posts tagged with 'exploring'

revisting a ride

On Tuesday I wanted to get out for a ride in the morning before the forecast rain. I was thinking MTB but, as we talked about it, all three boys requested a bike path trip (I think they were thinking fondly of Saturday's excursion). I was worried that would be a little tedious, but they were convincing so after a little bit of farm work we set off up the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway towards Lexington. It was fun: we went at a reasonable pace, we got to talk, and when I got bored I rode over things along the side of the path. But when we stopped by a stream for a rest and some playing, I had an idea. Some years ago we had explored part of the "ACROSS Lexington" trail system, and had a great time... maybe we could do that again? We did, and it was delightful.

Harvey and Zion riding on a singletrack path through a field

dirt under the tires

As I wrote in that long-ago post, the ACROSS Lexington trails connect sidewalks, paved paths, and woods segments all over town. Back in 2018 they went up to "H"—it's all the way to "N" now, but we still stuck with the original "A" route. Because besides a good ride, we also wanted to relive past glories! And see how much more impressive we are now. For example, compare Elijah in that old post to what he's up to now:

Lijah in the cargo bike looking at a wildflower garden and farmy shed

Lexington scenery

Elijah on his bike in a garden spot

now he has his own wheels

(We tried to reproduce the original as much as we could, but April instead of July made it hard!)

Zion was seven the first time, and had been riding for less than a year. Elijah is eight and an experienced cyclist, so he never told us he hated trail A except in jesting imitation. He did have to push up some hills, though; we haven't been riding that much lately and the seven or eight miles felt like a fair lot. Still, we made it in fine form, and quite a bit faster than last time too. Home in time for lunch, even with a stop at the Battle Green visitors center thrown in at the end. Good times. I wonder if there'll be any interest in trying out any of the other thirteen routes?

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adventures far and near

Between covid exposure and forecast rain, the prospective turnout for Park Day on Wednesday was looking pretty low. So we were happy enough when the few folks ready to get together suggested we go for a hike instead. Only they live far away, so we had to go hiking all the way out in Groton. Which isn't something we would ever have done otherwise! And Zion might have still preferred we hadn't, he felt that sick in the car. But then we would have missed out on an entirely new woods filled with water!

Elijah taking a big step onto a rock in a pond

there's a rock there somewhere

The main draw of this particular piece of woods was "Forest Bells", an art installation of six giant chimes up on top of a little hill. They were super fun to play with, and we enjoyed trying to create compositions for them (and trying to swing on them, which I discouraged). But the natural features around them—rocks and slopes and streams—were just as interesting. There was some good climbing and lots of water.

the boys by a woodsy stream

I promise you, they were having fun

It wasn't what you'd call warm out, but in spring any chance for a wade is always interesting.

Zion wading along a flooded dirt road

water everywhere

Then today we took a quick trip around the corner to Page Woods, less than two miles away. We've been there literally hundreds of times before, but it was still delightful to walk and run on those familiar paths—and especially because of the brook.

Elijah stepping over a little stream

little and close to home

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urban woods

Yesterday we ventured in an unusual direction for us, lately: towards the big city. Not very far towards, since we're very much country mice these days! But a little bit. And Beaver Brook North Reservation in Waltham felt like a very urban woods compared to our usual haunts.

the boys posing in front of a grafitti'd water tower

look how street we are

The outing was prompted by our desire to visit Play Time in Arlington Center, but we also needed to be out of the house for a solid chunk of time so Leah could do an important meeting, so I hopped on Openstreetmap to find somewhere we could explore. There aren't any woods in Arlington big enough to absorb our attention for long, but Beaver Brook looked like it might be just the place. And it was! The graffiti, though beautifully photogenic, wasn't the main contrast with what we're used to. There was only that one bit, on a water tower we climbed up to. No, what was really different was the sheer number of trails crisscrossing the woods every which way.

Which was actually perfect for our mood, because we went in not having any idea what we were going to see or do and were all happy to have lots of intersections to make random choices at. Well, mostly happy... after over an hour of walking and playing certain of us started to feel worried about getting lost. As if that were even possible in the smart phone era! But any nervousness didn't last long, since there were lots of steep hills to run on and surprises to explore: a cemetery, an MTB jump track, a causeway with fascinating pipes carrying water to its lower side... and the water tower, of course! Plus some beautiful vistas that showed us that urban woods are just as cool as what we're used to in deep suburbia.

