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iRunFar Summer Road Trip #2 – Onwards and Upwards

To be honest, my second road trip of the summer started off on the sad side. I flew back from […]

By on November 2, 2009 | Comments

To be honest, my second road trip of the summer started off on the sad side. I flew back from California to say goodbye to friends and family in DC, New Jersey, and New York. While I was moving to paradise and could always come back to visit these people, I was leaving the only life and world I’d ever know behind me. All that said, I went on to explore places I never thought I’d visit during iRunFar Summer Road Trip #2: Onwards and Upwards.

It turns out my parents make just as good a pit crew as an ultra crew!

Rockefeller State Park Preserve, NY
While I ran some hometown trails in New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park, those runs don’t feel like part of the road trip. Therefore, the first run of road trip number two was an easy morning run through Rockefeller State Park Preserve with iRunFar writer and publisher, Tony Portera. (Tony’s review of Rockefeller SPR) Though I rarely see Tony, the run felt as if he and I met up for such runs three days a week. We chatted about life, our upcoming running plans, and whatever else came up. It was a great way to start off the trip.

Frontenac Provincial Park, ON, Canada
My final farewell involved a trip to upstate New York to see my grandma. From there, I set off on my first trip to eastern Canada. At the border I gave up a can of pepper spray (really?!), but talked the guard into letting me take a house plant across the border so long as I promised that it wouldn’t leave the car. A few hours later I was northwest of Kingston, Ontario with trail running/snowshoeing couple extraordinaire – Derrick Spafford and Sara Montgomery. The next morning Derrick took me out to Frontenac Provincial Park to explore what the “Canadian Shield” had to offer. For 20 miles, we followed the gently rolling single-track as it weaved past numerous lakes and granite outcroppings under a thick maple canopy. We also came across a couple beaver dams, including one that was an integral part of the trail. Oh, Canada…

Derrick showing off a beaver’s toothy work in Frontenac

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, ON, Canada
To make the most of my first Ontario excursion, I took the high road out of Frontenac. In fact, I went about as far north as I could as I traversed the province on Kings Highway 11 between North Bay and Thunder Bay. It was during this veeeerrrrry long drive through Canadian bush country that I first heard of The Sleeping Giant, Canada’s top natural wonder as voted in a CBC poll. The peculiar feature gets its name as the Sibley Peninsula looks like a person in repose upon Lake Superior.

iRunFar mobile headquartersiRunFar’s mobile headquarters during this summer’s latter two road trips

After first overshooting the park and having to get directions at the Terry Fox Memorial, I hit the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park for a run. As I started down the trail so did the rain. It quickly picked up in intensity as it swept east across the aptly named Thunder Bay. Not a mile down the trail, I passed a group who warned of a large black bear on the trail. Maceless since my border crossing, I picked up two stones and clapped them together as I sang my way down the trail. Never saw the bear, but I sure feared it as I veered right onto some tight single track. I eventually dropped the rocks and into a hidden valley… or so it seemed. It’s rare that I’ve felt so immersed in nature as I did in this place. The highlight of the run was literally being splashed by a beaver that was less than 10 feet away when I had no option but to cross his dam. This was definitely a back track worth taking. Plus, it meant I got to stop at the Terry Fox Memorial twice!

Note the beaver to the left and the blue trail marker ahead

Maah Daah Hey Trail, Teddy Roosevelt National Park, ND
Another day, another trail. I could get used to this! Once I crossed back into the States I continued on a northerly route headed towards Theodore Roosevelt National Park and its Badlands. I had no particular run in mind for the park, but when I learned that the famed Maah Daah Hey Trail passed through the park, my decision was easy. The trail didn’t disappoint. I jumped on the trail where it passed by the intersection of the Little Missouri River and I-80. I ran east on a flat valley tucked between bluffs to the north and the winding Little Missouri to the south.

Running between the Little Missouri River and some bluffs on the Maah Daah Hey Trail

The grass tight along the trail was saturated with ticks, which I regularly stopped to pull off my legs. Two miles down the trail another animal had hidden itself in the tall grass – a rattlesnake. The snake blended in perfectly and it wasn’t until I was on top of the snake that its rattle alerted me of its presence. I looked back and saw it coiled as if ready to strike. I noted the snake’s position in my GPS running watch and continued practically high stepping my way down the trail.

The toothiest of my animal foes on the Maah Daah Hey Trail

Eventually, a trail turned northward. I followed it up to the top of the bluffs from which I had a great view of the trail I’d traveled and the valley beyond the bluffs. On the way back, I bushwacked my way to the very top of the bluffs and was treated to an interesting mineral field that I investigated. The rest of my return trip I was enjoyed to great views, as the bluffs threw ever-lengthening shadows over the flat valley below.

Running off into the sunset on the Maah Daah Hey Trail

Ruby Crest Trail, Elko County, NV
Sometimes the best-laid plans are quickly laid to rest. The evening before what I’d intended to be the crowning run of my first two road trips – a full-length run of the 42-mile Ruby Crest Trail, it was called off. My partner for the run, Brendan Trimboli, and I decided that the logistics of the car shuttle, setting up camp, and running the trail just wouldn’t work given our projected arrival times in Elko. In hindsight, I’m sure glad we bailed because it would have been on long walk of the Ruby Crest Trail.

Lamoille Canyon was all clear… below the trailhead

What I hadn’t anticipated was the sheer volume of snow that would still be on the trail and how slow going it would make any progress down it. Rather than deal with any shuttling, Brendan and I decided a simple out-and-back was in order. Easier said than done. Upon hitting the trailhead we covered a small length of valley floor and then began ascending the switchbacks. Snow patches quickly turned into a snowfield in which we had to carefully search for the inconspicuously marked trail. To be fair, when the trail isn’t covered in snow, it’s impossible to miss. Not so in the snow.

This may or may not be the Ruby Crest Trail, but we took it

We frequently split up only to rendezvous when one of us was certain he was on trail. The route-finding, steep terrain, two-mile high elevation, and goodness knows how deep snow kept us at a near standstill. By the time we reached Liberty Pass, it had taken over an hour and a half to cover two and two-thirds miles. Granted, there was at least 1,600’ of climbing in about two and a half of those miles, but that’s still a pace that would have had us taking over a day to cover the 42-mile length of the trail.

Brendan climbing toward Liberty Pass on the Ruby Crest Trail

At the pass we noted a strong thunderstorm, so after a few pictures we turned around for the trailhead.

Weather forming over Liberty Lake on the far side of the pass

Having long before switched from a cover-the-distance mindset to a enjoy-the-journey one, Brendan and I made the most of the trek back to the car. We kicked things off with some high altitude sledless sledding. Upon reaching one of the small lakes along the way, we came across three other intrepid souls and stopped for a delightful chat. The final leg of our return trip turned into a fun bushwack into the valley.

Brendan Trimboli Ruby Crest TrailBrendan sneaking in some running at the end of our journey

iRunFar Summer Road Trip #2 Completed
After the misadventure in the Ruby Mountains I headed home to the Sierra foothills for a few days of recuperation prior to embarking on the biggest of the three iRunFar summer road trips. I need the break as I’d driven more than 7,000 miles in the month since I first pulled the Penske truck (iRF Summer Road Trip #1) away from the curb in Arlington, Virginia.

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.