When you have no choice but to go slow: #hike14 of #52hike challenge

All around me, everything is changing…fast. Once spring arrives, it passes in what seems like a blink. My friends’ kids, whom I knew when they were in elementary school, are suddenly going to prom (and college, but somehow prom is more disconcerting). New jobs, new babies, new marriages, new cities, new adventures…it seems like everyone I know is making some kind of change.

And here I sit, doing none of those things.

Contentment has never been in my DNA. 4 years is usually my limit; after that, either deliberately or with a little shove from the universe, I tend to make big life changes like choosing to go to grad school, moving to a house and getting a dog, or maybe even moving to Boston. This is my 5th year in Beantown, so, you do the math.

Cue feelings of restlessness and fernweh (look it up – it’s a wonderful word). Normally, I’d work these feelings out (or at least keep them at bay for a bit) by hiking up to the top of a tall mountain.

So, was it some kind of sign that last week, while doing nothing particularly exciting in a volleyball game, I suddenly had zinging little bolts of OW in my knee? And that the next morning, I woke up barely able to hobble downstairs to let my dog out?

It’s no great revelation to say that we really don’t notice what we have until it’s no longer there. My ability to get from point A to B using only my feet and legs is one of those things that, as a single city-living gal, is essential to daily life. When I suddenly can’t hop nimbly off the bus and trudge the .75 miles home from the station…that’s kind of a bummer. It certainly forces me to slow down.

The same is true for my dog, who found herself straining at the end of a leash as, on Saturday – a most glorious, spring-like Saturday when the whole world was exploding into color, and just begging me to take a long, long hike – all I could do was hobble down to the nearby Arboretum to see the cherry blossoms. We barely got a mile and a half of walking in. This is not normal for us. Weekends are for multiple miles so that we are tired and jelly-legged when it’s all said and done. When we don’t get our miles in, the whole rest of the week feels off.

So, on Sunday, I couldn’t take it anymore. I ran through all of my favorite local hikes, searching for those that would involve Sadie being off leash, and me being on fairly level, non-challenging ground. It was supposed to rain; I didn’t care. I didn’t know how far my knee would let me go; I didn’t care. We needed to get in motion.

Thus, we headed to Noanet Woodlands, another Trustees of Reservations property, and one of my favorite places locally. It’s my favorite because of the wide, well-maintained trails, and the variety of stuff to see:

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The remnants of an old Iron Mill Works site that has long vanished from this property. It only flows when the pond above it is full, and with all of our rain this spring, it was!

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The view from atop Noanet “Peak” – that’s Boston way off in the distance.

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Sawmill Pond, one of my favorite places to sit and reflect…except when my bench is drowned by the pond.

It turned out to be a lovely, non-rainy day in the woods. The trees hadn’t started to turn green yet, but the water was high, as you can see above. I discovered that my knee fared just fine on uphill and downhill climbs; it was the long, straight, flat paths where it started to bother me again.

Is that a metaphor for my life? Maybe.

I had to slow down because I had no choice, a good reminder that there are some things we have control over, and some we don’t, and we should stay focused on the latter. And yes, sometimes things hurt, but when it got too bad, I would stop, utter a few choice words, take a moment to adjust my stride, and keep going.

If you want self-helpisms, there are a couple of obvious ones for ya. 🙂

Anyway, it took me longer than it ever has before, but I got in 3 miles. I wasn’t even limping too badly at the end. Plus, Sadie got to run and romp and chase sticks and wade in muddy ponds. So, I find myself pretty darn proud of this little hike.

And ready for a bigger hill pretty darn soon, I hope.


Hike 14: Noanet Woodlands
Location: Dover, Massachusetts
Date: April 29, 2018
Distance: 3 miles
Wildlife:  Squirrels, robins, the occasional dog/human pairing

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You should hike this: Gulf Hagas

“Why is it called Gulf Hagas?”

This is the question I forgot to ask the range guides when they quietly snuck up behind us as we stood at the 2nd of two water crossings.

