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A Hiking We Will Go

When I was growing up, my mother and I never had a lot of money for vacations, so most of our vacations were spent camping. We were real campers: just us, a tent, some sleeping bags, a cooler full of food, a Coleman lantern and a Coleman kerosene stove… one of those old-style stoves that required someone (usually me&#41 to spend an hour pumping the tank full of air so it would have enough pressure to stay burning for the amount of time it took to prepare dinner.

We called it getting back to nature, but in reality it was just a cheap way to spend a couple of days. But it didn't matter, because for a young kid like me, it was an adventure. We would hike around strange new trails, go to forts and other pseudo-educational historical sites, and make friends with other kids whose parents were doing the same thing.

So, when my mother sent me off to day camp at Wilcox Park in Bloomfield, CT, I was all for it. Wilcox Park's camp is a real outdoorsy sort of camp. We would run obstacle courses, learn how to identify plants and animals, perfect our map reading and compass skills, and best of all, we would hike. Every day, all of us campers would get in line and hike a half of a mile up the mountain to the intersection of the Duncaster (yellow blaze&#41 and the Metacomet (blue blaze&#41 Trails. Once every session, we would take a whole day and hike from Wilcox three whole miles to Heublein Tower in Simsbury, a major feat for a bunch of little kids like us.

By the time I was twelve, I was completely bitten by the hiking bug. I volunteered as a Counselor-in-Training at Wilcox and got to go on the big kids hikes… three and four day self contained hikes on the Metacomet and Appalachian Trails. I joined a Boy Scout troop that camped and hiked in rain, sleet, and even the snow. By the time I was fourteen, I had hiked through most of the trails in Northern Connecticut.

But then my mother and I moved from Bloomfield to Granby, CT, and the camping and hiking stopped. It was the early 90s, and camping was no longer in vogue… we had more of a disposable income, and the whole hiking thing sort of ended. Sure, I went to sleep-away camp for a few years, but aside from one two-week backpacking and rockclimbing expedition, I pretty much stopped hiking when I left Bloomfield.

A few weeks ago, Janet brought up the idea of taking a small hike… and the hiking bug bit me again. I went out to Eastern Mountain Sports and bought a new compass and a Connecticut trail map book. I picked a three to four hour hiking path, and even arranged to have a co-worker of mine come along for the walk as well… and yesterday, we met up and took a hike… my first hike in over 10 years. The put-in point for the trail? Wilcox Park in Bloomfield.

Just like I did for the first time almost seventeen years ago, I sprayed on my bug spray, put on some suntan lotion, and I was darting off through the Great Meadow in Wilcox Park, looking for the edge of the obstacle course where the head of the Duncaster trail started. Of course, this time it was just me, Janet and Holly taking the hike… not twenty or thirty campers groaning that it was too hot to go a whole half of a mile.

Everything was the same… the trails were still as well kept as they were in the 80s, and the view from Lookout Rock was as spectacular as ever. The three of us turned South and started walking… and walking… and walking. It was almost two hours later before we arrived in Simsbury at Penwood Park's Lake Louise and decided to turn around. We made it back to the cars a few minutes shy of three-and-a-half hours.

Later that afternoon, while having a meatball sandwich at the Subway sandwich shop in the Bloomfield Mini-Mall, Janet and I looked through the maps to assess the whole hike… we went about 5.8 miles round trip, which is only a mile short of making it all the way to Heublein Tower. As a kid, it would take almost five hours just to get there, and by then, we were ready for the vans to take us back to Wilcox, but now I could make it there and back in a little over four hours.

… and next time, I'm going to do just that.

Posted in Observations.

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