Becket or Bust Bike Ride

With the Pan-Mass Challenge coming up, my training plan has me spending long hours and long distances on the bike during the weekends. The Boy’s camp had Dad’s Weekend scheduled from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. How could I do a long bike ride and spend the maximum amount of time with The Boy at Camp Becket?

Bike to Becket!

becket war canoes


Google Maps (It has a bike directions option) came back with a 130 mile route. Strava came back with a similar route. Not so bad. With my training to-date, that kind of distance would be a big test of my ability to finish the Pan-Mass Challenge. (Speaking of which, it’s never too late to make a donation for my PMC ride.) I thought it was achievable.

Then I noticed the climbing involved in the ride: over 10,000 feet. Ouch!

I went back to the route builder to make some changes to see what I could do about the distance, the climbing, and the suitability of roads for cycling. I pulled out my Rubel bike maps that highlight the better cycling roads. I could not get the climbing below 9,000 feet without adding many, many miles on to the route.

Then, I did some math on timing. That distance and elevation would take about 10 hours in the saddle. Adding in a few stops to re-fuel the body would make it a twelve hour journey. Dad’s weekend starts at 1 pm on Friday afternoon, so… I would have to leave home at 1 am to get there on time. Surely, I was going to arrive tired.

Fortunately, the weather forecast looked good. Phil offered to be my domestique and drive my bags out to Becket. He was already plan to drive to Becket to spend Dad’s Weekend with his son, who happened to be in The Boy’s cabin at camp.

The Ride Begins

The alarm went off in the middle of the night. I prepared my bike, slurped down an espresso and was off into the clear, cool night.

I mounted a NiteRider Lumina 750 Bike Light on the handlebars and a NiteRider Lumina 250 on my helmet. The lights lit up the road in front of me. But just in front of me. I quickly realized that if I went above 15 mph any obstacles in the road came into the light too quickly for me to react. The lights could not illuminate far enough up the road for me to go any faster.

The pace allowed me enjoy the tranquil night. The stars were out on the moonless night. The cool night air was refreshing.

I had the roads to myself. I encountered less than a dozen cars during the first three hours on the road out to Princeton.

As the road entered some denser woods, things got a bit creepy. At times it felt like a bad slasher horror movie, just waiting for a chainsaw wielding maniac to rush out of the darkness. That would switch to concerns about large wildlife crashing into me. I could spot glowing animal eyes staring at me as I scanned my headlamp across the woods as I rushed by.

The first encounter with wildlife came in Clinton as I went under a bridge. A white bag in the middle of road twitched and as I came closer revealed a big skunk snacking in the road.
I slowed.
We both stared at each other.
I pedaled slowly past.
I hugged the curb on the other side of the road.
I twitched, ready to stomp on the pedals for a quick exit.
The skunk slowly backed up.
The skunk inched it’s way to the far curb, staring at me the whole time.

Face-to-face was good. I didn’t want the business end pointed in my direction. I exited on one side and the skunk retreated out the other side. The first crisis ended without incident.

Princeton Center stop

The next obstacle was Mount Wachusett. I didn’t need to climb to the summit, but I had to get through Princeton Center which is next to the mountain with a steep climb.

It was a tough climb. Given the darkness, I never could see how much longer and higher I had to go until I was at the top in Princeton Center.

In planning, I had wanted to get to this stop by dawn. I was ahead of schedule.


The only sounds were the whirring of my pedals as the chain turned through the gears pushing me further down the road, and the air streaming through the vents in my helmet

There was not much to see. Most of the roads were without streetlights. There were the stars above and the halo of light surrounding me from bike lights.

Lots of time to think.

What could I do to be a better man?
What could I do to be a better father?
What could I do to be a better husband?
What could I do to be a better member of my community?

Lots of time to think.

The Second half

IMG_2414Halfway through the ride came sunrise and a close encounter with a bear.

A hundred feet ahead there was a big black bear crossing the road. My first instinct was to grab my camera. But then I thought better and kept both hands on the handlebar. I slowly approached the spot where the bear had entered the woods on the side of the road. Gone. Four hundred pounds of bear had disappeared into the dawn lit woods. I couldn’t see it, and I was not going to stop and stare.

