Saturday, October 23, 2010
2010 Run Across New Hampshire
Miles Travelled: 63
Elev Gain: 12,611.4′
Elev Loss: 12,365.5′
Josh and I met up with Mike O’Meara from Conservation NH at 4:15 AM up a side road from Newbury Harbor in Newbury, NH. As we exit out vehicles and exchange salutations, it’s hard not to smile, laugh and shake your head a little bit at the fact that it’s snowing. This is the first time this year that I’ve seen the snow fall and it’s sticking to everything. It’s all of 27 degrees, a balmy morning for the Run Across NH. As we begin to hike Mount Sunapee the wind howls out of the West North West and chills you to the bone. As it blows across the ridge lines you can hear that eerie winter “whir” of the wind cutting the trees. Snow whips in circles around us as we talk about the year that’s now come and gone. We reach the junction of the two greenways and the boys snap a few photos of me at the start. It seems like it took forever to get here, but just as we arrived, we turned and left to head back down the mountain.
A New Kind of Adventure
Down in Newbury I run alone along the silent small town streets of no where New Hampshire. The world hasn’t quit awoken yet. It’s all of 6:30 AM. The police patrol town slowly and only the newspaper drivers are around. I take my first left and then.. I miss my second. I continue to run down Old Post road, and run and run and run as the sun continues to rise. As it does, the light of the sun hit’s the leaves just right so that the oranges and yellows of a New England fall shine brightly in the crisp morning air. The wind, still blows softly but the snow has stopped and the skies are clear. It’s a beautiful day and it’s hard to not get into flow. I start to think though, that I’ve missed my turn. I recall the map in my head and remember that it wasn’t long that I was supposed to turn off this road. But there were no markings.. I stop and try to call Josh.. no service. About 3 miles down this long road, I finally get service enough to call my crew. They answer and I give them lessons on how to read a map over the phone. I was beyond frustrated all ready. I’m lost. They come get me, I jump in the car and they drive me to where I was supposed to make my turn. I get out and take off up the road again.
I hike vigorously up Bly Hill Rd. Josh had driven around to Chalk pond and I knew he was backtracking to find me. I only hope I hadn’t missed him or that he was lost as well. I keep hiking when I see a pick-up truck coming down the hill. While in the car with the ladies, I had ripped the map out of the State Gazeteer. This would be my map for the day now. I stop the pick-up and tell them I’m looking for a trail. They vaguely know what I’m talking about, even thought it travels through their yard. They point to a yellow house and it’s driveway. “Go up the driveway, even though it doesn’t look like it, the trail travels to the right of the driveway and keeps going. That’s it.. trust us.” I head to the driveway and look up the pavement and see what they’re saying. It doesn’t look like a trail goes through here at all. Some 100 yards up from the main road is a tree with a blaze on it. I think I could have better luck finding Waldo as this day has gone so far. I walk past Bly Cemetery when a huge Owl swoops off a near-by tree and flies over to the other side of the yard. I am awed by its grandeur and then I continue on my way.
At the top of Bly Hill I see many high end houses with gorgeous views. I begin thinking about the immense “views tax” that New Hampshire is charging them for their views. As I crest over the top of the trail, I head down the other side. I look at my map knowing something doesn’t seem right. I’m looking for my right turn… instead I’m on the next road. I hail a van to stop and they do. I ask the woman inside if she was from around here, “No.” I thank her for stopping, turn around.. and march back up the hill. I come to the driveway I had run parallel to earlier. Private Property and No Trespassing signs are plastered everywhere. I ignore them and climb the hill anyway and then I stand at the end of the driveway at what looks like and old parking lot, long since grown in. I stand and turn left and look curiously at the woods. I see two logs laying parallel to each other about 2 feet apart.. I continue to stare and realize.. that’s it. The Trail.
I head back into the woods and not before long I see Josh, sitting on a log, looking tired and frazzled and wielding a big stick. “There was a sign that says Bear Sanctuary.” I didn’t care. Here it was, 8:30am and I’m still not even 6 miles into this adventure after 3 hours of walking. He was continued to make our way towards Chalk Pond we talked about the new challenges that lay before us. We knew the adventure in and of itself was a challenge alone.. but we never expected it to be this hard to follow a 75 mile trail that’s been in existence for some 20 years. We’re all ready pissed, frustrated, tired.. and our gears are turning. We soon make it back down to the ladies. My mom has arrived with Munchkins and warm treats. So happy to see her and Sarah. Leah and Josh round the crew out nicely. I sit down and eat. Talk about my feet being soaked all ready and after a short rest.. I’m back off into the woods alone.
