Picking it up

Picking up litter is such a little thing, and I’ve really appreciated that act this year. Increased trail usage in my area has meant more trash on the trails, as people unused to using public lands haven’t yet developed good habits.

Does that sound patronizing? It’s kinder than my gut reaction, which is that people sometimes behave like jerks. Not a neighborly thing for me to think.

At any rate, I see folks rising to the challenge and picking up the trash. Some do so individually. (I keep a trash bag in my pack when I’m out and about, so I have one less excuse for passing by a dropped can.) Some people form or join crews, with the single purpose of cleaning up after thoughtless hikers.

woman picking up trash
Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay
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New to Granite State Walker? Welcome!

Of all the unexpected things about 2020, a surge of interest in this Granite State Walker blog delights me. Southern New Hampshire’s trails are being discovered not only by Granite Staters, but also by Massachusetts neighbors whose recreational options have been limited due to pandemic restrictions. Readers from outside the region, well-traveled in their own areas, are eager to read about how other low-key hikers are faring in this challenging year.

I love it. Let’s learn from each other.

No need to be a pro or a full-time adventurer. I’m neither. Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote in GSW’s first post back in 2006, explaining how and why I started this blog. Maybe something will sound familiar to you, or maybe your introduction to the trails was completely different. Either way, let’s share our stories. Thanks for visiting.

Ellen Kolb, blogger at Granite State Walker.

Launching Granite State Walker, 2006

Walking for pure joy sort of snuck up on me. When I needed to lose weight, I developed the habit of heading outside after dinner to go around the block a few times. Much later, it dawned on me that there were a whole lot of more interesting places I could explore — maybe not after dinner, but on weekends & days off.

I found state parks. I discovered rail trails. I walked through neighborhoods that I had only before seen from a car window.

[I’ve been in New Hampshire since 1982.] I moved up from Florida with my husband and baby, hardly expecting this whole Northern thing to work out as well as it has. It took me awhile to realize just how much of Florida’s beauty I had taken for granted the whole time I was growing up — the beauty most of the tourists miss. I didn’t want to make the same mistake here. Having five kids, and making them my occupational priority (why don’t I just say “full-time stay-at-home mom”?), I have learned little by little over the years about appreciating things close to home….

So, here I am, southern NH-based and fascinated by the NH outdoors. I am a complete amateur at what I do, in the sense that I do my walking because I love it.

I plan to write about some of my favorite spots (not all of them!) and post some photos if I manage to take any worth posting. I’m an amateur at that, too.

Flowers on summit of Pack Monadnock NH
From Pack Monadnock summit: View to North Pack Monadnock.

NH Rail Trails: a friendly challenge

The New Hampshire Rail Trails Coalition has issued an imposing challenge: travel every rail trail in New Hampshire, and earn a patch. I love patches. I’m in.

Cheshire Rail Trail, Troy NH
Cheshire Rail Trail, Troy NH. Ellen Kolb photo.

Can I really cover all 300+ miles? Not likely, if I try to fit my walks and bike rides only into my spare time. So what? I intend to enjoy the effort anyway. Download the list yourself from nhrtc.org and see what looks tempting.

Just reading the list is an eye-opener. I thought I knew about most of the trails in the state. But Head’s Pond in Hooksett? Nope. Lilac City Greenway, Cotton Valley trail, Fort Hill? Nope, nope, and nope.

I sense some road trips coming.

Hands Across the Merrimack Bridge, Piscataquog rail trail, Manchester NH.
Hands Across the Merrimack bridge on Piscataquog Rail Trail, Manchester NH. Ellen Kolb photo.

Already, since I’ve taken up the challenge, I have discovered new-to-me trails within a half-hour’s drive of my home. I’ve walked on some and biked on others. Many are well-shaded, which feels great during this hot summer.

I’ll be posting about some of my discoveries in the coming weeks. So far, these aren’t epic journeys. In stressful times, though, I don’t need “epic.” I’m happy to find a bit of beauty and recreation close to home.

Footbridge on New Boston rail trail, New Hampshire.
Footbridge on New Boston (NH) rail trail. Ellen Kolb photo.

Enjoy a “Continuing Adventure”

If you’ve been a New Hampshire hiker for any length of time, you’ve probably come across the writings of Dan Szczesny. His latest is “The Continuing Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie,” available as an e-book on Amazon Kindle. Here’s my Amazon review. 

If you’ve never read Dan Szczesny’s “The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie,” this Kindle treat – an extended chapter, really – will send you scurrying for it. The “Continuing Adventures…” goes way beyond the hikes recounted by Dan in the earlier book. Dan and his hiking companion Janelle met as neighbors when Janelle was a child. Over time, they became family, in no small part due to their time together on the trails.

In “Continuing Adventures,” now-teenage Janelle is co-author, telling her own story in a voice complementing her mentor’s. She writes of healing and growth along the way, illuminating a backstory that puts the earlier book into a new and richer perspective.

Book cover Dan Szczesny

Summer on the trails

It’s time to dig out my blaze orange gear. My favorite hiking season is at hand. I have no complaints about the season just ended, though. It was a beautiful summer in New Hampshire and beyond.

Mt. Kearsarge, Rollins State Park, Warner

The fire tower on Kearsarge was getting a serious makeover this summer, with heavy mats laid over the trail from Rollins State Park to accommodate construction vehicles. Hikers were still welcome, though. The broad ledgy summit offered its usual fine views.

Mt. Kearsarge summit, NH

view from Mt. Kearsarge summit, Warner NH

Mt. Kearsarge NH fire tower

Mt. Kearsarge fire tower gets a makeover, summer 2019

While I was there in July, a group of kids from a Boys and Girls Club arrived on the summit with their chaperones, having hiked up from the state park on the other side of the mountain. One boy, maybe ten years old, bounded around like a puppy. “Dude! I’ve never been to the top of a mountain before!” I suspect he’ll go in search of more.

