Musings on 800 Appalachian Trail Miles

Musings on 800 Appalachian Trail Miles

It sounds so dramatic to say that I’ve been ball-and-chained now that I’m living in a city apartment and working a corporate job, but it’s the truth. I think about my hike on the AT this summer and it makes me want to cry. Maybe I didn’t hike long enough to the point where I was ready to be done, maybe if I had finished it I would have felt like it was time for that part of my life to be over. Whatever it is, I didn’t finish the trail and I was NOT ready to be done. I AM NOT ready to be done. Living outside is the ultimate freedom. I was perfectly and beautifully free of the world’s expectations – I only lived according to what I wanted. Now, you might be thinking ‘well of course it’s easy to be happy outside – you can do whatever you want’, and yes. That’s true. I had no bills to pay and no desk to sit at. Long-distance hiking is sort of a fleeting perfection, which makes it all the more special.

trail magic

^ Trail magic in a parking lot = heaven

shelter

^Home for the night!!

So I can’t hike and live outdoors for the rest of my life, I know that. But I need to find something sustainable that makes me feel the way the AT does. On the AT, magic is real. Trail magic. Relationships are so pure – you automatically have so much in common with everyone and everything that surrounds you. You don’t worry about how you look, which allows you to let your personality show how beautiful you are. That, in turn, allows you to see how beautiful everyone else is by way of their personalities. It’s easy to surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself, and easy to get away from those who don’t. You carry only the basic necessities and can finally see consumerism for what it really is – a trap that weighs you down (to this day, I’m still bewildered by the sheer amount of products for sale at big stores like Wal-Mart or Macy’s…what a waste!!).

Backpacking just brings a true appreciation for the simple joys in life – a singing bird, a flat rock to sit on, substantive conversations with complete strangers. A goddamned hot shower! Ice cream! I take a shower every day in my Boston apartment and I don’t think twice about it, while over the summer I would savor every drop of water that ran over my skin during my sweet, semi-frequent, precious $2 showers. How quick we are to forget that access to running water and a four-walled structure is a privilege.

trail

^Lovely lovely trail

washing hair

^Pit stop to wash some hair!

But, isn’t that just part of the human condition? To become accustomed to what we have? Is that inevitable? Perhaps I simply don’t have time every day to think about how thankful I am for each of my blessings. Or perhaps that was a very white middle class thing of me to say and I should check my privilege. My point is, living outdoors and walking with a heavy bag on your back every day makes every emotion so much more powerful, and it brings gratitude to the forefront of it all. Relief, joy, exhaustion, frustration, impatience, fear, peace, love, gratitude, everything feels so much bigger and deeper on the trail. You just feel more. If feeling emotions is a third of what makes us human (the other two thirds being free will and self-awareness), don’t we want to feel a little more like our true selves?

rock hoppingfranconia

Mount Chocorua

Mount Chocorua

Fast Facts

Name: Mount Chocorua (show-KOH-rooah)

Location: Near Conway, NH, it’s the easternmost peak of the Sandwich Range in the White Mountains

Elevation: 3,490 ft.

Recommendations: For almost anyone! This hike has a lot of bang for the buck.

 

There’s a really neat legend about this mountain that I’d like to share before I delve into my experience with it. As most legends go, there are many versions and probably none of them are true. But, alas, my paraphrased version:

“There was a Native American man named Chocorua who had to leave his homeland for a hunting trip. His wife had died, and he had a young son that he could not take with him. He had a decent relationship with a neighboring white family, so he approached them asking that they take care of his son for him. Chocorua gave them goods as payment, and they agreed. So, he leaves his son there and heads off to hunt before the winter hits. While at the white family’s farm, the son has a grand time playing and helping out. Until, however, he one day accidentally eats a poisonous plant and dies. Oops.

So the white family feels super badly. It was an accident! A horrible one, but still…it wasn’t their fault. When Chocorua came back, he was not very understanding and was rightfully PISSED out of his mind. He swears to get revenge on this family. Not long after Chocorua returned, the white man comes home to find his entire family dead. With his rifle in hand, he hunts down Chocorua and chases him up a mountain. At the summit, Chocorua suffers a gunshot wound to the chest, but before the white man gets close enough to finish him off, he utters a curse against the white man and pretty much all of his future endeavors and then leaps from the peak to his death.”

