Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Narragansett Trail (E-W) Run

I've been hoping to do this run the last couple of years.  I've done all stretches of this trail on various runs, and I knew doing the entire thing would be quite the adventure.  Since the trail is relatively close to my house, logistics wouldn't be too hard or prohibitive to figure out.  It was just a matter of when? 

The trail itself is very challenging.  I figured going east to west would work the best since the most tiring terrain lies on the eastern side.  The sections around Ashville/Long/Ell/Yawgoog/ and Green Fall Ponds are extremely technical and slow.  Not that finishing going up and over Lantern Hill was going to be a fun way to end a long run though.  Based on data from pieces of other runs I've done, I figured the trail could be run in about 3.5 hours.  Certainly a trail marathon feel, if not short on distance because of how hard it would be.  I've seen the distance listed as about 22 miles. 

On Saturday, May 3rd, I was able to complete this run with Muddy Puddin and Seth Acton.  We put together the details very quickly a few days beforehand.  We would begin early (5:30AM) at Ashville Pond in RI.  We would carry what we needed.  Muddy's wife would pick us up around 9:15AM at Lantern Hill.  Adding to the excitement of the run was the possibility that this was a FKT - Fastest Known Time.  We couldn't find any evidence of anyone completing the full length of the trail in either direction.  I knew that Ben Nephew had recently been in the area, and I was told he did an out-and-back on the Connecticut portion of the trail.  This tempered my enthusiasm some, knowing that if he did do the full trail, he clearly would be faster than us.  But like Seth wrote on his blog, Ben's was a different sort of adventure than ours. 

I awoke after a rather restless night's sleep at 4:30AM.  I already had my gear packed, but I was a tad concerned that the temperature was only in the high 30's.  I wasn't planning on that.  I got my act together and headed off to D&D for my pre-long run routine breakfast of an egg & cheese bagel sandwich with hash browns.  I then made my way to Ashville Pond, arriving early, but Muddy was already there.  Seth soon arrived as well, and before we knew it, our adventure was beginning. 

Double Blaze at the start

Right away my legs didn't feel that great.  I knew this was going to be a struggle physically for me.  I thought about my training this week, and how I should have done less.  Mentally I had no reservations about this run - I'd get it done no matter what.  The trail immediately was wet and littered with slippery rocks.  I love this stretch of trail, but it is unforgiving.  Muddy took the point and he was not messing around with the pace.  He kept it snappy through Long Pond/Ell Pond.  The ups and downs are very steep and basically non-runnable.  I tried my best to quick step my way up. 

Between Long and Ell Ponds

After snapping this picture I found myself working hard trying to catch back up.  This section of trail is amazing - giant rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and plenty of rocks and ledges to maneuver around.  We got a short break once we reached the dirt road, and then I took the lead for the trail around Yawgoog Pond.  More runnable, but there are many confusing intersections.  Again, beautiful scenery if you get the chance to look up, and lots of water crossings.  We reached the CT/RI border in about 43 minutes.  Now we were following blue blazes.  We made our way over Dinosaur Rocks and onward to Green Fall Pond.  So many rocks everywhere.  We reached the dam and then made our way into the ravine.  The trail was very precarious - a narrow wet trail at times high above the raging rocky stream.  We then reached the water crossing and there was no way not to get wet.  We took turns wading through the knee deep stream. 