I had an opportunity to change my shoes at the aid stop but I declined. There was still some snow on the ground in pockets and I didn’t want the shoe change to be for nothing. Good choice too because just a few moments down the trail, my feet sunk into a leaf covered puddle of mud. I slurped my foot out, giggled, and kept right on running. The cold water inside the mud has now seeped into my shoes and the chill is shocking. It’s getting late in the year here in New Hampshire and mother earth is certainly letting me know today. I keep running down the trail, searching for a massive deer my crew claims to have seen. I find only hoof prints in the mud, no deer. The trail winds it way out of the woods and onto dirt roads. I have no clue where I am but I can clearly follow trail markings now. I am amazed at how one moment I am running beside a golf course, big expensive houses, then turn up the next road and it’s shacks, camps and farms. I run by one house that has about a dozen chickens pecking at the ground. It’s quiet… almost too quiet.
I see a sign ahead warning that the road is now turning into a Class 6 road. I’d never heard the term and wondered what that meant. The road is closed from March 1 to June 1 every year… classic new hampshire mud season. As I continue running I learn quickly that Class 6 Road means… not a road. The divots are huge and there is no way any normal vehicle could ever make it’s way up or down the next 2 miles of road safely. Only a monster truck could survive and I laugh to myself at the thought of this happening. I come off of the Class 6 road and onto town roads again. I see pick-up trucks parked in peculiar spots along the way, indicative of the hunters that are out and about with their bows and arrows. I’m sure to make enough noise so they hear me coming and not to mistake me for their big prize.
As I run along the next set of road, I enter a neighborhood of lakeside camps. I know I’ve made it to Wadleigh State Park area. It seems like every house around here is for sale. A sure sign of the recessions deep woods affects around here. Painful to see given that it’s the tourism and recreation industry that New Hampshire relies so heavily on. I see two women walking their dogs coming towards me. I slow down and greet them good morning. I hand them a small business card which tells them about my journey and why I’m running it. We stand in the middle of the road talking about conservation and how important it is to many of the locals. They see me off with big smiles. As I round the next turn, the lake is almost still with only the slightest breeze making ripples in the water. In the distance is Mount Kearsarge and it’s reflection shines as bright as the actual mountain against the clear morning sky. I meet up with Josh and Leah who are waiting for me.. Josh trying to sleep in the front seat. Sarah and mom arrive a bit late and I take the time to change my shoes.
NH is NOT Flat
Josh yells to me that the next section is flat. What he meant to say, I’m sure, is that it’s the flatest section I’ll run all day. It wasn’t all that flat to be honest with you. The hills were just steep enough that I had to slow to a hike. It seemed like I was forever running up and down this horrid roller coaster. I run off of a road not far from where I last left the crew and see a truck parked. I knew hunters were just ahead. I proceed with caution. About 3 or so minutes into the woods I hear a “Hey!” I nearly jump out of my skin and look in the direction from where I hear the sound. I look and look… then I hear, “over here” I look ever closer and see a hunter sitting on a rock wall. I can barely see him and he’s all of 15 feet away. I guess camouflage works after all. He warns me that there is one more up ahead and I thank him for the warning and being so kind. I continue on and see the other hunter, in the middle of the trail, on his cell phone, talking to the one I’d passed before. It was a father and son, hunting with bows.
I continue to run along a trail I can barely see at times. The fallen leaves has made it nearly impossible to find my way. From time to time I have to stop dead in my tracks to search for the last or next trail marker or some sign of an inverted single-track. I do all right but it’s slow going and I feel like I’m wasting time. I’m pretty frustrated. In my mind we started a half hour late. We left Solitude a half hour late. We took an hour longer then I hoped to do leg 1 and then I kept getting lost. By now.. I’ve easily wasted some 2 to 3 hours out here.. and it’s only getting worse. Yet I trudge along. I hop up and over rock wall after rock wall. it’s really amazing to see the miles and miles of walls in NH. Built in the 18th/19th century, these are pieces of history. I stop and take some video of the walls and video of the maple syrup lines. There i something truly charming about this state. Something… old.
