Great day hikes near Boston: Hiking Mt. Wachusett

Today, for the first time in a while, I feel a literal spring in my step. Also a metaphorical one. For weeks now, I have felt strangely weighed down, either by my actual body feeling stiff and creaky, or my head feeling clouded into inertia. I’m not a fan of this feeling, which is why it feels good to write this post.

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The literal spring comes from my legs feeling like they finally got some use as I hiked up, down, and around Mt. Wachusett in Central Massachusetts this past weekend. More on the details of that hike can be found below, if you just came here for the hiking details and have no need to hear my philosophizing about life.

A lot of folks out there talk about the power of a detox – and I sort of feel like that’s what yesterday’s 4-hour hike was for me. It was a chance to worry about nothing more than a few immediate, real-time things:

Sucking in enough oxygen to keep climbing up;

Placing my shaky feet to avoid breaking an ankle on the way down;

Watching (and occasionally helping) my dog navigate her way down some pretty steep rocks;

Oh, and of course, letting the gorgeous blue/green colors of summer in New England wash over my pale, office-bound, city dweller’s body.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures, and failed at taking a panoramic photo (see the really long and skinny photo I posted here), proof that I probably shouldn’t even have taken out my phone as I enjoyed a nearly perfect summer New England Day.

We talk of hiking as therapy, and I guess, in my case, it’s true. I definitely felt like I’d hit the reset button on my soul this time around.

Now, for those who are interested, here are details of this hike.

Mt. Wachusett is the tallest mountain (just over 2000 feet) within a relatively short (just over an hour) drive from Boston. I have a hard time making the trip to NH (for Mt. Monadnock or the White Mountains) in a day, mostly because of how much my dog hates being in the car (plus I am SO BAD at getting up before the sun when I’m hiking solo), so finding something with a bit of elevation a little closer to home is always a bonus. I hiked this hill last year but took a relatively short route that left me feeling less than challenged. So this year I scoured the interwebs for other hikes and found a good one. Here’s an abbreviated description – I recommend getting a map of the Mt. Wachusett State Park so you can either follow this or find your own route. There was a whole box of them at the trailhead, or you can download it here.

From Boston, take Exit 25 (140 South) off of Route 2. Follow the signs to the Mt. Wachusett Ski Area. Avoid the first parking lot you see and turn right onto Bolton Road to the main Ski Area parking lot. Look for a light brown warehouse to the right of the main lodge. The trailhead is right next to it.

Your first leg is on Balance Rock Trail (yellow blazes). You will, after a relatively short and mild uphill hike, realize why it’s called Balance Rock trail.

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There are lots of rocks and roots on this entire hike, FYI, so be prepared.

A little way beyond Balance Rock you’ll come to an intersection – take the Old Indian Trail. This trail will cross a few other trails, and also a few (4) ski slopes, and one summit road, but basically, just stay on this trail as it’ll take you to the summit. It’s about 1.2 miles long. There are a few places that are fairly steep, but nothing truly difficult, although if it’s rained recently, there will be mud and the rocks could be slippery, so it’s worth proceeding carefully. This was my first real uphill in quite a while, so I stopped several times to…ahem…catch my breath, but the good news about this hike is that it’s never the same challenge for very long. If it gets steep, it’ll flatten out pretty soon. Unlike a hike into the Whites, for example, you’re not facing 3 miles of steady uphill until you get to the good stuff.

Right before you hit the summit you’ll come upon a ski lift platform with a lovely view of a lake – if one of the gondolas is open for lounging, take it, and remember that these summer days are what make the long, snowy winter bearable.

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Anyway, the good stuff on this hike is 360-degree summit views that on a clear day, will show you the Boston skyline, the Berkshires, and Mt. Monadnock. The summit is likely to be crowded unless you’re hiking really early, but the views are worth it. Definitely make sure you climb up to the viewing platform and snap some pictures of the prettiness. There are plenty of warm rocks to grab a snack and a drink on as you soak in the views.

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There are several options to get down from the summit. You could turn around and go back the way you came, but I’m a loop person, so I chose a different way down.