I had beautiful views as my road snaked along the side of hills presenting vistas overlooking fog-filled valleys with the orange and purple of dawn lighting the sky.

Then the hunger came. Time for breakfast and a long stop at Ware’s Dunkin’ Donuts. Nothing better for re-fueling on a bike ride than DD. Sugar, fat and caffeine packed in easily digestible and delicious packages.

With my tank topped off, I had the energy to compete on the roads with the morning commuters. I resented having to share the roads after having them to myself during the pre-dawn hours.

The next obstacle was the Connecticut River. There are only a few bridges to the cross the river. I rode over the Calvin Coolidge Bridge on Route 9. IMG_2420 Stopping for a picture, of course.

Looking over the side of bridge I noticed an old railroad bridge upstream with pedestrians and cyclists. I had missed the Norwottuck Branch of the Mass Central Rail Trail in my route planning. That looked like a much more pleasant ride across the river.

Having never been to Northhampton, I was joyful to find a bike friendly town with bike lanes. Even better, it was full of coffee shops. That meant time for second breakfast.

I had to refuel for the next big obstacle: the hills of Westhampton. A 1,000 foot climb was down the road. The heat of the summer morning had arrived.

Unlike the climb into Princeton in the dark, I had the full sun to light the road for a fun, rapid descent after the slow, grueling climb.

The last and biggest obstacle was still ahead. Camp Becket is on the top of a mountain with 15 miles of uphill road to get there. I turned the corner after the descent into Huntington to begin that slow crawl up Route 20 into Becket.

My legs were cooked. It was all about finding a low gear and grinding it out over those 15 miles. Mile after mile gaining more and more elevation, knowing this climb was standing between me and The Boy. I had not seen him in three weeks. I was not going let a few miles stop me.

I managed to get to the top of the mountain an hour early. I pulled into the Becket Country Store & Cafe and consumed a ridiculous amount of food and drink while I waited for it to get closer to the one o’clock start of Dad’s Weekend. I could not wait quite that long and threw an exhausted leg over the top tube to finish the climb to the camp’s entrance.

IMG_2424The camp greeters were a bit surprised to see me. I’m sure that they thought I was a lost biker, turning around just before the road became unpaved.

Then I whooped out “DAD’S WEEKEND!”

They whooped in response and followed with “Are you here for Dad’s Weekend?”

I sure was. Tired, but I was there.

The Route

The final route, at least according to Strava:

Distance: 132 miles
Climbing: 9,079 feet of elevation
Average speed: 14 mph
Fastest speed: 40 mph
Elapsed Time: 11:13:34
Moving Time: 9:28:34
Calories burned: 6,428

Becket or Bust road map

Camp Becket

Of course Dad’s Weekend at Camp Becket was a great event. Great times with The Boy, other boys and their dads.


The message on Chapel-by-the-Lake’s steps stuck with me, especially after my night of introspection.

May we know once again that we are not isolated beings
But connected to the universe, to this community, and to each other.
May we be reminded here of our highest aspirations
and inspired to bring the gifts of love and service to the altar of humanity.

That was my last big physical test before the Pan-Mass Challenge and a big emotional test. Now the fiscal test remains, as I continue to raise funds to support cancer research.

 Donate to the Pan-Mass Challenge

Pan-Mass Challenge: It’s not too late to show your support for me and cancer research. The Pan-Mass Challenge will donate 100% of your donation to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through its Jimmy Fund.


Our Kayak Journey Down the Entire Charles River

photo (1)

Early in the summer, I picked up a new double kayak. My first thought was to put in by the Newton Marriott with The Boy and explore that section of the Charles River together. Then my brain jumped ahead and thought about how much of the Charles River we could paddle together.

The plan was hatched.

Over the summer we paddled about 60 miles of the Charles River over the course of 10 days. Most days were about three to four hours on the river. (The big exception was the first leg in Milford which took significantly longer to overcome the shallow water and obstructions.) The kayak was big enough, and the kids small enough, that I could take The Boy and The Girl down the river. I left her behind on some sections of the river that would be tricky with portages or rapids.

From Milford, we passed through Bellingham, Medway, Franklin, Millis, Medfield, Dover, Sherborn, Natick, Wellesley, Needham, Dedham, Newton, Waltham, Watertown, Cambridge, and Boston.

