16 December 2013

Port Orleans Resort, Disney World - 7 Dec 2013

Rewind to earlier this month:

My family had the pleasure of going down to Disney World for a vacation in early December.   I managed to sneak in a run, after my youngest child decided to wake up at 4:30 and then refuse to go back to sleep.  She usually likes hopping in the stroller and going for a run with me, so my spouse and I hoped that she would be game.  A mile or so in, however, she told me that she wanted to go back to the room.  So, back we went, and then I managed to sneak out again, this time without the stroller.  Needless to say I was slightly faster without it, though I missed having someone to talk to.


This blog post pretty much sums up the running paths at Port Orleans: http://blog.touringplans.com/2013/11/25/disney-world-running-resorts-port-orleans/

The only thing I feel like I should emphasize is that the surface is concrete and very hard, and full of pock marks, which didn't change the surface from a running perspective.  The pock marks in it are probably there to ensure traction when the path is wet, and to that end, they seemed to work well enough.  Everything was a bit damp with morning dew, but I really only felt myself slipping once, and that seemed to be due to the random landscaping liquid I had run through (pesticide, I think; it smelled like cloves).

On our first run, we only saw a couple of people out and about, but by the time I went out again, the sun was up, and there were dozens of people out.  There were a handful of people walking or running for exercise, but the majority of them were walking around with the drinking troughs provided with the meal plan, headed to breakfast, or dragging their luggage behind them on their way to catch their ride back home.

Well, that's about it for the run.  The kids enjoyed Disney well enough: our youngest loved meeting the princesses and other characters, and our oldest thoroughly enjoyed the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game.  As far as rides go, they really liked the flying carpet ride and Spaceship Earth.

Next stop... a frozen mountaintop.

15 December 2013

Zim Smith Trail - 15 Dec 2013

Ok, one more post and then we'll start going backwards.  This was my run today:

Looking back

It was 14º F, windy and snowing a light powdery snow that quickly swallowed my tracks.  The mouth area of my balaclava would get soaked from condensation when I pulled it up and then freeze solid when I pulled it back down again.  I'm not complaining, though.  I got out, did what I set out to do (5 miles) and headed back in to the warmth.

I made it over to Shenantaha Creek Park today (from Oak Street), and explored a bit around through there.  At the end of the gravel road I came across a small trail heading off in to the trees.  I followed it for a short while and then headed back.  Next time around I should have a little more leeway to explore it more.

That's all.  Back in to the TARDIS, all of you.

14 December 2013

Saratoga Sand Plains - 12 Dec 2013

The past few weeks have been quite stressful, and despite my best efforts the stress is starting to catch up with me.  Yesterday I decided to go for a quick (1 mile) run on my lunch break to try and get that stress under control.  It didn't really work, since I'm still stressed out, but I did get a chance to finish exploring the portion of the Sand Plains adjacent to Route 50.  The yellow (horse) trail is a 0.8 mile loop that takes the walker or runner around a mostly open field.  There's another loop possible to the south, which is about 0.9 miles; a runner can link the two of these together in a figure 8 or a big loop, if they so desire.

I don't think I've done a report on the Sand Plains yet, but they seem to be primarily the remains of old farms that are being allowed to return to wild growth.  There are a few trails available, and at least two trail heads with parking.  I've only parked off of Route 50, but there's a small parking lot off of Scout Road, too.  This land sits adjacent to the Camp Saratoga land, with the train tracks dividing the two.  I saw the tracks on my run this week, along the yellow trail.

This is what the view from the Route 50 lot looked like this week:
Saratoga Sand Plains

When you first walk in to the Sand Plains, you get a choice of right or left.  It basically works out to a loop, with a few junctions thrown in along the way.  If you go left, and walk to the first T, then look back, this is what you'll see.
Saratoga Sand Plains

If you go right at that junction, you'll end up on a spur trail that in theory goes over to Scout Road (though I haven't confirmed it yet).  If you go left, you'll immediately come to another junction, which is where the two loops come together (the squishy part of the figure 8).  Looking back from that junction, you see this:
No Horses

One final note of caution.  There are a few times during the year, generally between May and July, when you won't be able to move very fast along the trail, due to the plethora of tiny blue butterflies underfoot.
Karner Blue Butterflies

Karner Blue Butterflies
The Karner Blues were everywhere that day in July.  It was a challenge to walk without stepping on them, and a delight to be in their company.

That's about it.  I have several more reports to write, all older than this, so this blog is going to run backwards for a short while.  It'll be like we're in the TARDIS.  Except I'm not quite sure that I'm bigger on the inside...

09 November 2013

Zim Smith Trail - 3 Nov 2013

I'll forever have mixed feelings about this trail.  It was built on an old railroad bed, one of two abandoned railroads that defined my childhood exploration.  What was once a muddy, rutted highway to fun is now a paved trail to various destinations.  In a way, it feels like the trail has been paved over a piece of my childhood.  On the other hand, thanks to their efforts, the trail is now a National Recreation Trail, and should therefore have some permanence.

The other railroad bed, an abandoned trolley line, is now closed off.  It's a shame, really, since it was by far the more picturesque of the two.  I've heard that a piece of it has been reopened, and connected to the Zim Smith Trail, near where it crosses under the Northway.  I hope to check it out soon.  I have fond memories of wandering down that path with my brother: near the end, it gains a little bit of elevation, and provides wonderful views of the valley below.  Ok, so the valley was usually a swamp, and the horseflies and deer flies are atrocious out there, but it was fun, nevertheless.  There was also a small bit of water near the head of the track, where we could usually find crayfish, and another tiny pond at the other end, which, now that I think about it, was probably either a kettle hole or the remains of a septic system.  Nostalgia is funny like that.

I mention all of this in an effort to extend sympathy and understanding to the residents of Oak Street in Ballston Spa.  The newest section of the Zim Smith Trail terminates at the end of their (presumably) once quiet dead-end street.  The news articles mentioning the opening of the trail mention the increased traffic associated with the trail, which is understandable, though it should settle down to a steady state once the novelty factor is gone.  Shenantaha Creek Park and Round Lake Road both provide better parking areas and easier access, and should remain the more popular trail heads.

On the positive side, there is now a relatively car free trail running between Ballston Spa and Round Lake.  The trail is well engineered, makes use of an existing corridor, and provides excellent recreation and exercise opportunities.  The trail goes all the way from Oak Street in Ballston Spa to Coons Crossing Road in Halfmoon, a tiny stretch of road that runs between NY 67 and Ushers Road.  There are plans to extend the trail further, east into Mechanicville and north to Saratoga Spa State Park, which would be fantastic.  The county literature even describes the trail as being the backbone or spine of a trail system that will eventually run the length of the county.  There's some evidence of this already: the piece of trail I described, linking the railroad line to the trolley line, is intended to link the user up with trails over in Luther Forest.  That's another network I intend on checking out soon.  I just hope that some of this network gets left as dirt or grass instead of pavement.

At any rate, the Zim Smith Trail, as it stands at the end of 2013, is 9 miles of trail, running past a park (Shenantaha Creek Park) and a state forest (Ushers Road).  There's even a Stewart's along it, where it crosses East Line Road.  Access to Ushers Road State Forest is via a connector trail, and if you add in the ~2mi lollipop route through Ushers Road State Forest, you can get a 20 mile out and back run.

I'm not even close to the point where I'm doing a 20 mile long run, though.  My long run last weekend was 2.5 miles.  I set out from the Oak Street end, and intended on doing a 5 minute walking warm up, 1.25 out, 1.25 back, and then cool down with the walk back to my car.  It never works out the way I intend, though.  After half a mile, I spotted a carved mushroom over to the left, and knew that I had to stop to check it out.  I had seen several other carvings over on the Louden Road Trail and the Edie-Bullard Trail, and I remain intrigued by them.  So, I decided to run for another mile, and then turn around.  I ran past wetlands, past fields, over access roads, over a creek, and under a big road (NY 67) before finally turning around in the middle of an open field not far from Curtis Lumber and heading back.

