Hike 21 of the #52hikechallenge: Last time at Ward Reservation

It’s been a while since…a lot of things. Since I took my camera out for a spin. Since I last went hiking. Since I last blogged.

It’s also been a while since I shared plans to leave Boston for a new job and a new adventure…and I won’t lie, it’s been a looong wait to get to this point. One more week of visiting and cleaning and then the final pack and drive and then finally, finally, I will be beginning this much-anticpated new adventure.

It’s also been a long 19 days for the family of Samantha Sayers, a young woman who was hiking in Washington State and vanished on August 1. I stumbled onto the #findsamsayers story thanks to a random post on social media, and I’ve been following it, dare I say, obsessively, since. Initially, I was following it because I was waiting for the interwebs to explode into self-righteous “never hike alone” pontificating (a sore spot for me), but surprisingly, that’s been minimal. What’s happened is a remarkable, wonderful/terrible thing, where literally thousands of people are following this story via facebook, and offering their prayers, hopes, and in some cases, ridiculous attempts at help.

In addition to my heartfelt hope that Sam is found alive, and my sadness for her mom, who has been doing heartbreaking facebook live video posts, I find myself goggling at the bizarre nature of watching this play out on social media. The idea of the virtual prayer circle isn’t new. And it’s pretty amazing and if it gives strength and support to the family, there is nothing I can say against it.

But I have been disappointed and appalled by a lot of the behavior I’ve seen; total strangers speculating that she was kidnapped with no reason to other than having watched too much TV, dozens of people saying some variation of “has anyone thought of checking her phone?”(as if that hadn’t occurred to anyone yet), and others actually messaging the mother – who’s daughter has been missing for 19 days, she has things to do, people! – asking for updates when they don’t think they are coming fast enough. It makes me sad that people feel like they have to somehow become a part of this story. But I guess that’s the world we live in. Everyone wants in on the drama, and everyone has an opinion and is going to express it. But just because we can say something doesn’t mean we should. This also applies to others, like, say, leaders of the free world, but I digress.

Anyway, this little rant composed itself as I was trekking through the woods at one of my favorite New England hikes, Ward Reservation in Andover, MA. It was an easy 4.3 mile ramble, and I couldn’t help but compare the tiny hills to the grand, glorious, dangerous peaks I’ve seen as I’ve learned more about Vesper Peak, where Sam was hiking when she went missing. I hope to someday be badass enough to hike there.

Anyway, I grabbed a couple of pictures of Sadie, but I wasn’t able to really lose myself in the woods this time. Of course, the fact that, just before I snapped this picture, Sadie rolled in something smelly and nasty, didn’t help. Ward Reservation AUgust 2018 (2 of 3)But really, my mind was moving beyond the familiar and lovely views; wondering where I will hike when I’m living near the beach, dreaming of a fall trip to the Smoky Mountains, running over my moving checklist, and yes, thinking about Sam and how much I hope that she is still alive.

So farewell, Ward Reservation, one of the few places I found where Sadie could roam free on the trails. Even thought I wasn’t able to give you all my attention today, I will miss your views of the Boston skyline, your Solstice Stones, your Elephant Rock, your quintessentially New England stone walls, your birches, and your tall, tall pine trees. Ward Reservation AUgust 2018 (1 of 3)

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Sadie will miss rolling in gross things, climbing the rocks, and sniffing all the ferns.

If you’d like more info on Ward Reservation, visit my previous post here.

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Thanks, Boston.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this move I’m about to make.

In an effort not to bore you with details, I’ll just say that, in about a month, after just over 4.5 years here, I’m leaving Boston. Heading south, to live near family for a little while, and try my hand at a total life change. I’m sure I’ll write more on that later.

The job change that prompted this came fast, but the thinking about moving has been happening for years. Almost every year after the first, when I realized that, much as I might love Boston, it wasn’t going to give me all the things I was hoping for: a tribe, a partner, a job with longevity, a home, roots. No, like most of the places I’ve lived, it just couldn’t give me those. I suspect this has more to do with me than Boston, but regardless – it’s time for Boston and I to end our little affair.

