Byron Brumbaugh

May 14, 2024

Footbridge over Route 20.

 

God Almighty Himself must have been hilarious when human beings so mingled iron and water and fire as to make a railroad train!

-Kurt Vonnegut

 

The first railroad in the US was built by the B&O in 1827.  The first passenger railroad was started by the South Carolina and Canal in 1830.  By the beginning of the Civil War, there were 200 railroads in the US, comprising some 30,000 miles of track.  21,000 miles of that track was laid in the North and the rest in the South.  During the Civil War, the advantages of railroads became obvious – troops and strategic material could be shipped so much faster by rail than by any other means then available.  In 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed and a person could travel from Nebraska to California in 4 days.  Before that, it took 6 months by wagon or 25 days by stagecoach.  By 1916, the total length of track in the US grew to a peak of 254,000 miles (as a comparison, there are currently 157,724 miles of highway in the contental US).  Railroads sprouted everywhere.  All sizeable towns were connected by iron rails.

That rail travel spread so quickly and so ubiquitously is hardly surprising.  I live in Marlborough and if I want to go to Boston, I have to travel some 32 miles.  In the mid nineteenth century, my only travel options were by water (but there has to be a navigable waterway available – there isn’t) or overland, by foot or under some kind of animal power.  That trip would take the better part of a day, or longer.  By train, it would take something over an hour, depending how many stops there are in between.  With the railroad, a day trip to Boston is possible.  Without it, not so much.

So, in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, there were railroads going everywhere.  This was particularly true in the Northeast where the population density was greatest.  Then along came the internal combustion engines, cars, trucks and highways.  Railroads withered on the vine.  Today, there are over 1,000 miles of abandoned railway lines in the state.  Their right-of-ways, roadbeds and, often, their iron rails and cross ties, still exist and are owned by various entities.  They lay fallow, doing little more than growing weeds, until people find other things to do with them.  There are several groups in this country who are trying to revive them into recreational paths for bicycles, walkers, dog owners, roller skaters and any other kind of nonmotorized mobility.  In 2023, in Massachusetts alone, there were at least 69 rail trails covering 347 miles.

Bruce Freeman was a Massachusetts State legislator who, in 1985 and 1986, proposed that a multi-use paved trail be laid down over a railroad be that runs from Lowell to Framingham.   He died of cancer in 1986, and in 1989, the proposal was signed into law.  The northern most part opened in 2018 and will be opened up to the Mass Central Rail Trail in Sudbury sometime in summer of this year.  There is another section that runs into Framingham, but when this will be reclaimed is uncertain.

Waldo and I (sometimes with Christine and/or Phyllis) have walked all but the piece that runs from South Acton to Sudbury.  I planned to walk that 9.2 mile stretch with Phyllis, but that’s been delayed.  I still have to walk Waldo every day, so I decided to walk it with just the two of us.  We can always do it again when Phyllis is ready.  Because Waldo and I have only one car, and a round trip of 18.4 miles is a bit much, we park our car in South Acton and head toward Sudbury.  The plan is to walk about 4.7 miles and then turn around.  We can do the other half on another day.

The skies are sunny and mostly clear.  The temperature is 70℉ and the winds are mostly light with occasional gusts to around 12 mph.  There are a lot of people out here, as one might expect there to be, because of the weather and the fact that it’s a holiday – Patriot’s Day. We don’t go a mile and we come across a footbridge that passes over Route 2, a four laned highway.  Shortly thereafter, we pass alongside the walls and under a guard tower of a medium security state prison.  Not much further, we pass by the West Concord commuter rail train station.  That train runs from Fitchburg to Boston and will not be a rail trail any time in the foreseeable future.  Thereafter, we are enveloped by pine forest that surrounds many a pond.  Not far from here is Waldon Pond, but we’ve already walked over thataway.  This part of the path is much more appealing than the part that runs from Sudbury to Framingham.

We turn around at North Road, which is almost exactly 4.7 miles from where we started, and head back to the car.  We passed dozens of walkers, a plethora of bikers and said hello to many a puppy.  It’s been an absolutely gorgeous day for a walk.  Traveling these rail trails is clearly a popular thing to do, and, if my experience is any judge, is becoming more and more popular since the lockdown.

Whoever first came up with the idea of reclaiming railroad right-of-ways for recreational use is a genius.

 

State prison wall and tower.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

May 7, 2024

Seems like a good place for a dog park to me.

 

March’s weather ranged from parka temperatures, with frequent rain and occasional ice, to unzipped light jacket weather with sunshine that made me sweat.  Waldo’s need for water has gone from none to eager to get in the house so he can lap down a half-bowl of the stuff.  Soon, I’m going to have to start carrying his water bottles in my pack again.

Buds are now out on the tips of tree branches.  Low-lying plants, like garlic mustard and bitter dock, wear full leaves, although they are still small.  There is a pale green tinge to the sides of the trail from the nascent leaves bursting from buds on the branches of the bushes that grow there.  The Japanese knotweed is a jumble of dead hollow and broken stalks, but soon they will be sprouting from their roots once again. Spring, although not fully sprung, is emerging.  Even so, there is a forecast of “plowable amounts of snow” in a couple of days.

