September 30, 2010
I had the pleasure of having company with me on today’s run into the woods. In response to a general message I had sent out regarding my plans, my friend Dick Vincent put his hat in the ring and pledged to make the drive down from Palenville, NY (in the upper Catskills) to join me. He did this having never seen the trails we would be running, and despite the ridiculously rainy forecast that was called for on account of tropical storm Nicole. Dick obviously ascribes to the postal carrier’s creed. LOL! And knowing that more is definitely merrier, he invited his friend Ellen Kim to make the drive north from New Jersey to meet and run with us. So with this “band of three” in place, and the prospect of heavy rain and wind throughout, this run had the makings of something either quite silly or quite special. It turned out to be both. 😉
Our meet point was along Route 9W, near Iona Island, about a mile and a half south of the Bear Mountain traffic circle. I was the first one to arrive at 10:00am, and it was absolutely pouring out! I texted Dick to let him know I was there, and when he arrived a short while later, it was still raining so hard that neither one of us even bothered to get out of the car. We chatted through rolled down car windows, and awaited Ellen’s arrival before even daring to step out into the driving rainstorm. But by the time Ellen showed up at about 10:25, the rain was starting to let up a bit, and having seen in the forecast that there might be a “window” like this in the late morning, I held out hope that we wouldn’t have to spend the next three hours moaning about the weather.
And so, after getting all of our gear on, we made our way across the road and began the trek up the southeastern face of Bear Mountain on the Cornell Mine Trail. In almost no time at all, we reached the junction of the 1777E Trail, and made a hard left-hand turn in the direction of Doodletown. The 1777 Trail, both its East and West branches, would be the collective centerpiece of our run. When spliced together, these two trails form a large circle around the outer perimeter of Bear Mountain. There would be times later on when we would see the mountain in clear view, but as with most all of these runs in the woods, you spend the majority of your time under tree cover, so the beauty to behold is really more in what lies directly in front of you, and not in skyward views of majestic mountains. 🙂
Almost from the beginning of the 1777E Trail, we began seeing historic markers relating to Doodletown. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Doodletown is an extinct community – sort of a land that time forgot. But in the 1940s and ’50s, it was a hamlet of nearly 300 residents. What remains of it now are only some foundations of what had been small homes, and a great many of these historic markers I speak of, indicating who lived here and when. On another day, when I am choosing walking over running (and when sunny weather prevails), I will spend more time here learning about the specific history. But for now, we had quite a few miles to traverse, so we kept up at a pace that everyone was comfortable with.
Upon rounding a long bend, we noted the Doodletown Reservoir on our left, and many more historic markers on both sides of the road (yes, we were running on what had probably once been Doodletown’s main street). We eventually came to a junction in the road that confused us thoroughly, and after much consternation and poring over the map – and even some good old-fashioned harrumphing – we followed the left fork in this road. By the way I’ve couched this, it probably isn’t a surprise to know that we took the wrong turn. Wait, I should clarify – we took the correct turn, but then we missed the point at which the trail leaves the road and goes into the woods. I began to get the feeling that we had gone too far, so forced the group to stop for another map inspection. We had come to another junction, this time it was a ski trail. Dick checked a trail signpost, and informed us with confidence and authority that we were at trail #6 (whatever that meant), and since it wasn’t indicated on the map by any sort of number, I discounted the reference. But what the hell, it looked like it was headed in the direction we wanted to go, so we decided to take the trail anyway. 😉
We scampered down this “ski trail #6” for a bit before connecting with the Suffern-Bear Mountain Trail. For those who have been following along, the SBM is the trail that I ran in its entirety on Labor Day. But today we were running it in the opposite direction, and only for the purpose of finding our way back to the 1777 Trail, which we had lost the scent of about a mile back. After I missed yet another turn (giving Dick fits, I’m sure, and making him wonder if it was wise to have chosen to run with such a character as me), we eventually did find the 1777W Trail, and from where I saw it, we were back in business! 🙂 While I backtracked on the portion of the 1777W Trail that we had bypassed (I had to cover this ground for my project, after all), Dick and Ellen ran ahead, and we agreed to meet at a parking area indicated further up the trail.
Well, in what would be my third misdirection of the morning, I got lost on the out-and-back, causing poor Ellen to run back looking for me. But I was not lost for long, and in almost no time, we were back on track, and running parallel to Seven Lakes Drive.
We emerged out onto the road and decided to take a walk break as we crossed over both Seven Lakes Drive and then the Palisades Parkway.
