Monadnock Branch Trail

It’s a sign of my fossilization that I find trips exciting now because I can run in new and scenic places. Martha’s Vineyard: tidal estuaries! San Francisco: hills! So exotic.

On these trips, I tend to skip the road running I’m used to in Brooklyn in favor of running on trails. Often, the trails I find were something else in a previous life, like an old service road or a railroad. I found one of the latter in Peterborough, NH this week, a six- or seven-mile trail that was the Monadnock Branch Railroad a long time ago.

Old railroad trails are fun because you can see the weird parts of cities that were meant to be hidden away. Thanks to old railroads, I’ve seen wastewater treatment plants and recycling centers other tourists miss. I’ve observed graffiti in otherwise natural locations. And it turns out that windowless brick buildings in the middle of nowhere are everywhere. The conversion of a railroad to a trail gives these municipal oddities new visibility.

I love disconnecting on a bucolic nature trail as much as the next dad but I really do enjoy coming across these unnatural sights. Perhaps it’s my love of juxtaposition. In any case, Peterborough’s trail delivered.

In town, the trail is paved and you dart through wooded sections and past a couple of those sinister-looking brick buildings with barbed wire and a single antenna. As you exit town, you run alongside and eventually under US Highway 202 and past — yep — a recycling center.

This is the halfway point and from here on, the trail gradually loses its human touch. The surface softens to gravel and then eventually to pine needles and hard-packed mud. As you run, you play hide-and-seek with the Contocook, trying not to trip over tree roots. The river runs crystal clear and still, its color ranging from deep mahogany in the sunlight to black under the branches of overhanging trees.

Into the deep woods. You run through hemlock forest, dark and quiet and dense with nothing but bare tree trunks and black flies watching you (don’t slow down). You’re alone. The trail stretches ahead, through the canopy and around the bend and you begin to lose yourself, caught up in the natural beauty of the surroundings.

Eventually, jogging becomes impossible and posted signs are too intimidating to continue. The trail peters out but you can blaze ahead. Online, I read accounts from folks who continued past these signs and into the woods, where the trail becomes so overgrown and so wild that eventually the rails return.

One Response to Monadnock Branch Trail

  1. Hugh Albrecht says:

    You are a true writer in every sense of the word, young man. Keep up the good work. I always enjoy your pieces and this week was no exception.

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