To build fitness I decided to kick up my pace some on the final stretch, and I ran the last half mile at around a 9:32 (compared with 11:03 the first mile and 11:41 the second).  Of course, along the way I passed a painted rock that I desperately wanted to stop and take a picture of, but decided not to in the name of keeping my pace up.  It was, after all, why I was out there.  I finished up my 2.5 miles at the mushroom, took a few pictures, and started walking back.  I almost walked back to get a picture of the painted rock, but decided against it.  I'll get one next time.  There was a painting of a bear, in a style reminiscent of Native American artwork, along with other symbols.

Magic Mushroom
Magic Mushroom

The rest of the walk back was uneventful.  The entire time that I was out there I saw 3 other people, two walkers and one other runner.  This is in sharp contrast to the older sections of the trail, especially between Shenantaha and Round Lake, where you're likely to see a dozen or two people during any outing.

One final note: the main deer hunting season in the Southern Region of New York starts next weekend, November 16th, 2013, and runs until December 8th.  Please remember to wear orange, even on paved and open trails like the Zim Smith.  Please also remember that hunters can and do use the trail for access to private and public hunting areas along its length, and that they deserve the same courtesy and respect that any other trail user deserves.  In general, it is best to avoid State and County Forests during the main deer hunting season, for both safety reasons as well as respect for the hunter's sport.  It is also best not to be out in the woods during the early morning and early evening hours, since that is when most hunting takes place.

If you're looking for a place to explore in the Saratoga area during hunting season, I suggest Saratoga Spa State Park.  It's closed to hunters but has many miles of paved and unpaved trails waiting to be explored.  Also, any popular trail heading directly up a mountain is generally unappealing to hunters.

Be safe, have fun, and be excellent to each other!


02 November 2013

Five Mile Trail - Oct 2013

I mentioned in my previous post that I thought I had lost the Five Mile Trail between the Orenda and Hathorn pavilions, but after reviewing the map, I don't think this was the case.  The markers are definitely scarce right around there, though.

The map for this year's route is available on Saratoga Spa State Park's Facebook account:

Five Mile Trail

So, I think this draws the mystery to a close.  The Five Mile Trail was created for this race, and after reviewing other posts on the park's Facebook page, it looks like the route has changed over the years, which explains why the are legacy markers scattered here and there.

There's a certain temptation for me to enter the race this Sunday: I really enjoy this trail, and it would be fun to run it in a race setting.  Hopefully I'll be fully operational next year.

01 November 2013

Pause. Resume. Let's roll.

It has been several months since my last post, and I've got quite a bit to catch up on, so let's get to it.

The lump on my tendon is nearly gone: at times I can't find it, and at other times it's about the size of a mosquito bite.  I made the decision a couple of weeks ago to temporarily switch back to shoes with a higher heel drop, and it has made a significant difference.  Today, I wore my zero-drop Trail Gloves around the office, and I could feel soreness in my tendon just from the small amount of walking I had done.  So, I'll take that as a sign that I need to keep wearing the higher lift shoes for a while, and work on slowly re-transitioning back down to zero-drop.

To that end, I have also picked up a few new pairs of running shoes; the lovely folks down at Fleet Feet were able to get me set up with a pair for the road and a pair for the trail.  I'll have more on those shoes once I've had enough time to really get to know them.

I also have been exploring various reserves and trails around the area, and I have a few posts that I want to write regarding these opportunities.  Along those lines, it looks like the Five Mile Trail is used for the Fall Back Five race, happening this weekend at Saratoga Spa State Park.  The start and end of the trail is on the green near the Hall of Springs and the Little Theater, respectively, and the rest of the trail is generally how I had laid it out.  It does flow counter clockwise, which is not the way I had it going.  I followed the trail a bit on my weekend run last Saturday, and shortly after turning left past the land bridge between the Orenda and Hathorn pavilions, the markers disappeared.  Specifically, they disappeared between the gravel road that links the picnic area and the Hathorn pavilion.  I knew where the trail would be, so I was able to pick it up again, but I got the impression that I wasn't supposed to take the left onto the marked segment: the trail was intended to continue on to the Hathorn pavilion.  There were parties at both pavilions so I didn't linger to investigate the matter further, but I will in the future.

Five Mile Trail
Five Mile Trail, Saratoga Spa State Park

I also have several mountain hikes to describe, including a trip up Mt. Equinox in August.  What a strange experience that was.  It was nothing at all like what I had expected.  The Taconics are truly an interesting range.  Let's just say that the woods are lovely, dark, deep, and most definitely possessed.

One final note: make sure you're wearing orange out there!  Regular deer hunting season is in full swing in the Northern Zone (in the Saratoga area that means north of Route 29).  The Southern Zone opens on November 16th this year, and both zones run until December 8th.  Details are here, http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/65231.html, and please be respectful to everyone you meet out there.

13 July 2013

Reflections on Footwear, Part 2: Insufficient Data, Experimentation

After reviewing my previous post, it occurred to me that I really don't have enough data on barefoot hiking to draw any conclusions on its effects on erosion.  While I would consider myself to be a somewhat experienced hiker, I haven't logged enough miles without shoes to really comment on it.  I've logged 70 miles on trail and 45 off trail with minimalist shoes since September of last year, but I've only logged 8 miles on trail and 5 off trail while barefoot, since May of this year.  By comparison, I logged about 90 on trail / 105 off trail miles in traditional boots, shoes, and sneakers last year, and 30 on / 60 off this year, before I gave them up.  So, basically, what I'm saying is that I don't know anything about barefoot hiking.  I'm working on that, though.

Three weeks ago I decided to see if it was possible to just give up footwear entirely.  All of my shoes were hurting me, in one way or another, and I was getting frustrated.  It has been an extremely interesting transition.  When I first started walking around barefoot outside, the thing that worried me and hurt the most was hot asphalt: the black material collects the heat of the sun and can get quite hot.  After dealing with it day-after-day for a short while, asphalt generally just feels warm now, although occasionally it's still hotter than I can handle.  (Interestingly enough, it retains the heat of the sun long into the night, so that even on a cool night, the asphalt can still be warm.  Excellent.)

It hasn't been an entirely positive experience, however.  Carpet, of all things, has been giving me problems.  My skin doesn't tolerate polyester very well, and it seems that most of the carpeting that I walk upon contains polyester fibers.  My skin tends to get irritated when I'm in contact with it for any length of time, and after a while it starts to get physically damaged.  Last winter I tried out SmartWool's touchscreen-compatible gloves, which have a polyester-and-unspecified-metal material on the tip of the thumb and first finger of each glove.  Despite it only being a small amount of fabric, and despite the fact that they were only my hands for a short while each day, I still developed cracked and irritated skin in the area where the polyester was.  So I suppose it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that polyester carpet would irritate my skin, and the edge of my heel would get cracked from being in contact with it so much.

Before going barefoot, I had noticed a few times that my feet would get irritated on the carpet at home.  Now I find myself looking for any opportunity to get my feet up off of the carpet.  There (apparently) is polyester carpet all over the place: on the floor at work, on the floor at home, and even in the floor of my car.  I think that in the past I was subconsciously avoiding being barefoot on the carpets around the house.  I would prefer to stand on the linoleum-covered areas, or the one nylon carpeted room that we have (the only carpet that we've had to replace so far), or I would have socks on.  This is just conjecture, of course, but it seems to be true when I think about it.

So where does that leave me? I'm not entirely sure. I really enjoy walking around barefoot. It's amazing how much sensory information we ignore while in shoes: the ground offers a variety of textures, temperatures and resistance, and very little of it gets through our shoes, even minimal ones. I feel a psychological benefit, as well, in that I feel very happy while walking barefoot. It's hard to say if that's a short-lived, novelty-of-the-moment happiness, or something more.  That happiness is diminished, regardless, by the irritation of polyester underfoot.

I'll figure out some compromise soon, I'm sure, or my soles will adapt like they did to asphalt.  It remains to be seen.

Until next time, "be excellent to each other."

13 June 2013

Reflections on Minimalist and Imaginary Footwear, Part 1: Erosion

... so think positively and do not let the shod see you wincing.
- Richard Keith Frazine, B.D., The Barefoot Hiker
I have logged over 110 miles in minimalist footwear since last Fall, split up between running and walking, over a variety of terrain.  I have also logged 6 whole miles without any footwear whatsoever over the last month.  My imaginary footwear, if you will.  What follows are my observations and reflections on this experience.  This will be broken up into several posts, with each post focusing on a theme.  Today's theme is erosion.

