23 December 2012

Malta Ecological Park - 22 Dec 2012

Malta Ecological Park

Having failed at Gray's Crossing a second time, I decided to check out another park that I had seen a few times, and had confirmed the existence of trails within via a GIS link off of Saratoga PLAN's website.  This tiny park, called Malta Ecological Park, has about a mile of trails at the moment.  These trails explore various natural areas, including a small pond, and serve as a means of getting to and from an open field.  The sign at the pavilion near the entrance says that they may expand the park to include several more miles of trails, exploring more areas of the plot.

I did the outer loop once, exploring the area, and then settled in to doing laps on the trails that go around the playing field.  The outer perimeter loop is approximately 0.7 miles, and the inner loop showed up as 0.37 miles every time I ran it.

It's an interesting area, and I hope that they choose to expand it in the future.  As it stands, the trails all appear to be constructed of a thin layer of woody material on top of plastic sheeting, and they're all double wide.  There are no elevation changes of note (I varied from 280' to 310' across the entire course, and at no point did I actually see a hill).

Gray's Crossing - 22 Dec 2012

The Burl Trail

I went to Gray's Crossing for the second weekend in a row today.  I had gone there last Sunday, to check out the park that I had seen a few times while driving down Northline Rd.  It's a cute park, with a small picnic area right next to several bends in the Kaydeross (aka the Kayaderosseras Creek).  I had seen a trail leading off to the left of the picnic area, almost immediately, and when I saw a sign stating "Burl Trail", I got my hopes up that I had found another place to run in the area.  Unfortunately, it dead-ended after about a tenth or two of a mile.  The dead-end was a fenced off area, curiously with the words "Protected Area" on a sign on the OTHER side of the fence.

Today I went back, after having confirmed that I missed a turn to the left, and that I also missed the other half of the trail going off to the left right near the start.  I scouted out the area, using My Tracks so that I could see my (approximate) position on the map and compare it to the mapped version of the trail.  I scoured the area, but could find no evidence of a trail to the left.  The only conclusion I could come to was that the trail itself had been fenced off.

So, I backtracked and went down the other half of the trail, only to run into ANOTHER fence.  This one cut across the trail at a diagonal, and extended off in either direction.

The Burl Trail

This leads me to believe that either a) Saratoga Spa State Park fences off the trail during mud season, b) it's closed off due to the construction, or c) something else is going on and I'm completely missing something obvious.  I guess I'll go check it out again in late spring.

09 December 2012

Rowland Hollow Creek Preserve - 8 Dec 2012

Creek Overlook Trail

I visited two local areas today; the first turned out to be a bust, but the second was a total gem.  Rowland Hollow Creek Preserve is a new preserve (only a few months old, according to the brochure in the box), built beside a new housing development being put in along Grand Ave in Saratoga.  I went for a run here, and loved it.

The trails aren't very long, a total of 1.0 miles, making for a 1.15-1.20 out and back run.  I went clockwise around the loops, and got to see some of the prettiest woodland trails I've seen in a while.  Add to that the fact that it was drizzling the entire time, and it ended up being a magical day.  My first time through I ran the entire way, hitting each possible bit of trail at least once.  The trails are arranged as two lollipops (stacked on top of each other) with a dogleg down to the eponymous creek off of the second one.  In order, they run as white, red, then blue (then red, then white, then out).

After coming to the loop portion of the white trail, and going left, I was immediately presented with a wide trail, double or triple track, carpeted in pine needles and curving just enough to be interesting.  At the end of this is the intersection with the red trail, as well as a feeder trail going off to the right, which leads into and out of the road around the new development's stormwater pit.  Following the red trail, you drop down into the floodplain of the creek.  The short trail to the creek itself is pretty, especially at the very beginning, where a toppled tree presents a natural entranceway.  The creek itself is roughly 10' across and not very deep.  I didn't see any signs of life in the creek itself aside from plants, but it's the wrong time of year to see things.  The temperature stayed in the 37-38 deg F range while I was out.

