Dan and Hannah Hike Morse Mountain to Seawall Beach in Maine

SB pickleball M H and D

With our daughter Molly on the pickleball courts at York High School

Normally throughout the summer, Hannah and I play pickleball on Tuesdays.  But today is not a normal Tuesday.  We are feeling something different.  Despite our love of whacking wiffle balls with paddles, we are looking to break from a routine that we love.  Today that would be some coastal Maine hiking.

SB map of Bath coast

Thanks to our friend and favorite Maine writer, Molly Hogan, a former student of mine at the University of New England, we have learned of the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area 90 miles north of our home in York.  (Click here for Molly’s blog – Nix the comfort zone.)   The four-mile round-trip hike to Morse Mountain/Seawall Beach will take us through coastal forest and marshland on our way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Accompanied by our free spirits, we take the Maine Turnpike north on the coast.  Turning towards the ocean on route 209 in Bath, we pass the large houses of seafaring captains of yore as well as the preppy Hyde School behind its “stay out” spiked metal eight-foot fence protecting its pristine lawns.

SB map of SB

After driving a simple twenty miles down one of the many peninsulas along the coast of Maine on route 209, we take route 216 rather than continue on to Popham Beach State Park.  Eight tenths of a mile later, we turn left on the Morse Mountain Road for the Conservation Area trailhead parking.

Two hundred yards up the gently rising gravelly road, we meet Jack, a student at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, who is all at once the gate keeper, parking lot attendant, and biology major.   With limited parking for at most 40 cars, we pull into one of the few remaining spaces at noon this late August Tuesday.

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Hannah on fire road as the trail begins

If you are thinking that if the lot is full, you can park along route 216, think again, my friend.  The road has no shoulder as the bushes, trees, and brambles come right to the road’s edge.  The good news is that since the trail to the beach is only two miles, there is lots of turnover in the parking lot.

SB piping plover

Piping Plover

Cooperating with the Nature Conservancy and the Maine Audubon Society to preserve nesting sites for piping plovers, rare and fragile plants, the Conservation Area covers 600 acres from the Sprague River to the Morse River out to Seawall Beach.  The St. John Family leases the entire area to Bates College for one dollar.

The two-mile trail to the beach climbs initially through the forest of pines and hardwoods.  Molly has warned us of mosquitos, but with the midday sun shining through the trees, we see nary a mosquito, Zika or otherwise.  The fire road, once paved but now with just vestiges of macadam, is wide enough for a pickup; the St. John Family has access to its houses along the trail.  For the rest of us, we walk.  Which we are so damn lucky to do!

SB 1C more marsh

It’s a simple climb along the fire road to Morse Mountain.   Saving a trip to the actual summit of Morse Mountain for our return, we head east to the beach, first in forested area, then to the wetlands of the bay.

SB 1B  marsh

At a leisurely pace, it takes us no more than 40 minutes to wind up at the expansive sandy beach.  Along the way we pass other couples, mostly seniors, and families out for this last taste of days without routine before the school year begins.  With no public facilities, toilets, picnic tables, or lifeguards, this is shoreline heaven for all who like their beaches un-ly, unsullied and uncrowded.

On this late August summer day with the temps near 80F and full sunshine, we have a mile of sandy beach before us to make our four miles of hiking into six.   For most people, beach-going is living the dream.  Hannah and I are just not such people.  Lying in the sun “collecting rays” is not our idea of a good time.  And I find walking in the dry sand of the beach frustrating and worthy of #$*&!# name-calling.

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Dan at Seawall Beach at the Atlantic Ocean

But today Seawall Beach delivers in an unexpected way.  Since it is low tide, we have firm wet sand by the shoreline to maintain a steady pace without us wading through and sinking in the dry sand.

Families are building sand castles, some like the Geico guy and some like Geico’s competition.  Click here to see the 30 second Geico ad at the beach that is played on ESPN morning, noon, and night.

Twenty minutes later we arrive at the Morse River with Popham Beach State Park across the waterway.  Truly, cares and routines get left behind.

Leaving the beach on the trail back to the parking area, we soon take to the spur of no more than a few hundred yards to the top of the very modest Morse Mountain.  There we see a vision of ourselves in four years.  Let me explain.

For there, on the slightly angled large boulder with views to the Atlantic Ocean, we meet grandparents Mike and Molly who have brought their grandsons, Landon and Spencer, to hike the trail; out for an adventure, they say.

SB  Owen and Max and Hannah

Max and Owen with their Omi loving their popcorn

You see, “an adventure” is just we call our regular excursions with our grandsons, Owen (4) and Max (2).

Why the following day we will have such a “24 hours of Owen and Max” adventure.  We will take them to race around the indoor track at the Kittery Community Center, play with the trains at the York Public Library, chuck water balloons from our upstairs deck, and then celebrate it all with popcorn, before baths in our kitchen sink.

We mark our 2020 calendar to hike to Seawall Beach for an adventure with the then eight-year-old Owen and his six-year-old brother Max.

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Dan and Paul Hike to Angel and Dunn Falls in Maine (Part 4 of 4)

With our chilly brook crossings to Angel Falls behind us, we wonder what Maine Trail Finder means when it says we’ll do more rock hopping at Dunn Falls.  (Click here for more information on Dunn Falls.)  Fortunately, I have my four points method (both arms and both legs in the rushing brook) to steady me through mountain streams here in western Maine.

AD 5 map of andover

Driving through rural Maine, we clearly see the great divide between the Gold Coast of Maine (from Kittery to Belfast) and the rugged life inland.  There are many good people living in houses with exposed tar paper or mobile homes trying to eke out a living now that paper mills are running at a much reduced level.

