Resources For (New? All?) Trail Runners in Huntsville

My friends and I have been leading a “No Runner Left Behind” trail group since last Spring and I’ve realized that there are a lot of resources I have/use that others could make use of. We’ve also learned that there’s a learning curve when it comes to language and reference points, so I thought: Why not try to combine all of this information into one spot? This is my attempt to do that. If you are a local trail runner and can think of anything else for me to add, PLEASE LET ME KNOW! I am starting this today but I’m certain I’ll be adding more and more as my friends share information they find useful. Also, the majority of this relates to local training groups and local races. If you are just wanting to run on your own around this area? The majority of this is unnecessary. But if you’re hoping to becoming part of the (AMAZING) community that meets regularly and you’d like to run some local trail races? This may make it a tiny bit easier.

Disclaimer: I am an expert in nothing. Except maybe eating donuts. I have just been running with new trail runners for long enough that I’ve started noticing I say a lot of the same things over and over again. There are a million trails in this town my feet haven’t even touched. This is basically: “Things Kim Talks About A Lot On Her Sunday No Runner Left Behind Trail Runs.” I’m not trying to proclaim to be an expert in anything but trying to force everyone to love trail running as much as I do.

Now! Without further ado!

Parking Lots

Basically, the main trails that local running groups most often use center around Monte Sano Mountain. Most groups separate them into “Monte Sano trails” and the “Land Trust trails”. In reality, some are within both boundaries but it’s a quick/dirty way to break it up. When group meet at the “Hiker’s Lot” inside the state park, they’re mostly focusing on the Monte Sano trails. The “Hiker’s Lot” can be found by entering the state park on Nolen (before the park opens there’s an honor box to put admission), passing the playground and the lodge, and staying to the right at the fork. The parking lot is the gravel lot right at the fork.

(You can run all of the same trails from that lot as from a parking area at a hairpin of Fearn Drive and avoid entrance fees. However, that parking area is small so large groups don’t meet there.)

If they’re meeting at the “Burritt Lot” or “Trough Springs Trailhead” (I’ve heard it called both) they’re using both Monte Sano and Land Trust trails. This parking lot is on Monte Sano Blvd. If you’re coming from Govenor’s Drive it’s on the right, shortly after the entrance to the Burritt museum.

There are also groups that meet at the “Land Trust Lot” and obviously those are using the Land Trust trails. That parking lot is found on your right coming up Bankhead Parkway. It’s probably the one most used by hikers as it’s a quick/easy way to get to some popular spots like 3 Caves.

Maps

I have 3 high res digital maps I pull up on a regular basis. Download all 3 high-res copies here. I’m hoping that serving this up from my blog hosting won’t cause me a problem, but until it does, there they are. I’ll be using the “web friendly” ones below, but download the zipped file of the high res ones if you want to use them for yourself.

Full Briartech Map
This is not very fancy and therefore is easy for me to crop and print up to carry with me on runs. However, it is missing a few trails so it’s not ideal for a real new runner. If you like to print up maps though, and don’t like to use a lot of ink, I suggest you start with this one. This one does mark some interesting points like “Pulpit Rock” on Alms House and “CCC Pipeline” that is lined with stairs between Goat and Mountain Mist. So, if you like detours to explore, this is a good map, just be aware there are trails missing.

WebFriendly_FullBriartechMap_color

Full Monte Sano Map
This one is not as high res as the next one, so if you want to look at the Land Trust trails, don’t use this one. But this is a good overview, especially for races like McKay Hollow Madness 12K/25K, Mountain Mist 50K and Grand Viduta Stage Race that use trails on both sides of Monte Sano Blvd.

WebFriendlyViewOnly_MonteSanoStatePark_color

Full MSSP and Land Trust Trails Map
This map is the best to use for the trails on the LTNA area as it’s the highest resolution and most detailed.

ViewOnly_MonteSano_LTNA_color

Must Have Ap

If you carry your phone (which I highly recommend) then you should buy this app. It’s called “Maplets” and it does cost money but it’s WELL WORTH the $2.99 if you’re going to be trail running. You download any maps of the area to your phone and they’re georeferenced so you can pull them up (even without service since you downloaded them) and it will show your location on the map. This app has saved me MANY times. However, I do still carry paper maps with me because they’re quicker in general.

Local Trail Running Lingo

Death Trail – I first heard of this “trail” when I was training for my first McKay Hollow and someone said, “You need to do Death Trail, at least once.” I went home and pulled up my trusty maps and found it NO WHERE. Well, it’s what locals call the stretch of the McKay Hollow Trail that leads UP to the playground area. If you’ve been up on Monte Sano at the overlook, Death Trail leads up to that point. It’s a hand-and-foot section of the trail and if you’re doing the McKay Hollow 25K, it takes you to the finish line. It’s tough but it’s fantastic.

Rest Shelter – This is the other end of the McKay Hollow Trail that starts on the White/South Plateau loop. There is a trail marker for McKay, but there is also a “Rest Shelter” sign at that point, hence the name. It’s a tough downhill for McKay Hollow 25K, but it’s a tougher uphill at Mountain Mist 50K. There are other “Rest Shelter” signs, so don’t start exploring if you don’t see a trail sign.

3 Benches – This one is at least on the map, but unless you know where to look you won’t be able to find it. This one gets referenced a lot because it’s at and near several intersections.

3benches

K2 – This one is still a little foreign to me as it’s not usable during hunting season which is when I run. If any local wants to download this graphic and tell me exactly where it is, that would be awesome. You go UP (I think?) during Mountain Mist 50K but down (I think?) during Viduta Stage race.
k2

White Loop: Marked as the South Plateau loop on the maps, but has white blaze marks on the trees, hence the name.

