Sliding Down the Sudbury River

We picked a beautiful summer day to start our exploration of the Sudbury River.

I’ve driven over parts of the river a few times. You have also if you’ve every driven on Route 2 by Emerson Hospital. That’s where the Sudbury River passes under that highway.

We started the day in Lincoln, near the Concord border on route 117. There is a parking area east of Lee’s Bridge and the Sudbury River. The river is easy to see from the bridge, but the parking area is a bit harder. It looks like it’s in the Mount Misery woods.

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From the parking area, there is short haul down to a bay on the river. That bay is a hundred yard long slot that leads out into the Sudbury River itself.

The Boy once again was paddling on his own. We rented a Wilderness Pungo 140 from Charles River Canoe & Kayak. We taped up his thumbs to prevent the blisters he got last time.

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Shortly, we paddled into Fairhaven Bay where the river widens. According to Thoreau’s journal, he accidentally set fire to the woods around Fairhaven Bay in 1844. Far across the bay is a beautiful stone boathouse.

Fairhaven Bay

As you turn the corner out of the bay and head downstream on the river, you will definitely see a huge modern house perched uphill above the left-hand bank. I believe Hassan Ahmed bought the estate in 2009 after leaving Sonus Networks.

The Sudbury River is slow and flat through this section. It would be easy to paddle round trip. With Natascha along, we were able to shuttle cars and only paddle a downstream trip.

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<insert obligatory waterfowl picture.>

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The most unusual sight on the river was this pontoon boat.

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It was a lunch cruise on the Concord River. Martha’s Catering & Concord River Cruises runs the operation out of the South Bridge Boat House.  This is a good spot to rent a canoe or kayak if you want to explore he nearby sections of the Concord, Assabet, or Subbury Rivers.

There were several casual fishermen along the river. Based on the sign below, I hope they were just doing a catch & release.

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At the end of the paddle, we came to Egg Rock, where the Assabet River merges with the Sudbury River to form the Concord River.

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From the merge it was just a short distance to the Old Calf Pasture landing spot on Lowell Road in Concord. This paddling trip was a little bit over five miles.

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Canoodling on the Concord River

We put back in the Concord River where we had last left. “We” this time also included Natascha.

DSC_0096She took the little yellow kayak, I took The Girl in the big red kayak, and The Boy took a rental to paddle by himself.

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The weight balance is far off in the red kayak with me in the back and The Girl in the front. DSC_0077

The Concord River continues it slow flow through Billerica towards Lowell. The day was partly cloudy with almost no wind. The river was glass smooth at times.

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Of course there were plenty of birds to see. <Insert obligatory picture of waterfowl.>DSC_0088

What we did not expect to see was a killer frog.

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I had read that bullfrogs were carnivorous, but I had never seen one eating a mouse before. Until now.

The end point was the Faulkner Mill in North Billerica.

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Dams at this location can be traced back to the late 1600s, at first to control flooding and grind corn.

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This is also a waypoint for the Middlesex Canal which flowed from Lowell to Charlestown. The mill pond helped feed the canal.

Casting Along the Concord River

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The Boy and The Girl ready for paddling

The Concord River forms from the merger of the Assabet River and Sudbury River. The two upstream rivers flow into each other at Egg Rock which is just upstream from the boat launch at Lowell Road.

This is a large boat launch area with room to pull the truck down to the water and drop the big red kayak in the water. We were there on a pleasant, sunny Saturday afternoon. There was a stream of cars pulling in and out unloading canoes and kayaks into the river.

The Boy brought his new fishing rod, hoping to get a fish bite. He wanted to work on his casting skills.

The highlight of the trip is passing under the Old North Bridge. (Actually, it’s a replica of the original bridge.) You get a great view of the bridge and the minuteman statute from the river.

Old North Bridge from the Concord River

This was the spot where the “shot heard round the world” was fired. The minuteman were on one side of the bridge and the British regulars were on the other side.

Most of the right bank of the Concord River is protected land: the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge along the Concord River
Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge along the Concord River

With all of that protected land, there is some great birdwatching. We saw five herons perched along the riverbanks and felled trees in the river. Unlike the Charles River herons, the Concord River herons were nonplussed by the approaching kayak.