Driving through Andover, Maine (population 821) with its vacations home and year-round residents, I have learned that the community has done all it can to save the 62-student Andover Elementary School with its five teachers.  For once the school goes, there is little reason for families to remain year round.

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Paul on the trail to Dunn Falls

Eight miles out of town on the East B Hill Road, we cross the Appalachian Trail to begin our two-mile round trip to the Dunn Falls.  At the roadside parking this mid-afternoon, we come upon Animal, his trail name from a 2012 thru-hike from Georgia to Maine.  Tattooed with that accomplishment on his right arm (yikes!), four years later he returns to the trail for a week to get a taste of his glory days.

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Cascades along the blue blaze trail

Heading east one hundred yards down the hill from the road, we are advised to take a left on a blue blaze trail along the river of cascades and mini-waterfalls.  At 230P on a 75F in the shade of the Maine forest, Paul and I have a Maine Department of Tourism spectacular day for hiking.

 

After seven tenths of a mile, we see a yellow blaze blob on a tree and further on a blue blaze across the brook, directing us to the Dunn Falls.  Rocks are placed conveniently across this 20’ wide brook, so we just rock hop across without dipping in.  Our climb up the hill is steady; this has family hike written all over it.

AD 5C  P rock hopping

A very clearly marked trail takes us past the 80’ Lower Falls, which we only catch glimpses of through the trees.  We can get to the head of these falls, but that is hardly an impressive view compared to 70’ tumbling Upper Falls that awaits.

AD 5G  DF themselves preview

Upper Falls at Dunn Falls

As we climb into the interior, we soon come upon a pool beneath the Upper Falls.  Paul decides that this is the perfect time for a swim and dives into what is much icier, colder water than the brook to Angel Falls.

AD 5E  P after a swim by the falls

The upper Dunn Falls pool with back-lit Paul

Me?  Not today.  I have contacts (not people with influence but plastic in my eyes).  Nor am I dripping with sweat after our shaded hike, so hiking back in wet clothes is not my idea of a good time.  Skinny dipping?  Let’s not even go there.

So what have we learned this Monday afternoon in western Maine? 

AD 5F  D at white blaze at AT

White blazes of the Appalachian Trail

One, wherever you live, come to Maine and partake of a scintillating breakfast at the 1920s club car Deluxe Diner in Rumford.  Tell Jody that Paul and Dan sent you.  Click here for the Facebook page of the Deluxe Diner.

Two, if you are daring, hike to Angel Falls, fording the brook three times as you cross.  It’s an Outward Bound-ish test that may just be the challenge you both want and need.

Three, take the quintessential “Bill Bryson-type Walk in the Maine Woods” on the Appalachian Trail to Dunn Falls.

AD 1AA  P and D selfie

Four, do all this with your version of Paul Rosenblum, a positive life force with an adventurous spirit.

Dan and Paul Hike to Angel and Dunn Falls in Maine (Part 3 of 4)

Having given up our quest for Angel Falls after schlepping through the hillside slash for an hour, I ended Part 2 with this tease – Once across, Paul and I walk back to the trailhead parking to see four cars in the lot, not the two when we started.   Hmmmmm.   Someone has found the Angel Falls Trail.   And then we turn and see…

AD 3 map of AF

What we see are the promised red blazes on both a large rock and a tree on either side of the logging road directly to our left.   Smiling to each other, without a bit of self-flagellation, we just up and head to Angel Falls 0.8 of a mile away.

Crossing the Berdeen Stream again, this time on a bridge wide enough for cars, we have none of the barefooted fording of the white water that we did just an hour ago.  Feeling confident that the rock hopping described in the Maine Trail Finder website  would be quite manageable, we buoyantly head for the cooling waters of the 90’ Angel Falls.  (Click here for detailed information of Angel Falls.)

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With the roar of the brook building, we see a torrent among boulders roiling from the deluge of the past weekend.  And so it appears my iPhone and I have more watery challenges ahead.   In the lead, Paul takes off his boots and socks and chucks them across the wild brook.   Knowing from our previous experience that the water is cold, but not bone chilling cold, I follow suit and whip my boots with socks across the deafening brook.

AD 3BBBBB D crossing brook

From my previous “barefoot crossing on rocks” experience, I have learned that I am most comfortable crossing on four points (i.e., on all fours).   With my legs submerged in the racing water that is stirring around my feet, I step on mini-boulders while using my hands to get low in the brook as I place them on rocks in the tumbling stream.  With my iPhone in my pocket, I step into the icy tempest and successfully cross.

AD 3C  trail along brook

The trail itself is within feet of the roaring brook as we climb the gorge into the interior.   With my confidence building and having figured out that the four-point technique is “water crossing gold,” I am ready to ford the brook two more times in my frog stance.

On this 74F day under the shade of brook trees, we head closer to the falls.   Crossing the brook twice more has me going slowly and steadily across the submerged rounded rocks, some slimy with algae and others surprisingly algae-free.  After a successful third crossing, I have the white water heaven of Angel Falls within my grasp.  I feel like an Outward Bounder; doing something I didn’t realize I could do.

AD 4B  P at Falls

And then boom!  The crashing white water over the 90’ falls to the pool below is as spectacular as any western waterfall in Mount Rainier National Park.  There are some who contend that Angel Falls is the highest in Maine, one foot more than the Moxie Falls.  (Click here for more information about Moxie Falls.)

Whether they are or not, the falls have me searching for superlatives – stunning, spectacular, dazzling.  None of these words is hyperbole.