And it really was an affair, one that sprang out of a terrible breakup with my previous life. You know the deal; you put on a good face when inside all you can think is…I failed. I misjudged the whole thing, and I put all of myself into something that wouldn’t give it back. And so I left, not quite tail-between-my-legs, but definitely needing to rebuild my life and my belief in myself.

Boston was the perfect rebound relationship. It made my heart sing every time I turned a corner and saw something new. It was big, messy, gorgeous, full of new sights and smells and a blissful anonymity; no one cares, walking down a busy Boston street, if I don’t have a boyfriend, if I screwed up at work, or even if I’m having a bad hair day.

In Boston, I started running, for real. Since I’ve moved here I’ve run two 10Ks and more 5Ks than I can count.IMG_7300

In Boston I learned the beauty of a (crappy) public transit system, and didn’t drive hundreds of miles as I went about my life. Instead, I walked them, and took the bus and the train, and spent hours observing my fellow travelers of all sizes and colors, wondering about their stories.

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In Boston I fell in love with my camera, and filled a creative gap in my soul that I didn’t know existed.

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In Boston, I finally came to believe, really believe, that I can both love my country and want it to be better.

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Everything wasn’t perfect in these years. I learned that racism is alive and well even in one of the most progressive states in the country. I learned that breaking into cliques is really hard. I learned that rats hang out in garbage barrels, and that too many dogs go missing every day. I learned that even walking everywhere, every day, won’t magically make me skinny. And I learned that a lot of people play music really loudly in their headphones on the train, which is really, really annoying. 😉

But I also learned that, despite our reputation for being cold and mean, Bostonians do say hi on the street here, and stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Not every day. Not all the time. But l learned that one person thanking the bus driver as we exit makes at least 75% of the rest of the people do the same. And the drivers always wish us a good day.

But most of all, I learned that I am who I am. A girl who always takes up a bit too much space on the train, but tries to keep her eyes open for someone who needs her seat. A woman who will never be able to look downtown chic, but will stroll down town in her comfortable shoes with her head high. A person who doesn’t quite fit into any of the accepted categories of our culture, and has finally, after more than 40 years, begun to realize that there are quite a few of us wandering around, and that’s ok.

Two days ago, I was walking in the Public Garden on a humid, cloudy day. It was right after a thunderstorm. For those who have no visual reference for the Public Garden, its the park where Robin Williams sat on a bench with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. As I walked, I realized that, when my move is done and I’ve left this place behind, I will always be grateful that I lived here. That I was lucky enough to live here, even for a few years. After all, every small town kid in New England grew up holding Boston up like some kind of sparkling icon. It was our Oz, our big city. I never even considered that I’d live here; I always assumed I wasn’t a big enough deal.

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But I did. I got to live in the city of the Red Sox. I got to walk and run along the Esplande, cross the Mass Ave Bridge via bus, train, and by foot, and visit the top of the Pru. I took the train to Foxboro stadium. I watched the Marathon from 4 different locations, including high above the last mile as the runners approached the finish line on Boylston. I heard the Boston Pops at Christmas and the 4th of July, the BSO at Halloween. I paddled in the Charles under the sun and under the stars. I hiked in dozens of parks and reservations, and ate seafood on the North and South Shores. I took guests to see the Ducklings in the Public Garden, and to the North End for pasta and cannoli.

I survived 5 winters.

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As I get ready to leave, I’m comforted that while I wander the city in my last weeks, I’m finding that I’m not sad. There’s no regret in my heart as I realize there are many corners of the city I haven’t explored. I’ll miss my favorite places, but I have received what they have to offer, with gratitude, and will use all that they’ve given me to move on.

Boston was my home for nearly 5 years. I will always sing Sweet Caroline at the top of my lungs when it comes on, I will never forget how the skyline view always makes my heart jump, and I will always claim this place as my big city. In all it’s wonder and contradictions, Boston is the place where I put myself back together, and found the guts to change everything. I’m grateful.

