Before we can even begin running Section 5 of the Catamount Trail, there is a lot of driving to do. More, actually, than is necessary, it turns out. But that is to become the theme of the day. More driving, more running, more wrong turns, more back-tracking...
Tom and I drive two vehicles from home to the end of Section 5 on Kendall Farm Road. We park the truck and get in my car to drive to the start. The first mistake of the day is to leave the shuttle driving directions at home. The CT does an excellent job of helpfully spelling out exactly where to leave your vehicle at any drop off or pick up point anywhere along the trail and the best route from that point to the start. Googlemaps not so much. So we fumble along consulting the printed google maps directions and the Vermont map to get ourselves awkwardly and inefficiently from the end of Section 5 back to the beginning of it. It takes us about 90 minutes to navigate the convoluted route through remote single lane river-winding dirt roads obviously hit hard by Tropical Storm Irene. (At the end of it all, we realize there was a much more direct route which took only about 20 minutes to our earlier 90. Tom reminds me for the millionth time that there is really nothing about any of this thing I'm doing that’s efficient. I need to let it go.)
Running a half mile or so down Kelley Stand Road toward the beginning of Section 5 we pass the LT/AT parking area, climb a hill, and find the CT heading into the woods on what looks like an old logging road. It feels great to be back in the woods again. My ankle has healed up well and feels strong. Within a few minutes we are consumed by deerflies and find ourselves calf deep in a soggy muddy bog of moose heaven. I search for the high ground and pick my way through, holding onto the idea of keeping my feet dry for as long as possible. Tom splashes right through, transitioning quickly and easily to the “get wet and muddy” part of the adventure. Years ago we had an Australian Shepherd, Sully, who went out of his way to seek out the puddles and dive right into the slop. Tom is an open channel to Sully’s spirit on the trail.
We continue to slog through the moose and deerfly soup for another mile or so until the trail ducks into the woods and climbs to a bit of dry ground. We find ourselves on a well-traveled section of trail which comes out at Stratton Pond. People! Here the Catamount Trail briefly joins the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail which we know because of signage and white blazes and really smelly backpackers. Not that we smell good. Only a couple of miles in and we are both sweat- and stinky mud-covered. This is where the adventure first becomes interesting for awhile. And by interesting I mean we spend the better part of an hour trying different trails that branch out from Stratton Pond and following them for awhile wondering where the CT signs are. Of course, because this is how the universe works, the correct trail is the very last one we try, and so, early into this 10 mile run we’ve already added at least a couple of extra miles. Better to make that mistake while we’re still fresh and energetic and are making jokes about it. A very nice AT hiker gets out his smart phone and tries to help us figure out where to pick up the CT, but all he’s got is the AT mapped out on there. Not a very smart phone if you ask me. Tom wants to stand around and chat but this guy, very nice and all, smells. Like, really really smells. Not his fault, of course. He’s hiking the Appalachian Trail and probably hasn’t seen soap or hot water in weeks. Also, he’s wearing one of those performance moisture-wicking shirts (read: hold onto the stink like you’re life depends on it shirts).
We discover that the CT piggybacks on the AT/LT for a little while and, assuming we’ve got that silly losing the trail mistake behind us we float along without a worry in the world. Trail running does mean keeping your eyes down a lot, what with having to watch how you place your feet and all. Especially for those of us (me) who trend toward the dorky end of the spectrum and can sprain the living crap out of an ankle on a perfectly flat section of road. (See last blog entry if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) So, with the eyes focused on the trail in front of you, sometimes you will miss a sign. As I explain to Tom, it’s also easy to miss signs when you’re running as fast as we are. He agrees, adding it’s amazing we haven’t started a forest fire with this blistering pace.
Stopping for a snack gives SBD (Smelly Bearded Dude) enough time to catch up with us. He is, apparently, the fastest hiker in the world because how else would he have caught up to us? We’re running! Anyway, with a friendly smile he asks if we’re lost again. No, no, we got it, we finally found the trail. He kindly mentions that he thinks the CT branched off of this trail awhile back. Sure enough, we backtrack and see the spot where earlier we had zipped right past the sign indicating that the CT North goes that way. Disaster averted. I wonder how many more miles we would have run before we remembered we were supposed to be looking for blue diamonds, not white hash marks. Thank you, SBD!
The route description provided on the CT website describes all of this in a really helpful printout which I like to carry with me for each section when I run, just in case something like this happens. In the winter, it’s probably easier to figure it out, what with ski tracks to follow and all. If I had not left said printout in the car, we’d be golden. Dumbass.
Three thousand hours and a few more oops missed the trail again detours later we descend a reeeaaaaaallllly lllloooooooonnnnnggggg sssstttttteeeeeeeep hill past a couple of big piles of bear poop and some of those neato translucent peace pipe mushrooms pushing up out of the leaves. At one point the CT seems to go two directions at once, one of which leaves the steep downhill and is labeled “easy way.” Tom and I look at each other, briefly tempted, considering our options. Screw that, we agree. After all this we’re not taking the damn “easy way.” Our knees and hips and lower backs curse us as we continue down the hill. Crossing a beautifully built bridge we come to an intersection with a sign telling us we’re still 3.7 miles from the truck. Either that or it’s less than that if we go this way instead of that way. Or it could be more. Who knows? On we go.
At some point I guess I just black out because I don’t remember much else until we climb up onto Kendall Farm Road a little ways from where the truck is parked. I snap out of my trance at the sound of Tom's voice as he taunts me with Got anything left? which is what we like to say to each other when we know we’re less than a mile from the finish and one of us wants to race. I won't share all the details — some of what happens on the trail needs to stay on the trail. All I'm saying is that while I would prefer to beat him fair and square, I really need that head start.