May 11, 2021

Sometimes the road is straight.


When it comes to health and well-being, regular exercise is about as close to a magic potion as you can get.

-Thich Nhat Hanh


Phyllis couldn’t come with us today, but Christine and I still wanted to do a long walk, so we opted to take the Nashua River Rail Trail from Nashua, New Hampshire to Ayer, Massachusetts.  It’s paved and runs more or less straight through 12.3 miles of flat, sometimes swampy country.  There are woods about, but the trees are small enough that they provide little shade.  The temperature is a chilly 51℉ when we start, but the forecast is for temps around 75℉ in a couple of hours, so we opt to leave our jackets behind and set a brisk pace to build up some body heat.  Waldo, of course, is more than pleased with both the temperature and the faster pace.

As we begin our walk, we are surrounded by people, only a few of whom are wearing masks.  It’s still a state requirement to cover your mouth and nose with a mask, but we don’t say anything.  We just pleasantly say hello and continue on our way.  Most of those we pass are on bicycles, but a few are on skates and walking, with and without dogs. I wonder where all these people come from – Ayer is small and the Nashua trailhead is quite a ways out of town.  It’s Saturday and it’s warm out, which explains a lot, but I also wonder if Covid hasn’t gotten many people off their couches and onto their feet and bikes.  I don’t remember this many people out on the rail-trails in the spring before Covid.  We don’t say more than pleasantries to one another in passing, but it’s still nice to see so many people enjoying the outdoors.

The railroad, whose bed the rail-trail follows, came into being in1848, passenger service ran until1934 and the last freight-train ran on the line in 1982.  At one point, one could get on a train in Worcester, MA, travel all the way north to Portland, ME and then return south to Boston.  Why anyone would want to take such a circuitous route to Boston from Worcester, I don’t know, but it was possible.  It amazes me how many railroads crisscrossed this state during their heyday.  Taking a train into town must have been the favorite mode of travel back then – it probably was the fastest and most convenient way to travel any good distance.  There were train tracks everywhere, going from almost any nowhere to every somewhere.  Then along came the internal combustion engine, private automobiles and commercial trucks and almost all of those railroads disappeared.  What’s left of them are rail-trails and overgrown swaths of wilderness.  Today, they provide long distance bike rides, places to walk dogs away from traffic, and a rich opportunity to get out into nature without having to travel long distances.

Except, of course, for Christine, Phyllis, Waldo and Byron.  We will drive over two hours so we can walk down some more distant lane of yesteryear.  We have this urge to explore most of the rail-trails we can find.  Our only requirement is that our trek should be at least 10 or so miles long, and that leaves a lot to pick from out there.  Waldo, he’s not all that specific, but he obviously really enjoys these long walks of ours, probably more than we do.

When Phyllis gets home, she has various kinds of stuff to do.  Christine has a lot of chores waiting for her; animals do require a lot of care.  But for me, one of the best parts of our walks, aside from the fine comradery, fresh air and communing with nature, is the exercise.  When I get home, I’m usually spent.  Sitting in my favorite chair, legs up and back somewhat reclined, the pains in my neck, back and legs slowly drain away and my whole body relaxes.  I can feel my metabolic rate slow to something less than idle and it’s like my whole being goes “Aaaaaah.”  It’s a kind of physical and mental relaxation that is hard to come by any other way.  It’s usually not long and I fall into a restful sleep for an hour or so, and then I wake up feeling refreshed, although still somewhat bodily tired.

Waldo, he usually crashes in the car on the way home.  He sits up in the passenger seat, but when I glance at him, his eyes are closed.  Once home, he too crashes for an hour or so, then he’s up and raring to romp some more.

Oh, the energy of youth!


Sometimes the road has a curve or two.

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