Short Strides and Odd Thoughts: Run the Line – Post Run Recap

Well it’s in the books.  On April 28th at approximately 9am, Bobby and I set off from Greenville Depot, setting out to run the 30 kilometers of old rail line that connected the textile town of Greenville with Groton, MA, thanks to the Boston and Maine Railway Company.  With the rail line having been abandoned since 1972, we were likely to be the first people to follow this route in the last 50 years which seems hard to believe but likely true.  With both of us growing up within spitting distance of the tracks, it was going to be a bit of a walk (run) down memory lane, from a slightly different view.

After being thwarted from our initial attempt due to ten inches of snow two days before, you could say we were chafing  at the bit to get this run done.  Unfortunately chafing to get running wasn’t going to be the only chafing happening over the 18 or so miles.  As I reflect back on the run, the “sting” of adventure hits very close to home.  Warm weather and dry air provided just the right of salt accumulation without the appropriate sweat lubrication showing up around the ten mile mark.  The adventure of it all wasn’t the only thing I was going to remember for quite a while.

The adventure started almost immediately.  As we wormed our way around the refuse that often times finds it’s way to places of abandonment, Yard waste and the like, we quickly came upon our first barrier on the line, a set of concrete blocks with a no trespassing sign to ward explorers away from the property.  We stopped for a picture and quietly proceeded forward.

Next up and right away was the drop down to the Souhegan River.  The infamous Greenville trestle bridge, now removed, was a record 105 feet above the river.  Made of cut granite, the columns still are in place though the bridge is not.  We descended to the river and forded the knee deep water to the other side.

Not wanting to run the rest of the 17 miles in front of us with wet shoes we met up with Corinne and our dry shoes and socks, and our water supply at the beginning of the Greenville Rail Trail.  I know this section of trail very well, as we sometimes use it for our progression runs, 2.75 miles out to the gate at Pratt Pond and back.  After a quick dousing in a rain burst, we were on our way for the next nine miles of graded path and stone dust.

This sections passes through a 2+ mile segment I used to run as a boy.  In the heat of the summer I’d run from my boyhood home the mile and a half to the rail trail, and cruise this section which was mostly shaded to stay out of the hot sun.  While I was rolling at a solid pace for me these days, it probably was a full three minutes slower than those youthful summer days.  As the miles clicked along I was happy to have barely heard anything from my angry Achilles and wonky knee, surpassing my longest run this year and then some.

At our third waterstop, just before crossing into Massachusetts, we prepared for the anticipated bushwhack and a slowing of pace.  I was in pretty good shape with just some tightening of the knee, but overall no worse for wear.  It didn’t take long to be slowed to a fast walk, as not far into this section the rails were still there, and the railroad ties were in various states of decay based on whether there was much surface water and how long they’ve been there.  We attempted running but the disintegrating wood and swampy sections truly thwarted running in hopes of not twisting an ankle ending the run.  We picked our way through this section, pleasantly surprised it wasn’t as grown in as we thought.

As we approached Townsend Center, the houses started to line the tracks but in a surprising fashion, even though there was more contact with humanity, there was less actual human activity along the lines.  As the tracks framed people’s yards, it wasn’t unlikely to find yard waste partially covering the tracks.  In some places this made travel easier but in others it was more difficult as more yard waste often meant more tree growth.  As we snaked along the edge of these yards we were also snaking along the edges of their lives.  While trying to be as discreet as we could, it did feel a bit voyeuristic glimpsing backwards into their lives and yards.  

After traveling around two miles in a halted, sometimes run, sometimes bushwhack, we arrived just outside of town.  In order to officially reach the downtown area, we would need to cross back over the Squannacook river, this time without the aid of a train bridge.  The original bridge, while not removed, had taken apart the portions of the bridge that connected it to the shore.  We could gain access to the lower part of the bridge from the ground, but would either have to tight rope walk across old beams or climb across a debris dam that had accumulated around the pylons from the spring runoff.  We elected the latter, figuring we’d rather fall into the open water than onto the pylons that supported the bridge.

Once successful, we ambled into the heart of town and the rest of the rail trail.  Seeing as running the line isn’t something I usually do, we decided to stop at the Mr. Mikes and refuel with items I don’t usually use on a run.  Sharing a 20 oz Coke, a king size Three Musketeers and a tuna sandwich, we sat along the Squannacook rail trail that would take us to our final destination, the Squannacook rail trail parking lot in West Groton.  

After a short break, we shoved off with four miles left in the journey.  The sun had come out and we were left with little cover.  We had been making good time but in the next two mile stretch the wheels started to come off.  Having stopped for some food, my feet really started to get sore once starting back up and my legs were starting to cramp.  And while we rolled into Townsend Harbor at a good pace.  It wasn’t to last much longer.

With two miles to go my heart rate was beginning to spike.  Combined with the cramping I knew the signs of dehydration and after some walk/run attempts I recognized the last ¾ of a mile would be a quick amble.  To be sure, I was unhappy to have to walk it in, however before I started I had questions on whether I’d be able to get this far.  Finally at the truck, sitting on the tailgate I recognized just how shot I was.  Feeling pretty out of sorts, I threw back a seltzer before I could enjoy the adult beverage I had waiting for me at the end as my prize for finishing.

And as I sat there, finally with nothing to do but listen to my cranky body complain about what I had just put it through, I did feel uniquely satisfied.  An eighteen mile day might be no big thing.  I mean we had 3 hours and 40 minutes of moving time, just 13:20 pace. But the point wasn’t to finish 18 miles in a quick time, but rather experience these particular 18 miles from a different point of view, learning something new about a place that has always felt plenty familiar.  To maximize the adventure in our local surroundings.  Along with the first complete trek along those tracks in 52 years.

As my equilibrium started to balance out, the exhaustion settling in but also the extent of the recent effort starting to mellow, I did recognize another first, that of maximum charge.  With more than forty years of running, I have never even come close to this maximum ever before.  Another thing I was unhappy about.

As the days go by I know I’ll look fondly on this trek, with a good friend on a beautiful day, doing something we all tend to overlook due to our busy lives.  But for around 4 hours I was able to get an adventure most people look right past.  And that’s worth it.