Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beyond the Minuteman: Whipple Hill (August 2011)

A Fells-ish spot at Whipple.
I was upside down, completely underwater and with my bike on top of me. Despite the thought of being trapped, I found it hard not to laugh at my predicament.

It was the summer of 2008 and I was biking the Nanamocomuck trail with a couple friends who had gotten far enough ahead of me to be out of sight.  “The Nan” was a wild trail, littered with blow downs, running along the Kancamagus Highway.  A long section of the trail ran atop an elevated berm with occasional water crossings. The first few of these crossings were only inches deep.

After getting separated from the group I was pushing hard to catch up.  I approached what appeared to be another innocuous crossing: this one only eight feet wide, however the water had been muddied by the riders ahead of me hiding its true depth.  Having not seen my friends cross, I was surprised to find out that instead of a few inches, it was closer to four feet deep.  As my front tire dove to the bottom and I flew over the handlebars into the abyss an important lesson was impressed upon me:  Never trust murky water.

A welcome sight to any mountain biker.
While nowhere near as dramatic as my incident at “the Nan”, my recent trip to Whipple Hill in Lexington, MA served up a helpful reminder of lessons from years past.

While Whipple Hill has its watery sections including stream crossings, the exterior decorator at Whipple was more into rocks.  Whipple is a collection of rocky outcroppings, rock walls, rock piles and exposed rock: both jagged and smooth.  Similar to Leominster in its technicality, the trails at Whipple have challenges to help you hone your skills.  Relatively close in proximity to Belmont Rock Park, Whipple is not at all close in character.  Where Belmont is smooth and flowy singletrack, Whipple is a near constant battle to find good lines, maintain balance and keep momentum.  Parts of Whipple remind me of the Middlesex Fells, particularly the old growth pine forest and large outcroppings of exposed rock.  Other sections, like the single track in the hardwoods running along a stone wall, more closely resemble Great Brook Farm.

The largest of Lexington’s conservation lands, Whipple is still smaller than Belmont Rock Park and Burlington’s Landlocked Forest.  Despite its diminutive stature, it contains a great variety of terrain, as well as ample technical challenges to keep one entertained for an afternoon. 

One note of caution while riding there: Whipple lacks trail improvements to prevent erosion.  It is vitally important that the riders who go to Whipple treat the trails gingerly.  This means no riding the trails when they are muddy, and especially no skidding down steep sections.  This area is in desperate need of a tune-up.  (NEMBA?)

Lexington: Not known for its cartographers.
Whipple can be easily reached from the Minuteman by cutting through the baseball field below Trader Joe’s in Arlington Heights and then following the unpaved trail around the Arlington Reservoir.  At the far end of the Reservoir is a short on-street section on Lowell Street.  After taking a right onto Haskell, the park entrance sits on the far side of Summer Street from Haskell.  It is by far the closest true mountain biking area to the Minuteman and is an attractive option to those in Somerville and Arlington looking to mountain bike without having to drive anywhere, or bike on busy roads.

It was at this entrance to the park that I was reminded of my lesson from the Nan.  Feeling emboldened from my run that afternoon, I brazenly paraded through a large muddy puddle that had gathered in the drive of the park entrance.

That is.... until the pothole lurking below the surface found me.

Enjoy the video:

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