Keeping It Local

Granite State Walker sprang to life when I realized that the low-key southern New Hampshire paths I loved weren’t getting the attention they deserved. I’ve spent more than a decade now blogging about these little gems close to home. For my readers in the Granite State’s southern tier, itching for recreation as the COVID-19 pandemic turns everything upside down, this might be a good time to review the nearby spots where we can walk and decompress.

Go ahead. Get out there. It’s worth the effort to find an uncrowded place to walk. Aim for solitude instead of isolation (there’s a world of difference). Social distancing is important, and some of us need to stay extremely close to home, but don’t rule out every outdoor option. Remind yourself that it’s spring, even if this seems like a crazy time. The peepers are waiting for you. The pollen may have found you already.

Can’t get out now? Plan for future hikes. The current unpleasantness is temporary.

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Oak Hill Trails, Concord NH

  • What are your favorite spots in your own town? Are the trailhead parking lots full?Maybe there’s a new park to discover nearby. Look up Parks and Rec or Conservation Commission on your city or town website. You may find trail descriptions and maps available for download.  Maybe there’s a newly-acquired property you haven’t heard about yet.
  • Facebook and Instagram can be gold mines of information on current trail conditions. Follow or “like” pages such as Friends of the Goffstown Rail Trail and Londonderry Trailways (to give just two examples). You might find reports that one trail is experiencing too-heavy use on a particular day, while another one five miles away is much quieter.
  • The Forest Society has more than a hundred properties statewide for you to discover. Forget the one on Mount Major, where the parking lot looks like a mall on Black Friday. That still leaves a bunch of beauties, and there’s probably one near you. Website bonus: virtual tours, where you can check out properties online and plan for future hikes.
  • There’s probably a New Hampshire state park near you. There are some access limitations due to COVID-19.
  • This isn’t the time to push any physical limits. First responders have enough to do at the moment without fetching injured hikers.
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Stratham Hill Park, Stratham NH: a guide to what you can see from the observation tower.

Are you avoiding even solo road trips? Join the club. I’m lucky to have a walkable neighborhood: no sidewalks, but no through-roads, either. That’s where I’ve done most of my walking for the past couple of weeks. I find that a daily walk is an absolute necessity, not so much for the physical exercise as for the mental shift.

Bonus for the soul: I’m seeing neighbors I’ve never met, who are also trying to fight the shut-in feeling that comes with these days. We observe social-distance protocols. The six-foot rule does not bar smiles and greetings.

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Mbari House by Geoffery Nwogu, one of many sculptures along the trails at the Andres Institute of Art, Brookline NH. 

I love the free Map My Walk app on my phone, which faithfully keeps track of my route and distance whether I’m going around the block or up to the Canadian border. I’m seeing how many miles I can rack up doing loops on my neighborhood’s streets. Maybe you like to leave watches and phones at home while you’re out, and that’s fine, too.

Traditional school’s out, gyms are shut, businesses are closed, paychecks may or may not be forthcoming, and #stayhome is trending. My walks are a refuge from all that. 

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Madame Sherri Forest, Chesterfield NH

Clean-up Crews

It’s only February, but my local parks and rec department has an eye on Earth Day in April. Signups for an EarthDay Park Clean-Up are open. Look for a similar event in your own neighborhood, via Facebook or your town’s web site on the parks-and-recreation page.

I call dibs on Horse Hill.

There’s never a wrong time of year for park and trail maintenance, but events like this one are as much a town-wide celebration as a work party. It’ll be a good day.

Destinations, Found and Missed

I really thought I could nail down that Forest Society patch for visiting 33 Society properties throughout New Hampshire. I’ve fallen short. Dalton and Sandwich did me in, which is to say I haven’t been able to manage a trip to Dana Forest or Eagle Cliff. I’ll settle for earning the patch via tier 2 status, AKA the easy way, which involves concentrating on one specific region and answering a few questions about the properties there. I shall send the Forest Society my entry in a New Year’s Day email.

