Saturday, May 28, 2011

Biking 101: Don't bike by yourself in a secluded area. Imagination is a killer.

I’ve been excited to bike the Cotton Valley Rail Trail in Wolfeboro, NH ever since I heard of it about 2 weeks ago. That’s a lie, I knew it existed before 2 weeks ago, but I have never been on it and I didn’t know anything about it. It was described to me as flat, paved & easy. I figured it would be a nice leisurely bike ride and that I could convince people to bike with me on it. I also have an upcoming 5K and duathlon that will be running along the same trail, so I wanted to check it out and see for myself how it looked.

I checked it out on Google maps and figured out where it started and ended so I had an idea of how long it was and how many miles I’d get out of it. It showed me that it was about 3 miles long, one way. So I knew that if I wanted to get any good mileage on it, I’d have to do an out and back at least twice.

Yesterday, I headed down to one end of the trail and became dinner for 472,389 mosquitos as I unloaded my bike. I kept telling myself that all I had to do was get moving and they wouldn’t be able to keep up with me and buzz in my ears (HATE that).

I started off and was a little surprised that it wasn’t paved. It was dirt and gravel. I figured that it would start off a dirt path, then turn into paved for the majority. Nope. Not one inch of the trail was paved. Luckily I have a hybrid bike and not a road bike. I don’t think I’d have been able to bike it if it was a road bike. About a 3rd of a mile down the path, it went across the railroad tracks. There was a sign that said, “Walk across the wooden bridge” for bikers, but then the path ended. Kinda. I could either bike down the middle of the tracks or cross over it and go into a wooded path. There was a sign pointing me towards the wooded path, so I figured that I should follow it and maybe it would even out and become paved at some point. I followed that for about 20 seconds before it became impossible to ride. There were roots everywhere and there was no way I could stay on the bike and make it out alive. I got off my bike and started walking. After about 2 minutes of walking and constant thoughts of, “This cannot be right”, I decided to go back to the car and head to the other end of the path in downtown Wolfeboro and start from there. When I got back to the railroad tracks, I looked up the tracks and saw the path continue further down the tracks. I thought maybe I was supposed to ride down the middle of the tracks and meet up with the path on the other side. That was exactly what I was supposed to do. So I continued on the trail.

It was strange to be riding on dirt and not pavement. I was worried that maybe I’d pop a tire on a stray rock of something, but everything held up okay. I was riding behind houses and along the water. It was a nice ride and there were some beautiful parts of the trail. But only as it headed towards downtown Wolfeboro. The other way? No. More on that later.

I got to one point on the trail where I was a little confused as to which way to go. Right at that moment, I heard a bell and someone informing me that they were “passing on the left”. It was a little old man with a big basket attached to the front of his bike.  As he passed I said, “I’m not sure where the trail goes from here, do you know?” No answer. He peddled off towards a trail that I wouldn’t have noticed if it weren’t for him. So I said “Oh, this way? Ok yeah, sure I’ll follow you”. It was a bit of an Alice in Wonderland moment and I was following the crazy white rabbit. Or a leprechaun. Either way, it was odd. I had no idea where I was and it looked like it might have been the right path. Maybe. This part of the trail wound back and forth, whereas the rest of the path was straight. With each bend of the path, my little leprechaun man disappeared and I had to hurry to catch up with him. Then as soon as the path straightened out again and started looking like it had earlier, he pulled over to take a rest on a bench and I kept going. I definitely had a “did that just happen?” moment.

I got to the end of the trail in downtown Wolfeboro and stopped for a moment to check out the map. It was there that I realized that the trail wasn’t just 3 miles. It was 3 miles from where I started to where I was at the moment, but if I had gone the other way, it was another 3 miles. I guess Google maps didn’t get that memo.