Bird Watching on the Concord River
Bird Watching on the Concord River

The Concord River is wide and flat during most of this stretch. It’s wide enough and deep enough for motorboats. There was a jetski buzzing around us. He was a thoughtful rider and slowed to a crawl leaving no wake to upset the kayak.

Broad expanse of the Concord River
Broad expanse of the Concord River

This is supposed to be a great stretch of the river for fishing. We saw several tricked out fishing boats with serious fishermen aboard. Sadly, our fishing was unproductive. I did see a big fish jump out of the water, but that was the closest we got to a fish.

The takeout is at Bartlett’s Landing. There is parking lot for a handful of cars. The landing is a sandy beach just after passing an island in the river. There are several private sandy beaches upstream from the landing.
Bartlett's Landing on the Concord River

The Route:

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July 26, 2014

Tour de Newton

Tour de Newton

It was a glorious early summer day. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. I was wrapped in a bright orange shirt for my ride in the Tour de Newton.

The Tour de Newton is a casual ride though all 13 villages of Newton. It’s a shotgun start, so the ride starts simultaneously in all 13 villages. It ends up being about 20 miles and takes about 3 to 4 hours. You earn a pin at each village stop.

I signed up late so the only village still open for riders was Chestnut Hill. That meant I had to add on five miles at the beginning (and end) to get to the Boston College start.

John led the group out at a leisurely pace, while Lucia swept up the back of our pack of 25 riders. We were across the age spectrum, with a half dozen teenage boys exercising their freedom of adventure, a few under-ten, and pack of those comfortably in their middle age, like me.

From Chestnut Hill we coasted down Comm Ave and Centre Street to the Jackson Homestead for our first stop at Newton Corner. The downhill was a great way to start. But it also meant we would have to get back uphill at the end. Then on through the rest of Newton.

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The Newton police set up cones for our left-hand turn through Newton Corner. They also set up cones on Washington Street to set up a bike travel lane as we pedaled over I-95 and blocked off-ramp traffic for us.

There was only one driver who acted like a jerk to our pack. He thought we were too much of an inconvenience and couldn’t wait the extra two minutes for us get through Auburndale. At least he was well-behaved enough to not actually hit any of the cyclists. He just made it more treacherous for us.

The Tour was extremely well-organized and well-supported. I’ll need to remember to sign up earlier next year.

Influx by Daniel Suarez

influx by daniel suarez

Imagine that there is a sinister Bureau of Technology Control that has been suppressing technology advances. Nuclear fusion? Perfected in 1985. Cancer? Cure discovered in 1998. “Immortal DNA strand segregation”? Accomplished in 1986. Control gravity? Now (at least in Influx by Daniel Suarez).

The Bureau kidnaps the revolutionary scientists that have developed these breakthrough technologies and is withholding their discoveries. The Influx hero has developed a “gravity mirror” that controls gravity. The Bureau deems it disruptive and kidnaps him.

I had very high hopes for Influx. The Wall Street Journal thought that Influx could be Suarez’s “breakout book and propel him into the void left by the deaths of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton”.

It’s good. I ripped through it quickly, wanting to see where the story went. But setting the bar as high as Clancy or Crichton is too high.

I mostly got hung up on the futuristic technology. It was too advanced. I bought the gravity mirror. But I couldn’t put my belief in a fusion reactor the size of a softball. That ultimately distracted me from the rest of the story.


Wheelmen

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Lance Armstrong was one of the best cyclists in last 20 years. But his wins were built on a foundation of illegal doping and performance enhancing drugs. It’s not about the bike; It’s all about the needle.

I first came to road cycling during the rise of Mr. Armstrong. His story as a cancer-survivor coming back to win the biggest race in the world was an inspiration. But, it was all built on lies. The United States Anti-Doping Agency has stripped him of all of his cycling wins since his recovery from cancer.

Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell write a devastating tale of Mr. Armstrong’s rise and meteoric crash. Wheelmen is very well-written and well-researched. We only saw Lance on his bike. The book takes us through what was happening on the team bus and hotel.

I remember watching his epic battles with Ullrich, Mayo, Beloki, and himself. Lance answered all the challenges during his seven Tour de France wins in a row. His team was stacked with great riders: Hincapie, Hamilton, Landis, Eki, Heras, Leipheimer, and many others. The team was run by a Bruyneel, a master tactician. Those great riders and those tactics were reliant on a widespread campaign of illegal doping.

