Dan and Hannah – Halloween 2014

I was never much of a fan of dressing up for Halloween. At Halloween time, I was kind of a killjoy as a school teacher when I taught at Nevitt Elementary in Phoenix, AZ.  I never dressed up when the rest of the faculty got into it.

Halloween Unity

So it is no surprise that when the Revs Maryanne and Phil of Unity mention that the service before Halloween will be dress up, I decide, That’s fine. I’ll just skip that service.

And then providence in the form of Hannah steps in.  Gently, she says, I have a priest costume that you can wear, and I’ll go as a nun.  Her softness works.  Intimate and cozy, the Unity service typically draws 20 to 25 people each week.  It’s not like I’ll be in costume in front of hundreds.

Sister Dor May Voo and Father Frere Jacques

Sister Dor May Voo and Father Frere Jacques

Without the typical introvert’s nervousness, I come to the Unity service in the Lower Mill in Rollinsford, NH dressed as a priest, Frere Jacques.  Hannah is a nun, Dor May Voo.

Right off I notice the wide smiles.  I relax and feel acknowledged and appreciated; perhaps because I took the time to participate, to be part of the group.  I took the chance to be playful and silly in this community Hannah and I are just becoming a part of.  Truth be told, I was also channeling my inner Woody Allen, when he said, 90% of life is just showing up.

Halloween old dog

No surprise that by risking and being vulnerable, I feel more a part of the group; I feel like I belong. A oneness. Who would have thought stepping out of my comfort zone would feel so good?

So you lovers of canines, it’s never too late to teach this old dog new tricks.

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Dan and Hannah Hike Locally at Mount Agamenticus in York, Maine

Mount Agamenticus is in the upper left hand corner of this map of the town of York

Mount Agamenticus is in the upper left hand corner of this map of the town of York

Living within four miles of the Atlantic Ocean, Hannah and I sometimes don’t go to the rugged Maine coast for months.  Losers?  I think not.  Busy lives?  Not really?  We take it for granted?  Bingo!  We also neglect another outdoor treasure in our backyard: the trails of Mount Agamenticus just four miles from home.

A9D trail map

Mount A, as the locals refer to it, covers some 30, 000 acres here in southern Maine.  At 691 feet it has views of the White Mountains to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.  From Portland, Maine to the Mexican border at Brownsville, Texas, there is no higher elevation this close to the ocean than Mount Agamenticus.

A1A hannah's loft sign

From I-95, go inland at exit 7 in York.  Take a right (north) at the park n’ ride on Chases Pond Road (CPR).  After 1.7 miles you’ll pass our United Nations flag and “Hannah’s Loft” bread board from a time gone by when Hannah ran a two-room bed and breakfast.  Continue north on CPR for two miles, then make a left (inland) on Mountain Road for two and a half miles to the base of the mountain with trailhead parking.

Bill and Hannah ready to hike Mount Agamenticus

Bill and Hannah ready to hike Mount Agamenticus

With new signage and trail construction, York Parks and Recreation has made the trails around Mount Agamenticus a magnet for families and causal hikers alike.  Let’s be clear – at under 700 feet high, it’s not Mt. Katahdin or Camel’s Hump, but it is worth getting off the couch for a forest green afternoon. On this Labor Day Saturday with many hikers taking to the trails, there is a joyous festive feel in the air.

The trail begins

The trail begins

While there is a steep road to the top with two hairpin turns for those driving, the well-marked Ring Trail provides hikers with a gentle hike in a thick forest; be they families, those seeking a good hour long work out, or those AARP types among us.  Though mountain bikers use these trails, there are none in evidence today.

Arriving at the aptly named Ring Trail around the mountain

Arriving at the aptly named Ring Trail around the mountain

Under the canopy of oaks, pines, and beeches, the trail is rocky but not a strenuous climb at all.  With our Canadian friend Bill Buggie we soon cross back over the Summit Road along a rocky trail with exposed roots.  Bill is an affable guy who says “Yes” to life.  As an education consultant to Bhutan in the Himalayas and one who has walked The Camino in Spain, he is often up for hiking adventures with us.