See the map below and more about each leg of the journey.

Charles River Journey
Charles River Journey

Behind the scenes, Mrs. Doug made the journey possible. She trucked me and the kids to the put ins and picked us up at the end of the segment.

The segments in river order:

Starting in Milford, through Box Pond and the Bellingham Meadows


Our starting point was in Milford, outside 495. The Charles River’s headwaters start at Echo Lake in Hopkinton. However, the first 20 miles are not navigable in any meaningful way. Our Milford starting point seems to be about as far upstream as you can start. Even at that point was going was difficult. We ended at the Caryville Dam in Bellingham. More…

Medway and its Dams and Paddling from Populatic Pond


This section of the river was memorable for its obstructions. The obstructions started before we could even get in the river. The old abandoned factory downstream from the Caryville Dam had fenced off the property, leaving the put in on the other side. After finally getting into the river we encountered numerous beaver dams and two man-made dams. More … and More….

Forest Road in Millis, Though Area F, to Route 27 in Medfield

Doug The Boy The Girl and Our Red Kayak

This was a great stretch of river. It was especially notable because we were paddling just after the rainy days of June, leaving the river wide and bloated. More…

Route 27 Through Rocky Narrows and Broadmoor To Natick


This is one of the prettiest sections of the Charles River and about as back-to-nature as you can get inside 128. Most of the riverbanks in this section are subject to some type of protection or part of a park. More….

Natick Dam Through Elm Bank and Charles River Village to Needham


In this section, surburbia intrudes. Houses back right up to the river so at times you feel like you are paddling in someone’s backyard. But it is a nice paddle. More…

Needham, through the Dedham Loop, to Newton


We took a shortcut. The Long Ditch slices off a loop as the river wanders through Dedham. We have been paddled the outside of the loop before and will do it again. The Charles River Canoe and Kayak center at Nahanton Park will rent a boat to you and truck you upstream to paddle this section. More…

Paddling with the Kids in Hemlock Gorge

128 Road Signs in the Distance

This is an interesting section to paddle, but it is chopped up with some big portages. More…

Newton Lower Falls, Through the Lakes District, to the Moody Street Dam in Waltham


This section is the mostly highly used section of the river, other than the basin. Credit the river traffic to the popular Charles River Canoe and Kayak location on Commonwealth Ave next to the Newton Marriott. More…

From Moody Street in Waltham to Brighton


This is an industrial section of the river. One of the first big industrial factories sits at the starting point, harnessing the power of the Charles River.  More…

The Last Stretch, from Brighton to the Ocean


This section of the Charles River is unlike the rest of the river. Maybe people wonder where the river starts because they expect to see this broad plain of water up stream. In the rest of the river you can paddle from riverbank to riverbank with just a few strokes, or less. More…

After all of that, the Charles River ends at the dam behind the Boston Garden.

Charles River Dam

We decided to go a bit further and went through the locks into Boston Harbor. Clearly, the kayak was not made for ocean waves, but we managed to go past the U.S.S. Constitution and the Boston waterfront to Fort Point Channel. There was new kayak/canoe dock paid for by P&G Gillette.
Fort Point Channel dock

And so our journey down the Charles River has ended. I’m sure we will be back paddling through some of those sections. It’s a great river to enjoy. However, there are some sections that I’m unlikely to paddle again.

Then, there are lots of other rivers nearby. I wonder what we will paddle next summer……



charles river mcadowIf you are interested in exploring the Charles River, I highly recommend a book by Ron McAdow: The Charles River: Exploring Nature and History on Foot and by Canoe.  It provides a comprehensive description of the entire river. It highlights the best places to access the river and details the portage routes. McAdow describes the physical environment bordering the river as it passes through town after town. There are snippets of history as your pass meaningful places on the river, or places that were meaningful at one time or another. McAdow dives deep into the flora and fauna you are likely to pass while paddling.

Hog River Underground

The Army Corps of Engineers has done some strange things to our waterways. Rivers can be diverted and pressed into concrete channels, but cannot be erased. Joe McCarthy’s grandfather remembers when the Park “Hog” River used to run through downtown Hartford. But today, it’s gone. There are buildings where there used to be a river. Intrigued, Joe looked closer and found the river buried beneath the streets of Hartford.

