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.

Dan and Hannah take to the Carriage Roads of Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park on the Maine coast

Are you looking for an active September getaway in New England with temperatures in the 60s and 70s, with very few touristos?  Do we have the place for you!  A mere 3-4 hours north of York on the coast of Maine lies Acadia National Park.  (Truly, stop by and see Dan and Hannah on your way up.  I’m cereal.)

Traveling to Acadia National Park during the off-season is a kick for Hannah and me.  This weekend after Labor Day we find two double beds for $55 at the Edenbrook Motel across the street from the College of Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

Main classroom building at COA

The College of the Atlantic has 349 students and 41 faculty.  It’s the kind of college boomer parents would now love to attend, especially those who went to large state universities (e.g, Dan graduated from Arizona State (72,000 in 2011).  If Plato were to return and take a professorship, I would bet my copy of The Republic that he would settle into teach at the College of the Atlantic.  – Colman McCarthy, Washington Post

At the Edenbrook motel, the 1950s retro-look with metal rocking chairs outside each room adds to its charm.  We have packed our hybrid Trek bikes for a day of biking along some of the 45 miles of carriage roads in the national park.

Driving into Bar Harbor from Ellsworth, we take Route 3, which is no friend to bicyclists.  Once within three miles or so of Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island, the fingernail thin white lines mark the edge of the highway and leave no margin for error for bicyclists or motorists.  Thankfully J. D. Rockefeller, Jr., the force behind the Carriage Roads, came to the rescue in the early part of the last century.

Above the Edenbrook Motel, we easily bike up Highbrook Road to the Park Loop Road, which takes us downhill about three miles to the Visitor Center.  Flashing our senior citizens lifetime National Park pass ($10 for those 62 and older!) we hit the steep climb of the access bike path (crushed, packed gravel like the real Carriage Road).  A low gear and a strong set of thighs make this a sweet climb.  Genetically advantaged, Hannah and I relentlessly pedal to the Carriage Road by Witch Hole Pond.

Carriage Road near Witch Hole Pond

On this cool, overcast mid-September late morning, we whip off our sweatshirts and riding tights and head for Jordan Pond at a leisurely pace, gabbing most of the way.  The gentle grades make this an exercise experience for all kinds of bicyclists.  The splendor of the surrounding trees and lakes is only matched by the beauty that nary a vehicle is in sight.  The moderate grades allow for steady pedaling and easy conversation.  We pedal the ascending grade to the East of Jordan Pond, but that workout just prepares us for lunch.  On this blustery and chilly day, we are the only ones on the Jordan Pond House lawn, which on a warm day is filled with tourists feasting on their famous baked popovers.

Lawn at Jordan Pond House

After roughly seven miles of biking, we take to the Day Mountain summit.  We pass two horse-drawn carriages similar to what must have been popular in the 1930s.  It turns out this is our most difficult biking as the weight of the wheels of the carriages and the hoofs of the horses have compromised the integrity of the gravel road and made it mushy and sand-like.  Even so, it is very doable pedaling.  Do remember to always pass on the left of the carriage so as not to spook the horses.

The summit provides views of Seal Harbor.

The descent is rapid and a little squishy, but just slow down and you’ll be fine.  It’s a good work out and one that our hearts and lungs appreciate.

Though I have affection for the hiking warriors of the Appalachian Trail (AT), I much prefer day rides or hikes that end with a shower, clean sheets, and a well-deserved afternoon nap, which we do this late summer day.  Having done some 20+ miles on the Carriage Roads, our goal is to do all 45 some day.  Nothing like “bagging” the entire Carriage Road to feel the AT spirit.

Horse drawn carriages on the Carriage Roads of Acadia NP

Dan and Hannah Hike Fairy Head in Maine near the Canadian Border

On the last morning of our 40th Anniversary Trip north to Prince Edward Island, Canada in June, we leave before our friends Bill and Karen of  Fredericton, NB awake.  We call it Rothermel-early; it’s just after 4A Eastern Time.  Today we will hike the Fairy Head trail between Calais and Machias, Maine (as far north on the coast of Maine and still in the USA that you can be).  We read about the trail in Yankee Magazine (A Trail for Bold Walkers: Maine’s Bold Coast Trail is off the beaten path.  When you find it, you won’t soon forget it. May/June 2012).  Promised a hike of solitude and spectacular seaside cliffs, we never knew of the Bold Coast despite living in Maine for 30 years.

After nearly three hours of driving over mostly back country roads with no traffic to speak of on this mid-June Saturday morning, we soon are on frost heave bumpy Route 191 approaching the parking lot for the Fairy Head trail.

Hiking to Fairy Head on the Cutler Coast Public Lands (www.parksandlands.com) is a serious 10 mile challenge for those over and under 60.  (The land used to be logged by the Hearst Corporation but was given to the State of Maine in 1989.)  Depending on the terrain, that’s four to five hours of continuous hiking for us.

