The Bay Circuit Trail is a two-hundred-mile route connecting Masschusetts’ North Shore to its South Shore via a network of trails meandering through conservation lands and state parks. We completed this adventure in three long days, and never has a ride felt so much like summer. We passed the longest days of this year chasing sunlight slanting through trees and shining over meadows -- delighting in the scraped knees, in the bug bites, in getting a little lost in the woods in our own backyard, finding echoes of the freedom found in the long, hot days of childhood summers.
The idea to ride the Bay Circuit Trail came almost as a whim. Small signs marking this route would appear in surprising places, spurring curiosity by popping up on almost every trail ride we did in the greater Boston area. How did these trails all connect, and what would it be like to ride them all?
I began to research the route. Luckily for us, our friend Scott and a crew of like-minded friends had already completed this adventure. I was able to glean some advice and GPX files (see our routes below!) to supplement the trail markings and our wits. Poring over maps and route descriptions on the BCT’s website, I caught sight of familiar trails and totally new ones, some missing even from the Open Street Maps I frequently use to build routes. Excitement grew as the start date grew nearer.
We set out early on a Wednesday morning from Plum Island, the ocean at our backs and salt marsh grasses surrounding us. We didn’t really know what the trail ahead of us looked like, but it didn’t matter. Although we had a long two hundred miles to cover in only three days, we had over fifteen hours of sunlight each day to get where we were headed.
A few hours in, a trail flooded by a beaver dam forced a thigh-deep marsh crossing. We removed our shoes and teetered across the dam. Because a badly sprained finger from a few days ago made carrying my bike difficult, Charlie kindly helped me carry my bike across after his own. A few minutes later, he kindly removed a leech - a first! - from my foot.
We encountered trails traversing rugged New England hills with pointed rocks jutting in every direction that would have been tough on their own. Sandwiched in the middle of a long day of trail riding, they felt impossible. The BCT’s entrance into Harold Parker is along a stone wall that creates a passageway through thick swamp, a fitting start to this tough section of the ride. “Not suitable for cyclists or horses,” read the notes for this section of trail.
Despite how well we studied the maps, and how well the trails were marked, and even despite the routes loaded onto our Garmins, navigational puzzles presented themselves throughout the adventure. More than once we had to ride through a suburban backyard to cut through from the woods to a road. A few trailheads, so small they looked like a secret, were accidentally overlooked on the first pass. A few trails almost vanished into a deep blanket of ferns and shrubs, the painted trail markers the only sign we were on the right path.
For every challenge we faced, we encountered a fast fire road, a stunning view, a smooth path through a wildflower-filled meadow. We’d round a turn and startle a deer into a graceful bound, surprised away by our sudden appearance in the woods on a quiet afternoon. We wound our way through twisting marshy paths, sped along the powerline trails, journeyed through forests of pine. Our legs and arms ached, but the adventure itself kept us moving. The scrapes and bumps, the fun of getting a little lost in the woods, the feeling of almost aimless wandering through semi-familiar landscapes - the trail, all two hundred miles of it, added up to what felt like like a meander through quintessential New England summer.