Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bikecamping in Otter River State Forest

I'm always on the lookout for quality (quiet, low traffic) campgrounds within cycling distance of Greater Boston*; ones that fall into a 60–100mi away sweet-spot, avoiding highly trafficked areas. Recently when looking at the sacred, out of print Rubel Central Massachusetts Bike Map, I noticed Otter River State Forest's campground in Baldwinville, MA. The DCR website's description was enticing and with weekend lows dipping to 30ºF, all the better.

After a delicious breakfast at Sofra in Cambridge, the journey began as I headed to the Minuteman Bikeway in Arlington and met a friend who would join me. From the Minuteman's end in Bedford we followed the Boston Brevet Series 100k route to Sterling, MA. The route navigated us for about half of the outbound and inbound trip, a very handy resource indeed. Along the way we passed through the Apple Country (hilly areas near 495) where fall foliage was in effect. I'd say it's no secret to cyclists in the area that this is where it's at, anytime of year.

We arrived in Sterling around lunch time, ready to refuel after 40mi of riding. There's a few places to get food in town, including a pizza place. My buddy and I sat on a bench in front of the town library and scarfed a pizza down, then restocked ourselves with food and beverages in the nearby minimart. I was astounded by the minimart's quality beer selection, and couldn't leave without adding a 6-pack of Wachusett Oktoberfest to my panniers. I had packed light (up to this point), so why not indulge a little?

The Boston Brevet Series 100k route does a 180 in Sterling, so I put away the cue sheet and navigated using the Rubel Central Massachusetts Bike Map. This was easy, as there are not very many roads in this part of the state, so even a directionally-challenged person like myself could do okay. The numbered routes (62 and 68) were fairly comfortable for cyclists, so we stuck with them and enjoyed the rolling hills.

The scenery was standard for this stretch of the trip: trees, the occasional pond, etc. But once we got close to Templeton it became more interesting. While pedaling up an incline on Baldwinville Road a massive wind turbine began to emerge from behind the trees atop the hill. With the sun low in the sky, it truly was an awesome sight. We stopped at the highschool near the structure's base to gaze at the giant, remarking how quiet it was. I don't think even a hum could be heard.

Going through Templeton was noteworthy, too. Again, the sunlight was waning and the town looked the part of Exemplary Autumn in New England Town. Near the town's center we passed a ridiculously decorated restaurant/antique shop called Country Mischief and I made a note to check it out in the morning on our return trip.

We made it into the campground just as the sun set and it started to get chilly. There were more people in the campground than expected, but it was a big place and we chose a site that was secluded. It was a great site, situated next to a little stream that provided a white noise background, making it seem as if we really were the only campers. I setup my Hennessy Hammock near the stream, and we got to work building a fire. It had recently rained, so getting it going was a challenge despite the kiln-dried logs. But we eventually got a fire going and didn't stray far from it, as it was now frigid.

For dinner, I ate envelope-packaged tuna curry meals with pre-cooked brown rice from Trader Joe's. Both were new to me and worked out well. I'm a big fan of the envelope packs because they're tidy; you can heat and eat them right from the packs! Dessert consisted of chocolate-covered peanut butter pretzels and finishing off the remaining Oktoberfest beers. The feast concluded with nodding off by the fire and enjoying a clear starry sky.

The next morning was still frigid, and we struggled to remove ourselves from the fire's warmth. We finally did, packed up, and backtracked on familiar roads. When we arrived at Country Mischief the joint was abuzz, so we browsed the abutting antique shop while waiting for a table. The staff brought coffee/tea during the wait; it was pleasant as far as waits go. When we did get around to eating it was excellent. I had a veggie Eggs Benedict with incredible Hollandaise sauce; this is certainly why there was a line to get into this little place in the sticks!

The riding on our return trip was similar to the previous day's; maybe even better—it seemed sunnier. After passing through Sterling and reconnecting with the BBS 100k route the scenery and roads went up another pleasurable notch; my favorite spot in particular being Prospect Hill Road in Harvard, MA (site of the Fruitlands Museum).

Not much occurred on my last few miles home; though i did see an unusually large posse of turkeys near Hanscom Field. Why do I always seem to see turkeys when cycling? I made it home with a couple hours to spare before sunset, and not totally exhausted as the day's pace was comfortable and fueled with fine Hollandaise.

I rate this little trip highly; I'll surely re-visit it in the near future. To add some variety to future versions, I would probably still use the BBS 100k route, but connect the backroads between Sterling and Baldwinville in a more adventurous fashion. Also, not far from the Otter River State Forest is the Federated Womens Club State Forest, which looks most attractive to me with its primitive-style camping. The trick is, to camp there, one must go to Otter River for a pass, as there are no posted park staff in FWCSF. This ads maybe 15-20mi to the day. When the days get longer again, I think that's just what I'll do.

*This cycling distance from Greater Boston to Otter River State Forest, about 80mi, could be reduced by using the MBTA's Commuter Rail service to either Worcester or Fitchburg (I prefer cycling out of Fitchburg). Doing so will alter the route to Otter River SF, but that's okay because it's a great option. In fact, maybe this is what I should do when I go to Federated Womens Club SF!


  1. I can't always go on all of the bummels & jaunts that I'd like. I'm very happy that my good friend, Jon, was willing to share his latest bike camping trip.
    I'm not really that interested in creating a personal travel blog, but rather a list of bummels & jaunts that might help folks in and around get out & about.
    So if you have any ideas, let me know.

  2. The Otter River State Park is an ideal place for camping, biking and climbing activities. It also provides great scenic views and sightseeing for travelers with peace and tranquil beauty.

  3. i was just pointed to your blog by a common friend, Anton. I did something similar to this ride last October, though we took the train to Ayer, and then made a wide loop up through pepperell and winchendon. We stayed in the yurts that they have there, which meant that we packed really very little.

    we'll be doing this again in May, and I'd like to ride all the way from Boston like you describe.

    great write up and we may have to look fo the breakfast place you mentioned!