Leaving the Car at Home

June 1, 2009

A Connecticut couple travels by rail and bus to hike in New Haven

Appalachia, Summer/Fall 2009

In this era of limited resources and environmental challenges, my family and I have done our best to limit car trips for all activities, including woodland expeditions, but if we wanted to reach the real Two Hearted River in Hemingway’s story now, public transportation would not be an option. The famous trout stream is still deep in the wilds of northern Michigan, but the railroad does not stop there anymore. The same is true for similar sojourns in my home state of Connecticut. The irony of burning auto fuel and creating more pollution for a little fresh air and exercise is obvious. Still, Connecticut’s long-established public transportation system provides plenty of accessibility to some surprisingly rugged and adventurous hiking without the associated smoggy guilt.

I chose New Haven’s immaculately maintained Regicides (Latin for “king killers”) Trail, at West Rock State Park in the city’s north end, because I was intrigued by the tales I had heard about the three renegade English judges who lay low there three centuries ago in a successful attempt to avoid the long reach of their victim’s son, Charles II.

Reaching the start of the Regicides Trail via public transportation promised to be exhausting, informative, and—because I had never used the New Haven bus system before—confusing. Happily, my wife Nancy agreed to accompany me as navigator and field biologist. But first we had to reach New Haven.

Though centrally isolated, our hometown, East Haddam, is not completely without connections to the outside world. A shuttle bus service to the Old Saybrook railroad station is available one town over in Chester. We were running behind, so we hitched a car ride with our daughter, Kat, who was heading to Old Saybrook anyway. This was a sensible decision, as the 9:14 a.m. The Shoreline East train for New Haven was about to pull out on schedule as we pulled into the parking lot. Nothing like a bracing sprint up and down stairs to the far platform to get the blood pumping for the day’s activities. Fortunately, an indulgent conductor waited patiently as we scurried aboard. So far so good. No need for deep knee bends at the trailhead.

As the train trundled along making stops in Westbrook, Clinton, Madison, Guilford, and Branford, commuters boarded, taking their accustomed seats to chat with friends or read the paper. Some adventurous types brought bicycles on board to finish their journey when the train reached New Haven. Now there’s a concept.

It turns out that the city buses are dead simple to use. You pretty much have to try to mess up to miss a connection. Nevertheless, we managed to miss the B3 Whalley Avenue bus that would have dropped us practically at the entrance to the Regicides Trail. Undaunted, we chased that bus for six stops, almost catching it only to see it pull away each time we drew close. Just as in the movies.

Scot Mackinnon—former Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, plant experimenter, former town selectman, and family man—lives in East Haddam.

The full text of this story may be found in the Summer/Fall 2009 Issue of Appalachia.


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