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Down the Road

The old trails
By Milton M. Gross
Nov 6, 2011 - 12:23:23 AM

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You can't rewalk the old trails, you can only revisit them in your feelings.

This afternoon I found myself in tears as my 44-year-old daughter and 35-year-old son left in their sleep-in van after visiting us for three days. I couldn't help it, didn't plan on it, but found myself crying openly.

I felt old for the first time in my entire 29.5 years, more like I was 72 or something.

I caught a glance of myself in their van window. I looked older than that. I reminded myself of my father. He had lived until he was 87.

I think I really caught a glance of myself as an old parent. Kids in their prime of life, doing what kids do in their prime of life. Me standing their like an old parent, no longer in my prime of life. Wishing they could stay longer.

A day before Dolores, my daughter, Lorraine, and I had walked a new path in Acadia National Park. It was supposed to be an old path, restored this past summer. It wasn't. I had walked the actual old path several times and knew it lay about 30 yards south of the new "old" path.

The old path kind of eased its way around the end of cliffs on a wooded hillside. Occasionally it had boasted a moss-covered step or two. On the day we walked the new old path, we encountered lots of new steps to ease the hiker up and over the steep slopes. Groups building new trails these days use lots of stone steps to preserve the pathway from the many hiking boots that will pound and slip on it.

These photos show what is supposed to be a century-old trail reopened in Acadia National Park. I know it's not actually the old trail, because I walked the old trail eight or nine years ago, two or three times. The old trail circled around the end of Canada Cliffs well away from the cliffs. The "reopened" trail is closer in with lots of newly built stone steps to protect the trail from modern hiking boots. The old trail didn't have as many boots -- and they weren't hiking boots -- tramp it. Milt Gross photo.

The old trail didn't have that many boots, and a century ago when it was built by the millionaires who preserved the land for the park on Mount Desert Island there just weren't that many hiking boots. In fact, there weren't any. Those old folks -- younger then -- used boots, hunting boots, or whatever high leather boots there were in those days. They didn't have Vibram or other high-tech soles. There were leather or a rubber compound.

They also wore suits, white shirts, neckties, and the women wore long skirts and boots. None of them wore shorts or modern hiking boots. Modern hiking boots were long in the future, 1984 or shortly before or after.

I had even directed a park ranger to the old trail years before. Further, I had "secretly" marked an entrance to it from a gravel road by laying a couple of six-foot-long birch limbs on the ground in the shape of an arrow, pointing to the trail.

There are old trails in Acadia, which have been restored, and old paths such as the one that circles Jordan Pond. That one was rebuilt several years ago in the style of the original gravel path that had been built for those formally dressed sports from New York City and other foreign places.

I also knew of an old trail the rangers apparently still don't know exists. It is behind the old house on the Carroll Homestead, where the original Southwest Harbor family had settled and lived for a century.

No one ever knew why they left it. A teenager told me it was because the old house had no cable hookup. Made sense to me.

That old trail is kind of hidden. I had explained its location to a couple of tourists, who wanted to walk it. You go to a three- or four-foot high ledge behind the house, turn right, beat the bushes a minute or so, and there will be a small rock cairn. Turn left and follow uphill, through the bushes from cairn to cairn. It ends on an open rock ledge that offers a fine view west to Beach Mountain and the Canada Cliffs.

The couple found it, walked it, and then told me that a ranger had informed them that no such trail existed -- before they had walked it.

My father and I had climbed an old trail on Bald Mountain near Weld. At the top, he told me he had lost his sight in one eye and that he had kept that from me because he was afraid I wouldn't have taken him up the old trail. At the time, he was the same age I now am -- far side of 29.5

My mother, father, and I had climbed the original Appalachian Trail up the east slope of Sugarloaf Mountain. Later, due to the ski area's being built there, the AT had been relocated. My father and I had climbed the original AT on the north side of Old Speck. That had been the longest, steepest single section of trail along the entire AT from Georgia to Maine. The Maine Appalachian Trail Club later rerouted it to a less steep pathway because of severe erosion on the original section.

My father and I had met a man, who had come stumbling out of the thick woods at the foot of the old AT route.

"You've heard of men conquering mountains," he said to us. "Well, this mountain just conquered this man."

I wonder how old that hiker is now. Probably well over 29.5.

A therapist once suggested I lay back, close my eyes, and visualize and old trail that I remembered as being a peaceful spot.

I pictured a trail that runs south from the Jordan Pond House in Acadia below the carriage roads. That trail had rocks, ripples, lots of woods, and peace.

Haven't been there for years.

When I was courting my then-to-be first wife in Pennsylvania, I had taken her to Valley Forge, walked up a trail with her and was showing her another trail down the steep west slope of Mount Misery that connected to the Horseshoe Trail, which headed west and northwest to meet the AT above Harrisburg.

"Be careful of these leaves on this steep slope," I had cautioned her.

Then I had slipped, and she had caught me.

The other day on that new -- not old -- trail in Acadia with its stone steps, my daughter had cautioned me to be careful and not fall.

The way you caution old guys, such as your father.

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

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2011


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