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.
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.