- We were born in Newton in the late 1930s and lived in the Highlands right through high school. The current crop of Newton students are light-years ahead of where we were in many things like organized sports, curricula, and truly great newspapers and theater productions. One area where we excelled was the ability to self-organize most of our own activities. This included fierce pickup games of football, baseball, “Capture the Flag” and zany events like Halloween swims at Crystal Lake, and hopping freights on the now defunct Needham Heights Line. Mostly, we played at places along the two Newton aqueducts with strange sounding names like Fanny Fogg’s, The Hole, and Gootchy’s Cave.
Bicycles were our most prized possession. A dramatic change in how far we could travel occurred in the early 50s with the arrival of fast, 3-speed bicycles from England. At the time, we were in 8th and 9th grades at Weeks Junior High School, had a 12-client lawn and landscaping business, and rode Royal London 3-Speed Specials.
Route 128 had just opened as a divided highway and bicycles were allowed in the right two lanes. We started weekly races along the new highway from Hemlock Gorge to the summit of Prospect Hill in Waltham. Our friend Jimmy Smith kept telling us about Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire and the three of us determined we were going to ride our bikes up there the following summer.
We knew nothing about organizing this adventure, but John Boyle, a quiet Irishman who owned the Highland Cycle Shop on Walnut Street, patiently showed us repair techniques and how to pack loads of gear on three bicycles. After many fits and starts, we eventually cycled all the way to Monadnock State Park in August of 1953, the first of several trips over the next three years. The only harrowing experience on the road was a time we were heading home and unexpectedly hit a raw summer nor’easter. We frantically peddled from the New Hampshire border to Newton, arriving home at 2 in the morning dead tired, very cold and thoroughly soaked to the bone.
Mount Monadnock was Henry David Thoreau’s favorite hiking area, but he couldn’t have cherished the region any more than we did. We regularly hiked the mountain and found a secluded beach on nearby Gilmore Pond that is still exactly as we found it. We camped under a blanket of bright stars and heard the chilling screech of bobcats and the sounds of other animals roaming in the dark.
Many people assisted us along the way, but our greatest champion was the Park’s Head Ranger, Charlie Burrage. Charlie called our parents with updates without telling us, and helped get us out from under a few serious jams. In 1954, he moved us to safety just minutes before Hurricane Carol dropped a huge tree squarely on our tent.
The most serious mishap occurred one afternoon when a massive hail and lightning storm came roaring in just as we neared the summit. We were running down the mountain when Bob tripped, went down hard, cracked his head on a large rock, and passed out for a few tense minutes. Charlie Burrage rushed Bob to a country doctor’s office in his tiny frame house. This kind doctor put several stitches in Bob’s head, told him not to cycle home, and adamantly refused to take any payment from “young wayfarers in dire need.” A few days later, Bob’s dad showed up in a yellow Plymouth Convertible and somehow squeezed four people, three bikes, a large tent and other gear into the car for the trip home.
Some may be puzzled as to why our folks let us do all this without adult supervision. The 1950s was simply a far different time. Our parents were concerned about our education and safety, but they did trust us to act responsibly.
We can still vividly recall almost everything from these trips. We found a mystical freedom on Mt. Monadnock that countless others have felt, but for us there was also a special joy that came from creating this experience with our own imagination and resources. We discovered an idyllic place in those wonderful journeys to the Monadnock area, and we’re sure that many of today’s kids would have enjoyed coming along with us.Bob Burke is a member of the Newton Highlands Neighborhood Area Council. John Seery now lives in Florida. Read more: http://www.wickedlocal.com/newton/news/x1084479703/Bob-Burke-Biking-from-Newton-to-Mt-Monadnock-in-the-1950s#ixzz2J1ok7jfe I want to thank Bob for sharing his story with us. Monadnock is still visited a couple of times each summer from long distances by campers with bicycles. Or, perhaps, really, bicyclists with tents. Charlie Burrage would manage Monadnock State Park from 1950 to 1962. He has since passed away, but his time and service here is certainly not forgotten. Like the rest of the the men that have managed this park and cared for this mountain before me, I do my absolute best to carry on their legacy of care, stewardship, dedication, and sacrifice to this beloved mountain. I am most proud to have an opportunity to do so because, after all, Mount Monadnock has always been there for me. Happy Trails.