April 24, 2018
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Christmas reflections on a hiking year

By Brad Viles, Special to the News

Tomorrow’s the day I look forward to all year. Christmas Day I’ll join my closest relatives in our traditional celebration. My son, my cousins, their wives and my dearest aunt will exchange a few blessings. Some will be in the form of simple, modest gifts.

The most valuable gift we’ll share, however, will be spending our day together. During a delicious home-cooked meal, we’ll express our gratitude to each other for having made it through another year as a family.

As the day passes we’ll tell stories from last year. My cousins John and Jim surely will tell tales about their week-long spring fishing trip up in northern Maine. Or about their fall hunting trip. The wives, Roberta and Deb, will share their own stories. My grown son, Todd, probably will tell us about his new job. I expect Aunt Mary to tell of the memories she made with her own network of friends.

When it’s my turn, everyone knows my stories will be about hiking. It could be that they just indulge me. It’s probably more out of politeness. Whatever the reason, they’re all courteous enough not to interrupt and allow me to ramble on about some of last year’s adventures.

I plan to start off at the beginning, on New Year’s Day. That’s when I hiked the North Ridge Trail up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia before dawn’s first light. It’s a New Year’s resolution that I’ve kept since the turn of the millennium. If I make it this year, it’ll be the 13th year in a row. Not that I’m superstitious, but 13? It doesn’t give me a good feeling. So maybe I’ll take a pass in 2012.

After that story I’ll go straight to the skiing and snowshoeing miles that I trekked. There were the usual trips to Acadia, all over Mount Desert Island, on the carriage paths. My favorite route takes me a few miles up to Paradise Hill from the Eagle Lake Road trailhead, just outside Bar Harbor.

I’ll tell them about trekking there, or in the Wildlands in Orland, on the Great Pond Mountain Land Trust’s property. Those trips made last winter pass by almost too fast. There were more winter treks, but at the risk of losing their interest too soon, I’ll skip ahead to spring romps.

So I’ll jump right to May and how I maintained my 2.2-mile section of the Appalachian Trail as a volunteer with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. I made three trips there last year, even though it was a light year as far as clearing downed trees.

I’ll try to keep the stories short so I can fit a lot of them in. There are sure to be some about the people I met. Great people. The kind you wish you could spend more time with on the trail. Like the family of a mom and dad with their three girls climbing Katahdin.

They were from Quebec and their young daughters all play hockey. We hiked to the top on a clear July day. The girls conversed in French and not once whined about the difficulty of climbing the Saddle Trail. I met lots of other folks, but time will allow only for so many tales. So I’ll probably leave out my two other hikes to Katahdin’s top last year.

I’ll describe how, like in most years, the miles added up to around 200 or more, as near as I could figure. But the stories will be about much more than just adding up miles. There will be wildlife encounters, like at Sandy Stream Pond in Baxter State Park.

That’s where I watched, for more than an hour, a cow moose and her spring calf. Or how on a rainy day I watched a family of otters playfully swim across Grassy Pond, also in the park. Although I didn’t get photos of the otters, it was an event I couldn’t forget or leave out.

There would be way too many tales to tell, I’ll realize at some point, and not enough time to tell them all. Then I’ll show some photos of views from the mountaintops I hiked to. I’ll point out the scenery from Laurie’s Ledge on Baker Mountain on the Appalachian Mountain Club’s trail network near Gulf Hagas.

The photos from the Turtle Ridge Trail in the southern end of the Nahamakanta district of the Maine Bureau of Public Lands might hold their attention for a little longer. The pictures from the Debsconeag ice caves hopefully will also be an interest-keeper. That was during an August hike. There was still ice at the bottom of the cave, even though the temperature outside was in the 80s.

My story-telling session will be finished by then, and I’ll be done talking. Even though there will be many more to tell, I’ll thank them all for listening and relate what my plans are for next year. The family and I eventually will part company. But not until we exchange well wishes for the coming year.

If you are fortunate enough to join your family on Sunday, be sure to tell them how blessed you’ve been during the past year. I feel really lucky to have my family. Through most of my hikes during the past year, at one point or another, I think of them and how great it would be to have them along.

That’s why it’s so important for me to share those adventures with them at Christmas. Besides, it’s the one day when they have to listen. Even if it’s out of politeness. Merry Christmas to you and yours, and have a happy, hiking New Year.

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