The construction along the Assebet River Rail Trail hasn’t changed much in the past few days.  Cement pillars now have cement floors on their top two stories, but there are no walls yet.  Windowed pressboard walls, one story high, zig-zag along the ground past the pillars, but they don’t yet have an external surface that will sustain New England’s weather.  I wonder how they will be finished, but I’m going to have to wait to find out.  Nothing is moving along very fast.

The piles of dirt at the soon-to-be public park, about a mile further down the path, are still being pushed around without any suggestion of what the final outcome will be like.  The piles move around, grow and diminish, and change their consistency.  Some are rocky hills bearing sticks and branches, while others are more like sand.  Huge dump trucks haul the stuff around and deposit it here and there.  There’s even a road roller (once known as a steam roller) that smooths down the path the trucks take.  Curious.

Several of my fellow dog-walkers have shown some interest in asking the town to put in a dog park on these grounds.  Seems like a perfect place for one.  The area is quite large, with lots of room for a dog park, along with whatever else they may be planning on putting in there. So, I decided to call the town hall.  I asked them, first, what they were planning on doing with the area.  The woman I talked to said that it was going to be a large open public space without any athletic fields of any kind.  My first reaction was, why did all the trees need to be cut down for that?  But I held my tongue and asked instead about the dog park.  She said there were no plans for one there, but to call back in a couple of months.  Apparently, they’re thinking about putting one in somewhere else.  She wouldn’t say where, just call back.

Today, as Waldo and I passed along the fence that encloses the piles of dirt, I noticed a man and a woman looking at the construction being done.  We decided that all the earth-moving was necessary because there used to be a landfill there and they have to process the ground to make it safe.  Maybe so.  I then suggested that it would be a good idea to put in a dog park.  The woman said that she was talking to the mayor the other day and there was a plan to put a dog park in somewhere in town, but she didn’t know where.  Apparently, the mayor promised a dog park when he ran for election.

“You have the mayor’s ear?”  I asked with some excitement.

“Well, yeah, I guess. Sort of,” she said.

”Well, tell him to put a dog park in here!” I said.

The woman promised to mention it the next time she talked to him.  I have no idea what the connection is she has with the mayor and I wasn’t interested enough to ask.  I just figured, whatever it was, there was an opportunity to offer a suggestion from a constituent.  It would be very convenient for Waldo and I to stop by here, after our walks, for a little off-leash free-time romp.  It would be pretty cheap to set up too.  What do you need other than a gate and some hurricane fencing?  I am considering starting a petition, but I’ll wait until I do call back, in a couple of months, to see what they have in mind.

Meanwhile, Waldo and I continue on our way.

Watching the snail-paced, but cosmic, changes along the rail trail.

 

Waldo likes to walk, but he needs a good place to romp off leash .

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 30, 2024

Building construction at the beginning of the rail trail.

 

A path is a prior interpretation of the best way to transit a landscape.

-Rebecca Solnit

 

March’s weather ranged from parka temperatures, with frequent rain and occasional ice, to unzipped light jacket weather with sunshine that made me sweat.  Waldo’s need for water has gone from none to eager to get in the house so he can lap down a half-bowl of the stuff.  Soon, I’m going to have to start carrying his water bottles in my pack again.

Buds are now out on the tips of tree branches.  Low-lying plants, like garlic mustard and bitter dock, wear full leaves, although they are still small.  There is a pale green tinge to the sides of the trail from the nascent leaves bursting from buds on the branches of the bushes that grow there.  The Japanese knotweed is a jumble of dead hollow and broken stalks, but soon they will be sprouting from their roots once again. Spring, although not fully sprung, is emerging.  Even so, there is a forecast of “plowable amounts of snow” in a couple of days.

The construction along the Assebet River Rail Trail hasn’t changed much in the past few days.  Cement pillars now have cement floors on their top two stories, but there are no walls yet.  Windowed pressboard walls, one story high, zig-zag along the ground past the pillars, but they don’t yet have an external surface that will sustain New England’s weather.  I wonder how they will be finished, but I’m going to have to wait to find out.  Nothing is moving along very fast.

The piles of dirt at the soon-to-be public park, about a mile further down the path, are still being pushed around without any suggestion of what the final outcome will be like.  The piles move around, grow and diminish, and change their consistency.  Some are rocky hills bearing sticks and branches, while others are more like sand.  Huge dump trucks haul the stuff around and deposit it here and there.  There’s even a road roller (once known as a steam roller) that smooths down the path the trucks take.  Curious.

Several of my fellow dog-walkers have shown some interest in asking the town to put in a dog park on these grounds.  Seems like a perfect place for one.  The area is quite large, with lots of room for a dog park, along with whatever else they may be planning on putting in there. So, I decided to call the town hall.  I asked them, first, what they were planning on doing with the area.  The woman I talked to said that it was going to be a large open public space without any athletic fields of any kind.  My first reaction was, why did all the trees need to be cut down for that?  But I held my tongue and asked instead about the dog park.  She said there were no plans for one there, but to call back in a couple of months.  Apparently, they’re thinking about putting one in somewhere else.  She wouldn’t say where, just call back.

