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Down the Road

Okay, gang, let's take a hike
By Milt Gross
Jun 24, 2012 - 11:57:14 AM

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Sounds almost like fun, doesn't it.

And some of those group hikes were fun. Others, not so much.

Oh, and, I never recall shouting that announcement.

It was more like, "Mr. Gross, can you carry my knapsack?"

From one of those athletic, he man eighth-graders. Who are all pumped up for the big hike, you know, show how tough and rugged you are.

Except, the trail goes uphill, doesn't it. But each member of that group carried their own packs. As their fearless leader -- not quite true but sounds good, I managed to keep the group together. with all toting their own backpacks.

Keeping that group together on a hike in the mountains isn't just about being a group. It's also about not having a group member disappear and be eaten by -- whatever eats separated group members in Maine -- a great big mosquito, most likely.

But when you're looking for them, you don't know who's going to eat them or where.

The moose that wanted to play was a feature of one group hike. Well, actually, not a hike. The hike was finished; the church youth group and I had climbed Katahdin the day before. That hike went off pretty well, except for the seventh-grade girl who managed to half swallow a tiny pebble while drinking from a spring. This occurred about halfway up the mountain, so I whacked her on the back once or twice and we continued climbing.

Camping at Baxter had been fun, providing you change the definition of fun to mean a lot of frustration followed by being saved by a railroad engineer.

The engineer had loaned us an old tent for the trip. This was not your regular run-of-Beaners tent you see at most drive-in campgrounds, a round, puffy-looking arrangement that is so...so "cute?"....I think that's the word. I've seen almost as many of those cute, expensive tents during our current recession, as I've seen giant RVs. Recessions must do that.

The only place I've really noticed the recession is at our house. In truth, we've always had a recession. Dolores has to actually budget our money, and we have to live within what she budgets. The RVers? I don't quite know how their recession works.

Anyhow, years ago, well before the current recession, we couldn't get that tent up. It was big. It was awkward. And it was so old that had we found directions, they probably would have been written in some prehistoric language. We grunted. We mumbled words that should not be mumbled at a church-youth-group outing. We stood back and looked. We tackled it head on.

That tent wouldn't go up. And here we were facing a night in Baxter State Park, where you need a tent to protect you from the mosquitoes.

But along came our hero, out of the green -- this was Baxter, after all, where heroes don't come out of the blue. I looked up from a non-church-youth-group mumbling session, and there he was, getting out of his car. In those days, not everyone drove a pickup. Pickups were for working, carrying stuff.

The engineer walked over, greeted us, smiled, and put the tent up for us before driving away down the gravel road into the sunset.

We must have been able to take it down all right after the camping trip, because I don't remember that.

The moose, a young bull, entered our group camping/hiking adventure the day after we hiked Katahdin. We had driven around to the Roaring Brook Campground parking lot and walked up the Russel Pond Trail to Sandy Stream Pond. Sandy Stream Pond is where the moose hang out in the heat of summer. When tourists tell me they want to see a moose, I send them to Sandy Stream Pond.

Our church youth group was sitting on the rocks along the shore of the pond, watching those moose enjoy the cool pond water that kept the bugs away, when I noticed a young bull eyeing us. I'm not certain now how I knew he was eyeing us, except maybe that he was also walking toward us.

Knowing that bull moose, no matter their age, are a lot bigger than kids in a church youth group or I, I said, well maybe raised my voice a bit, in panic, "Hey gang, let's start running!"

That same seventh-grade girl had been sitting nearby with her shoes off.

She asked, "Should I put my shoes on?"

"It doesn't matter much," I replied, getting myself into church-youth-group running position, "just start running."

We ran, the moose followed a short distance, not bothering to actually run, and later that day we told a park ranger about our adventure of being chased by a bull moose.

"Oh, he was just playing," the ranger explained. "That young moose likes to play with people."

"Well, we didn't know the rules of the game, so we left," I explained back to him.

On another church youth group hike up Old Speck in western Maine, we followed the cutoff trail which heads out into the rocks and then up. When I write up, I mean, "up," as in very up. And there were lots of slanted boulders to angle across. I recall having the more fearful kids walk right alongside me across those steeply angled boulders, their shoes resting against my hiking boots.

"I'm chicken to fall, so I won't," I told them. "So, if you don't want to fall, just put your feet alongside mine and up we'll go."

We did. But there was a problem. There were other adults, pretending to help lead the youth group. I had stressed to them that should they reach the top before me, which I knew they would because I got to trail along with the slowpokes and pick up the empty potato chip bags the kids had tossed down as they made their way upward, they -- the adult leaders -- should stop and wait so as not to head off in a wrong direction.

Of course, the fearless other adult leaders did not stop. After all, they were out in front. So off they marched, down the Appalachian Trail toward New Hampshire, instead of waiting so we could all enjoy the summit and then head back down the AT north, back to our cars.

When I realized what they had done, I hurried west and looked down at a long, open, rocky ridge to see the adult leaders and some fast-hiking youth group members far, far away down that ridge. I managed to get their attention -- no cell phones in those days, when you pioneered, you pioneered -- and they turned around and hiked back up that long ridge.

Of course, those adult leaders' version of their wrong-direction hiking was that it was all my fault.

I don't remember why, but generally when a problem arises among a group I'm with, it's all my fault.

Okay, but we got back to our cars and home all right. Also all my fault.

A father and his kids accompanied my kids and I up Mount Washington once -- only once would I have them go with me. It's a fairly tiring trudge up the popular Pinkham Notch Trail and then up through the steep notch to the summit, which is pretty high. I had, as I always did, said that we all needed to stay within sight of one another to avoid little problems, such as getting lost or breaking a leg when by yourself.

Of course, the teenage son of the other father didn't stay with us. He disappeared, and before leaving the building at the summit, we asked a ranger if he would keep an eye out for a lost, dumb, very dumb since he didn't know how to stay within sight of the rest of us, teenager.

The ranger radioed around and located him at a shelter, which happily was located on the trail we were taking to return to our cars. The rangers at the shelter made the teenager wait for us. He did, and we made it to the bottom of the mountain as one group.

I, in no uncertain terms, told the father that our families would not be going hiking together again.

I hate losing kids who don't pay attention during group hikes.

It's always all my fault.

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

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

Milt Gross Down the Road A Piece Column

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