You never know what will happen when you get outdoors. This trip started at Ayer, MA and took us all the way to Nashua, NH on the Nashua River Rail Trail. We brought along our mascot, Stormy, (aka Smoky.) He’s now Stormy, having donated his previous name to our new kitten. Our tandem bike, Shermy, did great after his international travels to Canada, including two ferry rides. And we almost encountered a black bear on the trail. The bear was quick, crossing the path before we could get a photo, but it was definitely a bear.
Our first adventure on this ride was the challenge of finding the Ayer trailhead. We had been in the area before, exploring the town of Groten during the beginning of the pandemic, choosing to keep mostly to the roads since rail trails felt dangerously overcrowded. Here’s a link to our explore roadbiking of 2020.
Two years ago, 2020, the trail in Groton was jammed with people seeking the outdoors while other outdoor (and indoor) activities were restricted because of the pandemic. We had ridden a short section of this rail trail in Groton center and decided we were better off sticking to road biking. This was before vaccines were available–a scary time for many of us. Two years later, the trail had a few visitors, but the social landscape has changed and people have resumed many of their normal activities. The number of visitors to rail trails has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
We finally spotted the Ayer section of the rail trail but were still unsure of the parking. This is a recurring theme in our travels. Typically when visiting a new (to us) rail trail, we get glimpses of a characteristic rail trail, (gravel or pavement of a specific width, crossing a road in a consistently straight line), but much less obvious is a place to stop and get out our bike.
An MBTA two-story parking garage is at 3 Groton Street in Ayer, directly abutting the rail trail, a block from the rotary in downtown Ayer. On closer inspection this appeared to be rail trail parking, but there were also payment kiosks for commuter parking (the train is just across the street past the rotary). Grabbing someone who looked like they were familiar with the area, we were soon assured that rail trail parking at the garage is free for trail visitors on evenings and weekends. (We visited on a Sunday.)
While this eleven mile rail trail is named after the Nashua River, it took some time to get any views of the river itself. Shady woodland predominated through much of our ride on this hard packed stone dust trail. Thus the bear that appeared and quickly disappeared after crossing the rail trail had great cover in the thick woods on either side of the path.
Once we got in view of the river we saw kayakers, a paddle board or two, and some fisherfolk, young and old. We stopped for a snack break which gave Stormy the puffin a chance to get out of our pack, and enjoy the river. He was not as happy to get stuffed back into the pack for the continued ride, but was more cooperative once we explained that he was better off in the dark rather than risk being dropped by the side of the path.
After crossing the state line into Nashua NH, we soon turned around. The end of the trail was just a short distance farther, but rain was threatening and we had ten miles to go to get back to our truck. As we hurried, we felt rain drops, but ultimately did not get soaked along the way. We were grateful for the shelter of the parking garage, but it turned out we didn’t truly need it.
Because of the threat of rain we did not stop as often as on other treks, so we took fewer photos. There is nothing extremely spectacular along the way, but especially in summer this rail trail offers lots of shade, not too many grade crossings, and a lot of quiet. Quiet is a difficult commodity to obtain in our noisy world. The lack of noise was a true pleasure. Happy trails.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.