Today, as Waldo and I passed along the fence that encloses the piles of dirt, I noticed a man and a woman looking at the construction being done.  We decided that all the earth-moving was necessary because there used to be a landfill there and they have to process the ground to make it safe.  Maybe so.  I then suggested that it would be a good idea to put in a dog park.  The woman said that she was talking to the mayor the other day and there was a plan to put a dog park in somewhere in town, but she didn’t know where.  Apparently, the mayor promised a dog park when he ran for election.

“You have the mayor’s ear?”  I asked with some excitement.

“Well, yeah, I guess. Sort of,” she said.

”Well, tell him to put a dog park in here!” I said.

The woman promised to mention it the next time she talked to him.  I have no idea what the connection is she has with the mayor and I wasn’t interested enough to ask.  I just figured, whatever it was, there was an opportunity to offer a suggestion from a constituent.  It would be very convenient for Waldo and I to stop by here, after our walks, for a little off-leash free-time romp.  It would be pretty cheap to set up too.  What do you need other than a gate and some hurricane fencing?  I am considering starting a petition, but I’ll wait until I do call back, in a couple of months, to see what they have in mind.

Meanwhile, Waldo and I continue on our way.

Watching the snail-paced, but cosmic, changes along the rail trail.

 

Pushing dirt around at the soon to be public park.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 23, 2024

The power substation — in the weeds…

 

Let’s face it.  Adventure and exploration are in my blood.

-Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

 

Sometimes I get this chafing in my subconscious when I don’t complete something I intended to accomplish.  It must be sort of like the urge some people have to buy the newest, latest and greatest iPhone every year (I haven’t bought a new phone for the past 5 years, so this is speculation).  It’s a definite itch that needs to be scratched and if I don’t deal with it in some way, it gnaws at me subtly and subliminally.  It’s not a strong compulsion, it’s just there.  I’ve trudged many a stormy mile, through headwinds and deluge, to accomplish goals in life, using simple determined perseverance, but this isn’t that.  I’ve got that itch now because Phyllis, Waldo and I didn’t walk all the way to the beginning of the unfinished part of the Mass Central Rail Trail.

Anyway, today, Waldo and I park our car on Route 20 where we started last time.  Phyllis is busy, so it’s just the two of us.  The gate at the beginning of our walk is open and the “No Trespassing” signs are gone.  Down about a quarter mile or so, I can see a pickup truck.  When we get there, I see that there are actually four trucks at a bridge and five or so workmen.  It looks like they’re building a wooden form around the power lines that come out of the ground to pass next to the bridge.  I’m guessing the forms will hold cement designed to cover the cables.

Waldo charms the nearest of the workers with his need to give and get a little lovin’, so I start talking to the guy.  He tells me that the trail does, indeed, end at the power substation that I saw the last time I was here.  He also tells me that Eversource will be building another substation at the Hudson end of the rail trail, but that hasn’t begun yet.  That answers other questions I had.  As he works, I see that what I thought were power cables are actually empty 6” (or so) thick rubber/plastic tubes.  The cables themselves have not yet been run through these “pipes.”  These guys don’t work directly for Eversource, they’re subcontractors, so they don’t know the details about how 7.5 miles of huge copper power cable can be threaded through those already buried pipes, but I guess that’s the plan.  Waldo and I wish them a good day and we continue on our way.

The weather is chilly and partly cloudy.  Rain is forecast in about two hours or so, and there is a gusty wind blowing, but not too much.  There have been small rainstorms pass through recently, so the ground is a little muddy and we sometimes have to cautiously navigate around puddles in trenches left by long-gone heavy equipment tires.  The surrounding country is pine forest and large expanses of lowland wetlands.  The wetlands are national wildlife preserves and we do disturb a duck or two as we make our way west.

About a mile or so, into our trek, we come to the end of the incomplete rail trail.  There is a fence across the trail, but no “No Trespassing” signs.  Across a dirt road and through the bushes, I can see the electrical substation.  Across that same road, the railroad bed continues on into the brush, straight ahead, towards powerline towers headed east that disappear into the wetlands.  I decide to continue on the railroad bed, under those powerlines.  We have been here before with Phyllis, so I know where they go (to the terminus of the Mass Central Rail Trail in Wayland), I just want to be able to say that I’ve walked this new trail from one end to the other.  It’s that itch, don’t you know.

The railroad bed still has rails and wooden ties on it, but they are pretty well overgrown with grass.  There is a footpath that (mostly) runs between the rails where others have trodden the vegetation down and the going isn’t bad at all.  Waldo seems to know where he’s going and leads the way to Russell’s Garden Center which where our path connects to the rest of the MCRT.

Along the way, I notice there is a spur running off to the north with a well tramped-down path between the rails.  There’s that itch again.  Damn.  I’m going to have to defer that exploration for another time.  The wind is picking up and I can see storm clouds in the distance, back the way we have to go to return to the car.  I know Waldo will want to go on that spur too.  He always wants to go.

We get back to the car as a few sprinkles splatter on me, Waldo and the ground.  The total roundtrip distance we walked is right around 5 miles.  That makes the total distance, via rail trail, from Hudson to Russell’s about 9 miles.  That means that we could, if so moved, walk from Hudson to the end of this section of the MCRT for something like 14 miles.  Might have to do that sometime in the future, just to be able to say we did.

