Sunday, December 15, 2013

Runner Up: Going Alternative at Mt. Greylock

The following article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of ATRA Trail Times email newsletter:


by Laura Clark

As the oldest continuously active uphill mountain road race in the United States, Mount Washington has attained superstar status, ranking it right up there with the Boston Marathon and Western States.  But, there is a downside to this fame. Since everyone wants to hitch their personal wagon to this starred event, scoring a lottery entry is every bit as competitive as running the actual race.

We Western Mass Athletic Club members, however, maintain a tenacious toehold onto a well-kept secret: Mt. Greylock, in Adams, Massachsetts, clocking in at 38 years, is America’s second oldest uphill.  At 3,491 feet high it does not quite match Mt. Washington’s 6,289, but to counter that, it offers 8 miles of real estate as opposed to Mt. Washington’s 7.67. There is no lottery to win, no hefty check to write, just a token $10 pay-at-the-threshold fee.  The atmosphere is down-home, park your car at the imaginary start line casual, leaving you free to concentrate on your race instead of complicated logistics.

This year we awoke not to Homer’s rosy-fingered dawn but to thunderstorm downpours.  If I hadn’t promised fellow Saratoga Stryder Jack Chapman that I would pick him up at the Saratoga Hess Station rallying point, I would have been tempted to opt for an early hibernation.  Instead, I promised myself a strategic bedcover retreat if he didn’t show in fifteen minutes.  Turns out Jack had been thinking the same thing, so we reluctantly committed.  Luckily, Lady Greylock had enclosed her domain within a magic circle of tranquility, permitting us dry passage.

I ran near Jack, Laurel Shortell and Benn Griffin while another Stryder, Vince Kirby sprinted light years ahead.  Laurel and I reverted to our usual snowshoe race pattern: once my older legs cranked into gear, I passed her, only to see her inevitably close the gap as we neared the summit.  This time, however, I rallied, holding her off by a mere 18 seconds. Although we rarely slip into a side-by-side pattern, we are always aware of each other, pushing together to achieve our best effort.  In this manner, we overtook Jack, who later commented, “I should have trained for this race.”  Jack had spent the summer constructing a magnificently polished woodie camper, big enough to encase his 6’plus frame but lightweight enough to maneuver into any off-trail parking spot.  His current goal is not so much a minute/mile pace as it is to experience trail races adjacent to scenic campsites.

While Lady Greylock’s ascent is more forgiving than some, featuring a few level and even slightly downhill sections, there is no doubt that we finished on top of the world.  Herman Melville’s pinnacle Lighthouse, providing inspiration for Moby Dick, remained barely discernible, shrouded in ghostly white whale mist.  Today there would be no sunbathing, no hang-gliders to watch, no reason to climb the tower for the view.  But that is what makes the journey so special – you just never know what the Lady has in store.