Joe partnered with fellow artist Peter Albano to map the now underground river and to document their exploration of this underground ecosystem. To help fund their project I backed their Kickstarter project and took a ride with them on their exploration of the underground river.

The Hog River Revival began over a eighteen months ago. There are 9 miles of enormous 30? x 30? conduits which bring the north and south branches of the Hog River out to the Connecticut river. Their artwork is a series that portrays a record of their physical journey, as well as an expression of their interaction with the Hog River.

The massive public works project was a result of the 1936 flood and the great hurricane of 1938. As the Connecticut River swelled, it pushed the Hog River back and up into the streets of Hartford. In response, the city pushed the main branch into two tubes, buried under roads and parks. The work continued and the conduits were stretched further eastward. Then pumping stations were added along with an auxiliary conduit to deal with the heaviest of storms.

hog river RevivalJoe and Peter took me into this beast of a public works project. At its heart, it’s just a river. But it’s wrapped in thick concrete and studded with outlets and floodways.

hog river underground

We loaded up our kayaks with art supplies, torches and cameras and set off into the foreboding conduits that mark the meeting of the Hog River and the Connecticut River. It starts off merely spooky as you paddle away from the sunlight, then the lights go out as you turn a corner. Headlamps barely reach the top of the tunnel and merely highlight the darkness ahead. Even that sense of space disappears as you hit a fog bank where the humid outside air collides with the cold air of the underground river. At that point all that is visible is the few spherical feet of illuminated water vapor around your headlamp.

Eventually we escape the fog and our eyes adapt to the deep darkness. Joe and Peter use the darkness to help craft their artwork, which in turn captures the darkness and claustrophobia down there. They capture the river through many types of media, with lots of experimentation.

We encounter the debris you might expect in an urban river. Although I have trouble figuring out how an overturned car made it so far down the concrete tunnels. At times you can hear the city above. Other times, the only noise is our breathing and the gentle flow of the river.

After reaching the far end of the underground river we see sunlight and a small park at the end of the tunnel that forces the river underground. The ride back down river is a unique treat as we turn off our headlamps and plunge into darkness, letting the river take us back to our launching point.

This story originally appeared in’s GeekDad

Balance Bar 24 Hour Adventure Race Boston

Dave, Doug and Jeff decided paddling around Boston Harbor, biking through Wompatuck State Park, climbing in the Quincy Quarries and hiking the Blue Hills Reservation would be a good way to spend a day.

We had a bunch start in kayaks behind the Federal Courthouse in Boston Harbor

From there we paddled across Boston Harbor to Nantasket. We grabbed some pizza and switched into biking gear. Then it was 20 miles of biking down to and through Wompatuck State Park.

Then it was back in the kayaks, paddling across Boston Harbor to Wollaston Beach, up Black’s Creek to a transition point.

Then we were on foot running/walking to the Quincy Quarries. There we had a rappel down the K Face in the Quarry. Next was a zip line from the Q Face to the M Face. At this point the sun was setting and we had 30 miles of hiking through the Blue Hills Reservation. Just to keep us awake, it started raining. We saw a few teams huddle up under emergency blankets.

Back to Wollaston Beach and the kayak. We paddled to Thompson Islans, paused for a cruise ship to cross our route and paddled back to the finish line at the Federal Court House on Fan Pier.

A short 25 hours.

Here is a story about another team we met during the race:

Here is an interactive map of the race route (Or, at least as much as I can remember of the route. You pan, zoom and click on the markings for more information.):

View Balance Bar 24 Boston Adventure Race Route in a larger map

Muddy Buddy Boston in Myles Standish Park

June 15, 2002

The Muddy Buddy features a 7 mile course and 5 obstacles. At the start of the race, one team member runs and other rides the bike. At the 1st obstacle, the rider will drop the bike, complete the obstacle, and begin running. The runner will arrive, complete the obstacle, find their bike, and begin riding. Teams will continue leapfrogging each other through the entire course. At the end of the race, racers will crawl through the infamous Mud Pit crossing the finish line together!

It was a cold rainy day for Joe and I. Several other FitBooters also came to race, including Charla. The biking was terrible. The “dirt” at Myles Standish Park is sand. Soft sand. It was a tough slog on the sandy portion and bone-jarring on the pavement. The mudpit ended up being more brown water than sand.