Then there’s that spur I saw…

 

There are no obstacles. Just speed bumps and work-arounds.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 16, 2024

Rail trails tend to be kinda straight…

 

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.

-Barack Obama

 

Another warm day!  And Phyllis is available to walk!  I’ve been planning on walking the other half of the (as of yet) unfinished stretch of the Mass Central Rail Trail, but the appeal of walking the whole thing tugs at me with force.  A quick call to Phyllis, a pat on Waldo’s head and it is decided.  We’re going to walk from the beginning of the thing in Sudbury to its terminus in Hudson, roughly 7.5 miles.

There’s a bit of a snag here.  I can’t really tell where the Sudbury end of the trail is.  I’ve read it’s somewhere in the Sudbury/Wayland area, but other than that, I don’t have a clue.  I always knew where the trail ends in Hudson, because I’ve been up there and I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen bits and pieces of the trail in Sudbury, but I’ve not seen where the construction ends.  Phyllis and I bushwacked our way through it a couple of years back, but the plan, apparently, is not to pave that entire route.  I can go online (God bless the 21st century) and follow the route of the old railroad bed, but again, since the trail isn’t yet finished, there is no indication of where the rail trail will terminate in Sudbury.

This is just the kind of adventure I revel in!  I’m pretty sure the trail at least goes as far as Route 20 in Sudbury, so I find a nearby business with a parking lot and we start there.  Once out of the car, I see that the trail, now just a wide muddy track bearing deep tread marks from heavy equipment, crosses Route 20.  There are fences and No Trespassing signs, but, damn the signs, full speed ahead.  We head that-a-way with the idea of going to where it ends and turning around to complete the walk into Hudson.

The temperature is in the mid-50s, the skies are clear and there is no significant breeze.  Like I said, the track is a little muddy and scoured with the rutted wake of long-gone construction equipment.  The ground is not as firm and solid as the part of the trail that Waldo and I traversed in Hudson.  On both sides are stands of tall old growth white pine, just like the rest of the trail.  Here and there, we pass old, rusted pieces of railroad remnants and one large, still standing, signal light.  It’s the kind that you see where railroads cross roads, but there’s no road out here.  It’s just standing there, all alone, out in the woods.  Things have changed, I guess, since steam locomotives pulled long lines of railcars through here.

We walk a good half mile and the trail just keeps going.  There are doggy footprints in the mud that aren’t Waldo’s, and we do pass a couple of other people walking dogs.  There must be others, beside myself, who, given the fact they must do doggy duty, are always on the lookout for new places to go.  It is interesting that most of the people we pass are walking their dogs.  Anyway, it’s late in the day, we have at least 7 miles to walk to get back to Hudson and we’re not sure just how much farther away the end of the trail is.  We turn around and decide to explore the rest at a later date.

Meanwhile, Waldo is having a grand old time, walking through the mud and exploring the country off to the sides.  There must be new smells and sticks that draw him onward, much like the allure of finding new ground to explore has for me.  He’s trotting this way and that, nose just above the ground, stopping and staring into the undergrowth and being generally engaged in living in the moment out in nature.  He’s enjoying his time out here at least as much as I am.

Phyllis and I chat as we walk along, as we always do.  We finished the “36 Questions to  Fall in Love” questions when we were on the Bay Circuit Trail, so we talk about family, our personal histories and philosophies and upcoming trips.  She just returned from hiking down into the Grand Canyon and back out again.  That’s a trip of about 8 miles, each way, with 4,000 ft in altitude gain!  I’m impressed.  I know my physical limitations, from all the walking we’ve done, and I’m not at all sure I could do it.  Maybe not all in one go anyway.  We also talk about my upcoming trip to Switzerland and the magical draw of international travel.  We decide, if we can arrange it (something that is not at all certain) that our next trip together will be to Tanzania to volunteer, for a couple of weeks, as teachers for the local kids.  That’s something I’ve explored online and there are organizations that exist to connect potential volunteers to the needs of people around the world.  It appeals strongly to both of us old folks.  It’s a pity I can’t take Waldo.  He’d love it, of course.

We get back to the car, I drop Phyllis off at her car, then I drive down Route 20, trying to locate the beginning of the trail in Sudbury.  I can’t see the thing from the highway, but I can stop and get out of the car at places where side-streets pass over it.  I’m able to track it to a power substation, about a mile or so from where we turned around, just at the place where a line of high-tension powerline towers takes off and heads toward Wayland.  Phyllis and I walked under those same towers some time ago, so I know that the trail must stop at the substation, even though I can’t get close enough to actually see it.  That makes perfect sense because the powerlines Eversource buried alongside the trail have to connect to something somewhere and a substation is the logical place for them to do that.

We need another good day to explore the rest of the Mass Central Rail Trail in Sudbury.  That should not be much of a problem.  There are no bad days for a good walk.

There are just some days that are warmer, dryer and less muddy than others.

 

Not really sure what this was supposed to signal…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 02, 2024

They’re putting some money into this trail.

 

Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.

-Helen Keller

 

There is this piece of the Mass Central Rail Trail that begins just across the street from the parking lot where the northern end of southern portion of the Assebet River Rail Trail ends.  Well, at this point, it’s really more of a rail trail gonna-be than the real deal.  Anyway, from there, it runs more or less east by southeast to somewhere in the Sudbury/Wayland area.  I’m not yet sure just exactly where it ends.

