Monday, November 24, 2014

Province Point, Vermont : A Geographical Oddity

Province Point, VT

UPDATE: This story is now featured in my published book, "Treks to Nowhere". It is available on Amazon here:

Let's go ahead and mark this one under "Scribbles"....

The United States, and the world for that matter, are full of many geographical and territorial oddities and extremes.  I am like a moth to a flame when it comes to this kind of weirdness.  Many of you that have poked your heads on my journal here know that I have an unnatural fascination with maps, geographical oddities, and extreme places.  This bizarre fascination has definitely played a huge part in me seeking out strange little places to go (particularly Antarctica).  I've touched on this more specifically in these posts:

Because of this love/fascination/obsession/compulsion ... whatever you want to call it, I've found myself in many wondrous places and situations, creating so many unique memories.  

I've spent many many hours/days/years trying to understand what is at the root of this fascination within me, and after years of coming back to it, I think I've finally been able to put a small finger on it.  I think there are people that are born into this world that are meant to be explorers.  Thinking back to many of the classic explorers of old (Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen, etc), they all seem to have had a deep-down drive to go to uncharted places.  To see the unseen and to set foot on the un-touched ground.  I know it sounds very star-trekky, but I think there really is a level of truth to it.  The problem is in today's 21'st century, so many of the places on Earth have already been explored, leaving the explorers among us, striving to find new ways to "explore".  For me, I think perhaps I was born in the wrong century, as I  do seem to have this unexplainable desire to "set forth" and go out not just to the edges of world, but to the oddities of the world.  I want to see and appreciate places, that very few if any others have the way I do.  I want my resume of visited places to be full of superlatives, extremes, and oddities when I finally leave this world.  Many many people have asked me why the hell I would want to go to some of the places I go to, and I find it extremely difficult to explain it in words.  It's a feeling I have, and a need that I must fulfill from time to time.  It is one of the things that truly brings me a sense of contentment, and I will continue to seek out unique places for as long as I am able.  

To quote Mallory when asked why climb Everest, "Because it is there!"

Many could be quite content with a comfortable life in a comfortable setting...with an occasional vacation to someplace like Las Vegas, or Disneyland, etc.  I've been in this type of living situation, and I always had a deep craving to get "out there" somewhere else.   Years ago, when I would plan my yearly vacations, I found myself wanting to spend my precious 2 weeks of time going someplace completely ridiculous like mainland Labrador Canada.  I'd tell my co-workers I drove 3000 miles from Cleveland to Labrador City for no other reason than to see remote places.  They'd look at me crossed-eyed and say, "what the hell do you do in Labrador City?".  Nothing really, but I loved it.  The journey was incredible.  Had I instead gone to Virginia Beach or someplace similar, I likely would have been pining for someplace else the entire time.  Thankfully, I'm now in a situation where I've found someone else who is nearly as odd as me when it comes to I couldn't be happier.

Before I get into the subject of this post, I thought I'd take a quick walk down memory lane and just highlight a few places my weird fascination has taken me.

Remote Hokkaido, Japan

Trans-Labrador Highway

Quoddy Head (furthest point east in the US)

49 of 50 states and all but 4 Canadian Provinces/Territories 
(I'm coming for you next North Dakota!)

Wild Goose Island, St. Mary's Lake, Glacier NP

Kayaking up to Wild Goose Island 
(and eventually walking around on it)

Driving around remote Yukon

Four Corners (a bit cliche' but still unique)

Three Corners in the middle of the woods - (MA, CT, NY)

Three Corners (NJ, PA, NY)

PCT Canadian Border

Mt. Wasilewski, Merrick Moutains, Antarctica

40k from WAIS Divide Field camp and any other human beings.
To this date, this is the MOST remote place I've ever set foot.
I went here with 3 other grad students as part of a science traverse.

Key West Fl

And SOOOO many more....(too many to list here)

This same fascination has also led me to over 20 of the state high points, and almost 20 of the 54 colorado 14ers (so far).

Ebright Azimuth, the quirkly high point of Delaware

Indiana's High Point...who the hell goes here?

San Luis Peak Colorado (considered by many to be the "most remote"
of Colorado's 54+ fourteeners)

Some unnamed peak in the Panamint range that I bushwacked up.
Because it was there.

You could very easily argue that this obsession/fascination of mine is at least part of the reason I was drawn to the Barkley as well.  But I won't go into that here.

Anyhoo...moving on.