AD 4C  section of upper falls

Knowing my iPhone and I still have three knee deep river crossings before we return to the trailhead, we head down the brook trail a little before noon.  There we see a family of six ready to cross.   The 13-year-old girl with pole in hand is half way across the boulders.   Throwing our shoes to her grandfather who catches them like the high school shortstop that we soon learn he was, we wonder about kids crossing such a torrent.

AD 3BBB D at brook crossing

They have water shoes so they are less vulnerable to slipping than I am in my barefeet.  Later a family with a kid looking just a little older than our four-year-old grandson Owen is contemplating crossing the turbulent waters.  I can hardly believe it.

AD 3F  putting boots on

We talk of our experience with them, but soon head down the trail before we learn what mom and dad decide to do.

After tromping through the slash of lumbering Maine, then being immersed in the raging book on the way to Angel Falls, we have hit waterfall nirvana.

Part 4 concludes our waterfall adventure at the Dunn Falls…

Dan and Paul Hike to Angel and Dunn Falls in Maine (Part 2 of 4)

AD 1A  D outside DD

After a fantastic breakfast at the Deluxe Diner (Click here for the Facebook page of the Deluxe Diner) in Rumford, Maine, Paul and I head north for Angel Falls on route 17 through the “hardly towns at all” towns of Frye, Roxbury, Byron to Houghton.   The directions from the Maine Trail finder link are fine, but it would have been helpful to know that the Bemis Road was at the north end of the open field it mentions.  Click here for detailed information about Angel Falls.

AD 2A  P at wrong trail

It looked like the trail to us!

Rolling along the dirt Bemis Road for 3.5 miles we are directed by a cardboard sign to the side road to Angel Falls.   Spotting the promised large graffiti boulder at the parking area at the one-time gravel pit, we make a rookie mistake.  Our directions say clearly that we should follow the red blazes (2”x 8” rectangles painted on trail trees or prominent rocks).  We don’t.  We follow two older women on what anyone would say is obviously a trail (See Paul in the picture to the right.  Do hear an Amen?).  We jump to the conclusion that this is the way.

Heading towards the storm-fueled Berdeen Stream from this past weekend’s downpour, we immediately forget about the red blazes and look to cross the waterway.  Arriving at a field of slash (i.e., stripped branches, small logs from the lumbering company ) that covers the open spaces, we stomp across the lumber debris.  There, in our way is the 25’ wide white water mountain stream.  The women wisely abandon ship and head back to the trailhead.

AD 2E  P crossing Berdeen Stream

Without a second thought, Paul removes his boots and socks, takes them in hand, and balances his way, barefooted across the very rocky stream.  My amazement of Paul knows no bounds!  There is no way that would I ever do such a studly thing on my own.  But today I am with Paul.  So I deboot and desock and head into the white water flow.

Not nearly as breathtakingly cold as I thought it would be, the water is still mountain stream chilly; but nothing like the bone chilling water in early summer at York Beach.  I do wonder how bright a move this crossing is since I have my iPhone6 in my pocket, totally unprotected from the H2O.  When the Maine Trail Finder said there would be rock hopping, I had no idea that fording a raging stream, barefoot no less, would be required.

AD 2B slash

Slash

Yet, I make it across and am so damn pleased with myself.   Before us is a mountainside of slash from the havoc that men and women with their maniacal chainsaws have wrought.  We see no trail nor red blazes, but we are not easily dismayed.

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Bushwhacking through Tick Central

Bushwhacking through leaves, small firs, and brush, in what must be the Caribbean for ticks, we are relentless in our search of a trail.  Climbing in and over the hillside of lumber waste, we go left, then right along the hillside; up the mountain, and down to the stream looking for something that resembles a trail.

AD 2CC D on slash

For what seems like an hour we search the hillside to no avail.  Paul, who will look for a trail til the cows come home, finally says “Let’s go back.”  We do have Dunn Falls some 30 miles away to hike on our schedule today.  And so be it.  Today was not our Angel Falls day.

We do have to cross back over the roaring Berdeen Stream in all its ice-cold glory.  Having one successful crossing without dunking my iPhone to my credit, I agree with the odds makers that think I just might make it a second time.   Soon it is apparent that I am wobblier as these rounded, underwater boulders are not so forgiving.

As the current races, Paul throws me a bone, by which I mean a 5’ pole-like tree limb to steady myself.   I quickly learn that a staff is not my preferred way of crossing a roaring stream barefooted.  Losing my balance and heading for the chilly wetness, at the last second I catch myself, ever aware that my iPhone is inches from a watery grave.

Once across, Paul and I walk back to the trailhead parking to see four cars in the lot, not the two when we started.   Hmmmmm.   Someone has found the Angel Falls Trail.   And then we turn and see…

Part 3 lets you in on what we see.

Dan and Paul Hike to Angel and Dunn Falls in Maine (Part 1 of 4)

When I hit the trails with Hannah, we hike.  When I’m off to the mountains of Maine with Paul Rosenblum, it’s a whole different animal; it’s an adventure.  As an elementary school teacher here in Maine, Paul regularly came to my education classes at the University of New England to blow my students away with his passion and insights into connecting with kids.

Every summer, he finds a trail for us and we are off to the boonies of Maine.  (See the “Hikes with Paul” category to the left of this blog for our other Maine hiking adventures.)  Today he has picked two short waterfall hikes in western Maine: the mile and a half round-trip to Angel Falls north of Rumford and the two mile Dunn Falls Trail that coincides with a section of the Granddaddy of all Trails – the Appalachian Trail.

