posts tagged with 'adventure'

backwoods sledding

As I mentioned, the boys and I ventured out yesterday afternoon for some backwoods sledding. We love sledding, but even after 16 years in Bedford I never located a favorite local sledding spot. The two places we know in Lexington are so good, to say nothing of our friends' hill in Chelmsford. But there's definitely something to be said about being able to hit the slopes without 40 minutes of driving, round trip. What if we were to exchange that driving for a little bit of walking in the woods?

That was my thought early this winter, when the first snowfall made me see a hill by the airport in a different light. Unlike most of Bedford's hills, which are forested, this one is kept clear by the airport folks because it's just in line with the runway. It's not super long, but it does have one steep drop and when I saw it with snow on it I figured right away that it would be worth a try. Of course, right after that the snow melted and we didn't get any more for all of January. But it's back now!

the view from the top of the sledding hill down towards the airport

at the top of the hill

Just like the day before, we were faced with deep snow on unbroken trail. Even worse for morale, someone else had started in from where we parked and then given up after 25 yards and turned back. But we're made of sterner stuff, and even with the deep snow even Elijah marched on strongly into the woods.

on the trail pulling sleds through the woods

mushing

It was maybe longer than we remembered getting up to the hill—last time having been under somewhat easier conditions—but moving as slow as we were let us notice opportunities along the way for some warm-up runs. It's not often we get to try glade sledding!

Harvey and Zion toboganning down a path in the woods

they could sell tickets for this!

Despite the beautiful spot the snow was actually pretty disappointing, being both deep and sticky, and there was a little grumbling and unhappiness among the party. But we pushed on, and eventually came to the open space atop the hill, where we traversed across like explorers crossing High Greenland. And when we reached the steep part I'd been looking forward to trying since December our long journey felt well worth it! After just a couple runs we had a smooth trail laid down, and could take our fill of thrilling, if short, plunges down the steep side of the hill. And it was fine that they were short, because otherwise getting back up the hill would have been too much work!

Zion and Lijah walking across a snowy field

to the main event

Besides the sledding, there were also snowcovered rocks to climb up and jump off of, and planes to watch, and we spent a happy hour enjoying all those things. Then suddenly we were done—wet, and cold, and tired—and we were glad it was mostly downhill on the way home. That made pulling Elijah on the sled almost easy! We're looking forward to going back for more soon, and especially to knowing that next time will be even better: I expect never to see snow this sticky ever again.

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walking (and walking and walking) in a winter wonderland

Yesterday afternoon I took the dogs out for a walk in my favorite woods. It was maybe a little ambitious, given that it had snowed 18 inches the day before, but I figured—to the extent that I thought about it at all—somebody probably would have broken a trail in the more than 24 hours since the snow had stopped. That was not the case. Climbing over the pile left by the plow to get into the woods I sank up to my waist, which set the tone for the next hour.

It was strange snow we got in this storm. It has some fluff to it—it must have to accumulate so high just overnight!—but it's also super wet. The shoveling was easy where the snow was undisturbed, but where it had been stepped on or even brushed off somewhere else and fallen in a pile it was practically solid. And walking on it on the trail was kind of like I imagine it would feel to wade through not-quite-set concrete.

As I made my slow and laborious way, it occurred to me that one feature I like about the woods by the airport is the length of the loops. So the shortest one we could take would still be longer than I would have really liked. But of course I would never dream of turning back. It's loop or nothing! So on we trudged (or I trudged; the dogs bounded). At least it was very pretty!

the dogs ahead of me in the snowy woods

beautiful and exhausting

(That's from one brief section of trail broken by a skier... the only place I had the energy to take out my phone for a picture.)

In trying to stick to the shortest way around I ventured onto a trail that I don't often take, and after a little ways found that it had disappeared. With the snow bending all the trees over everything looked so different! There was no going back, though, so since I knew the direction of the main trail we just pushed ahead between the trees. I could play up the drama, but really the woods aren't that big and I knew I'd come to a landmark I recognized before long; sure enough, after only five minutes or so of bushwhacking we were back on a recognizable trail—unbroken trail, of course, but at least I knew exactly where I was.

