BTLT In the News: “Your Land: Crystal Spring foot song (plus a little trail wonkery)”


To read the article online, click here.

When I want nearness to the mountain trails that seed my dreams and am unable to get to those mountains, I go to a local micro-mountain and its root- and rock-striated trails. There, on foot and in mind, I set about training for the mountains and their enduring message: Uphill is the direction of life.

But even with the diminutive “micro” attached, “mountain” is an exaggeration when applied to the glacial leavings that ripple our town and, in particular, some of the trails at Crystal Spring Farm. Still, only a mile from Brunswick Center, these trails offer the “feel” of woods that run uphill, of both forest and footing that would be mountain.

So, shod with trail shoes and dosed with imagination, I set out into a partly-lit October day, intent on tutoring my feet and salving my mind. For this column, I’ll spare you the mind-salve and focus on my feet and what I hope for on a trail and what I find in the Crystal Spring trail network.

Today’s tutor is the Main Loop Trail. Laid out and maintained by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, this beautifully realized, 1.5-mile-long path is mostly single-track. Along its northwestern edge lies a sub-loop of two-thirds of a mile. This is where “micro” meets “mountain”; these are the uplands, or up-and-down lands, threading handsome woods.

I begin my little looping where the Wetland Trail breaks left from the Main Loop. Trending slightly up, this tenth-of-a-mile path is the sweetest in town, I think. Passing a small, swampy patch, it noses through conifers over pine needle–softened turf, meeting soon the south side of the Main Loop. A right turn there keeps on along a rising ridge, which I take to be an esker, glacial runoff remnants during the last days of ice.

The west flank declines gradually, while the east is sharper, dropping 40 or so feet to a wetland that offers the first hint of Mere Brook. A few tenths of a mile bring me to the “summit,” a thinned ridge that reaches part way up the large white pines rising from below. Then there is short winding downhill, a few land-ripples and the rooty announcement of the loop’s “technical” section.

An aside: Like all burgeoning movements, trail-running has developed its own lingo. “Technical” seems borrowed from climbing, where rock faces and varied snows are deemed as such. Meaning you need technique (and equipment) to surmount them. I laughed the first time I heard a trail described as technical, but it does make some sense.

Running (or walking ) a root-rioted stretch requires focus and a keen reading of the ground and roots beneath. There are the problems of foot placement and slipperiness to consider; there is also the much-reviled and oft-forgotten problem of the “lag-foot.” The second foot lags behind the lead foot and, on a flat surface, skims the ground on its way to becoming the step next. Easy enough; we all amble along without thinking of the lag.

But raised roots raise problems for the lag — if it skims too low, its toe stubs the root it would pass over. Then, depending upon balance and speed and gainliness, we either stumble or fall. So “reading the roots,” knowing when to lift the lag a bit higher, or circle it slightly is crucial technique. Hence one reason for calling a trail “technical.”

Garmin-measured, the mini-loop comes in at 0.65 miles, and on the second go-round, I little-footed it clockwise, running up the ridge to its short crest, then looping down, back to the wetland. I caught rhythm, sustained this slow run; I was actually running (as it is defined on trails). And this pleasure was intensified by my not putting a foot wrong. That statement also asks explanation.

Rhythm is the grail of trail-running (and walking). On a good day, the whole project of your body on the run can become a music of motion. This, like all compelling music, has nothing to do with speed. It is, instead, about grace without pause. Three or 4 miles per hour sounds slow (it truly is slow), but run with unfaltering rhythm, it covers ground, transports the runner to an endpoint that feels like emergence. “Oh,” you may say, looking up. “Here I am; so happy to be … here.”

So, the missed note of the stumble, brought on by lead or lag-foot, is what I try mightily to avoid. I read the trail before me; I absorb myself in it. Views? Expansive visions? They arrive when I pause or complete a run. When the ledge from which I look out and the climb just made arrive as reward for the foot-music just played.

To read the article online, click here.