Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dark Shadows

Later today, a ninja warrior and a king with a cape will leave our house and walk from door to door with friends who may have reinvented themselves as witches or a ghosts for a night. On this last evening before the time changes, we’ll start our journey as daylight fades. But soon the edges will blur; porches will become bushes, trees will become people, and darkness will make things appear what they aren’t.

That’s when Halloween starts, regardless of how many Kit Kats or Skittles rattle around in the bottom of the treat bags. No matter what we call this night — Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, or the Celtic celebration of summer’s end known as Samhain — it’s a time to acknowledge the thrill and the power of the dark. In pagan times, people considered the moment between the “lighter half” of the year and the “darker half” a time when the membrane between the physical world and the spirit world was most thin, when the barrier was most porous between what we know and what we can never know for sure.

We don’t need this background — or the scary costumes — to be reminded that darkness alone carries a special power. Who hasn’t lain in bed at night and been scared by the wind rattling windows in some far-off corner of the house, or heard the scurrying of a mouse in the walls and sworn it was something much larger and more dangerous? The dark plays tricks with what we know, but can never know for sure. That edge of uncertainty raises something primal in us. It put us in touch with our primitive instincts of survival, and our primal dread of death.

When you combine the darkness with the outdoors, that edge of uncertainty intensifies, especially for children, who haven’t yet learned how to let logic and reason push down irrational fear. In the safety of a back yard, a night out in a tent can feel like an adventure — or a brush with death. A walk in the park, in pitch black, can be anything but a walk in the park — is that a tree? a person? Collecting night crawlers by flashlight can be absolutely thrilling. The air feels charged, alive. Our senses heightened, we listen and look harder, notice things in a way we don’t during the light of day.

Tonight, walking in the dark stretches between houses, amidst make-believe ghouls and villains, we’ll feel an edge of that power. It’s my favorite thing about Halloween.

Learn more

Classic ghost stories from Ambrose Bierce ("A Vine on a House" and
"A Summer Night") and Washington Irving (“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”).

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lessons from a missed meteor shower

Back in August, I made a family appointment. We’d just seen the Perseids, the annual mid-August meteor shower, on our summer vacation. Writing about them here, I learned about other annual showers, like the Orionids, which appear to originate from within the Orion constellation on their annual late-fall swing past Earth. We wrote “meteor showers” over the dates October 20-22 on our calendar.

It isn’t exactly that we forgot about the showers. But last week was cold, wet, dreary. We didn’t see the sun, much less the stars. The marks from August on our calendar seemed out of season, irrelevant.

Last night, Ursula got stuck on a math problem. Jim and I were no help. Her small universe started to spiral. I reached for something to change her course, and I came out with this: “Let’s go outside and look for meteors.”

Ursula knows some of the constellations: Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (the Big Dipper and Little Dipper) for obvious reasons and because they are so wonderfully obvious in the night sky. She can also pick out Orion, the Hunter, the constellation that accompanies us from the end of autumn to the fullness of spring, brightening our winter nights. So we walked out into the yard, far enough from the house for the dark to envelop us. It was colder than we expected, but also more clear. The stars sparkled above us.

But no Orion. Although Ursula was up past her bedtime, it was still too early to see the constellation in a form we recognized. The Pleiades, though, sat straight ahead of us. Ursula is studying Greek mythology in school and knew about the seven sisters, daughters of Atlas. Our night skies will soon re-enact one of their stories, in which they “flee mighty Orion and plunge into the misty deep.” Ursula told us more Greek myths while we watched. No meteors streaked across the sky. The small universe between us reformed into a tired but happy 11-year-old. Jim hoisted her onto his shoulders and carried her back inside, to repeating decimals and mixed numbers and then to bed.

Now we have another date on our calendar: November 17, when we may be lucky enough to see a “half-storm” — as many as 500 meteors an hour — in the Leonid meteor shower. More on that next month.

Learn more
About the Orionid meteor shower from National Geographic and Meteor Showers Online.


Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

A Walk in the Woods with Uncle Rik


We had a guest last weekend – Uncle Rik, who came all the way from Washington State to hang out with Ursula and Virgil, and maybe also squeeze in a few moments with their parents. We had big plans for his visit: Ursula, who has just started fencing lessons, wanted to take him to a special workshop. Virgil couldn’t decide which 10 board games he wanted to play with his uncle. Jim planned a tour of the nearby Dartmouth campus. I pictured catching up with my brother over double cappuccinos, but I also hoped we could take the kids in for their seasonal flu shots and that we might join one of the “350 Day” activities.

Saturday was no day for sight-seeing — no day to be outside, period — not when several inches of rain fell in as many hours. So when Sunday dawned bright, clear, and warm (for late October), all our other plans fell away and were replaced by a simple imperative: Let’s get outside.

We walked out our front door, across the road, and down toward the barn, where we veered off onto a woods trail. We cut that trail a few years ago, but I noticed that it’s grown brushy from disuse. On the other side of our stone wall, the trees give way to our neighbors’ open fields. Ursula led the way across, singing out that it was really wet, but she didn’t mind because she had her rain boots on. The rest of us hop-scotched soggy hillocks and jumped a stream that had widened with runoff, Virgil clinging to Jim’s back.

I don’t think of myself as taking where we live for granted. We tell people that we live on a pond, that the long lovely ridge that forms the pond’s backdrop is state park, that if we wade far enough into the water , we can peer around a small hill to see the fire tower on Mt. Cardigan. We swim in the heat, ski on the snow, skate on the ice, and ramble through the woods in all seasons. But Rik helped me see this little spot of New England with fresh appreciation. He breathed in the smell of the leaves that crunched under our feet and the smell of the pond, in deep, chest-expanding breaths. I could see that the smells reminded him of places we’d lived, growing up, that they were delivering memories of childhood itself. The Northwest, where he lives now, doesn’t have the same smell, or trees, or fresh water. He dug into the leaves and pulled up an acorn with its cap still on. “Could you help me find a few more?” he asked Ursula and Virgil, who were amazed to learn that oaks, and therefore acorns, were uncommon where Uncle Rik lived.

We stopped at a large rock covered in brilliant green moss. Ursula and Virgil broke off some twigs and placed a 350 in Roman numerals against that green carpet. We found another small stream and stopped beside it. Virgil looked around for dead branches to build a fire for our marshmallows, chattering happily. Jim and Ursula created another 350, with acorns, underwater.

I led Rik up a steep gully to an overlook. The pond sparkled below us. The same breeze that ruffled its surface rustled through the trees overhead, coaxing, playful. We stood there for a few moments. Rik told me that he saw something in Ursula and Virgil that he recognized from our childhood, something that came from spending time in the woods, by streams, around dirt and leaves and moss. “It fills me up,” he said, tapping a fist over his heart. “And it’s always in there, there for you to draw on when you need it.” I knew exactly what he meant.

Then we raced each other down the hill to marshmallows.

Learn more
More on our little spot of woods on the bestkidfriendlytravel.com site.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Friday, October 23, 2009

350: A number our children should know


Does the number 350 mean anything to you? It didn’t to me until earlier this week. Matt Dahlhausen, the Dartmouth student who directed the Dartmouth Outing Club’s effort to hike the Appalachian Trail in a day (“AT in a Day"), signed his emails with an oversize “350” and a link to 350.org. Spam? Money scheme? Tasteless joke? My curiosity overrode my anxiety: I clicked on the link — and I found a world of people trying to raise awareness of climate change.

350.org was co-founded by writer and environmentalist Bill McKibben. His book, The End of Nature, published in 1988, is considered the first general-interest book to sound the alarm about global warming. McKibben and an international team of organizers at 350.org are trying to make Saturday, October 24, the most widespread day of action on global warming in history.

