Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Mid-state Trail (MA) and Wapack Trail (NH)
I used this journal as the basis for a trail review that was published in the fall 2004, ALDHA newsletter. The article, complete with sidebar information, follows the journal.
Discovering a local gem while walking for a week in eastern Massachusetts
Friday, July 2, 2004- Boston to Douglas State Park, just one mile from the MA/RI border (shelter)
I left Boston in my beat up Camry that had gotten totaled the week before while parked in New York City. The rear end of the car bounces down onto the wheel every time I hit a bump or take a curve at speed.
I met my friend Mark (Skeeter) who was coming from New York at the route 122 trailhead about midway along the trail. We left his car there and then drove with my car, ever worse with the added weight of an additional person and backpack, to find dinner in Worcester. We found a great little Vietnamese restaurant that hadn’t been in Worcester during my four years at Clark University in the 1980s. Moving south, we stopped one more time for ice cream on the way to the trailhead. We parked at an unmarked trailhead, secure in the knowledge that if anyone vandalized my now totaled car, I just wouldn’t care.
We walked in a short side trail to get to the Mid-state trail not much more than a mile from the start of the trail. It was late and we were being chased by sunset at this point. Watching for the shelter, we passed it without seeing it and soon found ourselves at the Rhode Island border, taking the obligatory photo of the state line marker, all the while swatting at mosquitoes. After a quick check of the guidebook, we started north and found the shelter just off the trail at an unmarked trail junction.
It was a simple shelter and already inhabited by a family of sparrows. They were already tucked in for the night though one of the parents was apparently awake. They remained on their nest while we tried our best not to disturb them as we got ready for bed. Unfortunately, a swarm of mosquitoes also inhabited the shelter. They annoyed us all night long doing their best to break through any little holes in our defenses we gave them.
Saturday, July 3, 2004– Douglas State Park to gravel pit (tent)
(lunch time) We were unexpectedly cold this morning when the temperatures dipped into the mid 50s. It wasn’t that it was too cold, it’s just that we weren’t expecting it. Without hurrying, we had breakfast, packed up, and hit the trail around 6:30. Three hours later and with considerably warmer temperatures than when we woke up, we stopped at Whitin Reservoir for a wonderfully refreshing swim. We had an entire inlet to ourselves and there was a good campsite there as well.
We soon came to our first major road walk. After one mile or so, we took a long lunch break at the Milk Stand at Whittier Farms. Fresh fruit and dairy products rounded out what we had in our packs. We got here before noon with only three miles left to do in the day. With no rush, we extended our break to take time to write in our journals and read.
We took time to make a list of all the things we had forgotten so far. The list is kind of embarrassing. As two very experienced hikers, we should know better than to leave home without hiking poles (Mara), alcohol bottle (Skeeter), pen (Mara), and Aqua Mira (Skeeter). We are now both looking forward to our mid-trail break on Tuesday.
(7:45 p.m.) We are done with dinner and both very tired. I am quite sore, as I have allowed myself to get out of shape this year. However, I’m still moving well and rather than doing the 13 planned miles, we completed at least 17 miles. Unfortunately, quite a few of those miles were on pavement with the sun beating down on us.
Three miles from our pleasant lunch stop, we came to our originally planned end point for the day. We found a campsite, albeit buggy, on the lake but although there were no signs to that effect, it looked like it might be private property. There was a small boat and a grill there. There was also some vehicular traffic so we decided to move on. Just a few feet further, we found a nice trailside lawn to sit and contemplate our options.
Though we contemplated going back the few feet to the campsite we had just passed, we decided to move on and try to find a motel in Oxford. Even with our morning swim, we were both feeling rather grungy. But, while walking along the road to town, we found out from some of the people in the yards along the way that there was no lodging in town. So we realized we would be going a bit further than town. Another trail neighbor assured us we would be able to find a place to camp near the dam after we passed through town. We stopped at a local farm stand and bought a big tomato to supplement our dinner. As we arrived at the main thoroughfare in Oxford, we stopped at the local police station to use the bathrooms and get some water. We were surprised to find we had to be buzzed into the facility but there were no problems and the officer, though somewhat bemused, didn’t have any problems with letting us come in.
As we walked out of town, we reentered the forest and soon passed a couple of promising areas where we could have pitched out tents. They seemed a bit close to town so we kept going. Then we passed an old sand and gravel pit. It was open, flat, and had considerably fewer bugs than the surrounding forest. We almost passed it up until we realized we were likely to come to another road walk in short order. So we set up camp behind a rise and were mostly hidden from even the trail. It wasn’t the most beautiful campsite but it was perfectly adequate and could have been much, much, worse.
We set up Skeeter’s tent like a tarp to provide us with a bit of shade until the sun went behind some trees. We were beat so we just collapsed for a while until we had enough energy to cook dinner.
Skeeter managed to find his missing alcohol bottle from the depths of one of his pack packets, right where he had put it. We each cooked our hot meals and then shared the delicious tomato. It so nice being able to have fresh fruit and vegetables on a trail.