I get back out on to some roads near the middle school and run under I-89, the major interstate that connects NH and VT. I stop to enjoy the art work that graces the bridge abutments. under the highway and then back into the woods. I run towards the gold course, then along side it before I see Josh again coming up the trail. He’s rejuvenated and talks about how much a 10 minute nap works. “You were right man! 10 Minute cat naps are pisser!” We run together at a pace I’m not really capable of keeping up. As Josh, charged and ready to go forges ahead, I have to slow down and take a breath before I get back up into a gallop. We come out of the woods onto Kearsarge Valley Rd where the crew is waiting in the trail head parking lot. I stop for a rest and grab some food. The parking lot is loaded with cars and the crew has made good on getting the word out about Conservation NH. Every car had a pamphlet and sticker on the windshield.
Up and Away
I knew what was ahead now. I’d all ready hiked this section and Josh and Grant had hiked the one after that. So we finally had some good recon on the trail ahead. I asked Josh to come with me up and over Kearsarge because I knew he hadn’t hiked the peak yet. As a fellow hiker (before runner) himself, I knew he’d appreciate the section. We take off up the trail and Josh is still flying. I think in my head and get this evil laugh going on knowing what is ahead… and the thought that Josh didn’t. So I sat back and enjoyed the show. I let him haul ass up the trail, and I smiled the whole way. We talked and caught up on how the day is going. We crossed a new bridge built with downed logs and we continue to climb. Every so often Josh asks, “It’s not much further is it?” He’s getting slow now.. so am I. We breath heavy… hell.. we’re gasping for air, sweating now, it’s warm when you’re working as hard as we are. “Keep going Josh.. top of this hill you’ll see it.” We top out into a field, we look ahead.. he sees it and we both groan a little. This is why I do these things.. moments like this.. where two men have to dig deep to go such a little distance.
Grant and I leave the state park and run down the hill. I fill him in on how the run has been going. It pains me to tell him the things I’ve experienced thus far, since they all revolve around frustration. We switch from talk of the run to “how’s life.” We really don’t know each other too well but thank goodness we have plenty of time to get acquainted. I listen to him, he listens to me; we immediately start talking like we’re best friends. We have no problems in locating the trail and we fly through this section towards proctor. We come out of the woods onto a flat farm road that abuts a huge field. Up ahead we see two women playing with their dogs, gun shots go off in the woods and we run along a small river. Soon, we reach a rickety bridge that moves and sways as I run across. We head up a small embankment and along the Andover Soccer fields. Families are everywhere while their kids play soccer. We cross the road and into the Academy parking lot where the crew waits again. I’m in the weeds, my mind if not well. I’m tiring and aggravated with the real lack of progress. I sit down and take a load off. Getting tired of the constant, “Do you want a sandwich? Want beef jerky? Want gummy bears?” The crew goes through the grocery list every time… I know exactly what I want and what I don’t want. I try not to snap.. but it’s no use. I’m just tired… I want them to leave me alone.. I’ll ask them for what I want when I want it.. it’s all here and I know what we have.. I’m getting snippy.. so I opt to leave as soon as possible.
As I left Proctor Academy and started to climb the hill out of the valley, I was moving slowly. I was tight, tired, sore and feeling really dejected. We’re hours behind plan and I have no clue if I’m going to make it around even this greenway never-mind the entire adventure. As we continue to move forward I am at least grateful for that but have growing doubts about our ability to endure through Sunday. Grant and I continue to climb Ragged Mountain. The further along we walk the steeper the trail gets. We’re walking up what appears to be a back country ski route down the back side of the mountain. Grant stops dead in his tracks and throws his arm out in front of my stop me, “Cub!” I look up to see a Black Bear in the trail and as soon as it sees and hears us, it turns and darts into the woods. I laugh at Grant’s reaction. He seemed rather terrified of this chance encounter. “See man… see how fast that thing took off into the woods?” I say as I reassure him that they’re more scared of us then we are of them.