Only where I was was a section of the trail that's been ruined by 4-wheelers and is nothing but a series of muddy holes that in the spring resembles nothing so much as a World War I battlefield. It was warm enough that I had a moment of concern for the ice over all those holes (some of which held up to 18 inches of water less than a month ago...), but I was so tired I couldn't do anything but push ahead on the shortest path. The dogs shared my concern, or maybe they were just tired of breaking trail, because they waited for me to go first.

I did fall in once or twice, but it hardly mattered since I was so wet already from the snow and from sweat. And at the end of the treacherous holes I came across a section of trail that had been broken by someone on snowshoes, and soon after that passed two actual other humans. Civilization was near! In another few minutes we were back at the car, where we all collapsed. I had to catch my breath for a bit before I felt safe to drive.

It was exercise the likes of which I hadn't got for a long time, and today my body didn't let me forget it: my calves especially are absolutely killing me. Of course it didn't help that I went back to the same woods this afternoon with the boys to explore some new sledding hills... but that's a story for another day.

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our first mountain

We've done lots of hiking this year—or walking in the woods, at least—but we haven't gone up any mountains. We usually save mountain climbing for our annual Maine vacation, but of course that didn't happen this summer. And anyways those are kind of mini-mountains: some fun and challenging climbs and impressive views, but not too much actual altitude (of course, when you're starting from sea level it all counts, but still). So when I heard from a neighbor that his fourth- and first-graders were climbing local mountains this fall I thought right away that it was something we might try too. Last week we started with the littlest closest one, Mount Wachusett.

the boys resting on a rock on the way up Mt Wachusett

mountaineers

Not having done anything like this before, I spent hours pouring over maps and guidebooks—or the online version, at least. I love OpenStreetMaps, but it doesn't have any context for the trails it shows, and it's terrible at locating parking. So I also used the official Massachusetts State Parks page, plus some guidance from other websites with details about particular trails. Nobody writes that kind of thing about places like the October Farm Riverfront (they should! I should!) but it turns out that lots of people like talking about climbing mountains. It made me much more confident in setting out last Thursday morning bright and early for the hour-long trip to the base of the mighty peak.

We got a new audiobook for the drive—The House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones—so the trip went quickly. When we reached it we marveled at the ski slopes as we drove by, then stopped briefly at the visitor center to pick up a trail map in case I didn't have cell service for at any point on the trip. It would have been less brief but the visitor center was closed—even the portapotties!—so we piled back in the car for the two minute drive to the parking lot at the trailhead where we wanted to go up.

My thought was to go up the steepest trail on the mountain, because Lijah likes mountain climbing quite a bit more than hiking, at least when he's primed with the expectation of being on an actual mountain. But I wanted to do a loop down (especially since that steepest way is only half a mile to the top!), and I didn't want to get up to the top right away and then have a long walk to finish off. So even through there's a lot at the bottom of the steep trail, we parked about a mile away and started off with a walk on a trail parallel to the road. Judging by the map I had thought it would be pretty flat, but it actually went up a fair grade, in addition to being made of boulders for much of the route. It felt delightfully mountainy! After that, though, the turn onto the steep path up was something of a disappointment when we saw that it was all stairs. At least for the second half the woods thinned out a bit and we could chose to walk on the bare rocks beside the stairs—which of course we did.

There was some disappointment at the summit too: even though I'd told them what to expect, the boys were a little dismayed to see the parking lot and the observation tower and all the people—yes, even on a weekday morning the top of Wachusett was a little crowded. But when we started to pay attention to the views I finally got the kids to understand that they were actually up higher than they had ever been before in their lives. That was cool in its own right, and it also meant that we could see pretty far (even though it was frustratingly hazy for October). There were four signs around the observation deck with labeled pictures of the landmarks you could see in each direction; spotting the tall buildings way off in Boston was pretty cool, but the massing mountains of Vermont were the most exciting. We could see Vermont! A magical place that they'd barely ever thought about before! Then we found a quiet spot to have lunch. Quiet in that is was out of the way of people, that is; the wind was plenty loud! Oh yeah, I forgot to say that whatever other ways it was lacking as a mountaintop Wachusett certainly provided an appropriate amount of summit wind.