I can be forgiven for this oversight, because for the last 5 minutes, I’d been standing at the water’s edge trying to figure out a way to get across that didn’t involve a) completely soaking my feet or b) falling into the rushing water. My hiking partner had already successfully leapt, gazelle-like, across the water to try to set up his camera for a picture. And, he had also already leapt back to my side, but that attempt was not, ahem, as successful as the first. Luckily, he was fine, if a little soggy.

Give that his legs are longer and his courage greater than mine, this wasn’t boding well for my plan to cross without mishap.

Anyway, as I was pondering all of this, the range guides appeared behind us, and began a gentle interrogation to be sure we knew what we were getting into with the Gulf Hagas trail.

  • Did we understand that it had rained recently? Given that it still was raining, this seemed obvious.
  • Did we know that the rocks were going to be slippery? See previous note about the rain; check.
  • Did we know there was a flat way to come back after we’d done the Rim Trail? Yes, and I was delighted about that fact.
  • Did we have headlamps? (It’s worth noting that it was 11am when she asked this.) Yes, of course, we replied, and got an approving nod and a “smart”, which made me feel irrationally superior to pretty much everyone else in the world.

After the interrogation ended, in the way of smart outdoor safety people, one of the guides seemed to clue in that I was struggling to figure out how to get across and offered up a solution that gave me permission to be less gazelle-like than my friend. So I took off my boots, donned my water shoes for the 2nd time in as many miles, headed a few feet upstream, and waded across without incident. And then we set out on the Appalachian Trail, which led us eventually to the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail.

Backing up a bit, here are the basics on the Gulf Hagas hike. This map lays it out nicely, too. We stayed in Greenville, Maine, aka way-the-hell-up-there, and the trailheads (there are two), were about 40 minutes away by long dirt road. The hike can be anywhere from 8.5 to 9 miles roundtrip, depending on where you start (you can also make shorter loops out of the trip, but I won’t be discussing those here). There are two trailheads: East and West. If you start at the East, as we did, you’ll have to ford two water crossings twice (on the way out and the way back). At the biggest crossing, I’m told the water can be waist high at times; for us, it was just over knee-deep at the deepest point. And it was cold and the current was fairly strong. I wore my water shoes and that helped, but even with them, the rocks were slippery. My friend did the crossings barefoot, which I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t recommend if it can be avoided.

However, it felt pretty adventuresome to be “fording” a river, so don’t let the cold and the wet dissuade you. Just bring an extra pair of socks in case, like me, you accidentally drop your first pair into the water. Next, you’ll cross a smaller portion of the river – this is where I took my shoes off for a 2nd time to get across.

After the water crossings, you’ll be on the AT for a little while, then you’ll find yourself on a 2+ mile adventure up and down and over rocks and tree roots. There are quite a few viewpoints to be explored, which adds mileage and time to the hike – for these miles we were averaging about a mile an hour. These diversions are totally worth it, though – the waterfalls come one right after the other and they are wonderful.

Disclaimer from here forward: I may have the names of these falls messed up. Sorry about that. Perhaps you will just have to go hike this yourself and correct me.

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Screw Auger Falls

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Buttermilk Falls

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Billings Falls

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You can see why this is called the Grand Canyon of the East. What’s really wild about this canyon is that it used to be used for logging. It’s hard to see how that could possibly have worked, given the narrowness of the various places we saw.

As you reach the end of the first leg of the hike, you’ll come to the Head of the Gulf, where rivers converge and where you can really feel the power of the water. Then, you’ll make a choice which way to come back; either retracing your steps, or taking the Tote Road back to the AT Junction with the Rim trail. I highly recommend this option (since it’s the one we did), as the footing was easier and after all the up and down and making sure to not fall into the canyon on the slippery rocks, it felt nice to just tramp through the woods.

In our case, it was also getting dark, and so getting back to the car and eventually to dinner was on our minds. I chose to put my water shoes on at the first, smaller river crossing, and then do to next mile or so in them until we reached the bigger crossing. My legs were pretty tired by this point (even in on a rainy day its important to drink enough water so you don’t get muscle cramps, like I did), so I took extra care with the river crossings. We were glad for my trekking poles for this crossing, too.

And we didn’t need the headlamps, but another few moments and we would have!