We continue to climb and the trail gets ever steeper. 35-40% grades torment us as we get near the summit. As it begins to level off we stop to enjoy a few viewpoints of the Kearsarge Valley. The winds which had once died down are starting to pick up again, sightly. As we pick our way across the rugged summit ridge, it’s growing hard to stay on our feet given the steep slopes covered by the fine pine needles that have rained down on the trail. As I tried to gently lower myself down a rock face I slip and fall. I throw my hands out behind me to break my fall and I jam my wrists into the ground. I feel a sharp pain in my shoulder and I’m instantly sore in my right arm, I have a stinger and my arm goes numb. I get up, brush if off and we make it to the top of the ski slope. From the summit I point out Carrigain and the White Mountains (snow covered) to Grant before shooting some video.
We head down the mountain and pick up some speed finally as we descend back down to the valley below. At New Canada Rd. we meet up with our crew. They’ve been waiting for some time and have the PowerBar banner hanging up on a forest gate. I sit down and eat more chicken soup and grilled cheese while Josh gets ready to go. Grant bows out for a short break and then Josh and I take off for the short section to Wilmot. We head down the dirt road and barely find the trail heading off the road in through tall grasses. We hop up onto an old rail bed then through another field, across a bridge, along a pond and a summer camp. We’re back through a few neighborhoods as the sun sets on us. We continue to run as fast as we can when we finally need to turn our headlamps on. Back at the last stop I thought for sure I had run 47 miles… Josh told me… “It was 37.” Out.. 13+ hours for 37 miles.
At the next aid stop, Grant is ready to roll again and the three of us take off up the trail. I could tell back at the last stop that the crew is tired. You can tell mostly by their eyes batting a lot and how quiet it is. They’re not as cheery as before and I can only imagine what is going through their heads. They’ve all told me that they are here till the bitter end even if that’s at Monday Morning 9am.. but I know better. They’d be here… but they really don’t want to be. As we continue to climb Bog mountain the three of us walk by some kind of old stove and we joke that it’s an old crematorium based on the mound of dirty nestled within rocks near by. To our left for about a mile rests the biggest rock wall of the day. Easily 3-4 feet high and 2 feet thick. It’s a monster… “someone important once lived here.” And just then, we hear a crackling in the trees that sounded like a branch was coming down. I try my best to grab Josh and throw him off the trail as we roll off into the weeds. And then, when we gather ourselves.. nothing had fallen. I distinctly remember that before the crashing started, it was raining. Funny that as there are no clouds in the sky. So as we look up and see Turkey’s flying in all directions, we’ve just realized that we scared the piss out of some turkey’s.. literally.
Bog is a short mountain but steep none-the-less. Near the top, Josh and Grant are talking about the game plan. When would Loni come in, when would Sarah come in and pace etc etc. They go on for about 10 minutes when I finally interject. “This has been a LOT tougher then I anticipated guys. We’re hours behind. As it stands right now, we’re not going to get to Sunapee even until sun-up (7am) and thats generous and based on how the day has gone so far. There is no way we’re doing both of these Greenways so… I think the plan now is to get to Sunapee, hop in the car and drive to Dublin to hike Monadnock with everyone.” Though they seemed hesitant, they agreed and that was the plan moving forward. As we reached the girls once again, we filled them in on how things were going to go down.
As we shop up in the aid station Loni arrives with pizza in her back seat. I grab a few slices of cheese pizza and pace around in the road. I tell Sarah the plan and let her know that I’m fine with it. I’m tired, I’m burnt out and I’m really struggling to get this thing done. I’m mentally and physically worked beyond what I had been prepared for.. yet I felt great. What an adventure we were all having together. Yet.. again I notice the crew is tired still… I’m really keen to how they’re doing and it gets the gears turning in my head. Grant and I leave back into the woods on uncharted territory. Before we left, Josh told us about how up ahead the guidebooks talks about the trail being marked Red and White. Into the darkness we hike and seldom run. We continue talking as the night gets ever darker. The moon is up and Full, but the forest is dark under the canopy of firs. To our left is one lonely maple tree, illuminated by the moon light, like a heavenly oasis. We notice silently, with our headlamps off, as we slowly meander by.