Zion and Elijah on a gravel path looking at a pond

despite the name of the woods the dam was made by people

It was all so entrancing, in fact, that we only made it to Play Time 13 minutes before they closed. So that part of the trip was sort of a bust (though we did pick up a good pencil sharpener, absolutely essential if we wanted to keep writing or drawing at our house). So we'll have to go back again soon. Anyone have any suggestions for other urban woods we can explore on the way?

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surprise exploration

This afternoon after our school friends left the boys and I headed out to walk the dogs. We weren't planning anything big—just a quick loop in the nearby woods and then back home to do all the home things we had to do. But at the furthest point in the loop Zion asked if we could check the ice on the swamp—the swamp that's so fun and so hard to explore most of the year, the ice of which has been stubbornly refusing to get really solid—so of course I said yes. To our great pleasure, the giant puddle on the path that's featured on so many of my pictures was frozen over, and so was all the flooded swamp right up to Hartwell Brook. Even more amazing, the brook itself was almost completely frozen over, and it was easy enough for us to use its course as a path heading upstream towards the cranberry bogs and the airport, over territory we'd never been able to really explore before. As new vistas opened up before us, my delight was tempered by only one thing: I didn't have a camera with me! Not even my phone.

So sad. And yet, it's really only sad for you, the reader, because we got to experience the horizon opening up as we left the tall grass, the frozen dams where we stepped up six inches to higher levels of brook, and the cranberry bogs themselves where we slid on the ice and wished, like another time long ago, that we had a shovel to scrape off the little bit of snow that fell last night. We also experienced being a little bit lost, and I had the joy—once we were off the actual ice surface and just crossing puddles in the woods—of breaking through and submerging one foot completely. Never mind; we weren't more than 15 minutes from home at that point and it was totally worth it anyway.

We're thinking about going back tomorrow to slide some more, or even try skating. The bogs are a much better surface than they have been for years; I guess that's what happens when it rains all fall and then freezes suddenly with very little snowfall. It's my theory that the high water is also responsible for the brook freezing: years ago we determined that it could be running even when everything else is completely solid, and that's been true every winter since then. But this year the water level was so high the brook didn't really exist—not that we ever could have determined that before the freeze! But now we see that the ice in the swamp extends straight and flat over the brook's course, which may have slowed its flow down enough to freeze over. The brook is certainly still running under the ice, and there were a few spots of open water we had to detour around (and lots of sticks and dead trees to maneuver past) but overall it was as good an exploration route as you ever could want.

Yes, the kids and I were excited, the dogs were thrilled at the extended outing, we added to our outdoor time... it would have been the perfect afternoon if only I had had my camera! Almost perfect will have to be good enough.

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adventure time

As well as all the other excitement last week we went on a couple outings close to home and discovered some fun surprises in areas I thought we new pretty well! The first one was last Wednesday, when we brought bikes to Walden Pond so we could ride and get hot before we went in the water. Instead of going on the road (the idea of which made the boys nervous) we took to the paths behind the parking lot, aiming for a spot where OpenStreetMaps suggested that there might—possibly!—be a tunnel under the highway linking up with the Hapgood Wright Town Forest in Concord . After a few wrong turns and some fun short hills, we reached the road... and there it was!

Harvey biking out of a tunnel into the bright sunshine

into a mysterious new world

Thrilling as it was, the tunnel wasn't the only exciting part of the outing. We've explored Hapgood Wright lots of times on foot, but bikes always let you see trails differently. This time we noticed lots of amazing downhill runs that we definitely want to go back to do some more! Of course, downhills require uphills, and there were certainly some doozies. Even before we got back to the pond to swim we were glad of a midway rest stop.

Harvey and Elijah cooling themselves and their water bottles in a brook

cool for feet and water bottles

(If you want to explore the tunnel yourself, just follow our track as shown here.)

Thursday's adventure was a post-strawberry trip to Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsboro State Forest, but that one didn't go as well. Elijah was tired out from the picking, and the other boys have bad memories of riding that woods from when, the last time we tried it, they were feeling a little sick. So their energy wasn't high to start with. The only new discovery we made there was that the paths on the ground are difficult to reconcile with the map—and not knowing where we were or where we were going didn't make Lijah feel any better about the outing! Even though the older two boys had recovered and were having fun, we cut the trip short after just a couple miles.