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As I finish this post, it’s months since we did this hike (it was in late October 2017), but it still stands out as a fun day spent exploring some incredible terrain. I have heard from others that the black flies and bugs can be brutal during the summer months, so there is some advantage to coming in the late fall, though I’d recommend not waiting as long as we did; most of the leaves were gone, and we kept saying “I’ll bet this is pretty when the foliage is at its peak.”

And for the record, I have done everything but ask a librarian and I still don’t know why it’s called Gulf Hagas.

Thanks for coming along! Let me know in the comments if you have done this hike or plan to!

Catching up on the #52hikechallenge: #hike 9, #hike10, #hike11, #hike#12, and #hike13

I’ve fallen behind on the #52hikechallenge (for more on this, go here), but the past week was a good one for catching up, both here at home and on a lovely visit to Canada. It was also a good one for feeling strong and being with great friends on the trail. Aka – all the good stuff.

Let’s get to the details:

Hike 9: First Blue Hills hike of “Spring” 2018
Location: Blue Hills Reservation, MA
Date: April 8, 2018
Distance: 6 miles
Wildlife: Do mountain bikers count?
Notes: When walking on muddy trails, the best thing to do for the trails is not to avoid the mud. It’s to go right through it. So wear the right boots and have fun making like a little kid again!

I love the Blue Hills Reservation. It’s right in my backyard and there are tons of routes to take. This hike, we explored familiar territory at the Eliot Tower, then veered off my normal route a bit to explore Breakneck Ridge. It was a nice hike of varying terrain and a lot of friendly people who were excited to finally be outside after our long cold winter.
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Hike 10: Thunder Cove Beach
Location: Kensington, Prince Edward Island, CANADA
Date: April 12, 2018
Distance: 2.85 miles
Wildlife: We saw a huge bunch of Canadian Geese having a feast out in the waves
Notes: When in Canada, your apps will all track in kilometers, which is way more fun than miles.

Even though this was a flat beach walk, we agreed that it could count as a hike since, well, I get to make the rules of this little challenge, and there were rock formations, so…there. 🙂 Seriously though, this beach, which was hard to find on traditional tourist maps, was worth both the drive and the chilly temps. There was snow and ice all around but the red sand felt amazing under our feet and well, the views were pretty great.
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Hike 11: Hopewell Rocks Park
Location: New Brunswick, CANADA
Date: April 13, 2018
Distance: 4.36 miles
Wildlife: Pigeons and Canadian Geese
Notes: Bonus points on this hike for making sure you can read tide tables.

The highest tides in the world. Not a bad claim to fame for a little beach in Canada, but this hike involved us being sure we were there when those tides were on their way out. Otherwise, we’d have needed kayaks. This hike was more of a beach ramble, but it started off with having to climb railings and navigate rope ladders since the beach access stairs were closed to all but those of us willing to “proceed at our own risk.” It was totally worth it, as we walked and scrambled all over amazing sandstone rock formations that are only walkable when the tide is low. Can’t recommend this enough! It was SO COOL.


Hike 12: Caribou Plain Trail
Location: Fundy National Park, CANADA
Date: April 13, 2018
Distance: 1.8 miles
Wildlife: No caribou or moose to be found. Boooo.

When it’s still winter in a Canadian National Park, hiking options that don’t involve snowshoes or microspikes are limited. This little walk, through a pretty forest that winds around and through a bog, is normally quite accessible, right down to the boardwalks in some places. We did it with a bunch of snow on the ground, which made it an exercise in trying not to break through the snow pack with each step. Because my long-legged, sure-footed friend was in the lead for most of this walk, I got a nice little workout in as I tried to keep up. And we learned what a flark is.
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Hike 13: Irving Nature Park
Location: St. John, CANADA
Date: April 14, 2018
Distance: 3.8 miles
Wildlife: Squirrels, chipmunks, seagulls
Notes: The Canadians know how to do a nature trail.

On a gray and windy day on the last day of vacation, which we’d spent mostly in the car, we needed a little exercise, so we hopped onto the Squirrel and Seal trails in this HUGE nature park on the Bay of Fundy in the New Brunswick city of St. John. The trail was pretty easy, and it was lined with woodchips, which made the footing incredible solid (no rolled ankles for me, whoopee!), so we did this one at a pretty fast clip. As a bonus, we climbed a bunch of stairs to a so-called “Observation Tower”, which was really just a glorified deck. But still, a nice little interlude in a very well-maintained park.

