Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Inline Skating on the Minuteman Bike Trail

I've been skating the Minuteman Trail for many years and although I am often asked I can never seem to remember how far it is between Bedford and Arlington. The trail actually extends farther than that, all the way to Alewife Station, but I am only interested in the Bedford to Arlington stretch. I have done the section between Arlington and Cambridge but, I didn't really like it for inline skating. First, in Arlington, there is a big break in the trail that requires crossing some busy streets and heading down a fairly steep hill right along side traffic. Then later there are sections that are paved with cobble stones which was not fun on skates.

The distance information used to be really hard to find. While many sources will tell you the full length of the trail, I have not found any source that gives distances for smaller segments. Now, thanks to Google's option to show routes for walking and biking, I was able to get the information pretty quickly. However, I decided to make it even easier by recording it here for future reference and maybe others will find it useful too.

The distance on the Minuteman trail between Bedford and Arlington is 8.6 miles. Because Lexington has the biggest parking lot along the trail and is a very popular entry point I'll give the distances from there as well. From Lexington to Bedford is 3.8 miles. Lexington to Arlington is 4.8 miles.

The Bedford lot, at the corner of Loomis and South, is always free parking. They have recently redone this lot. It has been expanded. They have added restrooms. The ladies room is a giant single person room with a cool electronic lock. I'm not sure why they didn't make it into 3 or 4 stalls but, know that because it's a single there is sometimes a little bit of a wait. There is also a small convenience store with snacks and an antique store at the far end of the parking lot. On Mondays throughout the summer there is a farmer's market across the street. It's in the parking lot of Bikeway Source which has all kinds of bike supplies, bikes and bike rentals but, not much, if anything, for inline skating.

The Lexington lot is behind some stores along Mass Ave. You get to the lot through  a small street on the east side of Emery Park. Head straight back to park in either of two sections. The front section is free but, it is very busy and primarily for the stores there. Behind that is a lot that is sometimes free and other times pay by the hour. When they are charging it's very inexpensive. You'll end up paying about $1.00. I think it's worth it to use the paid lot. It's much easier to find a spot and a much more relaxed, low traffic area to get your skates on and even warm-up a little. I would definitely recommend it if there are children in your group.

Arlington has a great parking lot right off Mass Ave. just west of Pleasant St. This is free on Sundays. Monday through Saturday until 6p.m.) a ticket is required that you buy from a machine on the lot and place on your car's dash. The fee is $0.50 an hour. The machine takes dollar bills but does not give change.

Where to Start
The trail is mainly flat but there is a definite incline as you head from either direction toward Lexington. It's nice to start in Bedford or Arlington because you get to go downhill on your way back. The only draw back to not starting in Lexington is that Lexington has a lot of great shops and restaurants right off the trail. So, if you're looking to spend some time hanging out either before or after your skate I then Lexington is the place to go. Most businesses don't allow you in with your skates on. So, if you want to patronize any of the establishments along the trail regardless where you started you may want to consider carrying a pack with shoes in it that's big enough to stow your skates. There is one store that is skate friendly. It's a small bike shop right on the trail in Arlington. I believe they have some snacks as well.

Something to consider as a skater is wind. I recommend checking the weather before you head out for wind speed and direction. If it's going to be a windy day then plan your trip so that you start out skating into the wind and return with the wind at your back. It's very easy to head out on the trail with the wind at your back and not even realize it. You think you're just really energetic that day. You sail along having a great time, you even go farther than usual because it seems so easy. Then you turn around to head back to the car and you have the battle of your life! Ok, maybe that's a little dramatic but, when you're fighting that wind after you've already been skating for an hour it is a killer workout. Plyo X (for all you P90X'ers) is a relaxing stroll compared to skating the trail against the wind.

*NEW* Tree Roots
Over the years the issue of tree roots creating threir own special obstacles along the trail has been growing more and more problematic for us inline skaters. One of the worst areas is the section immediately East of Lexington Center. I'll continue to make a note of where these hazards are as I notice them through the season.
There are a few etiquette points that will make your trail experience better for you and those around you.
  • Everyone including pedestrians should be using the right lane.
  • When you need to pass someone always check behind you first. Cyclists can come up pretty fast and cutting them off could cause an accident.
  • If it's clear behind you and and clear ahead say, "on your left" as you're about to pass. Be aware, however, that more and more other people on the trail are not bothering to offer this common curtesy. Your best bet is to be aware of who's around you and keep being polite. Maybe it will catch on soon as a "new" trend.
  • If there is someone coming in the other direction you can either wait or carefully pass if you think you have room.
  • At the intersections never stop to the side of the gates. There are narrow passages on either side of the gates and if you stop there no one can get by you. If you're planning to go as soon as the road is clear and your party is all together, then it's OK to not completely get out of the way. However, if you are taking a break or waiting for people, then get out of the way as much as you can. At a lot of the intersections there's plenty of space to come around and hang out in front of the gate. Otherwise move off to the side of the trail.
All in all the people on the trail are respectful of eachother. Even when the trail is quite busy things tend to flow well. It's a great place to get a workout and enjoy a beautiful day.

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