Fall in the North Woods
by Stephanie Nelson
A city-dweller all my life, I yearned to see the famous changing colors of fall in New England. Still, the Lodge at Moosehead Lake in the Maine hinterlands sounded a bit too rustic to me. I was thinking more like Vermont - well-traveled byways with well-known inns to stay in. However, my husband assured me that the place had recently won an award for excellence, based on guest recommendations for consistently outstanding service and ambiance. He found it in the Mobil Travel Guide (four stars). He knew I'd only be willing to rough it if I could do so in comfort.
Lodge at Moosehead Lake
Roger Cauchi and his wife Jennifer operate the Lodge beside Maine's spectacular Moosehead Lake. There are only five "themed" rooms and three suites (complete with Jacuzzis for two and fireplaces). A gourmet breakfast is included, and some stays include dinner as well. For such a small place, they offer amazing service, including concierge services, 24-hour open pantry for guests, a huge video library (not just old stuff, either), an excellent pool table, English darts and lots of deck for outdoor lounging.
We stayed in the Loon Room (my husband has a sense of humor), with its hand-carved bed, firm mattress, fresh-pressed linens (we don't get THAT at home), private bath with whirlpool and snuggly fleece robes, as well as all the modern conveniences. Our window looked out over the lake to Squaw Mountain, and I had to admit that maybe Maine wasn't such a bad spot from which to enjoy the colors of October.
What To Do?
Safely ensconced in rustic luxury, we decided to explore the area in as many ways as possible. We kayaked across the lake. Steve tried fly fishing one early morning while I slept in. We found excellent mountain bike trails nearby and at Kineo Lake, some 20 miles away (the lodge will take care of your equipment needs). And we ran.
We ran from the door of the lodge into the tiny village of Greenville (about two-and-a-half miles). It seemed like half the roads in the area were dirt or roughly-maintained track or logging roads. As long as we kept away from the active logging areas (those trucks are BIG), we usually had the road to ourselves. Going farther afield, we found trails on Big Squaw Mountain, Little Squaw Mountain, Big Spencer Mountain, Little Spencer Mountain (they aren't very creative around here), Borestone Mountain and Elephant Mountain (where you could visit the site of a B-52 crash).
My favorite runs included Gulf Hagas, the "Grand Canyon of Maine" (which was more of a hike than a run, but the fall foliage was the best we found) and Moxie Falls (a good day trip from Greenville, mostly runnable). Check your map for a place to leave the car and drive partway or arrange a ride back from either of these, unless you're into marathon vacations.
This magnificent gorge is nearly 4 miles long, at times displaying vertical slate walls 300-400 feet deep. The west branch of the Pleasant River drops some 400 feet here, creating numerous waterfalls, chutes and pools. The falls are particularly spectacular during the spring, while the summer offers tempting swimming holes under waterfalls. "The Hermitage" (a majestic stand of towering white king pine in the area) was declared a registered National landmark in 1968.
To get there from Greenville, take a right at Sanders Store (Pleasant Street) and continue straight ahead for approximately 2 miles. At this point, the road takes a sharp, right-angle turn. Continue ahead on a dirt road approximately 10 miles, where you will come to the hedgehog (checkpoint gate). Stop at the gate, pay a small fee (North Maine Woods Association), and the attendant will give you a map and directions to the head of the Gulf.
The head of the Gulf is only one mile from the trailhead; the entire trail is approximately 8.5 miles. "The Hermitage" entails a round trip of 11.5 miles from the end of the Gulf trail. The Appalachian Trail also passes through the Gulf.
Take Rt.15 south to the upper Shirley Corner of Greenville. Go right into Shirley Village. Continue straight through the town; this road turns to dirt for approximately 12 miles. Turn left and go by the end of Moxie Lake. Take the first road to the right. After about 1.5 miles, turn right into well-marked parking area. Park and walk to the falls. Or do what we did - our hosts dropped us off and we ran back. It makes for a pretty long day, though - you'll need a Camelback - and there's a steep hill on the way back up to the lodge, which Steve ran and I walked.
Running New England
One of the best ways to find good running spots while you're traveling is to enter a local race. At the following trail races in New England, you'll not only discover beautiful countryside in a supportive environment, you'll meet friendly people. People who have their own special places to jog, their own secrets to share.
Great Pond 5.5 Mile Mountain Trail Race
Start and finish at the National Fish Hatchery Parking lot in Orland, Maine. The Primer Race 1.5 mi. will start at 1 p.m. - walkers are welcome. This trail is run on about 5 miles of scenic trails, lumber roads and some dirt roads and includes running up most of Great Pond Mountain. Door prizes after the race in addition to the trophies and ribbons.
Monroe Trail 10.5 Miles/2 miler
Both races start and finish at the New England Power Co. picnic area Dunbar Brook Trail in the Monroe State Forest and is very scenic. There is plenty of free parking, a Port-O-Let and changing area. The course is very well marked, as are all the races that WMAC puts on, with at least three aid stations. The race has some very steep climbs and rough footing through the fallen leaves. Muddy trail conditions can be expected. The 5K is a rolling out-and-back course with good footing and a brook crossing. The after race feast is herbivore and carnivore with hot dogs, tofu pups and other refreshments for runners and their guests. This is a fun time and all are welcome.
Groton Town Forest Trail Runs
10 Miles & 3 Miles
The 10-mile starts at 12:30 p.m.; the 3-mile starts at 12:40 p.m, and both courses are entirely within the scenic Groton Town Forest. They are a combination of narrow dirt roads and winding single lane trails, with lots of roots, rocks, leaves, water (if it's been raining), uphills and downhills. The hills are not large, though some are steep, but they offer a fun challenge. There will be two water-only aid stations on the 10-mile course, and one on the 3-mile course. Light refreshments will be served at the finish area. For both the 10-mile and the 3-mile courses, first place overall male and female finishers will receive awards. First and second place male and female finishers in 5-year age groups (5-9, 10-14, 15-19, 20-24, etc.) will also receive awards.
Deer Run 5-Miler
This is a very nice race run around the Wachusett Reservoir in Boylston. There's a bit of mud to suck your shoes off in the beginning and end, and mostly fire roads for the rest of the race. You have to run a few good hills and some fast downs, but it's on the fire road parts so it's not too dangerous. This is a good newbie race - and good for you roadies who want to try the rigors of trail racing.
After the Leaves Have Fallen 20K
Minnewaska, New York
This race is run mostly on carriage roads - no single track trails on this one. You'll get to run by two scenic glacial lakes with an all-forest backdrop. There is only one hill of any size, but it will take you one-and-a-half to two miles to transcend the grade. It's a beautiful time of year to race in the woods. Dress for cool, not cold, weather, and don't forget your water bottle. There's also a $4 per car parking fee.
The Lil' Rhody Runaround
Charlestown, Rhode Island
A fast, flat 7.9-mile loop around Watchaug Pond, This race has it all - rocks, streams and mud. You'll have to run through a lot of swamp to get to the end. My suggestion is to take the mud over the logs, because they are very slippery this time of year. Don't worry, if you've never run this race before, you'll find out. The trail is a bit hard to follow and I know people who have gotten off track. All and all, however, this is a super fun event! There is a water stop halfway and a good feed at the finish. Long-sleeved t-shirts are awarded to the first 125 entrants.