The Fells Skyline

I’ve been kind of flirting with the idea of going up to Middlesex Fells in Medford to run some of the trails. Since I found myself mysteriously awake at 5:30 one morning, I decided to take the trek via public transportation (two trains and a bus) and go run the Fells.

fells

While I was running around my studio apartment, picking up the little things I thought I might need (keys, ID, cash, T pass, light jacket, water, camera, a banana, a bagel, and — oh yeah — clothes), I downed a banana and some water and scratched my last minute directions onto a scrap of paper (which never made it out the door with me). I was out waiting for the train by 6 am, eating my bagel with peanut butter and apple butter (thanks GY). The total trip with transfers took over an hour (I later learned this trip takes 15 minutes by car).

As I approached the Bellevue Pond trailhead, I noticed one other person anywhere near the vicinity of the trail at 7:30 in the morning, clearly a local who was taking advantage of this wonderful property in her backyard. I took my unintentionally standard pre-adventure photo and set out onto the trail, following the white markers for the Skyline Trail. After one climb, I ran into a semi-open space that was filled with a circle of people who appeared in hindsight to be a youth Bible camp but at first seemed like a formation for a bizarre pagan spiritual ritual. I felt like a barbarian running deftly through the woods while these Civilized People were kind of watching me in horror. I quickly disappeared down the trail, and my spirits depressed slightly as I imagined that the rest of the 7 mile trail would be full of people, even at this pristine hour.

The ride was easygoing, some climbs and descents were short but steep, and the reservation is simply beautiful. Movement over rock and dirt is supremely natural, especially when compared to the plodding of feet on contrived surfaces in the concrete jungle of my daily tours of Boston. While trail running isn’t quite the epitome of natural — after all, these trails were cut by human hands — the surface of the terrain changes dramatically, quickly. Trail running requires one to focus on the running, since one missed step can result in, essentially, a crash. In mountain biking, I learned that one of the most important skills is to pick a line through which one navigates the terrain; in essence, it is no different in running, though you’ve got more time to decide, but each individual step must be carefully pinpointed in order to avoid the inevitable ankle roll or worse.

I only rolled my ankles twice or maybe it was three times. I only got lost about four times, which I blame on inexperience with the Fells, late fatigue, and yes, some less than clear trail markers. Only on one short climb, while lost and about 1:40:00 after the start, did I resort to something that more resembled hiking than running — the Fells are supremely runnable. Because this trail is the longest, it’s often ranked among the toughest runs at the Fells, but I suspect that the Rock Circuit Trail on the Eastern Fells is likely the most technically difficult to navigate.

The number of people I had encountered at the beginning of my run would prove to be misleading, as the next hour of my run would be completely still. No one was out on the trails this morning, and only at around 9 am did people start to appear on foot with dogs, on bike, and once in a pack of friendly runners.

I can’t wait to go run the Fells again. I want to run the Cross Fells Trail next and perhaps find a clever way of linking that up with the Skyline Trail. Another interesting run would start on Cross Fells and do part of Rock Circuit and then link up with the Crystal Spring Trail, either via Virginia Wood or Spot Pond. Or I’d just do Skyline again. It’s slightly different each time, but after having such a great time, I do know that this won’t be my last run at Middlesex.

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