Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Day 3 | Stage 3: Northern Catskills

Monday, July 8, 2013
Location: Delaware County, N.Y.
Trails: Catskill Scenic Trail (Stamford to South Kortright) 
Elevation: ~1,785-1,800 feet
Surface: Crushed stone, grass, and dirt rail-trail (with some paved road crossings)
Shoes: Patagonia Fore Runner
Wildlife and other animals spotted: Chipmunks, snails, rabbits, Rottweilers, cows, horses
Companion: Erin (first mile), then solo

A few years ago, I was learning about rail-trails when I read about the Catskill Scenic Trail (CST), a public path along the right-of-way of the Delaware & Ulster Railroad, which once served a vital role in transportation to upstate New York. The railroad still exists as a seasonal tourist ride along part of the old route, but a 26-mile portion between Roxbury and Bloomville was converted into the public path open to cyclists, pedestrians, equestrians, and cross-county skiers.

My starting point in Stamford.
Anyway, I read a bit about the trail, put it in the back of my mind as "something to check out one day," and promptly forgot about it. Then when I was doing research for this staged ultra trail run, I looked into the CST again and decided it could be a perfect setting for one of my stages. Here is why: the surface of well-packed dirt, grass, and crushed stone is very runnable, the path is basically flat, and the scenery is awesome. The route I chose was from Stamford (at the old train station now serving as the information center and HQ of the trail's owner, the Catskill Revitalization Corp.) to South Kortright. (That route is actually a very slight downhill.)

I set off from Stamford with Erin, who walked and ran with me for a mile before turning around and heading back to the car. The plan was for her to drive down to Hobart and wait for me. After the mixed-bag of a stage we'd had on Sunday, I wasn't sure how I'd feel after a few miles and was prepared to end the stage at Hobart and call it a day.

West Branch Delaware River; hard to believe this dinky thing
turns into that majestic river that flows past Philly.

I crossed a few wooden bridges over streams and the West Branch Delaware River (the headwaters are near Stamford), passed some farms (said hi to a few cows and horses), and skirted some private homes (I was hoping homeowners prefer runners and cyclists passing veryclose to their houses rather than a noisy railroad and wouldn't give me any grief). I paused a few times to enjoy (and snap pics) of the countryside views of hills, river, streams, animals, trees, old D&U railroad ties on the trail's edges, corn stalks, cemetery headstones, tractor crossings, and more.

One place along the trail, I passed within a few feet of a gazebo and at another I could have high-fived a person in a hammock (luckily it was empty). The feeling of hiking or running so close to private land is a bit eerie. Indeed, one stretch of the trail just past one of several crossings of CR-18 cuts through the front lawn of a farm; here the trail surface is grass and is indistinguishable from the private farmland. Indeed, had I not just passed the octagonal blue, yellow, and white CST sign assuring me I was going the right way, I might have thought I was lost and trespassing.

Many parts of the trail are shaded.
By the way, I did meet up with Erin in Hobart. I was feeling really good so I decided to keep going to South Kortright. I was having so much fun and wanted (and needed) the mileage after having completed only 3.4 miles the day before. I got a cup of coffee from the Coffee Pot luncheonette on Main Street, put on some more bug spray and sunscreen, soaked in the beautiful view of the dam and the river, took a few pictures, made arrangements with E for a pickup point, and then got back on the trail.

Much of the trail is shaded under a canopy of trees, but many portions of the route are in the open. Luckily, the morning was mostly overcast and breezy, so sun and heat were not a problem. I passed two cyclists, another runner, and a couple of walkers between Stamford and Hobart, but encountered not a soul on the trail itself between Hobart and South Kortright. That portion of the trail is very quiet and peaceful. I'd guess (it's only a guess) that this segment is not as well-traveled.

After close to 8 miles, I concluded my stage at another spot where the trail crosses CR-18. Erin picked me up and we drove back to Hobart for lunch and bookstore browsing. (The hamlet boasts five -- yes FIVE -- bookshops on Main Street.) After the frustrations of the prior day's stage, being able to finish so many miles while also feeling strong was very welcome.


Final notes:
  • I really liked the route I chose. I have read some good reviews of the route going the other way: from Stamford to Grand Gorge. However, some users report that portions of the trail near and past Grand Gorge are a bit more rugged and still have the old railroad ties embedded in the ground.
  • Be prepared for dogs. I past a few that were inside enclosed pens, but they certainly made me notice their presence. Near South Kortright, a barking dog charged me but then slowed down and stopped. For a few seconds I was a bit nervous.
  • Be respectful of private landowners. Don't litter, for frak's sake and stay on the trail. You should have no reason to leave the trail and cross private land unless it's an emergency.
  • Be careful at the many road crossings. The roads are quiet enough that crossing is no biggie, but just keep in mind that although this is a countryside run/hike, it's not like using trails on parkland.
  • Hobart is a great place to take a break or even finish your run/hike.
  • I found the trail to be well-maintained and not overgrown. In fact, the grassy areas around the several rest benches was freshly cut.
  • Bugs were not a major problem like in some places I have hiked, but you are running along wet areas so I did get bothered a bit. Reapplying bug repellent will be necessary on longer runs.

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