Assault on West Mountain (Day 30)

November 12, 2010

One of the most fulfilling parts of running into the woods continues to be sharing the joy and spirit of it with others.  I’ve had the pleasure of doing that several times now across the span of the last two months, and today would be another one of those happy days.   But there was something different about today’s running companion.  For you see, he and I had never met before.

A few weeks ago I received a comment on my blog from a NY City runner.  He told me that he had run some of these trails before, quite recently actually, and after he and I swapped stories about some of our common experiences, he declared that he would like to come up from New York and run with me.  🙂

And so it would be that I would meet the delightful and intelligent Kevin Myers, who I picked up from the Harriman train station this morning, having never seen him before in my life.  It turned out to be my very good fortune, and my great pleasure, to meet and run with this interesting and energetic guy.  And this is a wonderful example of how the spirit of running in the mountains can bring like-minded people together.

After receiving Kevin off of the train at about 9:30am, he and I spent the 20-minute car ride from the train station to the trail head getting to know each other in somewhat rapid fashion.  And as we rode along one of the core roads of the park, I pointed out trail crossings and notable points of interest (such as the Popolopen Torne, for instance).  Before we knew it, we were past the Bear Mountain Bridge, around the other side of Dunderberg Mountain, and at the trail head of the 1777 Trail, our starting and finishing point for this long run I had been “saving up” for the occasion.

The first part of the run was a gradual but steady climb, giving us periodic views of the river below as we rose above it.  But after crossing one of the pathways of the Dunderberg Spiral Railway, the trail steepened, and we were practically out of breath by the time we crested one of the lower levels of The Timp, a dramatic mountain that we would revisit (and in dramatic fashion) later on in this run.  By this point, we had climbed nearly 900 vertical feet in the span of just a little over one mile.  Needless to say, our pace was quite pedestrian!

We crossed the junction of the Timp-Torne Trail, and then just 100 yards or so later, turned left onto the red-blazed Ramapo-Dunderberg (R-D) Trail.  The R-D trail is among the longest trails within the park, and I had touched it four or five times in the course of this project.  Happily, today would be my last, as this trail – at least in its eastern sections, where we were today – was one huge challenge after another!   As we ran along the side of The Timp, the trail took us down the mountain, and then back up again into Timp Pass.   I had run through this area only two days ago when covering the final section of the Red Cross Trail.  Today we would run up from the pass, then across the southernmost face of West Mountain, and back through Cat’s Elbow.

As we traversed the ridge toward Cat’s Elbow, we spent some time in the open sunshine, and the warmth of the sun’s golden rays felt quite nice.  🙂  When we finally made it through the extremely rocky section of the elbow, we stopped and took a break to catch breath and gather some well-earned (and much needed)  hydration. As Kevin and I chatted, somehow the subject of age came up, and in revealing our ages to one another, I discovered that I was actually old enough to be this young man’s father!

To be sure, Kevin had had me fooled.  He had the face of a young man, but the poise and confidence of someone at least 10 years his senior.  What a delight is was to find out that I was sharing today’s ride with a man who – only in his 20’s – had already learned the value of communing with nature, and the inner consciousness that develops as a result.  🙂

As we moved down the mountain, we eventually came to the junction of the Appalachian Trail, and from here we would make our next turn.  In going from the Cat’s Elbow to this junction, we had descended somewhere between 400 and 500 feet, but after turning right onto the AT, we would spending the next 3/4 of a mile climbing almost 600 feet.  As we began along the AT, I forewarned Kevin about the climb so that when the trail started steepening, he wouldn’t be surprised.  Not that it even mattered to Kevin, but I felt “responsible” in a way that’s somewhat difficult for me to describe.

Our heart rates were going through the roof at this point, and since Kevin was wearing a fancy Garmin device w/heart rate monitor, we had a constant readout on his heart rate, which was north of 150 for most of this and the other steep climbs we did today.  I didn’t know what my heart rate was, but I’m sure that if it had been measured by an EMT, my next method of locomotion would probably have been an ambulance! 😉

But discussion of heart rates aside, up West Mountain we went, until finally reaching the top of the ridge at the junction of the Timp-Torne Trail.  It was at this point that the views really opened up to the valley below and to the mountains beyond in almost all directions.   We would spend the majority of the next three miles running along this ridge.  Step one was to follow the combined Appalachian and Timp-Torne Trails north.  There was no general elevation change along this portion, but it was riddled with so many minor ups and downs that I felt like a yo-yo on a string.

The Appalachian Trail ultimately took its departure from the Timp-Torne and headed down the east side of West Mountain, but there was another scenic viewpoint here that Kevin and I stopped to take advantage of.  A marvelous view of Bear Mountain had presented itself to us, and I stared at it in awe, knowing that I would need to conquer it solo at some point in the next 10 days.  Bear Mountain isn’t the highest mountain in the park, but from bottom to top, it is certainly one of the steepest.  It occurred to me that I had been avoiding it, and with – as they say in police work – “probable cause” for doing so.  But to be sure, I would be over there in the very near future, perhaps staring over at West Mountain in like fashion.  🙂  Watch out Bear Mountain, here I come!

