Sun, Nov 23, 2014
Pawtuckaway: Playground for hikers
WARNING: Some people have found this trip review to be offensive (and have felt free to let us know they were offended). Please take this review in the spirit in which it was intended. As satire (although there are some good points in here). If you are offended by someone making fun of Pawtuckaway, please STOP READING. If you can take a joke, please read on. But if you do read this and feel the need to vent, please write to Rob. Chris is tired of hearing about it!
It was the beginning of the year, and I was itching to hit the trail. But, as usual, work and other pressures prevented me from getting any time. I had also been looking for a new daypack; something that could be used on long trips when we decided to set up a basecamp and summit with light packs. I had finally purchased a Jansport Cirque pack (see my review) and was dying to try it. But, I only had one day (and not even a full one). So we would have to find someplace close to home because I didn't want to spend my time in a car. Living in southeastern New Hampshire, the choices are somewhat limited. In the end, we settled on the only real choice in the area -- Pawtuckaway State Park.
Martina and I got on the road a little late; around 9 o'clock or so. We made a few stops along the way, and were pulling up to the parking lot at Pawtuckaway around 10:30. We parked at the visitor's center since the road to the campground and lake is closed this early in the year. Although there were maybe 10 cars in the lot, we didn't see too many people, which probably lulled me into a false sense of security. Little did I know what lay ahead.
The first 1/2 mile of the walk was down the two lane road that leads toward the lakeshore and campground in the park. As we left the parking lot and headed down the road towards the lake and the trailhead, we saw the first group of people enter the road from the opposite end of the parking lot. Well actually, we noticed their dogs first. Yep', that's right, dogs (common domestic dogs, canus ownedbydipshittus I believe). I took this picture as we walked past the little guard shack at the park entrance. I was thinking to myself what a terrible shame it was to be so near people who were obviously illiterate and didn't understand the sign, because no one would be such an totally arrogant prick and walk past that sign with two out of control dogs in broad daylight without asking the people around them if dogs made them uncomfortable.
Now, just for the record, I love dogs. A lot. All kinds of dogs. I grew up with dogs (German Shepherds and Golden Retreivers), and I have owned a couple since then (a Dalmation and an English Springer Spaniel, although my parents "watched" them for a month, years ago and won't give them back now). I think dogs are great and as soon as I can, I'll get another one. But I hate irresponsible, pinhead, dipshit, pet owners. With a passion. You see, dogs are dogs, and they act like ... you guessed it ... dogs. Which means that since most people control their dogs only slightly better than they control their screaming out-of-control kids, the dogs run, jump, slobber, drool, piss, and crap all over everything in sight, all the while scaring the hell out of non-dog people, knocking down little kids, chasing wildlife, and giving the rest of the dogs in the world a bad name. Rather than bore you with further details, I'll continue on with the trip report. But please click here to hear about my doggie adventure ...
Pawtuckaway is a park seemingly designed for people who believe camping is something to be done out of the back of a car, popup trailer, or RV with lanterns, radios, coolers, and a wonderfully panoramic view of your neighbor's coolers, radio, and gas fired bar-b-que only 15 feet away. It is designed primarily to give access to a reasonably large lake and has a campground with a beach and probably space for a hundred people. This is not a hiker's park. People who car camp generally do not hike very much for a couple of reasons:
Since they don't hike very much, they aren't very good at it when they do. Thus the trails in a park like this have to be made as user friendly as possible. This means short and well marked. And they have to be able to handle the other traits of car campers, the main one being that they do everything in large groups. For some reason, you never go to a campground and find only one family camping. Once one arrives, it seems they send a call to every hillbilly with a Coleman cooler and seven kids and before you know it there are people fighting for every last inch of available space. Therefore, the trails in close proximity to one of these places must be able to handle large herds of people and prevent them from trampling each other. The rangers at Pawtuckaway have apparently taken care of these traffic problems through the careful use of signs.
Signs like I have never seen on a trail before. Better signage than on most roads. Take this "Trail Junction Ahead" sign for example. I would love to see this on some other trails I've been on -- you know the type -- where you've hiked for hours without seeing anything and are looking for a little used side path. So you wander the trail wondering if you've missed it and studying every break in the bushes and every game trail only to have it miraculously appear out of nowhere. With a few of these signs you could hike with reckless abandon and only have to pay attention for a few hundred yards. What a great idea. Except in Pawtuckaway, this sign appears 1/2 mile in from the paved road and there really is only one trail that leaves the one you are on. And it has a big wooden sign at the start of it, so I think the yellow reflective road signs are a little excessive. Besides if you miss the trail junction, in another 1/4 mile you stumble onto a dirt road, which should be a clue that something has gone awry, since cars will likely be passing you. Perhaps this is overkill, I think.
Or take this tandem of signs. Here they have gone so far as to tell you that you should stop when you reach the junction. Only in this case you would think it would be self explainatory because the trail JOINS THE FREAKIN' ROAD! Did some numbnuts really stumble blindly out of the woods onto a two lane paved road with a big double yellow line down the middle and get whacked by a Buick? Do they really need to tell people to stop before they enter the road? Who hikes these trails? And is it a coincidence that these signs mimic their on-road counterparts? I doubt it. This is probably a very effective way to control people who drive around in supermarket parking lots for 10 minutes to find a space close to the store so they don't have to walk more than a couple of hundred yards, and yet still want to do a little hiking while they're out here "in the woods."
UPDATE! Many readers ponited out to me the error in my ways. Yes, it had escaped me that Pawtuckaway, being a stste park, has multi-use trails. Thus, these signs are placed there for the comfort and convienience of snowmobilers -- not just hikers. How could I be so callous as to ignore the other participants in the multi-use system in such a manner. Shame on me. Of course the snowmobilers need signs that big and reflective -- how else will you know not to drive into a road at 50 m.p.h. in the dark after your 5th beer? Shame on me!
So this is how my first few hundred yards went. After this, things got much better believe it or not. I was actually surprised that Pawtuckaway provided very clean trail, no strenuous climbs, and a very decent view from its summit. We had a gorgeous day, and were able to find a spot at the top away from nearly everyone else to eat a peaceful lunch.
If you remember what Pawtuckaway is, and don't try to hold it up to the standards of the northern peaks, then I think you will find it isn't that bad. Pawtuckaway can provide an easy, although likely crowded, simple little dayhike to a small peak with a decent view. Along the way there are a few ponds and some interesting views. And, a little beach for a quick post-hike swim. With this in mind, I would recommend this hike as long as you are willing to tolerate the hundreds of other people you may encounter. And the occasional dog.
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Chris Oberg & Robert Havasy