I followed up the Yankee Homecoming 10-miler with 13 on Wednesday, 15 on Thursday, and 16 on Friday (12 and 4). The 4 was on trails around Bridgewater Corners, VT, where I stayed for 5 days as part of a Gordon Athlete Leadership Retreat.
Saturday I drove about 10 miles south from Bridgewater to Plymouth, VT to meet the one and only Joshua Ferenc for a trail run. After a short time of confusion, driving around looking for each other, we both pulled into the parking lot of the Salt Ash Inn. Somewhere between there and Josh pulling his shoes out of his roof rack, I realized this was going to be a run to remember.
I had stocked up on snacks from NE Running Company and brought a water bottle to carry on my waist. I asked Josh if he was going to carry anything and he told me no. He also admitted that he usually wasn't prepared for runs like this. I abandoned my game plan and left my shirt and all supplies in the car. I figured that Ferenc knew what he was doing, even if he said he didn't.
We were without a map, but eager to get going, so we started up a long dirt road across route 100 from the Inn. (Est. started elev. around 1200') As we neared the top of the dirt road, we asked our first stranger for directions, and were guided across the old Round Top (now Bear Creek) ski area. This dumped us out onto Roundtop Road, which climbed pretty steadily for a mile or so, before becoming Old Plymouth Road (as we entered N. Shrewsbury). We passed a few trails on our right that went into Coolidge State Forest as we sought out the long trail/AT . The "road" was overgrown and dirt and very runnable and Josh and I got to know each other by talking about New England runners we both knew. Josh did a great "JJ during a 50k" impression which I didn't have to use my imagination much to envision. I also heard some great tales throughout the run of legendary Keene St. performances. As a DIII coach, it was pretty exciting to hear about the impressive things that Josh and his teammates accomplished (and that current Owls continue to do under Pete Thomas' guidance). Josh had an awesome perspective on team culture, being a good teammate, etc., all stuff that is critical to team success.
We popped out of the State Forest and checked a sign at the parking lot. Getting our bearings, we continued to the end of the road and took a right on the CCC Road. At a fork, we ran into some more folks with a map and chatted them up while we looked things over. We ended up going right at the fork and finding a trailhead, where we got into the real VT woods for the first time (almost 8 miles/about 1 hour in). We thought we were on the Long Trail, but looking at maps afterward I don't think we were. The terrain got a lot more interesting, and Josh let me lead (as is his custom, he told me) through some beautiful woods as we climbed over both peaks of Shrewsbury (3700ish') and eventually to the summit of Killington. We had a couple great spots to look out over the valley and surrounding mountains. At the top, we chatted with a few friendly hikers and began our descent on the Juggernaut ski trail, which Killington used to advertise as 10 miles long. I wondered if it could actually be 10 miles to the bottom - we were over 2 hours in by now. The mood was light and the conversation was good, even as fatigue and dehydration took hold. Josh was more daring than me (no surprise) and quenched his thirst from a mossy mountain stream near the summit of Killington. This provided giardia conversations that lasted the rest of the run.
After a mile or two of winding down on Juggernaut without getting much closer to the bottom, we hopped on the Great Bear trail and followed that to the Sunrise Trail. It was a long way down. We ended up somehow having to climb back up as we approached the bottom, which neither of us was thrilled about at that point. Finally, we emerged at the (old) Sunrise base lodge, only to discover we had a long 6 miles left on route 100 back to our cars. We had been on our feet for over three hours and covered about 20 miles through the mountains. To add insult to injury, as we slowly started making our way back to Plymouth the road was marked every 100 meters, reminding us just how far we had to go. We were both feeling gassed, and when Ferenc told me he wasn't ashamed to call it quits, I took him up on it.
We decided to try our luck at eliciting some help from the locals and I was the first one up. At the first house we stopped, which was an inn, a woman was outside on her phone when two weary mountain men wandered up. "Could we get a ride or maybe just something to drink?" I asked her. She was without wheels, but she brought out two giant cups of homemade iced tea that hit the spot. Unfortunately, that wasn't helping the dead legs at all.
At the second house, it was Ferenc's turn to try. A guy with a mohawk and his girlfriend had just pulled into the driveway in a big pickup and Josh liked our chances. I let him lead the way while I slowly approached, waiting for a thumbs up or some other indication that we had found our help. Sure enough, Josh waved me over and we piled in the back for the ride to Plymouth. The guy probably didn't save our lives, but he certainly made them a lot less difficult than they would have been. We thanked him profusely at the Inn and he turned to head back.
Josh and I decided we wanted something else cold to drink, and being in Vermont, there was a country store only several miles away. We drove to a store in Plymouth just across the street from the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site. It was a very clean and very old country store. As we entered, I noticed a lot of ribbon candy and rock candy but nothing that would quench our thirst. The woman at the counter was counting out her register, getting ready to close the store, so I asked her if she had anything cold to drink. When she replied, "All we have is Moxie," I noticed Josh starting to lose control of his emotions, so I quickly asked for two. We popped those babies open in a couple rocking chairs on the front porch and that pretty well cemented a perfect first date with Josh Ferenc. (Ed. note: He told me I had him at, "Want to go for a run?")