In the Boston area, we are lucky to have the Middlesex Fells as a place to train for bigger, harder hikes. Like my Bavarian Alps trip, just one month away.
In early May, with temps in the 40°s Farenheit and a gray sky, I laced up new hiking books and drove to the small parking area near Bellevue Pond. I strongly recommend grabbing one of the free maps right at the trail head; there are loads of trails in this park and one can easily lope onto the wrong one if not paying attention. (You can “recycle” the map back where you found it when you’re done, for other hikers to use if you won’t be coming back soon.)
I decided to do a roughly five-mile loop around the Southern Reservoir on the Orange Trail. I’d start out on Skyline Trail that would cross the wide dirt path, Quarry Road, that led from the parking area. The first sight to greet me was a moss-bedecked stone bridge. I’m a sucker for stone walls, fences, bridges, stone-anything, and this little overpass was lovely.
This early in spring, the deciduous trees sported neon-green baby leaves and everything smelled of wet earth and fresh air. Nearby, a wild dogwood was beginning to bloom.
I was enjoying these views and just being out hiking again, when my shins communicated in no uncertain terms that the new boots were much firmer than the old ones and why on earth had I bought them?
Aha, I thought, good thing I’m breaking them in on this training hike. Another good reason to test out my gear occurred in the next five minutes: one of the locks on my well-used hiking poles broke. I wound up lumbering along with one pole significantly shorter than the other. Fine, I said to myself, I’ll use the shorter one going uphill and the longer one downhill. Glad it broke now rather than in Germany. I dictated a note to remind myself to get new poles.
Just before Mud Road came the junction with Skyline Trail, just like it was supposed to. Nice. I hung a left and followed white blazes painted on small rectangular pieces nailed to trees, steadily northwest. Along the way I spied a bed of sweet white anemone, possibly Canadian anemone, and, on the opposite side of the path, shy Trout Lilies.
Skyline gained a bit of elevation and began to look as if this were in New Hampshire. Map lichen appeared everywhere.
Tucked into the sunnier side of the trail were blueberry plants sporting the little bell-like white blooms that would eventually turn into fruit. And then, as I came close to the highest point of this little hill—pay attention because I almost missed it— on the right side appeared a labyrinth. I could hardly believe my eyes. What a gift someone or some group had given to all of us, gathering and placing those rocks! I was locked into my hike and felt the pressure of time, so I didn’t stop to walk the labyrinth, but you can be sure I will next time.
Marching along, I eventually turned left onto a mixed blue-and-white blazed trail where Skyline and Cross Fells Trail combined for a short way. Soon enough I was back on Skyline alone, waiting for it to run into the Orange, or Reservoir Trail, that would take me around South Reservoir, my goal for the day. Meantime, the woods resembled a pointillist painting of lime green dots for new leaves.
Just as I reached Reservoir Trail, some not very friendly signs appeared, saying “Winchester’s Water Supply Keep Out!” Say what? My map was old (another good reason to grab a new one) and, apparently, things had changed. A man with his young son were also trying to follow Reservoir Trail and we reconnoitered and agreed we were actually on a path closer to the water, represented on our maps by a thin purple line. We decided to ignore the signs for a hundred or so yards till we could connect with what seemed to be the Orange trail. Remember my love of stone work? Catch this wonderful little canal running out from the lake.
I snapped an illegal picture of the peaceful reservoir, obviously the only glimpse I was going to get of it today.
Once we left the forbidden area the father and son were nice, but I preferred my solitude. Since they were clearly going along Reservoir Trail if they could, I abandoned my plan. Instead, I headed east along East Dam Road so that it could bring me to the other side of white-blazed Skyline Trail.
Staying on Skyline, I was able to hike toward Little Pine Hill. [pic stone with white blaze.] Descending Little Pine, then ascending Pine Hill, I arrived at Wright’s Tower, another pleasure of the Fells, a stone tower that looks as if its castle left it behind. From its base one has marvelous views, including the Boston skyline (ergo “Skyline Trail”.)
All of my meandering amounted to only 4.2 miles, but I was duly humbled by how unused my back was to carrying a loaded pack, how sore my shins were from my new boots, and how much my knees resented the small hills. This training hike not only gave me lots of visual pleasure in the glories of early spring, but also served as a great test of old and new equipment and a good wake-up call that I needed a bunch more training before I’d be ready for the Alps. Thanks, Fells!