Saturday, May 31, 2003

Ascutney Day

Kay fixed us a big breakfast of eggs, oatmeal, flatbread and fruit. Fortified with all those calories, we put on our hiking gear and headed out to the base of the Brownsville trail up Mt Ascutney, telling ourselves that we would only climb a little way so our legs would be fresh for the race the next day.

The trail was steeper than we had anticipated, but it was fun and we weren't put off. We stopped at a waterfall, then at an abandoned quarry. A lot of old equipment had been left behind, including rusty cables, pulleys, beams and such things. I was wondering how they got the stone blocks down the mountain when I came across some tracks leading to the cliff edge. Question answered. The tracks had been abandoned so long ago that trees had grown up between them.

We decided to continue to the lookout point, where we saw a sign that said 0.9 mile to the Stone Hut. We didn't know what the Stone Hut was, but it sounded intriguing. So even though it was more hiking than we had planned on, we continued up. As we neared the hut, we came across a group of chatty ladies leisurely making their way up the trail. I was annoyed, since we had been alone all this time. Then to our further annoyance we heard the sounds of a party up ahead. Through the trees we could see that there was some kind of event going on at the Stone Hut. I was pretty unhappy. We had climbed all that way and weren't even going to be able to enjoy it. But much to our surprise, we were welcomed warmly as we stumbled into the clearing. Before we could protest that we had nothing to do with whatever group they were, they had plied us with food and lemonade and handed us little cards commemorating Ascutney Day. They asked us to sign their Ascutney Day book.

We asked a few questions and found that we had unknowingly taken part in a 30 year tradition. That Saturday had been chosen for the annual Ascutney Day trail climb, where anyone who climbed to the Stone Hut could join the celebration of the mountain and its history. We explained why we were there, and mentioned that we were doing the Covered Bridges race the next day. We were subsequently interoduced to a man named Steve who was also doing the race but had more sensibly gotten to the Stone Hut via the 0.5 mile downhill route from the summit, which one can drive to.

Upon learning we were only half a mile from the summit, we figured we might as well go the rest of the way, so we climbed to the summit and climbed the lookout tower. After taking a few pictures, we went back to the party, where I had some rice krispy bars, a chocolate chip cookie and some trail mix. We visited awhile with Steve and his wife, who told us they were elementary school teachers. After visiting with them for awhile and meeting a few other kind people who refilled our water bottles and gave us insect repellent and trail tips, we headed back down.

Following the recommendation of our new friends, we tried a different trail on our way down, which was very rustic, uncleared and tricky. It led past a log cabin and then joined into the trail we had taken up earlier. I managed to slip once crossing a stream and fell full body onto a rock. But I must have done something right because I wasn't hurt at all.

We found ourselves back at the base of the mountain at 2pm and went back to the inn for snacks. Kay had left out cornbread with maple syrup and of course there were still plenty of chocolate brownies.

By now I was very worried about what the long hike had done to my legs and how this would affect my race the next morning. I drank some Endurox and tortured myself by soaking in alternating cold and hot water in the antique claw-foot tub. Then we took a nap and afterwards went to Woodstock for the pre-race pasta supper at the Masonic lodge. The food was good and cheap, and we visited with a couple from New Jersey. The lady was too loud and chatty for the quiet mood I was in, but that wasn't her fault.

After dinner Dan and I took a stroll through the town. It was drizzling a bit and we wondered if it would be raining in the morning, but of course there was nothing we could do about it so we didn't let it worry us too much. We went back to the inn and had some hot tea in the parlor before turning in.

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