The pleasures and pitfalls of skiing rogue in Bedford

OK, my last two columns each generated reader complaints.

Last month, a supposedly humorous reference to an “all-night midget clothing store” drew a rebuke from a reader who informed me the politically correct term is “dwarf.”

So here’s my shot at making it three in a row!

To do that, I’ll let you in on one of Bedford’s best-kept winter secrets, possibly ruining it for the few of us who know about it. It’s this: The very best place in town to ski cross-country is along the banks of the Merrimack River below Moore’s Crossing Road.

Why? First, the geography. It’s relatively flat. And because the area was cut off when the railroad line was built along the Merrimack back in the 19th century, the land never got developed or farmed or built on.

As a result, it’s still unmolested pine forest – pretty much unchanged from what Henry David Thoreau would have seen along the Merrimack when he paddled his canoe up the river in 1839. It’s like a bit of the Pacific Northwest right here in town.

With mature conifers, there’s little ground cover on the forest floor. So when there’s a good snowpack, like what we have now, you can get out there and pretty much head in any direction you want.

Well, to a point. There are no trails and it’s not maintained as a park, so steep gullies and ravines are lurking in the landscape and you need to be mindful of them. And then there’s the river itself, which isn’t exactly suitable for swimming this time of year. So caution is needed.

Also, it means you need to cross over the tracks. The railroad people – formerly Boston & Maine, then Guilford, and now Pan Am – discourage this for obvious reasons. But the rare freight traffic is pitifully slow, so it’s not dangerous if you stop, look and listen, and if you’re really, really careful.

And if you need to go along the tracks for any distance, there’s nearly always a good packed-down snowmobile trail where a second rail line once ran. The few times I’ve encountered snowmobilers here, they’ve never failed to be courteous and friendly.

Why go here when Bedford has a system of publicly maintained cross-country ski trails?

In case you didn’t know, the Bedford Cross-Country Ski club maintains a 5-kilometer Nordic ski trail system at Legacy Park, which is out behind Riddle Brook Elementary School.

I’ve been on these trails. They make up a fine network that our town is fortunate to have. I encourage anyone to try them out. But in my case, I have specific reasons to go rogue and ski down by the river.

First, I like to break trail. You can’t do that on a groomed network.

Also, I have dogs. Three of them. And they like nothing better to get out in the snow and mess around. And that just can’t happen on a network of cross-country ski trails.

I don’t know if canines are actually prohibited from Legacy Park. But even if they’re not, a loose dog can quickly turn a nicely groomed trail into a total mess. So it’s better for them to stay away from this area.

Another reason to ski by the river is that as you work your way south, you come directly under the flight path of Runway 6-24 of Manchester Airport. So if the winds are right, your time in the woods is occasionally livened up by large commercial aircraft roaring directly overhead, either on take-off or coming in for a landing. The overgrown 9-year-old in me loves that!

And then there’s voyeurism. South of the Segway plant, several condo developments line the river. I tend to go skiing at dusk, which is the time most people get home from work. And no one ever seems to draw the shades!

I’m no peeping Tom, but it’s hard not to notice people watching TV or making dinner inside a warm apartment when you’re outside pushing through snowdrifts. It certainly lends an interesting dimension to my winter workout program!

So let’s see. In one column, I’ve managed to reveal a little-known but unauthorized place for winter recreation, possibly spoiling it for others. I’ve described how I go onto what is private property without permission, let my dogs run off leash, and also how I look in the windows of people’s apartments.

Oh, and by the way: This past weekend I forgot to buckle my seatbelt until I had driven half-way to Nashua.

Complaint department is now open. Step right up and make it three weeks in a row!

Jeff Rapsis is a newspaper publisher, educator, silent film accompanist, and care-taker of multiple dogs who lives in Bedford.