St. John USVI Trail Adventures
8 weeks until the TARC Fall Classic Half Marathon
10 weeks until the Adirondacks Ragnar Relay
13 weeks until the Baystate Marathon
27 weeks until the Miami Marathon
Nothing is better than vacation right? My husband and I took a trip to St. John U.S. Virgin Island and it was the first time I've ever planned on running during vacation. Most of St. John is a National Park and there were a lot of trails that I just couldn't wait to get on. Following advice from others, I downloaded the Trail Bandit Map and also purchased the "St. John: Off the Beaten Track" book by Gerald Singer. After watching You Tube videos of people driving around St. John, I knew that running on the roads was not going to be possible as they are very windy and hilly, with no sidewalks. Also they drive on the opposite side of the road, which makes it even more dangerous. My first adventure out I didn't have a plan, I just ran until I found a trail head. The first trail I found was the Caneel Hill Trail, which I should've guessed from the "Hill" part of the name that it was going to be vertical. As I climbed higher and higher, part of me wanted to turn around and head back down to the road, but the stubborn part of me said I needed to keep going till I reached the top. The toughest part about most of the trails on St. John is since we were vacationing while they were in the middle of a serious drought, all the plants along the trail were dead and it left you very exposed to the heat of the sun. Everyday we were there is was 85 degrees with high humidity, and it made any amount of exercise strenuous. However, along each trail there are plenty of clearings in which you can see the most amazing views. You work your ass of to get only a couple hundred feet higher, and then a clearing comes, and the view just takes what little breath you have left away and makes it worth it. This particular day I did make it to the top of Caneel Hill which has a platform to climb up, and holds the best views of the Cruz Bay side of the Island. Sitting up there I could only think about what the rest of the trip would bring me.
Cruz Bay to Cinnamon Bay via Caneel Hill Trail
6.2 Miles; 1,400 ft Elevation Gain
Saturdays are my long run days. I felt slightly unaccomplished my first day of the trip in which I had made it to the top of Caneel Hill, but didn't finish the entire trail, instead I turned around and ran back down the way I came. When Saturday came, which also happened to be the 4th of July and is the craziest day of the year on the Island with 24-hour music and all-day parades, I decided to finish what I had started. On the other side of Caneel Hill was Margaret Hill which is about 120ft taller and leads down to the Water Catchment Trail and the Caneel Bay Resort. I had no idea how many miles long the entire trail was or what I was going to do when I made it to the other side, but I packed up my Nathan's Hydration Vest and headed out. Going up Caneel Hill was a little easier this time because I knew what to expect but it was still very hot and humid. After stopping at the overlook again, I continued onto the other side. The trail descends before it climbs back up, and before I knew it I was at the Water Catchment Trailhead. I somehow managed to run up and over Margaret Hill without knowing it. The Water Catchment Trail goes down to the Caneel Bay Water Catchment which is a stone retaining wall with a large concrete slab that use to catch rain water and reserve it in it's basin for storage. After passing by it, you can follow the Caneel Bay Spur Trail down to the Caneel Bay Resort. Once I made it to the North Shore road, I felt like I had seen and done all I had planned for the day's trip, but I had only done 3 miles. That was not good enough for a "Saturday Long Run". Sitting on a bench, eating a Gu Gel which I brought a bunch of with me to the Island, I saw a sign that read "Cinnamon Bay- 3 miles". I knew that running in the road was not the best idea, but hell 3 miles is totally do-able. I continued on following the road, running very slowly. When I could, I ran in concrete rain gutters to get out of the road, otherwise I would listen for traffic and when a car came, I would jump into the woods. I ran past a couple of smaller bays and the Peace Trail Trailhead. I went up Peace Trail and checked out the stone monuments at the top, and then continued along North Shore Road until I saw Trunk Bay. My bladder in my vest was feeling a lot lighter at this point so I stopped at Trunk Bay and asked a park ranger where I could find potable water. He said they sell water at the store at Trunk Bay but I didn't even think to bring cash with me. He asked me where I was coming from, and I told him I had ran from Cruz Bay and was heading for Cinnamon Bay. He looked shocked and said "You ran from Cruz Bay! That's incredible!". He refilled my bladder for free with water he had, and wished me luck. Another mile or so more I was at Cinnamon Bay. Such a relief to make it there! I was finally able to make a phone call to my husband (who had a rental car) and asked for sandwiches and a bathing suit. After some food and a swim, together we hiked up and down the Cinnamon Bay Trail. It felt kind of nice to hike this trail instead of running it!