This past weekend I had the pleasure to go off and hike one of the Adirondack 46rs.  While the majority of the peaks are still under a voluntary closure, due to the trails being sodden, a few are on the "OK" list, including Big Slide, which I hiked up with four companions: two humans and two canines.  I did this trip in a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, specifically a pair of Bikila LSs, and this was my second time hiking up a mountain in this pair of shoes.  Their intended purpose is for running, but I have found them adequately suited for hiking.

There was a bit of mental tennis about going out and doing it barefoot, but Mr. Frazine convinced me, through the book quoted at the top of this piece, that this would be a very bad idea for a first barefoot hike.  I did get out yesterday to do a shorter hike in my bare feet, over relatively flat terrain.  Yesterday's hike was over well-drained, sandy ground, so some of what follows is necessarily hypothetical and not empirical.  I have never walked through six or more inches of blackened standing water in my bare feet, and I have no intention of ever doing so.

I would like to address one of the stated reasons for wearing minimalist footwear on the trail, which is to reduce damage.  The idea is that you are stepping with less force, in footwear that weighs less than a traditional boot, and therefore you are damaging the trail less.  This was mentioned in The Barefoot Hiker in Chapter 4, although he also talks about damage to grasses or other plants, which does not come in to this piece.  I am talking strictly about well-established hiking trails here.

I understand the concept, that wearing less on your foot would reduce erosion, but until a controlled study has been done, we're only left with empirical evidence.  The only thing that comes close to a study of this that I am aware of, is the Leave No Trace pratice of always walking through muddy areas, which has been shown to strengthen trails and reduce damage.

Here are my thoughts and observations:
  1. Over dry ground, I do not see a difference between the various forms of footwear, or lack thereof.
  2. When the ground is damp, I do see a difference.  Minimalist footwear or bare feet will often leave only a slight impession, whereas a boot will often leave a deeper impression.  So, over slightly wet terrain, I agree with the hypothesis.
  3. When there is standing mud, this becomes less true.  The minimalist or barefoot hiker must will themselves to step into the mud of unknown depth.  This does get easier over time, but I found it to be a constant effort.  In boots, an inch of mud is no problem, whatsoever.  It doesn't even touch the upper.  A few inches of mud is generally not a problem, either, and it only ever really becomes a problem when the boot is submerged past the lowest point of entry (usually the top of the boot, but occasionally the tongue, in a poorly constructed boot).  In minimalist footwear, an inch of mud will soak your foot.   When barefoot, you run the risk of stepping on something hidden in the mud, and so must take great caution.  The natural tendency in minimalist or imaginary footwear is therefore to avoid the mud, and to walk on (and therefore erode) the edge of the trail.  This tendency can be overcome, but it takes willpower.
  4. When this mud gives way to deep pools of standing water, I feel that the barefoot hiker is at a loss.  Unlike a stream which can generally be peered into, the mud puddle is impossible to penetrate with the eyes, and the water itself must be avoided, regardless of the footwear.  This is especially true for the barefoot hiker, for whom the pool provides almost certain danger, in the form of unseen sharp objects and a large supply of microorganisms feeding off of the decaying material.  This is further complicated by the fact that the dead wood and slimy rocks that we walk along to traverse these deep pools are, well, slimy.  It's easy to fall off of them.  I would not want to risk this while barefoot.  I would go around.  At least in the minimalist footwear, I can accept a slightly higher risk factor, and balance along the logs and rocks placed haphazardly in the mud.  I still do not want to fall in, since I could still suffer a puncture wound.  In boots it becomes much less of an issue.  The worst that will happen is that your foot might get wet if you fall in.
  5. Finally, continuing the empirical evidence, in my experience over the weekend, I found that I displaced as much mud in the deeply muddy sections as my boot-shod companions.  Every time I watched them walk through a muddy section that was several inches deep, and then watched myself walk through it, the mud displacement was very similar.  Granted, I weigh slightly more than they do, so it would be good to repeat the observations with someone who weighs the same as I do; preferably someone who weighs the same when gear and clothing is taken into consideration.
So, in conclusion, on this first point, I do not see minimalist footwear or bare feet causing any less erosion on the most sensitive terrain I have encountered: muddy trails.  The weight of the user is far more important than the style of footwear.   I would love to see this disproven or confirmed through repeatable tests, but in the meantime, all I can do is observe.  I would also advise hikers and runners to look for and respect voluntary trail closures, to help keep the trails in the best shape possible.

P.S. On a personal note, I will say that I enjoyed walking through the mud and streams.  I alternated between rock hopping and simply walking straight through the muddy sections, and found that I preferred just walking through them.  Yes, my feet were sodden by the end of the hike, but I had already anticipated this, and had a towel and a clean pair of sandals waiting for me in the car.  The rock hopping was actually more painful in the Bikilas than it is in boots, presumably because of the extra impact on the ball of my foot.  The streams felt refreshing, and it was interesting to see how much of the mud would be scrubbed off by the action of the water alone on each iteration.  While I expected them to be wiped clean every time, a decent amount of mud remained after a few seconds in the running water.

Well, that's it.  Until next time, "be excellent to each other..."

28 May 2013

Spruce Mountain - 25 May 2013

I have had a bad, bad case of wanderlust for the past few weeks, and this weekend I finally got to satisfy a small chunk of that.  For the most part, I have spent this year on level ground, working on cardio fitness and overall training.  It has been fantastic, and while I feel great and have had some wonderful experiences, it’s time to get some elevation.


I also needed to test out my gear, since I am pushing myself to transition fully into minimalist footwear.  Since, I knew that none of the shoes I have are waterproof, I wanted to know how bad it would really be.  Saturday looked like the best bet, and when the opportunity presented itself that afternoon, I geared up quickly and headed out.  The day was cold and rainy, so I stopped at the Stewart's in Greenfield Center to get some coffee.  I was at the trailhead by 15:15, and headed up the trail by 15:20.

The trail itself is comprised primarily of multiple logging roads with a few single track segments thrown in to keep you guessing.  There are very few markers, and some of the markers that do exist lie boldly to your face.  “The trail goes this way!,” they whisper, knowing full well that no one believes them.  Only an idiot would choose to blunder out the door without at least reading the trail description one more time, so as to be forewarned about these myriad follies.

I am that idiot.

And I stumbled through myriad follies.

I managed to guess correctly at the first junction, based on a trail marker that consisted of the remnants of a piece of paper stapled to a tree.  I wish I was joking.  When I arrived at the point where trail cuts back on to private land, I wasn’t convinced that I was supposed to proceed across the private land, and instead followed what appeared to be a trail that went off on the public side of the property line.  That turned out to only be a herd path, going nowhere, fast.

Backtracking, I started to head back down the trail, looking for an unmarked junction that I must have missed.  Eventually I gave up and consulted my phone; I confirmed that the trail did, in fact, still proceed over private land.  Eventually the trail dwindled down to a grassy old woods road with a single track running through it.  To keep up the excitement, it disappeared briefly right near a junction.  To the left, I could see a woods road that was still in use, based on its condition.  To the right, I could see the grassy remains of a wood road, with a broken single track pretending to wander down it as it had down the previous lane.  After a minute or two of Pooh-ish pondering, I headed up the right-hand track, which turned out to be the correct route.  Eventually I saw a few cairns marking the path, and knew I was on the correct course at last.

The excitement was short-lived.

After the grassy section, the trail heads into the woods again, following a stream up the mountain.  I stopped and took several pictures of the first honest marker I had seen that day: a white Saratoga PLAN marker.  As the trail proceeded upwards, the stream got wider and wider, until there was no distinction between the two.  This was good for my LNT training, since it gave me ample opportunity to walk through the wet sections.

Not far up the trail, I came to a proper pond, the size of any respectable kiddy pool.  To the left, just a short way up, I could see a Saratoga PLAN marker.  I waded up, only to find that I was quite literally walking up a stream.  There was no sign of a trail at all, except for the markers on the trees that told me I was heading in the right direction.

They lied.