Leaving home in York at 5A, I drive for an hour to his place north of Portland.  While I ride shotgun, Paul steers his 150,000 mile, 4-wheel drive, all-man Honda Pilot as we head inland to the north.

AD 1B  map of rumford

It is my responsibility to find a breakfast place for our pre-hike sustenance.  Checking out the towns along our route, I google, “diners in Rumford, Maine.”   The Deluxe Diner has a 4.5 of 5 rating and the price is right.   Rumford is a “trying to hang in there” old mill town on the Androscoggin River.   To be clear, there are two Maines: The Gold Coast from Kittery to Belfast where we live and then there is the rural, far poorer Maine.

AD 1A  D outside DD

The Deluxe Diner is small, very small in fact – ten stools at a 30’ counter.  (Click here for the Facebook page of the Deluxe Diner.)  On this Monday in the second week of July, it’s an 8A work day for the good folks of Rumford.  Three grizzled locals are digging into their eggs and bacon, while a couple to our right looks like they are from away.

Asking for decaf, we see Jody, the waitress/owner, begin a fresh pot.   The counter provides an intimacy with both Jody and the retired grump to my left that I had never realized.  I’m known as a booth guy for breakfast, but I like this closeness; and we have no choice since there are no booths or tables.

Sporting a Boston Red Sox cap, two years ago Jody came to Rumford to run the diner.  When later we ask about a bathroom, she describes a basement dungeon that she advises us against even seeing.  She lets us know that a nearby Hannaford’s grocery store has a very clean men’s room.

AD 1 P and J at DD

When I ask Jody if I can post this picture of her and Paul on my Facebook page, she is all in and hopes we’ll “like” the Deluxe Diner.   (I later do.  Click here to read my Yelp Review of the Deluxe Diner.)

Thoroughly satisfied with my gooey two eggs over easy, lots of home fries, and homemade wheat toast, we are off to the waterfalls that we seek.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Wednesday as we seek out Angel Falls.

Dan Hikes Moxie Bald Mountain on the Applachian Trail in Maine

Paul, Maine hiker extraordinaire

Paul, my Maine hiker extraordinaire

Paul is my wild and crazy hiking amigo. He takes me places I would never go.  Four years back we hiked Speck Mountain on the Appalachian Trail in western Maine; a tough eight mile, five hour hike over rocks, stones, and boulders that brought me to my knees.  We’ve hiked the Loop Trail to Tumbledown Mountain near Weld in central Maine, which has a stony winding tunnel of rocks called “The Chimney” that we climbed through!  The guidebook describes this tunnel through the mountain itself as not safe for novices, children, or dogs.  After, we panned for gold!

Paul at Devil's Doorstep on the way to Moxie Bald Mountain

Paul at Devil’s Doorstep on the way to Moxie Bald Mountain

It’s never dull with Paul.   Now when he suggests a hike, I ask him to send me a link describing it.  The Moxie Bald Mountain Trail is a moderate/difficult-rated four mile round trip to the summit with an elevation gain of 1300 feet. That seems doable; I wonder what I am missing.

Thompson's Restaurant in Bingham, Maine

Thompson’s Restaurant in Bingham, Maine

In his made-for-backroads SUV, we drive north on the Maine Turnpike to route 201 through Skowhegan and on to breakfast in Bingham, some three hours from York this mid-July. With excellent Yelp reviews, the country Thompson Restaurant on the Main Street does not disappoint. It’s a classic small town Maine diner with a menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; counter stools, three booths, and a smattering of tables for four or six. We pay $12 total for coffee, two eggs, home fries, and toast.

The pole with no street sign which we are reasonably confident is Town Line Road

The pole with no street sign which we are reasonably confident is Town Line Road

And then my Paul reality (unmarked roads) hits as we head out of town on route 16 to the east looking for the Town Line Road.   When we pass a road with a metal post with no street sign, we guess that this must be it based on our calculations.

Another unmarked road on our way to the trailhead

Another unmarked road on our way to the trailhead

We go for it. The rocky and gravelly road takes us through country that only moose, hunters, and hermits would love.   Since the massive logging trucks drive this road regularly, the road is well maintained. Aislinn Sarnacki of the Bangor Daily News is the source of our directions to the summit of Moxie Bald.

Just past a Recreational Trail Crossing sign and the Moscow town line, turn right onto Town Line Road. Drive 2.6 miles to the end of the road and turn right onto Deadwater Road (no sign). Drive 4 miles to a fork in the road and take the left fork onto Trestle Road (no sign), staying along the power lines. Drive 2.9 miles and turn right onto an unmarked road (which is just past an unmarked road on the left that has a bridge over Moxie Stream). Drive uphill on the unmarked road 0.7 mile to a fork in the road, and take the left fork onto the unmarked Moxie Bald Road. Drive 3 miles to a bridge over Bald Mountain Brook. Cross the bridge and park on the right, well out of the way of traffic. Walk about 0.1 mile farther to where the Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses the road. Take a right to hike the trail northbound to Moxie Bald Mountain.

Heading north to Moxie Bald on the Appalachian Trail

Heading north to Moxie Bald on the Appalachian Trail

That’s a lot of unmarked and no signage roads (my boldface), but the directions to the tenth of a mile prove spot on. On a July day forecasted to go into the mid-80s, we lather on organic Skeeter Skedaddle and lube on sunscreen. In my lightweight Under Armor shirt and Nike shorts, I strap on my fanny pack with two bottles of water, tangerines, apple slices, and tuna salad sandwiches by Hannah.