Sharp right on the Blueberry Trail

Sharp right on the Blueberry Trail

Within minutes we turn right at the junction of the Blueberry Trail to the Summit (rather than continue on the Ring Trail that, well, rings the mountain).   The Blueberry Trail is a red blaze steady climb of a few hundred feet to the mountain top, cleared with some controversy in the early winter of 2012.

One year and a half after the timber cutting on the summit

A year and a half after the summit timber cutting

Thanks to a tree clearing initiative supported by the major nature preservation organizations in the area to return the summit to its 1960s self, we have unobstructed 360 degree views.  With the summit trees logged, shrubs and undergrowth flourish and grow a habitat for wildlife that had long since disappeared under the towering pines.  Thanks to the selective clear cutting at the summit the views towards Mount Washington, Portsmouth, out to the Atlantic, or north to Kennebunk are views similar to those one would have seen fifty years ago.

Atop Mount Agamenticus looking to the north

Atop Mount Agamenticus looking to the north

At the top, the grassy terrain is suitable for picnics and recreation.  Our daughter Robyn took horse riding lessons here in the early 1990s. With my team of teachers from Frisbee Middle School in Kittery, I brought 80 7th graders here for an outdoor hiking experience.

View of the Atlantic Ocean

View to the north towards Mount Washington

Once a ski resort in the late 60s/early 70s, Mount Agamenticus had a chairlift, T-bar, and three trails for skiing with a 500 feet of vertical drop. Trying to make a go of coastal skiing, entrepreneurs added snowmaking and tried night skiing; there was a ski shop and summit lodge.  The price was right as adults were charged $4 on week days with a season pass costing $60. Unfortunately, inconsistent snow and a snowmaking system compromised by salty sea breezes led to the closing of the skiing dreams of locals.

View to the Atlantic Ocean

View to the Atlantic Ocean

Compromising the view, only if you let it, are a dilapidated fire tower with no access for the public and the ubiquitous cell phone towers.  Urban legend has it that a “praying Indian” (St. Aspinquid of the 1600s) was buried on Mount A.  There is little evidence that this is actually true.

Descending the Sweet Fern Trail

Descending the Sweet Fern Trail

After a climb of 25 minutes and checking the views to the ocean and the mountains, we choose the Sweet Fern Trail to descend, which shortly connects to the Ring Trail.  Families with the kids’ youthful energy makes all seems right with the world.  The system of trails around Mount Agamenticus allows visitors two to three hours of hiking adventures.

And how sweet it is that after a late afternoon hike for an hour, we have but a fifteen minute drive home sweet home.

Dan and Hannah on a Boston Whaler

Dan and Len in front of the Boston Whaler

Dan and Len in front of the Boston Whaler

Here’s the back story.  Lenny and I grew up in Radburn, a family-oriented, park-centric community in Fair Lawn, NJ in the 1960s.  As teenagers, we’d walk the two miles to Thomas Jefferson Junior High School.  There were no school buses.  While I was a benchwarmer on the ninth grade TJ basketball team, Lenny scored and rebounded with the first team.

Former Fair Lawn High School basketball coach, Hubie Brown when coaching for the Knicks

Former Fair Lawn High School basketball coach, Hubie Brown when coaching for the New York Knicks

In high school he played for the Hubie Brown; that’s right, the Hubie Brown who later coached the New York Knicks.  Though Len had the game to play on the high school tennis team with me, he chose high jumping for his spring sport.

And then we lost touch for 45 years.  He went to college on Long Island and I to Ohio, then Arizona.  The late 60s and early 70s were times of upheaval in the lives of twenty-somethings in our country divided by the Viet Nam War.  We were each finding our own paths, taking our next steps, wondering how the Universe would unfold.

And then as the Universe will, Lenny showed up at my mother’s memorial service this past January.  While visiting his mom back in Radburn, he joined our friends, Gabe, Doc, and Penny, who were coming to Mom’s service.