This was the abandoned side trail that the ADK Guide Book authors had warned me about.  Once again my decision to not give the guide book a proper read came back to haunt me.  I blundered onward, and came out to an old woods road, which I would have been able to follow had I gone straight at the kiddy pool instead of angling to the left.

C’est la vie.

The rest of the trek was uneventful, aside from losing the trail several times over the next quarter mile.  Eventually I came to realize that the trail just kept splitting and rejoining itself, and that it didn’t really matter.

By 4:30 I was standing on the summit.  I took a few pictures, had a snack, and then headed over to check out the fire tower.  Right next to the fire tower was an interesting looking pool.  It wasn’t immediately obvious what was feeding it, but it seemed to fall away at the far end.

Summit Marker

As for the descent, well, the service road that went back down to where I had parked loomed right behind the fire tower.  The wind had picked up, and it was still raining, so I opted for the easier route down.  Down I went.

The road leads past several buildings and numerous side roads. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the road and the surrounding land was how open it was, often with grassy fields on the side.  At one point, I came to a junction with a map and several signs sitting on one side of the field.  Walking over, my first thought was that it was some kind of promotional sign, but it turned out to be a map for snowmobilers.  The map showed where the user was, and the trail network in general. There was also a junction sign on the other side of the clearing, similar to what you would find on a hiking trail.  To top it all off, there were route markers (corridor 8) and real, reflective trail markers leading off into the woods.

Near the bottom I passed one soul enjoying his or her (or their) cabin.  I realized that that was the first sign of another person that I had seen on this hike.  A few minutes later, I was back at my car.  I cranked up the heat, downed the rest of my coffee, and headed on my way.

This trail crossed private land, so I’d just like to say “thank you” to everyone who opened up their land for us hikers to enjoy.  Thanks!

P.S.  I realized while I was posting this that I forgot to describe how the shoes did on the hike.  I intend on writing a full post on this in the future, but for now, here's what I wrote on the Flickr picture, which I think sums it up:
So, this was my first hike up a mountain wearing VFFs.  They did very well, in terms of traction, but this particular model (Bikila LS) has no water resistance at all.  They breathe really well, which works on warm days, but doesn't work so well on wet ones.  Especially not trails that have been turned into streams by the May rains.

So, I'm looking in to my options.  There are a few water-resistant models (no GoreTex, though). There's always wax/oil, as well.

Despite the permeability issues, I had no blisters after the hike, which is the main reason why I transitioned into them: to reduce blisters caused by my feet getting crushed inside traditional boots.

One other positive aspect is how well they flex; on several occasions I felt more of my foot go against a slanted or rounded surface than would have made contact if I was wearing a traditional boot.  This extra traction was a plus, and I can't wait to see how they perform on more difficult hikes.
Thanks for reading!  Until next time: "be excellent to each other!"

25 May 2013

Slide Mt - 30 Mar 2013

Ken and I set out from his house around 9:00, and made our way down and around to the trailhead on the west side of Slide Mountain.  We made it to the trailhead by 10:25, and by 10:40 we were on our way.  We opted to hike using micro-spikes instead of snowshoes; the trail was hard packed, and we figured that we would switch whenever we hit softer snow.  The first stretch of trail stays mostly level for a little while, and then it starts to climb up, at a steeper grade, to meet an old woods road.  We were on the road by 11:00, and 10 minutes later we were at the next junction, which would take us up to the summit.

The trail was still incredibly hard packed, so we continued on in our spikes.  It was mostly flat along the woods road, and then beyond, but it wouldn’t last forever.  After a few stream crossings the trail started to climb again.  Through this stretch we met a few people, including the requisite man-twice-our-age-and-in-better-shape.  We were also passed by a guy and his dog who was trail running; it wasn’t obvious until he passed us on the way down, though.  On the way up, at least where we saw him, he was hiking fast.

Around this time the trees started to shift from mostly deciduous to mostly evergreen.  To our right, we could see a valley, and on the other side of the valley was another of Slide Mountain’s shoulders.  As we ascended, the grade started to ease off slightly, and we found ourselves at a hard left turn in the trail.  A short distance later, and a hard right turn, and we were on the ridge that we would follow to the summit. It was wide, relatively flat, and offered decent-to-excellent views at select spots along the way, always on the left (north).

At one point, we stopped and took a measure of the snow depth with Ken’s walking stick.  It was somewhere between 2’ and 3’ (I know, very accurate).  I couldn’t believe it.  The snow on the packed trail didn’t move underfoot when we walked on it, and when I jammed my trekking pole into the snow beside the trail, it barely went in a foot.  Yet, the snow itself was actually well over two feet deep.

That snow depth explained how tight the foliage around the trail was, though.  At times we had to duck quite low under the partial blowdown that was ubiquitous up here.  I could imagine how fierce the wind must be up here at times, since it’s the highest point around by several hundred feet.  There was a section of heavy blowdown at one point, off to the right, possibly the remains of the eponymous slide.

We got to the summit itself at 12:40.  The only way that you can tell is that the trail ahead starts to go down instead of going up or staying on the level.  There was no view at the summit, but a short distance down the trail there’s an open area where a couple of other groups were stopping to lunch.  We could see Wittenberg and Cornell, and a bit of the Ashokan Reservoir, and the landscape beyond, but trees blocked the majority of the view.

The best view, by far, was actually seen five minutes before we got to the summit.  We were standing near the top of the col between two of Slide’s shoulders; the one that goes roughly north toward Panther and Giant Ledge was on our left, visible but unobtrusive.  The whole of the Catskills were laid out before us.  Panther was visible, over the shoulder, and peak after peak after peak stretched out before us.  I could even make out a bit of the Blackhead range, way off in the distance.  What struck me the most was how level the tops of the peaks looked.  For the first time, the geological history of the Catskills really settled in to my mind.  I could see the plateau that had once been here, before it eroded away to form these mountains.  In many ways, the plateau still exists, in the peaks of these summits.

The Blackhead Range

Lunch was relatively uneventful, aside from my ever continuing experiments on hiking food.  I decided to bring a can of tuna, and eat it on some rice crackers.  I had gotten the idea from my friend Justin, who often brings a can of sardines with him for lunch.  The tuna worked out well enough, but it didn’t sit as well in my stomach as I would have liked.  The granola that I had made the night before did, however, and that will be accompanying me on future hikes.

At around 13:20 we started heading back down, and an hour later, we were back at the trailhead.  The descent was uneventful, aside from slipping a few times.  Oh, and the couple headed up whose gear consisted of a cloth shopping bag.  At least they’ve got the “going lightly” bit mastered.

On our way back, we took a slightly different route, and ended up going right past Hunter mountain, the second highest Catskill peak.  The snow in the valley had completely melted, but there was still plenty of snow on the mountain itself, and it was a warm day.  We saw a few skiers getting in their last runs of the season, taking advantage of the nice weather.  In a way, it paralleled our own hike.  This would be our last snow-enhanced trip until next winter, and we were completely taking advantage of the mixture of warmer weather and snowy terrain.  All-in-all, I had fun.

08 May 2013

Five Mile Trail - 04 May 2013

This isn't exactly a trip report; more of a trail description.  After three full passes, and several shorter forays, I'm comfortable writing up a trail description for the Five Mile Trail at Saratoga Springs State Park.  I'm sure that I've made mistakes, and potentially omitted sections, so please consider this a work in progress.  The tag "Five Mile Trail" should take you to the latest trail description, if I decide to update it in the future.  I also plan on making a GPX file of the route available, once I've got a clean one.

Five Mile Trail

This route may have been originally designated as a racing trail and may still be used today.  I haven't been able to dig up anything definitive with my (very) limited searches to date, but there are references to five mile races being held at Saratoga Springs State Park (which could have been held along any number of roads or trails).

At any rate, without any further chitter chatter, here's version 1.1.

Five Mile Trail
Saratoga Springs State Park
Doug Harple, 8 May 2013, v1.1

These directions describe the route from the Orenda Pavilion.  Due to reservations at this pavilion, it may be easier to park near the Hathorn Spring #3, or near the Roosevelt Baths.  Both parking areas lie along the trail itself.  It is also possible to pick up the trail at numerous points from the picnic area near the Geyser pavilion.