Here’s what their mission statement says about the meaning of 350:
“Our focus is on the number 350—as in parts per million, the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere. But 350 is more than a number—it’s a symbol of where we need to head as a planet.”

The measurable CO2 in the atmosphere is currently at 387 parts per million and rising. World leaders meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December to craft a new global treaty on cutting emissions. Yet many environmentalists, including those involved with 350.org, are concerned that the treaty currently on the table doesn’t address the severity of the climate-change problem. Raising public awareness of the importance of the 350 ppm CO2 goal may put pressure on those leaders to take stronger action.

I’ve taken some time finding 350-related events scheduled around New England. People in Pomfret, Vermont, are collecting 350 cans for food banks to highlight the effect of global warming on the planet’s most vulnerable citizens. Students from Lebanon Junior High School, not far from where we live in New Hampshire, are participating in a Saturday afternoon of education on climate change and creating a large “350” picture, which they’ll add to hundreds of other photos being collected on the website.

Events in coastal communities are pointing out the effects of rising sea levels and increased storm action. On Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, a “high tide line” is being marked for 50 years from now, if CO2 levels continue rising. In Old Lyme, Connecticut, a revised version of the Beatles’ song “Get Back” (“Get back to 350ppm”) will accompany a demonstration of the effects of inland flooding. In Boston, a full-day “under-water” festival at Christopher Columbus Park includes a sandbagging race and a “350” photo at 3:50 p.m.

Churches everywhere are set to ring their bells 350 times on Saturday and Sunday, among them “Paul Revere’s bell” in King’s Chapel in Boston. When I started talking about this event to Jim, he said, “Didn’t you read the notice I sent you?” Turns out children will be ringing the bells in our little church in South Danbury, New Hampshire. The site also lists many events at schools and highlights the passion that many young adults bring to the issue of climate change.

It is already October 24 in many parts of the world, and pictures are flooding the site. Here’s a write-up from New Zealand:


“Sending a message that New Zealand’s Pacific Island neighbors are being “hung out to dry” by climate change, [...] Pacific Islanders waded out to the lines and hung 350 T-shirts, each printed with the name of a different island, on a series of giant washing lines to highlight the insufficient action being taken to combat climate change. Jane Filemu, a 9-year-old Samoan girl, walked through knee-deep water to hang the final T-shirt—a poignant reminder of just how high the stakes are, and an incredible sign of how intergenerational this movement has become.”

I’ve been surprisingly moved by these stories and images. I think of my children and their future, and I think of the love I hope they will have for this planet. It seems to me an appropriate subject for this blog. With all of the complex science surrounding this issue, 350 is a number children can understand.

Learn more
Browse the website at 350.org or view the nearly 5,000 actions worldwide on their interactive map.

Photos of Jane Filemu and Pacific Islanders courtesy of 350.org.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

AT in a day (vol. 2)


Earlier this month I posted information about a crazy idea: hiking the Appalachian Trail in one day. That’s right — 2,176 miles in 24 hours. If you imagine one hiker attempting such a feat, that person would need to hike — fly, really — more than 90 miles an hour. That idea, of course, flies straight in the face of what’s possible. A different idea — wonderfully crazy but at least theoretically possible — came to Dartmouth College student Matt Dahlhausen after a hiking trip in the White Mountains during his freshman year.

Matt is a member of the Dartmouth Outing Club (DOC), which this year is celebrating its centennial. More than half the students at Dartmouth belong to the DOC, and nearly every one of the college’s thousand entering freshmen is introduced to Dartmouth, the mountains of New Hampshire, and the DOC during a 5-day “first-year trip” that ends at the Ravine Lodge on Mt. Moosilauke, a remote mountain retreat owned by the college and maintained by the DOC.