Without my hiking poles required for erecting my tent, and with the non-threatening weather, I decided to sleep out under the stars. If it rains, I’ll crawl into the tent and use it like a bivy.
Today, we walked through what we had dubbed Chipmunk Alley because of the inordinate number of chipmunks that chattered at us. Two calves, one a month old, and the other just three days old (at the dairy), a couple of Great Blue Herons, one standing at the edge of a pond, the other winging overhead, and a slap and splash as we passed another pond indicating we had likely startled a beaver, were our wildlife observances for the day.
Tonight I’m listening to the crickets calling, birds chirping, the occasional ATV nearby, a woodpecker drilling for insects, traffic from the non-so-distant I-395, and Skeeter’s stomach growling. There are a few more mosquitoes out now and I find myself wishing for bats. Alas, there are none.
Sunday, July 4, 2004– gravel pit to Audubon Sanctuary (tent)
(lunch time) Last night, it turned out there was a bat. It came out only after I had written my journal entry. There were certainly plenty of bugs that also came out after dark. Enough so, that they forced me into my tent. Not only that, but the condensation was turning into an issue as well so moving indoors would enable me to stay a bit drier than sleeping out.
Without my hiking poles and with no overhead trees, I set up my tent using both Skeeter’s and my own awning poles as well as my spreader bars. Not wanting to put puncture holes in my tent, I used my shoes as a base into which I put the bottom end of the poles. The top went into the PVC joint like my regular hiking poles would have. Three pole segments were too long to fit so with a bit of duct tape, I splinted each awning pair with one spreader bar. Not being able to make the length adjustable, I did my best to get a good pitch at the point where I taped the pole segments. The pitch was a bit less taut than my normal pitch but perfectly serviceable all the same. With my spreader bars used to pitch the tent, the fabric was sagging onto my head so I pushed my backpack into the head end and rigged my sandals to spread the tent out. Worked like a dream.
This morning, as usual, we were up and hiking early. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of my aches and pains from the previous day had resolved themselves and I felt fresh with no stiffness whatsoever. Even my feet didn’t hurt though I could tell they would again much sooner today than yesterday. I could live with that.
Once again, the trail is a combination of trail, dirt road, and paved road. With just five-foot contours on the map, the hills are small but getting more frequent and a bit steeper as we head further north.
We crossed under route 20 through a cow tunnel. It reminded me of a similar but bigger and longer tunnel under an interstate last year along the Pacific Crest Trail as we approached Agua Dulce. There my hiking partners had gone through before me and took great pains to leave as many of the spider webs intact as possible. Thankfully, under route 20 most of the webs in this tunnel had been recently broken or were confined to the corners and out of our way.
We then hit a paved road and encountered our first bit of trail magic. We saw a man working on mulching some plants in the full force of the sun. I had just remarked to Skeeter that he looked hot, too. When he turned, we greeted each other and he offered us some cold water. What a treat! We had recently stopped to treat some water at a stream so getting clean water was fantastic. Much to our trail angel’s (and Skeeter’s) bemusement, I even took the opportunity to stick my head under the hose. How refreshing!
Moving on, we soon came to our first badly marked trail junction at mile marker 23.87. Rather, it wasn’t marked at all. The guide mentioned the turn but didn’t bother to mention which way the trail went. But, the map showed us turning north to follow the pipeline where we soon regained the blazed trail. The trail then followed the pipeline in either the clear cut or sometimes in the adjacent woods.
It wasn’t long before we came to Northside Road and crossed the Mass Pike. We waved at cars passing below and got lots of waves back and a few tooting horns, too.
Just after crossing the highway, the historic building and beautiful lawn of the Charlton Cultural Council in an old schoolhouse building were too perfect to pass up. Though not even 11:00, we stopped for a long break. We took advantage of the open expanse of sunny lawn to spread our wet belongings out to dry. We took advantage of the big shade trees lining the edge of the expanse to spread ourselves out and take a break from the hot sun. With the soft grass to lay on, we ate our lunch, took time to journal, and even read a bit.
After a two-hour break, it was time to move on.
(8:15pm) We had planned on stopping at a nearby campground after lunch to get water and perhaps use the facilities. Sometime later, when we realized we had passed it, we realized it must have been the church campground we had passed and that the campground must have changed hands since the guidebook and maps were researched.
We continued on our way glad that at least some of the current pipeline we were following up Long Hill was off the actual clear-cut route. Unfortunately, most of it was through the clear cut and we baked as the bordering trees turned the open area into an oven. By the time we reach the top, I needed a break to keep from overheating. I drank a pint or more of water, nearly depleting my water bag, and relaxed a bit before heading down the north side of the hill.
There we hit a road walk and with no natural water sources in sight, we decided to stop at a house to ask for water. Preferring to stop where we could see people outside, we continued until we came to a house complete with stables. With a few people sitting outside enjoying the day, we approached, explained who we were and what we were doing, and asked if we could fill our water bags. They were friendly, very amenable, and quite helpful.
