Dateline Amherst Massachusetts --- Paulette  and I are here for a week, to pick up daughter Gray from summer music camp. It's also time to start getting into a semblance of shape, since I've deluded myself into signing up for some long runs this fall. So I jog laps at the local high school track and then venture farther afield, through the forests and over the hills within half a dozen miles of town.
I pursue the elusive Robert Frost Trail (RFT) which "...was conceived in 1982 as a way to link many of the Amherst conservation areas with one grand route ... and now stretches more than 40 miles from the Holyoke Range north to Mt. Toby and then northeast ...", according to a guide published by the Kestrel Trust and the Amherst Area Trails Committee. My explorations include segments of the RFT mainly to the east and north of town. Unfortunately, for me the pathway at times should be called the "Robert Lost Trail" --- since I get confused and off course rather too often, even aided by a GPS unit. Commentary plus coordinate pairs follow ...
6+ miles, 70 minutes --- it's already somewhat warm and humid this morning, so instead of a trail jog I try "speedwork" exactly as on 3 July (see RoundAndRounder). Across the street from the graveyard where Emily Dickinson is buried the Amherst High School has a fancy track with an enjoyably resilient bumpy brown surface. The sun peeks through hazy clouds along the straightaway to the finish line, as a few other joggers circle with me and hammering sounds from local construction echo across the open fields. The average time for my 8 half-mile intervals is 3:55 (min 3:47, max 3:59). Between each I drink and walk a lap (~4 minutes) to recover. A small blister develops on the second toe of my left foot --- ouch!
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.
14 miles, 196 minutes --- I do a Face Plant about an hour out, when I trip over a sawed-off sapling in the middle of a trail on a mountain ridge ... no major damage, just a bumped nose, slightly scraped knees, a bruised elbow, and a cut inside my upper lip from a front tooth --- but after taking a soil sample I'm spittin' grit for the next mile or two. The jaunt starts at ~5:55am on a cool Massachusetts morning, as a homeless guy is going through the dumpster outside the motel where we're staying in Amherst. I decide that it's too hard to carry a squeeze bottle of water, a GPS, and a Gatorade container, so I chug 20 oz. of the green sugary-sweaty brew in a few minutes and feel rather inert for the next half hour --- but at least my hydration is good.
I jog along town streets to the Amethyst Brook Conservation Area where I find the entrance to the trail (42:22:36N 072:29:10W) without trouble, but soon get lost in the maze of twisty little paths ... backtrack a couple of times and recover the orange blazed RFT, but then lose it entirely and decide to persevere northeasterly along a forest road perhaps made by/for all-terrain vehicle use ... and the GPS comforts me, since even if I'm lost I have a vector back toward home. The road gets thinner, turns into a footpath, and eventually brings me over a ridgeline (where I auger in, as mentioned above) to a rutted track apparently used by extreme mountain bikers ... and wading through cobwebs along that, in turn, I cross some boggy spots and reach a genuine dirt road, following which I suddenly see orange blazes --- it's the RFT again! (42:25:10N 072:28:53W)
I reward myself now, at about the 2 hour mark, by opening my peanut-butter-crunch flavored Clif Bar and taking a nibble. The trail curves along a road around Lake Atkins (water supply for Amherst) and then branches west (42:25:19N 072:29:10W) over some smaller hills through the woods. It's much easier to follow here, but nonetheless I miss a turn, am inspected by a big roan horse in a corral in somebody's front yard, and have to backtrack to recover the RFT. I've seen no human beings for the past 90 minutes, though I've passed several houses and have heard car noises in the distance.
Onward toward the west, crossing more streets and the Central Vermont rail line at the south end of a lovely trestle (42:25:00N 072:30:34W). Here the RFT reminds me strongly of the Northwest Branch Trail in Silver Spring (Four Corners) just as it crosses Colesville Road heading upstream. It's a well-maintained path on steep hillsides and includes scenic views of Cushman Brook below. Soon thereafter the trail crosses Pulpit Hill Road and I find myself at the point where I first entered the RFT on Thursday morning (5 Aug). I investigate the neighborhood, confirm my location, and turn south along town streets to return to the motel.
10 miles, 118 minutes --- Today, for a change, I don't fall down! The morning's jog begins like 7 August's, with a brisk trot east from Amherst along Pelham Road until I reach the Amethyst Brook Conservation Area. This time, however, I turn southwards. In constrast to Saturday's hydration experiment I don't chug a 20 oz. bottle of Gatorade immediately before setting out --- instead I quaff it at a slightly more leisurely pace ~10 minutes earlier. That increases my comfort level significantly.
Besides passing through swamps and woods, this segment of the RFT proceeds down several subdevelopment streets, where the folks who marked the trail must have been trying to conserve their orange paint. Fortunately the Metacomet & Monadnock (aka "M&M") Trail coincides with the RFT here, and its bright yellow diamond-shaped blazes are frequent enough to keep me on course ~95% of the time. (I miss only one major turn and circumnavigate a neighborhood block before finding my way again.)
The RFT + M&M is well-maintained. It includes an amazing number (~75) of well-built wooden mini-bridges across small streams and boggy zones. These typically consist of a 10 foot length of 1x12 board (or a pair of parallel 1x6's) nailed on top of three equally-spaced blocky wooden cross-piece footings. About 10% of these crossovers have experienced erosion under one end or the other --- turning them into surprise see-saws or teeter-totters. I proceed with care and manage to maintain my balance.
After meandering a mile or so the RFT meets Stony Hill Road (42:21:57N 072:28:57W) and curves along it for a half-mile arc before reentering the woods (42:21:50N 072:28:41W). Following some good hills and a dramatic (~50') ravine overlook, there's another major highway crossing: Route 9 (42:21:23N 072:28:53W). Then the trail follows Old Belchertown Road until time to join the woods (42:21:14N 072:28:47W) and circumnavigate a lake. Zig-zags through the next subdivision's streets lead eventually back into the trees (42:20:47N 072:29:09W) and further pleasant woodsy scenes. After an overgrown meadow with giant elephant-ear-like foliage, heavily bedewed, my shoes and socks are wet as I reach Station Road and the Central Vermont Railroad crossing (42:20:30N 072:29:10W).
A few steps farther and, 80 minutes into the morning's journey, I enter the parking lot at the zero mile mark of the NorwottuckRailTrail (see NorwottuckRailTrail2004 for GPS coordinates). The level-surfaced NRT lets me blast (relatively speaking) a couple of ~10 minute-pace measured miles on the return trip to the motel. I see in the mirror that my badges of honor from Saturday's auger experience have begun to develop nicely: purple bruises above my right eye and on the outside of my left elbow ...