Then on Friday we were back in Concord for a hike with friends in Estabrook Town Forest. We know it well too, though I will say every time we walk up Punkatasset Hill (88m) I'm surprised at how steep that trail is! Being there with other people let us notice some things more—like stick houses—and some things less, because lots of the time we were deep in conversation. But by far the outstanding discovery of the trip was that they spillway where the pond drains into Sawmill Brook makes a fantastic natural waterslide... but that's a story for another post!

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the bones of the the earth

We took a walk this afternoon at Whipple Hill in Lexington. It was the first time we'd been there in a couple months, and it sure looks different in November than it did in early September! With the leaves down, the steep hilly terrain is exposed, as are all kinds of delightful rock outcropping that tempted us to explore them. (We saw a good-sized group of kids with a pair of adults on the best of them; I wonder if they were another homeschool group?) And from the top of the hill, which is the highest point in Lexington, we could see for miles and miles—much better than in summertime when it's enclosed with leaves. I think we could see Mt Wachusset looming in the distance, but of course we couldn't be sure. It was something impressive anyways! We also spotted lots of fun looking lines for biking. We may be making a return trip there soon!

ice and ice cream

Harvey and Zion walking to a hockey goal far away across frozen Fawn Lake

ice outing

The forecast yesterday morning called for rain starting in the afternoon and continuing through the next day, but the sky outside was shining blue and the air mild. Just the weather you want for a winter cycling adventure! So after a nominal amount of schoolwork the boys and I headed out into the wide world. Our ultimate goals were to visit friends' almost-new-house (pending inspection) and buy some Bedford Farms ice cream for a celebratory almost-new-house dinner. Of course there were lots of adventurous stops on the way—and, as is our habit, a picnic lunch.

the boys eating a picnic in the woods

picnic bench

That was at Fawn Lake, our first destination, which we reached after two and a half miles of riding on the sticky-mud-over-frozen-gravel surface of the Narrow Gauge Rail Trail. After lunch we explored along the shore, with Harvey and Zion mostly interested in finding a place to get out onto the ice. We don't need the news to tell us about the dangers of possible thin ice: it was plenty apparent most spots along the shore, with water spurting up from cracks if you so much as touched it. Of course, the danger there was only wet feet—still, something we wanted to avoid with miles to go before our journey was through.

With Harvey leading the charge we headed along a narrow path fringed by beaver-downed trees (all the remaining trees have collars of hardware cloth to keep them unchewed and upright). Towards the south end of the pond, in the shadow of the trees, we found an area where the ice was solid right up to the shore. There was even a hockey goal out there as a testament to the solidity of the surface. Harvey and Zion were delighted and headed right out to it; I stayed closer to shore with Lijah who, since our skating trip in December, wants nothing at all to do with ice.

Harvey and Zion walking on the ice

an essential part of any winter adventure

The bigger boys could have stayed all day, but after promising them a return trip another day I got everyone packed up to head back out on the road. Well, not the road, exactly, since the next part of our expedition was to pioneer a route through the woods in the direction of our friends' house (almost-new). There were plenty of paths, all visible on the map; the only questions were a) which one would actually get us where we wanted to go and b) which one were we currently on. Neither was ever really clear. But the exploring was delightful all by itself, with twisty singletrack up and down hills that challenged Harvey and I on both ascents and descents.

Harvey pushing his bike up some steep singletrack in the woods, brothers following

pathfinding

Our cargo bike is wonderful, but it's not the most sure-footed off-road ride; and worst of all it has terrible ground clearance. Luckily Zion and Lijah were happy to run in the woods for those segments where I had to lift it over logs every twenty feet. We had maybe a half mile of that, and then just a little more on the road til we reached the house. The boys were disappointed we couldn't go in—not even in the yard—so we had a little discussion about what it takes to close a home sale. And we sure hope the closing goes well! It's always nice to have more friends in town, and nice for friends to go from 10 miles away to 3 1/2, especially when we can do three of those miles off-road (though to be honest, where they live now we can do 9 3/4 of the ten miles off-road, thanks to fortunate siting of the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway... but that's just a coincidence!).

After gazing at the house from the side of the street, we turned towards home—now riding along the not-entirely-comfortable shoulder of Rt 4. But the car noises and exhaust was bearable knowing that where the road gets into town a prize awaited!

three boys enjoying cones in front of Bedford Farms

winter's snow and ice cream

All in all it was a wonderful outing, and we were more than ready to get home, right on schedule for nap time.