It’s clear that most of the top cyclists during the Armstrong era were also doping. There are no Tour de France winners during those years because the men next to Armstrong on the podium most years have also been implicated in doping. It begs the question of whether Armstrong was the best cyclist or merely the best doper. Or perhaps a combination of the two.

I was sadly disappointed when the charges came out against Armstrong. Given that he had faced death, I did not think he would risk his health by doing.

“Armstrong said he wouldn’t be stupid enough to take drugs after cancer. ‘I’ve been on my deathbed,’ he said.”

I was wrong; He was lying.

The doping was not the worst part. It was that Lance Armstrong had viciously attacked anyone who tried to tell about his doping. He wrecked the careers of people merely trying to tell the truth and clean up cycling.

Wheelmen is great book to read if you have an interest in cycling or Lance Armstrong.

The Searchers

the Searchers

John Wayne is at his most “John Wayne-ish” in this classic western from John Ford. Wayne plays a middle-aged Civil War veteran who spends years in western Texas chasing the Comanches who abducted his niece. He rides on his quest with his adoptive nephew.

This is a great movie to add to your Netflix queue.

The film’s scenery is stark, desolate, and beautiful. The sandstone buttes of Monument Valley puncture the horizon in every exterior shot.

In 2008, the American Film Institute named The Searchers as the greatest Western of all time. AFI also rated it 96 in the top 100 movies of all time and rose to 84 in the 2007 edition of the list.

Curling in the Park

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The Olympics are over, but your dream of being a curling champion may not be. I took part in a curling mini-league many years ago. The closest analogy is a combination of bowling and shuffleboard, but much, much harder. The stones are heavy, the ice is slippery, and the playing surface is very long.

Modern curling has precisely measured indoor ice sheets, timing clocks, Teflon-soled shoes, and high-tech brooms. But like hockey, it started as a pond sport in its early days.

Above is a photograph of outdoor curling in Central Park in New York City. I love this picture, so I thought I would share it. More 1890s curling photos.

Captain Phillips

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I barely made it through the first ten minutes of Captain Phillips. Tom Hanks was trying to use a thick Boston accent. It was distractingly horrible. Thankfully, he lets the accent become more subtle and disappear.

This movie made me think of Argo. Both are based on true stories and you most likely know how it turns out. Nevertheless, I still got tense wondering how both movies were going to turn out.

Captain Phillips is piloting his container ship off the Horn of Africa when it is attacked by pirates. Bad things happen.

I would rate this “#1 in your Netflix Queue.”

There is a fair amount of violence and blood so it’s not a good choice for kids.

Building Up The LEGO Movie

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At first blush you might write-off this movie as a puffy piece of drivel trying to push you to buy more of a kid’s toy. Or you might discard it as a failed adaptation of a toy to a movie (I’m looking at you Battleship.)

Ignore those thoughts. It’s a delightful movie that will be enjoyed by you and your kids.

I won’t talk much about the plot, because it might wreck your experience.

Apparently LEGO was able to leverage their licensing for models to appearances in the movie. You have the DC Comics represented by Batman, the Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. If you like G.O.B from Arrested Development, you’ll love Will Arnett at Batman. You also have a brief appearance of Star Wars characters, including Anthony Daniels the voice of C-3PO.

I would give this my highest rating of getting a babysitter to see it in the theater. This is a rare movie that your kids will enjoy as much as you, so need need for the sitter.

 

Year Zero

It was December and I needed a “Y” book to finish off my A-to-Z reading challenge. I had my eye on Year Zero by Ian Baruma. But I couldn’t get my hands on a copy and the year was coming to a close. I didn’t want to fall short by one book/letter. I noticed a different Year Zero by Jeff Long. I had read one of his novels many years ago and remembered enjoying it. But I didn’t end up enjoying this book, and a friend on Goodreads recommended a different Year Zero by Rob Reid. So I read that also. Then the first Year Zero came in from the library, so I read it.

That’s the tale of why I read three books called Year Zero in a month.

Year Zero by Ian Baruma explores the history of 1945. The book covers a huge spectrum of topics, from the revenge on Germans to the re-education of Japanese students under General MacArthur. 1945, was start of a new world. Germany had been defeated. Japan had been defeated. The colonies in Africa and especially Asia saw that their European overlords were capable of defeat.