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So, though I’m still behind, this was a nice week of progress. How are you doing, fellow hikers? Are you keeping at it? I have to say, it feels REALLY good to have been out there quite a bit these last few days. I didn’t log huge miles, but my legs feel happier than they’ve felt in months.

Day and Night Snorkeling…in whatever body you have

Before I left for my Hawaii trip, I did some online swimsuit shopping. One of the many companies I explored had a line of copy that stuck with me – “the best beach body is the one you have now.”

What bulls#!$, I thought. That was obviously written by someone who’s only body image concern is 5 or 10 pounds she’s been trying to lose since she was 18. She’s never felt the utter despair that she will NEVER find a swimsuit that makes her feel comfortable, let alone even the slightest bit sexy.

But with snorkeling and lots of beach time on my mind, I dug a little deeper into my shopping and found some solutions that I’d never tried before.

  • Swim shorts, with built in pockets – perfect for making strolls on the beach as pleasant as swimming (see: the perils of chafing). Perfect for those of us who want to hike to a beach and then maybe take a dip, but don’t want to have to wear a full piece swimsuit under normal shorts.
  • A rash guard/short sleeved swim shirt (rash guard is a terrible name, by the way!) that was super comfortable and best of all, covered the upper arms, which have always been my greatest area of self-consciousness while swimming.
  • And, shocker, a bikini top to wear under the shirt. Because, well, most gals with any, ahem, curves up top need a little support.

In this ensemble, while on my Hawaii trip, I went snorkeling, twice: once in a gorgeous cove in daylight, and once at night with a bunch of manta rays. Yes, you read that right. More on that in a moment.

First, daytime snorkeling. This is one of those activities that anyone can do – and a lot of people do – without any coaching or training. In my case, I just looked to my friend for how to do it, and she basically said: “Put the stuff on, stick your face in the water, and breathe. Don’t kick too much, and don’t touch the coral.” The rest – like how and when to put on your flippers, how to keep water from coming in to your mask, how to convince your brain that “No, you’re not about to drown. Yes, you can breath underwater” – the rest you have figure out.

For me, the breathing part was the hardest. I love to swim laps, and that entails taking large breaths that get expelled rather forcefully through both nose and mouth. Snorkeling requires breathing that is slow and purposeful, and doesn’t involved your nose at all. So for me, the first few moments were utterly terrifying. I kept thinking I needed to take a big breath to hold before I put my face in the water. My breathing was fast and panicked. My body was physiologically defying my brain, which knew that people all over the world do this thing all the time…without dying.

Once I got over this fear, and figured out how to keep water from seeping into my mask, the experience was magical. The fish in the bay were plentiful, colorful, and completely unfazed by my presence in their domain. I even managed to take a couple of pictures!

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And here’s the best part about this experience: I never really thought about what I was wearing. I never really freaked out about if the entire world was judging my body. I just put my face in the water and looked at the fish. When I climbed out of the water, I walked gleefully across the beach and didn’t even consider being self-conscious. I was comfortable and it occurs to me, now, this might be the first time I was ever totally relaxed in a beach setting.

Later in the trip, I donned my water outfit again and went night snorkeling with manta rays. I say that as if it’s no big deal, but let me tell you; it was a pretty big deal. See exhibit A:

As magical as it was, this experience surfaced a whole host of self-esteem issues. For example, knowing that I would be hanging out with toned and attractive 20-somethings who managed the experience. And, in this case, knowing that I was the only one in a boat usually reserved for 6. See, circumstances contrived to cause me and friend to be unable to attend our original night snorkeling date. Luckily, the awesome company we booked was willing to rebook me, and they were willing to take just me out in their latest boat. Why is this intimidating to me? I don’t know, it just is.

However, my guides couldn’t have been nicer, and we were soon out in the bay (which is a mere few hundred feet from the dock) ready to meet some mantas. I zipped into my wetsuit top (thank god it fit!) clamored awkwardly over the edge of the boat, and then proceeded to wrestle for a few minutes with my mask, which insisted on trying to drown me each time I put my face into the water. My in-water guide gamely tried to help me, and we laughingly agreed that I have a haircut not well-suited to snorkeling. Eventually, we got me situated, and it was time to…float.