On the way back, it was still light out, but the sun had gone down considerably and there was a lot of cover from the trees, so I didn’t need my sunglasses. But I noticed that there were swarms of mosquitos (or black flies, either way, not a good time) in the middle of the path, just hovering, waiting for someone to come by. Since I was moving, they couldn’t swarm me, but they sure as hell could swarm together and wait for me to run into them. I put my sunglasses back on as protection. A little later, I passed a woman on her bike and we smiled at each other. A bug flew into my mouth and I almost died. Not really, I just spit it out but, gross. From then on, anyone I passed got a closed mouth smile, which probably looked like a creepy grimace. But, no bugs!

By the time I made it back to my car, I was curious about the other side of the trail, so I decided to check it out. The easiest way for me to say this is: It. Was. Scary. It was secluded and mostly woods with a few houses and warehouses spread out along the trail. I had an uneasy feeling the entire time. It might have started when I saw a man sitting in his car in the parking lot to the trail. My imagination might have started to play games with me. Let’s just say I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being followed. About a mile in I came across a jogger, and then another biker, both women, so I felt a little better, but I still was a little nervous about my surroundings. I saw a warehouse that looked sketchy with a brand new SUV sitting out front and I immediately thought, “Why is there such a nice car parked at an old warehouse? That’s probably where they take people to torture them, then kill them”. I pedaled a little bit faster. Then I saw a rundown house and thought, “They probably keep a lookout for people on this path and come out here and kill them as they pass by”. For some reason, I kept going. My imagination had already taken a trip somewhere bad and there was apparently no talking myself out of it. As I continued on, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pair of jeans slung over a fence of some sort. I turned to look and realized it was a barbed wire fence. There was nothing around this area. No house, no road, no nothing. Just woods. So of course I thought, “Holy sh!t. There is a guy living in that house up there that took a woman off this trail and killed her and hung her jeans up over that barbed wire fence as a warning to all other people. And he might get me! But I’m not wearing jeans. Maybe he won’t want me”. Remember, I said there was no house anywhere? In my imagination, there was. Then I started singing to myself. You know like those little kids in movies when they are scared in the dark and they sing to themselves to make everything less scary? Yes, that was me.

As if all that wasn’t enough, I started seeing weird marks on the trail, like the dirt was darker in some places than it was for the majority of the trail. I’m sure it was from the recent rain in the area and the puddles hadn’t fully gone away, making the dirt darker, or you know, mud. But this crazy, insane, scary place that I was in at that moment had me convinced that they were bloodstains from people who were killed out on the trail in the past few months. That was the final straw. I turned around and hightailed it out of there. I tried not to look at the jeans on the barbed wire, the sketchy house or the warehouse with the new SUV in front of it, but I couldn’t help it. I needed to be sure no one was coming for me.

On my way back, I saw another jogger coming toward me. I muttered to her, “Good luck out there”. She smiled and said “Thanks”. She had no idea.

I made it back to my car and saw at the station that the sign said 3.1 miles to Wolfeboro and 7.8 miles to Route 16. Both via the trail. I had only ridden about 2 miles toward Route 16 before I freaked myself out enough to turn around. I can’t imagine almost 6 more miles of mental torture!  I’ll ride the 3.1 miles over and over. That part of the trail was nice. No way in hell am I riding 7.8 miles along that death trap the other way!

Of course for this adventure, I forgot my camera, and my phone. So, no pictures. However, I will try this trail again. Hopefully tomorrow and I’ll bring a camera to capture the picturesque views and oddities of the Cotton Valley Trail. I know you can hardly wait so I’ll try to be quick about it. For now, here’s a picture of the trail headquarters right near where I parked, AKA, entrance to CreepyVille.

Right behind that red building is the entrance to CreepyVille

Update: Check out the photo companion for this adventure!


  1. It's a bit of a drive for you, but you'd like the MInute Man trail. It's 11 miles long (I think) but ALL PAVED! :-)

  2. So let me get this straight, you already thought the trail was creepy and knew you didn't have your cell phone with you...yet you traveled down 2 miles of it anyway?!?

    Though, I'm not surprised you freaked yourself out. You always did scare pretty easy. All I had to do was lower my chin and stare at you in that creepy way and you'd get all "Stop it! You look evil!" lol


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