Ever since Amina and I hiked the Grand Canyon, I’ve been wanting to do more trail running and explore running longer. My back put those goals on hold, but after successfully running 13 miles on trails in April, I let my friend Sam convince me to join a group of friends on a 30 mile trail run up in Maine.
I’d never run more than 13 miles at a time before. I’d never hiked more than 17 miles in a day. But I trust Sam, and knew she wouldn’t leave me, and I was curious about my abilities. So I made a reservation with our group at Maine Huts & Trails, and set about testing out backpacks and hiking poles. I also made sure to pack a headlamp, figuring that worst case I’d just slow down and finish really, really late.
Last Friday, we loaded our gear into two cars and headed north five hours to West Forks, Maine. Our journey included a lunch stop at Duck Fat for some carbo-loading, a couple of bathroom breaks, and a harrowing few miles on some poorly maintained logging roads. Once we parked, we had a mile hike to the Grand Falls Hut, the northernmost hut in the MH&T system.
Photo credit: Sam
We had a lazy afternoon of board games, trail exploring, and hammock reading, and then a pasta dinner and a bonfire before turning in at a respectable 10 p.m.
The alarm went of at 5:30 the next morning. After a bagel breakfast, we loaded our packs and hiked our stuff out to the car to be brought 30 miles south by our two selfless sherpas, Kelvin and Rebecca. The rest of us strapped on hydration packs and took off running.
The first several miles flew by. The trail meandered along the Dead River, through tall grasses and birch groves.
We saw lots of deer and moose sign, but no actual animals, probably because they could hear us coming from miles away.
The first 12.3 miles took just over three hours. We likely could have gone faster, but this was my first time doing this kind of thing and I didn’t want to push it too hard and get hurt or be miserable. So Sam and I kept a relaxed 15 minute pace, stopping to take photos, walking the inclines, and chatting.
Toward the end of the leg my back and shoulders started tightening up, causing me to freak out a little bit. I knew there was a lake at the next hut, and promised myself that if I continued to push it, I could hop in for an ice bath as soon as we stopped. When we arrived at the Flagstaff Hut, that’s just what I did.
Photo credit: Colleen
Water has never felt so good. I stood there for awhile trying to let as much of the cold soak into me as possible, but the water was frigid, and I didn’t last long. Still, it helped enormously.
The rest of the group took off pretty quickly as they were worried about tightening up, but Sam and I were already tight so we stayed back, stretched, and had a snack. I wasn’t in a big rush leave this view.
Finally, we hit the trail again. We didn’t make it far before we had to stop to take in another gorgeous view.
We made it another half-mile down the trail before spotting these beauties.
Lady’s slippers are a species or orchid found across the Eastern United States. They take a long time to grow, and are a fairly unusual sight, so I was pretty excited to find them all along this stretch of the trail.
A mile or so later, we made radio contact with Kelvin. Since there’s no cell service in this area, each group carried a walkie talkie. We agreed to turn the walkie on at the top of each hour for 15 minutes so we could check in with each other. Sam and I had reached a trail junction just as we made contact with Kelvin, who was on a mountain bike. Kelvin advised us that the Hemlock Trail he was on was overgrown and boggy, so we decided to take the higher winter route and pass by the Halfway Yurt.
The going was pretty slow for the next few miles. The yurt was at the top of an almost 1.5-mile long hill. At one point, we worried that we’d lost the trail, as we seemed to be on more of a jeep road. Fortunately, because we were up high, I had cell service and was able to see that we were indeed still on the trail.
Photo credit: Sam
Sam and I stopped for a few minutes in the yurt to have a snack and stretch again. But we knew we’d slowed down considerably, so got back on the trail pretty quickly.
We had a mile run downhill, and then crossed a road to find the last stretch of the trail that Kelvin had warned us about.
Some parts were boardwalk, some was more boggy with logs for structure. Not much of it was runable. It took us more than 40 minutes to cover two miles.
By this time, we were in sporadic contact with Kelvin via text. He advised that when we hit the dirt Carriage Road we should run down that instead of proceeding to Poplar Hut, as the trail was in similarly bad condition. Sam and I had enough water, so we didn’t need to stop at the hut, and we didn’t want to make our friends wait another two hours for us to arrive.
So we took off down Carriage Road. And encountered some “only in Maine” signs.
Kelvin met us halfway up Carriage Road. We’d cut three miles off of our run. But we’d run 24 miles, and had another steep, 3 mile hike to get to Stratton Brook Hut, where we spent the night. (Side note: the Maine Huts & Trails are pretty sweet, and I would totally go back in summer or winter.)
My legs were tired, and my back was sore, but overall I felt a lot better than I thought I would. I had no blisters or chaffing. Nothing was in major stabbing pain. My spirits were high.
Finishing this was a huge confidence boost for me, and made me eager to run more trails. Somehow, the miles go faster when I’m surrounded by trees, and while I doubt I’ll be running 25 miles every weekend, I’d definitely plan (and train for) another.
Photo credit: Sam
7 hours, 26 minutes (moving)
18:35/mile average pace
Nathan running vest (Amina’s)
2 liter water bladder
Salomon trail runners
NB fitted tights
long sleeve shirt
5 energy balls (made by Sam)
3 energy gels
1 Gu chomps
1 Nuun tablet
1 package tropical pork jerky
~4 liters water