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Hikes 18 & 19 of the #52hikechallenge: Dogs rule

I won’t lie – it’s getting tougher to find inspiration for the #52hikechallenge these days. I am longing for a trip where I can pack 3 or 4 hikes into a couple of days; I’m longing for a trip that takes me to canyons and mountain lakes and waterfalls. But, my work schedule and some big upcoming projects mean I need to stay close to home and save my pennies. Thus, I head back to my favorite haunts and look for ways to make them seem fresh.

In reality, once I’m out on the trail it’s all good, but it’s the getting there that’s proving harder than it should be. Reading this, I think I’m just lazy and need to get off my ass. Here’s looking at you, next weekend (this weekend I had to clean my apartment – no, I had to, I promise – and it was supposed to rain (it didn’t), so I skipped a week).

20 hikes is so close. I’m behind the pace, but I have high hopes for some trips later this year that will help me catch up before the end of 2018. Anyway, after focusing on my family twice in a row, it seemed fitting that these last two hikes be about my usual hiking companion, my sweet pup Sadie.

Hike 18: Ward Reservation + Boston Hill

I’ve told you of my love of Ward Reservation before. Indeed, since the Trustees of Reservations have recently decided to change their dog policies and demand dogs be on leash at my other favorite, Noanet Woodlands, Ward might now officially be my favorite spot in the Greater Boston area. It’s one of the few remaining places where Sadie and I can explore the woods at our own paces.

This my girl:

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She’s going on 9-ish (her actual age, like her Arkansan origins, are a mystery) and she loves being on the trail with me. There’s a zone of about 50 feet from me that she roams in, trotting ahead, then falling behind to sniff all the things, and racing back to me if we get separated. Occasionally, if we’re heading up something, she’ll stop and peek back at me to make sure I’m following. If I stop, she generally stops too; no judgment, just patience. It’s marvelous.

As she gets older, I worry about her stamina, so we don’t usually go beyond 4-5 miles, especially in the summer. This hike was supposed to start early in the day, but as usual I set off later than planned, so by the time we got into it, it was mid-morning and the cool of morning had burned away.

We went in a reverse loop from our normal path, which made for a nice change. We started with the quick hike up to Holt Hill, which features one of my favorite settings and views.

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Can you see Boston waaay off in the distance on the left side of the horizon?

Then we headed on the blue trail toward Elephant Rock. Along the way, we took a little detour onto Boston hill, which was a narrow, cobwebby trail that snaked around some pretty dense hillside forest. Something back there smelled divine (I think it was honeysuckle?) – more than once I just stopped and stood sniffing for minutes on end. At one point on this trail, Sadie got distracted and fell behind, and I got to enjoy listening for her galloping at full speed down the twisty path once she realized I was out of sight. There is something about this that just makes me happy.

Before we reached Elephant Rock, I noticed this new feature of the trail:

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I hope you’ll forgive the heavy, sentimental editing hand, but good grief. Can this be any more idyllic for those who travel in twos? Sadie refused to sit with me, by the way.

Approaching Elephant Rock from a different direction made a nice change. This really is one of the prettiest places I know of around here.

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And then it was back through the forest toward the parking lot. By this point, it was pretty warm and we were getting tired. And of course, Sadie had to find the muddiest creek and slosh about in it. Of course. When we got back to the car, we cranked the AC and celebrated a lovely New England morning spent in the woods. Well, I did, at any rate. Sadie hates the car.

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Hike 18: Ward Reservation and Boston Hill
Location: Andover, MA
Date: June 10, 2018
Distance: 4.68 miles
Wildlife: Bugs, the occasional squirrel
Notes: Don’t forget your bug spray!


Hike 19: Reservoir Trail, Middlesex Fells Reservation

Next up, a trail we’ve done before, but not since the start of #52hikechallenge.

Middlesex Fells Reservation, or The Fells, as it’s known, is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. It’s a huge property that is pretty close to Boston, just a couple of exits up on Route 93. It’s a lovely place, but dogs have to be on-leash there, so we don’t hike it very often. They do have a huge off-leash dog park at the head of the trails, which is very nice of them.

