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Down the Road

There's no place like the Maine woods
By Milton M. Gross
Aug 23, 2015 - 6:57:26 AM

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There's no place like the Maine woods.

I've been in them a lot. Sometimes it was totally relaxing. Other times it was stressful.

Now, while waiting for a new plastic (or some other material) hip, I'm both planning new woodsy adventures and remembering some of the old.

I remember my father and I -- hundreds of years ago -- preparing to climb the old Appalachian Trail from Route 26 in Grafton Notch, which is now a state park but I think was then just Grafton Notch. First we noted an old outhouse. There's always an old outhouse, and we did not venture inside this one. Too old....and we weren't sure what the other "too" was.

Next was the man. We were just getting ready to head into the woods, and this guy came stumbling out.

He looked at us and said, "You know how man is supposed to defeat the mountain? Well, this mountain defeated this man."

Which, of course, added to our feelings of "Boy this is going to be fun." But we went ahead anyway, trying not to think of the guy stumbling out of the woods. The old Appalachian Trail in those days had been a straight-up path to a fire lookout tire atop the mountain.

It's no wonder the Maine Appalachian Trail Club eventually relocated the AT to come down a bit to the west after dropping in a more reasonable manner than had the old AT.

That old AT was about as straight up as you would find, except for a few other trails to fire towers in ye olde Maine woods. We huffed. We puffed. We clambered along for some distance, a mile or more, until we came to the cutoff to the southeast I had planned to take.

At that point, because the side trail went out through bare rocks that had a view way down to Route 26, my father turned back. He had always been afraid of heights, a trick I never have learned well. He went back down that awful steep trail. I followed the side trail.

I remember sitting on a rock, looking down and also looking up. There was a whole mountain of open rock above me. But I climbed it and came down the steep fire-tower trail.

A most fascinating and relaxing day. I've been up that trail since, once with a group, helping the poor helpless girls of a youth group along a steep side of slide rock. At the summit, trying to signal a bunch of adult leaders who had gone west at the top toward New Hampshire instead of waiting for us as had been the plan.

Up Saddleback was another nice climb on a fine day, except for my very young son riding in a backpack on my back and constantly pulling back on every branch he could reach. But we made that climb okay.

The trails in the Maine side of the White Mountain National Forest I enjoyed. But I had to leave the car at a certain spot, where a gully ended the driving. Which was okay, because walking several trails in there, usually by myself, was scenic and relaxing. (I can't describe those trails exactly at this moment, because Miss Cat is busy sleeping on page 10 of the Gazatteer.)

I never have quite decided whether I liked climbing the high trails or walking the wooded trails down below more. They both are enjoyable.

I once climbed 1,373-foot Sargent Mountain, backwards, it turned out. That trail from the north end of Jordan Pond was really steep. Other hikers kept passing me, only they were headed down while I was going up steeply.

Finally I met a hiker, also coming down, who asked me why I was going the wrong way. It turned out that Acadia National Park rangers had informed folk that my "up" trail was better as a "down" trail. That mistake on my part may be why I never forget that climb.

The last trail I ever climbed with my father was up Bald Mountain (wonder how many Bald Mountains there are in Maine) on the road from Wilton to Weld. It was fairly steep, and at the top, my then seventy something year old dad told me he had lost sight in one eye.

"If I'd told you down below, you wouldn't have brought me," he added.

I always admired my late dad, and often while I'm wondering a woods -- any woods -- I think of him.

But mostly I just enjoy the woods trails.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2015

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