Friday, October 15, 2010

Keystone 1-2

We went out deeper into hill country, out to Chester to check out the Keystone Arches. The arches are a series of three towering old railroad bridges spanning the western branch of the Westfield river. Throwbacks to the mid 19th century railroad boom days, the tallest of the three is over 70 feet high, and none of them built with any mortar. They were the first 'keystone' arches built in America, part of the longest and highest railway of it's day.

It was worth an autumn hike.

The trail-head is on Middlefield road, near the Chester/ Middlefield line.

The trail is about 2.5 miles each way, and it's actually a rocky double tracked vehicle-accessible fire road for the first section. But walking was the order of the day. It's easier to take in a waterfall that way.

It's not too far to the first bridge. A double arched construction settled in with the forest. Not ridiculously tall, but impressive for it's strength and age. No mortar or cement, remember.

A couple passing hikers informed us that the next arch was about 25 hiking minutes away, and with the sun getting low, we'd probably not make it there and back before dark. So with this initial section of the trail scouted out and the rest looking pretty inviting, we decided to return the next day; earlier, more prepared, and equipped with our bikes.

The next morning found us back again as planned, now carefully rambling over the rocky path on our two wheelers past the first bridge, and on.

Winding along with the Westfield river, pulling away into the woods here and coming back to it's banks there.

Following the river it's not easy to get lost, but if you don't pay attention to where the trail veers off you can suddenly find yourself along some lonely stretch of active track, with no trail to be seen.

A little back-tracking and these blue markers will put you back on course.

Then some steady and more vigorous ascending. We'd occasionally have to get off and walk the bikes or let the bloggerette snack and stretch her legs, but kept making progress.

...until the double track ends abruptly at the edge of a steep descent. The trail here gets very narrow and runs along a steep descending hillside. We had gone about a mile, but there was no way we'd get both the bikes and the baby safely down this tricky section of trail.

Still, the next bridge felt so tantalizingly close. I had come to get a picture of it and after two trips in one weekend the likelyhood of getting out here again this year probably slim. Since there were plenty of other friendly hikers around, it was deemed safe for the ladies to stay behind and guard the bikes while I set off by myself to see if the next keystone arch was just around the next bend in the trail.

One bend turned into another and soon I was crossing trestle foot bridges and weaving through narrow leaf cluttered trails, scrambling over rocks and descending all along, getting nearer and nearer to the river at the bottom.

But the farther from the girls, the more urgent the passing time seemed to get and soon I was trotting along at the fastest pace possible. Finally down at river level, the single track met up again with a double track fire road, and at first, still no bridge in sight.

I couldn't turn around now and plowed forward just a little more. Thennnn, a little more. At last, with huffing breath I could see through sweat soaked eyes that there was something in the distance.

Something dark cutting tall and horizontal across the brilliant tangle of the autumn branches and leaves.

Something commandingly tall in the lonely forest, geometrically precise in the chaos of the wild, something slender in proportion but weighty and solid in form. Something decidedly... man made.

With bridge #2 under my belt and on my memory card, I made all haste back down the double track and then up the hill; wildly clambering and pulling and pushing the wheezing envelope of my endurance to it's limit. This actually felt pretty good, being so long since I've really pushed myself. Must. Do. More of this.

Getting closer to the girls I stopped to call out across the remaining span of woods with what little air I could muster, then bated my heaving breath to listen intently for a reply...

It came echoing through the wood in the form of a highly irritated "Yeaaah? Whaaat!?"

All I needed to hear and could slow down to catch some breath before finally reaching them. Coming around the last turn, my lightheaded grin of accomplishment was met with two less than plussed gazes of impatience.

Ahh my two favorite girls. Home sweet home.

Bridge #3 will have to wait.

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