Planning for a long day on my feet with an element of adventure, I parked at the trailhead on the east side of Shindagin Hollow State Forest. From there, I'd follow the FLT west through Shindagin Hollow and Danby State Forest, then north to Lick Brook. At the Sweedler Preserve at Lick Brook, I'd leave the main FLT and follow the Buttermilk Falls Spur Trail east
to Upper Buttermilk Falls State Park, descend on the park trails alongside the creek, follow an unmarked rail trail into town, and then run the last few miles across town to end at home. Hayley agreed to take me out later and pick up my car.
The initial leg through Shindagin Hollow was pretty easy going, despite a few sizable climbs. The forest houses a pretty nice looking camping area with a well kept lean-to near the edge of a 50 foot ravine. Shindagin Hollow also has a network of interconnected mountain bike trails, so running a loop or adding mileage to a trail run in this forest is pretty simple. The crisp morning air and the luscious scent of the towering pines gave me an extra boost of energy right from the get-go. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy running amongst pine trees on a soft bed of needles on a cool spring morning?
Shorty after leaving Shindagin Hollow the FLT joins up with the Ridgeway Trail, an old rail trail that was once part of the Delaware & Lackawanna Railroad. Although the Ridgeway Trail is 4.3 miles in length, the section of FLT that overlaps it is only about a mile. Then it's up and over Eastman Hill and Round Top, and down to route 96B. The Finger Lakes Trail follows some old logging roads through these hills. I ran this section once a few years ago, but remember the logging roads feeling much steeper and longer than they did on this day.
Coming down to the highway along Heisey Road I was nearly mauled by a good sized dog. The unleashed dog raced out of an adjacent backyard, barking loudly. She ran right up and tried to bite me in the side of my thigh, scratching the skin without breaking it and leaving a red mark. The owner called for Zoey to come back to the yard. "She's usually pretty friendly, and she's nearly blind so she likes to run right up to people," the owner tried to explain. "She tried to bite me hard," I yelled back. I was still afraid to move, as the dog remained all up in my business. I tried to slowly walk down the hill but she followed me and continued barking. Eventually the German shepherd backed down and meandered over toward her owner. I looked at the the guy waiting for some kind of apology, but one never came. Looking back at Zoey to make sure I wouldn't be pursued, I walked carefully down the road, peeved at this guy for acting unconcerned that I was startled and could have been hurt. And for the record, I was minding my own business on a public road. I don't blame the dog for anything, but the incident further reinforces my belief that there are no bad dogs, just bad owners.
Just after Zoey's interrogation, I came to my water drop where the FLT crosses route 96B. I refilled my bottles, crossed the road, and began the steepest climb of the day up into Danby State Forest. The FLT in this forest makes up most of the FLRC's Danby Down and Dirty trail race. Instead of diverting on the orange blazed Abbott Loop for some bonus mileage, I stuck to the main Finger Lakes Trail and skipped most of the DDD course. The trail exits the forest and turns north, eventually merging onto a boring stretch of road for two miles until it reaches Lick Brook. From here, I followed the spur trail (also a stretch of the Cayuga Trails 50 course) to Buttermilk Falls State Park. On Buttermilk's Bear Trail, I finally encountered some other hikers after 28 miles and 5+ hours of my off-road adventure.
From the base of Buttermilk , I ran across town to my house. When all was said and done, I had covered about 33 miles in six and a half hours. The solo adventure left me pretty drained, but I felt good overall during the run. This was a big confidence booster heading into the final month of training for Cayuga Trails, and made for a long and rewarding day on my feet.