The problem was that the book tackled too much. That leaves vignettes of the problems faced in 1945 and what happened as a result. It lacks a narrative because the book stays focused on 1945 and does not trace the problems forward.

Year Zero by Jeff Long is a tale of an apocalyptic disease triggered by the opening of an ancient Christian artifact. The novel held promise of exploring themes of Christianity, the collapse of civilization, revenge, and redemption. But it fell well short of saying anything meaningful or interesting.

Year Zero by Rob Reid is a fun sci-fi farce, with aliens and lawyers. The universe has fallen in love with Earth’s music, but illegally pirated all of it. Then trouble and misadventures follow.

My 2013 Reading List

2013 reading challenge

My goal this year was to finish reading a book every other week. (For the math or calendar challenged, that’s a goal of 26 books.) I’m happy to say that I smashed through that goal. I ended up with 44 books on my Read in 2013 shelf during the year.

A-Z Challenge
You can see the cover for each and every book just below. If you look closely, you will see that the books are in alphabetical order. If you look even closer, you will see that each letter in the alphabet is represented.

I responded to a challenge on Goodreads to do so. It helped clear a few items that had been loitering on my to-read list, based solely on the first letter of the book’s title. As you might expect, the letters Q, X, Y, and Z have very limited choices.

GoodReads versus LibraryThing

I’m still tracking my books in two parallel systems. Library Thing has a superior platform for cataloging books. GoodReads has a better platform for interacting with other readers, sharing reviews, and sharing booklists. In the past I’ve treated them equally, but GoodReads is becoming my primary platform with LibraryThing as an afterthought.

It was a big effort to get all of the books into my LibraryThing collection in 2009. I was disappointed that GoodReads couldn’t add most of the very old books I have sitting on my shelf. They predate ISBN designations which GoodReads relies upon. As a result, LibraryThing has 1432 of my books, while Goodreads only has 1099.

As I’ve been bringing the kids to the library more, I’ve also been borrowing more books from the library. I’ve been more focused on the books I read, than the books I own. That tilts towards Goodreads strength.

I’ve also started winnowing out my library and giving away books. 1432 books take up a lot of space. If I still want LibraryThing to be an accurate catalog of my books, that means deleting the books as they leave the house. That adds an extra effort that I’m not sure is worth it.

Now I’m looking for reading suggestions for 2014. Do you have recommendations?
Have you joined GoodReads?

2013 Reading List:
2312Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn'tAntifragile: Things That Gain from DisorderBunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a RevolutionCaught Stealing (Hank Thompson, #1)Comic Books and the Cold War, 1946 to 1962: Essays on Graphic Treatment of Communism, the Code and Social ConcernsThe Dog StarsEmpty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American FortuneFoundation, Foundation and Empire, Second FoundationThe GunHigh Performance with High Integrity  The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar's Medellín CartelJoylandThe King's Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made AmericaLucifer's HammerA Manual of Style for Contract DraftingMastering SnowboardingMortal Bonds (Jason Stafford, #2)The Most Memorable Games in Patriots History: The Oral History of a Legendary TeamMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMy Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite DinosaursNocturnalThe Ocean at the End of the LaneOctopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street's Wildest ConThe Orphan Master's SonThe Ponzi Scheme Puzzle: A History and Analysis of Con Artists and VictimsThe Quick and the DeadReady Player OneRedshirtsThe Remaining: Aftermath (Remaining, #2)The Remaining: Refugees (Remaining, #3)SCIENCE: Ruining Everything Since 1543The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don'tSomeone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century ParenthoodThe Theory That Would Not DieUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionThe Vast Unknown: America's First Ascent of EverestThe Walking Dead, Vol. 17: Something to FearThe Walking Dead, Vol. 18: What Comes AfterThe Walking Dead, Vol. 19: March to WarX-Men OriginsYear ZeroYear ZeroZone One

The Tale of the Boston Post Road

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If you have driven along Route 20 in Weston or Sudbury you may have noticed the name of the road is “Boston Post Road”. Most people probably ignore it as merely a moniker tapped to prevent you from getting lost. Perhaps you, like me, thought there might be more of a story behind it. There is a bigger story and Eric Jaffe tells it in The King’s Best Highway.