The remnants of the railroad bed were overgrown and barely passable until about a year ago.  There were some lawsuits involving a local utility, Eversource, and NIMBYs who were trying to block its development.  Phyllis, Waldo and I actually walked the southern most part of it, in that natural condition, a couple of years ago.  The lawsuits were settled and, around a year ago, Eversource started burying power cables in the railroad bed and, in the process, clearing all the weeds.  The cable is now buried and the plan is to pave it over and, when that’s done, open it up to the public.  The paving has not yet begun.

I’ve been watching the beginning of the trail in Hudson.  For the longest time, there was a fence that blocked it off, bearing signs that said, “No Trespassing due to construction,” in big red letters.  These signs also said that big brother is watching 24/7 via video cameras (although there was no evidence anywhere that any such cameras existed).  Not wanting to wait for the time that all was paved over, I visited this fence every couple of months or so, hoping for a change that would allow me a chance to explore.  Last spring and summer came and went, then fall and winter, without any change.  Then, a few weeks ago, the fence and signs were gone, replaced by a yellow plastic ribbon strung between traffic cones. The cable is now buried, but the paving has not yet begun.

I was pretty sure that the path, even though not paved, would be solid and easy to walk on because Eversource had to have trucks and heavy equipment in there to bury the cable.  But I didn’t know what the ground would be like and I waited until there was a prolonged dry spell.  I really don’t like treading in muddy areas, with a border collie, if I can avoid it.  Today, the temperature is 60℉, cloudless and there is only a light breeze of 5 mph.  This is the day!

The entire thing is billed as being 7.5 miles long.  Round trip, that’s 15 miles – something my back is not up for right now.  So, the plan is to walk 3.75 miles or so, about halfway, explore what’s out there, and return.  Waldo is eager to go as we leave the car, cross the street and start on our way.

As I thought it would be, the path is broad, solid and flat.  Large treads have dug into the dirt, evidencing the prior passing of heavy equipment, but the ground is very firm and they don’t dig in very deep.  There is no equipment, trucks or cars anywhere to be seen and no one else is around.  There are lots of white pine on both sides of the trail as we enter into a forest.  Pine needles and cones litter the path, but there are no oak leaves.  Just off to the side, down a slight embankment, there is a carpet of oak leaves, so I’m guessing that the construction happened sometime after the oaks lost their leaves.  Pines continuously lose their cones and needles, so that explains why that’s all I would see on the trail now.

Waldo and I are about a mile and a half into our walk when we come across a fence partially blocking our way.  On it hangs those same signs of, “No Trespassing.”  I consider our options and decide to ignore them.  Stirred with confidence, I compose:

I in my shirtsleeves and Waldo sans balk

Carry on anyway with our new walk.

Hubris, maybe, but I also can’t help but wonder what would happen if we were caught.  A fine, probably.  But what if I were jailed?  What would happen to Waldo?  Would they put him in a pound?  Neither one of us would like that!  What if they made us walk by way of the streets to get back to the car?  That would add significant distance to our trek.  My back would certainly not like that!  But Waldo and I are intrepid fellows and we continue on.  Within a half-mile, we come across a young woman, her young son and a golden retriever, also ignoring the signs.  As we go on, we pass three more people with two other dogs and even a guy on a bicycle.  Some danger adds spice to adventure and what risk we are under here doesn’t seem that threatening anymore.  After all, we’re just an old man and his dog out using the path for what it was intended.  Damn the signs, full speed ahead!

On the way back, Waldo keeps trying to venture off the railroad bed and into the woods.  He must have gotten bored with the easy going.  It is pretty straight.  Not this time, Waldo.  Not this time.  The sun is low, about an hour before sunset, as we get back to the car and the air is getting just a bit chilly.  My back is a little sore as I settle into the car seat, but I’m really glad that we explored this part of the rail trail.

And we still have the other half to do.

 

There’s still some work to do…

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

April 10, 2024

Construction along Lincoln Street.

 

A cry for survival comes from the planet itself.  A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.

-President Joseph R. Biden

 

Waldo and I are back to our usual haunt – the Assebet River Rail Trail.  After two days of rest, my back feels good enough to go our usual 6 miles.  It’s been a few days since we were last here and I’m curious how the construction at the beginning of the trail is going.  The parking structure in the back of the site looks to be pretty much done, but the apartments in front, along Lincoln Street, haven’t shown much progress.  For the longest time, all I could see was that they were pushing dirt around.  Then large cement posts, about two or three stories high, sprouted up.  After that, not much seems to be happening.  They built platforms at the second and third floor levels and little else that I can see.  I suppose it does take longer for cement to cure in winter temperatures, but, so far, it’s like watching paint dry.  There’s a lot of heavy machinery running around, doing something, I just can’t tell what.  I wish they would finish so I could get back my parking at the beginning of the trail.

The past few weeks have been unseasonably warm, followed by subfreezing winds and even a snow flurry or two. It must confuse the plants terribly.  Some of the weeds have started to bud out and it’s not even April yet.  Mosses and liverwort are healthy and prolific, what with all the rain we’ve gotten.  Birds are still few and far between, although some do fill the air with their melodic lilt on the warmer, sunny days.  The migratory birds, like the Emmy bird, have yet to return though.  Spring is nigh, but it’s still more of a promise than an evolving fact.

