt that come with it. I still don’t quite know what to do with it, but I think that's a post for another day. In the meantime, I am hearkening back to my conversation with Kate a couple of days ago. I think of the Tohono O’odham and how when things get dicey they just start talking with the thing that’s presenting a challenge. Engage in a conversation with it. Make friends somehow, or at least go gently eye to eye with it. And then sprinkle an offering its way and say thanks.