Fear gripped me before that Baldpate hike, but that stuff of which I was afraid didn't happen on that high, western Maine mountain with its open, windy summit.
It didn't have what the fear told me it did.
That particular trek, up the north side of Baldpate from the road between Andover and Upton, followed months of my feeling, well, nervous, afraid, even of bad dreams before hand.
I hadn't been over that trail for too many years, and my dreams recalled a steep, ladder-type descent. That's called fear. Where it comes from, who knows? As a young man of about 18 and 19, I remembered having those same fear dreams about Katahdin (not, not Mount Katahdin, since "Katahdin" means "Greatest Mountain" as those young whippersnappers who know it all and still can climb the Greatest Mountain in Maine don't know). Katahdin is a bit different, though, as the real when-you're-awake climb is a bit harder and steeper with more wide-open views -- some down the side of what appears to be a roof, miles high in the sky.
The Katahdin dreams were just dreams, and I knew it almost as I was having them. Baldpate's dream was more frightening.
We arrived along the Andover B Hill Road, and my wife dropped us off to meet us that evening at the other end of our hike. We walked about a half-mile up the old Appalachian Trail and past a racing stream down low in a ravine.
Where we met forest rangers and sheriff's deputies, because a guy had jumped off a boulder into the stream to have fun. And drowned.
A great start to our day.
Next were the group carrying pistols. Just what you want to meet as you're already nervous not far along your climb. They didn't shoot us.
We kept going.
And going, and going, until the intrepid student hiker said he was so tired he could not go on. We were about halfway with some three-and-a-half miles of downhill to go. There would be no point in going back the same distance to where we started, especially since we had no car waiting for us there and cell phones hadn't yet been invented.
We also were about 3,750 feet above sea level, leaving us with considerable dropping downward no matter which way we went.
"I'll carry your knapsack," I said to the student, "and I'll kick you along in front of me. We'll make it."
He declined the second part of my offer, I didn't carry his knapsack, and we continued onward, down the steep hill that in my fearsome dreams had become ladderlike. We reached the bottom as darkness reached us, and walked along the night-time trail.
Finally, we heard a baby cry and knew my wife had walked into the woods on the AT to meet us. We met them, and the day ended happily ever after as well as after dark.
I still think about that dream of fear.
On another night, a New Years Eve, when Dolores was at Massachusetts General Hospital in Intensive Care after being saved from death due to a ruptured brain aneurysm, the nurses and I held an informal New Years Eve celebration.
Then I walked the dozen blocks to the hospice the hospital had found for me.
My fear had been that I'd be mugged, robbed, murdered, or whatever else happens to country bumpkins wandering the streets of Boston at 1 a.m. As I walked the 12 blocks, carefully watching dark corners and doorways, pedestrians waved and yelled, "Happy New Year," to me. New Years Eve drunkeness may have saved the night....and me.
Another fear bit the dust.
Earlier this week in the evening, my bus and 16 passengers and I were caught in a six-hour traffic delay due to an accident a mile or so ahead. We were at a traffic signal at the "head" of Mount Desert Island and stopped counting the number of changes from green to red to green at roughly 200,000.
I heard a voice from the rear of the bus, "I'm afraid of the dark."
Dark? With that traffic light just ahead? And cars with lights on the whole six hours -- some of which had to be jumped afterward? Dark?
Another fear bit the dusk.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012
Milt Gross Down the Road A Piece Column
Milt Gross Book Reviews