Waldo bounds down the tarmac and onto the grassy, weedy side of the trail.  His nose is to the ground as he s-turns his way along.  Apparently, due to the couple of days we took off from walking, he’s built up quite a backlog of pent-up energy.  I’m not sure what he’s doing, but whatever it is, he’s doing it in a fervor.  He hasn’t even picked up a stick yet!  He pauses briefly to sniff out passersby, both human and canine, then is back to his mission.  Doing a Waldo thing must be a lot of fun, because he is clearly enjoying it!

Soon, we’re to the open field, once a dump and soon to be a public park, that overlooks the Fort Meadow Reservoir.  There’s heavy machinery here too, diesel shovels and dump trucks, pushing the dirt around.  Huge piles of various kinds of soil, some sandy, some loamy, are circumvented by flat swaths of well-rutted “roads.”  They’ve been doing this for quite a few weeks, now and I can’t figure out the science behind it.  Why in the world can’t they just smooth it out and plant some grass?  I’m reminded of Promontory Point, Utah, and the transcontinental railroad.  Two railroad companies, one building from the west and one building from the east, met there.  Instead of joining up and completing the roadbed, however, they just kept on building, one going east, the other west, right next to each other, for many miles, so they could continue to be paid.  Finally, someone forced them to stop, join the two tracks together and the ”Golden Spike” was driven, completing the job.  I don’t have any reason to believe that kind of thing is happening here, but it certainly is curious.  If anyone comes within earshot, I’m definitely gonna ask.

The 23-acre patch of woods, where a developer from Texas wanted to tear down all the trees and build an apartment complex, is still intact.  Red ribbons are fading on the trees where they were tied, well over a year ago, when surveyors came to do their thing.  The last information I’ve gotten is that the developer has given up, at least for now, on putting commercial housing there, but is still developing plans to do something.  Why can’t they just donate the land to the city in an agreement where the land is to be kept in its natural state in perpetuity?  Making a profit is not the summum bonum (greatest good), you know.

Waldo and I pass the English ivy tree, with its perpetual greenery, then turn around at our usual 3-mile spot.  The rail-trail is still here, haltingly warming up to greet a coming spring, with all its slowly evolving human footprints.  Sigh.

Life goes on.

 

Pushin’ dirt around.,

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 26, 2024

At last! The Atlantic Ocean!

 

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.

-Earl Nightingale

 

Today is supposed to be a beautiful day, with highs almost 60℉!  Phyllis, Waldo and I leave one car at the same spot we did on the last leg, then leave the other in the spot where we the loop begins.  This time, we’re taking the northern ark of the loop.  It runs through Duxbury to the trailhead about 13.7 miles away (officially).  It’s foggy and a little nippy as we start out at 8 AM, with temps in the high 30s, but things are going to get a lot warmer in the next couple of hours.

The first part of our trek runs along a rural road.  Waldo assumes his place on point as Phyllis and I set a pace designed to generate some body heat in our septuagenarian bags of mostly water.  There’s not a whole lot of difference between the country we’re going through now and what we passed through last time.  There are, after all, only a few miles that separate the two paths.  It’s all low sandy country, with lots of white pines, ponds and bogs.  It’s not long and we’re off into the woods on a carpet of fallen oak leaves.

There are many fallen trees that we pass as we wend our way through the forest.  A quick glance tells why.  The downed trees here are not old and diseased, snapping somewhere along a rotting trunk, like they are along the rail-trail.  These trees have been felled at the root.  Large discs of lateral growing roots and soil are tipped up on edge and held there by their tumbled tree trunks.  A kick at the soil explains it all.  It’s sand, not that different from the beach.  Mature oaks and white pines don’t have deep tap roots, so strong winds can easily tip them over — there just isn’t enough integrity to the sand to keep the roots in the ground.  There are places where several trees block the path.  That’s no big obstacle for younger bones and sinews, but when you’re of an age where you don’t go down unless you have a good plan about how you’re going to get up again, you need to approach these obstacles a bit gingerly.  I absolutely hate the fact that I have to carefully plan how I’m going to navigate these encumbrances instead of just hopping over the damn things without a second thought.  Old age sucks.

We pass one older gentleman, going the opposite direction, who is also following the Bay Circuit Trail.  He is alone, though, and has to do it by backtracking.  Using a paper map that can be bought online from the Appalachian Mountain Club, or REI, he selects portions of the trail and checks them off as he finishes them.  It’s reassuring that we’re not the only gray hairs out here meeting the challenge.

We haven’t gone far and I strip off the rain jacket I started with and tie it around my waist.  A little further done the trail and I open my jacket to cool off a bit.  About halfway to the trailhead and I’m sweating. I take off my jacket and stuff it in the pack I use to carry Waldo’s water.  In the process, I take out one of the water bottles and offer it to Waldo.  He sucks it down and empties it – about a liter.  We’re both hot.  Phyllis is shedding clothing too, but keeps on a light wind breaker.  I glory in being able to walk in shirt sleeves again.  And it’s still February!