Harrington Trail, my way down, gets pretty steep and rocky. It reminded me a lot of coming down East Oceola in the White Mountains. There were a few times when my pooch watched me slide down a big rock on my butt and gave me a look as if to say “I’m not jumping that.” Dogs should be on leash in the park, but on the hike down, I did let Sadie off occasionally because it was simply safer for her and me to let her find her own way.

This trail heading down was significantly less crowded than the Indian Trail heading up, but it was also later in the day so that probably contributed to the relative peace and quiet. Anyway, Harrington Trail will cross two “roads” as it descends, and you want to take the 2nd one and head right. This is West Road, and it’s flat and goes on for a while. I was getting pretty zen at this point, so I don’t know the mileage, but I’d say it’s at least a mile or a mile and half before you reach the gate marking the end of the road.

There, you’ll turn right onto West Princeton Road, which is open to traffic, so be careful. You’ll stroll along here for a bit, and then you’ll want to take a right onto North Road, also marked by a gate. This road climbs a bit, but it’s gentle.

There will be an intersection relatively soon, and you want to take a left onto it. This is Balance Rock Road, and soon you will find yourself back at the intersection of Balance Rock Trail. Take a left onto the trail and head back past Balance Rock to the parking lot.

I read that this hike should take 5-6 hours and is rated moderate/difficult. I would say that, unless you are with kids, stopping frequently, and/or having a several course meal on the summit, it’s more like 4+ hours. The total mileage was about 6.25 miles. There are only two parts I would call “difficult”: one stretch of Indian Trail near the summit, and coming down Harrington Trail. Otherwise, this is a pretty easy/moderate hike, with the benefit of a lot of different terrains so you never get bored, and plenty of flat strolling that allows you to just zone out and enjoy being in the woods.

So if you can’t make it up to the White Mountains, this is a nice alternative. It’s not a 4,000 footer, but it’ll get your heart pumping and give your legs a little challenge.

If you do this hike, let me know what you think in the comments! Have a great day, everyone.

Random rainy Saturday musings

Lately, I’m pretty bored. Not because I don’t have work and activities going on…I do. But they aren’t really lighting up whatever region of my brain is supposed to light up when I’m thoroughly jazzed about the spin our home rock is doing around the sun.

This, of course, prompts my tendency to think deep thoughts about life, society, and where, if at all, I fit. Today I feel like writing some of these musings down, in no particular order and without any plan to resolve them. You’ve been warned.

So, it’s Saturday. A Saturday after a fairly long week, made longer by having a show last weekend. A show where I didn’t have much to do other than be present and show support for those around me who were working their butts off. Aside – this is called “management”, for those who’ve always wondered what managers do.

It’s Saturday, and rain is in the forecast. I woke up and immediately (well, more like after 30 minutes laying around in bed checking facebook) decided that Sadie and I need to get a walk in before the rain begins.

Interesting factoid: Since she came into my life 6 years ago, there have probably been fewer than 50 days in her life when Sadie hasn’t been walked by someone. That is remarkable, and represents some serous mileage.

One of the things I dearly love about my life…I can choose to walk the dog whenever I want, and I live in such a wonderful neighborhood in which to do it. I have walking/breakfast options of all kinds: short jaunts to Dunkin and the local pastry place, a slightly longer jaunt to the local co-op followed by eating by the pond, or, like today, a few miles round trip to my favorite, the Ula Cafe, where they have biscuits with sausage gravy that I’m only allowed to eat after I’ve run within the last 24 hours. Yum.

On said walks, I run in to all kinds of people: other dog owners, parents with kiddos, college kids, retired folks. Today, I think everyone had the same idea as me; get out for some exercise before the rains come.

I love being part of that bustle, but I also can’t help but feel that age-old sense of being alone in a crowd. I don’t know any of the people I pass. I don’t know their names. We don’t hang out. We might share a smile or a pat each other’s dogs, but they aren’t my friends. It’s a lonely feeling sometimes.

I came home to two boxes of cookies outside my door, with no idea why they were there. I noticed some by a neighbor’s door too, so maybe they came from our landlord? Weird. I left them out there. I’m not sure what to do with them.

