this was quite an adventure! i've had this trail on my list for a while, but it was hard to find a window that worked in terms of weather, trail conditions, and logistics. i ended up going with a winter traverse because i didn't want to deal with heat + ticks, and i worried the trail might get overgrown in the spring/summer. i also had to be patient and wait for a dry spell so it wouldn't be too muddy - but had to balance that with the need to find water sources along the way, since i wanted to run unsupported. i did research ahead of time on the water sources but knew that was going to be another big challenge - there was a real risk some of the sources would be dried up or saltwater. and given the point to point nature i needed my wife to drop me off / pick me up, which given the distance from home meant a weekend trip.
a few months passed and eventually a good window opened up in january - limited daylight (10 hours light / 14 hours dark) temperatures in the mid 20s to upper 30s (a bit too cold), stiff winds of up to 20mph (not ideal - a real soul crusher when in the exposed sections), nice and dry (which translated into dry feet for the first 100 miles or so - couldn't have asked for better), and it turns out just enough water to survive. the water situation was pretty ghastly - some stretches had water every 5-10 miles, the longest stretch without was probably about 20 miles. but the water quality was awful - it was mostly vernal pools or stagnant swamp water which gave off the stench of decomposing leaves (or worse). even after pushing it through the water filter the smell was still there. i ended up using iodine and mixing it with tailwind, and holding my breath while swallowing quickly to minimize the impact. that is not the best way to motivate adequate hydration or fueling - i ended up drinking just enough to not get severely dehydrated, and only took in 1/2 the planned calories. the only good water i got was towards the end, maybe 105 miles or so in.
the trail has quite a bit of variety - the first 16 or so miles is very flat and easy and it was hard to find spots worth walking - so hard to maintain discipline and keep the effort low. after that was a really fun section - good hills, pine barrens on top of what used to be sand dunes, some signs of glaciers from the ice age - really fun coastal ecology. trails there were all in great shape, well groomed and soft. that section was definitely my favorite for pure runnability and flow - not a lot of road crossings. around mile 44 you start to get into residential areas - more road crossings, and in some sections you would just duck into the woods for 100 yards or so and then get dumped onto another road. many of these sections were not as well maintained or as traveled, and navigation was more challenging. for the next 50 or so miles there were some sections that were more remote (ponds, hills, no houses) but a lot of neighborhood / road travel interspersed. i was ok with that, it was dark anyway and i was mostly focused on the small cone of light in front of me. there was a really fun section in here somewhere which felt like a hedge maze - constant twisting, climbing or descending, a nice challenge. around mile 100 things start to get more interesting - there is a terrible mud/bramble traverse for a few miles where i was forced to get my feet wet - then you get to some really nice beach/dune areas for a few miles. it was just starting to get light and the crescent moon had just risen, the air was crisp and the visibility was great. eventually you find you way on the napeague harbor beach. the stiff breeze from the north plus the higher tides made for a bad combination - there were heavy swells and the route at this point required me to wade through icy water up to the calves. it was cold enough here that i was seriously worried about hypothermia, i had to push hard through the next few sandy miles and maintain my core body temperature - walking here would have been very dangerous. the next few miles were great, you get up on the bluffs of hither woods and it was now daylight and the sights are beautiful. around mile 115 you go though downtown Montauk and i was in high spirits - only 10 miles to go and relatively flat based on my research. the trail had a few more surprises to share though - the next few miles were unbelievably bad - a combination of mud pits (despite the recent dry spell) and overgrown trail which i can only describe as a "bramble scramble". i got hung up quite a few times in the dense vegetation but eventually exited that section and got to a farmland traverse with nice views. after that the trail was a bit more sensible but still lots of mud / bramble in spots. then before you know it the montauk lighthouse was in the distance and there was just a few miles left. great way to end the trail.
note on gpx/navigation: managed to stay on trail better than normal, from prior reports i thought navigation would be more of a problem, i think this was a bit easier running in winter (leaves were compressed or swept clean so you could follow the tracks, trail wasn't as overgrown with plants, etc). i was using an older gpx file and i noticed a few sections of the trail have been rerouted, i suspect the neighborhood sections in particular evolve a lot. there's a few sections of road right next to trail / 2 trails paralleling, you really need to zoom in closely and make sure you are in the right spot.