L to R: Joe (Grandpa), Charla, Doug (Commando), Judith, Paul (4), Kris and Roland

Joe and I finished in 53rd place at 1:01:09

Muddy Buddy Boston Race Results

(Charla came in a minute behind us at 1:02:43)

Hi-Tec Adventure Race – Hartford 2001

Action Dave and Jamie Liu ran, biked and paddled this race with me. This race is a favorite since it happens at night. Getting lost in the woods in the dark is more fun than being lost in the daytime.

We came in at 4:30:06 in 50th place (out of 138 teams) in the coed division. The last team came in at 7:24:17 and first place came in at 3:29:20. See the full results for the Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series #6 Hartford, CT, September 8, 2001.

A blazing start:

Emerging from the lake after a kayaking leg:

Dave, Jamie and Doug trying to figure out where we are and what we are supposed to be doing.

Setting the pole for Jamie to climb.

Jamie climbing.

Jamie tying.

Doug and Dave in the dark. Where’s Jamie?

The wall is the last obstacle before the finish line:

Crossing the finish line:

Climbing Mount Whitney via the Mountaineer’s Route

Mt. Whitney, at 14,495 feet is the highest peak in the lower 48 states. It is also the most sought after peak in North America. During the summer months it is normal to find several hundred hikers ascending the peak on any given day via the Mt. Whitney Trail.

In the spring, Mt. Whitney is a different mountain. It becomes a climber’s challenge. Our route of ascent was the Mountaineer’s Route on the east side of the mountain. What is a third class loose rock gully in the summer becomes a snow climb on terrain up to 45°.

Jeff and I had George Dunn guide us up the mountain. Unfortunately, after making it up the gully the conditions prevented us from making the last few hundred feet to the summit.

Camp One, by Lower Boy Scout Lake:

Our kitchen at Camp One:

The view from Camp One:

Camp Two, by the East Face of Mount Whitney:

The view from Camp Two with Lone Pine in the background:

Jeff climbing up the gully:

Me, George and Jeff just below the summit:

We climbed up there:

To just about there:

Rainier: Camp Muir

After trudging up the snowfields, I realized that we still had to set up the tents. What I did not realize is that we were not staying in Camp Muir, but on the snowfields just below Camp Muir.

The sloped snowfields.

You may realize that it is uncomfortable and dangerous to sleep on sloped snowy surface. So Phil announced that we would have to start digging. Out came the ice axes to chop through the snow and cut it into shoveable chunks. Out came the shovels to clear the snow and flatten out a platform.

Up go the tents. Digging in the stakes into the snow and using our hiking poles for additional stakes.

We now had our home for the next three days.

e would also need a kitchen, so we dug a hole, wind screen and shelf for the kitchen. Three days on the mountain meant we would have to take care of other bodily actions. So down the slope we dug a piss hole.

After setting up camp we put the kitchen to use and cooked up some dinner. Hot dogs for everyone with some pudding for desert.

After dinner we had the Phil said to hit the sack if we were tired. I immediately dove in to the tent and went off to dreamland.

In the middle of the night I had this dream of tumbling down the mountain repeatedly slamming my head into the snow and ice. Half awake I realized that I was not moving but the tent slapping back and forth. Stopping when it hit my head only to send it back out to balloon out and ricochet back into my head. As I became more conscious I learned that the wind was blowing at gale force and was slapping our tent around. Groggily, I slipped on my boots and jacket while the tent kept sending shots to my head. Ed was still sleeping like a baby since he was on the lee side of the tent. Out into the night air, I vainly tried to tighten the guy wires and re-secure some loose stakes. After a few minutes of messing around with the supports it looked like I had tightened up the sides enough to allow me to get some sleep.

The Climb of Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier is the highest mountain in the northwest United States, towering in the backdrop of Seattle and Tacoma. I decided to climb it. Well, actually Jeff decided to climb it and convinced me to also climb it.

After dislocating my elbow in the months leading up to the climb and losing my luggage and climbing gear just before the climb, I finally made it to the mountain.

The climb starts at Paradise (5,400 feet). We hiked with our gear up to Camp Muir (10,600 feet) which about 4.5 miles and takes most of the day. We set up our tents just below Camp Muir.