Blurry Seth makes his way across
I had projected that we would reach Green Fall Pond in about an hour and fifteen minutes (worse case).  We were quite a bit faster which was nice, especially with how slow the trail seemed to be so far.  I was carrying a pack with water and couldn't wait for a good place to drop it.  I figured I would just continue on with GU's and my phone.  But I had to wait.  We reached the road and climbed up back to more singletrack.  This was a section of trail I had run with Jeff two years ago.  More rocks as you make your way below an impressive ridge, and finally climbing over it where it is the easiest. 
Hey guys, wait up! 
We reached another paved road and I hoped that the gun club property we now needed to cross was open (it is closed during winter hunting season, but what about spring turkey season?).  Luckily, it wasn't posted for this time of year, so we made our way through the wide lanes and trails.  This is probably the most boring part of the entire trail, but it did offer easier footing for us.  I was happy to see the Narragansett Trail was more clearly blazed through here now as opposed to two years ago when Jeff and I got lost.  They also added interesting archery targets in various spots. 
I know it's rocky, but not this rocky
We slopped through some wet spots and got torn up on briars as we made our way up to Rte 49.  It was now time to suck down some water and drop the pack. 
Seth and Muddy on Rte 49
After a few minutes of pavement, we dropped back down into the woods.  This was another poorly marked section two years ago, but this time we stayed on course.  The trail is less rocky here.  The woods are open, hilly, and the single track along the little brook is awesome.  Seth was rocketing through this section until an incredibly long climb.  It was steep, leveled off, and then got steep again.  I actually was enjoying the hills more than the flats and downs.  My legs respond well to this type of running.  The trail opens up, and Muddy now was feeling good and disappearing ahead of us.  We passed up and over Bullet Ledge and then High Ledges.  I was getting antsy just to reach Wyassup Lake. 
Bullet Ledge
We reached Wyassup Lake at 2 hours and 21 minutes.  I had figured about 2.5 hours, so we were still doing well on time.  Now it was just a matter of doing the last 6 or 7 miles to Lantern Hill.  This is the section maintained by fellow WTACer Mike Crutchley.  No breaks, here we go.  As soon as we entered the woods (slight hill), my legs did not have any speed left in them.  Muddy and Seth looked so spry, pulling away from me.  Ugh.  I wasn't worried about finishing, I just knew I would suffer.  I would occasionally catch up at water crossings (we got plenty wet in a few spots here), or if there was a confusing intersection, but they would quickly pull away again.  When we reached the beaver dam, I took over the lead again, as a storm (hurricane Sandy?) has made the trail tricky to follow, and I knew the way.  This also pushed me to run faster, until we reached a long climb up Cossaduck Hill, which again I felt rather good doing.  We briefly stopped at the overlook, as Seth and I took off our shirts here.  The sun was warming the day up nicely, and it felt plain hot on the climbs. 
Cossaduck Hill Overlook
We were all moaning and groaning at this point.  We were at about three hours.  Not too much longer to go, but plenty of climbing ahead.  We made our way down to Ryder Road, crossed Rte 2, and then got back in the woods on Wintechog Hill.  Our pace was diminishing, I was thirsty, and the terrain kept climbing.  I was managing to keep quick stepping, and finding some sort of pleasure in this pain.  As we began the long gradual downhill we saw Crutchley in the woods.  Sweet!  He was out looking for us on the trail and then ran us back to the finish. 
Are you sure this is the way to Lantern Hill?
We popped out at the town dump and made our way through this industrial zone.  We then reached the final single track section of the day.  We ran over rocks on the side of Lantern Hill, before the trail goes up.  I was feeling good again on the climb and made my way up.  The top came sooner than I expected and soon I was joined by the group for one more quick picture break. 
Top of Lantern Hill.  Almost done.  Photo by Crutchley
We made our way down the tricky steep hill and then ran fast on the double track to the parking lot.  We finished up in 3 hours and 27 minutes.  FKT?  We think so, but definitely a great adventure, and  something I can cross off the running bucket list. 
Thanks to Muddy's wife for picking us up and feeding us.  Thanks to Crutchley for running the end with us and providing us water. 
The Finish. Photo by Crutchley


  1. Nice run Jonny and the write up

  2. Wow, fantastic pictorial essay, Jonny. Made me feel like I was there running it. Glad to hear the trail west of Green Falls Pond was much better marked than when you and I got lost. It was distracting enough then, but you certainly didn't need it this time.
    What a great adventure! Congrats to all of you. This is inspiration for me to recover and get back to long runs with you.

  3. Fun adventure!!! I've been on sections of those trails, most recently the Long and Ell pond, that climb up is spectacular and the views amazing. Great write up and I felt like I was there with you, as noted above. Remember to burp your hydration pack, then it won't slosh so much! Great way to spend a Saturday morning!

  4. Great job out there - I'm going for the SKT (Slowest Known Time) from West to East at some point! Glad you guys didn't have any navigational issues to speak of, and it was pretty cool getting some shots of you all finishing up the run!

  5. Awesome run Jonny, Muddy, and Seth!