It’s raining now, and I’m ensconced on the couch thinking that I should do some housecleaning before settling in for some movies/tv. This is another thing about my life that I (most of the time) love – more often than not, no one needs anything from me, so a Netflix binge is allowed and acceptable.

But once in a while, I wish there was someone here to need something from me.

As I tried to talk myself into doing the dishes, I came across a facebook post of a friend that included the words “parenting can be an isolating journey” and I had to pause for a second. Parenting is isolating? That panacea of procreation, that miracle that will give life meaning after long, cold years of living only for oneself? I thought being single/kid-free was the ultimate exercise in isolation.

Then I laughed at myself. Because such comparisons and generalizations are silly. Life can’t be put into such boxes. It simply doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, while alone, a person can feel totally fulfilled. Sometimes, surrounded by people, a person can feel completely isolated. That’s just how it is. That’s just being human.

And it’s a comfort to me, in a selfish way, that I’m not alone in feeling alone sometimes.

End random musings. I’m off to do those pesky dishes and put away the laundry that’s been sitting in the basket for two days. Have a lovely day, everyone.

On the eve of 2016, she wrote a blog post. What happened next will blow your mind.

Astute readers may have noticed that I stopped blogging in the middle of my Berlin adventures. This is because, well, I was having those adventures, and decided to have them rather than write about them. I fully intended to write about them when I got back, but other things happened – it’s amazing how chasing/watching a toddler all day can basically wipe out all other thoughts and conversation. So I will get to Berlin, but for now, I wanted to do a little reflection on 2015. Because I gave up last year on proclaiming all the new things I would achieve in the New Year. That’s just setting oneself up for failure. So, let’s reflect.

2015, was, for me, a remarkable year. I got a new camera. I remembered how much I love hiking. I got to see so many of my wonderful friends all over the world. I did some more aunting of my incredible niece, Claire. I spent time with my family. And Boston – I feel like I actually live here now! So many great times in my awesome home.

Yet at the same time, the larger world seems to be crumbling under the weight of some pretty terrible stuff.

I had some “dance-like-no-one-is-watching” good times, and some moments when I broke down and bawled like a 3 year old, with no one but myself to make the tears stop. Indeed, pretty much every big theme in my life has both a super-wonderful side, and another side that means I have to work a little harder to see the light. Here they are, those themes, in no particular order.

Journeys

IMG_8057About 5 years ago, I caught the travel bug, big time, and since then…wow. I have gone on some wonderful adventures. This year, I got to see some cool new places: Cape Cod, the Grand Canyon, Virginia Beach, Reykjavik, and Berlin. I also got to revisit some old places: The White Mountains, Arkansas, Madison, Norfolk.

So what’s the tension here? Well, it’s a little selfish, and it has to do with money. See, traveling costs money. And when I travel to the same places, like Madison for board meetings, and to the family haunts to visit family, well, that’s money I can’t spend on my next grand adventure to wherever.

My baser instinct wants to resent the travel to the same old places. But here’s the thing – my more enlightened side acknowledges that I want both. I need both, in order to fill my soul with both the new and the familiar. So, this tension won’t go away, and I don’t think I want it to. And boy, believe me when I say I know I am lucky to be able to roam as I do.

Body

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This past year, I did all kinds of cool things with my body. I walked hundreds of miles through cities throughout the world, ran 5ks, hiked mountains, played volleyball, swam a little, and even occasionally did some stretching. I went to a German Spa, and those who get what that entailed will know that wasn’t an easy thing to accomplish within this body. My body and I rocked the year, in my opinion.

And yet, I also added pounds to it, which just makes me so upset. Most of the tears (not all) of this year, sprang from this particular tension. It doesn’t seem fair that I can do so much with this bag of bones and muscle and fat, and still be just another statistic, another cog in the overweight train.

This tension is summed up pretty well in one thought – when I am alone, with no one to judge but me, and I look in the mirror on the back of the door in my apartment, I like how I look. I like my body, and where it has taken me, and what it represents. Apply any other measure to it, external or whatnot, and I hate it and all it represents. I want this tension to go away, but I don’t think it will.

