August 31, 2010
Today’s run began at the Silver Mine picnic area, right alongside Silvermine Lake. Situated on Seven Lakes Drive, this lake is the 6th among the “official” seven lakes that give the roadway its name. And although a pleasant enough place to set down the blanket and have a family cookout on a warm and sunny summer day, Silver Mine doesn’t have a beach, so isn’t one of the Big Three recreation spots in the park (those being Lake Tiorati, Lake Sebago and Lake Welch).
Anyway, it was early on this weekday morning, and all was quiet as I crossed the parking lot and ducked into the woods on the Menomine Trail. Menomine is a three-mile long path (approximately) that stems between Stockbridge Mountain at its northern terminus and Letterrock Mountain on the south. The first mile or so of this section girded the lake shore, and was only mildly challenging. But it unexpectedly brought me face to face with one of the most vicious creatures that the Hudson Valley has ever known – the notorious white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)! Well, despite being caught off guard, I survived the stare-down, showing Bambi Pamby who was boss of the woods, and then kept moving up the slope of Letterrock Mountain. At the junction of this trail with the Appalachian Trail (AT) was a well-appointed shelter, which I took a curious peek into before moving onward. I’d come to yet another small section of trail – previously unrun – that would call for an ‘out-and-back’ effort. As I continued my ascent up Letterrock on this trail, it occurred to me that as my project moves forward, I will spend progressively more and more time chasing down these little side routes in order to avoid having to commit another day for the sake of a mere ½ mile of uncovered ground.
Upon returning to the junction where the shelter was, I continued on the AT up a precipitous, rocky slope that involved a hand-over-first effort. Along this section, the Appalachian Trail shares common ground with the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail. In fact, these two trails share their routes for about five and a half miles of a seven mile stretch in the North Central part of the park. And mind you, virtually this entire span is either up one mountainside or down another, and the path itself is splattered with rocks at every turn.
When it comes to running on rock-filled trails such as this, it can be especially challenging for most runners, who are primarily accustomed to running on the ankle-safe macadam surface of a road. On these trails, every single step requires mental focus, as any misstep has the potential to leave you stranded in the woods with a badly sprained ankle. The lateral muscles, which ordinarily get to lay dormant while you’re running on a flat road, are constantly at work. Accordingly, these kinds of trails will wear a runner down (both mentally and physically) much more swiftly than a similar distance on the road or the treadmill would. And to a large extent, this is where the trail shoe becomes most important, as it gives the lateral support that a road shoe is simply not designed to give.
Continuing on the Appalachian / Ramapo-Dunderberg trail (AT/R-D), I eventually crossed Silvermine Road, and then began a steep ascent up the western face of Black Mountain. As it turned out, this would be the most scenic viewing point along today’s run! From its peak, Black Mountain afforded me a spectacular view of Silvermine Lake below and to the north, and the Stockbridge Mountain ridge in the distance behind it. Ironically, I was looking at the beginning point and near ending point of today’s effort all in one shot, as I would be visiting the top of Stockbridge Mountain in about 90 minutes.
After a quick descent into the swamp below, I ran through it (not literally, but you know what I mean) and reached the junction of the 1779 Trail. Yes, this trail’s name hints at an involvement in a certain war that took place with the British back in our country’s earliest times, but I will save the history lesson for another day. Suffice it to say that, yes, there is a Revolutionary War story associated with it.
The 1779 Trail section was decidedly the easiest park trail that I’ve run so far. It is flat and gently downhill for the entirety of this 1.8-mile span. In fact, the area is rife with ferns, which typically only grow in flat, moist areas that have lots of tree cover. So it goes without saying that after the challenge that the Black Mountain section of the AT/R-D trail had been, this section of trail was a welcome change!
Reaching the junction of the Anthony Wayne Trail, I followed the A-W across Seven Lakes Drive, and after half mile dash through an open area with a lot of tall grass, across Long Mountain Parkway, as well. As I’ve said previously, when you’re running in the quietude of the woods for so long, it sometimes feels odd to meet with a road crossing. In a certain sense, it seemed to fly in the face of reason to have to stand on the roadside and wait for traffic to clear, especially when that traffic is traveling upwards of 60 mph. But thankfully, I did manage to quickly find a break in the mid-morning traffic flow here, and crossed the parkway (aka U.S. Route 6) to the continuation of the Anthony Wayne.
Shortly after crossing the parkway, the A-W took hold of a woods road, which the trail followed to (and terminated at) Turkey Hill Lake. It seemed a quiet little lake, minding its own business out here in one of the northernmost reaches of the park. Across the far shore, I could see Turkey Hill rising up behind the lake. I briefly thought of my two sons (who I endearingly refer to as ‘turkeys’), smiled, and then continued on my merry way.
From this point I was now following the Popolopen Gorge Trail, which connects the Fort Montgomery area along the Hudson River on the east to the Long Path on its western end. I immediately found myself in the middle of my third appreciable climb of the day. After the short but very challenging “push” up the southern ridge of Long Mountain, I darted left onto the Long Path. Although still climbing here, at least I was headed south now, and after what seemed like a long day already, I was finally in the home stretch.
For most of the next two miles, the Long Path was relatively flat and leisurely, but after that respite, I was presented with my 4th and final climb of the run. Remembering what my friend Lisa had driven home when I ran with her in April, I decided to power walk the majority of this last test of my intestinal fortitude. Combining walking with a bit of slow-but-steady running, I reached a rock formation known as Cave Shelter. Although this wasn’t the top of Stockbridge Mountain, I knew I was close, and just a few minutes later I was basking in views of the Lake Nawahunta and Silvermine valley below. I passed the Stockbridge Shelter, which appeared to have recently been affixed with a new aluminum roof. I could only imagine the effort involved in the carting of tools and roofing materials up the mountainside by volunteers. Wow !
A short while after departing from the shelter, I began looking for the junction of the Menomine Trail. If you recall, the Menomine is where the run began, so with just a brief mile and a quarter scamper down the mountain, I would be done. But something went wrong. I must have been dehydrated and delirious, and I never saw the trail junction. After a series of small climbs that had both me and my weary legs crying out “F*CK!”, I concluded that I had definitely gone too far. In an effort to both conserve energy and not miss the trailhead a second time, I walked my way carefully back in the opposite direction. Passing Hippo Rock (which was on the map, but I had somehow also missed), I finally reached the Menomine trailhead. Seeing how blatent the trail marking was, I had to wonder how the hell I ran past it without seeing it, but knowing that hindsight is 20/20 (literally, in this case), I laughed and let go of my feeling of stupidity.
With renewed energy, I swept down the mountain, despite the increasing temperatures of this 90˚+ day. The only thing that slowed me at this point was a group of tourists who had sat themselves down for a rest along the trailside. As they saw me approach, they began to move aside, and I quickly told them with a smile “No, no need to move.” As I passed, one of them said to me “Are you okay?” I guess that whenever the average person sees somebody running down a dangerous mountainside, they figure he must have been bitten by a snake, or otherwise in a hurry to get to where he is going. It was certainly true that I was in a hurry, but I can tell you that snakes had nothing to do with it.