Float, while hanging onto a lit-up surfboard, with a fun noodle beneath my ankles to keep my feet out of the way. See, the lights on the board attract plankton, which attracts manta rays, which attracts crazy night-snorkeling humans.

So after all the anxiety and bustle of getting there…all I had to do was float.That’s it. That’s all I was supposed to do.

This was, surprisingly, a challenge. After a few minutes, and my first gasp-worthy sighting of mantas, I picked my head up and remarked to my guide that I had no idea how much time we had left. She gently reminded me that I had a whole 40 minutes, and I could use as much or as little of that as I wanted; it was entirely up to me.

See, it was very, very strange to just watch and float. I had nowhere to go. Literally. The guides moved the board when needed, and my job was just to hang out in the water and watch the manta rays. At first, I tried to snap pictures and videos, but soon, I just gave up and looked. And reflected on the fact that I am not very good at that kind of stillness. Most of my outdoor adventures involve needing to get from point A to point B. Sure, I might stop and have a snack or take in the view, but pretty soon I’m in motion again.

This was different. It felt strange. And pretty indulgent.

But also amazing.

Once I relaxed, the time flew by, and before I knew it, I was being towed back to the boat and climbed back in. I struggled to peel my wetsuit off, and the male guide just said “oh, we all deal with that” and helped me, as if it wasn’t my fault for NOT being a toned 20-something. 🙂 They gave me lukewarm hot chocolate, motored me back to the dock, and sent me on my blissed-out way under a hazy, full, Hawaiian moon.

The moral of this entire story? If you are a person who deals with body consciousness issues, there is power in finding comfortable swimwear for the body you have right now. It might not be sexy swimwear, but comfort is a good first step. If it can take you across the beach without triggering your self-judgement, that’s a win. And if it can help you get over whatever fears you may be harboring about trying new things, that’s a real victory.

Because there are beautiful fish and otherworldly manta rays in the water, my friends, and it would be a shame if you missed them. Get to it.

Sometimes hikes just aren’t awesome: #hike8 of the #52hikechallenge

Hang out on instagram with the hiking community enough, and you might think we all tramp around through pristine nature with artfully mussed ponytails and impeccably coordinated gear and the perfect partner.

I’m here to tell you it just ain’t so, folks.

Sometimes, hikes aren’t awesome. Sometimes, they almost suck. I say almost because even the worst hike is better than a lukewarm day almost anywhere else. But sometimes, all the things we love about hiking seem to abandon us.

#hike8 of my #52hikechallenge fell on my birthday. It was the first sunny, above 45 degree day we’d seen in this long, gray, slog of a New England winter. I was so excited to get outside with my pooch and stretch my legs and lungs.

I wanted distance, not elevation, and I immediately thought of a hike I did back in 2017, one that had me tramping unexpectedly through the woods in the dark. This supposedly 6-mile loop (that wound up being closer to 8) had been pretty at sunset, but I’d been so busy trying not to get lost in the dark that first time that I wanted to try it again. And, I wanted to correct whatever error I’d made that tacked an extra 1.5ish miles onto the hike last time. So off I went to Hopkinton, MA, to hike the Whitehall State Park/Whitehall Reservoir Loop.

I studied the map at the trailhead intently to make sure I wouldn’t go astray this time. Above the map was a wooden sign that read “Reservoir Trail: 6-mile loop.” Excellent.

The first mile passed easily. I noted the dismal state of the trail, with needles and roots and dried leaves making footing uneasy, and evidence of recent nor’easters that had toppled many a large tree onto the path. The lake shimmered with that wonderful sky-reflection shade of blue, and my phone buzzed occasionally with happy birthday messages. I stopped to snap a pic to tell a couple of friends who’d asked what I was up to:

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It felt so odd to be in the sun that I was squinting too. 🙂

Anyway, the trail around Whitehall Reservoir is pretty varied; sometimes it’s a road, sometimes it’s nothing more than a foot of packed dirt hugging a steep slope next to the water. It requires attention even though it’s not particularly hard. I noted right away that this was the kind of trail that would get me and my bum ankle if I wasn’t careful.

