Dan and I are planning our version of an 'epic' run. I suggested a course that I've run parts of and even biked the entire length once. We decided that this weekend would be a good time to check out the first half of the course. We met up on Monday and dropped a car out in Byfield (a CDP in Newbury) - http://massachusetts.hometownlocator.com/ma/essex/byfield.cfm and then drove back to Dan's to see if anyone would join us. No one else joined the fun so we headed out just before sunrise.
The first mile was on road as the abandoned rail trail that runs along the Merrimack River had a couple of low spots that are currently flooded. We hit the trail for about a mile running behind the now capped land-fill. We had to exit the trail due to high water (and no bridge) over Johnson Creek and headed out via the old quarry. It was a short detour that had us back on the rail trail on one of the nicer sections. Smooth dirt, no climbs, no turns. We were also aimed right toward a spectacular sunrise. The running was fine and we made our way toward downtown Georgetown. The trail dies out in a housing development and we hit Route 97 for a half-mile. Then we turned north (at Townsend Oil) and connected with the old Boston to Newburyport line. We were stymied by an un-crossable stream that flows into Pentucket Pond. This one had a short gap and deep water, nothing we could jump. We had to backtrack just a bit to get around this and back on the trail at Mill street. This got us onto another great section of the trail that was perfect for running. Right near the end of the trail we had to bail to go around another stream and then we exited the trail at Byfield post office. The trail actually continues right up to the highway but Jim Pawlicki and I had discovered a few years ago that there was no good way to cross the highway at that point. Instead we headed east over Route 95 then turned onto Fruit street where we'd left the car. All in all we covered about 12 miles, with a little out/back at the end.
The goal of scouting the first half left us with a positive feel that this could be a fun run. I'll have to check out the section from Byfield to Newburyport but I believe that it is all very run-able and has no impediments. The rest of the route will head into the Martin H Burns Wildlife area, hook back up with the rail trial to the Newburyport MBTA station then continue on the rail trail north to the Merrimack river (crossing via Route 1) then back on the trail until just after Route 110 when we'll turn west and finish on the ghost train trail.
Looking forward to a long run sometime in the near future!
Route for the rail trail: