A friend of mine suggested a trail run this weekend, and who am I to turn that down? We decided on Wachusett Mountain Reservation (sounds like sneezing!) in North Central Massachusetts and arrived at the Ski Lodge parking area on the northeastern side of the park. As my friend waited patiently, I pulled on my new gaiters over my almost-new shoes, and cinched down my hydration pack. We hit the trailhead with no expectations and ready to roll through some nice trails.
Though short, Balance Rock Trail was rocky, steep, and soaking wet from the storm that moved through the region yesterday. I was not mentally ready for the first climb, and it was slow going. I find that knowing about the length or at least the presence of a hill gives me enough time to prepare for battling with it. When it sneaks up on you, though, it can be demoralizing. Fortunately for this climb, it started while we were fresh, so it only became challenging at some point beyond Balance Rock Rd.
Our trail map was actually wrong at Balance Rock Rd, as the Old Indian Trail actually continues slightly west of Balance Rock Trail. Once we linked up with it, we climbed up Old Indian and hooked up with Semuhenna Trail until Harrington Trail, leading to the summit. Like Semuhenna, Harrington crosses the paved Summit Road that lets cars get to the summit. Up to the Summit Road crossing, the going is slow with steep, rocky sections with large steps that I simply cannot run. But we moved as fast as we could through here up to the road, running traditionally when we could, and at the Summit Road decided to continue on Harrington to hit the top. In this short section, several portions had sure enough footing to be run, especially with the knowledge that the summit was near. On the next clearing, with an unspectacular view of some radio towers, we continued running up to one of them to find that the true summit was somewhat hidden away, revealing a beautiful view of the surrounding area. We hung out at the top for a few moments to catch our breath and take some photos, and we descended down Summit Road for a smooth, easy descent. I would have preferred to run Summit Road to some of the technical trails, in all honesty, because it would have been a smooth but plenty difficult run up to the top.
We descended down a considerable distance before finding a small fire road to explore, linking up with Harrington Trail again away from the summit. Down Stage Coach Trail and past the tip of Administration Road, we continued another little climb up Echo Lake Trail, which rewarded us with a nice little view of Echo Lake itself. We hooked up with High Meadow Trail for a short spell and veered off on Bicentennial Trail.
This trail follows the eastern edge of the park and climbs for awhile before following along a rocky ridge. The trail is not well marked, and with all the tree damage from storms, it was very difficult at times to discern the trail. The required navigation certainly slowed us down, especially with almost no other signs of anyone else. We were fortunate to run straight onto the visitor’s center, since my friend had to make somewhat of an emergency stop.
The final section was a small, fast gradually downhill trail on some of the smoothest singletrack in the entire park. It would have made for a great uphill, but after 1700′ of vertical ascent over 7.5 miles, I wasn’t exactly complaining. We hit our fastest stride in this stretch at around 8 mph and very quickly came upon ski lifts and open fields. The buildings nearby were a quick indication that we had hit the trail head.
The run was unique: while out there, we saw only one other runner that I recall, going in the opposite direction along Bicentennial Trail. We saw plenty of hikers and a lot of cyclists who like to ride up Summit Road, but it turns out that it makes a great little run!