MB 2D Paul on trailWe enter the forest to our right a little before 10A.   Covered by leaves lapping onto the trail we run into Itis (his trail name [we never find out why]), the first of five AT thru-hikers we will meet today. Soon after, a young female solo hiking comes by. Trail names are often given by others and as yet she doesn’t have one. Her heavy hiking boots proved uncomfortable at Mt. Katahdin so she ditched them for lightweight hiking sandals.

Rocky and rooted Moxie Bald Trail

Rocky and rooted Moxie Bald Trail

The trail is muddy but not so much that we can’t easily walk around the muddy spots. We gently rise towards Moxie Bald, but it is in no way strenuous on this well-maintained trail. We meet another thru-hiker called Four Ounces. Smiling, he never reveals how he got that trail name, but he is on a smoking pace, having left Katahdin 135 miles away just one week ago.

Views to Sugarloaf Mountain to the west

Views to Sugarloaf Mountain to the west

While the first 1.6 miles is a walk in the park, we come upon a junction where to the left we can take the Summit Bypass Trail or to the right head directly to the summit of Moxie Bald Mountain.  We head right as the trail steepens over the last 0.4 of a mile to the top: but it is not so arduous that we can’t continue to talk and climb and climb and talk.

Dan at Devil's Doorstep

Dan at Devil’s Doorstep

Soon we are upon the Devil’s Doorstep, a series of stone monoliths 4o to 60 feet long with passageways. It’s all very cool as we climb upon rocks and over roots seeking the summit. Emerging out of the forest, we rock scramble over the massive stones on the mountainside on the way to the bald (a mountain top with no trees).

Dan with veteran AT hiker, Wildcat

Dan with veteran AT hiker, Wildcat

We see a thru-hiker in the distance, who turns out to be Wildcat (trail name) who has completed the AT years ago. As a chaplain supported by the Methodist Church, his mission is to follow the golden rule and help out others on the trail. Different from Four Ounces, he has taken more than two weeks to get to this point on the AT; he has had Trail Magic in the form of friends providing a meal and a place to stay off-trail four times since he left Katahdin.

From the summit looking northeast to Mount Kahtadin

From the summit looking northeast to Mount Kahtadin

Atop Moxie Bald Mountain on this hazy Monday, we have a 360 degree view to Mount Katahdin, Sugarloaf, and the Bigelows.  A little after noon, Paul and I are of one mind that we’d rather keep our hiking momentum going by hiking back to the trailhead now and then have lunch in town at a picnic table.

Hauling on the hauling with a deflating tire. We want no part of any Maine version of a trumped up Deflategate scandal

Hauling ass on the hauling road with a deflating tire. We want no part of any Maine version of a trumped up Deflategate scandal.  In Tom we trust.

Arriving at the trailhead more than 3.5 hours later, we drive out the gravelly hauling road when two things occur. One, we see a moose in the road, who scampers into the wetlands before I can ask him to look this way for a picture. Two, the tire pressure light goes on the dashboard indicating one of the tires has been punctured on this rocky road. We opt for Paul to cowboy it out on this logging road at 40 mph to see if we can get to route 16, twelve miles away, before every bit of air is out of the deflating tire.

Paul's trusty work SUV at Lavallee's Garage in Moscow, Maine

Paul’s trusty work SUV at Lavallee’s Garage in Moscow, Maine

Sitting high in the saddle, Paul is rocking along the logging road.  He then comes up with another brilliant idea. We’ll go back to Thompson’s Restaurant and ask the waitress where is the best garage to have a tire fixed. We drive into the lot at Lavallee’s Garage where the mechanic puts the car on the lift immediately, plugs the tire, and charges Paul $10.

Gotta love small town Maine, its people, its hauling roads, and its Moxie Bald Mountain along the Appalachian Trail!

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 Take to the Cliff Walk in York Harbor, Maine

 

YH map

Having lived in York, Maine for thirty plus years, Hannah and I have access to the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean any time we want.  It’s a little over four miles by from our home on Chases Pond Road to the York Harbor Beach.  Today we take our Canadian good friend Bill Buggie into town to walk the York Harbor Cliff Walk on this Labor Day Sunday.

UNH Wildcats, Dan and Bill

UNH Wildcats, Dan and Bill

If you are coming from I-95, take exit 7 towards the town of York.  A quarter of a mile later, turn right (south) at the lights on Route One and then left (east) onto route 1A (York Street).  Wind your way through York along York Street for nearly a mile until you arrive at the St. Christopher’s Catholic Church on the right.  Park at the far end of the church lot.

York River looking inland

York River looking inland

On this Sunday morning, we begin our cliff walk with a prelude on route 103 that goes south to Kittery.  To our right is the Wiggly Bridge bordering the York River.  Taking the path to the left towards the Ocean, we three walk on the gravelly harbor path, wide enough for two of us to walk side by side.  Pleasantly busy on this low tide Sunday morning, we meet locals walking dogs and tourists exploring our harbor town.

York Harbor Walk

York Harbor Walk

Having learned a joke on the Internet this morning, I give it a shot to a couple we know.  Two cannibals are eating a clown when one turns to the other and says, “Does this taste funny to you?”  The joke brings both smiles and laughter; and a connection that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

York Harbor Beach

York Harbor Beach

Buoyed by the positive interaction, we walk further on the harbor path which skirts mansions to our left and the summer harbor of lobster boats and small pleasure craft to our right.  Within a half mile, we approach the grounds of the Stage Neck Inn with its clay tennis courts and “Members Only” pool.  Beyond is the York Harbor Beach, the beach of choice for our kids and the townies of York.  There are no services – no ice cream, no taffy shops, no tee shirts.  Parking down the road to this beach is restricted to those who have permits.  No fear.  Two hundred feet up on route 1A across from the York Harbor Inn there are two hour parking spots.

