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Down the Road

Mister Trail
By Milton M. Gross
Aug 26, 2012 - 1:12:01 AM

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Not Mark Trail, the silly comic strip I read for the chuckles brought by the poorly plotted cartoon, but Mister Trail.

Mister Trail, I rediscovered earlier this week, is me.

One afternoon as I was driving Mr. Bus down to Bar Harbor, I heard an Island Explorer driver asking the dispatcher where the Norumbega Mountain trail was located. As I listened, she told him.

Then he added, "Actually, my passenger is looking for the Lower Hadlock Trail."

This was followed by a long silence. Was the dispatcher scratching her head, trying to find something with that trail listed? Was she napping? No, too busy for that.

The silence continued, and finally my trail-loving self picked up the mike and explained how to get to the Lower Hadlock Trail.

No response from anyone. Maybe they were sick of my knowing all the trails in and near Acadia National Park. Maybe the driver was busy following my directions. Maybe they were all taking a nap -- I hoped not the driver.

But a deep feeling entered my trail-loving self. It felt so good to be able to steer that driver to the trail. I didn't and still don't know exactly why, but it felt good, deep down deep.

I've thought about it since. No, it's not that I enjoy giving trail directions or advice in particular, although I do some of both. It's not that I feel proud that I know all the trails in Acadia and many throughout Maine. I don't feel proud of that in particular. It's just that trails are what I love.

As I've thought about it, it may be the pleasant or distinct memories that have stayed with me about some trails. Why this trail and not that one? Who knows. But I've been thinking this week of memories from particular trails.

Probably Maine's favorite, and certainly one of mine, is the Hunt Trail -- or Appalachian Trail -- in Baxter State Park. This trail is the final five miles of the Appalachian Trail if you've just legged it up from Georgie.

I recall those boulders with the iron rungs that scared the tar out of me, when I first climbed them at about 18 years of youth. What if those iron rungs pulled out? They didn't, have helped me up over those boulders several more times, and have enabled thousands of other climbers up those same boulders.

That mountain, that trail, was so high as I looked out over the miles and miles of forest and lakes. And the view and then walk up that ridge, about 20 feet wide, providing rooftop-like views down both sides. They say you can't take it with you. I wonder if I'll take those memories.

And that mile-long plateau on top. Imagine, a nearly flat rocky plateau almost a mile high into the sky that leads to a small hill topped by the highest summit in Maine.

Imagine!

I imagine my cranky right leg won't let me climb that one again.

Then, shortly after I had moved from South Paris to Mount Desert Island, my daughter called me.

"Dad," she said in her wisdom from having been there and done that, "you don't like open, high places. So don't climb the trail from Echo Lake to the top of Canada Cliffs."

Guess where I was the next day. You got it. I was on that trail, which switch backed steeply and in a kind of exciting way up, up, and more up from Echo Lake. Then I met the two metal ladders, both in gullies and both in woods, which I climbed and nervously crawled from the top of to the remainder of the trail above. I'll never forget that nervous feeling, as I crawled off the top of that first ladder and stood up.

Somehow it was a good feeling. I have no idea why.

The Beehive in Acadia National Park from the Schooner Head Trail. Milt Gross photo.

And Bald Peak, only a mile's steep walk above upper Hadlock Pond, to its 974-foot-above-sea-level summit. That mountain not only has most of what most Maine mountains boasts as far as scenery and features go, but it is a pleasant walk. Not frightening as is the Beehive, which I've only climbed once and probably won't again -- don't want to climb it again. When we reached the Beehive's approximately 500-foot-high summit, actually a ridge around a mountain pond, I asked a hiker I saw if there was another trail down.

"No," he said. "This is it."

It's nice when the other guy is wrong, and we soon found the other trail down. But I'll never forget the Beehive's rungs and places where you have to step across from rock to rock with basically nothing but down below that open step. I'll also never forget wondering if I would fall and become part of the ocean that seemed to be straight below. I didn't and didn't.

I've always loved Baldpate on the AT in western Maine north of Grafton Notch. Something about that gradual walk up those long slab rocks to the summit at 3,812 feet above sea level, has remained in my pleasant memory bank for years. It was high, it was open, it was easy and pleasant, and the wind was steady when it tried to snatch my slouch hat and hurl it way out there somewhere. I caught it. Somehow.

Back in Acadia, the Jordan Stream Trail, sticks in my pleasant memory bank for its winding alongside bubbling and gurgling Jordan Stream. A pleasant down-in-the-woods meander. No danger unless you get run down by an out-of-control tourist driven mad by the peace and quiet.

That has never happened to me there.

A short distance south from that trail is a carriage road, outside the park's boundaries, that gradually rises above Long Pond in Seal Harbor. I recall the quiet times Dolores and I have spent lounging in the grass of a meadow just below that carriage road and overlooking the pond. Blue sky and eagles high in it.

I love a quiet, grassy walk after a mountainous, rocky trail.

It's the memories of the open cliff tops and mountain slopes far above the trees that seem to hang in my mental memory bank as most typical and free and relaxing. I recall sitting, leaning against a boulder on the spur trail that circled east and then up from the old AT on Old Speck. The breeze was perfect, the view grand, the sound only of that breeze.

That one may stand out for me forever.

It may have been on the Red Rock Trail but more likely on the Mud Brook Trail on Caribou Mountain in the western Maine part of the White Mountain National Forest, where I came across a unique section of path. The trail was on the southeast slope of the mountain, and at a certain point it followed a built-up-from-below or dug-out-from-above path along a shelf. That shelf, high up on the wooded mountainside, has clung to my pleasant memory bank since my one walk along it years ago.

And the Haystack Notch Trail in that same area provided a surprise view. As I looked north through the trees from just under 2,000 feet in elevation, I glimpsed a steep mountainside off in the distance.

That view from that spot on that trail brought a strong feeling that I was actually absorbing energy from it and the trees surrounding me. It seemed that the peace and strength of the woods and mountains was somehow overpowering my very being, the deepest place of what is me.

That may be what stays with me the most.

Most of these trails I'll never experience again.

Nor forget.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@midmaine.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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