In the spring of 2008, Matt Dahlhausen suggested to a couple of fellow DOC members that the club help celebrate its upcoming centennial by hiking the trail collectively — hundreds of students and alumni stitching together every section of the trail in one 24-hour period. He was just tossing out an idea, the kind of Wouldn’t it be great if.... that fuels many a late-night bull session but usually goes nowhere. “AT in a Day,” though, shared a characteristic of many great ideas — it was both simple and audacious. His idea took hold, and then it took off.

Matt had also learned something about the combination of leadership and the outdoors as an Eagle Scout in Troop 22, Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Before long, he and several other students were in charge of the “AT in a Day” project. They set the date of the hike: October 10, 2009. Over the next months, they tried to figure out how to tackle the project. They built a website with an interactive map of the trail. They sliced the trail into 21 sections of roughly 100 miles each and began looking for section chiefs to recruit hikers for their sections. A core group that included Matt and co-chair Athena Aicher also sent word of the hike out to DOC alumni. When they were ready to start signing up volunteers as section chiefs, they sent an email to that group; within 24 hours, alumni had spoken for 11 of the 21 sections.

However, college students, even organized and ambitious ones like Matt Dahlhausen and Athena Aicher, operate in pulses. They worked hard on the project throughout their sophomore year, but fell behind during the summer leading up to the big event. They started their final push when fall classes resumed after Labor Day, leaving less than for all the pieces to come together.

Much of the trail seemed to be covered. Wayne Bardsley, a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth and section chief for the 41 miles of the AT that traverse Maryland, had organized 50 hikers and a post-hike party. Members of the Dartmouth cross-country ski team were poised to hike the rugged 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine, considered the single most difficult section of the AT. One DOC alum planned to fly from New Hampshire to North Carolina to hike a section of the trail that he’d maintained after graduating. Ninety-one-year-old Henry Merrill, who had met his future wife at the Ravine Lodge as a student, would hike the part of the Appalachian Trail that crosses the Dartmouth campus. All told, more than 900 students, DOC alumni, and friends of the Appalachian Trail had made Matt Dahlhausen’s crazy idea their own.

But with time running out, a look at the map showed a problem: the farther from Dartmouth and its big Northeastern concentration of alumni, the more gaps appeared in the map. The gaps were biggest below Roanoke, Virginia.

During a final round of furious planning, the group expanded its call beyond Dartmouth and the DOC. The organizers sent word of the single-day effort to what the Appalachian Trail Conference calls “maintainer groups,” focusing on the places they needed the most help: Tennessee, North Carolina, and southern Virginia. People registered on the site; two difficult and remote sections of the trail in North Carolina, totaling about 50 miles, were claimed, though it worried Matt that the hikers who signed up for those segments did not send confirming emails.

Early in the afternoon on Friday, October 9, Matt headed south with a dozen other students in three vans. The day before, he’d scrambled to put together a plan to cover about 170 unclaimed miles in southern Virginia. He’d hoped that at least 20 students would answer his urgent campus-wide appeal, but 16 hours was short notice. Still, beyond the Virginia section that they were headed for, only 13 miles in North Carolina remained unassigned. It was possible — still crazy, but possible.

Matt’s group arrived at a gas station in Waynesboro, Virginia, at 6 on Saturday morning. He hadn’t slept at all the night before. Still, he thought they could pull it off — if each student hiked 20 to 25 miles... But they had trouble finding trailheads. Matt and three others, starting well past noon, hiked just 12 miles of the trail south of Pearisburg. They could have pushed farther, but had agreed to follow safety guidelines that put them back in the vans before dark. They returned to Hanover knowing they hadn’t made it — but not knowing how close they’d come.

Matt is still collating trip reports. He’s received confirmation so far that 2,050 miles were covered on October 10. He hasn’t heard from the folks who signed up for the tricky sections of trail in North Carolina and guesses that those didn’t get hiked. He figures the audacious collective effort probably fell about 100 miles short.

