posts tagged with 'hiking'

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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last week's adventures

a gang of folks walking up a piney hill

out and about with friends

As I mentioned, last week we got to go on a couple hikes with friends. First up was the Fells in Stoneham. I admit that, when I heard the invitation, I wondered why we should be driving 25 minutes—on the highway!—to walk in the woods, when we have plenty of woods around here. But just a couple minutes into the hike I understood. They have rocks! (I guess that's why they call it Stoneham...) We all had a great time mountaineering on the various crags.

Zion and Elijah sitting on a rocky outcropping

a rest on the rocks

It was also lots of fun not to be in charge of operation. Andrew, a veteran of many Fells walks and runs, led us to all the best spots. The coolest was maybe this gorge, which at some point in the early 19th century had been dammed for mills, which as some point in the early 20th century were repurposed into decorative features. It was just like one of those decorative streams in a garden, but 20 times bigger!

the boys looking over a stone bridge at a trickly waterfall

water feature

The outing was also made even more exciting by the weather. I'd been out to walk the dogs before we left so I was able to tell the boys to prepare for wintery conditions—and "wintery" wasn't an exaggeration! It wasn't that much above freezing, and with the considerable wind felt well below. Of course the boys complained when they were working hard in sheltered spots and got warm, but we sure wanted those coats and mittens when we got up into the wind! There was even a little snow on the last leg of the expedition.

It was considerably milder, though still breezy, on Friday when we visited Greenough Land in Carlisle with different friends. Unfortunately not quite mild enough to want to go into the water—which otherwise was very inviting!

Elijah and a friend looking at a cove in the pond at Greenough Land

they wished it was a swimming time!

Our friends had been there before but hadn't explored exhaustively, so they let me push on to the next fun spot and the next until we were all the way around the sizeable pond (not what they had anticipated maybe). But there's so much to see! Besides the amazing old barn—amazing for it's suburban teenage graffiti as well as it's size, complexity, and slate roof—we enjoyed the pond at several spots. The best was the dam outlet where the pond drains down towards the Concord River. We've never been there in the spring before; there was some water running!

Elijah looking at the water flowing through a dam

I wish I could share the sound too

All in all, it was a lovely two days of expeditions with many miles walked. Good thing we got a weekend to recover!

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visit to the potato cave

Often when we're thinking about where to go for a walk Elijah asks if we can visit the potato cave. He's talking about an old root cellar or prehistoric dwelling in the Nashoba Brook Conservation Area in Acton. Friends introduced us to its splendors last spring and we've been back a couple times, but not as much has Lijah would like: because it's almost half an hour away. As nice as it is—and not just for the cave—there are lots of other nice woods in between here and there. But yesterday, when we needed to be out of the house for a while for Leah to do a podcast recording, seemed like a fine time for a return voyage. Plus we'd never been there in the snow!

the boys and dogs approaching the mouth of the cave

the main attraction

Now that the weather's turned warmer the snow can be squashy and lots more tiring to walk in, but yesterday afternoon at least the footing was fine and we could go at a good pace. But enough snow was melting that Nashoba Brook—which is really a river, at least compared to the brooks by our house—was roaring cheerfully. After I pulled the boys away from the cave, which doesn't hold as much interest for me or the dogs as it does for them, the water provided some interest as we went along. So, for them, did talking about Minecraft. Sometimes I wonder how much of the outdoors they really experience, when in their minds they're deep in the world of blocky fantasy. But that's fine, they're moving anyways—and let me say, Harvey and Zion are good walkers these days! And with the bright sunshine on the melting snow and the water rushing in the brook, even the most dedicated gamers can pause for a moment to soak it all in.

the boys looking over the railing of a bridge at Nashoba Brook

and enjoy the winter sun

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water everywhere

On Christmas day when I took Leah home I also walked the dogs. It wasn't pouring at that point—just steady drizzle—so I wasn't too uncomfortable. And I didn't have any thought that water would be a problem in any other way. In fact, interested in seeing where a foot of snowmelt plus near-constant rain for over 12 hours was going, I headed for the path along Elm Brook. Which was fine—delightful!—until in the last 100 yards we ran into the obstacle seen in the last image of this post. Refusing to walk all the way back the way I'd come, I found a fallen log across a drainage ditch a little ways back that bore my weight, barely, to let me escape from the trap I'd walked into (Blue jumped the ditch cleanly; Scout had a misstep and fell in, but it didn't matter too much because he was already soaking). It was the most water in Elm Brook in years! And it wasn't the only place where we found high water this week.

