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It seems like any worthwhile adventure comes to be remembered not for the geographical locations visited, but for the story of what went wrong. I give you as examples: "The Time We Had To Portage Our Canoes Three Miles," "The Time We Hiked Half an Hour in The Wrong Direction," and of course "The Time Jenna Got Lost In The Woods And Had To Call The Police."
In that spirit, let me now dub our recent outing "The Time Peter Lost The Map."
Don't worry, like most other misadventures, this one turns out all right in the end. The lost map was just one of a few minor annoyances that Jenna Cho and I encountered while traversing the length of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association's Pequot Trail.
The 7.6-mile footpath is part of the CFPA's blue-blazed trail system, running from Route 165 in Preston to Shewville Road in Ledyard. The CFPA's Connecticut Walk Book East describes the trail from north to south, but we decided to be contrarians and set out from the southern terminus.
At least that's what we planned to do. The map in the Walk Book indicates a trailhead at the intersection of Shewville Road and Coachman Pike, but we didn't see any sign or obvious parking area. After a few slow passes through the neighborhood, we gave up and left our car around the corner where the trail crosses Fanning Road. (Returning at the end of the trip, we spotted a blue blaze on a tree between a pair of houses on Coachman, and Bob Andrews, a volunteer trail manager with the CFPA assured me that the trailhead on Shewville does in fact exist, marked by double horizontal blue blazes on a telephone pole.)
The weather was textbook New England springtime: sunny and clear but just cool enough to be comfortable in pants. Unfortunately for us, the trail conditions were also typical of springtime: wet and overgrown in places. While our canine companion was happy to frolic in the puddles, we had to step carefully to keep our feet dry.
There were also a good number of trees down across the trail. We skirted the ones felled by previous years' storms by established detours, but even these were often overgrown with brambles. It was in one of these particularly thick briar patches that we lost the trail completely. No worries, I thought, I'll just check the map…which should be right here in this pocket…or maybe this one…
Feeling nothing in either pants pocket, I emptied the contents of my backpack, nearly losing my sunglasses in the process-no map. Mortified, I led 10 minutes of backtracking until we arrived at the Thomas Road trailhead. Turns out when I showily hopped over the metal gate, the neatly-folded map had slid from my pocket.
Even covering the same stretch of trail for a third time, we enjoyed winding through the old stone walls on the edge of the Rose Hill Wildlife Management Area. The Pequot Trail proper often crosses other established forest roads and paths, so it was more important to have a sharp eye for blazes than an actual map. More than once we had to debate which fork was the right way, but we never lost the trail entirely again.
As with most hikes in our area, you can't go too far without running back into civilization. About halfway through the hike, the trail spit us out into a corner of Preston Community Park, where a boisterous softball game was under way.
We knew from the map that once we crossed Route 2, a good chunk of the trail would follow a power line clear-cut. I wasn't looking forward to this portion, but it turned out to be the most interesting stretch. The trail followed an old forest road through a gorgeous narrow valley, then darted up to a rocky plateau. If you could ignore the wires overhead, you could imagine you were scrambling up to a ridgeline in the White Mountains.
Relying on the map to tell us what we would see turned out to be a waste of time. A supposed view of the Thames River either went unnoticed or never existed in the first place. The immediate surroundings were more interesting anyway, so maybe we would have been better off with the map stuffed in a backpack pocket for emergency consultation only.
Town: Preston and Ledyard
Directions: The northern trailhead is located at the intersection of Route 165 (Shetucket Turnpike) and Old Jewett City Rd in Preston (look for the blue sign). The southern trailhead is located at the intersection of Shewville Rd. and Coachman Pike in Ledyard. There is no obvious sign or trail marker.
Where to Park: There is no marked parking lot at either trailhead. There is room for a few cars to pull off of Route 165. There is a parking lot at Preston Community Park at the intersection of Route 2A and Route 117 at the approximate halfway point of the hike. The trail goes northeast along Lincoln Park Rd. and south into the woods from the park's northeast corner.
Description: The 7.6-mile Pequot Trail is one of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association's blue-blazed trails. From Route 165, the trail goes south, following power lines for several miles before crossing Route 2. It then follows Lincoln Park Rd. to Preston Community Park before climbing back into the woods. The trail crosses Rose Hill Rd. and then turns southeast and emerges on Thomas Rd. Blue blazes on telephone poles follow Thomas Rd east, the turn south on Mathewson Mill Rd., and then east on Fanning Rd. The trail departs Fanning Rd. to the right and goes south to Coachman Pike, where it turns left towards the trail's end at Shewville Rd.
Regulations: Vehicles are not allowed on many sections of the trail.
Natural Features: Wetlands, large rock formations. South of Rose Hill Rd., there is a parcel of managed forest where other species of trees have been cut to allow red cedars to grow.
Things to Note: We hiked the trail in the spring, and many sections were wet. Waterproof hiking boots are a good idea. The southern section of the trail, which passes by the Pequot Burial Ground before intersecting with Coachman Pike, will eventually be re-routed to go directly to Shewville Rd. The CFPA has been working with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation for several years to connect the existing trail with the original trailhead on Lantern Hill. A preliminary trail design is awaiting approval.
Owned by: The trail crosses a mixture of private and public land, and is managed by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association.
More information: A full description and trail map is available in the Connecticut Forest and Park Association's Connecticut Walk Book East. http://www.ctwoodlands.org