Hancock Brook and Waterbury Friendly’s

11 12 2017

7 December 7, 2017

It is a bit nippy today as Cherry and I head to Waterbury for our Hiking for Friendly’s trip of the month. Cherry tells me a funny story about making a wonderful meal for her sister, only to discover that her crock pot has broken and not cooked a thing! Fortunately, she and her sister managed and Cherry has discovered the defect before she tries to use the pot for several upcoming meals at some big events. They had a good laugh over it.

Waterbury hemlock brook 12.07.17As we exit the highway, I am tenuous about the directions to the Hancock Brook section of Mattatuck State Forest, and say we are supposed to walk along a gravel pit and I doubt the area will be well marked. Amazingly, we drive directly to the parking area (which is indeed at a gravel company office) and see the derelict bridge, on the National Register of Historic Places, that was mentioned in the descriptions I’d read prior to coming. And there in front of us are blue blazes! Glory hallelujah! By 9:30 AM, we are off.

We talk about Thanksgiving, as the scenery becomes more idyllic, and we parallel hemlock-lined Hancock Creek. My family, all 35, coming from as far as San Diego and Florida, gathered at my house to make a festive occasion, from which I am still putting away chairs. Cherry is awed by the fact that I have that many chairs! She too spent time with her extended family and a few adoptees at one of her sister’s home. We agree it’s a great holiday, with less stress and obligation than some of the others in December.

After about an hour, we veer from the creek to the outcrops above us. Cherry discusses some holiday-related challenges. I share that I am reclaiming my life, after 18 months being the parent of an adult daughter with a serious health issue that appears to be resolving. It is steep and we reach a series of impressive outcrops. Exposed quartz, bald knobs, and pitch pine stands add to the diversity of the site. Needles line the trail, it’s quiet, and the views are surprising.

Three and a half miles later, we find ourselves back at the gravel pit and my car. It’s noon, the sun is warm, and we agree it’s been a wonderful hike. “Not a walk,” clarifies Cherry. “Enough ups and downs to make a real hike.” We also agree that we’ve always thought each walk was a great place.

“We are just positive people,” I joke to Cherry.

“Yes, I really don’t like to spend much time with negative people,” Cherry adds, a philosophy I share, which I’m sure is why we enjoy our trips together.

It’s not far to the Friendly’s although I-84 is under construction and we have to take a short detour. Cherry and I bemoan the fact that the place is empty at 12:15; we want “our” Friendly’s to be profitable for many more years. We order; I get the Philly cheese steak and Cherry gets a hotdog (that’s a first for her). Our waitress, Wendy, seems a bit rushed and overextended as people begin to arrive.

As we order our dessert, Cherry tells Wendy about our Hiking for Friendly’s. Wendy says she’s met the original owners, the Blake brothers, at a corporate event about 15 years ago. She was one of the finalist in an ice cream scooping competition; who knew there was an art to perfecting the perfect scoop, with the proper weight, form, and speed?! Wendy glowed as she recalled the excitement and camaraderie of that event.

Waterburgy Friendlys 12.07.17When dessert arrives, I give Cherry a card for her upcoming birthday. She shrieks with laughter when she opens it to see a photo of herself tying her boot. It’s iconic; Cherry has to stop on every trip to double-tie her boots yet again. Today had been especially compelling for lace retying – we stopped at least four times, and each time, I had to keep my grin to myself, as I envisioned Cherry opening this card. It is a great way to end our meal and we share the card with our waitress, who hoots along with us.

Two more Friendly sites to go. Wow.

 

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Hiking for Friendly’s: Case Mountain and Manchester Friendly’s

17 11 2017

15 November 2017

Manchester Case Mt overlook 11.15.17

Frosty, brisk, but sunny when Cherry and I meet to head to Manchester, one of our four remaining Friendly’s sites. We arrive by 9:30; I’d hoped it would take longer to get there, so it would be warmer when we started. But here we are, Case Mountain. The trailhead map calls it Highland Park, the printed material I have indicates it’s a short but steep walk to the overlook, and the return trip can be extended by taking the Carriage Road. OK, we agree, we will take the longer route or else our lunch will start before 11AM.

We climb up, catching our breath occasionally, as we talk local politics. National news. Refugees. Deportees. Difficult subjects for such a beautiful day. Frosty edges on fallen leaves. Quiet in the woods. Within a half hour, we reach the overlook and gaze at the juxtaposition of the up-close natural setting compared with the stick-looking buildings of Hartford in the distance. Several people walk by with their dogs and we become engaged in conversation with the owner of Harry, an exuberant Australian Shepherd. He (the owner) is interested in our Hiking For Friendly’s project and shares some wonderful childhood memories of eating there and then going to bowling every Saturday morning, or trying to consume an Awful-awful. As a Wilbraham Academy student, he was aware that the Blake brothers, Friendly’s founders, helped support his school also. He shared that Friendly’s hired a young man-gone-wrong that he and his wife had sponsored. We have found an audience.