the boys walking on rocks through a sun-dappled pine wood

the path down

The way down was longer than the way up, and more interesting. If I were to do the mountain again—which frankly I can't imagine doing, unless friends want to go with us—I'd definitely go up that way and down yet another way. We passed through different types of woods and one small meadow orchard, and took a little detour to visit the grandly named Echo Lake (pretty, but smaller than most ponds we know). Then it was an easy walk back to the car. The whole thing was far from the longest hike we've ever done, even outside of camping, and when after looking at the clearing haze I jokingly suggested going back up to take another look at the distant hills Harvey was ready to go for it. Really, we all could have made it back to the summit pretty easily a second time. But we did have obligations for later in the afternoon, and the audiobook was calling, so we were all happy enough to head for home... thinking about the next mountain we might climb. "How much higher is Mount Washington?" Harvey wanted to know.

distant Mt Monadnock from the summit of Wachusett

looking away to Mt Monadnock... a more realistic next goal!

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riders in the dark

It was inevitable, and today it happened: our efficiency at getting out the door for a pre-breakfast ride, together with the ever-lengthening winter darkness, meant that Harvey, Zion, and I reached the trails while it was still just about pitch dark this morning. Never mind: we were prepared with headlamps! Riding trails in the dark for the first time was quite an adventure. I felt like I could chose between watching the twists and turns of the trail ahead, or keep track of the rocks and roots under my feet—but not both! All of us took a spill or two, but nothing too serious. I for one appreciated the way the darkness made the trails I know so well seem new again, and it was even more interesting because my memories of the lines I knew I should be taking but couldn't see felt like something I'd learned in a dream. Then the sun came up and it was just like a regular ride—which is pretty good.

Harvey and Zion riding a gravel road at dawn, with headlamps

it was darker in real life

multimodal exploration of Fairhaven Bay

A week or two ago we set out to explore a new bit of land, spanning Concord and Sudbury between Walden Pond and the river. We started out by visiting Mount Misery, as described here; that was fun, but we didn't actually make it into Adams Woods or Wright Woods, where I had actually thought of visiting. So I searched for an alternative entrance to the Wright Woods and found a closer way in, off of Sudbury Rd in Concord. Our first trip there turned into an epic two-hour walk around Fairhaven Hill, with many delightful sights along the way.

Blue looking out at Fairhaven Bay from by the boathouse

Blue looks at the Bay

One highlight was Fairhaven Bay, and the old boathouse looking out over this unexpected stretch of open water in the middle of the Sudbury River. The path went by an old boathouse, which was a lovely place to stop for a snack; we only we could have found some way to get into it! We also enjoyed climbing on an old ruined chimney (pictured here) and scrambling on some rocky cliffs above the river.

Harvey and Elijah on rocks above a steep hillside

cliffs are hard to photograph

Writing on the internet suggested there were some cliffy trails to explore, but even though we walked for a while we didn't find them. A long while, actually: doing a loop all around Fairhaven Hill was maybe a bit much. We've been doing lots of hiking lately, though, so we all survived.

Harvey carrying Elijah piggypack in the woods

kind brother

A couple days later we revisited the woods, this time by water. We put the canoe in at a launch near Mount Misery (which required paddling through a very shallow, algae-infested channel) and headed downstream into Fairhaven Bay. On the way we passed by the beach where Zion swam on our first visit; it was even more fun reaching it by boat. Even though the weather was sunnier we were all happy enough to be on the water that nobody felt like it was necessary to go in it.

the canoe pulled up on a beach on the Sudbury River

beached

There was enough breeze to make paddling across the middle of Fairhaven Bay exciting; you don't expect waves like that on a river trip! It was a beautiful sparkling day though, and it felt absolutely delightful to be out on the water. We saw just one other group paddling, in a pair of canoes, and we greeted each other enthusiastically—just knowing we were both doing the loveliest possible thing at that particular moment.