As we approached the barn where we would be able to most easily fill up, their dog came out to greet us. I think the owners were very surprised when I identified him as a Leonburger. Leonburgers are very large, fluffy dogs, first bred in Germany to look like lions. They are rarely seen in the United States but my impression is that their numbers are growing. This one’s name is Ra and he was out of a kennel in Canada. He was very gentle and quiet and seems almost a bit timid. This is in great contrast to my friend Rod’s Leonburger, Odin, who is quite rambunctious.
We chatted with the family a bit and were invited back. I would love to see some of the horses, so who knows? Perhaps I’ll drop by sometime.
We continue along what I dubbed, Chipmunk Death Alley due to the dozen or more dead chipmunks we saw along the road. Further along the trail, we went through a dense briar patch at the bottom of a hill. I let Skeeter go through first, hoping to take advantage of the swath he could clear with his hiking poles. Even though I tried to stay right behind him, it didn’t work and I ended up take the brunt of the scratches from the thorny bushes.
It wasn’t far to the next road crossing and we stopped so I could tend to my legs. While I was quite scratched up, it wasn’t the scratches that were so bad. Rather, I seemed to be having a reaction to the scratches. Using my bandana and some water, I cleaned my legs as best I could and could clearly see how each scratch had turned into a burning welt. The few scratches Skeeter got didn’t look nearly as bad and he wasn’t reacting and didn’t find the scratches itchy or painful. We sat for a while and soon the pain subsided. I applied DEET and was happy it didn’t seem to aggravate the welts.
With the swarms of mosquitoes in the woods, and the relatively early hour, we stopped at the next road crossing for dinner. We knocked on the door of the nearby house to see if they wouldn’t mind our sitting on their law but nobody was home. So, we found a small patch off to one side and near the road and enjoyed dinner.
We had hoped to find a campsite near a pond we were passing but found only a marsh. I’m sure the marsh opened up to a bigger pond but the trail we were following didn’t lead there. Not much further along, we came to an Audubon Sanctuary with a swath of beautiful close-cropped grass, perfect for setting up our tents. There was a bench to sit on and tall grassland beyond the mowed section to attract the birds. From our tents, we could hear the nearby fireworks, and see an occasional flash of light, but for the most part, our fireworks were the private entertainment awarded to us by the local fireflies in the tall grass.
Monday, July 5, 2004– Audubon Sanctuary to Boston
We woke up to gray and threatening weather. We were glad to pack up and leave before rain set in. Just a few minutes from our campsite, we came to route 9 and found a driving range with a soda machine there. It may have been very early, but I was low on water so stopped for a Mountain Dew.
It was still gray but not yet raining when we got to another shelter at a pond. Knowing we would likely have a longer walk in rain if we stopped, we couldn’t resist and were soon stripped off for a cool and cleansing swim. Even though we were likely to reapply DEET after our swim, it still felt good to get the accumulated sweat and grime of the previous two days off our bodies.
Our next break was at a 4-H camp. As we wandered through the camp, following the Mid-state trail blazes, we were walking right past a picnic table. With nobody around and the rain still holding off, we stopped for a break knowing that once it started to rain, we were unlikely to want to stop to eat anything along the way.
Micaela, a counselor at the camp who was working at the nearby stables that day came over. She offered us some water from the spigot on the side of the barn and we got to talk a bit. She is from Sweden and after working at the camp for part of the summer, will be taking off on her own to tour the Unites States. It started raining while we were still talking so we packed up, put our raincovers on our packs, and started back up the trail.
It was plenty warm so I didn’t bother with rain gear and just let myself get wet. We had on and off showers and drizzle for a while. The rain burned my eyes but it was unclear whether it was the rain washing sweat and DEET into my eyes or just the different pH level of rainwater from tears.
Salamanders came out in great numbers. I saw hundreds and did my best not to step on them but I’m afraid I may have shortened a few of their life cycles.
We made good time but I was slowed down a bit towards the end. Not only was I getting a bit tired, but I had a bloody nose, too. It slowed me down a bit but I kept hiking all the same. Every now and then, I would pick a leaf to wipe my nose but for the most part, I just kept walking as my nose dripped occasionally. I just leaned forward a bit so it would drip on the ground and not my clothes.
My nose had stopped bleeding by the time I got back to the car where I was surprised to see Skeeter hadn’t opened up the car. Turns out, when he grabbed his car key off his key ring last Friday, he had grabbed the wrong one. All was not lost however. In a fit of practicality, he had given me one of his car keys to carry so without further delay, I fished out his key and we quickly changed and got on our way.
Having not stopped after our second morning break at the 4-H club, we were both very hungry. We stopped at a pizza place and devoured a large pizza on the way back to my place in Medford, Massachusetts (near Boston).
