Sunday, March 31, 2013

Trails & Ales Tour -- Leg 1

Saturday, March 30th

Daily totals:

- 18 miles (14 trails/4 roads)
- Long Ireland Pale Ale


A beautiful day for Leg 1 of the Long Island Trails & Ales Tour. Mid 50s, bluebird skies, light breeze, and endless trails. For the inaugural outing, I chose to hit up my favorite door-to-trail route from my house in Oakdale and into the Greenbelt Trail -- my “home trail system.” The Greenbelt Trail actually stretches from the South Shore to the North Shore of the island, starting in Heckscher State Park and ending in Cold Spring Harbor.

Living on the South Shore, I’ve run in what I call the “Lower Belt” dozens of times. It takes some road crossings to link up the trailheads, but once inside Connetquot State Park you have plenty of miles of branch-out trails to enjoy. Today I ran the 1.5 miles from my door to the trailhead that picks up along Montauk Highway and carries north into CSP. Two of my favorite “homemade” routes exist on this path, which I’ve taken the liberty to name: “Home-to-Hatchery” and “Totem Point Out-and-Back.” Without veering off into any branch-out sections, these routes cover roughly 7 miles and 10 miles, respectively. With a few more days of trail miles ahead, I’ve chosen to set out each day on the “Tour” with no planned mileage. Rather, I’d go off of feel and keep in mind that I’d like to be rested and good to go for the next day. So today, upon passing the trail intersection I call Totem Point, I continued to the northernmost part of CSP and decided to link the trailheads by crossing over one of the few highways that break up the Greenbelt into sections from north-to-south. I’ve never run any of the ‘middle belt’ sections, which I now refer to as the “Belt Buckle” of the Greenbelt system, mainly because the access to them is broken up by said highways. In the past, I’d typically hit the end of a section, and instead of looking for a link-up, I’d pull a 180 and make a new route on the sections I had just covered. After all, when the trail ends just turn around and watch it start again. But this tour is about rediscovering the familiar and discovering the new, so I gladly opted to take my footfalls into some unfamiliar terrain and explore the beginning of the Belt Buckle.

The newly found trails in this section took me across creeks, through pine needle paths, over root covered single-track, and over boardwalk sections of my native Long Island that I would have otherwise never discovered if I didn’t choose to take that “Trail less traveled.” Cliche through its literary use, but many things are cliche for a reason because they hold simple, undeniable truths (just like a good beer!).

The day’s run took me all the way to Lake Hills, just north of the busy Long Island Expressway -- a far shoot from a somber nature trail with runners, hikers, and horses. This section seems to continue across a few miles of streets before one can link up with the next trailhead to continue the journey to Cold Spring Harbor, but after seeing it is indeed possible to connect the trail sections, I can see a full Greenbelt crossing attempt in my future. I’ve already run from the South Shore to the North Shore on the roads (Ocean to Sound 50 mile race), but making an out-and-back journey along the coveted Greenbelt Trail would be a fresh adventure that would likely fill an adventurers void.

I always go back to this one credo that I came up with in Ireland (where I studied abroad in Spring 2009 and ‘re-discovered’ my love for running, which has grown into what is is today) -- that credo: “There is a Beauty in the Unknown.” I think I revisit that sentiment quite often because it rings true in so many occasions in life. The Unknown is embraced when taking leaps; whether it’s a big, life-changing one, or a “small” and simple one -- like choosing to break the crossroads and leave a familiar trail for the chance of entering a new one. These decisions may not always yield a positive or awe-inspiring result, but when they do, one can truly discover a newfound level of “pure bliss” -- one of the many beautiful things that shows its face when we choose the make the Unknown “known.” Today, I did just that over several miles of once unknown trails, and to honor that in hand-held form, I’ve chosen to do the same with the day’s beer selection on the Trails & Ales Tour...


Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite beer is, I tend to fumble for a concrete answer. That is largely due to the fact that there are just so many out there, just like the trails, that I haven’t yet discovered. Sure, I do have my favorites, but I like to keep my options open and recognize the opportunity for an endless journey. So, instead of leaving others hanging without a proper answer, I almost always grab my canned response, albeit more vague, and broaden the terms to include my favorite KIND of beer. “I’m an IPA guy,” I usually tell anyone who wants to know. “I’m a huge ‘hop head.’” India Pale Ale = Lots of HOPS. I love them. That bitter goodness. The aroma that escapes as you crack the cap off that masterpiece of a bottle. The beauty of watching the amber elixir pour into the glass, knowing that there are a sizable amount of IBUs awaiting your palate. Ah, yes, what a fine pour it is -- a perfectly balanced body-to-head ratio. And before your taste buds reach an unmatched level of ecstasy, a fresh, unmistakable smell sends a soothing tingle to your nose as crosses the rim of the glass. Like a fine wine, you know there are a few ounces of goodness in the very hand that feeds. And then, the first sip -- SMACK! Right in the face, you’re hit with that wonderful hoppiness that you had set out to experience, enjoy, and, if it’s a new beer you’ve chosen to try, discover.

That all may sound like an embellishment of something as simple as drinking a micro brew, but fellow craft beer enthusiasts would likely agree about those simple complexities that come with enjoying a good bottle of something that brewmasters -- true artisans in their own right -- spend countless hours perfecting. Now, I do love varieties other than IPAs, but I bring this issue up because today, the day before Easter, is the last day I am ‘banned’ from enjoying my over-hopped treat. That’s right, forty days ago I had chosen to give up my beloved IPAs for Lent. All kinds of them, too: regular IPAs, Double/Imperial IPAs, RyePAs, Black IPAs, and every other ‘color’ IPA that may exist out there. Silly, yes. Incredibly challenging, you bet. Challenging, not because I am an ‘alcoholic’ -- not at all. Rather, when friends and family had selected a brew to enjoy from the local craft store or neighborhood bar over these past 5 weeks, the hop heads many of them are almost always chose an IPA. My options, however, were limited to other ales, stouts, and lagers as I watched a friend enjoy a finely crafted artwork known as Blue Point Hoptical Illusion -- my ‘favorite,’ as of now. Nonetheless, I’ve taken my Lenten promise as a chance to “play the field” with a few other varieties of beer. I love Pale Ales, many of them just shy of a good IPA, especially when brewers ‘dry-hop’ them. That said, on the final day of “anti-IPA,” the ‘Ale Trail’ has taken me to the local beer wholesaler where I picked up a brew from a local L.I. brewery that I for some reason never before tried: Long Ireland Beer Co.’s Pale Ale, and what a perfect choice it was.

Long Ireland Pale Ale (Riverhead, L.I.):
6.2% ABV

A well-balanced beer with a notable hop character for a standard American Pale Ale. It sipped well and left a nice amount of bitterness in the aftertaste. Though its ABV is above that of a session ale (5.0% ABV or fewer), it’s 6.2% test level blended perfectly with its other components. Easy-drinking, full of flavor -- citrus and grainy undertones. Though I only had one, I’d say its one of those great crafts one could have a few of without becoming ‘bored’ with taste or getting knocked on your butt for “accidentally” having too many of them. I’ll definitely buy this Pale Ale again and I am eager to try other varieties from this fine local L.I. Brewery. I RECOMMEND THIS BREW!

-- Lots of IPAs ahead to make up for the past few weeks! Happy Trails, Hoppy Ales... and miles to go. Stay Relentless.

Follow the Trails & Ales Tour as the journey unfolds #trailsandales

Instagram: @RunningOnBeer
Twitter: @robriccardo

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