Gulf of Maine

In the few minutes we had to connect, damn it was good to see him.  He’d moved around but ended up on Cape Cod in the early 1980s about the time Hannah and I moved from Arizona to Maine.  For the next 30+ years we each had no idea the other one was living just across the Gulf of Maine.

Cape Cod Massachusetts

Cape Cod Massachusetts

We talked of visiting the other in the coming year.  Recently, with his work in canvas and sail making on the Cape slowing down, he emailed and wondered if Hannah and I would like to visit.

It seemed like just the opportunity to explore where the good vibes from last January might lead.

L9H catch of his life sign

As opposed to the horror that is driving to the Cape in the summer, traveling to the Cape in late September is the classic Marie Antoinette piece of cake.  It’s a mere two and half hours of driving from home in York, Maine through the center of Boston to West Harwich 150 miles away.  After an afternoon of biking the Cape Cod Rail Trail (see blog for October 11, 2014), we meet up with Len and Sage.

Over dinner at the local’s Villa Roma in West Harwich (four stars), we set Mr. Peabody’s way back time machine for the 1960s (The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show).  Living on the streets next to each other in Radburn, Lenny and I had the tumult of the Sixties of the Beatles and the Peace and Love Generation as the prelude to our coming of age.  Who knows what we were like as teenagers, but over dinner Hannah and I enjoy their company and are touched how he looked out for us throughout our stay.

Sliding the Boston Whaler into the Herring River

Sliding the Boston Whaler into the Herring River

Come Tuesday morning, Lenny has checked the tides to know that we can’t put his Boston Whaler into the tidal Herring River until 1030A.  As a classic Cape Cod boat, the Boston Whaler can’t sink and maneuvers easily in the mud flats of tidal rivers.  Due to its foam construction, the Whaler will remain afloat if sawed in half or even if completely swamped.

Hannah checking out upstream

Hannah checking out upstream

Backing down the town dock, Len maneuvers the trailer like someone who was born on the water, not in suburban New Jersey.  Though a mile to the Nantucket Sound and then on to the Atlantic Ocean, we motor inland to nature’s paradise, the Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands.  Purchased by the town of Harwich to protect the Herring River and West Reservoir, this sanctuary is home to, of course, herring as well as otters, swans, blue herons, night herons, and kingfishers that we will see today.

Captain and first mate

Captain and first mate

In shorts and sweatshirt, the late morning in mid-September ride on the Boston Whaler takes us peacefully along a channel bracketed by low and high grasses.  We quickly leave the few river houses behind as we putter along on our river journey.

The Boston Whaler skipper

The Boston Whaler skipper

Passing a kayaker with two fishing poles set up to catch striped bass, I get the feeling that river denizens live and let live.  Throughout the morning Lenny deftly fields our questions about this tidal ecosystem.  Quite knowledgeable, I mean, like tour guide knowledgeable, he adds to his credibility by saying he doesn’t know when he doesn’t know.  Humble wisdom at its best.

Kayaker with two poles fishing for striped bass

Kayaker with two poles fishing for striped bass

Lenny navigates at a respectful 5 mph and the kayaker pulls right so we avoid his lines.  As a river man, Lenny calls out to others navigating the Herring River this morning.  He seems so natural in these aqua-surroundings; this Jersey boy has found a home on this water paradise.

Herring run from the brackish water to the fresh water of the West Reservoir

Herring run from the brackish water to the fresh water of the West Reservoir

While the grasses are still green, the maples are beginning to turn red.  A herring run allows the fish into the fresh water pond to spawn; they then return to the salt water ocean where they are breakfast, lunch, and dinner for tuna.

Crabbing

Crabbing

Passing under a country bridge, we wave to a couple crabbing. Every July and August, the waters warm enough for the mating season of the blue crab, of which there are millions on the Cape.  As nocturnal crustaceans, blue crabs favor estuaries like the Herring River with muddy bottoms.  Fifteen crabs make a decent meal, which works out well since twenty-five is the daily limit for crabbers.

Mother swan patrolling

Mother swan patrolling

Passing a pair of mate-for-life swans and their cygnets, we give them a wide berth as swans are known to aggressively protect their young.  As plant eaters, they feed on roots, stems, and the leaves of aquatic and submerged plants.