The second day was glacier training, self-rescue and mountaineering training on Cowlitz Glacier.

Then at midnight, we wake early to head up to Cathedral Gap to our first rest stop.

The view from Paradise Lodge

Jeff and Connie resting on the Muir Snowfield

Ed resting on the Muir Snowfield

After hiking up the snowfields, we set up camp: Rainier: Camp Muir.

Ed learning to ice climb

Other climbing teams passing behind our camp at Muir

The view from our tent

A climbing team coming up from Cathedral Gap to the first rest stop

Another climbing team coming into the first rest stop on the Ingraham Glacier

Coming out on top of the Ingraham Glacier

Ed at the second rest stop, with Mount Adams in the background

Phil pulling one of guys out of a steam vent at the summit

In the summit crater (I am the pumpkin on the left.)

Thanks to the Guides at RMI

and our head guide: Phil Ershler

Required Equipment for Mount Rainier

This was the required equipment list given out by Rainier Mountaineering for my climb of Mount Rainier.

Each individual participating on a summit climb or seminar MUST have the items listed below. Do not jeopardize your safety, comfort or success – bring every item.

  • lug-sole climbing boots*
  • longjohns (top & bottom)
  • crampons*
  • ice axe*
  • ski poles*
  • backpack*
  • sleeping bag (rated to 32° F)**
  • parka (down or synthetic fill)**
  • rain/wind jacket and pants**
  • gaiters**
  • wool or pile/fleece pants**
  • 2 wool or pile/fleece sweaters**
  • 1 pair light wool or synthetic liner gloves
  • 1 pair wool, pile/fleece mitts or gloves**
  • 1 pair wind/waterproof shell mitts or gloves**
  • 2 pair wool or synthetic socks
  • wool or synthetic stocking cap
  • sun cream and lip balm
  • 2 one-quart water bottles
  • 2 trail lunches
  • 1 dinner
  • 1 breakfast
  • eating utensils
  • 3+ large plastic garbage bags
  • glacier glasses with side protection**
  • headlamp and 2 sets of new batteries**

Optional Equipment

  • Hiking Shorts
  • T-shirt
  • Sun Hat
  • Bandana
  • Earplugs
  • Facemask
  • Ski Goggles (for foul weather or if you wear contacts)
  • Tennis Shoes or Light Hikers

Provided Equipment

RMI provides the following equipment for all Expedition Programs:

  • Harnesses
  • Helmets
  • Avalanche Beacons
  • Ropes
  • Avalanche Probes
  • Shovels
  • Technical Hardware (pickets, carabiners, ascenders, ice screws, etc.)

* Available for rental in Ashford at Summit Haus and in Paradise at the Guide House. NO RESERVATIONS REQUIRED.
** Available for rental only at The Summit Haus next to Whittaker’s Bunkhouse in Ashford (360) 569-2142. RESERVATIONS REQUIRED.

Summit of Mount Washington

Action Dave and I enjoyed a beautiful spring day in New England by hiking to the top of Mt. Washington.

We had bluebird skies as we hiked up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, to the Lion’s head Trail and up to the summit.

The disappointing part of the climb is encountering the tourists at the top who were driven up there in a tourist van.

On the summit. From 1999 Mount Washington

Yes, the building is chained down.

Action Dave and one of the weather experiments.

The legendary Mount Washington Observatory

Snowboarding Tuckerman Ravine

After years of thinking about it, we finally decided to snowboard Tuckerman Ravine.

We got lucky and turned out to be a beautiful April day, with a bluebird sky. It was downright balmy, especially in the bowl itself with all of the sunlight being reflected off the snow. But, the temperature dropped very quickly when the sun went down behind the ridge.

We hiked for several hours up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to get to the bowl. We had a late start so we only managed to get in one snowboard. Several hours of hard work for one run.

It was worth it.

Reading the avalanche danger sign
Jeff and Connie, starting the hike up
Nattie and Connie, getting close to Tucks
Jeff and Connie, getting closer
Jeff and Connie, entering the bowl
Lunch rocks and the line of hikers climbing up the slope
Jeff and Connie strapping on their snowboards
Jeff riding down the Headwall
Yes, this guy chose to ski naked