At home, while returning a few phone calls, I found out from a mutual friend that my sister was in the hospital that day. Knowing she was in for kidney stones and knowing her history with kidney stones, I was certainly worried but not overly so. I called her house and talked with Bruce, my brother-in-law. With his assurance that there was nothing I would be able to do that day to help out, Skeeter and I planned the rest of our day. We stopped at a local Irish Pub so he could get a “good” beer, ran some errands, and then joined a friend for a Vietnamese dinner in celebration of his birthday that very night. Not having planned on getting home until the next day, it was great to be able to join the small party.
I talked with my sister after dinner. Bruce had brought her home from the hospital at dinnertime. Talking with me assured me yet again that she was OK.
Tuesday, July 6, 2004– Boston
With my sister on medication that prevents her from driving today, Skeeter and I had the honor of taking my nephew Rowan to his first day at a new day care facility. We spent the rest of the day running errands, replacing all those things we experienced hikers had forgotten. REI, EMS, and Lindt were just some of the stores we went into. A stop at the Laundromat to wash our skanky hiking dud ensured some comfort when we got back on the trail – at least for the first day or so. The original reason we planned the mid-hike break was to pick up a mail order prescription that hadn’t arrived before we started. It still hadn’t arrived so a call to my doctor netted a trial supply that would last the rest of the hike and give the mail order place more time to get the drugs here.
I had to return a few phone calls as well. The most interesting call I had to return was to the Douglas police. They had seen my car at the trailhead, ran the plates, and contacted my mother. They left her a number I should call at my earliest convenience. They kind of assumed it wasn’t abandoned because the plates were still on it, but just wanted to make sure. I returned their call to let them know I was on the Mid-state Trail and planned to get back to my car in the next few days. They assured me that it was OK to park my car where I had and they wouldn’t be towing it anywhere. Perhaps I should have left it unlocked. Maybe then someone would have stolen it and I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore.
Dinner at Rudy’s a local Mexican restaurant was delicious. We then went cross-town to Cambridge for dessert at my favorite ice cream shop, Toscanini’s. With only homemade ice cream on the menu, the ice cream has very high butterfat content making it very rich, and uses intense flavorings making necessary to sample flavors before committing to a whole bowl.
During the day, Skeeter’s car developed a quiet hum. As we drove home from Toscanini’s, it got louder and louder. By the time we got back to my place, it was obvious we would have to resolve that problem before hitting the trail again tomorrow. If nothing else, serendipity strikes again… If we had not come back to Boston, Skeeter’s car problem would have likely happened on some back road in the middle of Massachusetts.
Wednesday, July 7, 2003– Boston to old road bed (tent)
We were passing the car shop just around the corner from where I live on the way to another one when we noticed it seemed to be open an hour earlier than their answering machine indicated. So, we stopped and found the mechanic on duty who took time out immediately to try to diagnose the problem. The suspected culprit was the alternator. He said he would take the car immediately and would likely have the car back to us in a couple of hours. There was a delay as the mechanic had to wait until the parts store opened to get the new part but within a few hours, with the new alternator installed, we were on our way.
We first drove back to my car in Douglas, then drove to the northern end of the trail at route 119 to leave Skeeter’s car. We stopped at the Gourmet Grinder in Gardner for lunch. The grinders were so good, we each ordered another to carry for dinner that night. We were soon back at route 122 near Rutland State Park where we parked my car and started north again.
It was 3:30 by the time we started but the going was easy and we were speed demons this afternoon. Our first break, less than two hours in, was six miles down the trail at the Barre Falls Flood Control Dam. After the break, we solved a mystery that we didn’t even know we had. A few days earlier, we had seen a metal contraption with dangling chains. Not knowing what it was, we thought it looked like some sort of feeder. When I saw another here at the dam and saw the moniker “Diskcatcher,” I realized it must be a Frisbee golf “hole.” As we continued through the park, there was an entire course laid out here on the dam grounds. It not only went through the open areas, but into brush, and remarkably the woods. We even encountered a group out looking for a Frisbee lost in the brush.
There were no paved road walks today and we ended up camping on an old roadbed. We were within sound of a nearby road and once again, marveled at how oblivious most of those driving by were to the trail and our presence camping there. Knowing rain was in the forecast, we made sure our tents weren’t in any depressions that would catch water. The corners of our tents were in the channels of the old tire tracks so we propped them up a bit with rocks to ensure our tents didn’t block the passage of any water that might stream past.
As night fell, an owl hooted nearby.
Thursday, July 8, 2004– old road bed to Wachusett Village Inn along route 2
It started raining just as we were waking up but we were just a bit too late to bother trying to pack quickly and get out before out tents got wet. So, we went back to sleep and took our time with breakfast and packing. By the time we left, the shower had ended and it was only 7:30, about an hour later than usual.