Don’t think for a minute that my time on the patch project has been wasted. I loved every  property I visited. Every mile driven was worth the time and effort. Sometimes, I’d go a few miles off-route on a business day just to find one of the reservations or forests on the project list. (Tip: always keep walking shoes in the car.) One gorgeous fall day, I spent hours on the Route 16 corridor plus-or-minus a few miles, discovering four Forest Society properties including High Watch Reserve. I wanted to stay up there on Green Mountain until the last leaf dropped.

Seeking inspiration for your hikes this coming year? Check out the Forest Society’s list. Make a list of state parks you want to visit. Do a web search of conservation commissions in the towns near you; you’ll find a treasury of local trail maps and descriptions.

Just get out there.

Is that what I looked like?!

True confession: I just watched the four-part Gilmore Girls update on Netflix. What can I say? I got hooked when my daughter watched the originals all those years ago. A few scenes in the new show cracked me up in a way my daughter might not get.

In the program, the co-leading actress, supposedly in her late 40s, decides she needs to take a hike in the manner of Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Crest Trail. The character doesn’t know the first thing about hiking, or even about the outdoors for that matter. Hilarity ensues. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t get past the trailhead.

I saw her trying to cram all her stuff into her backpack, and it sent me right back to my 2009 Cohos Trail trek, my one and only backpacking trip so far. I wanted to mark my 50th birthday with a solo hike. I picked a good one. It was a formidable undertaking, though, and despite many months of preparation and training, I was a total amateur.

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How amateur? In all the months of training for longer and longer walks, I never carried any weight on my back. Never. Imagine how I felt when I slung my overladen backpack onto my shoulders the first day of my hike and struggled to walk up a not-very-steep hill. I thought I had eliminated all unnecessary pack weight. I hadn’t. To compound the mistake, I had misthreaded my pack straps. I figured that much out after the first mile.

The trip got much better in spite of all that.

I laughed – nay, I howled – at our Netflix heroine’s bulging, ill-balanced, enormous pack. I realized at that moment just how comical I must have looked to all the amazing, generous people in Pittsburg, New Hampshire who offered me hospitality along my way in 2009. They were very kind by not laughing in my face. I sure had it coming.

Once I was within walking distance of the Pittsburg post office, I mailed home equipment that I didn’t need. As a result, I practically sailed through 19 miles my last day on the Trail.

If you’ve never taken a long hike but you want to give it a try, go ahead – I heartily endorse the notion. Train with weight, though, and be really picky about what constitutes “necessary” equipment. Don’t look like something out of Netflix.

The Wapack Trail: a series of dayhikes

From Ashburnham, Massachusetts to Greenfield, New Hampshire, the Wapack range extends over a series of peaks that can be seen clearly from the eastern slopes of Mount Monadnock. The 21-mile Wapack Trail spans the range, with segments that make for great dayhikes.

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My copy of the the Wapack Trail guide is well-thumbed, and the map that comes with it has held up pretty well for me through the years. Map and guidebook, along with recent trail notes, are available at the Friends of the Wapack web site.

Pack Monadnock is the most popular part of the trail, with Miller State Park and the summit’s fire tower apt to draw crowds. North Pack is close enough to add for an out-and-back hike.

Other segments I’ve enjoyed: I like the ridge of Temple Mountain in July, when I can make a lunch out of blueberries. Barrett Mountain is a winter destination for me when I go snowshoeing at Windblown in New Ipswich. Watatic, at the southern end of the trail, has a wonderful open summit. The variety of birds in the Binney Pond area make the mosquitoes worth tolerating.

Endurance racers have been known to run the entire trail in a day. To each her or his own. I take the Wapack in segments, at a gentle pace. Either way, the Wapack Range is memorable.

North Pack Monadnock – Pack Monadnock

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Temple Mountain – Barrett Mountain (Windblown Cross-Country Ski Area)

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Southern section of the trail

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When is it NOT “take a hike” day?

How did I not know this? Once again, Twitter expands my horizons.

National Hiking Day, indeed. Well, every day is a day to hike. I’ve done my best to prove that true.

Now to find a photo to tweet back at the station that posted this. Post one yourself, if you’re so inclined. Maybe we can give each other ideas for the next destination.