Easing into the year

I wrote last October about a layered trail: ice, mud, and leaves underfoot. That’s pretty much what I’ve found in January in southern New Hampshire, minus the leaves. Things are pleasantly messy, as long as I have some traction on my shoes. Yes, even for the flat paths: slipping on an icy flat trail in Mine Falls Park left me with a concussion a few years ago. That’s one winter adventure I don’t care to repeat.

I was in Sandown the other day, sharing a trail with some polite ATVers. The trail wasn’t so much layered as patchy: ice here, slush there, frozen tire tracks in the shade, and lots of mud down the middle. I accidentally hit on the best time of day to be a walker there: mid-afternoon, after most of the ATVers had finished for the day. Not every multi-use trail works out so well for me.

Not every trail gives me town line markers. I like it when the markers agree with my GPS.

A short drive north: the Northern Rail Trail follows the Merrimack River in Boscawen and part of Franklin. On New Year’s Day there, I was surprised to see what I’m certain was an osprey. I thought for sure they’d all have headed south long before. An unexpected sighting like that is always a treat. I was too slow to get a photo. I have many miles yet to discover along this trail, which is one of the most popular in central New Hampshire. I’ve walked on each end, so to speak – Lebanon and Enfield at one end, Boscawen at the other – and there are about 40 more miles to go. I could bike it in the summer or fall, but somehow I think that’s taking the easy way out.

Norhern Rail Trail New Hampshire with signs for two snowmobile clubs
Where the work of one snowmobile club ends, another’s begins.

While we’re on the subject of walking in January, let’s thank the snowmobile clubs that groom so many of the trails I enjoy. It’s not all snow grooming: when a club takes responsibility for a trail, the members also do things like clear away deadfall and make sure the trail’s full width gets attention.

I haven’t neglected my town’s conservation areas. I spent a brisk hour on a big loop route starting in Grater Woods, connecting with an adjacent neighborhood with which I was unfamiliar, returning on busy Baboosic Lake Road. I’m not a fan of being a pedestrian on one of our town roads with little shoulder and no sidewalk, but sometimes that’s where a path takes me. As for Horse Hill, I’ve never had a bad day there. No matter how many cars are in the parking lot, the trail network is extensive enough to keep us out of each other’s way.

Do you have resolutions about walks you want to take this year? I always start the year with a list of destinations, more for inspiration than anything else. I don’t want to waste time wondering where to go, if I find myself with a free afternoon. I just dip into The List, which I admit is heavy on rail trails. I also keep a map of New Hampshire on my wall, with outlines of each town, and after I walk in a new town I color in its spot on the map. I get a silly amount of satisfaction out of that little visual record.

First Day Hikes on your own

Plan now to hit the trail on New Year’s Day. First Day Hikes might be “virtual” in 2021, but they’re happening. New Hampshire State Parks offer some opportunities. No groups, but also no lines at a sign-in table. That works for me.

This post is illustrated with a couple of photos from past First Days, when I visited Monadnock and Wellington State Parks. Guided hikes like the ones I enjoyed there won’t be happening this January 1, but walking solo or with family is a treat in itself.

Ellen Kolb at Monadnock State Park, New Hampshire
The Granite State Walker celebrating a New Year’s Day near Mt. Monadnock

The state parks team is making the best of yet another virtual event, a peculiar phenomenon of 2020 origin that means group-event-without-a-group. If you register for their 2021 First Day Hike program, you’ll be eligible for a drawing for a 2021 Family Season Pass to New Hampshire state parks.

And then there’s the photo contest, for photos taken at New Hampshire state parks between December 26, 2020 and January 1, 2021. Read the details on the State Parks page, and then head out to Pawtuckaway or Miller or whatever other state park strikes your fancy.

As I write this, a day-long rain has washed away the foot of snow that fell here in southern New Hampshire just last week. No telling what trail conditions I’ll find by the time New Year’s Day rolls around. Barring an ice storm, though, I’ll be outdoors that day. Maybe I’ll travel no further than one of my town’s nature preserves, or maybe I’ll be more ambitious. There’s nothing like a Granite State walk to bring in a new year properly.

May you find just the right path from which to wave goodbye to 2020!

Ellen Kolb on New Hampshire First Day Hike 2017 overlooking Newfound Lake
First Day Hike, 2017: the Granite State Walker on Little Sugarloaf overlooking Newfound Lake, via Wellington State Park in Bristol NH.

Snowshoes on Goffstown rail trail

We braced for two feet of snow with high winds, and got a little shy of a foot and a half. No wind to speak of, although neighbors to the north and east got slammed. No ice or mixed precipitation. Just fresh powder, plowed roads, and no obstacles between me and the trailhead of my choice.

I took  my snowshoes to the Goffstown rail trail and had it to myself for an hour on a weekday afternoon. I saw one set of fresh cross-country ski tracks. A set of snowshoe tracks looked a day old. Aside from that, the powder was mine.

And omigosh, holy boot camp, Batman…! This was only the second time this season I’ve used my snowshoes, and the last time was on a well-packed down path. This time, all the splendid snow gave me a workout. Every muscle from ankles to hips is now indicating that I should have some ibuprofen handy tomorrow. Worth it, though. Conditions were excellent.

Through the trees,  I saw and heard a red-tailed hawk doing lazy circles over the river. I figured I’d get a good look at it once I got to the bridge over the Piscataquog River. Darned thing waited until I got there and then flew away downriver.

(If you’re in the Goffstown/Manchester area: The little parking area at the Moose Club Park Road trail crossing is plowed enough to allow a subcompact car without snow tires to get in and out without needing a push. Heading eastward from there, the trail has no deadfall from the recent storm. At the Manchester end of the bridge over the river, there’s a wall of snow left by plow trucks clearing the road to the ice arena, and the boat launch parking area is temporarily inaccessible.)

Packed snow on the trail

My winter walks so far have almost all been on pavement, even though we’ve had plenty of snowfall. It was time to find a local trail and maybe give the snowshoes a workout. I headed for Horse Hill close to home.

It had been a few days since the last snowfall, so the Loop Trail was packed down. No snowshoes needed, although spikes were handy. The weather’s brought some thaw/refreeze cycles, leaving icy spots here and there. (I’m using a new set of StabilicersLite that I picked up at my local L.L. Bean outlet, having finally worn out my old YakTrax.)

A quiet walk in the woods was perfect at the end of a day spent in front of a laptop screen. Pavement wouldn’t have been nearly as refreshing.

Temps reaching 40° left a kiosk’s snowcap drooping at a rakish angle.

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A tree looked freshly girdled, probably by one of the beavers from the nearby pond. The tree beside it bore a few fresh marks, as though a beaver had sampled it and thought “nah…I like the other one better.”

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