We soon came to a general store and not being one to give up the opportunity for fresh food, we stopped by. With four burly men hanging out at the tables inside, it was obviously a place where locals gathered. The store was surprisingly well stocked for such a small place. The wall poster advising that the proprietor reserved the right to charge grumpy customers a $10 fee really needed a corollary. I thought we should have been entitled to a $10 fee for having to deal with a grumpy proprietor. She was grumpy even before Skeeter asked for fresh water and I asked to use the toilet facilities, both of which she denied us.
Our hike soon took us on a long dirt road, the highlight of which was one house we approached. We first passed a corral with a friendly horse so we stopped to give his neck a bit of a scratch. Then there was a seemingly friendly dog laying on a chair that was a bit too small for it. Then there was a kitten that squeezed through a break in the rocks under the porch steps to hide from us. We then walked through another Audubon Sanctuary and stopped at a pond-side bench for a break. As we left the Audubon land, we started seeing trail signs that seemed vaguely familiar to me. It wasn’t long before I realized we were now on the flanks of Mt. Wachusett and these were the same type of trail signs I had seen on my previous visits to the mountain.
The early morning shower we had did nothing to alleviate the extraordinary level of humidity in the air. My climbing, already slowed by being out of shape, was further slowed by the heat and humidity. My toes, plagued by some blisters, and feet, plagued by sore muscles, were also quite painful and slowed me further.
On the summit and in the fog, we took a break to eat some food and ibuprofen but a light shower soon cut short our break. The descent went quickly and was surprisingly easy on my knees. I am glad though that I know had my hiking poles to help me along.
The ski lodge at the base, while not having any open businesses was open, so we took a break there knowing we wouldn’t get rained on. I took the opportunity to spread out my tent to dry a bit and it was nice being able to clean up a bit. Nobody seemed to mind us being there and one offered us cold water and another directed us to the vending machine with marked down prices. Having already stocked up on water from the bathroom, we declined the water but I did buy some chips from the machine.
Across the street from the ski area, we crossed through a clear cut and made our way over Crows Hills with it’s climbing area and impressive CCC built stone steps on the northern slope. While crossing a stream, we watched a weasel like animal shoot under some rocks. Later research identified it as a mink.
We stopped at Wachusett Village Inn along route 2 to get some water and use the toilet facilities. While we had earlier harbored hopes of staying there, an ad we had seen at the ski lodge put it firmly out of our price range. Unfortunately, there were no obvious campsites nearby so we figured on crossing route 2 and finding something north of the highway. But, knowing that it never hurts to ask, I did ask at the registration desk if they had any inexpensive rooms. With a $109 offer, we turned it down and I asked if they had anything a lot cheaper. She excused herself to go talk to someone in the back room and came back and offered us a room for $59. I took one look at Skeeter and we were soon checking in for the night.
Passing through the restaurant and bar on the way to our “cottage”, a quick look at the menu ensured that we would not only be shunning our tents for the night, but also shunning our backpacking meals. Our room was spacious with two queen-sized beds, desk, dresser, table, two comfortable chairs, and a separate area with two closets, the sink area, and a separate room with the toilet and shower. A refrigerator and microwave occupied one of the closets but the other offered plenty of hanging space. The sink area had a hair dryer and coffee maker with complementary coffee. This is definitely not the type of lodging we were expecting and it felt quite luxurious. After a shower and pack explosion, we went for dinner in the bar.
I expected dinner to be good but I didn’t expect it to be great. From the fresh, homemade full-grain bread, it was delicious. My scallops with wild mushroom ravioli in a rich pumpkin cream sauce were so much more amazingly scrumptious than the description in the menu. The menu had plenty of other interesting options, many of which made me feel like I was back in Australia. Alligator, kangaroo, emu, boar, and deer were all options on the menu. We finished off the meal by sharing a fried cheesecake which while good, was not nearly as good as the entree. It reminded me more of a blintz than cheesecake.
Back at our cottage, I turned the TV on but soon realized that not all the flashes of light I was seeing were coming from the tube. A quick look out the window confirmed that not fireworks, but a thunder and lightning storm were headed our way. Within half an hour, the tenor of the storm changed and we soon opened the door to marvel at the torrential sheets of rain that were pummeling the area. With the strong wind, rain, and lightning, all of a sudden, Skeeter and I were feeling quite smug at having decided to take refuge at the Inn for the night.
Later, after a short blackout that lasted only a couple of minutes, Skeeter and I laughed at how that would have affected us on the trail. It wouldn’t have affected us at all. We started joking at how we would tell Benson, a friend joining us for the weekend, how we had a blackout without mentioning we were in a hotel. We wondered how long it would be before he caught on.
An hour later, we went to sleep with lightning still flashing outside.
Friday, July 9, 2004– Wachusett Village Inn to route 119 (Miller State Park campground)
Knowing that we would be getting back to route 119 and Skeeter’s car today, we left most of our gear at the reception desk and slackpacked for our final day on the Mid-state Trail. We carried just one pack between us and only carried what we would need for the day. It made for a pleasant day, each of us walking without a load for half the day. Even with such a light load, we moved a bit slow for the day, but yet we weren’t in any sort of rush so it still made for a great day.
