West Hartford Reservoir Figure 8

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This past Friday I took the boys on an afternoon walk around the MDC’s reservoir off of rt 4 in West Hartford.  The weather was fantastic as I pushed Edgar in the stroller around the right side of the first reservoir.  Oscar did a good job keeping up and we maintained a good pace.  We crossed the first large bridge and worked our way around the left side.  We passed that same bridge on our way back and stopped for a quick applesauce snack at the picnic table just around the bend in the picture above.  It was pretty late in the day and the shadows were long but we still managed to cover roughly 2.5 miles with lots of smiles and few complaints though Oscar was concerned that a wind gust might blow off his favorite hat.

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Quick Rock Chucking Hike

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This past Wednesday (4/13) we hiked at Giuffrida with friends.  We went out to the end of the reservoir and back and checked out the two bridges for a roughly 1 mile hike.  There are a few great spots for throwing rocks into the stream between the bridges.  There is a low makeshift rock wall that runs along the edges of the stream which helps minimize the risk when we take a break for some well-earned rock chucking.

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The walk back went a bit slower than the walk out but going slower meant we could enjoy the view of the lake and do a little pine cone hunting!  The boys played around on the hill next to the parking lot for a little while after our friends left.  Sometimes Edgar needs to run around a bit after sitting in the carrier and this day he had lots of extra energy.  The weather was great overall and it turned out to be a perfect day to get out and hike.

 

Hail Hike

Today I misjudged the weather.  I generally pride myself on my ability to predict and avoid bad weather but I definitely got it wrong. We went out for a short hike at the MDC’s reservoir off of Farmington Ave in West Hartford today.  There is a paved road that goes around the perimeter of the resevoir complex with some nice views and shade along the way.  It was in the high 40’s with some intermittent light wind and cloud cover.  There were some not so pleasant looking clouds to the west but only some spotty showers a half hour or so out on radar.  I use the “Raindar” app and it gives up to the minute radar information including identifying and giving projected course and speed of any severe storm cells.  I figured we would hike out for 15 minutes and head right back to the lot before the rain hit.  15 minutes into our hike I felt a rain drop and I immediately knew that I had misinterpreted the weather information in front of me.  We immediately turned around and headed back to the lot.  I thought, “Looks like we’re going to get wet, lets put up the stroller’s sunshade and speed up to keep from soaked.” The clouds darkened and the temperature dropped a good 5 degrees as we made our way through a pine stand to the first bridge.  Then the sky opened up and started chucking little chunks of ice at us. 

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Oscar thought it was hilarious and started trying to catch them in his mouth. 

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Edgar was less amused and asked for the blanket.  They were both all smiles after a few more minutes of this ridiculous tiny ice ball barrage but I have to admit to being a bit freaked out at first. 

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I checked the barometer on my watch and realized that I should have seen this coming and called off the hike.  We’ve been cooped up all week and I didn’t have the heart to tell them we weren’t going once we got to the lot.  Thankfully it wasn’t a more severe storm and we were all safe but I will have to make sure to look at all sources of weather data the next time the conditions are at all questionable.

Penwood Hike

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Today we hiked Penwood State Forest in Simsbury Connecticut.  This state park has a fairly extensive trail system that runs along the ridge and includes a road with several connector trails for easier hiking in case the kiddos get tired.  There are other trails indicated on the trail map that we did not explore including the Metacomet Trail.  There is also a small outhouse style bathroom at the trail head.  We started out below the lot on the Yellow trail, hiked out for about a mile and a half before backtracking a short ways and switching over to the road until were back to the lot.  Our hike was approximately 3 miles and took 3 hours with one break half way for water and snacks.

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The yellow trail was easy overall with some short moderate climbs.  I would not recommend this trail to anyone who is not a fan of steep drop-offs since the one side of the trail gets close to several along the way.  There were more nice views along the way but mainly because the leaves are not out yet.  I imagine that in the summer you would not be able to see as much as we saw today.  The overlook was beautiful and is featured in a few of these pictures.  It’s locationis indicated on the trail map.

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We saw some pretty cool stuff along the way including this very weathered log and some amazing views.

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The wind was pretty intense today in Connecticut but it was especially strong at Penwood because the park was on exposed ridge and there were no leaves on the trees to help break the wind.  The boys and I don’t mind a little wind but this time it was a different.  There were blown down trees everywhere at Penwood and some were clearly recent.  We even passed a very large creaking tree within easy striking distance of the trail that had massive 8 foot crack in it’s trunk.  I would not recommend going to this park on a windy day and if you do make sure to look up and be aware of any widowmakers.

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We started back on the trail but Oscar decided he wanted to finish walking back on the road.  It was nice to have a relatively flat and easy walk back.

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Edgar normally does well in the backpack and today was no exception.  He was pointing at everything and telling me what he saw as he bounced his way down the trail on my back.  “Daddy I see trees! Daddy I see rocks!  Daddy I see trees AND rocks!”  He got a little tired towards the end so he slept for the last half mile or so.  Oscar was happy to have my undivided attention for a while so I collapsed one of my poles and strapped it to the side of the pack so he could hold my hand.