Jaffe’s interest started in New York, questioning why there was a road called Boston in the Bronx. I traveled the Charles River in my red kayak; Jaffe drove the Boston Post Road in his red Mini Cooper.

The Post Road started out in colonial times as a rugged trail, barely passable by horse. As the colonies united and the revolutionary fires grew, the link between Boston and New York became even more important. Intrepid riders would ride from tavern to tavern with wax-sealed letters. The trek would take at least a week.

The Boston Post Road was actually two separate routes. There was the inland route that ran west from Boston to Springfield, then south to Hartford and New Haven, before turning to New York City. The coastal route ran southwest from Boston to Providence, then hugged the coast as it met up with the inland route in New Haven.

The linking of cities was initially not about transportation. It was about communication. It was a key route for communication between two important hot spots of the revolution.

The road eventually improved in places and coaches began moving passengers, slowly, between the cities and points in between. Then roads moved back towards disrepair as railroads blossomed. Even today, the Amtrak lines follow the paths of the Old Post Road, with an inland route through Springfield and the coastal route through Providence.

It was bicycles that revived the roads. Recreational riders were looking for the best roads to reach the countryside. The Good Roads movement was supported by the bicycle riders groups and bicycle manufacturers.

Then, the manufacturers tried putting engines onto bicycles and the age of the automobile began and its thirst was roadways was insatiable. By the 1940s the Boston Post Road was an illustration of the inadequacy of road-building. The expressway era was about to begin and emerge as the national system of interstate highways.

The King’s Best Highway is a great tale of transportation in the Boston-New York corridor. Jaffe wanders off the road a bit when he over-emphasizes the importance of the road. I found the segment on President Lincoln’s pre-election travels to be a traffic jam. The books ends with Jaffe’s delightful telling of his own travels on the old road. It was no longer the “narrow slit of poorly groomed earth” from the colonial times. It was mostly a “gluttonous commercial wild.”

Discovering the Headwaters of the Charles River

When we decided to paddle the entire length of the Charles River, one persistent question was “where does it start?”

Our paddling adventure only partially answered that question. We started where we could float the kayak and paddle downstream. That left the unnavigable stretches of the Charles River out of our scope. But our adventure would not be complete without putting boots on the ground to find the headwaters and see where the Charles River begins.

The Charles River starts at Echo Lake in Hopkinton. The lake was originally a swamp, but a dam impounds the water between high rocky ground. It’s now part of the Milford Water supply.

Echo Lake

There are several streams that run into Echo Lake, but none have been deemed worthy enough to carry the title of Charles River. We hiked around a portion of Echo Lake, but never made it to the dam or the trickle of water that starts the official beginning of the Charles River. Given the dry weather, we may have passed right over it and not noticed.

Echo Lake looks like it would be a nice place to paddle. However, it is drinking water for MIlford so paddling is not allowed.

From Echo Lake the Charles River water trickles south. You can easily see the channel along Milford’s Upper Charles River Trail. This rail-to-trail project runs to the Charles River and runs parallel for a short stretch. There was little water to see. Most people would not notice that it was the Charles River unless they looked a the map. That little puddle was the only water we saw in the channel.

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We went to further point on the trail and found another impoundment at Wildcat Pond. It’s hard to envision that this wet ditch is start of the mighty Charles River.

Charles river as it leaves Wildcat Pond

The water quality was poor and the was no flow. The Charles River was just a dirty puddle at this point in its run to Boston Harbor. Wildcat pond at the source carried a sign that it was part of the Milford water supply and off limits to paddling. It would not have been worth the effort to carry the Kayak out to this dirty little pond anyhow.

Our next glimpse of the Charles River was Milford Pond, just North of Milford town center. The pond is formed by the Hayward Field Dam. The water quality is very poor. It’s an unnatural shade of brown and green, with a sheen of petroleum.

hayward Field Dam

The quality of the water did not improve at our next glimpse of the river at Central Street in Milford. The channel splits in two, with most of flow directed under the Archer Rubber Plant. A bypass heads to the left into a tunnel.

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That is the last we saw of the river until our put-in at Howard Street in Milford. The dingy grey water at our start is now no longer a surprise.

The water was not much to see and certainly nothing that could be paddled.