The shelter at Mud Pond left a lot to be desired. It was drafty, the roof leaked, and some of the overhanging roof boards were broken clear off, reducing the coverage of the interior. We were glad we hadn’t planned an overnight there. The pond was beautiful but with surprisingly cool air temperatures and a gusty wind forcing the threatening clouds to race by, we took a nice long break but both declined to swim.
We took yet another roadside break before climbing a hill for a hilltop nap with a view of a pond well below us. As we crossed route 101, Ruth and Duncan, pond side residents caught our attention. They offered us water and a bit of local color. It was obvious they really liked having the hikers pass by the house so we stopped at chatted for a while. Our delay was long enough that when I realized I needed a bathroom, Ruth was kind enough to invite me into the house. The house was their charming summer cottage and reminded me of a good friend’s family’s lakeside house on the shores of Lake Sunapee.
From there, it didn’t take long to get back to Skeeter’s car. With plenty of time to kill and a beautifully clear day, we stopped and drove up Mount Wachusett so Skeeter could see what he had missed when we had climbed the mountain in the fog yesterday. We then retrieved my car and caravaning, we stopped in Gardner for another meal at the grinder shop. This time, we sampled pizza and calzone. We dropped my car off at the route 119 trailhead and headed east for Miller State Park, a strip of land along a winding gorge that had always been my favorite part of the drive anytime I headed out towards Grand Monadnock. Finally, I would have the opportunity to explore at least a bit more of the park. We would be staying at the campground there.
The campground was small and surprisingly open given the wooded nature of the area. There was a wonderful lack of RVs there with most of the campers choosing to tent. For us, that mostly meant a quieter campground than those dominated by RVs and their accompanying generators. Surprisingly, mosquitoes weren’t much of an issue so we sat at the picnic table to write in our journals and read our books.
Saturday, July 10, 2004– Old Mountain Road to Windblown X-Ski area
A barred owl at 4:00am and a nearby alarm clock set for 5:00 provided two false starts to the day. We slept late and finally got moving around 6:00. We quickly packed everything into the car and found that much easier than actually packing our backpacks. We arrived at the diner we had passed the evening before at 6:30am only to find out it didn’t open until 7:00. That gave me time to finally pack my backpack.
The diner opened early and we ended up being treated to quite the entertainment at breakfast.
In this small diner attached to the owners house, we sat on two of the ~10 stools, leaving the few small tables for others who might come in after us. It was soon obvious that this diner primarily caters to a gaggle of locals. About four or five men all came in independently but sat about the counter and bantered in a way that made it obvious they had all known each other for a long time. A local policeman was amongst the crowd and offered up a story from the pervious evening’s excitement, the arrest of a drunk driver.
A rack of individualized coffee mugs on the wall was testament to those that consider themselves regulars. The mugs, with the diner’s name on one side had the individual’s name, nickname, or badge insignia printed on the other. The proprietor, knowing all the regulars, had no problems pulling the correct mugs off the shelf to match each diner. When asked what it took to get a mug, the answer was “$6”. Not planning on many return visits, I declined to order one.
My standard diner breakfast of French Toast was delicious and likely the largest serving I had ever gotten. With four slices of thick bread, they would give me plenty of energy for the morning’s hike. After breakfast it was time to head to the trailhead.
We were meeting Benson, a friend of mine there. Not only had he never hiked more than seven miles in a shot, he had never backpacked before. This would be his first backpack and we would be hiking twelve miles today and nine miles tomorrow.
When Benson arrived, we did a final check on the contents of his backpack, taking out many of the items those new to backpacking are wont to carry. We took out the bath sized cotton towel, the C cell flashlight, and the heavy and bulky jacket that would be overkill with the summer temperatures. Instead, I lent him my headlamp and my microfleece sweater in addition to the backpack and sleeping pad he had already borrowed from me.
We left Benson’s car at the southern trailhead and piled into Skeeter’s car for the drive to the northern trailhead.. Leaving Skeeter’s car there, we started our southbound hike of the Wapack Trail.
Climbing North Pack Monadnock was interesting. Benson is a fast hiker with little stamina. He repeatedly jackrabbitted ahead and then waited for me to catch up using that time to catch his own breath. Skeeter maintains a nearly steady pace regardless of whether he’s going uphill or down. Me, I’m slow but steady climbing hills. I can climb for a long time without needing a significant break. As long as I can get a sip of water every now and then, I can keep going, and going, and going.
We quickly noticed an interesting phenomenon as we climbed above the dense forest onto the ledgy slopes of the north side of the mountain. Hiking through Massachusetts this past week, Skeeter and I saw many blueberry bushes that were, as expected, laden with unripe blueberries. With blueberry season usually coming in August, that made sense. Here however, further north and at higher elevation, many of the blueberries were ripe. That didn’t make sense, they should be even less ripe here than in Massachusetts. But, who were we to complain? The blueberries were wonderfully delicious little flavor bombs. Of course, ripe blueberries mean we hiked ever slower.
