With this past week’s dramatic loss of snow and transition to unseasonably warm weather, I — as I am sure many others at Middlebury — had to shift gears in winter activities. From backcountry skiing in knee-deep powder (perhaps the best in years) just less than two weeks ago to 60-degree warmth, some rain, no snow and mud, I turned my interest to running. This past Saturday was nearly 70 degrees and, with the trails muddy, the usual Trail Around Middlebury (TAM) was not a good option. So I planned an extended road-run through the incredible pastoral landscape surrounding Middlebury.
I call this seven-mile run the Farm Loop. It starts right from campus, where I descend the hill on College Street towards town, making a left on Weybridge Street. I follow the sidewalk on the right side, gradually ascending a hill, before the walkway stops short near the intersection of Pulp Mill Bridge Road beside Otter View Park, 1.5 miles into the run.
I then switch sides, opposing traffic, and run on the shoulder down Route 23. The road dips and then quickly rises up another hill where Scholtens’ Family Farm is on the left. The farm make excellent cheese from their heritage breed cows. Looking right and left, north and south, bleached tawny-colored hay-fields dot the countryside. An early red-winged blackbird can be heard in the cattails beside the road: “Ka-ka-reeeee, Kon-ka-reeeee! The towering dome of BiHall’s observatory peaks out from behind over the fields.
Sheep Farm Road is at the top of the hill. Two miles into the run, I make a right onto this rural backroad. It turns to dirt after a quarter mile. Few cars travel on this route through bucolic Vermont, making it a perfect escape from traffic and the hectic pace of life at Middlebury. Farmland surrounds me, with nearly 40 miles of sweeping views of the Green Mountains ridgeline, from Worth Mountain, where our Snow Bowl is located, north to Mount Abraham and Camel’s Hump. On a clear day, one can see a spectacular display of the peaks’ snow-encrusted summits.
Sheep Farm Road lasts about 1.6 miles and comes to an end at Hamilton Road. A stop sign adorned with an old white bike and a pair or Nordic skis leaning against it greets me at the intersection. I make a right onto Hamilton Road’s freshly paved blacktop, soon coming to Morgan Horse Farm Road. I make a right here running south parallel to Sheep Farm Road, forming a loop.
For the 2.2 miles on Morgan Horse Farm Road, I pass more farmland, but it is less open than Sheep Farm Road. Forest fragments of white pines, hemlocks, cedars, alders and cattail wetlands amidst a patchwork of farmsteads and houses characterize this southbound route to Middlebury. Little dips and rises add another interesting dimension to running this road. The beautiful sound of rushing water emanates from low points, where drainages are gushing underneath the road since the recent snowmelt.
A half-mile south, I reach the historic Morgan Horse Farm, with its large Victorian mansion and horse pastures. With tired legs and sweat dripping off my face in the unusual February warmth, I push on until I reach the iconic Pulp Mill Bridge, which is a lovely place to rest and take in the views of Otter Creek.
The way back is easygoing from here, after I climb a short hill up from the bridge. Reaching Weybridge Street, BiHall’s observatory comes back into sight above the tree line and then the final hill climb up College Street takes me to the top of campus, where I cool down and stretch outside my Pearson dorm.
The view from the top of Battell Beach of Robert Frost Mountain and Bread Loaf Mountain peeking out from behind it is a lovely way to slow the pace after this great mud-season road-run, refreshing my mind before returning to the normal work grind here at Middlebury.
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~ Morgan Perlman ~