The marking along this trail is occasionally sporadic, so it is important for the user to keep their eyes open.  The trail starts and ends at the grassy area near the Orenda pavilion.  Look for a pair of yellow "Five Mile Trail" signs near the head of the pavilion, and follow those into the woods.  The trail quickly descends down almost to the paved walkway before climbing back up to the level of the pavilion.  Poison ivy grows freely in these woods, and thickets of it have been observed in this area during the summer and fall.

The trail follows the pavilion green momentarily, and then heads back down again.  Keep your eyes open for signs in this area.  After a short distance, the trail makes its way down to the paved walkway.  Continue left, toward SPAC, past the Orenda spring, and under the SPAC walkway.  Head down the stairs, and then continue along the Vale of Springs trail back toward the Island Spouter.  The portion of this trail that crosses the runoff from the Orenda spring is always wet, and will leave a mineral residue on your footwear and/or feet.  Once past the Island Spouter, head left along the road and then take another left as the trail once again heads off into the woods.  Climb up to the SPAC fence, head right along the fence, and then head right once again across the Roosevelt Bath's parking lot.  Watch for markers, as there are a number of trails in this area.

From here there appear to be two possible routes.

I am describing the main route as the main route only because there is a mileage marker along this route.  It could very well be that someone stole the arrow marking the route, and that the alternate route is the correct route.  They could have also moved the 1 mile marker sign.

Main route: Follow the trail toward and past the Ferndell pavilion.  After a small open area, continue along in the same direction, toward a yellow sign that looks slightly different.  This is the 1 mile marker.  Follow the obvious path as it swings around and then heads over to the Ferndell parking lot.  As it approaches the parking lot, look for a trail heading slightly to the right, and run along side the road before heading to the right again.

Alternate route: As you approach the Ferndell pavilion, a marked FMT path to the left leads off just past another trail coming in from the right.  The turn is not marked.  Follow this to the road that leads to the Baths, and head right, through the grassy area, running parallel to the road.  Find the marked FMT trail markers on the other side of the grassy area, and follow them through a criss-crossing network of trails.  Head left once you get to the Ferndell parking area, and then take an immediate right.

Which ever route you took, you should now be running along side the North-South Road.  Avoid the trail going down and to the right, and take the second right, heading off into the woods, but more on the level.  Follow the well marked path through the woods, staying at roughly the same elevation now.  The trail loops around the cliffs above the picnic area as it makes its way over to the Columbia pavilion's parking area.  After a hard right, the trail immediately ducks away to the left, at a 45 degree angle.  Look up to find the signs.  Follow this well-marked section as it makes its way around the Columbia pavilion.  Watch out for a hard left that can be easy to miss.  A 1.75 mile marker is found in this area.  After a short while, the trail comes to an open field.  Head straight across, then down a short hill, and around a bend.  Cross over a small culvert, and make your way toward the road to cross the creek.  Watch out for traffic, as you have to actually walk on the active road for part of this crossing.

On the other side of the bridge, head right along a wide, grassy lane.  The 2 mile marker is found on the right along the creek.  This is the last mile marker on the course.  The trail heads gently to the left as it prepares to cross the road at a crosswalk, then follows the creek briefly.  Take the first obvious left, toward the Karista pavilion, and then head left again when possible, to pick up the trails heading up the cliff.  Follow the signs to get to the top.

Once you have reached the top, head generally to the left, following the row of trees, and make your way around the massive field.  This is a picnic area around the Peerless Pool.  The trail is mostly unmarked at this point, but follows the edge of the woods.  Avoid the trails leading back down the cliff, and instead follow the edge of the woods until you come to a squared off clearing.  Diagonally across the clearing is a trail that leads through a small strip of woods.  Once through the woods, head directly across the grassy area and make for a small stand of birches at the far end of the grassy area, directly ahead.  You will be walking parallel to the East-West Road at this point.  After crossing over the two access roads for the Peerless Pool, start looking for the trail.  The trail heads through the woods now, making a left as it goes to cross the East-West Road.

The trail now merges with the blue-marked Wetlands Overlook trail.  Follow the blue markers around a swampy area until you find yourself at a junction with a very wide grassy lane.  Head left along this lane, then take the next right to pick up the blue blazes once more.  Follow this trail, passing by the park fence and the wetlands overlook, before crossing over a small bridge that meets up with the same grassy lane.  Continue moving in the same direction, heading toward the road that's visible in the distance.  Cross this road, making for the paved walkway on the other side, and pick up the trail as it heads diagonally off into the woods once again.

As of 2013, this section has had recent improvements, and much of this next stretch is gravel.  The trail crosses the picnic road and then heads left at a T-junction.  A short distance later it heads left again, running through an occasionally wet area before crossing a walkway and ducking back into the woods around the Peerless Pool.  Take a left at the next T-junction, and then a short distance later head right.  At the junction with the gravel road, go right, and start looking for a marked trail heading off to the left, about 20' down the road.  Follow this for a short distance, before coming to another junction.  Go right at this junction, following the wide dirt lane as it crosses high above a stream and then crosses the picnic road once again.  Head right, following the signs, and find yourself once again standing at the Orenda pavilion's green.

So, that was my first attempt at a trail description.  This trail weaves in and out of the park, using many other paths for its route, and can be quite confusing at times.  My first attempt at following this trail was a dismal failure, but my second attempt was much better.  That left several questions unanswered though, so I headed out for this third trip to try and solve them.  Aside from figuring out what is going on near the Ferndell pavilion, I think I have it worked out.  I used the mile markers to figure out that the most likely starting and stopping point is at the Orenda pavilion, which aligns with my theory about this being a racing trail, since you would need an open area to stage the start and end of the race.

At any rate, as always, I welcome any comments, suggestions, or even the occasional "hey, idiot, the official trail description is over here".

07 May 2013

Resetting Keyboard Shortcuts in GNOME 3

  1. Run dconf-editor.  You can do this by opening a terminal and typing "dconf-editor" and hitting enter, or by searching for an app called "dconf Editor".
  2. Navigate to: org -> gnome -> desktop -> wm -> keybindings.  You may see this written as "org.gnome.desktop.wm.keybindings", which means the same thing.
  3. Scroll through the list on the right.  Any settings in bold have been changed.
  4. For each changed setting, click first on the setting, so that it's highlighted, and then click "Set to Default".
  5. Rinse, lather, repeat.
  6. Once you are done with that, you should also check org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.power, and org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.media-keys.

Thanks to this help page for pointing me in the correct direction!

20 April 2013

Virtual 5K Trail Race at Camp Saratoga - 20 Apr 2013

I had been looking for something to do to support the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing, when I came across a decent-sized list on Runners World.  One of the things that caught my eye was a virtual 5K race hosted by NYCRUNS (https://nycruns.com/races/?race=runners-for-relief-a-virtual-5k-supporting-boston-marathon-bombing-victims).  I decided to go for it.  The money would go to the Boston One Fund, and it would give me something to focus on beyond the death and devastation so close to my home.  Again.

Mind you, this was my first race.  Ever.  I knew there was a marked course over at Camp Saratoga, as I had run it a few times before (and gotten off-course almost every time).  There's a loop near the beginning, and both of the junctions can be confusing if you don't have your wits about you.  There's also a hard right turn right after the only road crossing that's easy to miss if you're not paying attention.

Fortunately, today I did have my wits about me, and I stayed on course.  I wasn't entirely sure where the course ended, but I knew from a picture on one of the sites associated with the course that it ended somewhere on the parade ground.  So, I guessed.  I had intended on stopping at the posts that used to hold a volleyball net, but I ended up running to the hanging grills instead.

The course itself is hilly, with a few steep ones at the very beginning that almost always have me walking as fast as I can (which today felt faster than normal).  After that the course goes up and down a bit, with one climb just past the second junction of the loop that also had me speed walking (actually I think trail runners are supposed to call it "power hiking" or something like that).  Anyway, I made decent time through most of the course, keeping my pace roughly between 11:00 and 12:00 (my intended range, and the range that I had decent success with last weekend).  As I got into the last kilometer, on the hilliest and most treacherous part of the course, I pushed a bit harder, and started running up the hills.  At the end I was watching the watch, trying to figure out where the end of the course was supposed to be.

