With a Hoot, With a Toot and With a Whistle

by Laura Clark

Trains keep on rolling…
Rolling in the rain and rolling in the snow
Round trip ticket to nowhere and back…

                Professor Louie and the Crowmatix

With a hoot, a toot and a whistle we once more embarked on Bob Dion’s 5K Snowshoe Race, an out and back along the defunct Hoosac Tunnel and Wilmington Railroad (HTW)—hence Hoot, Toot & Whistle. Bob joked that if we missed the turnaround we could continue on the Catamount Trail all the way to Canada! Someday it might be fun to do that, but not with a race to be run.

Perhaps because of the train connection, I ran with Tear of the Clouds by Professor Louis and the Crowmatix cycling repeat loops in my head.  Professor Louis’ train is located not in Vermont but in the Adirondacks.  In fact, when Vice President Teddy Roosevelt took a hiking break at Tear of the Clouds Lake, word reached him that President McKinley, shot by an assassin’s bullet, had taken a turn for the worse.  Roosevelt beat all records running down Mt. Marcy and boarded North Creek Railroad enroute to being sworn in as President of the United States.  North Creek Railroad is still hanging on today, but struggling.

While we did not actually ride a Vermont train, we did have the option of reliving our elementary school days, riding to the start and back in a big yellow school bus. I opted for the full experience so I rode over and took my cooldown walking back. Unlike last week when it was -14, the  temperature hovered in the high thirties with a gusty wind making it seem a bit cooler.  It was difficult to know what to wear—rather like spring skiing, except that it was still January.

The course utilizes the Readsboro to Harriman Dam section of the HTW, one of the late 19thcentury premier short-line, narrow gauge railroads, also known as the Hitch, Twitch & Wiggle, on account of its high precipices and sharp turns resulting in an unusual amount of train wrecks. Just ask Jen Ferriss.  This has long been her cursed race where every year she has experienced an inordinate amount of bad luck. This year was no different, with an unscheduled stop to fix a struggling snowshoe. For the rest of us, the turns revealed constant surprises, with the person ahead peek-a-booing in and out of sight so you can never get a clear fix on your goal. The out-and-back landscape pretty much looks the same, with cliffs on one side and the river on the other, so that it is difficult to ascertain how much farther you have until you are almost on top of the finish.

This race marked Solitaire Niles’ (London’s sister) first 5K snowshoe race and she handled herself well. She is more of a downhill skier but enjoyed herself and promises to actually practice for Winterfest. So watch out!  Chloe, Jan R’s Newfie also made an appearance.  As she is twelve years old now, her hiking is rather limited, but her fan club more than made up for it, keeping her well supplied with plenty of attention. As for me, I am trying to deceive myself, feeling proud that I passed Jen Sharp (Kuzmich) when in reality she is recovering from pneumonia. I did however win an age group railroad spike award—probably my last time as Kathleen Furilani will be turning 70 in August. These spikes, donated by the railroad, are truly unique and definitely worth training for. They are also practical in this winter of below zero norms. Wedge shaped, they are perfect for prying open a frozen garbage can lid or car gas cap.

Each year when we pass through town we glance at the town’s landmark Bullock Building, which for nine years and running has been undergoing restoration partly support from our race donations. The scaffolding is removed; it is freshly painted and ready to host summertime community events. Next up is the heating system. Often our race dollars are earmarked for charitable causes, but rarely can we view with pride the actual physical results of our donations.

For me, though, the best part of the race was the drive home.  Somewhere on the road between North Bennington and Cambridge, Matt, Jen and I noticed a few cars pulled off to the side of the road, with their passengers staring up at the sky. They were transfixed by a huge bald eagle, perched on a tree, preening, fluttering his gorgeous tail feathers and stretching his wings for the benefit of his admirers. That was my first close-up eagle and a good luck sight I will always connect with Hoot & Toot.

– Laura Clark is an avid snowshoer, trail runner, XC skier, race director, and 2017 World Snowshoe Federation Championship 70-99 Female Age Group winner.