Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Welcome to Massachusetts! M-M Sections 1 & 2

Four long years and I'm finally able to get back on the trail!  I started at Rising Corner Road in Southwick, Mass, where I was dropped off by an Uber driver (worked great!). 

I needed to head south to find the spot where the trail used to end in Connecticut, but finding the overgrown trail was tricky where it exits a lawn. More blazes, please! (Tip: The trail heads into the woods immediately after the second blazed tree on the edge of the lawn, opposite a red shed). 

THANK YOU! Now the hike begins!

I found the spot where I left off in 2012 a short distance south of the Mass line, where the trail had ended with a heartbreaking 'no trespassing' sign. The trail has since reopened and now continues north all the way to the state line and Rising Corner Road in Massachusetts. Many thanks to everyone involved in reopening the trail and to the gracious property owners who allow hikers to cross their properties.

Section 1 on Google Earth
And now the real hike begins! Onward to Massachusetts!  I retraced my steps back across the state line, where the blazes change from blue to white as the Metacomet Trail ends and the M-M (Metacomet-Monadnack Trail) begins.  New state, new trail, new traditions.  The hikers even have different accents.


Hiker logbook
My favorite part of this section was the big marsh with the distinctive boardwalk. There's box for hikers to sign in just before crossing it. And some trail art (?) 

Trail Art(?)

I have a new dog this time around. Quinn is pretty crazy and not to be trusted off leash. There were chipmunks everywhere driving him nuts on this trip, so I may put a backpack on him next time to slow him down. Biscuit is getting older and stayed at home. 

Seems to be a beaver dam next to the boardwalk, hence the dead trees
The only vista on this short section was at a gas pipeline. The terrain was pretty easy for the NET.

Gas pipeline crossing

Coat hooks for your gear?
Cardinal Flower
The trail crosses a network of unmarked trails used by the Agawam Bowmen Club. I'm used to always seeing a blaze at each trail junction, but that seems to not be the tradition here. Junctions are not marked, and you pick the option that feels right and hope for the best.

It's a drought year, and there was very little surface water anywhere. As I came off of Section One, there was a collection of water jugs, and I wondered if they were for hikers in general, or some group. The lack of water along the traprock ridges is a real hardship for thru-hikers.

Water jugs - Don't die of thirst on the traprock ridges
M-M SECTION TWO (3.7 Miles)
I like how the M-M Trail is divided into sections. There are snazzy new signs along the road for each one. Hikers can take a picture of the sign to get a trail map.  I did have some trouble finding the trail north of the highway, since there's a decoy trail heading into the wood directly across from where the trail comes out onto the highway. I assumed that was the trail, but no blazes and there was a 'no trespassing' sign. However, on this trail, that doesn't necessarily mean anything, as we shall find out. I went back out to the road and followed it a bit until I found the sign below.

This section of trail leads to the base of an old quarry. A family with young children was in front of me and they walked straight past the giant DANGER NO TRESPASSING sign that sits right on top of the New England Trail. I hesitated. Looked back - there was a white blaze. Yes, this is the trail. OK then, and I headed past the sign. It would not be the last time a sign warned me not to hike the trail.

Apparent translation: "Whatever. But you're not suing us."

The floor of an old trap rock quarry
The old trap rock quarry made this feel more like the NET, which follows the trap rock ridges. After the quarry, the trail climbed moderately up to a ridge line, and there was a long stretch of pleasant wooded ridge hiking. Glimpses of views through the trees, sometimes both to the left and right. I bet this is particularly nice after the leaves have fallen and the view is better. 

Ridge hiking
Section 2
Best overlook of the hike
At the very top is an antennae farm and the Agawam Fire Tower, built in 1959. I'm scared of heights, so I climbed it. Some of the boards were a little iffy, so I stepped lightly and held the rails tightly. The observatory at the top was boarded shut, though. The view was good, but no better than the previous overlook on the trail.

Agawam Fire Tower

View from the fire tower
Continuing on down the ridge, I accidentally got detoured onto a roadway, but it's hard to really lose a trail on a narrow ridgetop. It was 50 feet away.  The bigger problem was when I got to a gate that shouted 'no trespassing', because I couldn't find a blaze. Went back to the last one - yup, this is definitely the trail. Finally found half a faded blaze on a rock next to gate. I'm learning to ignore these 'no trespassing' signs, and that doesn't seem like a good thing.

I guess just ignore all the 'no trespassing' signs?
Past the gate, I was unprepared for the beautiful meadow and cool breeze. Wow! But which way??? There was absolutely no sign of any blaze or path. Nothing. Thankfully, I had a copy of AMC's official "Metacomet-Monadnack Trail Guide" map. At first glance, the maps are not that clear or of the best scale. But at this moment I realized how important the little notes in green are, because for this spot it shows the trail going between "rock slope" and "open fields." Ahhh. Now I get it. Good thing I had the map.

Follow the base of the rock slope through the grass.

This has the feeling of a dam, and yet if you look at an aerial, there is no water. Curiosity and Google make great friends, so I did some clicking at home and learned this is an underground reservoir. And here's a picture of it being constructed:
Underground reservoir being contstructed 
Wow. So that's under all the rock.  Impressive.

Halfway along the meadow, I passed one blaze on a boulder, but then when I neared the tree line, I couldn't find any trail going into the woods. I was hot, tired, and it was hilly. So I resorted to pulling out my gps receiver. At home, I had laboriously fabricated a gpx file of the trail section by doing screenshots of the online map, importing into Google Maps as an overlay, creating a new track, exporting as a kml file, converting to a gpx file, importing into my Garmin Base Camp, and uploading into my gps receiver. And this is why I went through all that: 

I know how to get back on the trail, thanks to having a gpx track.
After pulling out the Garmin, I was back on the in just a few minutes. I'm mystified as to how anyone can follow this part of the trail through the fields. In Connecticut, there would have been some tall 4x4 posts with blazes along the route. The spare blazing is making the M-M trail a lot harder to follow than what I'm used to.  But in the end I got back to my car, waiting at Route 187. 

The trail below the underground reservoir. 

If you're hiking Sections 1 & 2: 
1.Verizon coverage: Good throughout.
2. Uber: Available
3. Link to my reconstructed gpx file (not exact, but close)
4. Link to kml file (Google Earth) Section 1 and Section 2
5. Confusing areas:
  • 1. Southbound from Rising Corner Road, the first blazes are on the edge of a lawn. There is a double blaze followed by a single blaze. The overgrown trail goes diagonally into the trees a few feet after the single blaze, about even with a red shed. 
  • Crossing Rt 57: The trail looks like it goes straight across the highway and into the woods, but it actually goes left on the highway to a gate. 
  • 'No trespassing' signs at Quarry - ignore
  • After fire tower, trail and road go parallel and get confusing. Keep to the left along edge of ridge.
  • Go through 'no trespassing' gate into field, bear right through field to follow edge of rock slope, but after passing the blazed boulder, stay on grade or slightly downhill rather than following the base of the rock slope uphill.