Finding New Love, Part 1

At work we roll endless hours of video depicting people offshore in kayaks, passing beautiful rocky coastlines, or ruggedly handsome foreign men without shirts climbing rock walls, or snowboarders pulling gnarly tricks in midair. Then there are the surfing videos, best shown on snowy New England days…

The envy these films inspire drives me mad sometimes.

Despite having a ridiculous amount of free time, it’s tough to arrange a trip to South Africa for some big-wave surfing, or to paddle around stunning Arctic ice formations. I’m just doing the best I can with free outlets, like local state parks, and I’ve decided it’s not that bad after all. It’s the doing, not the dreaming, right?

In pursuit of my own video-worthy moments, I enlisted a friend to explore two parks in the past week: Willowdale State Park in Ipswich and Beaver Brook in Hollis/Brookline, NH. Reflecting on those trips on this rainy day, I feel like a 20-year-old whose true love has just left for another semester — I’m dazzled yet wanting more.

Size is one of Willowdale’s best attributes. We spent more than two hours roaming trails — and fording small rivers that covered a few of them — without backtracking or getting bored. I was surprised that we spent the morning here without having to tap into the adjacent Bradley Palmer State Park for more terrain. Willowdale’s 40 miles of trails are mostly fire roads intersected by singletrack that loops and criss-crosses the main thoroughfares. We parked on Linebrook Road and stayed in the Pine Swamp

did I say most of the trails were well-drained?

area, yet were surprised that the area’s recent epic rainstorm hadn’t left the park a muddy mess. Most trails were well-drained, and in contrast to a lot of woodsy state park mountain biking in the area, not that rocky. There were a few trees down from the storm, though.

trails were well-drained, but there were still a few trees down after the big storm

Trails here are also fairly well marked at intersections, which at least helps to orient the adventurer, if not providing clear information about which way is out.

The topography here is not too tough, and the trail conditions almost inspire the urge to start trail running … maybe next time.

Beaver Brook was a different story. Wow, was it ever! Much wetter, and with some steep hills that made it tough to retain breakfast. Yet, we had a great time (me and my usual wildwoman biking companion from NH) getting muddy and trying to make decisions about trail intersections on the fly. While Beaver Brook has excellent trail markings, it’s no mean feat to memorize the map before you go in so you don’t have to stop at every intersection, remove it from the camelback, and figure out where you want to go.

This park/preserve’s 2,000 acres includes a lot of multi-use trails, and convenient map kiosks where the perimeter meets local roads. More technical terrain here included lovely muddy interludes on gut-wrenching uphill climbs, erosion barriers to pop over, corduroy bridges to navigate, and unfortunately, a lot of local foot traffic. And oh yeah, some local color like this snake (on the bright side, it’s a sign of spring?).

guessing it was just a garter snake, we visited this little guy a while

No, I’m not ready to reprise the “Danger Lurks” post yet. Unless it’s to post photos of my biking companion trying to kiss the snake for the camera, but that is related more to the dangers we pose to ourselves.

the brook itself, via a walking path

The most scenic path we found was, unfortunately (oops) for walkers and not bikers, but included views of a beaver dam and a beautiful stretch along the brook itself (at right). That is the Eastman Meadow/Beaver Brook Trail that intersects with Worcester Street, a place I’ll keep in mind for picnicking on hot summer days (hoping the snake and his family stay on the other side of the park).


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