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home > community > viewpoint > sneaking in the notch, part ii

Sneaking in the Notch, Part II
A letter to my dog

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By Chris Russell
Posted Saturday, 22 May, 2004

Dear Buddy,

How are things since I left? How’s the family doing? The squirrels? Your bone collection? I think you gave me poison ivy. Sorry I had to go on this business trip and leave you in your cage.

I wish you could have come with me. As I told you, I’m spending the next couple of days at my office in Quebec City. It’s a great time of year in Quebec; the weather is great. (As the old joke goes; “summer in Quebec is two weeks of bad skating”).

I drove up yesterday through the White Mountains and Franconia Notch again. This time I planned it so that I could have some extra sunlight and get some trail running in.

You missed a great run Buddy. I wish you were with me. You would have loved it. I stopped at the “Bridle Path – Falling Waters” trail out of the trail head at the Lafayette Campground.

I know that as a mostly black border collie, you don’t like running in the hot weather. Well, you would have loved the weather yesterday. It was perfect running weather for man and beast. It was a misty-tending-towards-drizzle sixty degrees. The clouds hung thick and gray obscuring the tops of the mountains.

The green firs steamed with mist. It was like a cool-weather rain forest. Every thing was so green and every green thing dripped with moisture. Another thing you would have liked, Buddy, was that there were no bugs. I don’t know if it was still too cold or what, but there were no deer flies, no mosquitoes and not even those tiny no-see-um black flies that plague New Hampshire.

I really didn’t know what to wear. You don’t have that problem of clothing choices that is peculiar to the naked ape. I went with some high cut shorts and a short sleeve Coolmax.

These I accessorized smartly with hunter orange running gloves (courtesy of the North Medford club that I picked up at the Willard Brook Ramble) and a Ronzoni hat from the marathon converted to a bush hat with a red bandana. I wish they still gave away those Ronzoni hats.

This was the hat with the red plastic visor from 2002 that had ‘Compaq’ written on it. Buddy, you know how to convert a hat to a bush hat for trail running? What you do is take a bandana and a few of those ubiquitous safety pins (that we runners have everywhere), and you pin the bandana to the back of the hat. The bandana hangs down, Lawrence of Arabia style, and keeps the sun and the bugs off the back of your neck.

Getting back to the run, Buddy, you would have loved every inch of it. You might have been a little scared to jog through the tunnel with me under Route 93 from the campground to the trail head. I would have had you on the leash. Even though I didn’t see a soul the whole time that I was on the mountain, there were thirteen cars in the trail head parking lot.

You would have enjoyed the ‘open pit’ toilet facilities. If you think a porta-john provides an exquisite olfactory medley to your big dog nose, one whiff of this thing would put you in orbit! But, hey, ‘Any porta-john in a storm’, eh?

I had planned to try to do some modified trail speed work. I didn’t know what the topography was. My plan, (if you could call it that), was to run easy out 16 minutes on my watch, do 4-5 long pick ups and run easy back.

Soon after entering the trail I was enveloped in fir and gold-birch forest. With the misty day, it was dark and primeval. The trees were thick, impenetrable on all sides. They weren’t big trees, but they were lush, verdant and all enveloping. Buddy, you could probably navigate the undergrowth, but I wouldn’t even try to penetrate these woods.

If you had been with me your big ears would have picked things up, but for me there was no noise. The trail hugs a brook, maybe 6-8 feet across, which cascades down the granite face of the mountain. There was no discrete noise. There was only the white noise of the falling water thrashing its way down the granite into the valley and profile lake.

You would have loved the trail, especially the first half mile or so. You might think that with the drizzle the trail would be muddy, but is was not. Those few places that were soft were easily skirted. Most of the footing was soft packed clay with roots and bits of stray granite chunk poking out here and there. It was very nice footing for strong strider like you.

The only thing that may have discouraged you was the grade. The initial bits of the trail were not tremendously challenging but had a constant uphill grade of 5- 15%. This would have been perfect for my pickups if it had stayed that way. It did not.

I’m not sure how you would have done. The trail turned to follow the cascade straight up the side of Mount Lafayette. Straight up. Buddy, you would have had to leap up stone staircases taller than you, like a goat, to keep up with me.