Blue Loop: Marked as the North Plateau loop on the maps, but has blue blaze marks on the trees.

Note about North/South loop lingo. During Dizzy Fifties 50K training season, you’ll hear people refer to “North Dizzy Loops” and “South Dizzy Loops”. And while the South Dizzy Loop does use a lot of the South Plateau Loop, they are not the same thing. Same as the North loops. This confused a lot of people this year. Just know that in October and November “North Loop” and “South Loop” may have different meanings if you’re talking to trail runners.

I am publishing this now as is, but I full expect to be making notes and adding information forever as people correct me or inform me of other good resources.

My New Obsession

Over the last several years, we’ve been really making an effort to spend our money wisely. It started with gift-buying. We really started trying to be conscience of where we bought gifts and do everything we could to buy local or buy artisan through some place like Etsy. Then it creeped it’s way into our Eating Out model. We don’t eat out often but when we do we try to stick to our “Locally Owned” choices in town. We hunt down food trucks instead of going through a drive thru. We don’t hit Dunkin Donuts, we hit the Donut Truck that parks up the road (Big Foots Little Donuts). We don’t go to Starbucks, we go get tea from our local tea shop (Piper and Leaf). We don’t go to ice cream parlors, we go to our local chocolatier (Pizzelle’s Confections). I ordered screen printing from a local shop where I walked in and saw their equipment (Green Pea Press) instead of a “fill in the blank” type place online. That’s a lot of dollars that make a lot more difference if we shop local than if we go to TGIFridays. We have not done the best job at focusing on Farmer’s Market’s for produce, but there are a lot of reasons for that. We’re hoping to try to rectify that situation by at least checking out Plentiful Produce in our area, to make the steps in the right direction.

SO! Those are the type of steps we’ve been making. And it’s changing our mindset so we put a LOT of value into ethical production of product. Cue Rickshaw Bags.

You order a bag from this company and LOOK HOW IT IS MADE. This is as close to buying local as you can get. And we carry a LOT of bags in this family. And I guarantee you none of them were made in this type of environment. Hell, I’m pretty sure none of them were even made in the U.S.

We can stress about taxes and legislation for funding wars or programs we don’t agree with. But the QUICKEST way to help our country, the most DIRECT way our money can make country better, is to buy local. Either local in your community…or local in our country. Instead of spending $100 on a handbag that has a recognizable logo or zipper (I carry a Fossil bag with the keyper zipper) – I could spend $70 on a bag and know how it was made and can carry it with pride. And let me tell you: I LOVE MY FOSSIL BAG. But I’m not “proud” of it.

But…I do love my FOSSIL bag, and I’m also trying to be of the mindful of WHEN I buy and try to ONLY buy when I really want/need. Here is the model I love.

SO! I can’t justify buying a bag just yet. My FOSSIL bag is perfect in every way. But…BUT…LOOK WHAT ELSE THEY MAKE…Moleskine cover that also held your cell phone. I DIED. I DIED A LOT.

So, do I need that? No. Do I really want it? (Which is a FINE reason to buy something.) Yes. A million times over. YES. YES. YES. And that’s what I bought. And it will be here September 16th. And we will have a party to celebrate it’s arrival because it may be the most awesome thing I’ve ever bought. Ever. In 90 million years. I CAN NOT WAIT.

My Town Knows How To Rock A Thursday.

photo

Huntsville has just gotten so much more awesome the last two or three years. The proof was how much was going on on a Thursday night downtown.

First – We had our Greene Street Farmer’s Market which happens every Thursday during the warm months of the year. And it’s more than just produce, there are also booths that sell handmade/environmentally friendly laundry detergent, or homemade breads. There’s also music there every week AND there are about 10 green bicycles you can borrow (rent?) for free to ride around the area during the length of the market. It’s always a fun outing every Thursday. Sometimes the kids just get homemade fruit popsicles and I get tea, other times we come home with an arm-load of peaches and tomatoes. It’s always great.

THEN! We walked from the farmer’s market to the Food Truck Rally which they’ve been doing once a month. Usually it’s on a Friday but because of the weather predicted for tonight, they moved it to Thursday. On the way there, we passed the newest addition to the downtown square: Art Benches! I’m not sure if that’s the “official” name of them, but it’s some sort of project where they commissioned artists to make interesting benches for seating around the square. The kids checked out two of them on our walk to the rally.

At the Food Truck Rally we spread out a blanket and watch this great cover band Denim Jawbones play while we all bought our dinner from different food trucks. I bet there were 15-20 trucks plus a bunch of tables and tents from local eateries as well. It was even more awesome because a local blogger had done a write-up telling me what I could eat at the rally so I had plenty to choose from! I think we bought food for the family from at least five different food trucks.

AND FINALLY! We detoured on our way back to our car and walked through the Downtown Art Stroll which happens on Thursday a month all summer. Tons of local artists set up and sell their wares there and it’s fantastic. There was also belly dancing (which Wesley LOVED) and bands playing and it was a great bookend to the evening.

Basically, my kids and I parked our car on the outskirts of downtown around 4pm and didn’t get back to our car until 7pm. They didn’t whine (much) even though they had walked probably 2 miles during our exploration. They got good food that we purchased from other citizens of our city, so we could feel good knowing the money we spent stayed in the area. (We are on a BIG “Shop Local!” kick lately.) They were entertained by great music and dancing and they were able to see some beautiful art and handmade items and it was just a lovely way to spend a Thursday evening downtown.

Thank you, Huntsville…for being the Rocket City That Rocks My Socks.