Most of the path is easy going and Phyllis and I go back to the “36 Questions to Fall in Love.”  We start off with number 20, “What does friendship mean to you?” and, after beating it to death with overthinking, go on from there.  In the process, we did wander off trail, as per usual, so added another half mile or so to our trek.  The last question, number 36, is, “Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it.  Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.”  Phyllis and I have many hundreds of miles underfoot and have discussed, in some form or other, many of the subjects broached by these questions.  Because of that, none of these question have proven to be particularly probing for us, but, still, it’s interesting to go through them and they provide a basis for ongoing prattle as we plod along.

By the time we’ve finish the questions, we’re back on the roads and the day starts to get a little chilly and breezy for my state of dress.  It’s such a bother to have to take the pack off and pull out my jacket, so I decide to just suck it up and continue on.  My back starts to bother me by the time we hit the 10-mile mark and when we get to the trailhead, 14.7 miles from where we started today (along the wandering way we went), I’m pretty sore and stiff.  But we did it!  We add it all up, as best we can and, over the past three years or so, we have walked around 260 miles on and around the Bay Circuit Trail.  We’re done.  I walk to the seawater in Kingston Bay, just a few yards away, and dip the toe of my boot in, just to make it official.  Another half-mile and we’re back to the car.

Waldo is curled up on his car seat and sleeping, so Phyllis and I decide to celebrate by going to a Korean restaurant, in nearby Plymouth, for dinner.   By the time we’re done, I’m exhausted.  Waldo is still napping when I get back to the car.  It’s another hour and a half drive to home, then dinner for Waldo and my recliner for me.

I’m sleeping well tonight!

 

Done at long last!

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 19, 2024

A bit chilly as we start out.

 

“The only guarantee for failure is to stop trying.

-John C. Maxwell

 

The day was parka cold when we started out on the southern part of the final loop of the Bay Circuit Trail.  This leg is supposed to be 13.4 miles long, but we always seem to wander, so it might be a little longer.  The days are still short, so Waldo and I got up before dawn, drove about an hour and twenty minutes to get to Kingston and parked at a marina on the shore of Kingston Bay.  In a few minutes, Phyllis drove up in her car.  She was a bit agitated because she couldn’t get her phone to work.

I took a look at it and instead of the bars in the upper right corner of her screen, the ones that show signal strength, she had capital letters that said “SOS”.  I guess that must mean, “Sh*t Outta Signal”, because her phone wasn’t talking to anybody.  The rest of her phone seemed to be working fine, it just wasn’t connected to the outside world.  Mine was working normally, which was kinda odd, because we both have AT&T as a carrier.  We decided that as long as we had one phone working to show us on Google Maps where we were as we hiked, we’d be just fine.  We drove to our starting point in Pembroke and started our walk.

The first part of the walk was along a rural highway.  The traffic wasn’t too bad, so I was able to let Waldo head out to the forward end of the leash when there were no cars.  We walked on the left side of the road, facing the approaching traffic, so when I saw a car coming, I told him, “Stay with me!” and shortened the leash.  He readily obeyed and came alongside where I was walking and stayed there until I told him, “Okay.”  He then happily resumed his place on point.  He’s such a good dog.

Soon, we were off-road and into the woods.  Phyllis and I were still making our way through the “Thirty-Six Questions,” so we weren’t paying close attention and we made a wrong turn that had us backtracking. We didn’t realize it until we came out of the woods where we went in.  We do that sometimes.  I looked at my phone to get reoriented and guess what?  There was “SOS” on my screen.  We decided to go back into the woods and be more careful about watching for the trail markers.  We stayed calm and carried on.

This time, we came out where we were supposed to, so we followed the markers and went down the road.  The BCT trail markers are about three inches or so in diameter and usually posted on telephone poles on the side of the road.  They aren’t posted all that often, but tend to appear, usually, in places where you need to make a choice as to which way to go.  Anyway, Phyllis and I were on question 14, “Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?  Why haven’t you done it?”, which was quite absorbing (we do have bucket lists), and, after a bit, I noticed it had been a while since I saw any markers.  We could retrace our steps and look for them the way we came, but today’s trek was some 13.4 miles long without backtracking and I didn’t want to make it any longer.  There weren’t any people around, so we did what any lost intrepid explorer would do, we went and knocked on the front door of a nearby house.

My plan was to ask the occupant if they would please share their wi-fi password so I could get online and pull up a map that way.  A woman came to the door and, after I explained our predicament and my potential solution, she said she’d get her son.  A thirtyish young man came to the door and told us the Bay Circuit Trail was just behind their house and he could show us where it was.  He took us out back a few hundred yards and, voila, there was a path with a BCT marker nailed to a nearby tree.  We missed the place where the path went from the streets into the woods and had been walking parallel to it on the paved road.  We thanked the man and continued on our way, trying to redouble our efforts at paying attention.  Ah, the trials and tribulations of walking the Bay Circuit Trail…

After a couple more hours and four miles or so, without wandering off trail again, the signal on my phone came back.  A bit later and Phyllis got her phone back too.  Now we were once again confident that we could find our way and we wandered no more for the rest of the trek.