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a tale of two outings

On Friday the boys and I took a walk in the woods and marshes across the street.

Zion walking through tall brush

pushing his way through

The cranberry bogs we slid on last winter are all dried out now—for the summer or forever remains to be seen—so we thought we'd have an easy time of it, and maybe even be able to cross the brook for the first time ever. There were certainly some pretty sights along the way.

a pink flower

I should know what it's called

But there was also hot sun and bugs and, worst of all, vast stands of grass with tiny barbs all over its leaves. It's growing everywhere that in another summer would be wet, and pushing through it with the day camp group on Thursday we ended up with cuts all over our legs. Friday we had long pants, but Zion and sometimes even Harvey had to watch out for wounds to the arms. So when we reached the brook we called a halt for a snack and headed back, defeated.

the boys standing on the meadowy bank of Hartwell brook

as far as we could get

Still, it was a beautiful hike and we all enjoyed most of it.

Saturday we ventured into downtown Boston, against Leah's much better judgement, to take in a little bit of very loud music at the Copley Arts Festival.

Harvey eating an apple in front of the Copley Arts Festival stage

with snacks of course

Despite the crowds we were able to meet up with some friends who, settling in for the long haul towards the start of the day-long proceedings, had texted us where they were hanging out (sadly, we missed a different group of friends who were there at the same time). Being country mice, we didn't spend much time in front of the stage, instead seeking out some slightly quieter spaces with a little more room to play.

Leah and Lijah sitting on the steps of the empty fountain

not so crowded there

And of course, we also took in the sights of the big city.

Harvey standing on a pedestal, with Trinity Church and the Prudential Tower behind him

he's almost as tall as it

Half of the reason I wanted to go was to give the boys another trip on the train, the first since our adventure back in November. They were appropriately appreciative, even when tired out at the end of the day.

Harvey and Zion on the Red Line platform

the way home

Lijah turns out to be a big fan as well: he was shining with excitement and delight all the way there. That the same excitement kept him from falling asleep on the way home—despite a great and obvious need—until just before our last stop was unfortunate but maybe predictable. We'll give him another chance in a couple months.

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ice exploration

Harvey and Zion far away on a frozen pond among the reeds

slipping and sliding

The one upside of this cold snowless winter is that ice everywhere is in good shape. Harvey and Zion love ice when they can find it, and I've been telling them that there are some nice big ponds hiding in the marsh back through our woods. An expedition a little over a week ago failed to find them, but as the picture above—and the one I posted yesterday—show, we had better luck this week!

the boys walking down an aisle of ice towards a pine tree

ice explorers

The woods just around the corner from our house back onto a considerable area of wetland: wetland that is pretty much impassible most of the year. I can't believe it took me this long to think of exploring it when most of the water was safely solidified!

The areas of open water are actually the remains of old cranberry bogs, and though they're gradually silting up—they seemed much smaller than the last time I visited, oh, seven years ago (yikes!)—you can still see how there was once a series of long parallel ponds with dikes in between them. We found a passageway through one of the dikes.

explorers creeping through narrow path of ice cutting though a dike

sneaking through

Another sign of the artificial nature of the environment is the dead-straight course of Hartwell Brook, which for this portion of its run is really more in the nature of a drainage ditch. It flows straight from the airport, and when we found it almost completely free of ice I really hoped that was due to the speed of the current rather than any questionable chemicals washing downstream.

looking at the (very straight) Hartwell Brook, open water through the reeds

open water

Whatever the reason, the flowing stream kept us from crossing over, so we turned north along the bank. I was hoping to hit a path back into the woods from the other side to complete a loop, but the boys didn't know that; as we left the brook to push through the tall, maze-like reeds Harvey eventually paused to say, "I'm a little scared." What, doesn't he trust me to keep my head and sense of direction? Plus, if anything goes wrong there's always the GPS on the phone. Which I mentioned to him and asked if he wanted to cheat; he declined.

Zion pushing through tall reeds

can we even get through?

Eventually we pushed our way through to higher ground and found a faint trace of a path, but we still didn't have any idea where we were until we found footprints, and a hole in the ice where our friend Bruce broke through on the previous expedition. We were saved! The rest of the trip was easy and uneventful, except that I had to carry Zion and his hands got quite cold once he didn't have the exertion of keeping up with us to warm him. When we got home we had hot chocolate.

There's still more to explore back there; we'd like to make another expedition soon. Want to come with us?

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