Suffern – Bear Mountain Trail: Part 2 (Day 14)

September 6, 2010

As we hit the unofficial halfway mark in today’s run, Todd and I were happy to take a rest and refill the gas tank, as it were. Since we’d been smart enough to put a fresh set of run clothes in our drop bags, the first thing we did was put on dry duds. I can’t even tell you how refreshing it was to get out of the wet clothes! But we were also starved. It had been almost 6 hours since I’d had anything appreciable to eat, so I dug out the tuna sandwich and potato chips I had packed in my drop bag and went to work on those. 🙂

During this time, Gary and Joe were busy getting their gear together and on themselves so that they’d be ready when Todd and I were set to shove off again. After about a 20 minute break – in the middle of which I found myself being solicited by some tourists for directions to Breakneck Mountain – I gave Todd the nod, and off we all went.

Our first stretch was up a small climb to the top of Jackie Jones Mountain, passing a point of interest on the way called the ORAK Ruin, and then both a radio tower and an old fire tower as we reached the top. As I said, this wasn’t a bad climb, but after the punishing first half, I was hoping we’d get some relief from the hills for a while. No such luck!

Moving onward, we reached a woods road and also the junction with the Long Path. After another steep but short climb, we were at the Big Hill shelter. I had been at this junction during a previous run, so it was a familiar spot. But we were perhaps a mere two miles into the second half, and I was already finding myself needing a rest. Not being sure how I should gage my state of fatigue, I kept my concerns to myself, and after a brief stop to take a couple of pictures, we forged ahead.

The next section was a run along the ridge of Big Hill, a left turn and a steep scoot down its southern face, and then a hundred foot climb to the top of Ladentown Mountain. As we began the push up Ladentown, we passed a body of water on our left called Third Reservoir. The water level in the reservoir was so low it was almost disturbing. From what would have been the natural shoreline, 40 yards of muck and stones were exposed. This was a testament to the supremely dry summer we have been having here in the northeast, which was perhaps a bit of payback for the conversely very wet summer we had in 2009.

Over the other side of Ladentown Mountain we passed the junction of the Red Arrow Trail. I had been at this junction a few runs earlier in the project, so again, it was a familiar spot, and it made me smile. From here, we ran through the clove between Limekiln Mountain and Panther Mountain, which was a very shady, picturesque (albeit rocky) section of the trail. The climb up the north face of Panther gave me fits – yet another steep climb, and with each one of these, I found myself losing pace to Todd and Gary, who were essentially setting the tempo for the whole second half. Joe had been growing more weary behind me, and I had been periodically stopping (or slowing) so as to make sure he was remaining in touch with the group.

The top of Panther Mountain was mostly open rock, and now in the warmest part of the afternoon sun, the heat was palpable. I told Gary, with no shame whatsoever, that I wanted to take another rest at the next shady spot he could find. During the break, I chatted with Joe to get an idea about how he was doing. We were 5 or 6 miles in for him, with still 6 or 7 to go, and I was becoming concerned about his ability to make it. He had been drinking fluid almost constantly from his Camelbak (leaving Todd worried that he would run out), and had also remarked with big sigh about the difficulty of the rocky terrain. Joe apologized for holding us back, I told him “no worries,” and off we went.

Almost immediately, we began heading down a steep, rocky slope, and about halfway down we passed a group of about 15 boys and 2 or 3 adult chaperones who were out for a nice hike on this beautiful day. They had probably hiked up the mountain from nearby Pomona, so were not all that very far into the woods. But seeing us all come running past them certainly piqued their curiosity. As I went by, a couple of them asked me questions like “Where are you running to?” and “How long have you been running for?”
Needless to say, they were astonished to hear that I had been running for 5 hours and 20 minutes, and still had so far to go yet. They were a cute bunch, and seeing them gave me a welcome burst of energy. 🙂

We had been running concurrent with the Pine Meadow Trail for a short stretch, and the trail was rocky at first. But after we hit the trail split, the running became fairly flat and easy all the way to the junction of Conklins Crossing (yet another trail junction that I was familiar with from a prior run). From this point, the running became a bit more challenging, as we began the ascent up Cobus Mountain. About halfway up we came across a group of four women resting on a large rock. We decided to take a quick break here, and one of the women asked if there was a lake nearby. Well, I have to tell you, they had asked the right guy!! 😉 After showing them the map and how to get to Pine Meadow Lake, we trudged on.

Our last junction with another trail – the Kakiat Trail – was dead ahead, after which point we would be in the final four miles. This prompted another conversation between Joe and I, as he was beginning to labor heavily (not what most people had on their plans for Labor Day). After a brief discussion, we decided – or should I say Joe did – that I would run ahead with Todd and Gary, and that Joe would take it on his own the rest of the way. I had given him a map, he had some experience now in following the blazes, and there were no more turns, so I figured he would be fine. We would simply wait for him at the finish, perhaps 15-20 minutes behind us. So with about 3.5 miles to go, I left Joe to his own devices.

Although the legs were weary, Todd, Gary and I covered the rest of the miles without too much ado. With about a mile and a quarter to go, I called Catherine to let her know that we would be in Suffern in perhaps 20 minutes. But the precipitous nature of the last 3/4 of a mile or so made the going pretty slow, so we were later than I had expected. The last 1/4 mile was especially difficult, as the trail twisted through a very steep and rocky ravine. Todd and I had lost contact with Gary a few hundred yards back, and I was running in front now, which was unusual given Todd’s advanced downhill running ability. I had a sneaking suspicion that this was by design, with Todd graciously allowing me to finish the run in front. Knowing him as I do, I have little doubt that my suspicion was warranted. He’s that good of a guy.

With about 100 yards left, I could see Catherine up ahead, excitedly waving to me as she caught my glance. And in a moment, we were across the final few large rocks and standing alongside Route 59 in Suffern, completely blown away with fatigue, but more satisfied than you can possibly imagine. 🙂 A check of the watch indicated that the second half of the run had taken 4:07, making for a grand total of 7 hours and 16 minutes for Todd and I.

After some hugs and words of mutual respect, we sauntered down the street to our cars and had a celebratory Samuel Adams or two. We all concurred, it was a grand day out, and one that we wouldn’t necessarily say no to repeating at some future point.

As a postscript to this amazing day, Catherine and I stayed and waited for Joe, and yes, he did finally make it out of the woods. 🙂 Although I should add that it was only after some challenges that made for an experience he will likely remember for a long time to come. As I handed Joe the beer that he had certainly earned, we smiled at each other, and he thanked me for a great day. It was a great day indeed, and was for me, but one of many !

About Todd Jennings

I am a runner, a father, a philosopher, and a writer. I am also a seeker. Among the things that I seek are beauty and truth. From an external perspective, I've found both of those things when I run in the woods or on the quiet trails of the mountain tops . With each new run, more truth and beauty reveals itself to me. And so I keep running....
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