by Jon Lindenauer
Often after being away from a place you love for a very long time you build it up in your head; you assign it a fantasy mystique which the reality can never hope to touch. The Mohonk Preserve in Marbleton, NY just outside of New Paltz is NOT one of those places. It is a place worth going to over and over again and going out of your way to come back - as I have over the years. That is why I seized on a race I have never run before as a pretense to make my return.
What makes the preserve special is immediately apparent even from miles and miles away. When you are driving into the town of New Paltz simply look up, and there you will see a tower set into the ridge of Shawangunk Mountains which roughly signifies the vicinity of the preserve. It is frequently the site of weddings and photo sessions for people who are seeking to capture the natural majesty of the mid-Hudson Valley region. Respectfully, where it truly shines is its trails. Miles and miles of untechnical gravel carriageways give way to a sprawling array of much grittier single track, which could easily allow an ambitious individual to string together a trail marathon or ultramarathon. In fact, there is one: The Rock the Ridge 50 Miler in May makes extensive use of the preserve trailways. For anyone intimidated by that kind of event there have been a number of other small races held over the years which have utilized the preserve, including the Pfalz Point Trail Challenge (10 miles) and the annual Rock & Snow Bridge 2 Bridge Run (5 miles).
The unfortunate reality of trail races is they are more sensitive to detrimental weather. Case in point: a previous edition of Rock the Ridge was suspended partway through due to unsafe running conditions while racers were still out on the course, and the 2022 Bridge to Bridge run was postponed when the trails were eroded from torrential rain in the days leading up to its original race date in early April. Two months later, runners could not have asked for a more picturesque day to race in the Shawangunks.
For myself - even many years now removed - it was impossible to run the Bridge 2 Bridge race and not be reminded of college cross country. It is the college distance of 5 miles. It has "the hill" (popular cross country course often have a signature hill to make them sound nice and inviting, like "cemetery hill" or "cardiac hill"). It goes over gravel and dirt single-track and grass terrain. And it reminded me of why I began to love running in the first place. I have always felt as though when you cross a finish line, whether you are first or second or tenth or last, you have earned the right to be there, you have showed your personality - you could have quit or never showed up in the first place but you did not. And as amazing of a place as the Mohonk Preserve is, it is even more amazing when you feel as though you have earned that moment to lie in the grass overlooking the Shawangunk mountain range.
And what did I get as my prize for winning the race? A free family membership to the preserve to come back again anytime I want.