Monday, June 30, 2014

Discoveries and Challenges in our Waterfall Hunt
The Price for the 5.0

It’s going to be hard to encapsulate the adventures we had hunting down a couple of high rated waterfalls on my list. Let me just say that “taking the road less traveled” lead us on one excellent adventure! On this day we decided to head out to Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts for two waterfalls I wanted to experience; Tannery Falls in Savoy and Twin Cascades in Florida. We headed in the general direction avoiding of course, as Andy is prone to do, the most direct path. Along this route we stumbled first upon the homestead of a John Adams (relation to past presidents undermined). This is located on Russell Hill in Ashburnham MA.

We arrived at Black Brook Road for our first waterfall in Savoy, Tannery Falls, to find the road was closed. There was another biker sitting by the stream having a smoke who turned out to be a local. We learned the road was severely damaged by hurricane Sandy, and he described the damage to us. We would have to go around the long way to access the falls. He was heading there himself, but since he had a dirt bike, getting across the barrier was not a problem. As we watched him squeeze by with ease we thought we could do the same. Andy got his bike through, and then he took Blaze as I was unsure of my skill in such loose gravel. He almost got the girl across too! Maybe if I had been pushing instead of filming she might not have suffered a bruise to her left saddle bag. I pushed the second time and we got her across. I turned to look at the barriers we had just conquered, to discover a message scrawled across them. Well, you can see for yourself below. Also watch the video as I traverse Black Brook Road.

Black Brook Road

Click here to see Blaze take a tumble.

This was not the end of our trials. The dirt road to the falls is not maintained and with the recent rains was in an even more deplorable state. In addition it was all downhill riding; no car tracks to follow only a narrow slightly more solid middle and nothing but washed out gravel left and right. I didn’t think I’d make it all the way staying upright, but managed to do so through sheer will. We arrived finally and parked the bikes. Our next effort was the long climb down. At least the trail has built in steps as you zigzag your way to the bottom. We were rewarded with not only Tannery Falls, but Parker Brook falls too. Both are at the bottom, one coming from the left and the other from the right. There are also several falls in the area along the route, so this place is well worth a trip for a number of falls all in one place. Check out the videos I took.

Click here for Parker Brook Falls Video.

After managing the climb out of Savoy Mountain State Forest, we took the longer route back out. Along the way we discovered Susan B. Anthony’s birthplace. See photo. Our next destination was Twin Cascades. This was easier on the bikes, since it was paved all the way, with only dirt parking near the entrance to the hike. This is along a set of railroad tracks at which sits the longest tunnel this side of the Rocky’s . The Hoosac Tunnel is 4.75 miles in length and has a long and interesting history of its own including numerous ghost stories. With 195 deaths in its construction, I’m not surprised.

Hoosac Tunnel

The climb to Twin Cascades is not for the faint of heart. The trail is narrow, muddy and slick and runs along the ravine. All I could think about were those donkeys in the Grand Canyon and wished for the sure footedness they possess. One mishap and down you go. There is some climbing too; one being over a large man-made concrete barrier probably as old as the tunnel. We arrived at the base of the falls where there is another manmade dam. Here I could get video of the falls to the right, but for a better view of the cascades to the left, I had to cross the stream. While it was not deep, I feared slipping on stones and getting my book and phone wet. Andy added a few more stones for me to step across. (See both videos below of the falls left and right.) I did do some hand over hand climbing along the rock face to reach the top of the dam. Once there the water is fairly shallow and I could walk from one side to the other enjoying the falls. While we survived the hand over hand climb up and down, don’t try this unless you have good traction shoes. If you have fear of heights as I do, just don’t look down.

If there is one thing I’m learning, it’s to expect the unexpected. It’s difficult to put into words the feeling of being in the presence of such power, and the wilderness in which you find these falls. The scent of the forest, the damp of the earth, the babble of a brook or the thunder of the water leave one breathless not only at the majesty but from the exertion itself. But every step is well worth it!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Motorcycling with Children

Ever since our grandson Aiden was able to walk, his grandfather has been talking about taking him on a motorcycle ride. His grandmother on the other hand had other things to say about it, not to mention that the child has a set of parents with their own views on the topic to consider. Yet, year after year, Papo and Aiden would inspect the motorcycles and even sit atop the pillion seat to test it out. I am not keen about children riding on motorcycles. They are our precious links to the future and exposing them to unnecessary risk is not something I take lightly. Each year as Aiden grew, I preached on the conditions that would have to be met before I would consider the idea of him riding pillion. Here are a few of my insistences:
• No child younger than 8 years old should ever be a passenger on a motorcycle.
• The child’s feet must be able to reach and rest comfortable on the pegs.
• Despite age and height requirement, the child must possess a level of maturity that allows for following instructions.

The day arrived when these conditions became evident. With permission of his father Aiden and Papo would get their long awaited motorcycle adventure. Yet not until I had a serious conversation with Aiden did I bow to the request of having a child along for an afternoon ride. These are the items I ticked off for Aiden.
• First we sat on our haunches while I pointed out the muffler. These, I told Aiden, are the “pipes” he had to avoid or risk serious burn. While there, I then pointed out the pegs, where he should keep his feet at all times.
• Next we sat on the pillion. Here I instructed him to “hug” Papo around the waist, put his hands on Papo’s waist, or he could hold the strap on the seat. Whichever of these made him comfortable was OK.
• Next, I told him that whenever we stopped someplace, he must wait until Papo says “OK” before he gets off or on. We talked about balance and the stability of the motorcycle.