At the entrance to woodland hike, there are warnings discouraging hikers who are not experienced since these trails are rugged and rocky.  Fortunately, this coastal trail offers three different lengths of hikes.  There’s the three mile baby bear hike to and from the coastal headlands; a 5.8 mile mama bear hike that takes hikers along the coast for a few miles and then cuts across this figure eight trail out at the Black Point Cut Off; and finally the papa bear 9.8 miles that takes hikers 3.5 miles along the coast and then back through the inland forest.  Today, my mama bear and I tackle the big one.

Trekking to the Maine Coast

With backpacks filled with water bottles, egg salad Subway subs, rice cakes and gorp, we take to the lonesome trail under cloudy morning skies.  Heading for the coast 1.5 miles away on rocky and rooted trails among scraggily pines, we find our foot plants are usually on the uneven, well-marked path; that will take its toll on our knees and spirits near the end of the five hours of hiking we will do.

Puncheons through the sogginess

Though the trail is not wet, there are swampy areas and the state park service has laid puncheons wherever the terrain be soggy.  Due to the trail’s remoteness, some puncheons are dropped in by helicopter.  These 10-12 cedar foot planks keep our feet dry and actually make the trail passable at all.  In general the hike to the coast is level, but I am thankful for my trekking sticks which brace my knees for the downhills.  We cross various blow downs (trees that have fallen across the trail), but the hike to the coast takes just over 30 minutes.  We bears are in cruising mode.

Arriving on the Bold Coast

Blown away by the early morning beauty of the cliffs, we take the trail along the rocky cliffs of Down East Maine.  Typically Hannah leads, as she did when we danced as college students at the College of Wooster in Ohio in the late 1960s.  Her pace is steady and stronger than mine and keeps me moving forward in a purposeful way.  We skirt the cliffs but never need to get close enough to feel in danger; there are no protective fences.

The blue blazes (2”x8” vertical blue marks on trees and rocks) mark the trail really well.  Occasionally we go off the trail, but we fear not; one, we know the trail closely parallels the coast and, two, when necessary we double back until we see the last blue blaze.

Grassland trail near the coastline

At times we walk through leafy brush where there isn’t even a place for me to plant my trekking sticks.  Navigating through blue berry patches, which are 4-6 weeks from being ripe, we do not see a soul.

Peeking at the coast

We hit the Black Point cutoff in 90 minutes, having hiked three miles.  Two miles per hour is a reasonable pace with these coastal ups and downs over these still rocky and rooted trails.  Removing our sweatshirts and tying them around our waists, we welcome the morning sun as it breaks through the clouds.

Hiking on in the lead, Hannah comments that blue is her favorite color.   That is, blue for the blue blazes that guide us along the trail.

Two hours into our hike and not having seen a single person, I ask what’s her over/under for seeing one person.  She says over (i.e., more than one).  I’m not so sure.

Early lunchtime

Two and half hours later and nearly at Fairy Head, we spot the wooden stairway to one of the three trail campsites.  It’s only 1030A, but it’s lunch time since we did the Rothermel-early thing.  Taking off our hiking boots and double socks, we feast on our egg salad subs while soaking in the ocean view.

Mama Bear getting it done

And then Larry from Oklahoma appears.  He’s smiling (must be a Canadian Oklahoman) and mentions he’s off to Lubec, Maine for what is reported to have the finest scallops at the Inn at the Wharf.  If all Oklahomans are these welcoming and engaging, I am guessing Oklahoma is a province of Canada.

Papa Bear on the Coast

Weary, we arrive at Fairy Head 3+ hours after beginning.  Catching a quick glimpse of the light house across the bay, I do the calculations in my head that we’ve some serious hiking back to the trailhead.

Cutler Harbor Lighthouse across the bay

Taking the Inland trail through a forest and swampy bog lands, we traverse what seems like 500 puncheons, maybe a million.  Spotting a work crew of twenty-somethings building puncheons on a lunch break, we thank them for working on Saturday and joke that they must be getting overtime.   The leader nods and smiles, ”No.”

Puncheons through the woods

Though there are occasional mileage markers I use my watch to estimate where we are on the trail.   Hiking a mile in thirty minutes, we change places and I take the lead so I can more easily hear Hannah’s quiet voice.  Our talking helps the miles pass more quickly.  Not much of a solitary hiker, I am fed by conversation with Hannah.

At the Black Point Cutoff we take one last break of peanut butter on rice cakes (Do these kids know how to live?).  Four plus hours since we started, the inside of my knees are barking.  With five hours of hiking assured, we are banging up against the limits of our endurance.  With nothing else to do but keep moving on, we keep moving on.  There’s no bus coming for us.  Lucky it’s been mid-60s today when summer 80s could have had us sweating bullets and being a banquet for mosquitoes; only when we stop do the mosquitos claim another two victims.

Arriving at the parking area 5+ hours later, ten cars fill the lot; we are trail weary and spent after five hours hiking.  This out-of-the-way hike, maybe 4.5 hours of driving from our home in York, Maine, is a state of Maine jewel.     As always when hiking, be ye olde or be ye younge, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.