Zion paddling the canoe in the middle of Fairhaven Bay

just the best

At the other side of the bay we reached the boathouse. I only wish there was a little more water, though, since right now the river is too low to get into it. The little streams coming out of the Adams woods were also impassible due to low water, but around them we saw lots of interesting birds.

cormorants, one spreading its wings, standing on the mud

there were also geese and swans

But while the boating was fun, it didn't get us any nearer to finding the big cliffs. And nobody wanted to walk all that way again. So this past Sunday we went back with bikes. And it turns out that the Wright Woods is great for cycling, with trails that are smooth enough for even Lijah's 16-inch wheels (though his fearlessness in attacking obstacles did lead to some nervous moments for me!) and plenty of fun downhill segments. And the cliffs! Approaching them we were forced off the bikes in short order.

the boys pushing their bikes up a steep hill

push!

That may not look all that steep in the picture, but I assure you that even at that point it was just about unrideable. And it got crazier! The scramble up the last bit was a challenge even on foot!

the boys scrambling up a steep gorge

we can do it!

Disappointingly, the top was a rich person's yard. They did have a very cool boat-shaped observation platform and a nice firepit, but it wasn't really a place for us to linger (though of course we did pause for water and snacks just below the top). Still, we felt like we had conquered a real climb!

distant hills as seen through trees from atop Fairhaven Hill

the view from the top

After all those trips, we now feel like those woods have been pretty comprehensively explored. But that doesn't mean that we're done there: now that we know the place, we're ready to go back and have some fun!

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visiting all the woods

This week we visited two new-to-us forest areas (so far!). On Wednesday we went to Wilderness Park Conservation Area for a quick walk; it's right here in Bedford, adjacent to Fawn Lake, but somehow we've never been there before. It's a nice little woods, with lots of interesting glacial rocks and a good-sized stream, Fawn Brook (well, it would be good-sized in a regular year; this month it's dry like everything else). We walked a loop counterclockwise, which was a good call because the first third of the walk was closed in with marshy brush and not particularly interesting—until we came on a wasp nest right in the path and Harvey and the dogs got stung. We detoured around it and in a little while reached some more fun, varied trails over on the other side.

Elijah looking down from a little bridge among rocks

we wish there was water!

Then yesterday we traveled to Lincoln with the intention of exploring the Adams Woods Conservation Land. At the suggestion of the Lincoln Conservation website we parked at the Mount Misery parking lot on Route 117, which meant of course that we had to climb it before we left that bit of land! It was appropriately steep, at least the way we chose to ascend, and there was a delightful shelter of sticks on the summit.

Elijah visible inside a teepee made of sticks

there are three boys and two dogs in there!

Besides the Mount, the woods there also had their own delightful streams (dry) and bridges, along with a few ponds and some steep ridges (all apparently part of the glacier-created kettle landscape, which we learned some about this morning). Half of the woods was remarkably open, with nothing but white pines every 20 feet or so but with canopies big enough to touch and leave the pine needly forest floor in shadow. It made us want to build some bike trails in there.

Harvey and Zion on a bigger bridge

plenty of points of interest

Like I said, my hope was to walk through the Mount Misery area to access Adams Woods, but that turns out to have been overly ambitious. It's actually kind of a trek. Even worse, the dogs had to be leashed for lots of the way, and that's no fun for anyone. So we turned back short of the goal. That was ok, because on the way back we went a different way that passed by the biggest kettle hole, and we also had time for a short detour to the Sudbury River. Three of us were too tired to engage much with it, but the dogs are always game for a swim; their example encouraged Zion to take off enough clothes to really get in and enjoy the water.

Zion almost submerged in the Sudbury River

how's the water?

Then on the short walk back to the car we talked about what, besides towels, would be useful to include in an emergency pack that we could bring everywhere with us. It was an exciting enough discussion that we're all ready to tackle another new woods soon... with better supplies!

