Friday, August 10, 2018

Taking the training wheels off at Gambo Dam: A cautionary tale by Briana Bizier

One of childhood’s rites of passage is learning how to pedal a bicycle without training wheels. As last weekend’s experiences proved to this writer, kids are the not the only ones who need to adjust to this new reality.

My seven-year-old assistant took her first short ride without the training wheels last month, in the parking lot of Raymond Elementary. Letting go of her bicycle seat as she pedaled across the pavement was one of the more poignant parenting moments I’ve experienced.

Not to be outdone, my four-year-old assistant also insisted he could pedal without training wheels. After another round of two-wheel practice, this time in the gravel parking lot of Raymond’s Mill Street Ball Field and Playground, my husband and I decided to take the kids for a bike ride and a swim at the Gambo Dam in Windham.

Theoretically, this is the perfect place for a first bike ride. The Gambo Dam area along the Presumpscot River overlaps with the Mountain Division Rail Trail, a beautiful, paved path running along old railroad lines, and Gorham’s Shaw Park. If you make a few left turns, you can easily combine these overlapping trails to create a short loop with Shaw Park in the middle.

Last summer, when our daughter was still using training wheels and our son was riding a toddler balance bike, my husband and I took the kids for a bike ride along this trail. Our children loved the gentle inclines and the smooth, paved path, which was perfect for a bike with training wheels and a bright pink “motorcycle.” My son’s pink balance bike, a hand-me-down from his big sister, didn’t have pedals. And, as he pointed out quite often, motorcycles also don’t have pedals; hence, he had a motorcycle.

Hoping to replicate our past success, we loaded the two training-wheel-free big kid bikes into our car last weekend and set out for the Presumpscot. Both children loved pedaling the initial section of the Mountain Division Rail Trail, which follows a set of old railroad ties in a wide, flat path. However, the first of two bridges posed a challenge.

Even though we walked our bikes over the first bridge, a high railroad trestle, the steep drop beside the subsequent stretch of the trail made one of our two new bikers balk. She decided to walk her bike - the entire way.

The Mountain Division Trail continues from the Presumpscot all the way to Sebago Lake, but we turned left after the railroad trestle and continued to Shaw Park. Attempts to convince my assistant that riding a bike is actually much easier, and more fun, than walking a bike were met with much resistance. Apparently, there’s a big difference between feeling comfortable riding a bike around a parking lot and feeling comfortable riding a bike along a windy, curving trail.

Fortunately, by this point our family was almost to Shaw Park. It was a warm, muggy day, so the entire family left the bikes by the swings and went for a quick dip (Dad had graciously volunteered to carry towels and swim suits). Swimming in the Presumpscot improved everyone’s morale, and we were able to watch adventurous canoeists climb to the top of the railroad trestle bridge and jump into the water below.

Can I do that, Mom?” my four-year-old assistant asked.

Sure thing, honey,” I said. “When you’re thirty-five.”

After our swim at Shaw Park, the family resumed our bike ride/push. The trail loops gently through the woods past Shaw Park and circles around what looks like an old gravel pit. The path here is broad and flat, and it was finally gentle enough for our seven-year-old to decide she was willing to give two-wheeled bike riding another try. For just a few moments, our children zoomed ahead of us on their bikes, and the hike was exactly what I’d expected.

This loop trail ends at Gambo Dam, where there is a lovely pedestrian bridge across the Presumpscot. Below the dam, you can find a fascinating interpretive trail along the historic site of Maine’s Oriental Powder Mill, which made gunpowder used in the Civil War. You can also explore the ruins of the Cumberland & Oxford Canal if you’re looking for another fun, short hike with (or without) children.

If you’d like to explore the Gambo Dam area yourself, with or without bikes and children, you can find the parking area by turning onto Newhall Road from Route 202. Newhall Road becomes Gambo Road, and it ends at the Gambo Dam. To follow our loop, park just before the dam in the Mountain Division Trail parking lot.

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