Hartley Mason Park

Hartley Mason Park

At 915A on Labor Day Sunday, we enter the Cliff Walk trail just down the hill from the Hartley Mason Park.  Hartley Mason himself died in 1925.  The urban legend is that in his will he laid out that when the last of his grandchildren passed away, the six houses on the property would be demolished and a park created for all to enjoy.  His will held up to court challenges and now a park overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is there for townies and visitor alike.  It is a “go to” spot for post-wedding picture taking.

Bill, the daredevil

Bill, the fearless

Beach goers are just beginning to claim their spots on this soon to be 80 degree humid day, marking the unofficial end of summer.  Some twenty feet above the beach on the rocky cliff, the Cliff Walk Trail leads walkers in front of the cottages of York.  “Cottage” is the euphemistic term for seafront mansions.  Another urban legend has it that seasonal residents pay 40% of the property taxes in York.  Do I hear an Amen!

Reading Room of York Harbor

Reading Room of York Harbor

Passing the private Reading Room club we walk the cliff edge that never feels perilous.  In and out of tunnels of trees along the trail, we have the Atlantic Ocean at our feet.  The Cliff Walk is steeped in controversy.  A hardy and valiant local group is trying to keep the walk’s access open to the public.  Who owns the land to the high tide mark – or is it low tide?  Does what the king decreed in the 1700s still hold water? (I couldn’t resist.)  The courts will decide.

YH 6 trail by reading room

We pass others on the trail and when the time is right and the people seem welcoming I favor them with my one sentence two cannibals joke.  Rather than fellow walkers just smiling and stepping aside, the joke breaks the ice for a small connection and laughter.

So I encourage you to have a good joke at the ready when hiking.  You may wonder what are the criteria for a good joke on the trail: Short, one you can spit out without tripping, and that people get immediately.  Quick hitting and surprising.

YH 8 more of mid trail

The trail is rocky but it’s never much more than a twenty foot rise in elevation as we walk.  An outcropping facing the ocean on the trail is ideal for that couple or family picture of your time in York.  (See UNH Wildcats picture above.)

The cliff walk seems not much more than a half mile.  The trail does abruptly end in controversy as a wealthy land owner has constructed a fence with dense bushes that keeps townies and tourists alike from hiking further, as we could do 15 to 20 years ago.

YH 9 more of mid trail

At this point there is a wide right of way away from the ocean back to route 1A.  But today we just double back the way we came, having a completely different view as we go in the opposite direction.

Looking back to York Harbor Beach

Looking back to York Harbor Beach

For the most part we hike single file, but it’s easy to step aside to let others pass.  In short order we are back to the York Harbor Beach that is beginning to fill up on this Labor Day Weekend.

 

Right near the end of our hour walk a young girl with her parents is walking in our direction.  Her tee shirt says Make me smile.  The Universe is just begging me to repeat my cannibals joke.  With that invitation, I give it my best shot and Mom and Dad join their daughter in laughter.  And truth be told, it does make her smile.

Playful beach stones

Playful beach stones

 

 

Dan and Hannah Hike Wolfe’s Neck Woods near Freeport, Maine

The end of our driveway on April first.  Most unusual to still have such snow.

The snowy end of our driveway in York on April first. Most unusual to still have this much snow.

For Hannah and me cabin fever can be real during Maine winters.  The winter of 2014 has been a doozy.  Windows are sealed so that no precious heat escapes.  Country roads are bound by snow banks so that walking them means dodging passing cars.  Cold viruses are just hanging around wanting a piece of you.  Working out at our local gym is a godsend for Hannah and me, but the fresh air draws us outdoors today.  Come April in Maine, it’s a time for something more than four walls.

Dan at the front gate

Dan at the front gate

The forecast for this April first is sunny, albeit mid-40s; we drive 60 miles north on the Maine Turnpike to Freeport to hike at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park and to shop at the LL Bean outlet.  With over four and a half miles of trails, Wolfe’s Neck Woods is 200 plus acres of coastal trails and woodlands.

Trails of Wolf Neck Woods State Park

Trails of Wolfe’s Neck Woods

With six inches of snowpack still on our front yard, we wonder if snow-covered will be the operative word for the trails through the woods today.  Coming from the town center of Freeport on Flying Point Road, we turn right on Wolfe’s Neck Road past fallow farm fields and stands of oak and pine.  We pass the experiential, residential Coastal Studies for Girls, a semester-long science and leadership school for tenth grade girls in Maine.  Who knew?

Maine takes care of its seniors!

Maine takes care of its seniors!

Five miles from town, the country road winds its way towards Casco Bay as we slowly negotiate the spring’s frost heaves.  Passing three cars parked on the side of the road, we come to the park gate 100 yards later which blocks vehicular access to the park.  Though we can see that the park road beyond is clear, the woods are snow covered.  Fearlessly we forge ahead.

Hannah on snowy trail

Walking around the locked gate and down the dirt road, we see that the trails are indeed snow-covered.  Icy trail hiking is a deal breaker for us.  Hannah’s left leg protests such hiking for it is still reasonably pissed off at what she did to it while water skiing nearly two years ago.  It wants no more funny business.  As you can imagine, when Hannah’s tibia talks, she listens.

Shore at Casco Bay

Shore at Casco Bay

Thanks to a full sun, the snow is mushy, allowing us to sink in for reasonably stable hiking.  We head through the pines to the waters of Casco Bay.  Down to the water’s edge, gingerly we take the wooden steps.

