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.
If you’re going camping anytime soon, you probably have a list of essentials. Hopefully it looks something like this:
Sleeping pad (if bringing a tent)
Toothbrush and toothpaste
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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.