Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A 40-mile morning on the Midstate Trail

I did a writeup for Far North Endurance on Justin Contois and my attempt on running the Midstate Trail here:

Here's a few additional photos from the run:

Flooded trail looking back to where we turned around

About 200 yards up the trail was another flooded section

Sunny field section

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Midstate Trail Traverse Preview

Matthew at the Southern terminus of the trail this past weekend

Growing up in Princeton, MA in close proximity to the Midstate Trail, I spent a lot of time in my younger years hiking and biking on the trail. I knew that the trail ran through the Wachusett Meadow Audobon Sanctuary (it has now since been relocated) and up Mt. Wachusett to the North and South into Rutland and Barre Falls Dam area, but not much more than that. What I didn't realize growing up is that it is a long distance trail that runs from the end of the Wapack Trail at the New Hampshire border through Central Massachusetts to the Rhode Island Border where it connects with the North South Trail, continuing to the Atlantic Ocean.

Another challenge to come?

My wife, brother-in-law, and I section hiked the trail from North to South over the winter of 2008-2009 as training for the White Mts. of NH and had a great time experiencing the diverse characteristics of the segments. From the Northern higher elevation sections to the Southern almost coastal seeming scrub oak and pine areas in Douglas, a hiker moves through many different types of forest ecology. My friend Justin Contois, who is also familiar with the trail and has spent a lot of time exploring it while he lived in Central MA, and I had discussed putting together a through-run someday. After extensive planning and logistics, we have agreed that we are going to run the entire trail North to South on April 13th as a long through run of 95 miles. This will be fully supported by Justin's and my family providing a mobile aid station at pre-arranged spots along the way. As far as we can tell, nobody has run the trail yet, but (assuming we finish) we hope to set the bar at a level that would interest other runners or hikers to attempt the trail in one continuous push.

The training for this run for me has been okay this winter and I feel ready to give it my best shot. I would have liked to get more back-to-back long runs in on the weekends, but they didn't seem to work out - so I'll take what I can get. I put in a few 20-26 milers in mid-March and did some runs along the southern end of the trail that gave me a refresher on the course. The Northern end of the trail we are tackling first is a little hillier and the Southern section has more road sections as it passes through Sutton and Oxford.
Northern terminus of the trail

One of the three moose we saw near the Ashburnham Sportman's Club
Coming down Blueberry Hill

Blueberry Hill section

View of Wachusett from Blueberry Hill

The Northern 30 miles of the trail will probably be the hardest as it passes over Mt. Watatic, Mt. Wachusett and many smaller hills in between. The footing in this area is a little more technical and we will be running for the first six hours in the dark. We are starting at midnight on Saturday night, so the sunrise, which we could hit perfectly at Wachusett, combined with the warmer temperatures will be energizing as we continue the journey to the Rhode Island border.

Looking down at Winnekeag Pond from Mt. Hunger, with a little snow coming down

River crossing

Nice pond in Westminster

Amanda (my wife) at the shelter in Westminster

The section through Westminster was very scenic and I am excited to get back there. It has been three or four years since I have hiked that section and I remember that we enjoyed the stretch from Camp Winnekeag to the Wachusett Village Inn.

Views from Crow Hill

Looking towards Mt. Wachusett
After the Crow Hills section which includes some pretty technical hills, the next obstacle is Mt. Wachusett. This is the largest single climb of the trail which we will hit at about 30 miles in and hopefully catch the sunrise just right at the summit.

Balance Rock Trail on Wachusett

Taking a break right before the 122 crossing in Rutland
The next 7-8 mile section through Rutland from 122 to the 4H camp we headed out on right after a snowstorm that dropped two feet on the area. The combination of the ice storm that happened in December 2008, a month earlier, and the unbroken 2 feet of snow the entire way made for a tough slog. This was by far the longest and toughest hiking day that we experienced that winter, and it took us about 7 hours to complete the 7.5-8 mile trek.

Unbroken trail for 8 miles makes for slow going

Sampson's Pebble

Halfway point, 45ish miles

Shelter in Rutland
A different shelter in Rutland/Spencer in the Four Chimneys area

Snowmobiles packed down this section. Where were they for the previous stretch?

Looking down from Moose Hill

Windy Moose Hill Dam crossing, snowshoes in tow
Audobon section in Spencer

Huge saw blade, my dad and Amanda

Snow had melted in the Oxford/Charlton stretch


Near Whittier Farms, Sutton/Oxford

Fitting it in

Nice boardwalk section

Moving through Douglas' scrub oak forest

Douglas State Forest bridge

Close to the finish

A little sidetrip to the shelter to recreate the image in the guidebook

Douglas shelter

Southern terminus bench

Finish time
We have invited a few friends to run whatever distance they feel comfortable with and we are looking forward to meeting up and spending some time with them out on the trail.

This traverse is going to be an interesting experience. Other than one 100 mile race that I did in 2012 at Ghost Train, I have not run further than 50 miles since. I remember the ups and downs of that race and how it took Justin and Jeff Lane to help pull me through those slow miles in the overnight in order for me to finish in 26+ hours. Justin is projecting a time that would require me to take 10 hours off my time in 2012, but I will give it a shot. I am looking forward to getting out on the trails with my old running partner and enjoying whatever the trail throws our way.