WNW 9A steps in snow on trail

The trail hugs Casco Bay for two tenths of a mile with shore access points along the way.  Turning inland through the forest, we find the trail, thanks to the footsteps of previous hikers.  The Harraseeket Trail takes us back towards the Wolfe’s Neck Road, up and over the snow-packed forest floor.

Snowy trail in April

Snowy trail in April

Then we meet an athletic thirty-something couple, appealing in a crunchy granola sort of way, who seem to love hiking in the mushy snow as much as we do.  We stop and connect over conversation; they tell us about falls on the other side of the road at Freeport Bay.  Changing course we head for the bay.

WNW 9C snow trail

As they leave, I think how important it is for dating couples to hike together.  Or, to do something challenging under difficult circumstances to see how they each react under stress.  Is he a good sport when she likes hiking more than he does?  How does she react when he loses the trail?  A prince?  A princess?  A sweetheart?

WNW 9G snowy trail thru woods

The slushy snow makes for easy hiking on a day in the mid-40s with sun that makes it feel fifty.  Near the water, the wind is up and we duck for cover into the forest, glad myself to be wearing two sweatshirts.  We never do see the falls as we hike 25 feet above the Freeport Bay with a view to town.

Cliffs above Freeport Bay

Cliffs above Freeport Bay

As we hike on, I wonder about Freeport.  Where did it get its name?  Was it a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves wanting to be free?  Unromantically, Wikipedia guesses that it has to do with the openness of its harbor (free of ice).  In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean opened a shop in the basement of his brother’s clothing store here in Freeport, selling his signature Maine Hunting Shoe.  LL Bean’s now has its own indoor trout pond and remains open 24 hours a day.

A burning deal

A burning deal

Our 90 minutes hiking on the level, snow-covered terrain is just what the doctor ordered to bust open the doors and windows of our cabin fever.  Off to the LL Bean outlet just down the hill from the flagship store up on Route One, we look for bargains.  Striking hiking boot gold, Hannah finds $149 hiking boots for $42!

Nancy Sinatra would be so proud.

Nancy Sinatra

Dan Hikes/Climbs Tumbledown Mountain in Western Maine

Annually I hike some crazy mountains in Maine with my teaching buddy Paul.  We’ve busted a gut for five hours hiking the Appalachian Trail to Old Speck Mountain; we challenged Borestone Mountain near Monson.   Today it’s Tumbledown Mountain near Weld, north of Rumford.

At 430A, I wake, polish off a bowl of oatmeal, and head north from York – an hour by car to meet Paul.  Our first order of business is to find a small town breakfast place.  Heading north on route 4, we cross over the Androscoggin River from Livermore Falls into the town of Jay.  Immediately on our left, we see a sign for the Mill Street Café.  Lisa welcomes us in to what was once the old office building of the main mill when making paper by International Paper ruled the roost.

Paul at our window side table at the Mill Street Cafe, Jay, Maine

Paul at our window side table                          at the Mill Street Cafe, Jay, Maine

With the Café all to ourselves, we ponder our breakfast choices.  For me, pancakes are a temporary, deceptive pleasure; delectable because of their cake-like nature, but I’m left hungry an hour later; that will not do when we are hiking Tumbledown Mountain, a three thousand foot peak, on a 90 degree day.  When breakfasting out, my default meal is two eggs over easy, home fries, and the most exotic toast they have.  Today it’s multi-grain.

A "Real Man's" Breakfast

A “Real Man’s” Breakfast

To top it off, Lisa is a $5 waitress.  Though the total bill is a very modest $12, we bump up the tip because of her engaging personality and excellent service.  She’s just a pro.

Traveling north on route 142, we stop at the town of Weld to resupply.  At 9A it’s already 85 degrees with temperatures across the state of Maine today going north of 90 degrees.

Paul at the trailhead parking lot a little before 10A

Paul at the trailhead parking lot a little before 10A

Driving 5.8 miles down the Byron Road (a dirt road), we park, lather on the sunscreen, and load our backpacks with extra water, turkey sandwiches, apple slices, gorp, and cut-in-half baby carrots.  The trail begins a mere 150 feet from the parking area.

Trekking sticks make the man (sometimes)

Trekking sticks make the man,                             I delude myself

The guidebook says the 1.9 mile Loop Trail to the summit has 1900 feet of elevation gain and takes an hour and forty-five minutes.  Walking into the woods, we thankfully find the trail almost entirely shaded, though very rocky.

Puncheons (wood planks) welcome us to the Loop Trail

Puncheons (wood planks) welcome us to the Loop Trail

The lower Loop Trail

The lower Loop Trail

Following the blue blazes, I use my trekking sticks for balance as well as it being an added workout for my arms.  In short order we go from a slight elevation gain to stepping up and over rocks.

The Loop Trail starts to take control

The Loop Trail starts to take control

And then it gets serious.  Without a slide rule we estimate the trail to be at least a 60% incline.  Grabbing handholds in the rocks, we scramble over mini-boulders and feel all of the 90 degree sun in our soaked shirts.  Wearing Under Armour rather than cotton, I find my shirt wet, but not clammy and clingy. My lightweight Nike shorts keep me cool and, I know what you are thinking, make you cool!

Looking back towards Webb Lake

Looking back towards Webb Lake from the Loop Trail

As I trod/climb/grasp upward, all I see is rocks, the sloped ground in front of me, and occasionally a glimpse of Paul’s hiking boots.  Putting away my trekking sticks, I find them of little use at such a steep angle.  I know that the trekking sticks will be a godsend on the way down for these creaky knees of mine.