I should probably explain that last bit: the course is marked with white markers that say "5K".  There's one bit of trail that appears to have been added specifically for the racing route, and the rest of it follows the roads that we used to use to walk and drive around Camp Saratoga when it was still a Boy Scout camp.  On the last section, the 5K route dives down to a single track hiking trail that runs beside Delegan Pond that used to serve a few of the campsites.  It rushes past the cabins, bends left around the pond, crosses the dam, and then exits out onto the parade ground.  After that, it isn't marked.  So, I guessed.

I crossed the "finish line" at around 36:09, giving me a pace of 11:34 for the course, which the GPS measured at 3.13 miles (a hair over 5K, but GPSs aren't always accurate).  After that I went for a walk to cool down.



Most interesting of all, for me, was the psychological aspect of this.  I wasn't racing against anyone, and yet I was, in a sense, since a winner will be chosen from the entrants into the race.  While I was eating my lunch beforehand, and getting my gear together, I noticed that I was visibly shaking.  I managed to calm myself down some, but I was definitely still in a competitive mood / mode.  The psychological aspects continued on the trail, as well.  After the first mile I felt like I was moving at a snail's pace on the trails, despite the fact that I was running the entire time (minus the few short hills), and generally moving very well given where I'm at, physically.  I know that I could have run faster, but I also knew that if I ran too fast, I would end up having to walk a lot, which would throw off my overall pace.

Anyway, this event was also a chance for me to try out fueling a bit.  The short of it is:

Swedish Fish: bad.  Too big and too chewy.  Hard to chew and swallow while running.  The smaller ones might be OK, but I think I'm going to try out other options.

Fruit leather: possibly good.  I brought two along but didn't eat them until I was done.  They were OK to eat then, though I did notice that the wrapper has to go immediately into a baggie.  Stowing it in a pocket is just asking for trouble, due to the inside of the wrapper being insanely sticky.

I hadn't intended on fueling at all until around mile 2, so that I would have an extra kick on the last bit.  Around mile 1, however, I started feeling sluggish, so I opted to fuel early.  I had intentionally gone the sugary route since I knew that anything complex just wouldn't be useful on such a short course.  It worked, I guess, but I still have a lot to learn about fueling.  I'd rather not fuel at all on these short courses, but after last week's run I've realized that I need to pay more attention to it, and figure it out.

Also, my lumbar pack was a bit big for a race.  It's great for general trail running, since it'll hold a lot of gear, but when it comes to a race, which is generally supported, I think something lighter would be better.  Maybe just a water bottle and something to hold a few essentials.

Finally, while the race was fun, but I can't help thinking about everyone who was injured or killed during this past week.  Especially the poor guy who had both of his legs blown off and shown for the world to see, Jeff Bauman, and the victims killed outright by the blast: Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, and Krystle Campbell.  Even for those not physically injured, I know that the psychological injuries can cut just as deep, and take just as long to heal, if they ever do.  To anyone and everyone affected by this, my heart goes out to you.  It was such a senseless, horrifying, and despicable act.

16 April 2013

Searching For Answers

My heart and my thoughts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and their families.  For those who were not wounding physically, I know that that psychological scars cut just as deep, and you are in my thoughts and my heart as well.  It is a senseless tragedy.

I had intended today's post to be a trip report, or rather a series of reports.  I had an excellent run on Sunday, and found that I was at a fitness level that I hadn't realized I was at.  I also have several older trip reports to catch up on.

Most of them will have to wait.  Probably indefinitely.  I'll relate portions of two reports in this post, and that'll be enough for now.

One of the things that pushed me on Sunday, and especially on an impromptu run a week before, was grief.  Last Saturday, April 6th, marked the 35th birthday of my friend Suzy Lyall, who disappeared 15 years ago, on March 2nd, 1998.  All these years later, I still invariably get hit with what feels like a ton of bricks on one or both of those dates, and this year was no exception.  I was in a funk all day, despite having taken measures to avoid it.  A few years ago, I lined up a chronological playlist of her favorite band, RUSH, in iTunes, and used it as a mechanism for channeling and focusing the grief and the rage.  I had started a traverse through that playlist on Friday, but it still wasn't enough.  I was barely functioning, though I couldn't see it.  My wife had told me to go take a drive, go for a run, anything to clear my head, but I was so far gone that I resisted, insisting that I was fine.

Eventually I went out.  I headed to Target to get a chocolate bar for dinner.  (Dinner of champions, I know.  There are very few chocolates left that I can eat without getting sick, and Target sells one of them.)  It was something to do and it got me out.  When I got back to my car, I broke down.  I don't know how long I sat there, texting my wife while tears were rolling down my face, but I eventually snapped out of it long enough to come to a clear decision: go run.

I drove over to Camp Saratoga, and ran.  The park was closing soon, I was in street clothes, my pants were falling down, and my hiking shoes hurt my feet, but I ran.  I picked up some of the older pathways, just faint herd paths now, and crossed some decaying bridges that had been pivotal in my younger days as a Boy Scout.  In effect, I ran into the past, the distant past, to a time when I still had a naive world view.

It helped.  A lot.

Fast forward a week, and Sunday rolls around.  I had a chance to go for a run, so I did.  I built upon the catharsis from last week, channeled that grief and rage, and anger, and confusion, and pain, and ran.  I thought about Paula Barton Viesturs' comment to her mountaineer husband, Ed, after the deaths of Rob Hall, Scott Fisher, and so many others, and "(ran) like I have never (run) before".  Before the snows hit, I hadn't been able to run for longer than a mile before my body screamed for a break.  When I was running on the snow, I could last for... 90 seconds... before I had to shut down and switch to walking.  On Sunday, I set a good pace, and ran for a good 42 minutes at a 12:00 pace for 3.5 miles before I took my first walking break. I know it's nothing to write home about, but it was a major step forward for me.

I was also running in and out of my history here as well, at Saratoga Spa State Park.  At one point I ran down an old road and suddenly was faced with the backside of a view that I had seen many times before in the 90s, when a few friends and I had come here to cook out, including Suzy.

So, the theme for today's post / trip report was supposed to be about these runs, about finding relief, and channeling grief into something productive.  There's a lot more to the story that I think needs to be told.

Instead I'm sitting here, dumbstruck, wondering why some idiot or idiots would choose to (apparently) detonate bombs or IEDs in the middle of people waiting for runners in the Boston Marathon.  I don't understand the increase in violence that has occurred over the past year or so.  Mass killings are becoming a regular occurrence in this country.  I don't understand what makes a man walk into a movie theater and start firing, or a school, for gods' sake, and start shooting elementary school children.  I don't understand how someone can willingly bomb crowds of innocent people, here in the USA, or abroad.  It doesn't make any sense.

I also don't understand how so many people disappear each year.  So, I'm still sitting here, searching for answers, for today and for yesterday.  Perhaps I always will be.  The only conclusion I can come to is that we have to live our lives to the fullest, because you never know what will happen tomorrow.

18 March 2013

Pharaoh Lakes Wilderness - 9 Mar 2013

(This is from the weekend before last.  I've got a few more runs to write up, hopefully soon.)

I had a chance to go hiking on Saturday with Ken, but the snow wouldn't have been ideal for the gear that we have, so we opted to pursue our individual sports.  He went for a bike ride on Sunday, and I went for a run on Saturday.  I had initially decided to go for a run on the east side of Lake George, out of Dacy Clearing, but after doing some research I found out that the route I was intending on taking is part of an established snowmobile route.  Having already shared the trail twice with snowmobiles, I wasn't interested.  I wanted something with a little more wilderness.  I thought about going over to the Northville-Placid trail, but ended up choosing the Pharaoh Wilderness instead.  It turns out that was an excellent idea.

(Actually, I thought about going to numerous different trails, all over the state and across the border.  More on that later.)


I got a late start, having wanted to give my wife a chance to sleep in in the morning.  Once I was in my car, I had expected to get to the trailhead by 1:00, but ended up getting turned around near Brant Lake and didn't get to the trailhead until 2:00.  No matter, I thought, a little is better than nothing.  The trailhead was packed, and people were parked along the edge of the road leading to the parking area.  I chose a decent spot, doing my best not to block the driveway of the lucky soul who lives right near the trailhead.