After a short break on the summit of North Pack Monadnock, we moved along to Pack Monadnock. We took a longer break there and conferred with two other Wapack Trail hikers about the shelter choices ahead. They, like Benson, had tried to contact the Windblown X Ski area to arrange permission to use one of their shelters. But after leaving messages, none of us had heard back so we were just planning on going there and then seeing what we could do about paying.
The summit, with its parking lot and attending structures, allowed us to make use of the outhouses and from a different summit building, refill our mostly depleted water supplies. It was impossible to ignore all the people on the summit, especially those that drove to the summit. After spending a week on the Mid-state Trail where Skeeter and I saw a total of one other hiker, and a day hiker at that, this mountain produced a certain amount of overload. It was on the way down that we saw the most hikers today. Those are the day hikers that hike up from the parking lot at the base of the mountain. Their numbers explained the condition of the trail, which was quite rough and eroded. Thankfully, with a slow pace and my hiking poles, I was able to spare my knees from the worst of the descent.
We crossed the street and then headed up Temple Mountain. Quite a bit of the ascent was on the ski area access road. Usually quite steep and difficult to walk when on big mountains, this particular access road wasn’t so bad on the smaller Temple mountain. On the summit, we once again “breaked” – or is it braked – for blueberries. Yum!
As usual, the descent was fairly quick and we soon found ourselves on a short road walk. We looked but couldn’t find a blaze to tell us which direction to turn. A woman at a house across the way was able to point us in the right direction. She also volunteered that the Windblown ski area wasn’t too far away. As she seemed familiar with the trail, we asked her about water sources on the trail ahead. She said there weren’t any but she was happy to have us grab some water from her hose. She let on that she enjoys the hikers that stop by and often supplies them with water. We love trail angels like her!
By this point, Benson’s legs were really feeling it. We were glad to be on a fairly level section of trail, either on or just parallel to an old woods road. We once again caught up and passed the other pair of Wapack Trail hikers. They were tired and already planning on stopping at the first shelter they came to. Benson was a trouper and was willing to go to whichever shelter we wanted to but it was painful just to watch him walk so we, too, decided to stop at the first shelter.
Of course, when we got to the ski area, there were signs to the shelter that led us on a wild goose chase. We got fed up and decided to just continue to the next shelter. It wasn’t long before we found the correct path to the first shelter. It was a great shelter and we were glad to be stopping there for the evening.
This shelter had in “In house, Outhouse,” a rocking chair, benches lining all the walls inside the shelter, plenty of hooks, a large deck with a picnic table and yet more benches around the periphery of the deck. Having skied at Windblown many times, I hadn’t recognized the terrain around the trail that I’m sure I’ve skied. The area around the shelter, set in a valley, on the other hand, seemed very familiar to me. I even remembered being on that trail while skiing with my brother-in-law as he told a story. As a professional storyteller, when he tells a story, it’s usually pretty good.
At the shelter, I found a broom and took the time to sweep it out before we settled in. Dinner was dispatched in no time even though it was hot, and we were tired, and our perception of hunger was limited. I insisted we all eat well to ensure that we would have enough energy for the next day’s hike.
I had been concerned about how well Benson would sleep on his first night in the woods. Often, when people are just getting into backpacking, they don’t sleep well. There are too many unfamiliar noises in the woods and all those little things that go bump in the night tend to keep people from sleeping well. My concerns were unfounded. After the long and exhausting day, Benson was the first one to lie down and was softly snoring before I even crawled into bed. A light shower just after we had all drifted off woke us up enough to pull in the few items that had gotten left outside. The mosquitoes that had plagued us on the Mid-state Trail weren’t nearly as bad here but I still slept with my head net on and tried to keep the rest of me within the confines of my silk sleeping bag liner, if not my sleeping bag itself.
Sunday, July 11, 2004– Windblown X-Ski are to route 119
A good night’s sleep and a bunch of ibuprofen can work wonders on an overused and abused body. Even Benson, though still sore, was moving much better in the morning.
Our biggest climb of the day came first thing in the morning. Compared with the previous day’s climbs, however, it wasn’t nearly as long or rough. After that first climb, we dipped into two cols between two other minor peaks before a long drop to a pond. From there, it was mostly an old carriage road to the summit of Mount Watatic. At a minor peak on the shoulder of the mountain just before attaining the summit, we stopped to talk with two people picking blueberries. It didn’t take long to figure out that she had thruhiked the Appalachian Trail in 2000. Her trail name is Wood Chip.
A long break on the summit of Watatic soon followed. I took the time to collect a half-pint of blueberries to bring home with me. Then it was time to descend the mountain. I had remembered it being quite steep and in fact there were a few steep sections. But mostly, it was much easier than I remembered. I attribute that to the fact that the only time I had ever climbed the mountain before was a couple of years earlier when I did a night hike in snow and ice without crampons to the summit to watch the Leonid meteor showers.