L9E H in boat

At the far end of the Herring River, Len turns off the motor and we just appreciate the Simon and Garfunkel sound of silence in the early fall.  Appreciative of our sweatshirts against the cool river air, we ride back through another place and time; a place few tourists to the Cape get to see.  The motor on the Boston Whaler quietly hums as we make our way back to the dock.

And again, the Universe unfolds into all its goodness.

Dan and Hannah Bike the Cape Cod Rail Trail to Chatham

Map of Cape Cod

It’s the worst.  Bar none!  Traffic to Cape Cod in the summer is the worst in all New England, maybe the known world.  As residents of New England for thirty plus years, we wouldn’t dream of going to the Cape during July and August.  Conveniently, my high school classmate Lenny has invited us to the mid-Cape in September.

The Urban Dictionary describes Cape Cod as a small peninsula off Massachusetts that sucks money out of tourists to survive since the fishing industry is slowly dying. Basically we hate tourists, but without them we’d be totally impoverished.

You can find VCU Rams everywhere

You can find VCU Rams everywhere

Leaving after the morning Boston rush hour commute, we take I-95 south and then follow I-93 through the heart of Boston.  Gliding onto route 3 on the South Shore, we will have major highways for 98% of our 150 mile drive to the Cape Cod Rail Trail.

Once over the Sagamore Bridge onto the Cape, we take to the four lane route 6 which leads us east through the heart of the Cape.  Along the way we stop at the visitor center for bike maps and fortunately learn of the side bike trail to Chatham.  Nearby at their picnic tables, we lunch on our obsequious Subway Tuna and Chicken Salad subs.

Getting ready to roll

Getting ready to roll

The Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT) is a 22 mile walking and biking trail from Dennis to Wellfleet.  As the Cape grew as a destination for vacationers in the early 20th century, the Old Colony Railroad transported travelers throughout the Cape.  Then, Henry Ford had the bright idea to mass produce automobiles and with that came the death knell of the railroad on the Cape.  With the building of the Sagamore and Bourne Bridges over the Cape Cod Canal in 1935, the rail lines soon fell into disrepair.  The silver lining of this playbook is that the Cape embraced biking as recreation and made the one time railroad into a modern day bike trail.

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Exiting route 6 at exit 9 onto route 134, we pass malls, gas stations, and a barbecue grille store to find the trailhead parking lot on the left with room for 40 to 50 cars.  Since the elevation on the Cape never seems to change by more than a few feet, biking here is easy going and leisurely.  Ten feet wide with a dividing yellow line in many places, the CCRT on this Monday in mid-September has little bike traffic so Hannah and I can ride side by side.

Hannah as the trail begins

Hannah as the trail begins

The trail bisects the Cape Cod peninsula, which is a good thing considering its vulnerability to the inevitable rising sea due to global warming.  On this sunny day in the 70s, it is ideal for biking, but here is the rub – it’s not great for picture taking by amateur photographers like myself.  The sun through the trees on the trail picks up the light and darkens my pictures.  You might be thinking, Wah-wah-wah.  Give me a break; you are on the Cape with Hannah on a 70 degree day.  You got me there.  Mea culpa.  Sacre bleu.

Picked over cranberry bog

Picked over cranberry bog

Passing one of the many cranberry bogs on the Cape, I later learn that cranberries grow on vines in bogs layered with sand, gravel, and clay; some vines are more than 150 years old.

Biking east to Chatham

Biking east to Chatham

After three miles we break off the main CCRT and take the Old Colony Rail Trail to Chatham (Chatham is thought of as a drinking town with a small fishing problem – thank you Urban Dictionary).  Throughout our twelve miles of biking we never see the ocean as we pedal under spreading canopies of still green leaves.