The country we walked through was mostly boggy pine forest.  It seemed like all the trees around us were white pine, but that couldn’t be true, because the ground was covered in a thick carpet of dead oak leaves.  I guess the bare-limbed oaks were hiding amongst the green, needly, fleshed-out pines.  All I know is that the pines grew thick around us.  Here and there, in the low places, the ground grew muddy under the leaves and Waldo soon had black paws and belly and smelled like wet swamp dog.   Ah well.  He was having fun.

13.7 miles from the start, we got to the marina and our car.  My arthritis was starting to act up again, so I was very grateful to be able to sit down and relieve the pain in my low back.  We headed back home and my beloved recliner.

We only have one more leg to do, the northern part of the loop.  It’s supposed to be about 13.7 miles long, but who knows how long it’s going to be, the way we do it.  Five days from now, it’s supposed to be clear day with highs in the upper 50s!  Shirt sleeve weather.  We’re going to finish this thing then, for sure.

I hope AT&T cooperates…

 

One of the cranberry bogs we passed.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments

March 12, 2024

One of the many pods/lakes here in the low country

 

Whenever I think of the past, it brings back so many memories.

-Steven Wright

 

We have another fine late winter day to continue our trek on the Bay Circuit Trail.  Phyllis and I are eager to finish the thing and the weather is cooperating.  Waldo, well, he’ll walk just about anywhere, anytime, for any reason, as long as it’s not too hot and his toes don’t freeze.  So, here we go.

This leg is billed as being 9.2 miles long, without gaps, and we decide to start an hour later, at 9:00 instead of 8:00.  The temperature is hovering around freezing when we start, but is scheduled to rise into the high 30s later on.  The sky is overcast, with a possibility of light flurries, and the wind is almost nonexistent.  We’re dressed in layers, prepared to shed when it gets warm enough that we start to sweat.

We left off in Hanson and aim for Pembroke, about 3.9 street miles away.  But, of course, we aren’t going all the way by street, and those that we do go on are not the shortest distance between two points.  The Bay Circuit Trail was not designed to get somewhere fast, but to link together already existing paths that wander through the green spaces surrounding Boston.  Our course is much more tortuous and serpentine.  As we start, we head more or less north, along convenient rural roads and streets, instead of east.

Traffic isn’t too bad, but I do have to keep Waldo on a short leash – there are no sidewalks here.  He cooperates without complaint and Phyllis and I are able to leave him to his tethered pursuit of doggy stuff under only peripheral observation.  Because it stimulated some interesting conversation, Phyllis and I turn back to the 36 Questions to Fall in Love.  We are good friends and not intimate partners, but the questions are interesting just the same.  As we walk along, we came to number 11, “Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.”  We lost it in laughter.  Phyllis is 76 and I’m 75, so there’s been a hell of a lot of water go under the bridge in that time.  I’m pretty sure Waldo’s answer would be considerably shorter.  But maybe not.  Oh, the smells he has sniffed and the sticks he has herded!  Anyway, we decide not to limit it to 4 minutes and Phyllis goes first.

We didn’t keep track of how long she talked and she elided over a number of events that could be left for another time without leaving gaping holes in the narrative.  It was very much more than 4 minutes.  I just let her tell her story as she saw fit and at the pace she was comfortable.  She told me of her major struggles in life and how she grew and developed because of them.  She took me on a Mach 4 trip down memory lane from her first memories until the time we met, some 4 years ago, or so.  Many of the details I’ve heard before from our previous discussions, but I’ve not heard them linked in chronological order.  I was amazed at how many of the troubles she experienced growing up (something we’re still doing) were the same as the ones I stumbled through.

We’re into the woods, on an undeveloped trail, when it’s my turn.  I start with my earliest memories, then kick in the afterburner to fly through my recollections from then until now.  I skip over a lot of what I think is worth reporting, we only have about 6 hours for this walk, after all, but include what I think are the essentials to get the gist.  I have no idea how long I went on, but there were several times when we found ourselves off-trail because we weren’t paying attention.  It’s not that we were lost, we don’t get lost.  We just wander a bit.  In the end, our 9.2 mile jaunt took us down a 10 or 11 mile route with some backtracking as we wandered down a seventy-something year memory lane.

Along the way, we passed lakes and bogs, canals and wooded areas.  The off-street trails had patches of snow compacted over beds of dead leaves, but nothing causing our septuagenarian footing to be unsteady.  There was an old mill, the Nathaniel Thomas Mill, next to a creek (the waterwheel had been removed) that operated from 1695 until 1975.  That’s one thing about walking in New England that I enjoy – bumping into history in unexpected places.  Waldo was consumed by his own interests, as we trod our way sort of eastward, and it was obvious that he was as consumed by his experience as Phyllis and I were by ours.

About six hours after we started, we arrived at the car we left behind in Pembroke.  Here, the BCT tracks right and left, tracing out a large loop to the trailhead in Kingston.  We’ve already decided to walk on both sides of the loop.  Our next trek is to the right, the southern arc, 13.2 miles to the sea.  After that, we’ll come back to Pembroke and do the northern part of the trail for 13.4 miles and, after something like three and a half years, we’re done.

And then it’s on to the next trail, wherever we decide that to be.

 

The Nathaniel Thomas Mill, 1695 – 1975.

Posted by Byron Brumbaugh in Walking with Waldo, 0 comments