 

Manchester Case Mt Harry and Kirk 11.15.17We are invited to join him and Harry on their travels in the southern portion of the park, which will extend our hike significantly and we agree. We head off on more obscure trails that wind through glacial erratics and above water-filled gorges. We talk of their trip to New Zealand waterfalls and our guide shares photos from his phone. Harry’s love for water. How dogs keep us fit. Our hiking plans when we finish Friendly’s. Harry and his owner leave us at the southern tip of the park and Cherry and I meander back towards my car.

Cherry talks about an upcoming church convention. Her cat’s excitement of finding a mouse in her house. I share my need for distraction and busy-ness. At some point, I worry, as the trail leader, that we may be off course, but we encounter others walking toward us who reassure us we are close to the parking lot.

We find the Carriage Trail and wander along Chase Pond, which is lovely this time of year. Still, peaceful, hint of fall reflections. Near the road, we find the waterfall and remnants of Highland Park. And we are back to the car, five miles later.

And it’s almost 1PM and we are starving. Friendly’s sounds even better than usual! We reach the Buckland Hills restaurant and glide into our red bench seats. The waitress comes and we are all ready; no, don’t bring our waters and then take our order! Cherry has the tuna (probably not again, she confides later) and I splurge with the 1300-calorie honey BBQ chicken and bacon on brioche. I do manage to save half for later (which turns out to be 4PM, I admit sheepishly) and we enjoy our sundaes.

Manchester Friendlys 11.15.17Cherry shares with me, and our waitress, her conversations with the Cromwell Friendly’s manager about celebrating the end of our Connecticut Friendly’s tour in the spring… only three more to go! Wow, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel!





Hiking for Friendly’s: Talcott Mt, Avon

29 10 2017

18 October 2017

Trap Rock along Trail:

Talcott Mt trail traprock

Interior of Tower:

Talcott Mt tower interior

View from the Top:

Talcott Mt view with shadow

View of the Tower:

Talcott Mt tower with foliage

Avon Friendly’s Exterior:

Talcott Mt Avon Friendlys exterior

Avon Friendly’s Sign of the Times:

Talcott Mt Avon Friendlys





Hiking for Friendly’s: Huntington State Park (Newtown/Redding) and Danbury Friendly’s

13 09 2017

Huntington SP brook 09.11.17September 11, 2017

A day of extraordinary weather sends us on our way to our next Friendly’s in Danbury. We head west on I-84 and Cherry updates me about a recent family event. She, her sisters, and stepmother gathered at one sister’s home for a delightful, relaxing weekend. They thought about having a T-shirt made for their “reunion”—maybe next time! Both Cherry and her stepmother had cat issues before making it to the get-together, but all worked out.

Huntington SP sign 09.11.17Our nearby hiking site, Collis Huntington State Park, is a bit southeast of Danbury and we enter on its southeastern boundary. We start on the Aspetuck Valley Trail and head westerly to the park boundary. Trails are well marked and relatively flat as we continue on the blue trail a little more than a mile. The area is lovely, quiet, and peaceful. We share connection: I tell her about my newly discovered plumber who lives near her; she tells me she met someone who went to high school with me at her local library.

Huntington SP geological feature 09.11.17We reach an intersection and decide to take the red trail next and discover a large rock outcrop. I talk about my efforts to get ahead on maintaining my family home and the success I’ve had getting help for the house where I live. We talk about celebrations and birthdays, and I tell Cherry that I’ve booked a cabin at the beach for next June for my birthday. I’m already excited and I see her eyes sparkle. “I love the way you’re back to planning ahead and being hopeful,” she says. Before we know it, we are back at the car; it’s been 3.4 miles and two hours, but our time just flies by here. Off we go to Danbury’s main drag.

We enter the Friendly’s parking lot in the rear and I wonder if it’s even still open—no cars. Yikes, but yes, there are cars in the front and we go inside. Not many people, and Cherry and I bemoan the potential loss of what we consider a national treasure. Our waitress, Karen, exuberantly seats us and we are on a roll. She is the friendliest Friendly’s waitress we’ve yet to encounter. “If by any chance you girls are seniors, well….” she winks at us. Cherry is in love!