In truth, it's an old woods road, and there's no gate across it.  The snow was packed hard, and made for an excellent running surface.  I quickly put on my running shoes, made my way over to the snow (the approach road was pure mud), and put on my snowshoes.

For this run, I chose to ditch the Sketcher 505s I had used on my last two snowshoe runs, and opted for my standard running shoes, my Merrell Trail Gloves.  Despite the fact that they have absolutely no waterproofing whatsoever (except perhaps the rubber on the bottom), my feet were fine.  My toes were a little bit cold at first, but I never felt like I was in danger of getting frostbite.  Despite the snow on the ground, the air temperature was in the high 40s, low 50s.  I had my usual cold weather running socks on (a pair of Darn Tough hikers [at least I think they're hikers]).

The biggest difference I noticed, however, was in the way my feet felt afterwards.  With the 505s and the snowshoes, I literally felt like I was running on concrete, and my feet were sore all over.  With the Trail Gloves, the only thing that was sore afterwards was my left achilles tendon.  Since that's a normal ache point for people transitioning to minimalist footwear, I'll take it.

I managed to travel at about 2.7mph, average, between running, hobbling, and walking fast.  I had hoped to get in to Pharaoh Lake itself, and possibly even circumnavigate it, but given my late start and my slow speed, I only made it in to Pharaoh Lake Brook.  After realizing that I wasn't going to make it in to the lake in time to make it home for some other commitments, I turned around, half-heartedly.  Fortunately for me, I decided to check out a designated camping area that's right near the bridge across the brook.  It turned out to be an excellent decision.

Pharaoh Lake Brook drains the lake itself, and right before it flows under the bridge that the trail uses, it flows right past a beaver den.  Presumably due to these beavers influence and engineering, the area is therefore a marshy one.  Standing on the edge of this marshy area, not far from the campsite, looking across the marsh, I laid eyes on Pharaoh Mountain.  The view was breathtaking.  Not something you would expect to find along an old logging road, standing beside an area that, during the spring and summer, must be swarming with insects of all kind.  Yet there it was: sheer beauty.

Pharaoh Mountain

I plan on coming back soon, and starting to work on running around Pharaoh Lake and up Pharaoh Mountain.  There's a huge network of trails back there, and it's a perfect training ground for an exploratory run I'd like to do later in the year.

27 January 2013

Mts. Williams, Fitch and Greylock - 19 Jan 2013

There is a wealth of information on this hike available online.  I will point out two pieces of information that I wish I had known ahead of time: 1) There is a sign marking the summit of Mt. Fitch, and the summit is indeed off of the trail.  At least according to Wikipedia, there is.  2) The hike to Mount Williams, from the col where the Bernard Farm trail climbs up to the Appalachian Trail, is all of 0.2 miles.  It looks much farther on the map.

View from Above

Ken and I had originally planned on meeting up around 9:00 AM, but I overslept and we didn’t end up meeting up until a little after 9:45 AM.  We donned our winter gear, took in the landscape around us, and headed off.  Given the paucity of snow around my house I had only a faint hope of seeing any deep snow here, and despite my ever present worries of avalanches and dangerous ridges, there was nothing to worry about.  (I suppose that’s the side-effect of listening to stories of mountaineering while taking care of the house.)  The snow conditions at no point were dangerous, not even slightly.  Despite walking along a ridge for several miles, there was literally no danger.  The snow was also at no point deep enough for snowshoes.  We set out in microspikes, instead (dull-edged, very short crampons, held to the boot by rubber).

We had originally talked about taking the farmer’s route up to the col between Williams and Fitch, and instead opted for the Notch Road approach.  I figured it would be faster, and would also give us more time on the Appalachian Trail.  I had never set foot upon it, despite having dreamed about it and read about it for decades now.  We made quick time up to the point where the AT traverses the saddle between Mt. Prospect and Mt. Williams.  At that point we stopped to have a snack and take a few pictures before heading up to Mt. Williams.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about navigating the AT in the winter is that the blazes look just like patches of fungus on a tree, and that they don’t particularly stand out against the white snow.  Despite this, there was a clearly stamped trail, made by other hikers, and though we were keeping an eye out for blazes, the trail was true.  There were several small, frozen waterfalls to climb up, and I was thankful that we had both opted to wear the microspikes.  We made it up to the summit of Mt. Williams around 12:05, about 45 minutes after setting out along the AT.  The view was decent, and there was a small register, which I signed.  When I asked Ken how he wanted me to sign his name, he replied with a nickname that I won’t repeat here.  I suppose that’s his AT name, now?

We made our way along the ridge, and I took the time to tromp around the summit plateau of Mt. Fitch, in an effort to find the true summit.  It was completely flat, which is typical of Taconic peaks.  (I found out after the fact, via Wikipedia, that there is, in fact, a marker denoting the summit.  I’ll have to go back at some point.)

We arrived on the final push up to Mt. Greylock at 13:40, and topped out around 14:05.  This was, by far, the hardest section of the trail, simply due to the terrain.  The last 400’ of elevation gain (roughly) follows an old ski trail (the Thunderbolt trail), and the footing for hikers in the winter isn’t superb.  It was also on this push that we left behind the solitude of the AT.  We had seen one other party, the entire morning, and now we saw group after group after group.  On our way down from the summit, in fact, we passed a large party hanging out by the Thunderbolt shelter, and we saw several more groups as we headed down.

The summit itself is crowned by a memorial to soldiers who have fought in the defense of Massachusetts.  It’s also a bare summit, mostly flat, thanks to the erosion of the once great Acadian mountains that are now called theTaconic mountains.  Despite having been eroded down from peaks that once stood as tall as the Rockies, the Taconics are still tall compared to the surrounding landscape, and are a beautiful range in and of themselves.  In fact, the Taconics claim two of the state high points in the Northeast: Massachussets’ and Connecticut’s high points, Mt. Greylock, and the south shoulder of Mt. Frissell, respectively.  We didn’t spend much time on Massachussets’ high point, however, since the winds were ferocious. We admired the summit for a few minutes and then sought shelter before exploring some more.  Just off of the summit proper, there were enough buildings and trees to cut the wind.  We took in the sights around us, had a quick bite, and headed back down.  I had talked Ken in to taking the road back, since despite it being a longer trip, I knew we could follow it easily if we got caught out in the dark, which seemed like a possibility given how late it was.  He reluctantly agreed, and we headed off.

The rest of the trip was uneventful.  We stopped for a few minutes near the point where Notch Road and Rockwell Road meet, and chatted with a local farmer who had come up to check out the view.  We then set off on our way, and made it back to the cars, as dark was falling, at 16:50.  I honestly don’t know if we would have made better time by taking a different trail back, such as the Bellows Pipe, or heading back along the AT to the old farm trail.

At any rate, it was a fun day out.  I hiked my first few miles along the Appalachian Trail, and hope to hike many more miles in the future.  There are several other state high points along it, including two that I’d like to visit in the near future: High Point, in New Jersey, and Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus, in Maine.
For whatever reason, the Taconics seem to be my go-to range for winter hiking.  It isn’t a bad choice; during the summer I’ve heard that they can be quite crowded at times, and even during the winter I’ve never truly been alone on these trails.  The woods are beautiful, and the rocks are different.  The summits are often flat, almost plateaus.  Mt. Williams’ was actually slightly knolled, which was something I don’t recall seeing anywhere else.  The trails are also generally gentle, which has helped me ease into winter hiking.  I suspect I’ll be aiming for more difficult routes in the near future, but for now, these are fine.

Strangely enough, both Ken and I experienced something akin to a runner’s high afterwards.  I’ve never experienced this after a hike, but I hope I do again!  I couldn’t stop smiling.  In fact, I’m smiling now, as I write this, a week later.

