Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bagging nearby Vermont (#19) in mid-winter

Bennington's picturesque train depot during greener months.

A mild winter (so far) recently gave me an opening to add to the "Running in All 50 States" project. So I took it!

The opening came on Sunday, Jan. 31, while driving back to New Hampshire from a silent film accompaniment performance in upstate New York.

As I followed Route 67 into Bennington, Vt., it was overcast but mild (above 40 degrees) and getting milder.

It being the final day of January, it was my last chance to get in a long run in a new state, thus extending my streak of consecutive months to a grand total of two.

The trouble was that time was running short. I was due in Wilton, N.H. (about two hours away) for a performance at 4:30 p.m. that very afternoon.

And as I pulled into Bennington, it was already 11:30 a.m.

Some quick in-my-head math convinced me I could still pull off a long run, although there was precious margin for error.

So I sat there in North Bennington and used Google Maps to eyeball a loop route out to Shaftsbury (following the old Rutland Railroad's main line) then down 7A into Bennington, then cutting back through local roads and around the Bennington College campus to back where I started.

The minimum distance for these state runs is 10K, or 6.2 miles. Just to be sure, I quickly drove the planned route, and was surprised to find it added up to 8.0 miles.

Too long! At my pace, I wouldn't finish in time to make it comfortably over to Wilton.

So, looking at the map, I quickly altered the end of the route to tighten the loop and shave off enough distance to shorten the run, but not below 6.2 miles.

Because then it wouldn't count!

With no time to drive this revised route and check the distance, I decided it was time to just do it.

I had dressed for cooler weather, but it was in the mid-40s. So I wound up bare-legged, with only black shorts and my lime green wicking moisture T-shirt. In January in Vermont!

But I really lucked out, not just in weather, but in location. The valley floor in this part of Vermont is studded with village centers and picturesque homes and even a real working railroad line!

So off I went, with North Bennington Village my starting point. Time was 11:47 a.m.

First I crossed over the railroad line while gawking at Bennington's handsome Victorian passenger depot. The depot sits unused but ready to host Amtrak trains from Burlington to NYC in the near future. The clock on the cupola is working and We'll see.

I then quickly found myself in open country, with the road paralleling the rail line in classic New England fashion.

After about two miles, I hit Route 7A in Shaftsbury, where I turned south. The rail line ducked under the road and curved out of sight on its way up to Rutland.

This was the busiest stretch of roadway, and the hilliest. But amazingly, parts of it had sidewalks! So other than dodging snowmelt puddles, it was pretty easy.

I then made the move to shorten the route: turning right on Overlea Road, which would send me right into Bennington College, which I'd skirt to the north on my way back to North Bennington.

The road—really a residential street—was so quiet, I could run in the middle of it for long stretches with no sign of any vehicles.

The grade drifted downwards until it crossed the disused rail spur running south into Bennington—the stub end of what I later learned was called the "Corkscrew Branch" to Albany, N.Y.

Today it dead-ends in Bennington. At the Overlea Road crossing, a clutch of at least two dozen tank cars (that's all I could see) were stored south of the crossing.

I then hauled myself upgrade to make a right on Matteson, which was necessary to have enough distance for this run to count.

My next turn was right on Harlan, but it seemed to be taking a long time to come. Meanwhile, I enjoyed views of the famous Battle of Bennington Monument, which was visible rising from the hills to the south.

Finally, a street on the right. But with a missing street sign! Should I take it or not?

A wrong turn could cost me precious minutes (not to mention foul up my distance), and I had to be in Wilton ready to do a three-hour movie at 4:30 p.m.

Dead reckoning told me to take it, so I did. I slogged upgrade for awhile (This better be the right road!), and was never so relieved to see HARLAN at the next intersection, which was with College Road, my next turn.

College Road skirted the northern boundary of property owned by Bennington College, long famous as the school with the highest tuition in the nation. (I just checked, and that's not true anymore. But still, it's about $50K a year.)

A flat well-paved surface, and complete absence of traffic, inspired me to do a series of "arm lifts" where I reach high, then move my wrists, all while keeping pace running. It really helps break the repetitive running pattern and adds to the aerobic workout.

I was closing in on where I started, but the maps weren't clear about the best road to take, and neither was I.

But a quick turn down a side street put me on Mechanic Street—exactly the right road to take me back to where I started. And it had sidewalks, too!

As I approached my car, I felt not quite sure that I'd completed 6.2 miles. So I kept going up the depot again, and then back, adding perhaps 2/10 of a mile just for insurance.

Stop time: 1:09. But what was the distance?

I drove the route, watching the miles add up. Turning onto Overlea, we still hadn't reached 5, so I began to worry. But we hit 6 while still on College Road, so I knew I'd be okay.

The final tally: 6.6 miles in 1 hour and 22 minutes, or a pace of 12:25 per mile.

I changed my clothes at a gas station along the way.

And yes, I made it to Wilton on time!

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