October 17, 2010
As the jingle in that old Michelob beer commercial goes, some days are better than others, and today was one of the “better” days in my life experience. I had company with me once again when running into the woods, and to be specific, it was the very distinct pleasure of spending the morning with my running friend Tom Stratton.
What I had in mind for this run was a rather long and convoluted route, which centered around an out-and-back on the Kakiat Trail. Along the way, there would be side routes, some also of the out-and-back variety. And although we would be going out and back on the Kakiat Trail, we would not be going all the way back. So in actuality, this would be a point-to-point run in principle, which would call for some minor logistical planning with regard to transportation.
I had checked the weather for the day – more specifically, the temperature – and seeing that we’d be running in temps ranging between 40 and 50 for most of the morning, I decided to go with my Fall shorts. And I would start with two layers on top, with a long-sleeve as the outer layer that I could either vent with the front zipper or remove entirely if I became too warm. And so, dressed and ready to go, I headed out to meet Tom at 7:00am at the Reeves Meadow Visitor Center. The plan was that we would leave his truck there, and then drive my car to the start of the Kakiat Trail in Tuxedo.
When we got to Tuxedo, the sun was starting to rise above the ridge of Dater Mountain, and I was even more comfortable that I’d made the proper clothing choices for the day. After Tom and I took care of some “calls of nature”, we headed out the trail on what would certainly be a day of great fun! The first section of trail had some ups and downs, but it was not the steep climb that so many of the starts of my runs seem to comprise. We joyously followed the undulations of the path, through some dark and sweet-smelling woods, before eventually crossing the junction of the Blue Disc Trail. At this point, I was compelled to share with Tom the story about how a woman here a couple of weeks ago had asked me if I was running away from her dog. Of all the memories I have taken from these trail runs, that story is one that I will remember (and cherish, in an odd way) for a long time.
Not long after the Blue Disc junction, we reached the White Bar Trail near Seven Lakes Drive. After a brief visit on the White Bar, we crossed the road and dove back into the woods to continue on the Kakiat Trail. It seemed especially quiet this morning, and for a moment, the quietude and the collection of trees here made me think of the Adirondacks. To be sure, Harriman State Park and the Adirondack Mountains don’t really compare to one another. But there are little pockets in the forest here that are warmly reminiscent of other places I’ve been, in another time. Sometimes these memories seem like a lifetime ago, but I find it delightful that running in this park can, on occasion, reconnect me with another place and time, even for just a flashing moment.
Eventually Tom and I reached a bridge that crosses Stony Brook. We decided (ok, I decided) that this would be our first stop break, so we removed the backpacks and took a few moments to drink in this bucolic setting and take a some pictures. Standing here, I was reminded of one of my favorite pieces of music, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (The Pastoral). The second movement of the piece is entitled “Scene By The Brook – A Peaceful Theme,” and as I stood here today, nothing could be more apropos.
Crossing the bridge, we made a left-hand turn, remaining on the Kakiat Trail, and we would soon encounter the most technically challenging segment of the day. The trail would cross another bridge, and shadow the eastern side of Pine Meadow Brook. What had been a reasonably runnable trail quickly became the most difficult collection of large rocks and boulders that I had come across so far in this project. Not only was there nothing actually runnable, but even finding the trail markers became a large part of the work! Having no real ground to establish itself on, the trail twisted and turned almost randomly in places. Tom and I took this all in stride, half-giggling as we would lose the trail, and then find it again in the most unobvious of places.
The trail rose as we moved along the brook’s edge, and passing the junction of the Hillburn-Torne-Sebago Trail (H-T-S), we soon reached the Seven Hills Trail. Directly ahead of us was our first big climb of the day. At first, the trail was – although a bit steep – somewhat runnable. But in no time it became a walk, and then soon after that, hand-over-first climbing up Diamond Mountain. Today would be my third and final visit to the top of this mountain, and to its credit, it never disappointed. The views from the top were sweet, and Tom and I took the opportunity to take some pictures and rehydrate before doing an about face and heading back down via the H-T-S trail.
The run down the mountain was one we had to take caution with, as there were a few tricky spots, but nothing death-defying. In no time, we were back at the Kakiat Trail, and made a left turn in pursuit of our next trail junction – the Raccoon Brook Hills Trail. This trail was the same one on which my friend Joe and I had come across a timber rattlesnake about a week and a half ago. Thankfully, there would be no rattlesnakes today. The section of the Raccoon Brook Hills Trail we would run here was a loop, with a very short out-and-back (the theme of the day) on something called the Poached Egg Trail. Curious as all heck about what the Poached Egg would have in store for us when we got there, I had my answer in short stead. Here on the trees were (and I have to say it) the most adorable and creative trail blazes I had ever seen. With a yellow circle layed into the center of a larger white circle, each blaze portrayed exactly that – a poached egg. After remarking to Tom something to the effect of “That is so f*cking cool!”, we tackled the half-mile round trip with smiles on our faces.