Ready to mount the final assault

Ready to mount the final assault

The trail levels off in sight of the top, but another steep climb lies before us.  We have decided there is no way we’ll climb down this mountain.  Though it means an extra mile and a half walking on the Byron Road, we can double back by way of the Brook Trail after getting to Tumbledown Pond.

This is no hike.  This is a Himalayan climb sans Sherpas.  The pitch is severe and we grab rocks to make our way to the top.  We have heard stories about the “Fat Man’s Misery” crack through the mountain.  It’s a side trail that we mistake for the main trail.  Paul, ever fearless and intrepid, heads in while I sit back thinking there is no way in God’s green earth I am going in that hole/tunnel of rock.  I’ll climb back down before I enter that devil’s den.  Paul returns with news that this can’t be the trail for it ends with a fissure to the outside.

Paul exploring the "Fat Man's Misery"

Paul exploring the “Fat Man’s Misery”

Relieved, but wondering what the hell Paul has got me into, I follow him as we backtrack and push upward.  And then we see “The Chimney” opening.  The guidebook describes this tunnel through the mountain as not safe for novices, children, or dogs.  Really!   65 year olds beware.   With nowhere else to go, Paul heads into “The Chimney” and I follow.

Skirting the cliffs

Skirting the cliffs on the Loop Trail

There are three rungs of rebar strategically placed within the ascending stone tunnel of mountain.   Paul takes his backpack up, then returns for mine.  He’s just a flat out stud.  Draw your own conclusions about me.   I have no choice but to enter the maw of the monster.

What 60% looks like!

What 60% incline looks like!

I bang my head on the overhang rock but maintain my balance.  Paul, a spry 50-something, made it; there’s at least a chance that I can.  Grabbing the first rung to my left, I see light coming from above.   I’m trusting it’s not my Maker calling my name.  So far so good.  A couple feet higher to the right is the second rung. I step on to the first and swing my foot up to the second.  Needing all my flexibility, I do reach it and push up with my right foot.  I reach for the third rung and see daylight above.  I am not going to die.

Coming out of "The Chimney"

Coming out of “The Chimney”

Pulling me through, Paul beams his amazing grin that broadcasts, Isn’t this the best! 

It’s very cool.  And Paul, you got me through!  It took us two hours and fifteen minutes, 30 more than what the guide book says.  It must have been a mountain goat that wrote this entry.

Webb Lake from Tumbledown Mountain

Webb Lake from Tumbledown Mountain

Loop Trail - Byron Notch Road CAUTION Trail is very steep and difficult. Not recommended for children or dogs.

Loop Trail – Byron Notch Road                                                     CAUTION                                                                Trail is very steep and difficult.                          Not recommended for children or dogs.

On ridge trails, we luxuriate in their levelness and head to the right towards Crater Lake, now named Tumbledown Pond.  Spotting swimmers on the island in the pond, we are later told that it is the highest pond in Maine.

Level terrain!

Level-ish terrain at last!

Snaking our way down to the pond, we find this hiking to be child’s play after the Loop Trail.

Idyllic Crater Lake

Idyllic Tumbledown Pond

High school kids and families dot the shoreline.  If they are here, descending the Brook Trail clearly is doable.  We relax over lunch with our feet in the pond with a light wind and an air temperature a comfortable 80 degrees.

Tumbledown Pond (nee Crater Lake)

Shoreline of Tumbledown Pond (nee Crater Lake)

At first the 1.9 mile Brook Trail has us scrambling down boulders, but soon it gently slopes through the forest and eventually takes us on an eroded, rock strewn trail that was once a logging road.  

Descending the Brook Trail

Descending the Brook Trail

We see families and young campers pass us on the trail heading for an afternoon swim.  As we near the end of our hike, I think how one-to-one hiking is just the ticket for we introverts.  We make it to the Byron Road in 75 minutes, exactly an hour less than our ascent.

Brook Trail

Brook Trail

Since we have come down the Brook Trail, we have 1.5 miles of walking on this very sunny, very dusty, very gravelly Byron Road ahead to Paul’s Honda.

Byron Road back to Loop Trail parking area

Byron Road back to Loop Trail parking area

I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed hoping a car will pass our way and pick us up.  Though, walking this hot, dusty road is a small price to pay for not descending the vertical hell of the Loop Trail.  After 10 minutes, the first car rumbles by and we yell.   The driver pauses, thinks we are kidding, and starts to pull away; so we whoop it up even louder and he gets the point that we’d love a ride; as a fellow hiker, he welcomes us into the backseat.  Today we all are fellow members of the community of hikers.

Packed and ready to head for home on the coast of Maine, we have one final stop.  The west fork of the Swift River.

West fork of Swift River, Maine

West fork of Swift River, Maine

Paul has always wanted to pan for gold and I think “What the hey.”  The water is refreshingly cool as we dunk ourselves in the rushing stream.

Cooling my jets in the west fork of the Swift River

Cooling my jets in the west fork             of the Swift River

A gold panning family offers us tips to swirl the water in the pan and let the heavier gold settle to the bottom.  It takes far more patience than I have and in the end we leave with some fool’s gold and mica.   Keep your day job if you think panning for gold will bring you riches.

Paul panning for gold

Paul panning for gold

Spent, we head for home.  Let’s not mince words:  The Loop Trail is a tough, rugged, nasty hike.  It takes your soul.  It’s just mean.

That said, we did it!

Click on this “one minute video” of the Loop Trail hike to Tumbledown Mountain.  What the filmmaker describes as “Fat Man’s Misery” is in fact “The Chimney” that I described.  It’s not the walk in the park the video might suggest.