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in the woods

Without scheduled Zoom activities this week the boys and I have had more time for outings, and we've taken some good ones! On Tuesday we took the dogs to woods between the airport and the Reformatory Branch trail (which go by many names; in less than two hours of walking we passed through three or possibly four conservation areas). We took a route we'd never explored before, and in fact passed through some areas that are usually so wet as to be impassible. The one upside of the drought—though even then there was still enough mud that Harvey got covered nearly up to his knees chasing frogs. We weren't even trying to do anything more than walk the dogs, but it ended up feeling pretty epic!

the boys and dogs atop a big rock in the woods

co-kings of the world

Then yesterday we set out to have a little bit more of an adventure in a new-to-us woods, the October Farm Riverfront in Concord: maybe half a mile as the crow flies from where we were the day before, but five or miles away by road. Because the river! We were delighted to find a varied landscape of steep hills, marshes, and vernal pools—and, of course, the river.

the boys playing in the trees along the shores of the Concord River

river work

Actually, Lijah wasn't delighted at first—he was cold. The day was fall-like and he regretted his shorts and sandals. Running up and down the hills helped a little, and then it warmed up and he got distracted by fun things to explore and climb on, like this mysterious structure built into the side of the hill.

Elijah atop a stone shed dug into a hill, Zion at the base

what is it for? who knows, let's climb on it!

Plus there were all the things to notice and pick up: oak galls, mussel shells, blue jay feathers. Frogs—not that they had any luck with the river frogs, but they sure had fun trying! Toads are easier game, we find. The other day a friend who runs a leadership consulting business offered the idea of "forest bathing" in his weekly email; the idea is that the "sounds of the forest, the scent of the trees, the sunlight playing through the leaves, the fresh, clean air—these things give us a sense of comfort." I'm not sure if we were doing it right, but it sure did feel good to spend some hours and miles out in the woods!

Harvey holding a tiny toad

the one that didn't get away (until he let it)

a river mussel shell

fresh-water mussel

a great blue heron on the other side of the river

can you see the heron?

a red and white mushroom

we watched to see if smurfs would come out

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finally the ocean

We're not a big beach family generally—that is, you're not usually going to find us heading out to spend a day by the ocean with an umbrella and cooler and frisbee and things like that. But we do love being by the water, and we've hardly even seen the ocean this summer. So now that we have a car that works—more on that later—I thought it was past time to take an adventure to somewhere where we could smell the salt water and feel the ocean breezes blow. Like Rockport!

the boys walking on the beach with their backpacks on

adventurers on the march! (on the beach)

The boys have some memories of the last couple times we visited the Cape Ann peninsula, and were excited to revisit some of their favorite spots. There was one difference this time though: it was mid August under a heat index warning. So while the town itself was less busy than usual for a summer day, there were plenty of people on the beach. Not what they were expecting! Never mind, we still managed to have a great time, and even found some new favorites spots.

Elijah looking down from some rocks on to a crowded beach

too many people

People who go to the beach probably aim to park near it. Not us! One great thing about Rockport is that there is always free parking available. It just meant we got to walk a bit. To the pier in the center of town, where happily the the public bathrooms were open, and down to the end of Bearskin Neck to see the breakwater. But only briefly: the beach was calling! When we got there, though, there was some dismay at the crowd—the crowd, and the presence of a lifeguard. To show you what our usual beach experience is like, we were kind of expecting to be able to change into our swimsuits in an out of the way corner. That was not possible, but no worries, there was another open bathroom. Once changed the boys chose more yet walking in order to try out Back Beach, slightly further away and slightly less sandy. It was a good call, and we were able to get in to the water with no other people within 20 or 30 yards.

