Run: There and back again–in all due haste Jay Heinrichs
A wise person once said that a full pack makes a hiker as gear-dependent as a scuba diver. My corollary goes something like this: A near-empty pack makes a hiker faster, tougher, and far more skillful.
“I hope it also gives you a sense of direction,” my wife said helpfully when I began experimenting with overnight trail runs 15 years ago.
I’m resistant to improvement, apparently. I still manage to get spectacularly lost and still whimper when I can’t locate a thick bed of pine needles. But I do rely more on skill than equipment now, I can go farther without bonking, and I’ve acquired a ruthlessness in packing (and a tolerance for energy-bar diets) that pays dividends on longer hikes, summit bids, and jet-lagged business trips. What’s more, with my light load I can move through the forest like a deer: swiftly, silently, almost effortlessly.
Surely the best thing about adventure running, though, is the chance to mess with time–both to stretch it and to shorten it. Once during a 2-day, 30-mile run through the Kinsmans in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I stopped by a stream that flowed over round babyheads and discovered that if I gazed at the water for more than half an hour I could make the rocks move, or seem to. I stared until my legs fell asleep and then ambled on, having enjoyed a long siesta but still well within reach of camp.
Other times, I’ve left the house before dawn Saturday morning, zipped through as much of a mountain range by Saturday noon as I would in a full weekend of walking, and still made it home on Sunday before my teenage kids roused themselves. Some might scoff at my Peanut M&M dinners, bivy-sack accommodations, and quick-footed pace, but to put a backpacker’s spin on trail running is to declare that a compressed adventure is better than no adventure at all.
Harriman/Bear Mountain State Parks, NY
Just 35 crow miles from the Big Apple, these adjoining parks are not only a convenient outlet for jangled Tri-Staters, but also the perfect place to test your overnight running game. A 300-mile trail network offers endless loop opportunities, and numerous shelters let you leave the tent behind. A weekend is easily enough to cross the parks; add a day or two for a circuit that hits high ridges on either edge.
Guide: Harriman Trails, by William Myles ($17).
Contact: New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, (201) 512-9348; www.nynjtc.com.
Trinity Alps Wilderness, CA
Twelve lakes, six passes, three peaks. You can tag them all in 3 days on this 45-mile loop in northern California’s granite- and water-rich (but crowd-poor!) Trinity Alps. Start at the Big Flat trailhead, and connect the Caribou Trail with Stuart Fork, Deer Creek, and Swift Creek. Steep switchbacks and superb views of Mt. Shasta punctuate miles of flower-lush meadows that offer the finest in high-country running.
Guide: Hiking California’s Trinity Alps Wilderness, by Dennis Lewon ($19).
Contact: Shasta-Trinity National Forest, (530) 623 2121;www.fs.fed.us/r5/shastatrinity/.
Timberline Trail, MT. Hood, OR
Mt. Rainier’s Wonderland Trail is a stellar trek, but this 41-mile, round-the-volcano route gets our nod as the better weekend adventure. In 2 days of running and hiking, or 3 days of vigorous walking, you’ll see plenty of wildlife (including black bear and elk), waterfalls, and wildflowers-and make it all the way around the mountain. Regular views of Hood’s distinctive summit and sprawling snow fields will ease the pain of 8,600 feet of elevation gain.
Guide: Backpacking Oregon, by Douglas Lorain ($17).
Contact: Mt. Hood National Forest, (888) 622-4822; www.fs.fed.us/r6/mthood/.