L'Esperance Trail to Reef Bay Trail to Maho Bay
6 Miles; 1,315 ft Elevation Gain
After being on airs completing the difficult 6-mile journey from Cruz Bay to Cinnamon Bay, I decided to plan another adventure. I kept hearing and reading about Reef Bay Trail and how it was so difficult that most hikers get dropped off by a bus, get guided down the trail by a ranger, then picked up at the bottom by a boat and brought back to Cruz Bay. That seemed a little silly to me since it was only 2.1 miles long, but I also did not have any interest in running down a trail, then running back up. So I planned on running down L'Esperance Trail which is a little longer but a more gradual descend down to Reef Bay, then running up Reef Bay Trail. Across the Centerline Road from the Reef Bay Trailhead was an unmaintained trail called Maria Hope Trail which descends to Maho Bay. My husband and I really wanted to snorkel at Maho Bay where there are an abundance of sea turtles so I planned to get dropped off at the L'Esperance Trailhead and meet him at Maho Bay when I was finished, which we guessed would take about 2 1/2 hours. I was very nervous during the drive over, but didn't express it to my husband. L'Esperance Trail was not often visited by hikers and I knew that I would probably be the only one on it that day. About 1/4 mile into running I checked my phone and it said "NO SERVICE". Not a good feeling. The trail was not as downhill and easy as I thought either, and it was raining off and on. There was a lot of wildlife from deers and mongoose, to huge hermit crabs that rolled along the dirt. When I made it down to the bottom of the trail, at the old Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins, I felt a huge relief, but then I remembered that I still had to climb up one of the toughest trails on the island. Only 0.2 miles into the Reef Bay Trail, there is the Petroglyph Trail which leads to a waterfall and old petroglyphs carved into the surrounding rocks. When I got to the end of it, there was no waterfall because of the drought, but tons of old petroglyph so it ended up being a nice detour from the trail. Back on the Reef Bay Trail, I started to see more people which put me at back at ease. The trail was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be and was more shaded by the sun. A guided tour came down, and hikers looked at me like I was a crazy women, running up a trail that they had paid money to get a guided tour down, then boat ride home at the bottom. I also had a Go-Pro on my head (thanks to my husband) so I'm sure that didn't help my case. The trail got a lot tougher towards the end, but was still not as hard as I had planned for. My husband was able to call me when I was almost at the top of the trail, and when I told him where I was at his reply was "shit! I better get going soon, you're moving fast". When I made it to the top and saw the Reef Bay Trailhead, I cried. I was so proud to make it there over an hour ahead of schedule. Now I just had to get down a short, easy trail and I'd be at Maho Bay, or so I thought. I crossed Centerline Road and could not find where the Maria Hope Trail started! It didn't help that there was a chicken chasing me around whichever way I went. Where I thought the trail started was where the chicken was and I had to wait it out (a vegan scared of a wild chicken, pretty funny). Finally other people came by to park and hike down the Reef Bay Trail, and the chicken started pestering them. I made it to where I thought the trail started and sure enough, there was a little wooden step, almost hidden, that seemed out of place so I started down towards it. The trail was not marked, not maintained, and descended pretty quickly. It was a lot of fun, but also dangerous because it was covered in leaves and you could easily slip off a ledge. The views coming down were absolutely beautiful, especially now that the sun had come out. Since it was only 0.8 miles long, I made it down to Maho Bay pretty quickly. The whole trip was 5.9 miles long, so I kicked off my shoes and ran the rest of the mile along the beach. A few minutes later my husband met me there with sandwiches, a bathing suit and snorkeling gear. After lunch we found the sea turtles! Returning home and looking at the map from my Garmin watch I realized that I had run across the entire island, bay to bay. Pretty cool.
I did a couple other runs, but not as long or as adventurous, and did some actual hiking with my husband. My last day there I went for another run on Caneel Hill so I could take the Go-Pro along. Overall, St. John is a great place for some serious trail running and hiking, but you need to remember to pack as much water as possible, and bring along the Trail Bandit Map. It wasn't until the end of the trip that I discovered the "Off the Beaten Track" app for the iPhone which shows you exactly where you are on each trail, and works really well even without a lot of phone service. I am so thankful I had my husband there to act as my "crew", dropping me off at trailheads, then picking me up later with sandwiches and beach gear. I also have a lot more confidence as a trail runner after running on those trails. Of course I didn't spend the whole time running or hiking. There was a lot of snorkeling, tanning and of course drinking. Being vegan on the Island was pretty easy since we cooked a lot of our own meals and there was at least a veggie burger option at each restaurant. I can't wait to go back again some day and run on the trails I didn't make it to during this trip!