I headed back around on the rest of the red loop and then the white loop.  This was the steepest portion, climbing out of the floodplain and then up along a minor hill until the trail leveled out again.  Along the way I came across a stone wall that looked like it had been partially removed to make way for the trail.  I made my way back to the parking lot, and then did the whole thing again, this time taking walking breaks to take photos and explore some.

All in all, it was a fun run.  It's a tiny network, unsuitable for anyone looking to run any sort of distance, but I would say it's perfect for someone who is just starting out (like me).  The beauty is captivating and motivating at the same time.  This is also a perfect place to take kids for a walk in the woods.

I'd also like to say thank you to the people responsible for creating this preserve.  Thanks!

Pics are here.

07 December 2012

Blackhead Mountain and Arizona Ridge - 23 Nov 2012

Blackhead Mountain

Ken and I set out from his house around 07:45, and were at the trailhead by 08:10.  We geared up and headed out 10 minutes later.  The first stretch of this trail follows some kind soul’s driveway, and after that it follows the remains of a road through Dutcher Notch.  For the first segment of the road, there are private lands on either side, but eventually it comes to state lands.  Before we could do any of that, though, I had to double back and get my phone, which I had left on top of Ken’s truck.  It wasn’t the only thing I had forgotten.

Before we get too far into this report, I’d just like to give a “shout-out” to my trekking poles.  I really appreciate them, especially on steep, treacherous descents, where they help significantly.  My knees appreciate having some of the weight taken off of them, I’m far less likely to fall, and they engage my entire body in the exercise.  It’s unfortunate, therefore, that I left my poles sitting in the trunk of my car, parked at Ken’s house, a half an hour away from the trailhead.

Furthermore, I didn’t realize this until we were already headed up the trail.  I thought about going back for them, but I didn’t want to waste an hour or more on it.  So we pushed onwards.  10 minutes after heading up for the second time, we reached the register, and another 10 minutes after that, we were on state land.  The trail runs right beside the old road for most of its length, which is fortunate, because the old road was covered with several inches of leaves, which made it impossible to see what we were stepping on.

We made it up to the col (Dutcher Notch) by 09:30, and we hunkered down behind some rocks to our left, to get out of the wind a bit and have a snack.  15 minutes or so later, we started up the Escarpment Trail, literally up, passing first over more leaf-covered ground, up switchbacks, and then straight up into a more coniferous zone.  Along the way, I managed to scratch Ken on the head with a whipped branch.  I turned around to say “watch out” and the stupid thing was already scratching him.  To add insult to injury, the same tree got him on the way down.

After the climb out of Dutcher Notch, the trail opened up a bit, flattened out a lot, and we reached “Arizona”, a long ridge that may or may not be considered a peak, depending on what source you’re reading.  It doesn’t really matter; it was a pretty walk through the woods, and the going was mostly flat.  On the other side of Arizona Ridge, as I’ve decided to call it, we climbed down into the next col and then started our ascent of Blackhead proper.

At about 11:20, somewhere around the 3500’ marker, I started running out of gas, and I stopped to carb and salt up before the final push.  Ken joked that I would be at the summit before it kicked in, but Larabars work fast, at least in my body, and I was ready to roll after a few minutes.  We knocked out the last bit of ascent, arguably the most technical of the day, which is to say we had to use our hands a couple of times.  By 11:40 we were at Camp Steel, and a minute or two later we were at the summit.

The summit sits at the junction of the Escarpment Trail and the Blackhead Range Trail, and was windy, but just back on the trail we found enough shelter to eat a quick meal in relative comfort.  We remarked how we hadn’t seen anyone yet today.  At the trailhead there was one other truck, but the gigantic NRA sticker on his or her door indicated that he or she was most likely off hunting and not hiking up a mountain.  I took a quick walk down the Blackhead Range Trail, but saw no footprints in the snow.  I didn’t continue on the Escarpment Trail to look for prints, since it dropped down steeply, and I didn’t feel like climbing back up.

