Sunday, June 05, 2011

A Self-Reliant Way to Walden

As noted last week, the preferred means of attaining transcendental enlightenment at Walden Pond is by burning petroleum to drive 70 miles per hour down the Concord Turnpike, just a few minutes past the corporate office parks of the 128 corridor.

Thoreau preferred to walk there, of course, from his family home and business in downtown Concord. But as Robert Sullivan discovered and reported in his book The Thoreau You Don't Know, most modern-day Concordians will tell you that it is now impossible to cover the 1.6 mile distance on foot, and will insist on giving you driving directions.

However, if you are lucky enough to have legs strong enough to withstand 30 minutes' worth of movement at an easy pace, it can be done! And so this post offers detailed walking and bicycling directions to Walden Pond from downtown Boston or Cambridge.

To go by foot, take the commuter rail line (which Thoreau rode frequently) from North Station to Concord village. Then head southwest on Thoreau Street, past the Starbucks and the strip mall parking lots. After 10 minutes, turn right on Walden Street, passing Concord High School (you're halfway there). Climb a short hill and wait for the walk signal to make your way safely across the four-lane Turnpike, then take the trail into the woods, past the site of Thoreau's cabin, to the shore of Walden Pond.

Alternatively, you could ride your bike, which makes for a great day trip and lets you take in a couple of good rest stops en route to Concord.

From downtown Boston, there are two good ways to bike to Walden Pond: via the Minuteman Bike Path, which roughly follows the course of the Battles of Concord and Lexington, or by way of Trapelo Road, which is a more direct route through Belmont, Waltham, and Lincoln, but also has more traffic and hills. Personally, I like to go out on Trapelo Road, stopping by the Gropius House on my way out, and come back in on the flat Minuteman Bikeway at the end of the day when my legs are tired.

Either way, you'll need to get through Cambridge first. If it's Sunday, you can weave footloose and fancy-free through the four lanes of Memorial Drive, which is closed to cars on summer Sundays until 7 pm between Western Avenue and Mt. Auburn Street.

At Mt. Auburn Street, either make your way north along the edge of Fresh Pond to get to the Minuteman, or grit your teeth a few blocks through heavy traffic to get to Belmont Street, which turns into Trapelo Road.

Belmont is "thickly settled."

On the other side of Route 128, Trapelo Road enters Lincoln, one of those fancy suburbs where abundant conservation lands clearly serve the dual purposes of maintaining a nice view for wealthy residents while also excluding the condo-dwelling hoi polloi from becoming their neighbors. Notwithstanding the elitism, it's a nice place to ride bikes on shady roads.

On the other side of Lincoln's main intersection, Trapelo Road turns into Sandy Pond Road. You'll pass by the Decordova Museum and Sculpture Park. If you enjoy your art in a setting of overwhelming privilege and cultural homogeneity, it's worth a stop. When we visited, though, we got passive-aggressively talked to for not paying the car-parking fee (because we were on bikes, a "problem" that the Decordova management apparently isn't accustomed to).

Performance art concept: get a crew together to visit the Decordova on foot or by bike, and see how long you can avoid then Gulf oil-funded security detail.

A better place to stop lies a mile or so further down the road. Passing by the Decordova, you'll take a left onto Baker Bridge Road, where, in an old orchard on the left side of the road, you'll pass Walter Gropius's house, now a publicly-accessible historic site owned and managed by Historic New England.

Gropius was the founder of the Bauhaus, and designed this house in 1938, when he came to Massachusetts to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. It's a small and simple dwelling that fits in unassumingly with its rural surroundings (unlike most of its neighbors), and the home's caretakers have preserved the family's possessions, including a lot of original Bauhaus furniture. Tours run hourly until 4 pm, Wednesday through during the summer.

The Gropius house is just a mile away from the main park entrance to Walden Pond - Gropius probably walked there often, and it's interesting to think about the parallels between Walden and the Bauhaus philosophy (maybe a subject for a future post).

At the end of Baker Bridge Road, take a right on Concord Road, and after half a mile further, you're at Walden Pond.

With stops, the bike ride takes 2 to 2.5 hours. On the way back, continue northward on Concord Road to make the 1.5 mile trip into Concord village (where there's ice cream), then take the Reformatory Branch Trail towards the Minuteman in Bedford. With flatter terrain and fewer stoplights, the trip back to the Alewife T station takes about 90 minutes.

I swam in Walden Pond last weekend; the water was refreshing and not too cold. If you're in Boston, it's not hard to get there. Go visit!

1 comment:

Turbo said...

In Walden, Thoreau describes that he often (maybe even usually) walked from the pond to the village and back by way of the railway line that runs just along the western edge of the pond. A quick glance at the map will confirm that, even today, this is the most direct route from his cabin site to "downtown" Concord-- and, unless a train whizzes by, it may still be the most pleasant route, too. (I've walked it.) Possibly illegal, of course.