The Tail of a Lost Cat
Having less commitment to civilization, feline pets are more like boarders than dependent pets; unlike dogs or goldfish, they can strike out on their own, fully capable of making a living. They can enjoy an unleashed pleasant afternoon under a birdfeeder, a walkabout lasting several days or a much longer adventure. Such was the case with Ari, one of the race director’s childhood pets who launched himself into the woods of Dorset, Vermont and remained stubbornly AWOL for several years, until presumably memories of kibble, snuggles and a well-placed scratch on the chin inevitably drew him back.
And so, the Lost Cat half and full marathon and 50K retraces the scene of his adventures as we wandered up and down mountains, over highways and on the omnipresent Vermont dirt roads. There are few events that can claim an appeal to everyone: mountain climbers, trail runners, road aficionados and even adventure racers, but this is one of them.
While adventure athletes typically run in teams and are expected to be competent in a variety of sports, we were all singletons equipped with only our packs and our running shoes. Normally, adventure competitors receive their maps at check in, but we never did. Try preparing for a long-distance event with no clue about terrain, elevation changes, aid station locations, etc. Granted, we did know the precise distance we hoped to travel, but to safeguard landowners’ privacy, no maps were posted. Anywhere. There were no friendly “You’re almost there” signs, let alone distance indications to upcoming aid stations. We were truly lost cats, seeming wandering aimlessly on a loopy course, retracing the steps of the fabled lost cat. It was at once scary and liberating.
I missed one turnoff, but it was totally my fault; others were not as lucky despite the course being well-marked. I chalk it up to the dizziness of disorientation, of not having a true sense of where I was and where I should be heading. Usually when I run a trail event, I may miss a marker or two, but still have a pretty good sense of where I should be heading. Not here. On my travels I encountered three fellow lost cats—two of whom regained their bearings and the other who passed me twice, going and coming. He asked me if he were following the trail. Baffled, I indicated the many markers, and thanking me profusely, he scurried on his way, never to be seen by me again.
My downfall came from the assumption that the folks at Nor’east Trail Runs would present a mostly trail race with a few pavement stretches mainly to get to other sections of trail. So basically, I trained for a trail marathon when I should have been including a lot more road work. Ouch! After roughly ten miles or so (who knew?) my feet in their relatively stiff Innovs felt as if a mountain lion had been smashing down on them. We were warned about the two-mile highway section near the beginning and, while it seemed endless, made me think that “Hey, I could capture a fairly fast (for me) time.” I forgot about the fact that we were also cautioned to expect “real Vermont hills.” And while I totally relish the challenge of riding a roller coaster, it does not exactly sync well with cutoffs.
The trail sections reminded me somewhat of Merck Forest, Vermont where my friend Matt Miczek joined Nor’easter for a 25K snowshoe adventure trudging up Mt. Antone not once, but twice, hanging on to friendly trees to prevent falling backwards. And that was with snowshoe crampons! But in the end, what got to me was the final eight miles or so road section. The hills were fun, and it was entertaining and, I admit somewhat discouraging, to view the beautiful country houses and awesome gardens, but the flat maze in the middle section seemed to continue indefinitely, with little plan as to where it was headed. At one point I thought I had it figured out, but then the road took yet another discouraging turn.
How many times have you heard the phrase, “It’s all downhill from here!” How many times have you actually believed it? Well, this time it was true. The final downhill mile began hopefully on pavement, soon converted to typical Vermont dirt road and then degenerated into Ferngully construction. At one point we had to climb over a five-foot pile of stones to navigate a section that was more riverbed than actual jeep-friendly passageway. What a great ending!
Next time I might consider hybrid sneakers and an Osprey (backpack, not pet) as a few times I found myself rationing the contents of my water bottle. While it worked out fine, had it been a hot day I would have been in trouble. The neat thing about the Lost Cat is that it delivers for every type of runner and while your adventure does not have you shifting from running to kayak to belay, you do get to alternate between different forms and styles. Neither the pure trail runner or the pure road racer is favored, but rather a competent mixture between the two. And then there are those real cats from 2nd Chance Animal Shelter waiting at the finish to provide emotional support after Sunday’s 5 and 10K, should you decide to stay in town, explore Dorset and either double or volunteer.
Do check out www.netrailruns.comfor their winter schedule of snowshoe races!
By laura clark