But he’s philosophical. “That feeling everyone felt when they stepped out on the trail and felt hundreds of people there with them,” he says, “That was worth more than two years of work.” The education Matt and the other student organizers got through the process is hard to measure, but it’s significant. There’s also a feeling of pride in attempting something that’s never been tried. That’s true in mountain ascents. It’s true in big ideas. The pioneers knock out the route. “Someone else will take what we did and go a little further,” says Matt. It’s how hard things get done.

Learn more
• Dartmouth Outing Club’s historic “AT in a Day” draws nearly 1,000 to the trail.

• The Dartmouth Outing Club website contains more information about the “AT in a Day” hike, other centennial activities, and the club.

• The Appalachian Trail Conservancy works with state and federal agencies and with about 30 member groups to preserve and manage the Appalachian Trail.

Photo: Members of the Dartmouth Club of Washington, D.C., with family and friends, prepare to hike the Appalachian Trail near Boonsboro, Maryland for "AT in a Day." Section leader Wayne Bardsley sits in the front row, middle, in the white cap and blue jacket. (photo courtesy Da'aga Hill Bowman)

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Walk and Bike to School


Did you walk to school when you were growing up? I did, and so did my husband, Jim. I remember shuffling through leaves, splashing in puddles, and the coolness of leafy shade. Jim’s route to school in Walpole, New Hampshire, took him one mile along town-maintained sidewalks. Jim recalls those 20 minutes as a sociable way to start the day. It was a routine: he and his brothers occupied a regular place in the daily flow, and they expected to see the same kids out in front of them every day, the same group behind them. To vary the routine, he might peel off to take a longer, quieter side route; or a new kid might join the pack. He also remembers looking forward to fourth grade, when the school allowed children to ride their bikes. What he doesn’t remember is ever arriving at school in a car.

In 2009, less than one child in five regularly walks or rides a bike to school. The school day in many communities starts with long lines of cars dropping off children right at the entrance. I can guarantee you that sitting in some of those idling cars are parents who think back to their own school days and wonder, What happened? How can I guarantee you this? Because I’m one of them.

What happened? Here’s a short and incomplete list: parents’ (increasingly, both parents) work commutes expanded; communities stopped building or maintaining sidewalks; with fewer adults at home during the school day, neighborhoods stopped feeling safe, or even neighborly; children’s schedules became more complicated; traffic in residential areas increased and moved at faster speeds; schools moved away from town centers. And the landscape of childhood shrank accordingly.

Here’s some good news: Since 1997, when the first national Walk to School day was held in Chicago, walking or riding to school has become what you might call a socio-indicator — a quick way to tell if a community is livable and if children in that community have a good chance of being healthy. Parents, schools, community leaders, and policy makers are paying attention: “Safe Routes to School” legislation passed in 2005 to fund programs on the state level.

October is International Walk to School Month. One walk in 1997 is now thousands of events nationwide, involving more than 3,000 schools. In many communities the effort has expanded far beyond one day, or even one month: In Somerville, Massachusetts, parents chaperone walking “school buses” on the last Friday of each month. Roaring Brook School in Avon, Connecticut, holds a “walking bus route” every Friday during the school year. Children who live behind the school can walk a newly cut trail through the woods, and “bike rodeos” that teach bicycle safety are held in the upper school.

Often when I think about connecting children to the outdoors, the picture I have in my mind is a hiking trail or a mountain stream. Research increasingly shows us, though, that regular, everyday experiences in the outdoors — things as simple as walking to school — are the best ways we can create lasting connections with the natural world for our children.


Learn more

Learn more about International Walk to School Month. A clickable map lists 2009 events in all 50 states. The site also includes resources for organizing similar events in your community, including Walkability and Bikeability Checklists.


Photo: Suzanne Mahoney, principal of Lura White Elementary School came in costume — as a walking school bus, of course — to the Shirley, Mass., school’s walk-to-school day on October 7. Mahoney joined 180 children and adults on the walk.
Photo credit: Dina Samfield

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Appalachian Trail in a Day

On Saturday, we’re going to hike the Appalachian Trail in a day. Well, not exactly. But we are going to help the Dartmouth Outing Club celebrate its centennial by joining nearly 1,000 other hikers to cover the entire 2,176-mile trail in 24 hours.