One of the categories of "oddities" that really gets me excited, are what are called "Exclaves".  Exclaves are bits of land owned by one country that are completely isolated from the mainland part of the country and must be entered by land (or in some cases water), via another country.  There are different specific types of exclaves depending on whether or not they are surround by water or by the number of other countries they border....but essentially they are excluded "land-islands" of a country.  If you look up Enclaves and Exclaves on Wikipedia, you will quickly get lost in verbiage explaining the differences between ethnic exclaves, practical exclaves, pene-exclaves, recursive exclaves, subnational exclaves, etc.  It gets crazy and complicated quickly.

There are many simple global examples of this, like the the Kaliningrad Oblast in Russia or the Temburong District of Brunei, but we have just as many lesser-known exclaves here in the United states...especially along the US/CA border.

One of my favorites and yet-to-be-visited is the Northwest Angle of Minnesota. 
Not only is it the furthest place north in the Contiguous 48, but it can only be
accessed from Canada and is a true exclave

Another classic US example is Point Roberts (also yet-to-be-explored)
This little bit of land in Washington (near Vancouver, CA), just barely
drops down below the 49th parallel.

The classic Kentucky Bend of the Mississippi, is a little bubble of land only accessible by land through Tennessee.  I have been to 
New Madrid, but have yet to set foot in the Bend itself.

There are many other examples I can think of off the top of my head.  Places like Elm Point MN, Estcourt Station ME, and Derby Line VT.  There are even many small unnamed exclaves along the canadian border, particularly in remote places of northern North Dakota and along the Yukon Alaska border, that would be great (although difficult) to go visit as well.  Weird and exotic places like this:  

North Dakota / CA border

Yukon / Alaska Border

...and even this tiny little point just west of the larger exclave : Elm Point MN.

Which leads me finally back to the topic of this post:  Province Point, VT.  I spent the past 10 days up in Montreal Canada having all sorts of fun.  On one particular day, I made a trip down to the hip town of Burlington for a little visit, and this gave me a chance to visit the very well-known and obvious exclave known as the "Alburgh Exclave".  This rather notable slice of land jutting down into Lake Champlain from Canada, is probably the most accessible exclave in the US.  But what is not known is the miniscule, 2-acre (1 hectare) exclave just to the East of Alburgh, known unofficially on maps as "Province (or Provincial) Point".

If we zoom in on Northern NY and VT, 
you can easily see the Alburgh Exclave....

Here I've outlined the Alburgh Exclave in Blue.  But, if I zoom in on the
Red box even closer, you'll notice a tiny piece of land......

...and so we come to Province Point...

This tiny little spit of land just barely 
juts over across the US border from Canada.  

Extremely early in the morning, on a very foggy day, on my way down from Montreal...I drove down the small road near this geographical oddity in Canada, and parked at the closed campground about 1/4 mile from the point.  All of the houses along this remote road were dark and likely seasonal (i.e. closed for the winter).  Then, quite simply, I walked out to the point, took a few pictures, wandered around on it for a few minutes, and then hustled back to my car.

NOTE:  If there is anyone reading this, that is thinking of perhaps following in my footsteps, I will say this:  I'm not entirely sure if, or how much of the very end of this quick little walk was, or was not, on private take that sentence for what it is.  I will say that I didn't see a single other person along that road, and only spent about 5 minutes out on the the point before quickly hustling back to my car.  I would definitely make sure that you are at least crudely fluent in very-basic conversational French just in case you have to explain yourself. I know enough to have been able to explain myself and apologize profusely had the need arisen.  Thankfully it didn't.  

To just about anyone else in the world, this little detour probably makes no sense at all.  To me, I was giggling for about 2 hours after this little visit.  Man, I just love this kinda stuff.

Province Point, Border Marker

Looking out to the end of the point

Panorama of the entire Point from East to West

Next up on my To-Do-Hopefully-Soon List:

Setting foot in Nunavut without flying.  If you don't think it's possible...IT IS! (I hope to basically do what these guys did).  All islands within James Bay are technically part of Nunavut!

First, drive to the Cree First Nation City of Chisasibi, QC

Kayak or Packraft the 1-2 miles out to "Tiny Island" Nunavut!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mountain Masochist and Another NJ 24-Hr

The Barkley Crew finishing the Mountain Masochist

...This will be a rather short update....

The end of the year is quickly approaching and the ultra season is winding down.  I may (or may not) still have an event or two on the schedule, but for all intents and purposes things are slowing down.  The hex screws have made their way back into my old running shoes, the cold weather is here, and I am bracing myself for another long and cold winter.  Needless to say I have seriously considered picking up a used treadmill for this winter as last year was really tough on me.  If Craigslist has shown me anything, it's that college kids sell stuff extremely cheap...including treadmills.

