If the Paris – Roubaix bicycle race is called L’Enfer du Nord — the hell of the north — then I submit that Norvin Green State Forest’s Stonetown Circular Trail qualifies as L’Enfer de Ringwood. The 55+ kilometers of cobblestone sections in the bike race are a severe test of bike handling and endurance. The technical, straight-up-and-down-the-fall-line climbs in Stonetown test a trail runner’s endurance and joint integrity.
This spring, people have flooded social media with hundreds posts celebrating late season skiing at Killington, Whiteface, and Gore. Due to personal obligations, I wasn’t able to get in on the late season fun. In fact, my workout routine has pretty much broken down and I’m trying to rebuild it.
This month I’m running the NJ Highlands Festival. You can sign up to race 100 km, 50 miles, 50 km, or 25 km event. I chose the kids’ race, the 25 km, as I’m not surely body will tolerate 50km, much less 50 miles.
The races start from the old Jungle Habitat theme park and head into the northern part of Norvin Green state Forest. The 25km takes you clockwise around the Stonetown Circular Trail. The other distances incorporate Stonetown with additional trails.
One of the overlooked luxuries of a local race is the ability to reconnoiter the route. I’ve spent plenty of time in the southern section of Norvin Green, and never the northern part. At the beginning of April, I ran the western half of Stonetown. There was plenty of technical trail, as well as runnable sections. When I descended to Stonetown Road, which bisects the trail, I decided I wasn’t ready for a 6-hour odyssey to finish the loop. I ran down the road back to the shooting brake.
Sunday morning, I laced up my running shoes and headed out. For a change, my day off had nice weather.
This morning, I ran north up Stonetown Road to pick up where I left off. Three road miles suck, but I’d finish right back at the shooting brake. And there’s net elevation gain running north. Near the spillway of the Monksville Dam, I clambered over the guardrail and ran into the woods.
The first mile lulled me into a false sense of security. Easy, manicured singletrack on a ridgeline. I crossed a brook bordered by an old stone wall. Then the first hill loomed. Two tenths of a mile, straight up the fall line, stony and steep. On top, one could see the Monksville Reservoir. The descent was a harbinger of what was to come in the next few miles.
I picked my way downhill, into a saddle, and straight into the next climb. Along the way, the Monksville and Wanaque reservoirs were constant companions.
An interlude: Paris-Roubaix didn’t earn its nickname because of the terrain. First run in 1896, Paris-Roubaix was interrupted by World War 1. After the war, organizers set out to see if the race could still be run. L’Enfer du Nord refers to the utter devastation caused by four years of war. Jose Been is a respected bike racing commentator and writer. Here’s her article on riding the Paris-Roubaix cobbles.
I picked my way off the second hill, with three-point contact here and there. The trail merged with a woods road for a respite of easy running. The trail crossed another woods road, then the last hill beckoned. The longest of the three. On top, spectacular views on three sides rewarded me.
On my right, I could see down to the recreational field where I’d parked the shooting brake. Close as the crow flies, not close via foot. To the east, New York skyscrapers loomed above the Palisades. After pausing to grok the views, I picked my way downhill. More three- and four-point contact.
At the bottom, the trail did a hairpin turn and I ran north, through a minefield of ankle-breaking rocks, with Stonetown road to my left. Another half mile or so, and I crossed the road up to the waiting shooting brake.
Except for one four-mile segment, I’ve pretty much run the whole race route. Today’s section was the hardest by far. If I can get through this bit, the remainder will be easier. At this point, my only goal is to finish the race within the time limit.