By Zach Lawrence
This year, winter came to a sunny end in late March and rapidly moved into spring. From the waxing room window of Cascade Ski Center, I watched the snow diminish by the hour as I sealed my skis in wax for the coming months. With the snow leaving and the skiing moving into hibernation, I thought to myself, “Well, what now?”
The warm breeze drifting in from the window took me back to the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Spring arrived just as schools were going remote. As an Adirondack native, I was looking forward to spending a few months back in the mountains between classes. However, spring is a finicky season in the North Country. With the days growing in length and the ground poking out from under the snow, all of our favorite summer activities come to mind. But spring tells us to be patient. Paddling must wait for the ice to leave the lakes, the rock often too wet for climbing, and hikers count the days until high elevation trails are ready for foot travel. Spring is mud season in the Adirondacks, after all.
I met up with a friend of mine from school a few times near Schroon Lake to run and get away from the computer screen classes the pandemic had wrought on us. It was a convenient halfway point for us, and we figured a run in the Pharoah Lake Wilderness ought to do us some good after spending so many hours in Zoom class. We made sure to keep our distance, of course.
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Our first run started down a high clearance road with a stream weaving in and out of it. Staying dry meant hopping from rock to rock in a manner that felt more like a game of “the floor is lava” than running. After a mile or so, the stream retreated elsewhere into the woods, and we were on the foot trail that greeted us with dry, hard earth.
As a cross country runner in high school, I’ve logged many miles on road and pavement. One step comes after another without much thought. On trail, however, every step is a decision and requires focus. My friend and I zoned in and out of periods of intense concentration ducking branches, bounding from rock to root, and changing stride frequently as the trail rose and fell in response to the topography. It was an invigorating way to run, and an especially welcome change of pace.
We wove our way through the forest with increasing comfort and confidence. Running began to feel more like flowing with the trail, almost as if we were floating through the woods. It felt natural and, in a way, more animal than any other way I’ve spent time in the outdoors. While stopping at viewpoints and poking around lean-tos to catch our breath, one thing became clear. This way of blowing off steam had just turned into something very special for me.
Reminded of this time, I decided it was time to hit the trail running again. The wonderful thing about trail running is the sheer possibility of where it can take you. The Adirondacks host a number of run-friendly trails, abandoned railroad tracks, snowmobile trails, old logging roads, high clearance roads, seasonal access roads, and even just plain old dirt roads. Paths that may not seem worth the effort to hike act as excellent corridors for running and can take you to some seriously worthwhile places in the park.
With this sense of possibility, I laid out my map on the ski rental counter. Parts of the map that I had never deemed important were now highly intriguing. I studied the map closer than I ever had before. Meandering seasonal roads and mysterious trails with seemingly no destination jumped out at me. After all the hours spent planning hikes and other outings, I figured I knew every inch of the map by heart. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
For my after-work outing, I settled on starting near home in Wilmington. It didn’t take long for me to realize just how much there was to discover by running in a place I deemed so familiar. Connecting various trails with the surrounding roads, I took a meandering route around town keeping mental notes of trails and roads to check out on my next running adventure. Though I missed the snow, I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing in that moment than running through the woods again.
Suggested trail runs
The Flume Trails, Wilmington – Please keep in mind these are intended primarily as mountain bike trails, so keep an ear out for approaching bikes.
Bear Cub Lane, Lake Placid – Most often used as ski trails in the winter, Henry’s Woods and Heaven Hill are excellent community trail systems for running.
Paul Smith’s College VIC – Open dawn till dusk, 25 miles of trail make for nearly endless running possibilities with plenty of wildlife to share the woods with.