Anyway, for a trail with a name like Reservoir, there wasn’t much water to be seen on this trek. It’s about a 6-mile loop, and it does indeed loop a couple of reservoirs, but the trail itself is far enough into the woods that water is only seen a few times. This is one of those odd hikes, like in the Blue Hills, where all kinds of trails wind in and around each other, so while one person can be clamoring up some rocks on the Reservoir Trail, a family can be strolling on a flat open path just 20 feet away. As the miles fell away and the temperatures climbed and the views didn’t really impress, I was tempted to bail on the “moderate” trail (it’s really quite easy, actually, despite a few boulder-strewn sections) and just walk by the water, but I persisted.

This hike was an example of another way my dog is amazing: she can do 6 miles on-leash and not pull my arm off. And it really is a good idea to keep your dogs on leash on this trail, because you share it with mountain bikers, and you don’t want to be the one who causes them to take a fall and/or run over your dog.

About 5 miles in, you do get a nice view of the reservoir:

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We stopped for a break here, to Sadie’s delight:

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The last stretch of the hike skirted the dog park, and we got a little turned around on the trails behind it, but eventually emerged into the hot sun and trudged back to the car. Sadie was dragging by this point; we stopped for a drink near a tree and she flopped delightedly into the cool grass and could probably have stayed there all day. We both napped when we got home. 🙂

Hike 19: Reservoir Trail, Middlesex Fells
Location: Winchester, MA
Date: June 17, 2018
Distance: 6.3 miles
Wildlife: Bugs, chipmunks, mountain bikers

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

Rocky Woods, Medfield, MA: #hike5 of the #52hike challenge

It’s tough to find hiking inspiration in Southern New England in February. If inspiration comes in the form of high mountains and grand vistas, that is. No, these months, for the outdoor adventurer not willing to drive 3 hours for an icy/snowy trek in the White Mountains – aka me – are about small hills, mud, and well, small hills and mud.

But the #52 Hike Challenge marches on, and I’m a couple of weeks behind, so I had to get out this weekend. I wanted 5ish miles, and I hoped to be able to let my dog off leash, which definitely limits the options even more. Thankfully, though, in Massachusetts we have a non-profit called the Trustees of Reservations. The best way to describe this org is to think of state parks, but privately managed. Estates and individuals donate their land to the Trustees, and the Trustees preserve and conserve it, with the caveat that it be made available for public use. There are more than 100 Trustees sites in Massachusetts – and I haven’t once visited one that wasn’t well-maintained and lovely.

And many of them allow dogs off leash, which is a wonder in Boston. If you are a bad dog owner, just pretend you didn’t read that last line, ok?

This weekend I tried a new site I hadn’t visited yet, called Rocky Woods, about 30 minutes away. It’s a very active site, with lots of event programming and plenty of family-friendly “hikes” that are little more than ambles around ponds. Still, by tracing my way around pretty much all the trails, I was able to put 6 miles under my legs, which felt marvelous after a week spent behind a desk. The miles were mostly flat, so there were lots of chances to look around and enjoy being in the woods. There was a “vista” atop Cedar Hill at a whopping 435 feet:

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And a frozen pond that was drowning the trail around it and the footbridge across it:

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I met some very nice people and pooches, and yes, there was some mud, but it wasn’t too bad. There was one trail that had a low coverage of pine needles, so there was some green to look at, which made me long all the more for spring and that magical neon green haze of new buds on the trees. The trails were well marked and maintained, and all in all I enjoyed myself, even if the hike wasn’t a great physical challenge. And then there were the the occasional woodland creatures we ran into:

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There were at least three of these reindeer? critters. Sadie ignored most of them, but the final one, which was standing in the ice on the aforementioned drowned trail, definitely got her attention, so much that she barked a few times at it. A thing to note about dogs off leash here; they are allowed, but there are several sections that are posted as on-leash. I actually think that’s a great way to manage it, because a lot of these sites could be full of people, particularly kiddos, on nice days.

Next weekend, my photos will change a bit as I’ll be continuing the 52 Hike Challenge from the island of Hawai’i! See you then.