Huntington SP Danbury Friendlys 09.11.17We enjoy our lunch; Cherry gets grilled cheese and soup, since she’s had a weekend of sinful eating with her family. I get the honey BBQ chicken and manage to actually save half of it for dinner. Karen has learned our names and uses them frequently. She picks up Cherry’s jacket when it falls on the floor, she cleans up after us as we eat. She checks in regularly. She covers all her tables with ease and connection. “Good manners,” she says to a young boy on our left who has answered all her questions about his dessert. Our sundaes are the highlight, as usual: Cherry’s Hunka Chunka Peanut Butter fudge and I switch it up to pistachio with hot fudge.

Cherry of course wants to tell Karen about our project. She thinks it’s pretty neat and asks where we hiked today. Cherry tells her we have only five more to go and are hoping to celebrate our finality at the Cromwell Friendly’s, where we began this adventure almost three years ago. “I know it’s a distance, but you’re invited,” Cherry quips to Karen, who clearly is touched by our outreach.

We review our list of Friendly’s and, indeed, only five more to go! Just like everything else, step by step, a large task gets accomplished in (Friendly’s) bite-sized bits.

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Vernon Rails-to-Trails and Friendly’s

23 08 2017

18 August 2017

Vernon trail view

The weather isn’t promising; in fact, my phone indicated rain most of the morning and thunderstorms at 9:15. But Cherry and I decide to hike anyway. As she quips, “The worst thing that could happen is we have a short hike and a long time to enjoy the food and ice cream at Friendly’s!”

We meet and head to Vernon around 9AM, just after rush hour traffic. Cherry’s had some family time with her half-sister, visiting from England with hubby and two kids. They all spent a day, along with her step-mom and other family members, at Look Park in Northampton, MA. Cherry describes the fun they had on the train, picnicking, and being together, which is special when some live across the pond.

Vernon rocks and plantsThrough my intuitive sense of direction (strongly lacking in Cherry, she always says), we find the Vernon Rails-to-Trails crossing on Taylor Street. We park on a nearby side street and head north. We both are surprised by the beauty of the surroundings. And the weather is holding; “I won’t say the “R” word,” Cherry declares.

Excellent signs describe the rail history of the area. We see remnants of track and talk about the Essex Steam Train, now able to travel northward into Haddam. I am disappointed the line won’t be converted into a hiking trail at this point.

Vernon Reading TrailWe see families with bicycle and other walkers, especially near the parking area. Here, we encounter a Reading Trail, something I’d not heard of but Cherry knew. For National Trails Day, the Vernon Park & Rec Department partnered with a local bookstore to establish a mile-long Reading Trail, where Curious George Makes Pancakes is parsed out, page by page. I think of my grandson’s love of George and how this would inspire children to walk!

After an hour, we decide to return to the car. We refuse to say the “R” word, but it’s starting to look ominous. We talk about friends and the difference between activities companions and true friends. Cherry’s thought a lot about this, and suggests that being friends with herself is most important, although a bit more challenging.

And then to Friendly’s, a brief six-minute drive! Well, actually I pull in too soon and we park at the neighboring fast food place and climb a small embankment to enter Friendly’s. Our waitress, Abby, can’t me more than 16; she must be at least that to work, right? Cherry notices an enlarged photo on the wall of three young women in the 1950s and tells Abby she had a dress like the one on the left and used to come to Friendly’s in Holyoke when she was young. “I used to come when I was a kid, too,” says Abby. Could that have been more than ten years ago, Cherry and I laugh, after Abby leaves our table.

Vernon Friendlys queen for a dayI try to convince Cherry to be Queen of Friendly’s for a day, but she leaves the crown at the register. And as we drive home, we laugh about the silent “R” word – it was perfect weather! We are chugging through the remaining Connecticut options; according to my notes, we only have six more to go!

 





Pachaug State Forest, Voluntown and Norwich Friendly’s

18 07 2017

10 July 2017

Pachaug Rhodies 07.10.17

Cherry and I pick another perfect day to head to Pachaug State Forest in Voluntown. It’s a long trip, an hour and a half, but the time flies as we chat. Recently, Cherry and her colleagues (church friends, local officials, park staff) welcomed a group kayaking down the Connecticut River when they arrived at Haddam Meadows State Park. It was pouring when they paddled up, almost perfectly on time, and all relished the food, coffee, company, and tents that had been prepared for their arrival.

Today, we travel country roads until we see signs for Pachaug. We enter the forest and park at the Mount Misery campground where we spy the sign for the Rhododendron Sanctuary. We’ve chosen this location for today because the plants will be in flower. The path, handicap accessible, is level and easy. We notice plenty of gypsy moth eggs clustered on trees, which frustrates both of us. We pass through tall cedar trees and spot the Rhodie flowers, a few at first and then tall bushes full! They have a slight aroma and it feels magical. We continue along the boardwalk to the end, where we spot a few painted turtles basking. We encounter a bicyclist on the return to the parking area, but otherwise, it is still.