I stopped to take a picture on the way down only to have the back of my camera pop open. I can only imagine how many, or which, shots were ruined.
It was early afternoon when we got to the trailhead. We all hopped in Benson’s car to head north to bring Skeeter back to his car. We stopped in Peterborough along the way for an ice cream at Soleil. We said goodbye to Skeeter and then Benson brought me back to my car. I stopped at a couple of farm stands on my way home to pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables.
I owe a big thanks to Skeeter for suggesting the hike. It’s the most hiking I’ve done since I left the PCT over a year earlier. With the exception of some blisters and foot pain, I felt great while hiking and was able to enjoy myself.
I can already tell the hiker selective memory is kicking in though… I’ve already forgotten the painful road walks, the swarming mosquitoes, the briar scratches, the lack of water, etc. Can’t wait to go out and do it again. ;-)
Here is the trail review as written for the ALDHA newsletter
Two Trails in Review
Midstate Trail and Wapack Trail in Massachusetts and New Hampshireby Mara Factor
Doing a nine-day backpack just 1.5 hours from my home near Boston seemed a bit strange to me. Seeing only one other hiker, and a day hiker at that, during the first seven days while on the Midstate Trail made it seem even stranger. In a way, I felt like I was much further from home. But I wasn’t far from home and a couple of road crossing made that evident. I had gone to school in Worcester, less than 30 minutes from the trail, and had frequently bicycled or driven along the roads we were crossing. There was a vague sense of familiarity here and there.
The Wapack Trail was quite different. Both the north and south ends of the Wapack Trail are very popular with day hikers. On a wonderful summer weekend, the Pack Monadnocks in the north and Mt. Watatic in the south are both crawling with hikers and sightseers. We even leapfrogged with one other pair of Wapack Trail thruhikers.
I was hiking with Mark “Skeeterbait” Hudson. In early July, the mosquitoes were rampant in the woods of the Midstate Trail and I, like Skeeterbait, have always been one of those people that mosquitoes seek. I used a headnet quite a bit, even while hiking. We slathered on the DEET and mostly kept moving to try to stay ahead of the swarms. We had relief from the mosquitoes along our road walks but there, the pounding our feet took on the hard pavement made us look forward to returning to the softer duff of the woods trails.
A couple of ponds along the Midstate Trail were too beautiful to pass up on a warm summer day. We stopped to swim a couple of times and passed up a couple of other opportunities.
Water can be scarce but the numerous road walks and crossings provided opportunities to talk to the locals who often offered us water or were amenable to providing us with some if we asked. A couple of farm stands in the southern section of the Midstate Trail had us supplementing the contents of our food bags with fresh dairy, fruits, and vegetables.
Early July was too early for the blueberries along the Midstate Trail but surprisingly, on the Wapack Trail, the blueberries were ripe and delicious. The Wapack Trail has more in the way of hills and small mountains. We probably did as much climbing in two days on the Wapack as we did all week on the Midstate. But the climbing was worth it. Views abounded. We could see Boston some 55 miles distant and Grand Monadnock, just five miles away.
As a world traveler, it can be easy to overlook the local gems that just don’t seem as “glamorous” as far off places. I am glad I took the time to explore this local gem and feel all the richer for it.
While these trails can mostly be hiked year round, doing either of these trails mid-October would be a treat. The bugs would be gone, the temperatures perfect for hiking, and the New England fall foliage a visual feast.
The Midstate Trail bisects Massachusetts. It runs from Douglas State Park at the Rhode Island border in the south to Mt. Watatic in the north. It is 93 miles long.
The Wapack Trail runs from Route 119 in Massachusetts in the south to Old Mountain Rd. in Greenfield, New Hampshire in the north. It is 21 miles long.
The southernmost mile of the Wapack Trail and northernmost mile of the Midstate Trail coincide making these trails a perfect pair to complete together.
The Midstate Trail is a combination of trail, woods roads, and road walks with most of the road walks in the southern portion. The Wapack Trail is primarily trail with some woods road walking. They are primarily forested though views may be obtained across open fields and ponds, power line clear cuts, and high points on the hills and peaks along the way. There are numerous road crossings.
The Midstate Trail can be done year round assuming suitable New England winter hiking experience. The Wapack Trail is limited during cross-country ski season due to the private land of the Windblown X-ski area. No hikers are allowed on X-ski trails during ski season.
No permits are required for either trail.
Trail InformationThe guidebooks which both have complete maps suitable for hiking each trail can be obtained at the addresses below.
Wapack Trail Guide by John Flanders
Friends of the Wapack
The Midstate Trail Guide
Mara “Stitches” Factor is a traveler and hiker. She thruhiked the Appalachian Trail in 1999 and is currently serving on the board of ALDHA. You can find her advice, commentaries, and journals on her Travels and Trails web site at http://friends.backcountry.net/m_factor.
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