Last time I paid $8 to park at Shepherd lake, but they told me there was free parking at the NJ Botanical Gardens .On Friday night I reference my NY/NJ Trail Conference map and saw that there was a parking lot extremely close to the red trail. The red trail was a fairly significant portion of the first leg of the 50k.
As it turned out, parking lot C was a remote lot at the Southern end of the Botanical Gardens. The lot was far from full but it buzzed with mountain bikers preparing to hit the trails.
This coyote was not impressed
I stepped out of the car and hoisted my fluid heavy hydration-pack onto my back and took a moment to check my map before departing the parking lot when I noticed a small coyote watching over the morning activity.
I paused for a moment to determine if there was any malicious intent and found the dog appeared accustomed to the morning's activities... so much so that he/she sat and watched as the riders and I prepared for our day on the trails.
Under the watchful eyes I crossed the gravel parking lot and was on my way to scout some of the trails of the Mountain Madness 50k run which was just over three weeks away.
I worked my way up a terribly eroded unmarked trail that had just enough of a grade to make me question my choice of activities for such a muggy morning.
The unmarked entrance to the forest merged with the wide white trail briefly before merging with Ringwood Ramapo Trail (red).
I followed the red blazes for a bit before my sense of direction became completely disoriented. I climbed a set of hills and questioned my sense of direction (feeling like I was going North instead of South). I squatted and survey my map and couldn't find comfort in continuing, so I doubled back.
At an intersection with an unmarked trail I could hear a steady series of voices... again I hesitated before deciding to leave the blazed trail and look for directional help from the voices. I thought maybe some mountain bikers were doing repeats off a a particularly fun piece of the trail.
After a brief jog down the unmarked trail I found myself looking through a fence at a school-yard hosting a youth soccer practice.
So much for my assumption, and as I pulled out my map (yet again) a couple of mountain bikers approached. I asked if they knew where they were... and they of course said they didn't either. We talked about orientation and decided that I was heading in the right direction prior to my decision to double back and that I should head back up the unmarked trail and rejoin the red trail in my orginal direction.
Then through the woods I saw a group of three trail runners, undoubtedly preparing for the same ultra I was training for, and they were climbing the hill that I had just doubled back on.
My confidence returned and I began to follow, climbing the twisting trail now for the second time. As I gained a little ground I cleared my throat to let the trailing runner know that I was in tow.
She pleasantly confirmed they were training for Mountain Madness and let me know the names of the next few trails and relative distance between the upcoming intersection.
The small group easily out paced me even before I could meet the two leaders, but it was comforting to know I was now following the route I intended.
The humidity was high as I negotiated the undulating path from red to blue and an unmarked path that went through a Boy Scout Camp and around Cannonball Lake.
I followed a busted-up asphalt road down a welcoming downhill to a hard right turn but the orange blazes indicated I had to hump it over a steep incline.
I roughed it up and over the steep but brief incline that left the pavement. After a short climb the Shruber Trail (orange) took a hard left and meandered through a rock field at the base of the Rocky Mountain ridge.
As I watched my footing I sensed that there were distant voices behind me. I suspected there were others on the trail also training for the upcoming 50k.
I paused to down a energy gel, as I listened to see if the voices were getting closer. I also checked my map since I was pretty tired and was thinking if there was an opportunity to shave a few miles off this run I would welcome the opportunity.
Rain on the Red/Silver Trail
I followed the orange path down a welcomed descent to the intersection of the Red/Silver trail. I now knew the group was very close and figured this was as good a place to take another break and let them pass.
After but a moment the first of the following runners approached and joined me at the intersection. It turned out that there were about 6 or 7 runners from the NJ Trail and Ultra Runners Club .
We talked for a bit and as the rains began to pound the canopy of the forest, I revealed my decision to abandon the course and start my trek back to parking lot C.
We wished each other well as I departed on the shorter route home.
No sooner has we departed did the sky explode into a complete downpour. Branches drooped low and the rocky terrain became dangerously slick under the 40+ minute deluge from the sky above.
I adjusted my pace (which wasn't all that fast to begin with) to compensate for the questionable footing.
The sun returns while on the yellow trail
I circled the northern edge of Bear Swamp Lake and made a turn onto what turned out to be the wrong portion of the yellow trail. I realized my mistake when I reached the end of the path after just a few hundred yards.
I reviewed the map (still under a downpour) and realized I had to double back and follow the trail along the lake for just a bit longer before heading home.
Back on course and still on the yellow path the rain came to a stop and the sun appeared to be trying to come out. A humid mist rose from the forest floor as I made my way across the crest of Ramapo Mountain.
White Trail transformed by the storm
I continued drinking and had another gel at the top of the mountain before the long descent following the undulating terrain from the crest. I transferred back to the familiarity of the white trail that had been transformed by the storm.
What had previously been a wide roadway of rutted dirt, stones and gravel now appeared to have been carpeted with thin layer of bright yellow leaves.
I made my way over the fresh blanket of downed foliage as my eyes adjusted to find the rutted hazards hiding beneath the leaves.
A few more uneventful miles and I found myself on the rutted descent into the parking lot.
Another good challenging run. I wish I took those other miles and continued with the group, my will weakened and I found a way out.
Distance: 11.02 Miles Time: 3hr 38 min Elevation Gain: 1,971 ft