We decide to walk behind the campground in search of the trail to Mount Misery. We never do find it, but enjoy the open feel to the woodlands and the mystery of not knowing where we are. We walk about 45 minutes and decide to return to the car. My stomach is rumbling and ready for lunch!

The Norwich Friendly’s is a half hour away, an easy ride, and a fresh-looking building. We are surprised inside to find it full and busy. Our server, Yo-yo, confides that she was late and forgot her name tag today (Cherry had to ask her name). We order: fishamajig for Cherry, turkey/bacon burger for me, both with applesauce (which I spy in the kitchen coming from a supermarket-sized Motts jar!). Our sundaes were cookie dough and forbidden chocolate and we eat every last drop, scraping the metal sides of our dishes.

Pachaug Norwich Friendlys empty sundae cups 07.10.17

As we finish up, Cherry confides in Yo-yo about our project of visiting all the Friendly’s in Connecticut and pairing them with a hike. She is genuinely interested and we toy with the idea of letting Corporate Headquarters know about our plans. I think maybe we are far enough along that we can let the cat out of the bag. Perhaps I will post this to their website or FB page and see if anything happens!

We are full and content as we return to Middletown where Cherry parked her car. All ready to plan our next escapade!

 





Hiking For Friendly’s: Kettletown State Park and Southbury Friendly’s

3 07 2017

 

Kettletown hemlock ravine.jpg28 June 2017

Our local weather person calls today a “10” and Cherry and I agree. We head west to Kettletown State Park around 9AM under clear skies and temperatures in the 70s. We arrive an hour later, find parking near the Brook Trail, and start off. The park is almost deserted and quite lovely. The hemlock-lined ravine provides a tranquil environment for us to talk. Cherry says Erik Hesselberg has written her uncle’s story in the July issue of the Hartford Magazine. The Singing Preacher at Ellis Island, Uncle John Evans helped immigrants arriving in America, a tradition Cherry has continued, without realizing it until Erik pointed it out.

Kettletown eraticIt doesn’t take us long to reach the junction with the blue Pomperaug Trail and then its junction with the Crest Trail. I am on the look for skinks, a type of lizard, and the only one found in Connecticut. I think the crest habitat might be a possible place for them, so we decide to walk along there first.  As we reach an open area, we notice gypsy moth caterpillars hanging from trunks in abundance. “Those head down are dead from the fungus,” I say, having just researched the topic. We look more closely at one of the trunks and see dozens, maybe a hundred pupae! I grab a stick and scrape scores of them off, only realizing I should have photographed them before doing that.

Kettletown lake Zoar

I see an area that seems “skinky” to me, so I head off the trail while Cherry parallels me above on trail. No luck and I rejoin her. After about an hour, we reach an overlook of Lake Zoar, the expanded area on the Housatonic River that is at the base of this outcrop. Views are lovely and we contemplate how Native American village remnants were flooded by the lake establishment and the hunting and fishing rights were obtained by the exchange of a kettle (hence the park’s name).

We continue along the Crest Trail, up and down, and realize it’s been awhile since we’ve covered such challenging terrain. We finally reach the southern junction with the Pomperaug Trail. “Halfway,” I say, drinking my water. The signage throughout is excellent, so we know exactly where we are.

 

 

We continue northerly and then take a side trail west to the Camp Ground and walk the rest of the way back to the car on the road, until we hook up with the path near the beach. We are impressed with the accessible camping site and enjoy walking the boards back. I suggest to Cherry we can veer off the trail, up a steep embankment and would end up right where we parked (at least I hoped so!). Up we went, and sure enough, back to our starting point. Four and a half miles; we’ve earned our ice cream.

It’s only a few minutes to the Friendly’s, according to my directions. We head north of Southbury and it’s residential, away from the highway, and I start to wonder if I’m in the right place. Suddenly, we see a sign for Heritage Village and find ourselves in the midst of the retirement community. “This can’t be right,” I start to say, as I slow for a stop sign. And there, on the corner, is Friendly’s.

Cherry and I are seated, with Hailey being our waitress. The place is full, hosting people of all ages. We order our fare: grilled cheese for Cherry (she’s going to an Ice Cream Social later today) and Philly cheesesteak (again) for me. Good food, forbidden chocolate sundaes with hot fudge, chocolate sprinkles for each of us. This is the busiest Friendly’s we’ve been in so far. Probably because of that, we agreed the service is adequate but not personal.

Cherry suggests a title for this post, “No skinks but a good time.” I agree and we set a place and time for our next Hike for Friendly’s. See you next month in Norwich!