Biking in 70 degrees is all it's cracked up to be

Biking in 70 degrees is all it’s cracked up to be

Finding the ride an excellent work out, we have a trail wide enough to easily pass others without slowing down. Though Hannah’s bike bell alerts others, many times walkers or bikers don’t hear it; just about everyone has ear buds and has zoned out listening to their favorite tunes.  With a strong wind to our backs (we are fortunate that much of our lives are that way), the pedaling is easy and the ride mellow.

Crosswalk courtesy

Crosswalk courtesy

Cape Codders are the new Canadians. Throughout our entire 24 miles of biking, not one car raced through the crosswalk as we waited to cross.  Not one.  Lenny suggests police enforcement may have a lot to do with that.  Even so, I am sticking with the Canadian heritage angle to explain their courtesy.

Hannah at Chatham Lighthouse

Hannah at the Chatham Lighthouse

The trail ends in Chatham; its over-priced Main Street of shops is easy to navigate on this Monday in September.  Like much of the Cape, Chatham is suffering from an exodus of young people and young families due to the high cost of housing and the lack of suitable employment. The majority of Chatham homes sit empty in the winter.

Hannah at Chatham Beach on Nantucket Sound

Hannah at Chatham Beach on Nantucket Sound

I have yet another lament to break your heart.  Beach walking is over rated.  There I’ve said it and I sense a lot of nodding heads and Amen, brothers.  Others are again thinking, Wah-wah-wah.  I get that, too.  Hear me out.  The beach sand is soft granules that give way with each step.  With no rhythm to our walk, we plod and plod some more.

I think you can feel my pain

I think you can feel my pain

Then at the shoreline, the bank to the water is so steeply angled that we are stepping four inches lower with one foot than the other. Give me the flat beaches at low tide in Scarborough, Maine or Hilton Head, South Carolina.  I sense very little love for my position on beach walking.  Give me a midday forest trail or a seaside road at 630 AM any time.

Heading back to the trailhead

Heading back to the trailhead

The twelve miles back to the trailhead is into a steady wind that has us pedaling in middle gears.  Even so, the trail is bracketed by 6 to 10 feet mounds much of the way and we catch a consistent pedaling rhythm here in paradise.

Mileage marking along the Cape Cod Rail Trail

Mileage marking along the Cape Cod Rail Trail

The Cape Cod Rail Trail and biking spur to Chatham are delightful “walk in the park” kind of bike rides. Let me tell you that coming to the Cape in the fall is all it’s cracked up to be.   I can see why tourists come despite, well, the tourists.

Dan and Hannah Climb Mount Hunger in Vermont

 

The trail up Mount Hunger

The trail up Mount Hunger

This is no hike.  Mount Hunger is a serious C-L-I-M-B!  But let me tell you, it’s a worth-the-drive-from-anywhere kind of climb.

Rated “Advanced” and “Difficult” in various hiking guides, Mount Hunger is smaller than its sister, Camel’s Hump, across the valley.  That said, Mount Hunger at 3500 feet has 2300 feet of elevation gain over its 2.1 mile ascent.  On this 58F Tuesday morning in early September, there is no fee to hike this trail .  Or on any morning for that matter.

Dan gets the point at the trailhead of Mount Hunger

Dan makes his point at the trailhead of Mount Hunger

After an overnight with friends Phyllis and Wally in Burlington, we have a simple 30 minute drive south on I-89 to Waterbury, VT.  Taking exit 10 north past the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Complex towards Stowe on route 100, we hang a right on Howard Avenue to Waterbury Center and eventually work our way to a left onto Sweet Road. A a mile and a half later we arrive at a designated parking area; coincidentally we park next to a car with Maine plates.

The trail begins

The trail begins

Immediately the trail gets your attention as it steadily rises towards the summit of Mount Hunger.  With Hannah in the lead, we hike along a trail of gnarly roots, stones, and protruding larger rocks.  The forest canopy covers us nearly completely and will do so until the last few hundred feet of the trail to the summit.

Little sun breaks through the forest canopy

Little sun breaks through the forest canopy

Breathing heavily and stepping on and around rocks, we hike steadily through a forest of pines and hardwoods.  Crossing small mountain rivulets, the trail climbs higher and higher with its Adirondack switchbacks (i.e., the trail goes straight up the mountain).