Up ahead we start to lose the trail again. We find red paint and follow it to a multitude of junctions. Trails seem to spin off to the left and the right. We forge ahead via the way we think is the way to go. We get lost again and again. We come up on logging roads and have no clue where the trail goes from here. We march up the trail and down. We look everywhere and then I spot what looks like a trail heading uphill to the right. Grant checks it out when a coyote runs across the trail in front of him. He yells to me and throws sticks and rocks into the woods hoping to scare it further away. As I approach, he has a club/stick in his hand and he’d run the rest of the way out of the woods (silly boy) yet I’m glad I have his protection in my tired and delusional state. We finally emerge out of the woods onto a logging road again when we see our first white marker for some time. I look uphill behind us and we realize.. we had spent the last 2 hours meandering around on an interpretive trail and off of the SRKG. We can’t help but be angry.
We head down hill for a ways until we come up to Great Brook. We take a right and follow the brook uphill. We see a sign telling us where the road is and we follow the way it tells us to go. 15-20 minutes later we come to another sign that dumps us over a bridge and out onto another road. We get out on the road and we sit down in the ditch. I get out my cell phone and call the crew. I tell them our location which is uphill from them about a mile away. Sarah tells me where they are. “That’s nice… we’re up here..come up here.” I can hear the frustration in her voice but we’re not running downhill needlessly when they could easily come to us. So we wait and they arrive. We have no idea where we went wrong but once again, this crazy network of “trails” known as the SRKG has duped us once more. I’m exhausted from being lost and stagger to my moms car where I get in the passenger seat and try to sleep. The seat doesn’t recline because of all the gear so I go to Loni’s car where I doze off for a half hour. When I wake up, Loni is ready to go and it’ll be her and I into the wild.
The Towel is Thrown
Loni and I head into the woods, get our bearings and continue to climb up Great Brook. It’s still hard for us to find the trail and from time to time we’re forced to stop and peer into the darkness in search of an indent in the leaves. Once we find it.. we continue on. We march slowly up hill, something I didn’t expect much of in this section. They’re killing me. Every so often I have to stop, catch my breath and then carry on. It’s a death march at this point yet we’re doing our best. We lose the trail again and this time when we find it, it heads up a steep 100′ climb. I stop, turn around and tell Loni I need a break. I get out my don jacket, throw it on and then crash into the leaves. I lay down and sleep instantly, snowing away. I wake up at once point to the sound of coyotes howling in the distance. Loni is still standing the entire time, taking guard. I fall back to sleep.. and then just as quickly as I was out, I’m up. A few minutes later while still climbing uphill, I ask Loni how long I was out for. It felt like forever.. it was 10 minutes.
Then all of a sudden, the trails comes out onto a road and we have no clue where it goes. We head downhill on the road and look for trail markers.. anywhere. After 150-200 yards we find nothing so turn around and head back uphill then walk 150-200 yards the other way. We go back to the trail and search for trail markers across the road from where we came out, indicated by a spot on our map where it appears this happens. We bushwhack for a bit.. and nothing. After a half hour or searching, we call the crew and get Leah. The maps come out and she tries to help us. They think they know our location.. Loni takes out her Phone which has GPS.. we’re way away from where the the crew thinks we are. they direct us to the south so we go. 400 yards down the road we see a marker, finally, and we know we’re on track. We follow, it dumps us back into the woods where the guessing game continues. We keep getting lost, of trail, etc over and over and over.. I stop at one point and tell Loni.. this adventure is done kid. We can’t keep doing this. She agrees.
We exit the trail by losing it again and ending up in someone’s driveway. We know the crew is nearby so we decide to walk down the driveway to 114 and then figure out which direction to go. We et to 114 and call the crew. Josh comes running up the hill and we follow his headlamp. We meet up with him and take it into the aid stop. When we get there I take tally of the numbers. We’ve been on course for 24+ hours now and we’ve gone 58 Miles. 63 if you count all the back and forth of being lost. The crew is ragged, sleeping and cranky. I overhear Leah talking to Sarah in the background about ending the adventure. It was evident to me that the crew was as frustrated and tired as I and their level of fun has long since disappeared. I of course was having a great time enjoying being out in the wild, on this adventure, trying to find my way.. but I too agree that a certain level of fun has been lost to the conditions and safety concerns of myself and my crew. Up on that road Loni and I were lost on we actually considered laying in the road until the sun came up and finding our way out then. Not a feasible plan given the 20 degree temperatures. So it was with this that I decided, as I hopped into Josh’s truck and fell asleep, that it was time for us all to go home.