At some point today, Christmas Day, I’ll be asked the question, “How was your year?” It will be posed by one of the relatives at our family gathering. At first I’ll give my usual answer, “Just great, I hiked a few hundred miles and managed not to get hurt,” I’ll say.
Then, sometime after I give that cursory response, the memories of the previous year will seep their way into my thoughts. The relatives and I will sit down to an afternoon meal, and by the time we’re finished, I’ll have shared with them my favorite hikes of the year.
I’ll tell them about the hike on the Traveler Loop in the north end of Baxter State Park. It was over Labor Day weekend and I was in the company of a young woman, Diane Dow, who hiked my legs ragged. In six hours we covered 10 miles, over three 3,000-foot summits; the peaks that make up Traveler Mountain. The climb was steep, the footing rocky and the scenery outstanding. I camped in the park at Trout Brook Farm the night before, as a bonus. It’s a bonus because viewing darkness in the park is unlike spending a night anywhere else.
Going backward through the season, I relay another hike I took over the Fourth of July, in the Big Spencer District of the Maine Bureau of Public Lands, northeast of Moosehead Lake. It was only a 3-miler, up and down Big Spencer Mountain, and again the Maine landscape rewarded us hikers with excellent views from the top. I met a nice family, the Hasty family, with their dogs, and we had a great morning together.
There are lots of people in this past season’s memories. People like the Hasty family on that Big Spencer climb. There were three generations of them, and we all got along as old friends on the trail, even though we had just met. It was that way with a brother and sister, Jeremiah and Erica Bartlett, on a hike up Doubletop Mountain, on another trip to Baxter Park. We also had just met that day and enjoyed a fine hike together, like we were old friends.
I recall one trip that was more like work than a hike. It’s the one that I volunteered for with the Maine Trail Crew. The Maine Appalachian Trail Club’s work crew builds trails all summer, and I wanted to help. This time, there were new friends. We shared the work involved in building rock stairs on the AT. We hiked to a campsite up on Whitecap Mountain, where we spent the night near the work site.
I remember a remarkable individual whom I met in June, Michael Good from Town Hill on Mount Desert Island. The operator of Down East Nature Tours, he leads birders in Acadia on bird identifying hikes. He travels to Cuba every year, leading birders. The day we met, he taught me how to call birds to within sighting distance. I used the skill all summer in the woods and on mountaintops.
Sometime around when the pies are served at the Christmas meal today, I’ll tell the story of another weekend’s hike. It’s the one in May when I went to Cobscook Bay State Park in Edmunds for an early season overnight. This time I was the only one in the campground. I hiked several miles of local trails in the Cobscook Trails system of hiking paths. The shoreline scenery proved fantastic. I caught up with some old friends at Washington County Community College at their Downeast Adventure Race and made a weekend of it.
After dessert I’ll tell the story of the most memorable hike of the year, saving the best for last. By now the family’s just being courteous when they listen to my tale of spending four days and three nights in 5 feet of snow. The first week of March I had been invited to go on a trip into Baxter State Park with the Washington County Community College’s Adventure Recreation and Tourism course, led by Scott Fraser. The mileage was huge, more than 30 miles round trip, carrying heavy loads. We climbed Katahdin under perfect winter conditions and everyone, all the students and I, came back safely.
Retelling the stories will bring the hikes into vivid view for me. The family, by now, will have wandered off, to escape hearing one more, but I won’t be done. I’ll tell the last one while some members are putting on coats. It’s the one where my two friends, Don Littlefield and Scott Fisher, and I climbed Cadillac Mountain before dawn on New Year’s Day.
It snowed a foot that night and was still snowing when we set off on the trail by headlamp. We lost the trail three times, but finally reached the top. We spent about 20 minutes on top, greeted the new year, and headed back down. I hope those guys want to go this year. It’s sure to make for great memories.