A heartwarming tale to carry in the back of your mind as you climb up that mountain, no? I’m generally not a superstitious person, but I would have been wicked creeped out if we had been hiking on a foggy or dark day. Luckily, that was not an issue.

My boyfriend, two of my friends (who happen to be dating as well), and I climbed into my Subaru early on this October Saturday morning to hit the road by 8AM. It was a hefty drive for a day trip – about 3 hours one way, but Molly brought bagels and I brought music so life was good. There’s something about driving in a car full of friends that just feels like it’s straight out of a movie.

Since it was October, the fall colors were at an absolute peak. And I mean PEAK! Like, damn. The drive up was a beautiful view in and of itself. It was almost sad to get to the parking lot and not be able to see the mountains anymore, but then we stepped out of the car and smelled the mountains and everything was amazing again.

For anyone looking to do the same hike we did (which I’d recommend for people who have at least some recent experience with endurance training and are in decent shape – there are other shorter routes to the peak that are better suited for true beginners), we hiked this exact route. Also, don’t brush off the elevation at Chocorua. It’s not tall in comparison to most of the popular White Mountain hikes, but it starts at a lower elevation than most so there is still significant elevation gain required to get to the top. In any event, I liked it a lot and would describe it as follows:

  • First, it’s a loop. Loops rule! You get to see something new with every step you take. After seeing new things every moment I headed north on the AT this past summer, I’m a sucker for loops.
  • Starting at the Piper Trail parking lot and finding the beginning of the actual Piper Trail wasn’t as straightforward as you might think. Follow other people if you can! Old forest roads are misleading here.
  • The first main section of this loop is mainly a nice walk through the forest without much elevation gain. It was a relaxing way to gear up for the climbs to come.
  • Once you start to finally head upwards, you’ll eventually make it to the Middle and First Sister peaks, which are way cooler than you’d expect considering they aren’t the main attraction for this area. The views are beautiful, and it was nice to be rewarded along the way to Chocorua. Check out this view from our lunch spot on Middle Sister:
    Middle Sister View
    PEAK colors!
  • Since I’m going chronologically here, it’s time to note that we got totally ambushed by a passing snow/hailstorm. It was teeny and quick, but so thrilling! It was also a reminder that you should ALWAYS prepare for the worst when you’re hiking, especially in the Whites. Here’s a snapshot of the little hail that collected along the trail:
    Chocorua Hail.jpg
    #trailhail
     
  • Between Middle Sister and Chocorua, you encounter increasingly better views for longer and longer stretches. This was some of that awesome pre-summit scenery:
    BM and Choco
    Ben and Molly with our destination in the background
KT Choco.jpg
Kian looking out over the flurrying hail storms
  • We finally reached the peak, which was crowded but totally breathtaking. A 360 degree view of fall colors blanketing mountains! How glorious! It was gusty but worth it. Only pictures can come close to describing it:
    rock peak choco
    Sun shining all over the goddamned place like a boss
    orange sweep
    The Orange Sweep
     
  • The hike down wasn’t too exciting. Doesn’t it always feel that way when you’ve just climbed a mountain? The best sights were usually below eye level:
    red boots
    fall pallette!
    waterfall.jpg

     

For more ideas on where to hike in the White Mountains, check out this book for quick, easy hikes or this book for serious day or over night trips.

Have you hiked Mount Chocorua before? Want to share some of your favorite hiking destinations around Boston? Comment below!

 

Toss

We were finished

with them, had

cleaned them

out hollow.

Scraped and cut

and sliced.

Nowhere to put

the corpses, the

shells. Empty skin

sagging heavy

on our minds.

Toss.

Licking flames did

not swallow them up

as hungrily as we’d hoped.

The trash smoked,

clogged our throats,

fogged our eyes.

Stood untouched

among the wood.