I've been on a bit of a roller coaster since my last update here.  I have had two incredibly fun ultra events that I was able to take part in, but on the academic side of the world, things have been a little more frustrating.  It is looking with a high level of certainty that I will be postponing my graduation now until May to give myself a little more time to find a suitable post-doc or job.  Official word on proposals have not come down yet either, so both my advisor and I agree that postponing is probably the best option.  It is EXTREMELY upsetting to not be able to turn in my finished dissertation yet, but at least a May graduation would mean my family could come.  Thankfully, my advisor does have enough funding to keep me on for 6 more months....something of which I'm enormously grateful.   Looks like I'll have to wait a few more months before I can officially call myself Doctor.

A few weeks ago I had the incredible pleasure of running my first Mountain Masochist Trail Run.  What made the event particularly exciting was that I was invited to run the event alongside 3 Barkley alums:  Andrew Thompson, Jonathan Basham, and Travis Wildeboer.  This event is a yearly tradition for these guys and they've been running it for 17 years.  The MMTR is a David Horton event, so I actually had the great pleasure of sharing stories and coffee with 4 other Barkley finishers over the weekend.  Talk about a humbling group to be included in!

The best part about this particular race, is that these guys run it completely for fun and put aside their competitive natures.  In other words, they go out there and goof off around the course for nearly 12 hours, despite the very real possibility of crushing the course in easily under 9 hours for all three of them.  This sounded perfect for me as I was more interested in having a fun day, rather than a hard race.  The course, despite being mostly forest roads, still boasts and impressive 10,000 feet of gain.  It's definitely not an "easy" course.

The plan was simple: go out at an easy jog pace, and trot along just under the the time cut-off for the entire day.  We were purposely aiming for a 11:30-11:45 finish.   This plan played out perfectly.  We jogged easy and never stopped talking and laughing the entire day.  It was honestly the most fun I've ever had during an ultra.  We made our way around the 50 mile course and miles just flew by.  I can't remember the last time a race seemed to move along so quickly.  The bad weather held off (although we did get a little sleet), and the trip out on the "loop" and up to the high point peak was simply wonderful.  We stopped for a few pictures on top of the foggy peak before continuing on to the finish.  We hit the 42-mile aid station and were told we were 19 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  Perfect.  We continued at our pace and eased down the final few miles on the road towards the finish.  We crossed the line to a smiling David Horton in 11:39 to finish off what was a simply perfect day.  His exact words to us were, "It's about time you guys showed up!"

Just after finishing for the day!

The Barkley contingent in full force the day after with sore legs!

This past weekend I got talked into yet another ultra event.  Despite my daily runs picking up again, I knew I'd be less-than-rested after the Masochist to even attempt any serious go at an ultra.  Still, I couldn't resist the temptation to go out for loops with one of my favorite running groups out there: The NJ Trail Runners.  Last year I participated in what was my first 24-hour event at the inaugural NJ One Day in November.  I managed to complete a respectable 114 miles (3rd place) and hit the 100-mile mark under 20 hours (which was my primary goal).  After getting talked into running again this year, I went with an entirely different attitude.  2014 has been all about having fun, and so I didn't stress about quantity, and instead focused on quality.

I took it easy all day running the 1-mile loops around the Augusta Fairgrounds (the same course at 3-Days at the Fair).  I never really checked my pace, but just ran what felt fun.  My legs were definitely still un-recovered from Masochist, but I had a blast catching up with many of my NJ running friends.  Around me, some very incredible performances were unfolding....particularly with the women.  Maggie Gutterl and Sky Canaves both were shooting for 135+ miles.  It was simply incredible watching them both rack up the loops and in the end both achieving over 135 miles (Maggie with 142!!!!!).  Both qualified for the Women's national team.  On the men's side, Aaron Mulder won the event also passing 135 miles and qualifying for the Men's national team.

As for me, I was quite content to put out 108 fun miles, only 6 short of last year, and on much more tired and less trained legs.  One thing I can say for sure, you will never be disappointed at a NJ Trail Series event.  Even if it is running 1-mile loops around a paved course.

Maggie still smiling after her 142-mile record breaker

Smiling, laughing, and having fun early on in the loops.

Beautiful day for some miles for sure.

In other news, a very large group paper that I've been working on with my ice-core science collaborators has been officially published in the Journal of Glaciology.  May long hours and field seasons went into this large study.  You can browse through it if you'd like to see what my life is like outside the running, hiking, and various outdoor adventures...

Lastly, today is in fact that one day of the year that I get to feel selfish...although at 38, I am definitely starting to not feel as young as I used to.  It's hard to believe in just 2 years I'll be a "Masters" runner.
To celebrate, I'm going to see Damien Rice live in concert tomorrow night up here in Montreal (where I've been partially living for the past week now).  I've been waiting to see him perform for upwards of 10 years now.  Should be fantastic.

happy trails and fun running everyone,