2004-08-05 - Robert Frost Trail (north)

12 miles, 150 minutes --- A passing front brings rain overnight and blessedly lower temperatures. From the motel in downtown Amherst I set out northwards at 7am in light drizzle, jogging along East Pleasant Street for ~2 miles until the avenue ends near the Mill River Conservation Area. The lanes here are winding and I don't see any indications of the RFT, but a crude tourist's map and some anecdotal web pages suggest that it must be nearby. I find a path and follow it into the piney forest. It leads to Puffer's Pond, which perhaps should be called Toker's Pond given its seclusion and proximity to the University of Massachusetts. I circle the water and voila! --- there's the RFT (42:25:13N 072:30:57W).

Now which way to go? My plan is to follow the trail east and south, then return along Pelham Road. But of course I guess wrong --- even with GPS assistance, a twisty route in the woods is confusing --- and only become certain of the mistake after half a mile. Turn back? No way! Dr. Zimmermann has now become Mr. Trail Runner, in his sylvan fantasy anyway.

So it's up and down muddy slopes, through a meadow dense with ferns, and across multiple bogs until I approach the Central Vermont Railroad right-of-way. The RFT parallels the tracks for a while, crosses a small road, and then zigs across to the other side of the rails (42:26:33N 072:31:05W). Mushrooms are huge and plentiful, and I interrupt a large rabbit having breakfast on the pathway. (Where's Alice?) The rain has stopped but it's slippery everywhere: slime-coated boards on the swamp crossings and layers of wet leaves that conceal lichen-coated granite boulders on the hillsides. Visions arise of a twisted ankle, or worse. I walk with care and only jog on the infrequent level spaces between slopes. I've seen nary a human soul for the past hour.

Then the trail passes through a populated neighborhood and tees into Depot Road (42:26:58N 072:31:04W). Orange blazes on the telephone poles show that it follows the lane to the left. At the 90 minute mark now I'm ~4.6 miles straight-line from my start, so it seems to be a good turnaround opportunity. Instead of retracing my path through the woods, however, I decide to trot back along the streets to save time and reduce the risk of injury. The RFT goes west to State Route 63, takes it south to Bull Hill Road, and then branches off toward Mount Toby --- at which point I leave it.

I continue homewards on the shoulder of the main highway, mostly jogging now to improve my average speed a bit. I pass a golf course and then spy another entrance to the Mill River Recreation Area (42:24:44N 072:31:40W), at the western end of the park which includes the aforementioned Puffer's Pond. Alas, I divert into it but soon discover that there's no obvious way to get from the civilized side of the Rec Area (tennis courts, swimming pool, baseball field) to the wilderness (lake, woods, swamps) short of wading a wide and rapidly-flowing creek. So it's backtrack again to the main road and continue southward. Route 63 meets North Pleasant Street and in two more miles leads me back to the University Lodge where I began (42:22:58N 072:31:10W).

The GPS trip odometer shows 11.3 miles but lists the day's track as 12.0 miles. I estimate 12+ actually traveled, given the system's usual 5%-10% shortfall for winding routes. (New evidence: earlier this morning the unit reported a distance of 2.03 geodesic miles from the start, but a trip measurement of only 1.87 miles. Did I go through a wormhole or otherwise violate the Euclidean triangle inequality?) The old legs feel good and even the blister on my toe isn't troublesome. Consumed along the way: one pint of water and most of a chocolate-mint Clif Bar.

(correlates: Eight Days a Week, 2004-08-09 - Robert Frost Trail (southeast), Zhurnal Three, ...)