Solo-ing

IMG_7677Like most years, I spent quite a bit of time pondering what it means to live alone in today’s world. I had a date or two, but they went nowhere. I had some experiences that gave me a taste of NOT navigating the world solo, and I was a little shocked at how much those impacted me. Our world is really built for those who have partners. It really, really is. I had to work pretty damn hard to get back to my mantra of “I’m not a failure because I’m single.”

As I write this, I’m reminded of one of the biggest parts of Outward Bound, that experience I had way back in 1992. Back then (I don’t know if they still do it), every Outward Bound trip involved a “solo” – 3 or 4 days where each Outward Bounder was entirely alone in the wilderness. At the time, it seemed crazy and scary and radical.

Today, when I think of how much time I spend solo, I have to laugh at my 16-year-old self. Don’t get me wrong, it is a big deal to learn how to survive alone. It’s just not as radical as I thought it was back in 1992.

Politics

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If only you knew how many “political” blog posts I wrote this year, and then didn’t publish. There’s no tension in this theme – it’s all awful. I hate the election cycle, the vapid and divisive media coverage, the willingness of otherwise smart people of all political persuasions to buy in to biased crap that feeds their own belief systems, and the total mockery that politics makes of the REAL problems that my fellow Americans face. Notice that I don’t include myself in the company of those with real problems. I am white, comfortable, and safe, and sure, I’d like to pay less in taxes and see more funding for the arts, but I don’t need politicians to worry much about me. We are becoming – or have already become – a nation of have and have nots, and it’s only going to get worse. This makes me just, well, sad.

I was just in Germany, y’all. A place where “building walls” actually happened, where making a country “great again” led to the extermination of millions of humans. I’m having a hard time seeing the light at the end of this particular political tunnel.

But I still want to believe in this idea, this place, this dream that is America. And I know there are good things happening all around that are too trite to talk about. I’m not talking about government-funded propaganda at NFL games, or corporations using social issues to sell Cheerios. I’m talking about the real work of governing and helping that good people do. It’s out there. We have to find it.

Dogs

I mean, really. How can things be bad when Sadie and her nose are roaming around bringing smiles to all?

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Looking ahead

So, what will happen next? I want to tell you that 2016 will blow your mind. That, when I write this post next year, I’ll be skinny, well-traveled, enjoying a robust dating life, and the politics will have solved themselves through some combination of unicorns and rainbows. But we all know that’s just foolish talk. Things don’t change because the calendar flips over. They change because we change them, and sometimes, they don’t change at all. So all we can really do is keep doing the work, keep making the small choices that make a difference.

And posting more dog pictures.

Much love to you all, my dear readers. I wish you joy, peace, and maybe a little change, if you want it, in the New Year.

On dogs in the morning.

NOTE: I wrote this on the bus, so please be kind if it’s not up to snuff.

There are some things in life that will squeeze your heart until it feels like it will pop.

Dads with babies. The first tree to turn red in the fall. Soldier homecomings. A perfectly toasted bagel with cream cheese. A hug when you’ve been without human contact for a while.

And, as it turns out, a sad veterinarian.

Now, it’s worth this caveat. It was really early when I saw my vet today. Maybe he, like me, has a hard time mustering energy in the morning. Maybe the coffee machine was broken. Maybe.

But maybe not. See, my normally effusive vet seemed, well, droopy. He was still his amazing vet self, getting down on the floor with Sadie for her exam and remembering that she’s lousy at catching food. But he was quieter than usual, and when she looked at him helplessly as he tried to toss her a treat, he rushed toward her almost desperately, telling her it was ok, she didn’t have to do anything she didn’t like, she was still awesome. The exam over, he lingered on just petting her, scratching her ears, telling her how great she is.

And when he walked us out of the clinic, he seemed to want to just hang out with her. Sadie, of course, had spotted the door and was ready G.O., but he made her linger for one last ear rub.

As I and my super healthy pooch left the animal hospital, I asked myself what could make someone like this vet sad. And my heart cracked a little, because, after all, he’s a vet, and not all animals are healthy.

