Taconic Crest Trail
The Taconic Crest Trail has been on my running bucket list for a while now. Ever since I heard about E dropping off a bike at one end, driving to the start, running the whole route, and grossly underestimating how difficult a 50 mile bike ride would be after a 30+ mile mountainish run.
The trail proved most elusive. I have repeatedly searched online for a quick answer to one simple quesiton: "Where does it start?" with nothing to show for it except vague answers like, "[The northernmost point of the] Taconic Crest Trail unofficially begins in Pittsfield... But of course you can make your own official start at the northern end in Williamstown, MA via Williams College Hopkins Memorial Forest or Petersburgh, NY via Petersburg Pass parking lot". So it has three starting points? And also, "the trail heads up into Vermont". So I can't even narrow down which of 3 states it starts in, is it NY? MA, or VT? And of course with such generic New England names like Pittsfield and Williamstown, we've got towns with those names in MA, VT, *and* NY. The road to the trail is called, "Taconic Trail" or "Route 2" for short, is that the trail? Or just a highway?
The Taconic Hiking Club provides a map of the trail if you can find it. "The package includes 11 wonderful maps and a booklet"... "Check out Williams College store downtown Williamstown, MA and if they don't have any they'll point you in the direction of a local store that might." So I'm going to drive all the way to Massachusetts to a store that will point me to a store that might have a map? All I want to know is where to start, do I seriously need 11 maps and a booklet for that?
So I'm planning to do some kind of medium-long Saturday morning run when I learn that I'll be on my own until dinner time. I wake up in the morning searching for someplace new and interesting to run and eventually find the Petersburg Pass parking lot on a map and decide to start there. It's an easy 50 minute drive, just 12 minutes past Grafton Lakes State Park where I was originally planning to run today.
When I get to the parking lot, I take a quick look at a graffiti'd info-less trailhead sign. On it someone has pinned up the following sign:
I scanned it quickly and walked away with the impression that somebody's poodle got chased into the woods by a bear. I didn't realize until after I returned and read more closely that this was no poodle. Basically a german shephard got eaten by a bear on the trail. Recently.
I sign into the trial register and mark down my plan: run out 10-15 miles then turn back. The first few miles work their way up the largest mountain on the trail. It's a steep-yet-runnable climb on a wide and incredibly well-maintained trail. I catch up to a small group of hikers. One of them, very attentive as though he is on alert, hears me coming and jokes, "good thing I didn't think you were a bear!".
5 miles into the run, the trail degrades and becomes a bit overgrown with the occasional muddy section. I come across a bird on the ground that goes into a total hissy fit, flapping wings, squawking, and making circles in the leaves, as it slowly departs into the woods. Later, I'm jogging along, and I see movement in the brush. Something is spastically coming at me. I imagine it's a rabid porcupine eager to kill me. When it emerges from the bushes, it's just another one of those darned birds leading me away from its young. During the first half of the run I find the birds amusing. By the second half of the run I am tired and in no mood to be startled by these peculiar animals. I curse loudly and flip them the bird. Right back atcha.
Once I reach 10 miles, I check the time and decide to keep going. I look down to see some giant bear tracks in the mud. The bear tracks are in the middle of a large berry patch. There are no berries at this point, only flowers. What is the bear up to? Eating flowers? Or perhaps staking out his territory for when he can fatten up on plump ripe raspberries?
I've always thought of black bears as little more than giant raccoons: annoying pests that might get into the trash or into your unguarded backpack looking for food. I run through my bear attack plan. "Spread your arms, look as big and intimidating as you can, make lots of noise, bang pots and pans together." I form my hands into claws and raise them over my head and say, "grrr". I look nervously at my skinny arms, realizing that I may have been underestimating my ability to dispatch the dog eaters who made these tracks.
I proceed along the obvious trail, failing to realize that the trail took a hidden left turn. I emerge on a hilltop, and realize that there is a road not far below. If I just go a little farther I can complete this entire section of trail! I bound down the hill for a while. Until I realize how much fun I've been having and how long it's been since I had seen a trail marker. I reluctantly stop and head back up the hill where I came from. After what seems like miles I discover where I went wrong. I explore the correct trail for a bit, but now I've covered 15 miles and it's time I started the long run back.
The relentless hills wear me down and I bonk. I'm walking up hills, taking sit-down breaks, really taking my time. I snack on a Clif Bar and a Granola bar. Not entirely satisfied, I occasionally grab the curled up tips of the ferns and eat those. Boy! A fern has never tasted so good! I drink my water sparingly. My backup is a Life Straw. However, this being a crest trail, there is no water to be seen. I make my way a few miles at a time, telling myself "22 miles, just make it to 22 miles". Then "25 miles, just make it to 25 miles".
As I make my final descent, a group of five hikers gives me a priceless once over. My phone is blasting tunes, I am bombing down the hill with a big grin and bloodied feet.
I am getting closer to civilization. Signage on the trees indicates, "No motorized vehicles". I hear engines blaring in the distance. That must be the parking lot! The engines get louder. I cock my head. Harleys in the parking lot? I am in LaLa Land after 29 miles of running when suddenly two dune buggies, slightly *wider* than the trail, hurtle 40mph towards me on the trail. HOLY SHIIIIIIT! I dive into the woods and watch as the driver gives me an incredibly polite wave, not slowing a bit. I give the stinkeye in return.
I stand up, dust myself off, and cautiously make my way to the parking lot. Nice way to transition back to reality after 7 hours of naturistic solitude.