At 12:15 we headed out, and about halfway down into the col, we met the only other soul we would see on the trail that day.  We stopped to chat for a moment, then headed on.  I pushed the pace a lot on this stretch, where possible, and attempted to get over my fear of falling and my fear of my knees giving out and just ... bound ... down the mountain.  I thought about Reinhold Messner, his reputed deer-like grace on the hills in a National Geographic piece I had just read a month ago.  I thought about Sarah Lavender Smith’s write-up of her trip to Alaska, and her description of the “Geezers”, running down a snowfield in giant, bounding steps, sliding with every step. It worked, for the most part, though I wasn't quite bounding, yet.  I applied one of the few hiking lessons from my father that I can actually remember, and took quick, light steps down the steepest parts.  It was a leap of faith, for me, but my knee held up fine.  It was sore by the end of the descent, and for a good week after, but it held up.

When we reached the leaves, near the top of the switchbacks, the descent became downright treacherous.  We were in danger of and did fall several times on the way down, but we avoided serious injury.  Several times I froze briefly, unsure of where to step next, and I scolded myself for not bringing my poles.  There was no use in fretting about it, though, so I slid and skidded down.  Ken stayed close behind for most of the descent, but we spread out a bit over the sketchiest bits.

After making it safely down into Dutcher Notch around 13:30, we were on better ground for a while.  As we descended, though, the leaves on the ground grew thicker again, and there were several more stumbles, but it never got as bad as the drop into the Notch was.  We were back at the truck by 14:20, scratched and sore but otherwise unharmed.

Pics are here.

03 December 2012

Skidmore's North Woods - 1 Dec 2012

I had visited Skidmore's North Woods once before, recently, but I had been walking, and I had only explored the Red trail and the meditation trail; the latter was by accident.  Please note that the only activity permitted on the meditation trail is walking.  Although it doesn't show on the map, there is a connector trail leading toward a few benches, just off of the red trail.  Details and map are here: http://www.skidmore.edu/sustainability/northwoods/regulations.php.

Going... down.

Having missed both of my running workouts this week, I was keen to get out and cover some miles.  I set off at an easy pace, conscious of the snow, leaves and wet rocks under my feet.  I made it down the Red and onto the Blue trail, then around to the backside before I took my first break, both because my lungs were starting to get upset and because my brain was screaming at me to slow down.  Perhaps I sensed what was coming, but the next quarter mile or so was treacherous.  After that, I ducked down onto the Orange trail and explored that.  It's absolutely amazing, how many other (unmarked) trails and woods roads are present in these woods.

The Orange trail cuts across a stream, ducks down a side trail, and then a short while later, cuts back across the same stream, this time on a series of bridges.  It eventually comes to a crossroads, and then begins the climb that I had seen previously, which constitutes, far and away, the hardest climb I've seen so far on local XC trails.  Over 0.4 miles, it climbs approximately 120', along a winding course and over a series of steps at the end (it switches from the Orange to the Red trail near the top).  Nothing to write home about, in terms of trails, but it was interesting nonetheless.  It's tame compared to the 1000' over 1 mile pitches that seem to dominate the final pushes of ADK climbs, but I've only walked up those, and they usually require pauses on the way up.  I hope to be able to run up that last bit of the Orange Trail, some day, and perhaps even more difficult bits.

After that, I made my way past where I had turned off last time (onto the meditation trail, by mistake) and explored a bit around the water tower, before I managed to find the Red trail that I was looking for (the Red and Green trails are non-linear).  I made it one lap around the Red trail, running almost the entire time, and back up to the water tower a second time before my knee started to hurt.