Aiden listened well. You have to know the child before you can reliably be sure they understand. I was very serious and he appeared to receive the message of importance I wanted to deliver. Next came riding gear. The laws are different in every state so be sure to check on what is required. I have my own requirements that cover any law on the books. A helmet is mandatory! We had to do the best we could for the rest. One of my old leather jackets was too big, so we did what we could to make sure no skin was exposed. We put gloves on the hands, jacket, long pants, and shoes. He did come to us with a pair of boots, but the laces were so long, that I envisioned a horrible scenario should they get caught in the spokes or what have you.

With all my conditions met we departed, Papo ahead and me behind watching like a hawk. Aiden rode the pillion like a pro! He obeyed all of my instructions. I felt pride and only a few twinges of fear at risking the life of my daughter’s only child on a motorcycle. Our first stop was ten miles out at Trap Falls in Ashby Massachusetts. This is a family friendly place and Aiden had a ball! He challenged himself leaping from stone to stone across the brook. There is really no danger as the water is ankle deep and any spot I said no too, he obediently avoided.

Off we went again, on a longer loop home. The trick with children is reading the body language. Aiden did great for a total of 60 miles which included stops. At one light when I noticed a bit of flushing of cheeks, and not so wide eyes, I knew it was enough. Children can be lulled to sleep riding in cars, and this can happen on motorcycles too. It was time for home. Not only was our outing a success, but we were fortunate that with all the graduation parties on this June day, most people were off the road, giving us open byways with little traffic. As for Aiden and Papo they forged a new bond experiencing the world together as only motorcyclists can.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Easy to Moderate

This weekend took us to two new waterfalls on our list of 400 we want to visit in the New England Area. One was classified as easy (in terms of hiking time) and the other moderate. I’m not familiar from where the classifications are derived. Is there a scale published by the AMC? In any event, there should be a scale within a scale; easy 1 for no effort at all, to easy 5 for “easy” but a bit of scrambling. This is what came to mind after we visited Pollards Mills (easy 1) and Welton Falls (moderate 3) on Sunday. At Pollards Mills we relaxed a short distance from the Motorcycles and enjoyed a picnic lunch by the falls. For Welton Falls, we had a moderately arduous trek through the woods and nearly gave up the search. While the trail is well maintained by the AMC, the path is prolific with roots easily stumbled upon, steep ups and downs on slippery pine needles, and there is a moderately harrowing leaping from stone to stone across fast moving water to connect with the trail on the other side.

Of the two, it is hard to say which is better. While Pollards Mills Falls themselves are rated a 3 on a scale of 5 being the best, and Welton Falls is rated a 4, there is much more going on in these two places that rating the falls alone can tell you. At Pollards Mills, the South Branch of the Sugar River that carves the granite walls of this place show that no artist can create the beauty that the powers of nature can. The walls on either side tell of how this river can rage at high water, leaving one side with smooth slabs of granite, while the other shows layers upon layer of rock, shaded even at high noon, with mosses and even trees growing from the crevices.
Welton Falls on the other hand is located within the Welton Falls State Forest, and the trail head to the falls starts at the AMC Cardigan Lodge. This should have been our first clue to the nature of this hike. With Mount Cardigan looming above us we start at the trail head with a trail board posted with warnings, one being to watch out for bear. A short distance onto the pathway there are a few AMC camping spots complete with bear bins to lock your food into. As we progress on the trail, the trees become denser, the trail prolific with toe stubbing roots. Along the trail we hike up, and then we hike down. We have to call into service walking sticks to help us maintain our balance. They come in handy on the down slopes, and for pulling us up the next grade. There are so many marvelous treasures on this hike, that the damp skivvies I had from the excursion was well worth it.

Aside from the many simple wonders of nature, are the unexpected trail twists we didn’t anticipate. The first is coming to what we thought was the end of the blazed trail, only to discover the blaze on a tree across the Fowler River. This is where our walking sticks came in handy as we leaped from stone to stone across the fast moving waters to the other side. The next hill climb began, and here near the falls the trail divides left and right. I took the left fork first, which leads to a granite ledge with a serious overhang. I eased my way along the ledge as far as I dared, and could see the first of the plunges below. Getting a photo however filled me with vertigo, so there isn’t much I have to show. What I have is the awesome feeling of standing with nothing more than a wire cable keeping me from doom. The cable here looked more a cautionary device than a safety one.
We backed away from this ledge and took the right fork around to the other side. Here is where the magnificent of this place opens up. The 30 foot drop of these falls in the hard to reach section of the State Forest keeps it protected from the ruins of mankind. The water leaps over the edge of this granite divide in a roar that lets you know Mother Nature is the real boss.
As riding destinations; Pollards Mills is certainly easily doable. Welton Falls on the other hand can only be reached by dirt roads. If you are not comfortable navigating dirt roads you will need to visit Welton Falls by car, but you must visit. If you are a dual sport rider, make this your next destination! As for bear, we did encounter one, but only as she raced across our path while atop the motorcycles.

Special thanks to Marty, Tim and John whom we met at Pollards Mills for their friendly conversation about the history of Pollards Mills and for pointing us to Dale, the owner of the property. While Dale was not about, John was just arriving home and happily agreed to show us a couple of old photos of the mills that used to stand along this stretch of the South branch of Sugar River.

Marty and Tim

Photos from Dale's personal collection.

Pollards Mills Falls

Welton Falls