There was some lifeblood

fighting, sizzling,

rising.

I even had to get up

and move, and

I did not like that.

Avocado skins

just don’t burn very well.

Harold Parker State Park

Harold Parker State Park

I’ve been working in Boston since August 24th, which was barely over a month ago. It might not seem like a long time, but jumping from hiking on the Appalachian Trail all summer to starting my first full-time job has made this past month (ish) seem like a very long time indeed. I could write a thousand essays on my AT experience, but essentially switching from spending 24 hours a day outside to 45 hours a week sitting at a cubicle has been tough. Fresh air is now scarce, my paths from A to B are now crawling with city-dwellers, and I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a tree that wasn’t planted.

It was with great anticipation that I finally headed out on a camping trip this past weekend. All last week I’d spent an exceptional amount of time doing city things – a concert, a two-day company conference downtown, a Red Sox game, and a Bruins game. It was incredibly fun (especially the Bruins!), but exhausting in so many ways. I had no quiet time, and I felt physically and emotionally drained.

So, getting out of work Friday was a whirlwind. I made it to a yoga class that I turned out to be too wired to enjoy while my boyfriend kindly bought food for our weekend. Upon getting home, I showered as fast as I could, threw everything from my AT backpack into bags (there was no way I was bringing that rancid backpack), and hopped into my car with my boyfriend to make it to Harold Parker State Park before the campground office closed.

Perhaps one of the best things about this park is it’s proximity to Boston. From Porter Square, it was a mere 30 minute drive to Andover. By that time it was dark, but luckily we made it before the office closed at 9:30 PM. Friendly rangers checked us in, gave us a campground map and a trail map, and pointed us in the right direction. The entire process was as smooth as could be. We pulled into campsite 85, set up the tent, and after a quick snack we were off to sleep.

Campsite 85
Campsite 85

If you’re going camping anytime soon, you probably have a list of essentials. Hopefully it looks something like this:

Tent/hammock

Sleeping bag

Sleeping pad (if bringing a tent)

Food

Water/water filter

Toothbrush and toothpaste

Appropriate Clothing

Now, you’ll probably survive one night if you forget one of these items – but you’ll likely spend a lot of time wishing you’d remembered everything. My boyfriend made the mistake of thinking my yoga mat would suffice as a sleeping pad, as he’d forgotten to acquire one before we were rushing out the door. Yes, it’s better than no sleeping pad, but not by much. Two days later, his hips are still sore from sleeping on the hard ground.

Naturally Saturday morning we rehashed our night’s sleep – I slept great on my sleeping pad, while he had tossed and turned all night. To lighten the mood, I suggested a walk. A one-way road makes a loop through the campground. We followed it around the sites and saw all of the amenities the park had to offer. Bathrooms (toilets, showers, dish washing sinks) and entertainment spaces were available, and the views of Frye Pond were so lovely. Lots of families were awake making breakfast together, young boys were fruitlessly fishing in the pond, and kids were riding bikes like they were Harleys. Just a simple morning stroll in the cool fall air was so rejuvenating.

Basketball hoop
Basketball hoop
Even field
Game field
View of Frye Pond from a campsite
View of Frye Pond from a campsite
Playground
Playground

We circled back around to the ol’ 85 and cooked up a breakfast AT style: JetBoiling some Quaker oatmeal packets. Walking before breakfast hadn’t been the best idea, because we basically went on a tour of camping expertise. Being a backpacker and not a camper, it hadn’t occurred to me that we could bring eggs, pork, peppers and onions, a frying pan for goodness sake! I felt a bit badly about that while we scraped up the oatmeal I’d requested. Our other food blunders weren’t on my shoulders, though. My boyfriend brought avocados, peanut butter, jam, and gruyere cheese, which you might be thinking all sound like great sandwich items (PB&J, gruyere + avo). However, the only bread he brought was cinnamon raisin bagels.  Those bagels are good when you have cream cheese…which we did not have. But we made light of it, and got creative with our options.

