Monday, May 16, 2011

Bay Circuit Trail Run, Section #3 - Single-track Heaven

Saturday morning I met my friend Bill H. in Andover to run my third leg of the Bay Circuit Trail.  This leg begins in Boxford at the entrance to Boxford Wildlife Sanctuary and ends in Andover.  The distance reported on the trail map was 14.5 miles but with re-routing caused by beaver activity and one missed turn, the run concluded after 17.2 miles. Bill left his car in Andover and we took my truck to Boxford to start the run.  It was cold and damp at 8:30 am but there was no rain.  It was a good morning for a long run.

 Course overview

The terrain was mostly flat to gently rolling with one longer climb up Holt Hill in Ward Reservation in Andover.

View of the 47 miles of the BCT run to date.

After a 5 minute warm-up walk we broke into a slow trot.  It wasn't long before we reached our first obstacle, submerged trail.  We were able to follow a herd path around the water and keep our feet dry.  There's nothing worse than getting your feet wet in the first 10 minutes of a 4 hour run.  We encountered a few more wet trails in Boxford Forest but we were able to find detours around all of them.

One of the many wet spots in Boxford Forest.

The moisture and warmer temps are bring the sleeping forest back to life.
Bill's effortless stride makes it look easy. 

The trail was well marked in Boxford Forest and following it was easy with one exception.  When we came to a graveled clearing we had the option of going left or right but could not see a blaze indicating direction.  We went left and looked for the cairns mentioned in the trail description but could not see any.  Unsure if we were heading in the right direction we backtracked until we realized we were going the right way all along.  This added another half mile to the run but the walking break felt good to me so it was all good. After leaving Boxford Forest we ran on a brief stretch of pavement, cut back into the woods, crossed Route 114 and entered into Harold Parker State Forest

We did come across one unpleasant sight in North Andover just before reaching Bradley Palmer.  I'm not sure if the town is responsible for this or a private business but there was a huge volume of fill spilling onto the trail.  Besides earth, it contained concrete blocks, steel pipes and other road and construction materials.  I alerted Al French to this after the run but of course he was already aware of it and working to get it resolved.  I'm not sure how he does it but he seems to know what is happening on the 200 miles of BCT at all times!

 Huge pile of earth and other material covers the trail.
 This makes me very angry!

This berm is about 15 feet high.

The thing I like most about taking on the Bay Circuit Trail is the excitement of exploring new trails in the area.  I have never been to Harold Parker before and didn't know I was about to be running on some of the sweetest single-track I have seen in my five years as a trail runner. Entering the trail head off Rt 114 we bushwhacked a short while through trails that have seen little traffic.  It was here that Bill noticed a few unwelcome hitchhikers on his arm, ticks! He said they were not the Lyme-carrying type but a tick is a tick and they had to go.  Once we broke out of the brush we were treated to four miles of twisting, undulating single-track the likes I have not seen before.  I was in single-track heaven!

 Entrance to Harold Parker.

 Bill dances along a stone wall keeping his new Hokas dry.

 Tropical looking.

 A sign of good things ahead.

 The trail snaked through Harold Parker for miles.

 This reminded me of Wapack. I may have nightmares!

Bill clings to a grant erratic.

Before leaving Harold Parker we ran into a large contingent of GACers running in the opposite direction.  We stopped and chatted briefly with Cheryl, Paula, Al, Norm and a bunch of others I recognized but don't know by name.  Bill and I moved on to meet up with Emily. She had called me earlier and told me she was coming from the Andover end and would meet us somewhere near Skug River Reservation.  Her estimate was right on. We ended up meeting her just across the street in Hammond Reservation.

 Curving boardwalk in Skug Reservation.

Hey Em, we're here for the "meet-up."

Once we connected with Emily I was able to put away my trail map and follow Em's lead.  This is her home turf and she knows the trails in this area as well as I know the trails in Breakheart Reservation.  After leading us through Hammond we entered the Mary French Reservation.  Although this is one of the smaller Reservations in the Andover area it is one of my favorites.  The 1000 foot boardwalk over a bog is a great place to watch and listen for a variety of birds.

 Emily showing us around her stomping grounds.

If you ignore my footsteps you can hear the birds chirping.

After passing through a residential neighborhood our shoes where back in the dirt as we entered Ward Reservation.  We ran past a large, sloping meadow with a charming old house overlooking a sea of green and colorful trees. Ward was home the to only real hill during our 17 mile run. At 424 feet, Holt Hill was also the high point and offered splendid views of the surrounding area.  I only wish it was a clearer day. 

 Em and Bill giving scale to the magnificent meadow.

 An idyllic location.

 Fire Tower atop Holt Hill.

 View from Holt Hill.

Leaving Ward Reservation we made a final push to the finish.  A quick jaunt along a busy road brought us to the Philips Academy athletic Field.  After cutting across the open field we were on the road again passing beautiful old homes and landscaped lawns.  It was easy for me to avoid the pavement since I was able to run on a wide strip of lawn on the sidewalk.  About 200 yards from Bill's car a got a twinge in my knee but other than that I had no discomfort during 4+ hours of running.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping this is a sign of better health to come.

 Running against oncoming traffic.

 Grassy field in Phillips Academy.

Stately old home.

Closing in on the finish.


After the run we stopped by Moor and Mountain and spoke with Al and Burt a bit.  Two very nice and knowledgeable men.  If you're ever in the Andover area you should stop by for a visit.  I was happy to get this third leg of the Bay Circuit Trail completed without any IT band issues (except at the end).  Still, I'm running behind schedule if I plan to run the full 200 mile before late fall.  I think I'll have to consider running two sections next time out in order to get back on track. 

Many more photos from the run can be seen HERE.

Until next time, chow....

BCT Leg 3: 16.2 miles
Surface split: 14.2 trails, 2.0 roads (can be avoided by running on soft shoulder).
Elevation gain: 857 feet
BCT Legs 1-3: 46.7 miles
Surface split: 34.2 trail & dirt road, 12.5 pavement
Elevation gain legs 1-3: 2154 feet
BCT remaining: 153.3
Start Point: Bald Hill Reservation, Boxford
End Point: Lupine Road, Andover
Other towns: North Andover
Green spaces: Bald Hill Reservation, Boxford State Forest, Harold Parker State Forest, Skug, Hammond, Mary French and Ward Reservations.
Hydration: 80 oz  Heed
Fuel:  Gu gel (2) PB&J crackers (6)
Footware: Brooks Cascadia 5, Drymax trail socks.


  1. Dan, goooood times with you and Bill my friend! I wish I'd been able to meet you both from the start (you know how much I love mud...and glacial erratics!). The section through Skug (after crossing Jenkins Rd. is a place to which we must return; it is heavenly running. I hope your parts are all in tip top shape. We have miles to go.... Also fun to check in with Al and Burt at Moor and Mountain. good trails, good friends, good times.

  2. Nice to see someone appreciating the BCT. I grew up in No. Andover and would bike out to climb at that erratic (which, fwiw, I've seen called Soap Rock and the Jenkins Boulder). I'm getting into longer distance running, and it's great to see someone out in my old haunts. Good luck running the whole thing!



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