John Burroughs once wrote that to be an observer is to “find what you are not looking for.” With this thought in mind, I set off for a trail run in Minnewaska State Park Preserve a couple of weekends ago, with no particular goal but to cover some ground and open my eyes. Perhaps I’d observe something that I wouldn’t have even thought of looking for.
As race director for the SRT Run/Hike, I’m interested in encouraging participation in the event and seeing more people experience the Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT), which is one of my favorite trails in New York. To be fair, the full 70-mile division isn’t for everyone: not only does it require significant endurance to cover such a long distance, but also you’ve got to be mindful about navigation, nutrition, and hydration, since we don’t provide aid stations or course markings. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
But the half-marathon division should be accessible to a lot of people, and with a start-time of 10:30 AM and the final cut-off at midnight, you have 13.5 hours to complete the course, which requires moving at barely a 1 MPH average pace. To demonstrate just how generous this time limit is, I chose a beautiful fall day recently to see if I could complete the 1/2 marathon course within the time limit, without food, water,* or even shoes.
As a novice barefooter, I knew the going would be slow, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day than experiencing the sights, sounds, and textures of New York’s most magical trail.
Saturday, April 23, 2016, I was running with friends in the Sam’s Point section of Minnewaska State Park, descending from High Point toward the Verkeerderkill Falls, when we spotted a distant plume of smoke. We paused and watched as the smoke billowed up from a small patch of ground and then caught the wind, blowing away to the south, then shifting back towards us. Was the trail blocked? We couldn’t tell, but thought it best to turn back.
Two days later, what had started as a pin-prick was now threatening 2,000 acres, and Rock The Ridge race director Todd Jennings and I were forced to consider an emergency re-route of the course — with only five days until the start. The problem wasn’t that the flames would threaten the runners, but rather that Minnewaska State Park was closed while the staff worked around the clock with 300 firefighters, rangers, and volunteers to contain the blaze. Hosting a race at the same time didn’t seem possible. But with two days to go, we got word that Minnewaska had approved us to proceed with the original course, even if the park was still closed. And then it rained, and the fire went out. Todd and I salute the staff for protecting thousands of acres of beautiful land and managing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. It’s an incredibly important job, and there’s nothing easy about it.
I hadn’t been out to Gertrude’s Nose in many years, so I jumped at the opportunity to join Hudson Valley photographer Steve Aaron on a hike, and of course, Odie the Labradoodle was eager to come, too. In fact, when I hopped in the car to run an errand (I was going to come back and get him), Odie was so upset, he cried and howled. So Odie came with me on the errand, and then we headed off to Minnewaska State Park Preserve and the trail to Gertrude’s Nose.
The 2nd edition of the SRT Run/Hike took place along the Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT) in New York’s Hudson Valley commencing Friday, September 18 at 6:35 PM and ending Saturday September 19, 2015 at 11:30 PM. The event attracted participants from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Missouri, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and California. 82 racers started out in four divisions ranging from 20 to 74 miles, ready to experience the beauty, ruggedness, and diversity of the Shawangunk Mountains. 73 made it to the finish line for an overall completion rate of 89%. A new record of 22 hours 2 minutes was set for the full 74-mile SRT. There were no reported injuries.
For the organizers, the event started many months ago. For 2015 we changed the format, increasing the number of divisions from three to four and holding them all on the same day. We also moved the last five miles of the course off paved roads and onto an unmaintained trail in the Mohonk Preserve. We spent the months leading up to the event obtaining six different permits, developing detailed safety plans, recruiting volunteers, and hoping people would sign up for an event that provides adventure but not support.
(Please note, the format for the 2017 event is different from the 2015 event as reported here)
What was remarkable: for all the challenges of racing through the mountains unsupported, there was a 95% completion rate. That speaks volumes about the runners’ skills and attitude.
Ellenville Mountain Running Festival was conceived as an event that would introduce runners to some of the most beautiful but less-used sections of Minnewaska State Park Preserve and Sam’s Point Preserve, which together comprise the largest preserved parcel in New York’s Shawangunk Mountains.