Full disclosure here: I am married to a Dartmouth alum. Jim arrived at Dartmouth having never hiked more than a few miles or slept out in a tent or carried a backpack. He didn’t have much to do with the college’s legendary outing club until his senior year. That was enough, though: a few trips led him to six months on and around the Appalachian Trail, albeit doing trail work. Those experiences ultimately led him to become a hiker, back-country skier, fisherman, and environmentalist.

Many people who enjoy the outdoors don’t come to it as children or with their own families. Like Jim, they come to it through organizations: college clubs like Dartmouth’s outing club or groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Opportunities to celebrate such connections don’t show up every day. If you want to join the DOC celebration and help hike the AT in a day, you also have the chance to become a DOC member for a year, with all that entails. (Check the website below for more details. Student organizers, by the way, are especially eager to find volunteers for sections of the trail south of Roanoke, Virginia, down into Georgia.) The “hike” starts one minute after midnight on Saturday, October 10, and ends 23 hours and 59 minutes later.

In this space next week, look for dispatches from the trail.

Learn more

Register on the Dartmouth Outing Club website to hike a section of the trail or read updates and hike reports.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy maintains a list of organizations involved in maintaining the Appalachian Trail, including the Appalachian Mountain Club.



Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Catching leaves as they fall

We caught our first leaves of the season yesterday. The conditions, as they say, were perfect: trees at the first peak of color, a good breeze, flat and easy terrain, and three children (and a mom) with a few minutes to spare.

On Wednesdays, I pick up the kids at school and bring Ursula and her friend Kirsten to a clarinet lesson. (Virgil tags along more or less happily, depending.) Their teacher uses a back room in an old church. I know it’s an old church because the trees that surround it are massive old specimens — thick-trunked oaks and majestic maples that must be at least a hundred years old and may even have been planted before the Civil War. The kids had gone to bed on Tuesday night to the sound of rain against the house and were pelted by more rain on their way into school on Wednesday morning. A thunderstorm spoiled their recess. So when we emerged from the music lesson into a break in the rain, we lingered in the church parking lot, lifting our faces to the warm breeze.

Ursula noticed the leaves first. The wind was shaking them loose from one of the grand oaks on the other side of the nearly empty lot and blowing them our way in erratic swirls and roller-coaster loop-de-loops. She took off after a single yellow leaf that had separated from a limb high in the tree and was twirling almost in place high above our heads. “I have it! I have it!” she cried, positioning herself directly below the leaf. But it spun out at a wild angle, and even though Ursula raced to catch it, the leaf skittered to the pavement ten feet away. She pulled up, laughing, and scanned the trees again.

The next gust sent a small detachment of yellow and brown leaves out into the air, and all three children stretched their arms up over their heads, palms open wide, trying to catch the whirling leaves before they touched ground. I had errands to do; the kids had homework and tests to study for. But after watching them for a few moments and hearing their laughter, I joined in, too. My chosen leaf flitted this way and nosedived that way; trying to stay with it from below, I found myself flitting and diving along with it, and giggling so hard that I had no breath left for a final burst of speed. The leaf fluttered to the ground just out of reach.

We stayed there for maybe 15 minutes. In spite of what I said at the beginning of this essay, I don’t know if any of us actually caught a leaf. We caught something, though: a chance to match wits with the wind, to make leaves into playmates, to give ourselves over to joy and to the season, too. When we got back into the car, I turned around and saw three smiling, flushed faces. I knew mine looked the same. Leaf-catching: It’s good for the soul.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fall family biking: 3 tips, each illustrated by 3 trips

As months go, October may best illustrate the ever-turning cycle of seasons in the Northeast, as the last summerlike warmth flares, foliage reaches its annual peak, and summits acquire their first dustings of snow. Two-wheeled family adventures turn the seasonal cycle to advantage.

