The Recorder – Greenfield author combines his passions with trail running books

In his paperback, “Trail Running: Eastern Massachusetts,” Ben Kimball guides readers through a variety of the most scenic, rewarding, and fun trails Eastern Massachusetts has to offer.

Kimball lives in Greenfield with her partner, Jennifer Garrett. He wrote the book as a culmination of his daily work, skills and personal interests.

“I like running, I like trails, I like maps, I like writing, I like photography,” he explained. “Putting it all together was a passion project.”

Designed for runners, the book contains important information such as trail length, difficulty, type of terrain, and maps for 51 different trails east of Quabbin Reservoir. However, this information is useful for anyone looking to explore nature. All trails are also open to regular hikers.

“It was really hard to limit the book to just 51 sites,” Kimball said. “It turns out there are hundreds of sites out there that could easily be profiled.”

The new book is the companion volume to his first, “Trail Running: Western Massachusetts,” which describes 51 trails west of the Quabbin.

“The two books, they really go together. They complement each other, they look alike, and together they span the entire state.

Kimball is clear that he doesn’t want to engage in a negative comparison of different forms of exercise with each other – “I’m also a road runner, and I also run marathons” – however, he acknowledges the benefits of trail running. Running on dirt is in many ways gentler on the body compared to the impact of running on asphalt. And yet, it also trains the body more intensely, because the uneven terrain means using different muscles and in different ways to maintain stability.

“I love riding along the landscape, and you’re constantly watching your feet and the placement of your feet and all that,” Kimball said. “It’s different for everyone, so I tried to include a number of different types of terrain.”

He also agrees that there is a primary appeal to the act of running through a forest – a back-to-nature experience.

“It’s much nicer to be in the woods than to dodge a car on the road and inhale their fumes as you go.”

Kimball said that when choosing a running or jogging site, “I like to look at a trail that’s at least 3 miles long. A lot of books will have a mile or a mile and a half trail up to a point of view. And I haven’t included many of them, mainly because it’s not really worth it for a runner. Most of them ended up in the 5-7 mile range, some being shorter and others much longer.

The compact volume of “Trail Running: Eastern Massachusetts,” measuring approximately 4.24 by 7 inches, is designed so the book can be taken on the trails and is especially useful in areas where cell service may be spotty or unavailable. Maps, along with narrative descriptions of the trails, help orient readers and bring the trails to life. The book itself is printed in black and white, but each map has a QR code that can be used to access colourful, zoomable maps as well as a collection of color photos of Kimball’s trails.

In fact, during the process of writing the books, “I didn’t take notes while I was running. I took a lot of photos,” he said, holding up his smartphone. “It was really handy to have all of that for reference.”

Kimball’s narrative style is both conversational without being distracting and informative without being boring. Each chapter is segmented into a brief summary of trail highlights, directions to the trail (plus parking), a guided description of traversing the trail, usually suggestions for alternate routes, and nearby trails and attractions to note. The book also contains a general introduction that briefly touches on important issues such as trail maintenance, etiquette, and safety.

“Each of the 51 sites listed has an introductory section that details minimum history and basic information you need to know,” he said. “And then most of this chapter is devoted to outlining a suggested route, because it’s not like there’s just one trail at any given site. And then at the end of each chapter there is a “Nearby” section which suggests about three to six additional tracks that are not covered elsewhere in the book.

Despite its neutral tone throughout, the introduction lets Kimball’s passion for the sport shine through: “Whether they’re gliding swiftly through the woods, leaping over fallen logs, or soaring along scenic mountain ridges, trail runners always seem to have fun.”

In person, Kimball shows that same enthusiasm.

“There’s this site that I really, really love northwest of Boston called the Ward Reservation,” he said. “It’s an absolutely spectacular site. There are these open tops so you have distant city views in one direction and rural views in another direction. It’s this really cool green oasis, just inside the (Interstate) 495 area.”

Kimball has ideas for future books, including a volume dedicated to central Massachusetts, southern Vermont, and southern New Hampshire, but he acknowledges that all of those plans depend on sales of this edition. “Trail Running: Eastern Massachusetts” is available on Amazon as well as on brightleafbooks.com.

Conway’s Nicole Braden-Johnson is the author of “Unheard Melodies”, a monthly poetry column, and has been published in several literary journals. She can be reached at [email protected] Visit his website at unheardmelodiesnkbj.blogspot.com.

Colin L. Johnson