the waters of Fairhaven Bay washing over the base of the boathouse

good thing it no longer houses any boats

On Sunday, I took the dogs for a long walk around Fairhaven Hill. I went the opposite way than we usually go and I came down towards the river on the second half of the walk, and when I reached the boathouse—looking forward to seeing it with enough water to be usable, at last—I found that the river's rise had overshot and the whole dock was underwater. Oh well. The low path by the river was also impassible, and further along the woods looked entirely different with the water coming up dozens of yards higher and bringing the river to places that, just a couple weeks ago, felt entirely removed from it. Then in today's walk the October Farm Riverfront was even more dramatically different: a big chunk of the main path along the river was entirely under water. So was even more of the opposite shore, to the point that the boys were having trouble believing that it could ever have been as close as those trees coming up out of what looked like an endless sheet of water. If we were getting bored of visiting the same places over and over again, all this water certainly makes them interesting again!

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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!

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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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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what I did on my summer vacation

We spent four days on the Cape last week and, while we didn't do everything we hoped to, we certainly hit the high points! The main things we were looking forward to in a vacation was going to the beach and spending lots of time sitting around reading and playing games, and the weather cooperated perfectly, with two rainy afternoons for curling up and warm enough weather that we could swim any time we wanted to. Including once in the rain!

We left home right on time on Tuesday before lunch, and had a quick and easy drive all the way to Truro. On the way we listened to Diana Wynne Jones' The Year of the Griffin, our current vacation audiobook; it was little hard to remember what was happening since last time we heard the story, on the way home from camping more than a year ago, but we put it together somehow. When we arrived it wasn't long before everyone was in the water!

the boys in the water with Grandpa, Leah walking to join them

this is what we've been waiting for!

Well, almost everyone: it took the dogs a little while to get used to the idea of waves, even the little waves on the bay side beach that we could walk to from where we were staying at Leah's parents' house. They had it figured out by the end of the day when we took an evening walk on the beach, as pictured at the end of this post. It was hard for everyone to go to sleep in a new place, but eventually we managed it; one of the boys even fell asleep in the bed assigned to him!

The next day dawned cooler and overcast, and with rain forecast for the afternoon we scheduled some essential outdoor activities for the morning hours. The boys went to play tennis with Leah and Grandpa—he's an skilled player, and provided both slightly-larger kid model tennis balls and mostly patient expert instruction. I took a bike ride.

my road bike by the shore of a little pond

seeing the sights

In the afternoon the rain seemed to be holding off, so everybody except me went out for a walk on the beach. Of course, it started raining mere moments after they left, but that didn't faze them. In fact, Harvey and Zion took the opportunity for a rainy day dip in the ocean, never mind that they were wearing their clothes. One advantage of this sort of vacation over camping is that laundry facilities are easily accessible! When they got back (and put their clothes in the dryer) we settled down to some card-playing and reading.

The next day was warmer but just as overcast, with the addition of fog and possible thunderstorms. Leah and I are limited in our ability to sit still in a place where we don't have chores to do, so soon after breakfast we packed the boys up for a hike. We went to Great Island in Welfleet, which, as the most promising hike within range of Truro, we've attempted before. The last two times we defeated—or at least kept from doing any "hiking"—by hot sun, gnats, and sandy trails that are just about like walking on a beach, so we figured a day where the fog was coming in ever-thicker would be perfect for another try.

Leah and the boys hiking among the marsh grass at Great Island

the island looming through the fog

We did get farther than we ever have, but once again detoured to the beach before we reached Great Island proper. It's just as well; not only do I learn that dogs aren't allowed on the island, the beach was empty and beautiful. The humans collected lots of rocks and shells, the dogs collected gross dead birds, and the boys and dogs enjoyed the water (one of those groups wished they had brought their swimsuits).

the boys and dogs wading in the ocean in the fog

the ocean is irresistible

After we had enough (and conveniently just as other people started to fill in) we headed just down the road to Welfleet Harbor. Leah and the dogs took a rest in the car while the boys and I played on the playground, walked on the town beach, and ordered some take-out fried food for lunch, which we brought back to the house. We were disappointed of our thunderstorms, but it did start raining right on time just after noon, so we settled in for another round of games. "Code Names" was very engaging for everyone but Elijah.

Leah and her mom thinking hard about Code Names

intense competition

We originally planned to stay through Saturday morning, but we missed our house and decided to leave Friday evening. Before we took off, though, the boys and I needed to do the most important adventure of the vacation: the bike ride to the ocean beach with the big waves! They did not disappoint.

Lijah looking at a crashing wave

crash!

After the beach we stopped for ice cream on the way back to the house. Now that's vacation! Grandpa very kindly prepared us a take-out order of hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, so as we made our weary way home even our dinner on the road was still vacationy. It was all lovely. We'll be ready to do it again in a year or so.

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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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