Hiking columnist takes his bike to the Aspetuck Valley Trail

Early on a Sunday morning, in a corner of Newtown, I secured my bicycle to a tree with a cable lock I had bought for the day before. Then I hung my helmet on the handlebars, returned to my car, and drove off to Easton. It felt odd to abandon my much-used and loved bike in the woods, but I felt tolerably confident it would still be there at the end of my hike.

In one respect at least, hiking alone presents greater logistical challenges than heading out in company. The solo hiker’s inability to “spot” a car at the end of a point-to-pointer often limits him to loops, to returning to the place where he parked. I had been thinking for some time about using a bike to overcome this limitation and decided on an Aspetuck Valley Trail (AVT) test run.

I have written about the AVT before in this column, but that was five years ago, and the trail has since grown. The AVT today is 6.9 miles in length, running from Route 58 near the Easton-Redding line to Collis P. Huntington State Park. For most of its route, the AVT keeps to the deep shade of Centennial Watershed State Forest, staying close to the Aspetuck River but wandering too into its flanking hills.

I set off from the AVT’s southern, Easton end at 7:30 a.m. The trailhead was overgrown in dewy, knee-high weeds but a clear trail soon appeared. This trail descended, a brook to the right first heard, then reached. I came to a place the maps call Livermore Pond though it was but a waterless clearing. Ten minutes later, a grassy meadow — bright under a cloudless sky and so dew-heavy as to soak my pants through.

The trail emerged at Rock House Road and met the Aspetuck River for the first time, crossing it on the road, then turning into the woods again to follow its left bank. I made my way to the river’s edge and looked downstream. The exposed riverbed rocks, even the shallow water itself, were peat black, and just enough sunlight filtered through the canopy here and there to give some riffles a shine.

I have a favorite place on the AVT, a wooden footbridge across the Aspetuck where the river is slow and reedy. Once, arriving at this place, I startled a heron into flight. Today, I approached stealthily, hoping to see a great bird at its fishing. There was none, but I paused on the bridge to enjoy the break in the trees, the reflections in the still river, and to cast off my extra layer as the morning warmed.

The next stretch of AVT is a mile of broad, flat track, enjoyable too for the steep, craggy, wooded cliff beside it. The track ends at Stepney Road, crosses the Aspetuck below the little dam and waterfall at Hedmon’s Pond, and quickly turns onto Foundry Road which soon enough turns to dirt. (If you are into oddball art, look out for the “Tonka Truck Tree” on Stepney Road.)

North of Foundry Road, the feel of the AVT changes. Gone are broad tracks and country homes; the route now is bona fide forest trail, and more hill than valley. For a mile, I climbed. Finally, at what seemed the summit of the trail, I rested on a boulder and saw a hawk cruise the canopy below. There are no sweeping views on the AVT and this Newtown hilltop was evidence of that — the spot overlooked a swamp-filled valley for sure, but you couldn’t see it for timber.

Next, a long descent back to the Aspetuck River at inaptly named Poverty Hollow Road (if once this valley was home to rural misery, its current dwellings suggest a remarkable upturn in fortune!). I climbed into the hills on the other side of the river. If the AVT lacks sweeping panoramas, it offers beauty on a smaller scale — streamside flowers, stone-walls marching off into the woods, twisted trees growing from boulder piles. Somewhere on this section, I met a spider in a web spun right across the trail at head height. I was about to whack the web with my trekking pole but, perhaps heeding better angels, stooped deeply instead so the spider could keep her snare. The bugs of the neighborhood may not thank me.

Coming downhill, I saw a bicycle propped against a birch tree and knew my trek was nearly done. To finish, I needed to hike on to the AVT's northern end at the edge of Huntington State Park. I expected this to be quick and easy, but found instead a winding and sometimes steep path — a mile in, a mile back to my bike.

Back at my bike, I tweaked my gear — long pant legs unzipped to make shorts, poles collapsed and stowed in my pack, headgear changed. Then I pedaled fast and easy back to my starting place and wondered why I hadn’t done this before.

Contact Rob McWilliams at “McWilliams Takes a Hike,” blog and Facebook.