Two attempts at completing the TCU have fallen short of their intended goal to complete 100 miles from Massachusetts to Guilford with minimal aid via the New England Scenic Trail. Last year the trail after dark, blocked by dense overgrowth, turned me back shortly after Summitwood Road. This time around, I called it a day at route 71, a little before then.
The day has started well, the first three hours, in the company of ET, passed quickly. We chatted all the way about a variety of things, medical ethics, dogs, the recent Olympics in the UK, (our nation of birth) and our dislike of people in ultra races who don’t stop chatting! Yes, you heard me correctly,it was an ironic conversation to have but it didn’t seem out of place at the time. We parted at the route 4 crossing where we met Souper Girl and Lucy. From then on the journey was a solo one.
The going gets progressively rougher underfoot as you head south, after leaving the trails for a lengthy road section that takes you under route 84, it gets even harder. The gradients don’t really change in terms of height, but the traprock becomes more intense. After Bradley Mountain, there is an easy section of road past Rogers Orchard Farm, a farm stand selling a variety of locally grown fruit looked inviting, but my cash was deep inside my pack and I couldn’t be bothered to stop and dig it out. Besides, I had planned to meet Guthrie and Snobody at Andrews Street a little further down the road. From here was the climb and ridge transverse to Ragged Mountain, when the trail branches with the Ragged Mountain Preserve Trail there is a particularly narrow and steep downhill that squeezes through a crack of a rock ledge. It’s slippery, many of the rocks are lose and my Pategonia Tsali’s offered no grip in these conditions. Ragged Mountain leads to Short Mountain and then a long road bimble along Edgewood Road that is bordered by some impressive homes. At the head of this section I met the gang and they gave me two fresh peaches from Rogers. The change from PB&J was a great but they had an aperient effect which was a challenge as I passed one pristine yard after another!
Then the game changed significantly. The next RV point was to be the last, after that the plan was to survive on three supply drops that I would use through the night. But the loop around the Hanging Hills, over West Peak, East Peak and Castle Craig were a drain. The soles of my feet were getting really sore, my light weight shoes were offering little protection from the trap rock. I started to blister as the base of my big toes and my plantar was becoming uncomfortable with the constant stretching. Waves of nausea between food intake were becoming more frequent and the taste of the drink was getting less and less quenching. I was starting to doubt the wisdom of continuing without aid. From Summitwood Road, and my last crew contact, it was going to be 13 miles before the next drop, I had already incurred a 30 minute detour after going off course in the dark near Merimere Reservoir navigating in the dark using just trail blazes takes concentration. Do Iconcentrate of the blazes and miss the rocks underfoot or do i look for foot placement and miss trail markers? It was a choice I repeatedly getting wrong. On meeting up the crew unexpectedly at route 71 and being advised that the next section to Summitwood Road, where three of us had got lost on last year, was also quite overgrown. I decided enough was enough.
I’d gone 15 hours and roughly 60 miles with minimal aid and stops. I had really wanted to prove to myself the route was complete able in a single outing, but I didn’t want to do that and be a liability to others. Yet despite the disappointment, the experience did have its benefits.
The course is without doubt hard going. It presents many challenges as a ‘run’, the loop around Hanging Hills was particularly challenging in that regard. There are several ‘opportunities’ to fall that could easily result in broken bones, especially where the rocks are wet and accessing these locations to render assistance would be an undertaking. While I was reminded that at Bighorn, at least one aid station was packed into the wilderness on horse back, much of the trail was accessible on small 4-wheeled buggies. The TCU would not be an event for inexperienced participants and pre-race advice would be difficult to pitch because you wouldn’t want to put people off while at the same time risk attracting people without the necessary preparation. You could liken the course to the Escarpment Trail race, but five times longer!
Is the notion of the TCU over? Last night it was in question, but today I find myself looking over trail the map and recalling different experiences from the day before. As i make notes on it i realize the desire to defeat the beast remains!