We have rocks and more rocks.

We have rocks and more rocks.

Soon the rock facing sides of the mountain have us scrambling as we engage in hand-to-stone combat.  Meeting up with the couple from Maine with their golden retriever, we think there is no way that their pooch can make it over these slick stone facades to the top.  Surely, they will turn back.

And all the trail roots we would ever want

And all the trail roots we would ever want

We do banter with them long enough for me to ask them if they think there are antennas on the summit.  They think not, but my question is just a ruse to launch into the story of two antennas meeting on a roof, falling in love, and getting married.  The wedding was just okay, but the reception was terrific.  Surprised and pleased, they smile and we as strangers relax in each other’s company.

VCU ram makes the turn on the Mount Hunger trail

VCU ram makes the blue blaze turn on the Mount Hunger trail

It’s a challenging but not perilous climb; worthy of its “difficult” rating.  Soon we begin to see the first glimpses of blue sky through the leaves, knowing the summit is at hand.

Rock wall on the way to the top

Rock wall on the way to the top

On schedule within 200 feet of the top, we have a panoramic view of the Vermont countryside looking west to the Green Mountains.  It’s real and it’s spectacular.  An hour and twenty minutes after starting we have climbed the two miles up and been richly rewarded.

Looking west to the Greens (Green Mountains)

Looking west to the Greens (Green Mountains)

Within minutes the couple from Maine arrives with their golden retriever!  Duly impressed, we want dog lovers to know that Mount Hunger is accessible for your canines, but it will be just as challenging for them as it will be for you.  Later we learn that some dog owners carry their pets over some of the rock facades.

Early September chill atop Mount Hunger

Early September chill atop Mount Hunger

The top is windy and my sweatshirt warms me from the steady cool wind; Hannah wishes she had gloves.  We have a 360 degree view with the Green Mountains to our west and the White Mountains of New Hampshire to the east.  Surveying nature’s stunning beauty, we know a steep descent awaits.  While the hand holds on the rock faces make the climb up manageable, what about sliding down these stony facades?

As we leave the summit, we immediately approach the rock faces, and it’s butt scraping time.  And then it all seems quite manageable.  In fact, this expansive rock face that we climbed up twenty minutes ago is easier coming down.  Clearly it is no climb to do in wet conditions.

Surefoot Hannah descends Mount Hunger

Surefoot Hannah descends Mount Hunger

We soon meet an affable local with an Alaska hat; easy conversation follows.  Feeling at ease, I ask if he has jumper cables.  He shakes his head no, which offers me the invitation to tell him that a pair of jumper cables goes into a bar.  The bartender says I’ll serve you but don’t start anything.  He loves it.  And I love that he loves it.

As we part, knowing he will see the Maine couple at the top, I say, Ask them about antennas.  With this light-hearted interlude, the door opens for us to be a momentary community of hikers.

Massive stones of Mount Hunger

Massive stones of Mount Hunger

The hike down is slow going as our knees and toes in our boots take the brunt of our descent.  Hannah is nimble and agile over the rocks and shows me the safest way down.

Mount Hunger as we leave on

Mount Hunger as we leave on sweet Sweet Road

It turns out the hike down takes ten minutes longer (1h 30m) than the climb up.  Though counter intuitive, in the beginning we are bursting with that start-of-the-hike energy.  Coming down the mountain we are more cautious and mellow.

At 1P we return to the trailhead, de-sock and de-shoe for our sandals, agreeing with the guide book that calls Mount Hunger one of New England’s ten best hikes.

Benihanna and Jerome

Benihanna and Jerome

Heading for home, we pass the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Complex.  How can we pass up this opportunity to go on the factory tour.  We are right here!

Well, there are two reasons: Owen and Max.  How much better would it be to take our grandsons on the tour with us.  Owen and Max, put it in the calendar of your future iPhone 12s: Omi and Boppa are taking you to Ben and Jerry’s.

For more information about this hike, try Hiking Vermont by Larry Fletcher (Mount Hunger pp. 145-147 for directions and description)