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.