AMC authors and bicycling trip leaders offer three simple tips for family-friendly fall bike trips:

* Plan trips for less elevation gain and shorter distances than adult trips.
* Choose routes and trails that minimize traffic and maximize children’s safety.
* Combine bike trips with activities and destinations.

Biking down low, looking up high: 3 White Mountain trips. In Discover the White Mountains, AMC authors Jerry and Marcy Monkman give the “low-down” on three short, family-friendly rides that offer superb views of New Hampshire’s White Mountains and require little elevation gain. One ride is even downhill all the way!

Franconia Notch Bicycle Path. “One of the most scenic places in the White Mountains,” according to the Monkmans. Instead of riding the full length of the trail (9.2 miles each way), try a shuttle: Drop off a car at the Flume Gorge Visitor Center, then drive north on the parkway either to Profile Lake (5 miles) or Lafayette Campground (3.7 miles). The ride back to the Flume Gorge on the paved pathway is all downhill.
• Pemi East Side Trail and Lincoln Woods. A nearly level mountain-bike trail up and back along the Pemigewasset River offers a panorama of high-country views and sugar maples and yellow birches in fall foliage. The trail, which is 6.4 miles roundtrip, is easily accessible from the Kancamangus Highway.
• Conway Recreation Trail. A 6-mile out-and-back ride parallels the Saco River for several miles and passes by a still-active mineral spring. In the 1800s this water was bottled and sold to tourists. Refreshments today are back in town, close by.

Safe and straightforward: 3 Northeast rail-trail rides. By definition, rail trails are all railroad grade, which means you can count on gentle inclines, and they’re separate from car traffic. Both these characteristics make them great choices for families. And, as trip leader Rhoda Eisman of AMC’s Delaware Valley Chapter has noticed, rail trails don’t have turnoffs, so kids can explore without getting lost.

Cape Cod Rail Trail. The summer crowds are gone, leaving much more room on this popular 22-mile trail along the Massachusetts coast. Free parking at the South Wellfleet trailhead and the Cape Cod National Seashore at Marconi makes it easy to combine beach activities with bike-riding.
Walkill Valley Rail Trail. The total length of this trail through the Hudson Valley and below Shawangunk cliffs is 12.2 miles, but families may want to ride north or south from the historic town of New Paltz, N.Y., midway along the trail.
Lehigh Gorge Bike Trail. Trip leader Eisman recommends this mountain-bike trail in eastern Pennsylvania for its steep-walled gorge and the ice-cream parlor in White Haven. Park at the trailhead in White Haven for flexible out-and-back options.

Apple-picking, cheese factories, and covered bridges: 3 fall family activity rides. Bike trip leaders John Wojdak, of AMC’s Worcester Chapter, and Nancy and Tom Mann, of AMC’s Connecticut Chapter, recommend activities and destinations for fall family bike rides.

• Bike-riding and apple-picking. A favorite autumn ride for Wojdak starts in West Brookfield, Mass., on Wickaboag Valley Rd. Three moderately hilly miles bring him to Ragged Hill Road and a pick-your-own apple orchard by the same name.
• Ice cream and a Sleeping Giant. Nancy and Tom Mann recommend Connecticut Bike Rides as a source for 250 cycling routes within the state. The “Sleeping Giant Leisure Ride,” an 8.7-mile relatively flat ride mostly on back roads, starts and ends at the park of the same name, and includes the possibility of a stop at an ice cream shop.
• Covered bridge and cheese factory. What better way to spend an autumn day than biking through an old covered bridge and around the small Vermont village of Grafton, then touring a cheese factory? Start in the beautifully restored town of Grafton. Bike a short distance on country roads to the Kidder Hill covered bridge.

Learn more
"East Coast Bike Paths" (AMC Outdoors, September/October 2009) describes six additional family-friendly rides.
"Bicycling the Northeast's Rail Trails" in the same issue highlights trails in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.