Now on the combined 1777W and Timp-Torne trails, we passed Queensboro Lake, and took a stop break there to take a gander at the dam on the lake’s eastern end, and to watch a parks department employee sit next to a port-a-john in his truck eating a sandwich. It made Dick wonder aloud how enjoyable such a lunch could be while the man was inhaling the smells that must surely be wafting in from the portable bathroom. We were all amused. 😉
Shortly after we moved on, the trail entered a beautiful stretch of woods that would delight our senses for most of the next three miles. It followed a woods road for a while, then dove into the woods, and then back onto the woods road. We soon came to a junction wherein the combined trails that we were already running merged with two other combined trails, making for a foursome of markers on the trees that seemed at times like information overkill. So to clarify, and set the record straight, we we were running on the 1777W, the Timp-Torne, the Popolopen Gorge Trail and the 1779 Trail. As I said, the multiple markings on the trees was comical, and must have left NY/NJ Trail Conference volunteers wondering what the heck the trail blazers were thinking. 😉
But despite the complexity in the trail markings, the trail itself was a joy, and we happily made our way along the ups and downs of this trail as it skirted the Popolopen Creek to our north. The going was so easy in fact, that we fell into some nice casual conversation, covering topics such as Dick’s 34-and-a-half year streak, the Escarpment Trail Run (and mainly how only idiots would sign up for that one), Dick’s camel-like qualities (he barely took a drop of water the whole run), and the wonders of KT Tape.
We soon came to a bridge that would take us back over the Popolopen Creek, and took another short break on the bridge itself for some reflection and picture taking. Ellen and I remarked about how the rain had all but stopped, and that we were both beginning to get a little warm. Dick was probably laughing inside as he quietly listened to our bitching. 😉
With still plenty of enjoyable running in front of us, we headed up a steep embankment at the base of the Popolopen Torne. Feeling that it would take a bit more time than I wanted to devote to it today (because it was a challenging climb, and I didn’t wanna make Dick and Ellen wait for me), I decided to skip a side-trip to the top of the torne. I would come back and run this short loop on another day. Meanwhile, we had found yet another woods road, and in its steep undulations, Ellen showed her considerable uphill running prowess, making a case for her claim to have run Blackhead Mountain (the steepest uphill part of the Escarpment Trail Run) from bottom to top in 19 mins. She was strong!
As we neared the end of this trail section, we began coming in contact with various forms of civilization – some houses, a road crossing or two – before finally reaching the trail junction of the Brooks Lake Trail. This was a trail that I elected to run, and Dick and Ellen would forsake. It was short, so I told them I would boogie around the lake as swiftly as I could, and would meet them at the end of this trail, at the visitor’s center of the Fort Montgomery Historic Site. The lap around the lake was sweet; a little technical in terms of the footing, but flat in elevation. About halfway around, the vista of the lake was beautifully offset by a surreal view of Bear Mountain in the distance. I had to be sure to get a picture of that, and so I did before completing this loop and rejoining my running companions.
The last part of the trail took me under the roadway bridge that spans Popolopen Gorge, and Ellen and Dick were waiting for me when I got to the visitor’s center shortly thereafter. After a brief break here, I located the beginning of what is called the Twin Forts Trail, which is aptly named, as it connects the Fort Montgomery site just north of the Bear Mountain Bridge to Fort Clinton, which is located at the foot of the bridge on its southern side. From here, we scaled a rise and then had to cross directly over the roadway that leads to the bridge toll plaza. This was civilization indeed!
And after having done that, we set foot for the first time today on the Appalachian Trail. As most folks in these parts know, the Appalachian Trail (or the ‘AT’ as it’s known) is probably the most storied trail east of the Mississippi River. It always makes me feel like I am somehow a part of history when I am running along one section or another of it, and today was no different. In this location, however, the AT shares its ground with the 1777E Trail, so we were once again seeing two sets of blazes as we made our way through the grounds of the Bear Mountain Zoo.
Running on pavement now, we passed all the animals of the zoo in their respective cages – the otters, the birds, the bears (yes, there was a bear sighting), and finally the foxes – before making our way out the other side of the zoo property, past the park’s huge public swimming pool (now closed), and underneath Route 9W to the grounds of the Bear Mountain Inn. Still running on the pavement at this point, Dick let us know that his left foot was starting to send out distress signals, so we slowed the pace, and I assured him that we would be back on softer ground and in the home stretch in short stead.
After reaching the southern end of the Bear Mountain Inn property, we found that soft ground that I had promised Dick, and proceeded to make our way over the last mile of this fantabulous run. Finally descending the last few hundred yards of the Cornell Mine Trail and emerging onto Route 9W, it was high-fives and smiles. Three hours and twenty-three minutes of pure joy. It was not a speed session, that was for sure. But when you go into the woods, and especially with friends, it’s never about the pace. It’s about the experience. 🙂 My thanks go to Dick and Ellen – two really good eggs – for taking part in this beautiful day with me.