Moving on from the viewpoint, we made quick work of the next trail section – which was mostly downhill, and very rocky – and arrived at the junction of the Fawn Trail.  This trail was another one whose blazes you simply had to love!   In the same vein as the Victory, Lichen and Beech trails, the Fawn Trail’s markings are that of a single, red letter “F” on a white rectangled background.

This section of the Fawn was the top end of an upside-down triangular loop that we would run as we made the long turn that would head us back in the homeward (or should I make that carward) direction. We still had quite a ways to go, but now at least it felt like we had made some serious progress.    Although it was mainly uphill, it was also reasonably short, so we managed to knock out that section rather quickly.   We were slowed down only once, when I was leading the way but missed a hard right turn, and had us momentarily off trail.   But soon enough, we reconnected with the Timp Torne Trail and made a left turn that would take us the rest of the way back up to the top of the ridge.

We were pointed toward the car now, but still quite far from it, and it was here that I began my stream of complaining to Kevin.  I was tiring, for sure. 😦  We took a break, and Kevin let his heart rate come back down to near 100 before resuming our running.  As we pressed on, we recovered the undulating ground that had prompted my “yo-yo” remark earlier in this entry.  There was more talk of Kevin’s heart rate, which he said was routinely in the 140s and 150s at this point, evidence that he was tiring too…

But after a steady effort, we made it to the end of the ridge, and a lovely shelter that was perched there overlooking the cavernous Timp Pass below.  Kevin and I looked across the valley at The Timp, and we shook our heads.  I told him “I really don’t think we have to run up that thing.  Based on the map, it looks too far away to be a part of our route.”   But unfortunately, I was wrong. 😦  We ran down the slope from the shelter, into the pass, and as we got closer and closer to The Timp, the truth became apparent:  We were going to have to scale this mountain – our last major challenge – in order to earn our way to the finish!

Well, at least we didn’t have to run straight up the face of the mountain.  The trail went part way up, and then sort of meandered around to the back side, taking some of the steepness out of the climb.  But it was extremely arduous nonetheless, and as we moved on, a walking pace was about all we could actually manage.  😦  And with each 50 yards or so, there was a comment from one or the other of us about how we thought we were getting near the top.  This went on for almost 10 minutes before we actually reached the summit, hallowed ground atop this satanic pile of rock!     Hallelujah!!

As we stopped for a well-deserved breather (and with heart rates racing yet again), we looked west, and we could see the shelter where we had been a mere 25 minutes earlier.  It was almost comical to see it now, looking so tiny off in the distance.  But all giggling aside, it did give us a grand sense of accomplishment, and it was with that positive vibe that Kevin and I smiled at each other and made our final descent toward the car.  🙂

The remainder of the run consisted almost entirely of retracing the steps we had made in the beginning, only this time we we going over 900 feet downhill!  With the leaf cover, we had to take it slowly.  At one point my foot went thru some of that cover and into a deep hole between the rocks.  By my good fortune, I averted any kind of serious twist of the ankle.  The last thing I wanted was a bad sprain two weeks before my scheduled completion run!

As we began bottoming out on the hill we reached a woods road, and I started to open up the pace.  According to Kevin’s Garmin, we were now running at almost a 7:00 per mile clip.  It was bizarre to think that after almost 3 hours and 45 minutes of grueling trail, we could run this fast.  And yet we were….

When we emerged onto the road, we were both too tired to even high-five each other.  We walked the 100 yards from trail head to car and dug some dry clothes out of Maxine’s trunk.  Our next stop, we decided, would be a place that sells beverages starting with the letters B-E-E….  🙂  And why not?  We had earned our rewards today, there could be no doubt.  😉

Footnote:  The next day, Kevin sent me some really cool stats about the run that he had uploaded from his Garmin.

Time: 03:02:23
Distance: 11.46 mi
Elevation Gain: 2,992 ft
Calories: 1,675 C
Time: 03:02:23
Moving Time: 02:39:38
Elapsed Time: 03:45:43
Avg Speed: 3.8 mph
Avg Moving Speed: 4.3 mph
Max Speed: 8.8 mph
Avg Pace: 15:53 min/mi
Avg Moving Pace: 13:55 min/mi
Best Pace: 06:47 min/mi
Elevation Gain: 2,992 ft
Elevation Loss: 2,998 ft
Min Elevation: 123 ft
Max Elevation: 1,252 ft

Heart Rate

Avg HR: 139 bpm
Max HR: 164 bpm
Miles           Distance
Minutes per MileAvg Pace
Summary   03:02:23 11.46 15:53  
1   00:12:52 1.00 12:52  
2   00:17:25 1.00 17:25  
3   00:18:22 1.00 18:22  
4   00:14:24 1.00 14:24  
5   00:24:29 1.00 24:29  
6   00:15:00 1.00 15:00  
7   00:14:53 1.00 14:53  
8   00:16:27 1.00 16:27  
9   00:14:04 1.00 14:04  
10   00:17:53 1.00 17:53  
11   00:12:16 1.00 12:16  
12   00:04:13 0.46 09:09  

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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