IMG_2134
View from the shore of Frye Pond

The morning’s happenings being so exciting, we were exhausted before it was even noon. We crawled back into our tent (sans rain fly to enjoy the view of the woods) and promptly fell asleep for 3 hours. I’m not a napper, but man it felt good. Then we lunched on gruyere + crackers and cinnamon raisin bagels + peanut butter before heading off on a hike to Salem Pond. We walked for maybe 2 hours – the weather cool enough to keep you from sweating much while walking. A lot of mountain bikers were on the trail. No serious elevation arose, but there were indeed some rocky patches along the way.

View of the beach at Frye Pond
View of the beach at Frye Pond
The Yellow Blaze Trail in Harold Parker State Park
The Yellow Diamond Trail in Harold Parker State Park
A mysterious shed on the Yellow Blaze Trail in Harold Parker State Park.
A mysterious shed on the Yellow Diamond Trail in Harold Parker State Park
A footbridge on the Yellow Diamond Trail in Harold Parker State Park.
A footbridge on the Yellow Diamond Trail in Harold Parker State Park.
Taking Harold Parker Road back to the campground.
Taking Harold Parker Road back to the campground.

On our way back into the campground, we bought firewood ($5/bundle). I set up my hammock and straps, started a fire, and got dinner going. Again with the backpacking diet, we had pasta sides (seriously, this is the most common dinner on the AT) with some oh-so-fancy avocado mixed in. Note: when trying to get rid of avocado skins, they will create a ton of smoke if you throw them in the fire. Oops. Anyways, we watched the fire for a while and listened to our new neighbors across the street. They were a large family with lots of kids – lots of playing tag, lighting sparklers, and yelling “DANIELLE”, the youngest who seemed to constantly be putting herself in danger (near the fire, on the road, upside down in their hammock, etc.).

Cuddled up in the hammock!
Cuddled up in the hammock!

Then, it was dark out, which meant bedtime (even though it was only 7:30!). I crawled back into my sleeping bag and my boyfriend and I had some nice pillow talk before we fell asleep. Rising early the next morning, it was much colder than the day before so we made a quick breakfast and packed up.

Mist on Frye Pond early on Sunday morning.
Mist on Frye Pond early on Sunday morning.

This campground is a lovely little place to get away for a night or two. It’s on the smaller side of the Massachusetts State Park campgrounds, which makes for a quieter experience. Be careful about which campsite you choose, because while some are right on the pond, they sacrifice all privacy. I loved campsite 85 – direct access to the pond, tucked back into the woods a bit so we weren’t in plain sight of everyone. The basketball hoop, playground, beach and event field were all in excellent condition. I’d certainly recommend making a visit here. For more official information, check here.

Life Pollution 

Life Pollution 
Vermont woods on the Appalachian Trail.

Confession: I wrote this poem while crying on public transportation. I’m missing the forest so much! I went to a Red Sox game last night and had a really great time, but I got so sad taking the T home. But, I’m going  camping this weekend (stay tuned for my post about that state park) so hopefully I’ll find some comfort soon.

Life Pollution

by Paige Lucas


too many cars

driving up vocal chords

up and out

spewing emissions

to forced submission


my lungs hung

to dry, I’ve wrung them out

but my stars are stifled.

the facets of my soul

scintillated for but a moment


the return to shine

is in question, since

I am called to be still


but I’m tied

to this airplane and

it’s already off the ground.

Walden Pond

Walden Pond

Savor the last bit of summer and spend an afternoon at Walden Pond if you haven’t already! Near Concord, MA, the Walden Pond State Reservation is a true jewel – convenient to access, yet extremely peaceful. Every time I visit I feel rejuvenated by the scent of the pines and the untouched nature. Whether you stay for an hour or the whole day, Walden Pond is worth a visit.

Entering the Park 

Fees are $8 for a car with Massachusetts license plates and $10 for a car without them. I’ve been multiple times, and during September it’s always easy to enter and find a place to park. However, on holiday or summer weekends it’s not uncommon for the park to reach vehicle capacity, at which point they close access until a certain time. During my most recent visit, we arrived shortly after 12PM and learned the park wasn’t going to be open again until 1PM. We made the best of it and explored the surrounding area (check out the Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary or the Gropius House), and returned to Walden Pond just before 1PM. After waiting in a line of cars, we were able to enter and finally get down to the water.