Gulp.

30 minutes later, as I was leaving the apartment to go to work, Sadie and I did our normal departure ritual:

  • She gets excited for a moment when I approach the door…
  • then realizes we aren’t going for a you-know-what…
  • then climbs onto her quilt on the couch….
  • and presents me with her backside.
  • I give her one last ear rub, tell her I love her, and depart.

Today, thinking of my vet, I lingered on the ear rub. I thought to myself: “I might miss my bus because of this need to smoosh my face into the soft fur of her head. But that’s ok.”

I did miss the bus. By 15 seconds at the most. And it was ok.

I had to walk to the next bus stop in the crisp New England fall air. I had time to tilt my head up to watch the sun set just the tips of the leaves afire in my neighborhood. My world is poised to explode into autumn color, but it hasn’t happened yet.

It was so beautiful. Almost too beautiful for my already full heart. All I could do was be grateful and hope I was wrong about my vet.

Maybe he just hadn’t had his coffee. I hope that was it. I really, really hope so.

Deep down, sometimes we’re still just scared 5-year-olds

I am almost 40 years old. I am a strong, independent, generally happy human, who has figured out how to live solo while constantly reminding myself to ask for help, because, after all, asking makes me stronger, which I never quite understood, but whatever, I digress.

I rock. I kill spiders on my own, change my own wiper blades (with help), and walk confidently alone down most of my city’s streets, head high, shoulders back. Whatever has been thrown at me in my life, I have dealt with it largely alone (minus a huge support network, but I’m making a point here), because, well, I have no choice. I’m kind of a bad-ass in this area, if you’ll forgive my immodesty.

But sometimes, I am just a scared 5-year-old blinking away tears in the dark hours of the night.

As a young ‘un, I wasn’t scared of monsters. Quicksand, yes: damn you, A Neverending Story. Until I got older, I wasn’t too scared of looking foolish. What I was scared of, probably like many kids, was death.

Death, specifically, of my parents.

Lying awake and wide-eyed in my bed, covers literally at my chin, I would stare at the ceiling and try vainly not to think how absolutely devastated I would be if my parents were gone. But I could. I could conjure up clear emotional imprints, almost like reverse memories, of what it would feel like. It was awful, terrifying, breath-stealing. These moments didn’t happen very often, but when they did, I would wind up in quiet hysterics, gasping in tears, trying hard not to sob outright. Sometimes, I would give in and go stand next to my parents’ beds and stare at them until either they a) woke up and asked me what was wrong or b) I got tired and went back to sleep.

Today, I can have a more intellectual approach to such thoughts, more or less. Though it’s hopefully a long way off, there will come a time when my parents won’t be a phone call away, and that still makes me well up a bit, but it’s manageable.

But lately, there have been nights when I’ve found myself lying in bed, covers to my chin, having to work really hard to keep from devolving into an ugly cry.

Only this time, it’s about my dog.

Sadie is 6 years old, give or take; it’s hard to know since I got her from a shelter. Given that her breed is undetermined, I don’t really have a clue what her life expectancy is. Until recently, her mortality was just a concept. She’s still spry, still her calm, happy self. Hopefully, our goodbyes won’t happen for a while. And if they happen sooner, I will handle them in the moment, as I usually do. I’m good like that, in the moment.

It the imagination times, the quiet times when there’s nothing to do, however, that get me. Just like those long-ago waking nightmares of 5-year-old me, I feel an echo of the physical and mental hurt I will feel when I have to say goodbye to the creature that has, literally, changing my life. I lie there, eyes full, chastising myself that I’m being foolish, and thinking how parents and couples must experience some level of this fear countless times, but still I’m unable, in that moment, to shut it off.

Why is my brain going there these days? I have no idea, but I wish it would quit it. I suppose I could blame social media, which insists on showing me articles about dog euthanasia and heart-wrenching posts about beloved pets who have gone to the great dog park in the sky. Or maybe I’m just, like the Beznoska side of my family, getting more sentimental with age.

Luckily, it passes. But it leaves a mark, I think, enough so that I wanted to write about it. I guess that’s part of love, right?