Wednesday, October 5, 2016

MA NET Sections 9b-11 Part 1

Everything about this hike is new and transitional.   A deepening wilderness and lush, mossy forests have replaced the dry, rugged trap rock ridges and sweeping vistas. The well-worn M-M tread is abandoned for the new NET as it heads towards protected Quabbin watershed lands.  And it's a milestone for me, as I try backpacking for the first time, something that's been on my bucket list.

Striped Maple, Quabbin parking lot, Shutesbury Rd 2
It's also the last reliable coverage for Uber and Verizon cell phone service. I left my car at Shutesbury Road 2 at the end of Section 11 and requested an Uber car.  I've enjoyed meeting the Uber drivers, each one of which has had a different story.  Retirees, college students, people dropping out of the rat race to enjoy life: They've added to my adventure. The latest driver says he's just becoming familiar with the Uber techology for a few days for his business and we chat about hiking and biking. He refuses a tip.

While I was waiting for the Uber car, a women from the neighborhood walked by and we struck up a conversation. She said there was a moose in her driveway when she woke up that morning. Wow.

I had my dog with me and made a point to let the woman know I'm wasn't going north into the Quabbin section with the dog, because I know dogs aren't allowed. She pointed towards the trail and said, "That's not Quabbin, Quabbin is on the other side of 202." She's not the first person to tell me that. I also noticed there were no signs of any kind at the parking area or the trailhead. I explained that I discovered quite by accident online that the area west of 202 is Quabbin "Off-Reservation" and the rule is no dogs on the trail, and this is a problem because Quinn is my hiking buddy when I'm hiking alone. And she said, "Nobody goes in there. What are they gonna do, anyway, give you a ticket?"  But it's a moot point, because I've already made plans for that section that don't include the dog.  Let me just say that I hope they change the rules to allow dogs on the NET at Quabbin, or at least come up with a special permit you can apply for if you're hiking through. One thing people should have learned from Katrina is that dogs are family members. I'm not out walking my dog. My dog is my hiking companion and protector. He may look small, but he's a terrier, and he's tough.

Sections 9b-11. Major road walks are in red.
The old M-M route is in green (parts are closed).
Amherst is off to the left and the water at right is Quabbin Reservoir.
Click map to enlarge. 

Section 10 Prelude:  Let me back up. Before dropping off my car, I sampled a bit of the old M-M route to see what I would be missing during my long boring road walk (maybe 3.5 miles) on Section 10. On the map above, the old M-M route is shown as a thin green line. Parts of that are closed, and other parts seem to be open, but with the blazes covered over. There seems to be general confusion about what the status of the M-M trail is. Internet chatter is that a large landowner closed off their properties after the trail became a national scenic trail because they don't like the federal government. The NET and old M-M routes diverge temporarily during Section 10, but then diverge more substantially between Sections 11 and 14, where the trail was rerouted onto Quabbin lands.

I parked at a place called Holland Glen on the east side of Rt 9. There was a sign showing the old route with a break where the trail is closed. I went down the trail about a quarter of a mile, following blazes that had been recently covered up with gray spray paint. it the M-M or isn't it? Is the M-M now on the new NET?  I really don't understand. (By the way, just a tip for whoever is covering over the old blazes: Use camo green. It's nearly invisible on mossy trees).

M-M trailhead sign. The NET follows Gulf Road instead.

The cascades and falls of the stream at Holland Glen were pretty much dried up due to the drought, but it's clearly a lovely place. This is a section I hope can be reopened in the future if the landowner has a heart.
Dried up falls at Holland Glejn

White blazes covered up on the old M-M

After sampling the old M-M, I stashed a 2-liter bottle of water at the Scarborough Brook Conservation District at the top of Gulf Road. I can't rely on water anywhere due to the serious drought. The spot turned out to be good for stashing things, so I unloaded about half my pack contents (tent, extra water bottles, clothing) and left it there hidden in the weeds.

Stashed some water and pack items here at Scarborough Brook Conservation District

NET Section 9b: So although I left the house at 6:00 am, I wasn't dropped off by the Uber driver until 9:45 am. I had a bit of trouble finding the trailhead on Bay Road, but after pulling out a map and actually looking at it I finally figured it out. It's funny how that works. Do not rely on blazing for the road walks. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't. 

Trailhead at Bay Road, Section 9

It was wonderful to finally get started hiking. This is the second half of Section 9, about a mile and half, and it's lovely. No trap rock, just some rolling hills and forest.

Section 9
NET Section 10: Before long, though, I come to the end of Section 9 and begin the long roadwalk. Really, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I had Van Morrison's Moondance album playing from my phone in my pocket, and that really livened things up. I highly recommend it. The road walk starts out on Federal Street, and I got a quick view of Long Mountain in the distance behind a home, the only vista of the day.  Federal was a quiet street lined with homes and barking dogs, then the trail take a right turn, crosses busy Route 9, and goes up Gulf Road a long ways.

Sign on Federal Street
Gulf Road had a few blind curves I was not crazy about, but there were so few cars it didn't really matter. The blaze orange I was wearing helped. Maybe five cars passed me during the entire walk on Gulf. Also, one guy on a bike. That was it.  The road goes up and up and up through forest, and at one point it suddenly dawned on me that I was climbing up out of the Connecticut River Valley and onto the Eastern Uplands. That's for you geology nerds.

Gulf Road
The road is mostly undeveloped and there was a stream running alongside much of it, which was surprising considering how dried up everything is. So that looks to be a very reliable water source. We took a short break there near the top of Gulf Road.

Stream along Gulf Road. 
And then we arrived where I had stashed my water and extra gear. We had been walking for a little over two hours. That was surprisingly quick! I had gotten used to the slow going on the trap rock ridges, but I just blew through nearly five miles of trail (mostly road, really) in no time at all. This was a beautiful spot with picnic tables, so I had a nice, long leisurely lunch and did some repacking.

Scarborough Brook Conservation Area
The waterways and fields of the Scarborough Brook Conservation Area beautiful. Give this place some extra time for exploring and snapping photos.

Biggest patch of Stiff Aster in bloom I've ever seen. 
After the break, I start carrying my fully loaded backpack for the first time, now with lots of extra water because of the drought. It weighs about 24 pounds, which is very heavy for me since I have back problems and arthritis in my neck. I headed up the trail and needed to keep adjusting the load and straps. The old M-M rejoined the trail, although I didn't notice exactly where that was, then crossed Packardville Road to enter Cadwell State Forest and Section 11 of the M-M Trail, which I'll cover under Part 2. 

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