Arriving back at the Kakiat Trail again, the route required a little bit of backtracking here to cover some trail ground that we had bypassed in doing the Raccoon Brook Hills. And so we did, and then turned around to make our way toward the far end of this trail in Montibello, NY. The next three miles or so were moderately technical, but at least they were fairly runnable. As we neared Kakiat County Park, we began a steep descent down Cobus Mountain into the park grounds. It was at this point that, for whatever reason, Tom’s memory was jogged, and he stopped me in order to make a confession:
As far as he could remember, he had left the keys to his truck in my car. Ugh!
A quick check in the storage compartment of his Camelbak confirmed this – he did not have his keys. What this meant was that when we completed the run today, we would have to somehow get back to my car, which was about four miles away from where we would finish. Oy! I was good-natured about it, just as he would have certainly been if the roles were reversed. But I was honest with Tom in telling him that with each passing mile, it was becoming more and more likely that I wouldn’t be able to extend the run by that additional distance. And so, we figured we would have to get a little creative when we finished. More on that later.
Anyway, upon reaching the end of the Kakiat Trail in the county park, we ran a loop on a county park trail there called the Old Mill Trail. What was especially cute about this one was that it was a designated dog walking trail, and the trail blazes on the trees were blue dog paws. Quite delightful, I must say, but I still give the Poached Egg trail blazes the #1 ranking in my book.
I had decided that another break was in order, and there was some kind of special event going on in the park related to the doggies, so Tom and I decided to check it out. I was hungry, and noting that I had money, we approached the large collection of vendor tents that had been set up at the event in search of something to eat. However, at first glance, all I saw were dog product vendors. It was looking as though that if we wanted any food, it might have to be dog bones! LOL. But as it turned out, we did come across a table that was selling muffins and pastries, so I dug out the $20 bill I was carrying in my media armband, and Tom and I each picked out a large and delicious muffin!
After the “muffining” was done, the trip back was all that we had left. But what a trip back it would turn out to be! Our first step was to scale Cobus Mountain, and we did so on the orange-blazed Mountain Trail. After having already run 13 or 14 miles of challenging terrain, I was quite fatigued, and this mountain was nearly impossible to run up. In fact, even walking it was a major chore. There were 800 feet of elevation gain in less than half a mile.
Leading the way in front of Tom, I deemed it necessary to tackle this mountain in stages. So I singled out a tree way up ahead of me, decided that I would try and run to it, and stop there to give my diaphragm a few mins to regroup. It took two or three of these “segment” runs to finally get to the top (or near the top, anyway), and we eventually found our way back to the junction of the Kakiat Trail. Phew!
There was still a lot of running left to do, but it was very helpful, psychologically-speaking, to have that mountain behind us, and to be heading back in the homeward direction now. We re-traced our steps on the Kakiat Trail all the way back to the junction of the Raccoon Brook Hills trail. Along the way, I called twice for stop breaks. Although I had held out some hope that I might be able to run all the way back to my car, I was clear with Tom now that I was already out of gas, so in order to get to his keys, we were going to have to resort to Plan B.
The Raccoon Brook Hills trail led us to the Hillburn-Torne-Sebago trail once again, and this time a right turn would have us running in the northerly direction. Running along the mostly open rock terrain of this broad ridge on North Hill, I noticed that my pace had slowed appreciably. I was barely able to pick my feet up off the ground any more. Each time we scaled a rise, my hamstrings cried “Foul!”, and each time we sauntered down a rocky slope, my quads burned in distress. In what seemed like forever in coming, we made it to the junction of the Pine Meadow Trail. This was it, our final trail segment of the day. Oh, the joy!
With a mere mile and a half to go now, and 250 feet of descending, I found renewed energy, and before I knew it, I was in sprint mode! We were also now in a very popular day-hike locale, and as we ran, we began passing dozens of hikers going in both directions. To my mild surprise, hardly anybody even gave Tom and I a look as we sped by them. But no matter – the important thing was that we were almost done!
Before long, the visitor center was in view, and in a moment, the run was complete! Wow!! A check of the watch told the story – five and a half hours out there in the beauty of the woods.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, at times it was downright dastardly! But the experience was within us now, and Tom and I shared satisfied smiles, breathing deeply as we made our way into the parking lot.
Yes, some days are in fact better than others. And this would be a day to remember for sure.
Epilogue: Tom and I did manage to make it back to my car to get his keys. We decided that the best course of action would be to beg one of the day hikers for a ride back to Tuxedo, which we did. Our chauffeurs happened to be a friendly couple from Philadelphia, who although they didn’t know the area well, and spoke poor English, were not the least bit hesitant to give us a lift. And so, another happy ending.