Harvey and Zion swimming off the beach with no people in sight

an ocean of their own

Although, "getting into the water" wasn't as easy as all that: it was COLD! Harvey asked if it was colder than the ocean usually is, which of course it wasn't... in retrospect I think it was the contrast with the sweltering air that made it a little shocking. We did get used to it, but it was also nice to take breaks out of the water, making sandcastles to try and hold back the oncoming tide.

the boys making sand walls among beach rocks

earthworks

mounded sand houses atop a rock

the king's palace

The children might never have moved from that spot, but I felt a little nervous about sun exposure and wanted to get us somewhere with some shade for lunch. It wasn't too hard a sell—back in May of last year we'd been frustrated by construction keeping us out of a park behind Front Beach, so when I let them know the park was probably open by now they were happy to give it a try. I don't what the park looked like before the excavators went to work on it, but it's fantastic now: it's a beautiful setting for the little stream that runs from a millpond above it down through a culvert under the road into the ocean. There's a playground there too, but who needs that in a park full of beautifully-landscaped rewilded brook?! After we ate lunch in the shade we played hide-and-seek.

Zion looking at a beautifully landscaped pond

green and shady

Before we left home Zion had suggested maybe a one-hour stay at the ocean; he had plans for things to do at home. Of course those plans were had to keep in mind in the salt air. Even worries about crowds melted away after lunch, and the boys spent the next hour playing happily in and around the busy waters of Front Beach.

the boys playing in the wet sand at the edge of the water

playing together

Eventually I dragged them away to do what I wanted to do: climb on the rocks that give Rockport its name! Those were over on the other side of town, back where we parked the car. There was some small unhappiness about the hot walk on the sidewalk, but those stresses of civilization were deemed worth it after we stopped in a candy store for a half-pound of fudge and a couple bottles of cold water (the only way the pandemic affected our trip? all the drinking fountains were closed). And of course the rocks were lovely as always.

Zion climbing ocean-side cliffs

Rockport climbing

And the best part of it all? Nobody got heat exhaustion!

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going out

We've actually been leaving our house a fair amount over the last few days. Harvey and I, and sometimes Zion, have been enjoying early-morning bike rides a few times a week, and mid day rides a few times a week when we're not out early. Off-road, because we don't need to be masked deep in the woods. The other day we even put the bikes in the car to try out some new trails that wouldn't otherwise have been reachable in the hour and a half we had available.

But car trips still aren't easy. I had to go to the store the other day, and it was a major production. First I had to try and jump the minivan because the battery was dead, and then when that didn't work I had to go buy a new battery and put it in. But before I could do that I needed to find my wallet, which I hadn't used in at least a week, and my mask. Locating those two things only took ten minutes, but it was a desperate and frustrating ten minutes that almost removed from me all will to live. Certainly all will to drive away from home.

But it was worth it, because with a working car I could visit some real bike trails with Harvey. And then since that went so well, today all four of us boys took our first automotive outing in a long time. I'll write more about that tomorrow; for now, suffice it to say that finding four masks—plus water bottles, shoes, and whatever else we needed—was more than four times harder than finding my one had been. We've never been really good at getting out the door in any smoothly organized fashion, and I think any skills we did manage to develop evaporated completely in the 2+ months since we've driven anywhere together.

Two months?! Yes, March 30th to June 4. I had to count three times before I believed that number, but there it is. Ok, I guess it's fair that we'd be a little rusty. The boys had fun; we're looking to do it again soon. Maybe next time the engine will only be running for ten minutes while everyone is running around trying to find their stuff. I don't dare turn the car off after I start it because I no longer trust batteries. But don't worry, we could idle for a very long time indeed and still not offset all the driving we didn't do in April and May!

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a ride (and walk)

In pandemic days we get to do a lot at home, but not as many adventures. I want to try and fix that, so yesterday we went out for a bike ride. It had good parts and bad part.

I wish I had taken more video of the part where we died, but we were a little busy trying to find a path that kept getting smaller and wetter, and also trying to convince ourselves that we would be able to get through if we just kept moving forward. Well, two of us were doing that: Zion knew from the beginning that we should have just turned back. Eventually we did, after getting soaked up to our knees and scratched with thorns and bitten by mosquitoes and ticks and maybe poisoned by poison ivy. It was a little dispiriting retracing our steps through all that horror.

But the riding part was great, and we're excited to go out again soon. On the big paths.

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