In spots I definitely would have had to portage you across the freshet. Even though I know you consider yourself a poster-dog for agility training, I think you would require some encouragement where the trail leaps from stone to stone across the rushing water or across a slippery log.

Those places where the climb went to 80+% grades and it was hand over hand on the rock face, you would have swallowed your pride and asked for a lift. However, I do wish I had some sharp long toenails like yours built into my old Gel Cumulus. At times my coefficient of friction was questionable.

Needless to say, my ill conceived plan for speed work didn’t work out, but I think I got a good quad work out. I tried doing some acceleration up the trail, but having to leap about with tired legs was just too dangerous.

You would have understood if you had seen it. Choosing the wrong foot planting spot or catching a root could cause a problem, and you weren’t’ there to run to the rangers for help like Lassie.

I was limited to 30 second surges in the relatively predictable patches, but I think I got a pretty good work out none the less.

I’ve done some trail running before. I like it. You and I run the trails behind our house every week. Those trails are easy compared to this Falling Water Trail. I do recall similar running at the 17 mile Wapack trail race a few years back in New Ipswich New Hampshire.

That race was a hoot. You would have liked it, but three and a half hours stumbling around in the mud would probably be too much for even you. I know it was close to being too much for me! Up and down 3 or 4 mountains in the woods. It was my introduction to that subspecies of Homo sapiens; the trail runner, (trailus-prodigious-maximus)

To call it trail ‘running’ is technically a misnomer. From what I remember, there was mostly walking up the mountains and swinging from tree to tree down the mountains. The trail runners have figured out that you can make about the same speed ‘power-walking’ up the steep bits as you can by trying to run.

I remember the leaders passing me on their way back in. They were like magical little gnomes leaping effortlessly from rock to stump and swinging from tree to tree, all the while moving along very fast. They were strange skimming monkey people appearing and disappearing in the mist.

This trail was like that, except steeper. The trail hugged close to the brook. It crossed and re-crossed to find purchase on one bank or another. The AMC had been through here and engineered rude granite staircases up the sides in places.

The brook itself fell in constant water falls from the granite face. Buddy, you would have liked being able to stop and slurp fresh mountain spring water the whole length of the trail. I did slake my thirst. I figured, what’s the worst that can happen? I catch Giardia. All things considered, I could use the time off and the weight loss.

The granite was red in places from iron deposits, but otherwise grey with white specs. In some pools the water swirled with a bluish hue. The water was cold from mountain snow that still hugged the higher reaches. There may have been fish, but I didn’t see any and I didn’t see how they could climb those falls.

If you had been able to tough it out, Buddy, the trail turned away from the falling water and off across the side of the mountain on another meandering packed soil path after about 25 minutes of upward struggle. I followed this a little ways, but I was out of time. Eventually, the signs said, this trail ends up at the Mount Lafayette hikers lodge. Maybe another day.

Buddy, here is the tricky part about running up the side of a mountain…you have to get back down. You would think that going down would be easier, but it’s not necessarily so. By the time I turned around my quads were beaten up. Guess which muscle you use for slowing your descent?

At this point the drizzle picked up. The rock faces and roots were getting a little slick. With my legs rubbery it got exciting in places trying to determine what footing would hold and what would not. Buddy, you would have had ample opportunity to file down those toenails.

When I hit the packed soil trail at the end the running was weightless. This is where you would have flown like a black and white torpedo. It was joyous running, all warmed up from fighting the mountain, to be able to finally stretch it out and fly.

You might have been scared, because just then, as I was nearing the trail head, there was a terrific flash and explosion of thunder. The heavens opened up. The rain came in torrents just as I was leaving the trail. Large heavy tropical rain drops rinsed the sweat and mud from my body. It was great. It was like an epiphany of sorts, the perfect ending to a great trail run.

I had an ear-to-ear grin as I jogged back to my rental car. I was drenched. I wriggled into some dry clothes under the porch roof of the camp office and was on my way north to work.

Anyways, Buddy, I thought I’d drop you a quick note and share this experience with you, because I knew you could appreciate the beauty of it. Next time you’re coming with me and we’ll have a blast leaping from rock to root and splashing in the icy stream.

I’ll be home tomorrow. I don’t think I’m going to stop on my way home, because frankly, I’m a little sore and I don’t want to sully the pristine memory of yesterday.

See you soon. Lick the kids for me.



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