Having lived most of my life on concrete sprawls, I never developed a great love of the outdoors. My idea of “roughing it” is stepping down to a three-star hotel.
But when we moved to Ipswich, not so very long ago, it was time to acquire a new lifestyle. The beach! The woods! The greenheads!
So recently, for the first time, my wife and daughter and I tried out something called Bradley Palmer. It’s a 721-acre trail-laced state park that straddles Hamilton and Topsfield, and on one side comes right up to the edge of Ipswich without quite dipping its toe in.
The first trail sign we came across was a heartfelt entreaty, in alarming capital letters:
I was nonplussed. I have never known a pedestrian to do anything close to 15 mph. I have also never seen a speed bump designed for pedestrians. I could only surmise that Bradley Palmer has acquired a constituency of really fast walkers. I wasn’t worried, however. Since we were on our bicycles, I felt confident that we could run over any pedestrians if necessary, even the 15 mph ones.
We soon decided to leave the paved trails and take on whatever challenge Bradley Palmer could throw at us. The official contour map suggests that some of these trails are basically level. I can confirm personally that the contour map is a fantasy. The Bradley Palmer page on Wikipedia is more to be believed. It confirms that “many of the trails over the hills” were constructed “straight up and down slope instead of following the contours.” Of course, someone on a horse can take these hills effortlessly, if they don’t care about the horse frothing at the mouth. (But watch out for those frothing horses. According to Wikipedia, “The pedestrian is cautioned to be alert for galloping horses and not depend entirely on the alertness of the riders.” On the other hand, I was comforted to see no white crosses situated alongside the trails.)
We soldiered on, and of course, it paid off. We made thrilling discoveries. For example, we found what must be the official Pothole Testing Grounds for the region. Bradley Palmer has long slopes and wide meadows pocked with rocks and nicks and notches. Descending such an incline on your bike, it’s impossible to control your facial muscles. Within seconds, jowls flapping, you’re making a kind of guggity-guggity-guggity sound. My 12-year-old, with significantly smaller jowls, was more of a dugga-digga-dugga-digga-dugga-digga. A fellow passed us coming the opposite way. “Bumpy road, isn’t it!” he cried happily. “Buggada-buggada-buggada!” My daughter waited till we were a discreet distance past him before turning to me and setting the record straight. “He’s wrong,” she scoffed. “It’s dugga-digga-dugga-digga-dugga.”
Later, traveling alongside Bradley Palmer’s mushy wetlands, we experienced the joy of encountering actual wildlife.
“Look!” I yelped. “A beaver!”
“Dad, that’s a squirrel.”
“Dad, that’s a turtle.”
“Dad, that’s a duck’s butt.”
I found the wildlife to be somewhat deceptive. But perhaps this should be no surprise in a state park named after an attorney of the early 1900s who represented Sinclair Oil in the Teapot Dome Scandal.
Since I had not previously spent a lot of time on bicycles, I realize now, in retrospect, that I probably should have consulted in advance with my friend Gordon Harris, one of Ipswich’s foremost bicycling enthusiasts. Gordon might have spared me the oddly uncomfortable feeling I had, most of the day, in my lower regions, which I finally realized was the result of my seat being crooked. Not a lot, just 45 degrees or so.
Still, all in all, it was a fine day with the family in the great outdoors, with only the slightest of mishaps.
“Dad! Look! A beaver!
“Mom! Wait up! Dad fell off his bike again.”