As any CT runner worth the salt on their brow knows, the Southern section of The Airline Trail is a 22 mile rail trail that connects East Hampton Colchester Hebron Lebanon and Willimantic. According to the DEP, “The trail takes its name from the imaginary line drawn from New York to Boston, through the “air” so to speak, to illustrate the shortest possible route between these two major east coast cities.” Although I have run many miles on this trail, I have never run it from end to end. That is, until today.
Unlike some other epic running days, I actually had a real plan for this day. I awoke at 4 AM, ate a quick oatmeal breakfast and coffee and was off. I drove to the Cranberry bog near what I had considered the start of the Airline trail in East Hampton. I walked about a hundred yards up the trail in the dark with my mountain bike, then walked about 20 yards into the woods, and locked my bike, a helmet, and a few snacks to a tree. The temperature was a comfortable 58 degrees, and I was really excited to unleash my epic plan, and to spend a day in the woods.
I then went back to my car and drove the ~40 minutes to Willimantic, parking at the end of the Northern Airline Trail in an urban residential neighborhood. I was supposed to be starting at 7:00 AM but even after waiting 10 minutes to try to get a gps signal with my
Timex, I decided to get started at 6:30.
To get from the North Trail to the South Trail I had a couple of road miles to do Starting with The Frog Bridge. Ok, so its not the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, but it is really cool in its own rite. From there it was a quick right, as I worked my way through a few neighborhoods and soon found myself out in the country. With very little effort I was on the trail. Last time I ran this section was a few years ago when training for 24 Hours around the Lake. At that point it was still under a lot of construction, and was still rough. On that day after a long swamp run, I found myself dead ended in a fenced in area sharing it with all sorts of livestock. Today I knew better and took a shortcut under the power lines before taking a short road detour.
Many leaves had fallen and obscured the trail making for a crunchy run. I was moving along well and regularly sipping from my Camelbak. As the sun rose and I knew that at about 7 AM my friend Jen Barrett would be starting from the Rt 149 lot running towards me. We met up when I was about 9 miles in, a few miles north of RT 85. Jen is a great runner, and our first two miles were 8:03 and 7:53, a bit faster than I had been running. It was nice to have someone to run with and to push the pace a little.
We soon ran into John Paggiolli and Darrel on the trail and stopped a moment to chat. Soon after we hit the parking lot and knew that I had about 6.5 miles to the end. At that point I recalled that the trail had actually been extended about another mile to the center of East Hampton. As Jen and I ran, and the miles built up, the conversation grew quiet as the long run delirium started to set in. At 19 miles or so I realized that I had not had an energy gel in way too long, and started to fade a bit as we struggled up hill. Sections of yellow leaves covering the trail blurred before my eyes. Soon after Jen reached 16 miles, and made the turn to go back to the parking lot to round out her day at 21 miles.
The runkeeper application on my phone called out 21 miles as I reached my bike. However I was not yet at the end of the trail, so I decided to continue on into town. The trail was much improved from my last visit, and after a zig zag up a ramp, and a small parking lot I finally found myself at the terminus of the Southern trail, albeit with an empty Camelbak. Desperate for water, I looked and saw a Lady’s clothing Store called WINK’s that let me refill my Camelbak.
After a slow slog back to my bike, I ended the run portion of the trip at 22.79 Miles. Now all I had to do was to bike back to Willimantic. My brain at this point was a bit fried and I was busy adjusting to a much faster pace. I was nervous that I might just hit a bump and spaz out. After two miles or so, I heard the call of a group of 3 bikers as they passed on my left. I decided that I would pick it up and stay with them, although they were moving faster than my current pace.
After several miles of hanging 50 ft off of the back of the peloton, we hit an uphill and I pulled up and started talking to them. This group of friends rides every year from East Hampton to Willimantic. Robert Edwards and Chuck Paprzyca and Chuck’s son are all avid hikers, made the 21 mile bike ride fly by. Well except for the flat tire that Rob got that set us back about 20 minutes, but I really did not mind the rest.
We continued on blasting through the leaves until I opted to take the Power line detour in lieu of the road. At that point the other guys continued on and I headed up the rocky, crowded powerline trail. In hindsight, it was good thing that Rob did not hit that trail as it may have knocked out his other tire.
A few more miles, and I flied [sic] over the Frog bridge, and saw my car once again, still intact after nearly 6 hours. What a fantastic day. I love spending time in the woods, spending time with new and old friends, and I just love point to point trips. Airline Trail South, a friend I got to know better today.