If you’re a hard-core hiker who lives by a “because-it’s-there” philosophy, I can pretty much assure that this isn’t your kind of adventure story. It is not about achieving, conquering, mastering or displaying any level of competency – at least not when it comes to hiking trails. It’s not about gear. It’s not about gorp. But it is very much about equipment and nourishment.
Indeed, this is a family story. So put your hiking boots back in the trunk for a minute and think about what it means to head out on a trail to be with someone you love. The fundamental question isn’t: Can we do this? (Of course we can.) But: Why I am here now with this person, and how do we get exactly what we want out of our time together?
That said, let me introduce the Bold Coast Trail in Washington County. I love that name. Bold. Coast. We can think about Maine’s dramatic shoreline, with its hacked-at cliffs and swirling, green waves. It’s a bold coast, all right. But I’m a crossword puzzle person. I like to see words in other contexts. So bold, as in be bold. And coast, as in take it as it comes. So yes, this is about Maine. But it’s also about taking life as it unfolds. And being bold enough to admit the obvious.
My daughter, who is 26, left home at age 21. After college, she lived in Boston and two places in Virginia – with trips to Africa, Ireland and Belize – before moving to Georgia, where she now lives. If she wanted to move farther away, she could. And I would encourage her to follow her map and her dreams. But that wouldn’t eliminate the longing I have to simply look at her face. Live and in person.
Since she left home, my life has changed. I married and moved to a new town. I’ve traveled to Vietnam, Brazil, Iraq and Madawaska. All good. But from time to time, I miss our old life together – her going to school, me going to work, dinner, lazy weekends. Even the arguments. There isn’t anyone else in my life who is going to defiantly pierce her own belly button in the bathroom with a sewing needle. That type of surprise is, well, more or less over for me now.
But my family life with her is not. This year, we began traveling together. In March, we spent 10 days in Italy, schlepping our bags from city to city like college students on spring break. Yes, we argued from time to time. We also marveled at art, climbed mountains and drank coffee in outdoor cafes. At an art gallery in Venice, we shared an audio guide with two headsets connected to the same base. At first, we yanked annoyingly with each other’s every move. But then we got the hang of being umbilical again.
We always see each other in summer, too, and that brings us to the Bold Coast Trail. This is one of Maine’s lesser-known hikes, though by no means is it a hidden treasure. It’s roughly a 10-mile round-trip walk along a mostly flat but rugged trail. When I proposed that we do it this July, my daughter was game. We’ve both climbed Mount Katahdin, hiked in Acadia National Park, swum across lakes and run road races together. This seemed like a natural.
The day she arrived was one of those crisp, Maine summer days. First we hugged for what seemed like days, and then shot up the airline truck route from Bangor to Cutler, where the trail is located. I found one of those country bed and breakfast inns that seems more like someone’s old home, and we unpacked. The innkeeper was a quiet, lingering man who told us about his own hiking experiences – as well as about his upbringing in the Northwest, his migration to Maine, and his reason for owning a B&B in a town where the year-round population is 623 (659 in July). We walked around town that night, looking at the boats in the harbor, the Christmas decorations in a gift shop, puffin lawn ornaments in a front yard. We listened to a hippie guy play guitar and sing on his front porch stoop. His dog was listening, too. I suspect the whole town was.
That night we studied the Bold Coast map at the inn. Our host offered to let us borrow it, and the next morning, we got up early, ate and tucked the map into my backpack. We were looking forward to seeing the bold coast. We decided that what we wanted more than anything was to spend the day looking at the sea, water, water, water.
The Bold Coast Trail is part of Maine’s Public Reserved Lands, which total almost a half-million acres of wild territory. The Bureau of Parks and Lands, a state office, manages the lands as natural resources, whether that applies to timber, recreation or wildlife preservation. If you know about rare plants in Maine, this is where you might spot one. Cutler and Whiting have a 12,000-acre unit of peatlands, blueberry barrens, ledges and swampy woods. The Bold Coast Trail, which is contained in that unit, is particularly valued for a 41/2-mile stretch of cliffy shoreline.
If you’re a guidebook reader, you won’t find much information on this trail. It’s considered backcountry, remote, less manicured than Baxter State Park or Acadia. That should have been my first indication that the trail might not meet our criterion for water views.
The first mile on the Bold Coast Trail is entirely through mossy, richly aromatic woods. Which means only one thing for the first hikers of the day: spider webs. My daughter walked into one too many webs and finally picked up a stick, which she defensively swung like a sword in front of her for the rest of the day.
Lush though it was, we grew quickly tired of the forest. We were there for water. And we weren’t getting it. Even when the trail opened up, it was nothing like when Dorothy opens her crashed house in Munchkinland. A humid fog hung over the ocean, which was raucous and gothic, but we still felt shrouded by the trees. This will change, I assured my daughter. Let’s stay with it. Only eight miles to go.
In the meantime, mosquitoes were feasting on our arms and legs, despite slatherings of bug repellent. We regretted wearing shorts after thrashing through regular thickets of brush left scratches on our legs. The trail was uneven enough with rocks and roots and sucking swampy holes that my best running shoes were not absorbing the bends well, and I quietly cursed myself for not wearing hiking boots, not wearing long pants, not being a less robust hiker.
When we got to the halfway mark about three miles in, we sat down for a talk. “This isn’t going the way I had hoped,” I confessed.
“And?” my daughter prodded.
“I want more water views, and I can see that we may get some, but then we have to return through the woods – hours from now.”
“Let’s cut back to the parking lot. I heard about another trail not far from here that may be more of what we want,” I said.
“OK,” she said, and started forward.
“But wait.” I suddenly felt guilty. “We won’t finish the trail. We can’t say we did 10 miles. We will have failed.”
She looked at me sideways: “What difference does that make? It’s not what we wanted. You know a place where we can get what we want. Let’s go there. And call it a success.”
If she weren’t 26, I’d be tempted to say: Out of the mouths of babes.
In about two hours (and after returning the map to the innkeeper), we stood at the foot of the red-and-white striped headlight at Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec. Also run by the Bureau of Parks and Lands, Quoddy offers several miles of hiking trails. We headed for the one called “Coastal Trail,” a four-mile, round-trip hike along the coast: It turned out that we’d log about 10 miles before the day’s end. A bold coast, indeed. The dangerous cliffs, Grand Manan across the channel, a manageable trail, a sweeping wind, and water, water, water. As the sun lowered, the cliffs glowed with deep golden hues.
We stood together and watched the halos of light fall around us, engulf us and assure us that, when you go hiking, or when you do anything in life, the top of the cliff or the end of the trail may not be the destination you thought you wanted. Sometimes, it’s more about because you’re there together in the moment than because it’s there at all.
Alicia Anstead can be reached at 990-8286 and firstname.lastname@example.org.