Greenfield author combines passions with books on trail running

  • Ben Kimball of Greenfield has written another book about trail running, this one focusing on 51 trails in eastern Massachusetts. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ben Kimball of Greenfield has written another book about trail running, this one focusing on 51 trails in eastern Massachusetts. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ben Kimball of Greenfield has written another book about trail running, this one focusing on 51 trails in eastern Massachusetts. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • “Trail Running: Eastern Massachusetts”

For the Recorder
Published: 5/16/2022 11:29:51 AM
Modified: 5/16/2022 11:28:04 AM

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

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

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

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

“It was really hard to limit the book to only 51 sites,” Kimball said. “It turns out there are hundreds of sites that could easily get 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 hand in hand. They compliment each other, they look similar and together they cover the entire state.”

Kimball is clear that he does not want to engage in negatively comparing different forms of exercise with each other — “I’m a road runner, too, and I run marathons as well” — however, he does acknowledge 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, as the uneven terrain means using different muscles and in different ways to maintain stability.

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

He also agrees there is a primal allure to the act of running through a forest — a back-to-nature experience.

“It’s a lot nicer to be in the woods than dodging some car on the road and breathing in their fumes as they go by.”

Kimball said that in 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 trail that is a mile or a mile and a half up to a viewpoint. And I didn’t include many of those, mostly because that’s not really worth the effort for a runner. Most of them ended up in the 5- to 7-mile range, with a some that are shorter and some that are a lot longer.”

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

In fact, in the process of writing the books, “I didn’t actually take notes while I was running. I took lots of photos,” he said, holding up his smartphone. “It was really handy to have all of those 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 the highlights of the trail, directions for getting to the trail (plus parking), a guided description of traversing the trail, usually some alternative route suggestions, and some nearby trails and attractions worth noting. The book also contains an overall introduction that briefly addresses important issues such as trail conservation, etiquette and safety.

“Each of the 51 sites listed contains an introductory section that details the minimum history and background information that you need to know,” he said. “And then the bulk of that chapter is given to describing a suggested route, because it’s not like there’s only one trail at any given site. And then at the end of each chapter there is a ‘Nearby’ section that suggests three to six or so additional trails that don’t get covered elsewhere in the book.”

Despite his matter-of-fact tone throughout the book, the introduction lets Kimball’s passion for the sport glimmer through: “Whether swiftly gliding through the woods, leaping over fallen logs or soaring along scenic mountain ridges, trail runners always seem to be enjoying themselves.”

In person, Kimball shows this same enthusiasm.

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

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

Nicole Braden-Johnson of Conway is the author of “Unheard Melodies,” a monthly poetry column, and has been published in several literary journals. She can be reached at bradennicole@gmail.com. Visit her website at unheardmelodiesnkbj.blogspot.com.


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