At almost exactly the 1.5 mark, I started to feel pretty good, and figured I’d pick up the pace at 2 miles and get my heart rate going a bit more. My legs felt strong and I looked up to check out the view and then rrrrwomp…over went my ankle.

Those who know me know this happens often; the remnants of a high school basketball injury that comes back to haunt me, usually just when I’ve started to get cocky. It’s happened so often that I usually just swear loudly for a few minutes, hobble for a few steps, and then proceed under the assumption that it’ll work itself out. It usually does.

On this day, though, it didn’t. The initial pain subsided, but as I waded through muddy creekbeds and hopped over rocks, things hurt more than they usually did. My stride was off, and I saw each new patch of slippery leaves as another mine to be avoided, as it no doubt was hiding another tree root just waiting to take me down.

Oh, and that mud? It was gross enough to swallow the trail on more than one occasion, which meant getting pricked by spiky branches as we sought alternate routes, and having to yell at Sadie not to drink the stank water.

At 3.5 miles, just past my supposed halfway mark, I’d planned to stop and eat my sandwich. But there was nowhere to sit, the ground still being wet from recent rains, and the gorgeous views I’d been admiring earlier had receded into swampy woodlands. We pressed on, and as I eyed our progress around the reservoir, I started to suspect that my 6-mile loop was once again going to be more like 7.5.

Usually I love hiking alone in the woods with Sadie at my side. But this day, for some reason, I was feeling lonely, not an emotion I let myself experience very often. I was grumpy that it was my birthday and no one was hiking with me. I was pissed that I couldn’t let Sadie off leash because of the park rules. Those fluffy, nasty, gnat-like bugs swarmed along the trail just waiting to be inhaled. And to top it off, I’d worn the wrong socks; they were too thick, which made my boots fit too tightly…yeah, it was all a mess.

Fast forward to 5.5 miles, and everything hurt. I stopped looking at the views because I had to watch my feet and it was just swamp, anyway. (Not true, but by this point I wasn’t exactly feel charitable toward the Reservoir Loop.) My knees and back were most unhappy with me and there were still clearly a couple of miles to go. 6-mile loop, my ass.

I did stop to take in a couple of ducks swimming near a dock, and that was pretty. In fact, looking at it now, it was downright idyllic:

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But by that point, I just wanted to be done. I had plans for the evening, and the extra miles were making it likely that I’d be late. I needed to walk faster, but my legs were not having it. And with every ridge I cleared, there was another one standing between me and taking off my hiking boots and freeing my sore feet.

Finally, at long last, we made it back to the car and headed home; even Sadie sat quietly in the back of the car as if exhausted by a hike that should have been wonderful, but just wasn’t. As I hobbled up the stairs to my apartment and the bliss of a hot shower, I couldn’t help but chuckle that sometimes, no matter how perfect the blue sky might seem, the universe just doesn’t give us what we think we need. Was that rolled ankle a sign that I should have turned back, driven home, and watched some Netflix for my birthday instead of pushing through 7.5 miles of woods?

Maybe. But as I think about it now, I think it’s a good lesson in reality. While hiking may be therapy for many of us, sometimes, therapy just doesn’t work. But hopefully we choose to go back for the next session, because, well, we need it, and the alternative is worse.

So take heart, fellow hikers, if you’ve been feeling like everyone else’s adventures are so much better than yours. I promise, it’s not all as perfect as it seems. There are bugs and mud and fallen trees and rolled ankles. And supposedly 6-mile loops that are clearly longer. I still don’t know why the trail is mis-marked (or where I went wrong in my trail-finding), but it’s a good thing I was so tired, and running so late. Otherwise, I might have taken out my Swiss Army Knife and fixed that damn 6-mile loop sign myself. With my luck I’d have been arrested for defacing state property. 🙂

Location: Whitehall Reservoir, Hopkinton, MA
Date: March 31, 2018
Distance: 7.81 miles
Wildlife: Squirrels, ducks, dogs, and the occasional human
Notes: If you see someone who looks like they know the area, ask about the 6 mile loop. Or prepare for 7.5.