13 January 2013

Olomana - 8 Nov 2003

I didn't get a chance to go for a run this weekend, due to the way things worked out.  Instead, here's a trip report that I wrote up a year ago, for a hike that happened almost ten years ago.  I was visiting my brother out in Hawai'i, where he was stationed.  He wanted to show me some of the local hikes, so we did Olomana and Rainbow Falls (on two separate days).  The latter was interesting because we hiked down to it almost the entire way, since we started at the Pali look out.  The former was interesting because it was my first and only real experience on an arête.  Both of the hikes were simply fantastic.  I'll do my best to get a picture or two scanned; the sunset peeking through the peaks across the valley was truly fantastic.  I've never seen anything like it.

Olomana.  To this day, the word still makes me smile.

Don and I got a late start (nothing new there!) and made our way over to the Golf Course / Country Club where the start of the Olomana trail is.  I remember stopping by the Marine Corps or Navy store, grabbing bottles of water and probably some snacks, and then driving along numerous back roads (Oahu seems to either be back roads or major highways) until getting to the country club.

We nodded to the guy at the gatehouse (who evidently was used to ragtag hikers walking through), and turned off at the Olomana trail.  We wound our way through the woods, stopping to check out a large hollowed out tree (banyan?) and eventually making our way to what I think was a large sand pit.

This marked the start of the ridge, and from this point on, we walked on an ever narrowing ridgeline.  It was literally like walking on the edge of a knife in some spots.  As we made our way up, we encountered a short rock face - roughly 15' high - with a few ropes tied on to assist with the ascent.  Don and I decided to forgo the ropes and just climb up with our hands.  I believe we even made a sport of it, but I don't recall who won.

We pushed onward, and eventually made our way to the first summit: a long, narrow strip of land with amazing views all around.  We stayed long enough to watch the sun set through the mountains to the west, sending out amazing rays of light.  I took some pictures, but none of them even come close to the sheer splendor of that moment.

We headed back down in the dusk and made our way back to the car.

The trip back was, for the most part, uneventful.  There was enough light for us to make our way, and we had made it past the worst of the elevation before the dark was complete.  As we were coming out of the woods, though, we heard a rustling on our right.  Something followed us almost the entire length of the road from the trailhead back to the gatehouse.  It stayed off to our right, and we could hear it walking in the underbrush as we walked.  Given the high number of feral cats this is the most likely suspect.  Tales of spirits abound on those islands, though, especially on the peaks.

I considered posting the Rainbow Falls report as well, but in reading it over, I think that there's more to the story than what I had written last year.  It'll have to wait until I can get the rest of it down.

06 January 2013

Hennig Preserve - 4 Jan 2013

The wind here has a name, an unpronounceable one, and it screams this name until you look up to try and see where it's coming from.  That's when you realize that there's a wall of snow moving swiftly towards you.  You have a precious moment to throw your hood over your head, before the snow does its best to creep down your shirt and chill you to the core.  Sometimes you're successful, sometimes you're not.  You could just leave your hood up, but the thumping, creaking, squeaking and screaming all around you makes you constantly look from side to side, just to confirm once again that the sound is yet one more tree grinding against another.  Such was my existence for two frozen hours on Friday, while I attempted to work out the gearing and layering that I would use for future training runs and hikes in this strange land of sugar icing.

I was testing out my new snowshoes at the Hennig Preserve, a large preserve in the town of Providence, NY, only a stone's throw from the Adirondack Park itself.  The preserve reminds me of the Adirondacks, though I can't get a good look at the ground to confirm that, because of the snow that covers it.  All of the trails on the south side, where I spent most of my time, were well-packed by other snowshoers.  I was pleased when I saw this; I didn't want to mess with ski tracks, since skiers apparently get upset when you do this, and I didn't want to cut new trail for the entire time, because I wasn't wearing snowshoes meant for that.  I was wearing snowshoes that were meant for running on groomed trails, because I'm in the middle of training for an upcoming snowshoe race, and I thought I might try some novel form of training, such as putting snowshoes on and running in them.

It turns out that running in snowshoes isn't as difficult as I thought it would be, at least from a logistical standpoint.  I automatically increased my stride so that I wouldn't trip on my own shoes, and according to my recorded track, I was able to get up into the 15:00s.  Nothing to write home about, but pretty good, I thought, for a total beginner.  The major limiting factor, it turns out, was my heart.  After less than a minute I was reaching for the 170s and starting to shut down.  This was completely disheartening, since on snow-free routes I'm able to run a mile in the 12:00s, and my heart stays in the high 150s to low 160s.  Again, I know it's nothing to write home about, but my point is, running in snowshoes is significantly more difficult than I had anticipated.  Trying to make the best of the situation, I resolved to push on and just hike as far as I could for as long as I could.  I broke into a run a few times, but for the most part I hiked.

Personal problems aside, the trail and the woods were beautiful.  There was a trail labeled as "Esker Trail" on the map, and I was cautiously optimistic that it was a trail named because of an esker, and not because of a certain Mr. or Mrs. Esker.  As I slogged up a slight uphill that marked the start of the trail, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was, in fact, standing upon an esker.  It wasn't very tall at first, but as the trail traversed the ridge, the ground below the deposition grew further and further away.  The esker itself does more undulating than it does winding, and it doesn't show up on any topo map that I've found, but it's most definitely there.  You can see it from Glenwild Road, as well, on your approach to the preserve, and you can see the road from the end of the esker.  From the map, it doesn't look like it goes any further; there's something that looks more like a kame on the other side of the road, with a gravel pit excavated from one end of it.

Traversing the Esker

I should also add that I loved being on top of the esker.  I had made it a goal of mine last year to visit one, after reading about the eskers in the Five Ponds Wilderness and seeing them laying there like serpents upon the topo maps of the region.  The experience itself was a bit surreal, both from the slopes falling away on either side and from the physical reminder that thousands of feet worth of moving ice once stood above this very spot.  I can't wait to check out the massive eskers at Five Ponds.

The wind made itself known while I was up there, as it had while I was gearing up on the road, but once I descended off of the esker, the valley on the other side was sufficiently sheltered for me to warm up and consider dropping a layer.  I didn't, mostly because I just wanted to keep moving and cover as much ground as I could.  It was late in the day, and I knew that I had to keep pushing on.

At one point I came across a barely frozen stream, with the loud rush of a small waterfall only barely hidden from sight.  In one spot a hole had opened up, and I could see the water rushing past.  I awkwardly forded the stream, following another soul's foot placements.  This was repeated several times on the hike, and it was always a bit nerve-wracking.

The other end of the blue trail meets up with the end of both the orange and the green trail, as well.  I contemplated going back on the orange trail, which would have led me back to my car by the most direct route, but I choose to go the long way instead.  It was on the green trail, on the back side of a small ridge (possibly the same esker line), that the wind started whipping through the trees, dumping snow on me and the forest ahead in a moving wall of snow.  It was also back here that I heard some of the strangest noises coming from the trees as they rubbed together.

The green trail travels through some lovely country, and I found myself wanting to linger on several occasions.  Twice along the green trail, I crossed over another trail (or road) without P.L.A.N. signs on it, and there were several other points where I thought I saw herd paths or old trails.  I also passed by a snow-covered, barely visible old stone wall that I only noticed when I glanced back at one point.

The only people I ran into were four seasoned gentlemen who were coming out as I was heading in.  We stopped to chat briefly, but in my haste to get moving, I forgot to thank them for breaking (or re-breaking, more likely) the trail for me.  If any of you happen to read this, thank you!

All in all, this was a fun trip.  My legs were sore afterwards, especially the outside of my thighs, so I'll count this as a decent workout even without being able to run very far.  The preserve is beautiful, and the Hennigs and now Saratoga P.L.A.N. have done a good job in keeping the land pristine.

The trip also convinced me that I'm not ready for this race.  My pace for the day was 27:56.  On the 2011 Camp Saratoga 8K Snowshoe results page, the slowest runner ran a 19:22 pace over the course.  If I were to perform like I did today, it would take me over 2:18 hours to complete the course.  I'm simply not ready for it, and I don't want to make some poor souls sit around in the cold waiting for me to prove that I'm not ready for it.  So, I'll skip this race, and start looking toward a race in the fall or late summer, as well as a snowshoe race next season.  In the meantime, I hope the snow sticks around so I can train some more in it!

For more information on the Hennig Preserve, please visit Saratoga P.L.A.N.'s website, here: http://www.saratogaplan.org/HennigPreserve.htm.