Since I was (am) still recovering a bit from the Blackhead hike, I decided to drop down to walking for the remainder of the outing.  I still wanted to pick up some mileage, since I was down for the week, so I decided to walk the length of the Blue trail, which I did.  I poked my head down one of the Green trail lines, but since I didn't realize it was a valid trail, I didn't go exploring, since I didn't want to trespass.  The trail marker didn't look Green to my colorblind eyes; it looked like an abandoned marker.  I completed my loop and headed back to the car, coming it at just over 4 miles for the day.

All in all it was a good outing, but the rock/leaf/snow combination made this a bit more difficult than what I was expecting.


I realized that on my previous post, I made a mistake: I reviewed pace instead of time.  The speed trials that I had set up are done for the most part on a single course, with a specific start and end point, so that I can rule out GPS wobble.  On any given walk, my distance will be measured between 0.85 and 0.89 miles.  It isn't a huge difference, but when you're talking about a few seconds of pace difference, a tiny delta in the distance becomes significant.

So, here's the latest version of the graph, measured in time, instead of pace:

rubiTrack 2 - Speed Trials - View 4

Here are the significant data points:
  • 7 May 2012 - 13:45 minutes.  First data point.  The next 3 data points are all in the 13:50 and high 13:40 range.  This is my best time so far.
  • 23 Jul 2012 - Either 14:23 minutes or 13:13 minutes.  I'm not entirely sure what's going on with this one; rubiTrack says 13:13 minutes for the Active duration, and 14:23 for the Total duration.  I have 14:23 written down in my spreadsheet.  Looking at the graph, it makes more sense that it was 13:13.  It's also interesting that this is from the week that I chose to stop eating meat.  Since it's an anomaly, we can discard it.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is the next data point, and what happened after that.
  • 6 Aug 2012 - 13:26 minutes.  This is a clean reading; there's no discrepancy.  I measured a full 19 seconds faster than my best time a couple of weeks after going vegetarian.
  • 13 Aug 2012 - 13:37 minutes.
  • 28 Aug 2012 - 13:52 minutes.
  • 4 Sep 2012 - 13:59 minutes.  These data points are all leading up to the backpacking trip.  I'm getting progressively slower, despite regular walks to build up leg strength.
  • 14 Nov 2012 - 14:25 minutes.  I had been eating meat for a day, including a major creatine source the day before.  It was also colder than it had been in a while, and I got a cramp in my leg halfway through.  So, I'm OK with discarding this time.  It doesn't matter one way or another.
  • 19 Nov 2012 - 12:54 minutes.  Best time to date.
  • 3 Dec 2012 - 12:07 minutes.  Insane.  I knew that I was walking fast, and I was able to keep pushing hard until the end.  Of note: I had only eaten one meat dish and one egg dish between my last intense workout, a run on the 1st, and this walk.  The remainder of my protein sources during that time had been vegetable-based.
What I get from this is continued confirmation of what I suspected in my last post.  I was still building muscle while eating a vegetarian diet; I just wasn't able to push myself as hard in an intense situation.  I suspect very much that this does come down to creatine stores.  If it does come down to creatine, there seems to be a lag between when it's first ingested and when it's available, though that may just have to do with my body's enzymes.

At some point I'd like to revisit this, and see if I can achieve the same results on a vegetarian diet.  Clearly, there are people out there who are able to perform at a high level on a vegan diet (i.e. Brendan Brazier and Scott Jurek).  Furthermore, I found Susan Lacke's recent experiment with a Paleo-Vegetarian diet very interesting, and I might try that next time around.  For now, though, and for the foreseeable future, I'll continue on with my "flexitarian" diet.  (Or, if you prefer, "flexible pesco-ovo-vegetarian".)  While I might be able to get the results I'm looking for without the flexible portion, on a diet where I get my protein and other nutrients from plants, fish and eggs, that wouldn't work due to social constraints.  I don't think it would be fair to my wife for me to be eating fish at the dinner table, which she despises, and not eating the dishes that she kindly cooks for our family.  It's tough enough when I'm not eating meat.

Anyway, I'm done with this topic for now.  Back to the reports.