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We were all tired at the end but another snack and some water cured what ailed us.  I would do this hike again but I think next time I’ll go on a calmer day and bring more water and snacks.  We were all a bit hungrier and thirstier than I would prefer at the end.  I would rate Penwood 3 out of four stars on a calm day and two out of four on a windy day.  The views are amazing and the trail is well maintained but there was a lot of blow down and that cracked tree is a safety concern on a windy day.  The lot is also a bit small so I would have a backup hike in your back pocket if you try to hike here on a busy day.

 

Essential Gear: Trekking Poles

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Trekking poles are one of my must have pieces of gear for any hike.  They make the uphills and downhills much easier and they are essential when tackling tricky terrain with or without kids in tow.  In a pinch I can also collapse one or both of them if I need my hand(s) free and they can be used on almost any type of surface.

When I use my trekking poles by myself the focus is on speed, stability, and weight transfer.  My poles are adjusted so that my elbows are at a ninety degree angle when I hold with them with the tips in contact with the ground.  I plant each pole at the same time as my opposite foot strikes the ground, driving the pole back to propel myself forward.  On the uphills I plant one or both of my poles slightly ahead of me to help push me up and on the downhills I plant the slightly ahead to help steady myself and transfer some of the shock and weight from my knees and ankles to my shoulders and core.  This has the added advantage of providing stability on steep ascents or descents allowing me to hike longer and with more weight on my back than would be otherwise possible. Here e is a brief tutorial on the basics.

Trekking poles make difficult trail obstacles much easier.  Everything from stepping over a large log to fording a stream can be significantly safer and less difficult when you have a pair of trekking poles at the ready.  The preferred method is to use the wrist strap but I often switch my grip to “palm” the top of the grip when I need a little more reach because I am walking on something slightly raised, because I am traversing a particularly steep descent, or if I have to step down off of something raised.  These activities sound simple but when you have a heavy pack on the chances of becoming unbalanced or rolling and ankle go up.  The stakes are even higher when you have a kid on your back and one in tow.  This is the main reason why I always use trekking poles.  I want to be able to show my boys and experience the wonders that New England’s great outdoor spaces contain and my poles help me keep them safe while pushing all of our limits.

When I hike with my kids my poles give me several advantages.  They allow me to hike longer with a load on my back then I could otherwise which is especially helpful when you have 25-30 pounds of child, carrier, and gear on your back.  My trekking poles also extend my reach to provide my son with short-term assistance or to guide him away from a hazard or pile of dog poop.  The last and most important advantage of using poles is that they provide me with additional stability on tricky trails which allows me to more effectively help my son traverse difficult terrain.  He usually hikes without holding my hand but when the trail gets tough I collapse one of my poles, strap it to the pack frame, and hold his hand to get him through it.  I pivot my body and keep him above me and a pole firmly planted on my downhill side.  This position provides the most stability while allowing me to keep him steady and safe as we work our way up or down.  We have safely traversed remarkably difficult trail sections using this technique while going slow and assessing the trail immediately in front of us.  Ascents and descents require focus, confidence, and deliberate action.  Save enjoying the views for when you reach the top and take your breaks at the bottom.

I hope you are itching to get yourself a pair of poles and hit the trail.  You can buy an inexpensive pair from Wal-Mart like I did or invest in a set that will last you years and provide greater comfort.  Either way you will be better off than you were before!

Just Go Do It

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I tend to over think things and hiking trips both big and small are no exception.  Some days I spend an hour or more trying to plan out all the things I should bring along in case of hunger thirst or emergency and I drive myself and everyone around me nuts.  This spring has helped me realize something that I hope will begin to permeate the rest of my life.  STOP THINKING ABOUT IT AND JUST  GO DO IT!

I used to fret so much over bringing things I never ended up using and it took some of the enjoyment out of getting outside and walking in the woods.  I am a bit of a gear geek so I do get a kick out of inventing novel solutions to the various problems that hiking with children presents. At a certain point though the excitement and sense of accomplishment give way to anxiety over forgetting that one supposedly crucial item and it ruins our hike.

These days I keep everything I need in my car other than items that come with us every day like weather appropriate outer wear, our water bottles, and some easy snacks like granola bars and apple sauce pouches.  My trekking poles, frame pack carrier, first aid kit, and space blanket are all in the car and ready to go whenever I feel the itch to go disappear with the boys down a trail somewhere.  Not needing to plan makes a big difference in lowering my stress level and allows me to more easily enjoy hiking with my kids.

I don’t generally decide where we are going anymore until the morning of our hike.  I find that this prevents me from over thinking and allows me to better enjoy hiking with my family.  I’ve noticed that the boys have more fun and are able to stay out longer when I am relaxed and not stressing over packing up or picking a route.  We figure out our destination an hour or so before leaving and we pick our final route once we get there.  There are a variety of ways to do this but if you are hiking somewhere new I recommend looking at a topographical map of the trail and downloading a hiking app like Alpine GPS before taking your kids on it.

Despite all this the most important thing you can do to make hiking with your kids easier is to have everything ready to go so that you can hit the trail at a moment’s notice.  One of the great joys in hiking is the unexpected.  You can hike the same trail a thousand times and you will have a thousand different experiences and a sense of freedom and joy that nothing else can really provide.  You’ll never have the same variety of experiences if you sit at home or choose to go to a playground or library.  So stop thinking about getting out and hiking. JUST GO DO IT!