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)

Ward Reservation AUgust 2018 (3 of 3)

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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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.

Ward Reservation June 102018 (8 of 8)

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

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.

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.