Thursday, December 22, 2016

Your Bucket List is Weighing You Down: A Harvard-Boxborough Study Proves It

Sweet, sweet, singletrack descents.
The perfect is the enemy of the possible, dreaming is the enemy of doing, and the bucket list is the enemy of a life filled with adventure.

How many times have you sat in your living room pining away for the day that you'll be free of your mundane responsibilities.  That day when you'll shake up your life and finally take that long awaited trip to Nepal, Antarctica, The Amazon, or some other distant and exotic location?

Let me be the first to tell you that it ain't happenin'.

I'm sure you can give me some Horatio Alger story from the person you follow on Instagram who instantly changed their lives, shook off gravity and realized their dreams. The reality is that the vast majority of us are all going to be bound by the same responsibilities and needs tomorrow that hem in our choices today.  We simply can't take a month off to go sailing around Iceland and skiing glaciers.

You might be saying to yourself at this point, "Geez Andy, lighten up.  I see the lack of December sunlight has sucked the hope out of you, but do you have to bring the rest of us down with you!!?"

The wild, wild, Metrowest.
But stay with me for a minute.  I said the perfect was the enemy of the possible, not the enemy of happiness.  What is "possible" may not be perfect, but it also isn't a life condemned.

What if I told you that there's adventure-  satisfying,eye opening and life altering adventure- that isn't 1000 miles away, or even 100 miles away?   What if I said that you could build adventure into your life without having to hit the reset button; that you didn't have to put your dream of adventure in some bucket on a shelf, and only dream about it.

It wasn't all dense forest.
To illustrate this point, let me tell you about a little adventure I took this summer. No, it wasn't to New Zealand or even New Hampshire.  This adventure took place in the armpit of I-495 just west of Boston between the towns of Stow, Bolton, Harvard and Boxborough.  Yeah, Boxborough.

If you're asking yourself, "There's mountain biking in Boxborough?..." you're not alone.  I've never heard anyone rave about the singletrack of Bolton-- much less even mention it.  When people mention I-495 and mountain biking in the same sentence, they're usually talking about the Vietnam trail system near Milford, MA.  You're more apt to hear roadies comment on the bucolic vistas and wide shoulders of the roads that wind through the area.

So when I set out on a hot summer afternoon to follow the GPS track I had laid out linking some of the area's trails, I had no idea what to expect.

It was an inauspicious start, as I had originally planned to set out from Maynard, but I couldn't find parking anywhere near the start of my GPS track.  I eventually ended up at the parking area for the Captain Sargent Conservation Area, where I was immediately greeted with a fast and flowy singletrack descent.  And suddenly things were looking pretty promising.

Welcome the gnar.
Heath Hen Meadow and Marble Hill Conservation areas were next, with each yielding high quality smooth singletrack.  The section through the last part of Marble Hill was particularly memorable, with a long descent along an old stone wall.

After a short on-street section I hit the Delaney Flood Control area which had a mix of wide open doubletrack and some tight twisty singletrack in the woods.

After crossing over I-495, I found where the gnar was hiding.  A tight twisty mess of rocks and roots slowed my progress to a crawl in humid afternoon air.  Eventually the trail opened up into a large pine forest, and I picked up speed as I wove my way through the woods.  I came across a trail runner, the only other person I saw on the trails on my nearly 40 mile sojourn.

It was here that I found the  best descent of the day, on a playful section of singletrack through the Vaughn Hills and Moen Property.

Another road section and I was into a gorgeous field with views of  Wachusett to the west.  This was followed by wide singletrack through majestic old pines and horse fields.

The route map.

By the time I hit Route 110 just south of Harvard, I realized that I was moving much more slowly than I had planned. Whether it was the heat, or all the pictures I was taking, I wasn't going to complete my loop in daylight.

 Originally I had planned to continue across Route 110 to some trails through the forest to the west, but instead I opted to high tail it into Harvard and meet up with planned route on the other side of town.  As I passed through Harvard, I stopped at the rustic country store and filled up on fluids before setting out to complete the last sections of trail through Boxborough.

Studying in Harvard.
After struggling to find the entrance my GPS promised, I wound my way through miles of Boxborough singletrack. It was here that I started to have my revelation (or possibly hallucination).

I had found something completely unexpected and amazing in a place that I had "written off" as uninteresting and mundane. The truth was that it was hiding in plain sight.

In only a few afternoon hours I had found the adventure I was so eagerly seeking.  The sense of discovery and wonder that was filling my soul was the same one I had found while hiking in the Andes, or mountain biking in the Sierras.  Whether it's peering over a ridge in Nepal or embarking on an unknown section of singletrack in Weston, adventure is adventure, and discovering the unknown is no more or less interesting.  And if I could find it in Boxborough.  I could find it almost anywhere.

The truth is that it doesn't take expensive gear, exotic locations, weeks of vacation and a 12 hour plane ride to find an adventure worthy of pursuing.

And buckets are only good for one thing, anyway: filling.  And the fuller they get, the more they weigh you down.  Eventually, the despair of all you've failed to accomplish just ends up pulling you down.  It's time to stop dreaming and start doing.  Dump out those buckets and go find some adventure close to home.  And make it part of your everyday life.

And maybe while you're busy living adventure you can still dream big, but you'll be dreaming on the trail and not in your living room.


  1. Hey. Awesome write up! Any chance you could share a GPX; I would like to try to replicate this post thaw

  2. Andy, If you ever want a tour of the trails you missed in Harvard let me know.

    1. Thanks Fitzy. Send me an email. I'll take you up on that. I also have a route question someone with knowledge of that area's trails might be able to answer.