North Country trip

Four days of car camping in August brought me to trails in Pittsburg and Jefferson and a few places in between. Ramblewood Campground in Pittsburg (a five-star establishment, in my book) and Percy Lodge and Campground in Stark served as homes-away-from-home.

It’s tough to pick my favorite part of the Cohos Trail. On this trip, though, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson staked a pretty strong claim. I circled the refuge one sunny afternoon, stringing together several trail and road segments to make an 8-mile loop. Once out of the woods, the view was all about the surrounding peaks: Mt. Martha to my south, the Presidentials to the east, and the Pliny Range to the north. That just might be the most rewarding flat hiking route I’ve found so far in New Hampshire.

Cherry Pond, Jefferson NH

Cherry Pond, Jefferson NH. looking toward Pliny Range.

I didn’t limit this trip to Cohos Trail segments. I discovered Second College Grant, a Dartmouth College property the size of a town, where I enjoyed a serene walk alongside the Dead Diamond River. Another day, perhaps I’ll return for a hike up Diamond Ridge.

From Stark, I took a quick drive to Milan Hill State Park to check out late-afternoon views from the fire tower. Not a hike, but still a treat.

New Boston rail trail

What a difference since my last visit about five years ago. I found the shady New Boston rail trail south of Lang Station upgraded significantly since my last visit. Trail volunteers, take a bow.

New Boston NH rail trail

New Boston rail trail, NH

I walked for the first time north of Lang Station on the trail to the Goffstown line. Very different up that way: a work in progress, or maybe just in the planning stage. I found blowdowns, mud, and at the Goffstown line, an overgrown swath separating the trail from Route 114.

Someday, if a whole lot of things work out just right, the New Boston trail will connect with the Goffstown rail trail, which already connects to the Piscataquog trail in Manchester.

Rhododendron State Park, Fitzwilliam

rhododendron bloom

Blooming in July at Rhododendron State Park

I think I missed peak bloom at Rhododendron State Park in July, but there were enough blossoms to make the drive to Fitzwilliam worthwhile. The loop trail through the rhododendron grove is shady and not too long.

Actually, this quiet little state park has more to offer than a few weeks of rhododendron blooms. A trail branches off the grove loop, heading up Little Monadnock mountain with its view toward Monadnock. A mile’s walk on a quiet road just outside the park entrance leads to Rockwood Pond and the Cheshire Rail Trail.  This summer, though, I was there for the flowers. I wasn’t disappointed.

Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon: life-list material

My husband and I spent nine too-short days in Utah and Arizona in early September, where I got my first-and-maybe-last look at some of the gems of the national park system:

Zion, where temps in the low hundreds did nothing to dull the scenery…

Zion National Park

Zion National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon, land of the hoodoos, where even a half-moon can’t blot out the stars at night…

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park

and Grand Canyon’s North Rim, far from South Rim’s crowds, where the sheer scale of the canyon left me speechless.

Grand Canyon

View of Grand Canyon from North Rim, Arizona

Along the way – it takes a lot of driving to see all three parks in only a few days – we found some beautiful lesser-known recreational areas: Cedar Breaks and Red Canyon in Utah, and portions of Dixie National Forest in Arizona.

As our return flight descended over the Monadnocks on the way into Manchester, I was happy to see our familiar green hills. This is home. Still, I treasure the awesome sights and beautiful places we saw out west.

On My Small Scale, a Good Year

Five hundred miles. The app on my phone assures me that’s how far I’ve walked and hiked this year. Not far by comparison with many (most?) other hikers, I know. Still, I covered some fine southern New Hampshire places. Thirty-three towns, according to my trail notes, plus a probably-once-in-a-lifetime visit to a place way beyond the border. Not a bad year at all.

image6

August in Winant Park, Concord: mushrooms, not blossoms, bedeck the trails.

Nashua’s Mine Falls might be my favorite city park, but Concord’s Winant Park was a contender this year. I frequently have business in Concord, with Winant only a short drive away. All by itself it justified keeping a pair of trail shoes in the car for spur-of-the-moment hikes.

I visited Miller State Park one late-spring day just before sunset, and had the usually-busy Pack Monadnock summit and fire tower to myself. In thirty years of hikes there, I’d never been on the summit at dusk.

Monadnock at dusk

Mt. Monadnock at dusk, seen from Pack Monadnock

 

Of all the trails new to me this year, the ones in Moose Mountain reservation are the ones most likely to draw me back. I enjoyed an early-fall lunch on Phebe’s Nable. And then there’s Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch: one of the most heavily-trafficked trails in the Whites, but new and delightful to me. What a view!

Crawford Notch from Mt Willard

Crawford Notch seen from Mt. Willard. Take that trail early in the day to avoid crowds.

Each year brings surprises. This year’s was a trip to Italy. I packed walking shoes, of course, and with my husband explored Rome on foot. Despite the exhausting summer heat, I was exhilarated. I’m more at home on trails, but what’s not to love about being a Granite State Walker on vacation?

St. Peter's Dome from

Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, seen from Janiculum (Gianicolo) Hill in Rome, Italy.

And next year, who knows? Maybe 500 miles, maybe far more. I’m thinking local: redline nearby spots like Horse Hill, Beaver Brook, and the Uncanoonuc trails. See them afresh. Walk on more rail trails, or rather more miles on the trails already familiar to me.  Take better photos. Make a point of hiking with the friends who have offered to share their own favorite trails with me.

I’ll turn 60 in the coming year. Perhaps a landmark hike is in order.

I hope you can look back with satisfaction on your own hikes from the past year. Even more, I hope you’re looking forward to next year’s adventures. See you out there.