Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Finding Perfect Vermont for Trail Runners

The NETT news room recently got this report in from Crazy Dave about his recent trip to Vermont. It sounds like the kind of trip a pile of Mini Ponies will enjoy!

For years I've had a torrid love affair. It started in college, continued through my bachelor years, and yes, it even continues now even though I am very happily married. In fact, my lovely wife not only supports, but participates in this affair. 

I am in love with Vermont. And for years, I have been traveling and staying in various parts of the state looking for the perfect spot. I have run long stretches of the Long Trail solo and with friends. I've run and hiked to the state's highest peaks -- Stratton, Killington, Camel's Hump, and Mansfield. I've run the Kingdom Trails and even skied at Trapps. 

But this weekend, I think I may have found the perfect spot and here's why. 

  • A small town (population 400)
  • Plenty of lodging (a number of inns, which we'll get to later)
  • Good food available. In a spot you might not expect (don't we all love surprises)
  • Miles of hilly dirt roads leading into the Green Mountain National Forest
  • Trails. Miles of trails. For running. Biking. Hiking. 
  • A very good yoga studio 
  • A local appreciation for running and fitness. 

I'm talking about Pittfsfield, Vermont and if you're a runner, mountain biker, hiker, yoga enthusiast, or just seeking the perfect spot in Vermont to bring a group of friends, this is the spot. 

We were invited to spend the weekend in Pittsfield by the nice folks at Perfect Vermont and we packed about 60 hours' worth of activity into 24. Perfect Vermont is a unique organization -- while their goal is to attract groups to Pittsfield to visit, they're not your typical tourism office. One of the co-founders, Tom, is an experience trail and ultra runner and happily leads visitors on trail runs and hikes on the miles of trails accessible from the town. And the other co-founder Erlin is a yoga instructor who teaches classes as the studio in town. 

We started our visit by visiting the Original General Store right on Route 100 in the center of town. It has a variety of Vermont gifts you'd expect, but it also has unbelievably good food. I don't mean just the usual ham sandwiches. I mean stuffed french toast, fresh fruit smoothies, and reuben sandwiches. 

Despite the rainy weather, I decided to hit the road for a run and put in more than an hour on a soft and scenic dirt road leading me deep into the Green Mountain National Forest (Pittsfield borders the forest). The road I was on gradually turned into more of a jeep road but was easy to follow and a bit less sloppy than the trails for the day. 

We then checked into our inn, the Amee Farm Lodge, which we found to be a great mix of old and new. With about 15 rooms and some welcoming common spaces, the inn was a great place to relax, chat with the other guests, and meet up with our hosts for the weekend, Tom and Erlin. 

Our next activity (I told you we packed a LOT into this weekend) was a tour of the town, courtesy of Perfect Vermont. Pittsfield has several inns, cabins, barns and other function spaces available for retreats (like...oh..I dunno...a trail running club retreat??? Hint hint). We took a look at a few of them and I could definitely see a crew of Mini Ponies spending a few days up here doing what Mini Ponies do...run, eat, and laugh. A lot. 

After our village tour, a few of us decided to muck it up on the trails. Tom and Erlin took us on a hike up the back of a small mountain to visit "Shrek's Cabin." And while it was a rainy day, the view from the top was...mystical...I guess would be the term. It was really cool.

At this point, I should probably mention that Pittsfield is also the birthplace of the Spartan Race and hosts the annual granddaddy of them all, the Death Race. In fact, Shrek's Cabin, a stone structure on top of a mountain only reachable by jeep trail, was built by people competing in or training for the death race. And the stone steps leading up the mountain were also hand delivered by competitors in the events. I know....crazy. Pittsfield also plays hosts to the Peak ultra, snowshoe and trail races.
After our hike we were treated to a fabulous dinner cooked by the new executive chef at the Original General Store and let me tell you...it was goooooood. He and his wife recently moved up to Vermont from New York City to manage the store and cater events and they really put out a good spread. A hearty plate of food that's unique but not pretentious. (BTW, any executive chef that stops by the table and replaces your empty Long Trail beer with a fresh one before you've even asked has won me over!)

On Sunday morning, I decided to climb those illustrious stairs everyone talks about. And they certainly lived up to their reputation. It was a solid 15 minutes or so bottom to top without a letup, but the view from the top was worth the effort. And from that peak you can access miles and miles of the Green Mountain Trails in a variety of directions. Our host Tom said he's been running the trails for nearly a year now and still finds new ones here and there. 

While I was out burning my legs on the stairs, Erlin was hosting  a vinyasa flow yoga class (I decided to spare the nice folks the painful image of me trying to do yoga...I know I know, I should do it, but when given the choice of miles of sloppy trails or a painful yoga class, you know which I'll pick). However, the wife reports that the yoga class was very approachable for both beginners or experienced yoga enthusiasts (yogis? yogaites?) 

After we showered off from our morning's pursuits and enjoyed a breakfast at the Amee Farm Lodge (these nice innkeepers definitely don't rush you out in the morning), we met up with Becca and Joe, the nice couple that runs Sweet Georgia P's Organic Farm. While you might not think a guy from Boston would have much in common with a Vermont goat farmers, turns out I do. These folks started their farm in Scituate, Mass. and only recently moved up to Vermont to get a little more space. They grow a variety of  vegetables for their CSA, which actually has dropoff locations in the Boston area. They told us about how they grow even in the winter in Vermont, described the farm-to-table dinners they host, and answered questions from cityfolk who know nothing about farming (yea, me). 

And then we got to meet the gang. They took us out to mix and mingle with their goats and this...well this was more fun than a barrel of monkeys. I honestly don't know if I've ever pet a goat before, but these guys and gals were so welcoming, we left there thinking we should get one for a pet (goodbye lawn mower!). 

By the time the farm tour was done, it was time for lunch (or in my case, brunch), so we headed over to the Original General Store to dig into some french toast, eggs, and (I highly recommend) the Vermonter smoothie. After some friendly chat with the folks that run the store and our weekend hosts from Perfect Vermont, we realized it was time to get on the road. 

On our way home, we took Route 4 to check out Killington (about 15 minutes from Pittsfield) where we were surprised to find the ski lifts still running strong. And we couldn't not stop and visit the Long Trail Brewery to pick up some of their good stuff. 

Overall it was a great weekend of fun and activity. I am sure it won't be long before we head up there again to explore those trails and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to convince a few fellow Mini Ponies to head up with me. 


Karyn said...

Pick a date and we're there! Sounds like an amazing weekend.

Frank said...

I will consider this your home away from home favorite run report. Perhaps you can drop your day job and open an outdoor adventure business in Vermont. I am sure Doris will love swapping shopping for milking goats