At First Glance 

When one first walks down to the pond, there is a larger swimming beach that is usually the most crowded spot along the water. There are buoys designating specific swimming areas, usually lots of families with small children, and lifeguards on duty. Directly behind the beach is a bathhouse. No snack bars are available, but sometimes there’s an ice cream truck in the parking lot during the summer.

Such clear water!
Such clear water!

The Pond

The pond itself is incredibly lovely. There is a beach (sandy in some parts, rocky in others, usually not so spacious) that wraps around the entire circumference, so there are many options when it comes to finding a more secluded spot to set up. The water is incredibly clear and tends to be warmer at the end of the summer. The farther out you swim towards the middle of the pond, the chillier it gets, but I’d argue it’s more refreshing than anything. Very occasionally, a train can be heard rumbling past the far end of the pond, but that’s what you get with Boston being so close by.

Activities

Besides swimming, there are plenty of opportunities for other activities. Visitors canoe, kayak, and paddle board on the water. For those less interested in getting wet, there are walking trails to be explored, the most popular being the loop around the pond.

Fish swimming in the shallow water.
Fish swimming in the shallow water.

What to Bring

Consider bringing the following items:

  • Towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Bathing Suit
  • Beach chair
  • Snacks/Lunch
  • Drinks
  • Entertainment (books/toys/games)
  • Materials for activities (sneakers, canoe, kayak, etc.)

Historical and Scientific Notes

Walden Pond was created by the Wisconsin glacier about 11,000 years ago, and was then home to mastodons, bisons, and caribou during its tundra period. Not until the 1630s did it experience white settlement, by which time the pond was surrounded by chestnut, oak, and hickory trees. By the time Henry David Thoreau (author of the famous book Walden) came to stay at the pond for two years starting in 1846, pine trees dominated the forests. It is now considered a National Historical and Literary Landmark.

The pond is a water table pond, which means that there are no springs or streams associated with it. Water enters via seepage, snowmelt, and rainfall, and exits via seepage, evaporation, and plant uptake.

Learn more about the pond’s history here, and learn more about the state reservation here.

The Story Behind this Blog

The Story Behind this Blog

Having been born and raised in Maine, the great outdoors has been a love of mine for as long as I can remember. My home state holds so many natural beauties -rocky beaches, rugged mountains, placid lakes, gushing streams, you name it. It’s the prettiest state in the northeast, and every season has its charm.

Sunset on Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham.
Summer sunset on Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham.
Fall foliage at Keeywaydin Lake in Stoneham.
Fall foliage at Keeywaydin Lake in Stoneham.
Winter yard off Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham.
Winter yard off Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham.
Spring paddle on Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham.
Spring paddle on Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham.

My high school even had a beautiful view of Back Bay in Portland, which is the biggest city in Maine (capping out at just over 66,000). Now to me, cities are advantageous for only two reasons: fun things to do and good food to eat. But alas, I’m not a city person. The list of reasons why I don’t like them is much longer, but can be summarized by the following items: noise, pollution, overpopulation. Living in a city makes me feel like my soul is breathing through a straw. So, moving to Boston for college was a big transition for me.

While my college campus was beautiful with many trees and grassy quads and lawns, it was still home to too many people, still surrounded by pure urbanization. I craved nature in it’s truest form. Because I was without a car, satisfying that craving proved difficult, and I never felt relieved enough until I visited Maine again. Nowadays I’m living in Somerville and working in Newton, and while I do have a car, my job limits how often I can go home. The working life just feels so much busier than college life, and I’ve been feeling trapped.

And here comes my idea for this blog. I’ve been researching fun outdoorsy things to do near Boston, but there aren’t many resources online that address this need specifically. So, I thought, why don’t I make that resource? I will be taking it upon myself to explore Boston’s wild frontier, and report back about my findings.

P.S. As I hope to travel a decent amount, expect to see the occasional post featuring a non-Boston location!