For anyone who has read or seen one of Bangor Daily News reporter Aislinn Sarnacki’s many columns, videos and blog posts about her adventures in the Maine outdoors, it may come as a surprise to learn that she has not always been a fan of hiking.
In fact, it wasn’t until Sarnacki, 30, was in college that she became a hiking enthusiast. After receiving a diagnosis of clinical depression and anorexia nervosa, Sarnacki found that spending time outdoors had huge mental, physical and emotional health benefits for her, and she wanted to share what she had learned with others. It’s not an exaggeration to say that she has succeeded.
“I get a little emotional about it,” she said. “When I meet people who read my column and they say, ‘I’ve been on some of these hikes, and it’s done something good for me,’ it affects me. I think hiking does something good for everybody.”
Since 2011, she’s been doing that in the pages of the BDN, where she is known as “that hiker girl” to readers and has visited and written about nearly 300 trails in the state. Now she is sharing some of her very favorite lesser-known Maine hikes through her second hiking guidebook, “Maine Hikes off the Beaten Path.”
“Recently, I did a guided hike with women [at] Becoming an Outdoors-Woman in Maine. There was an older lady in the group who hadn’t hadn’t been hiking since she was gosh, 17 or so. She was so excited to be in the woods. It’s really nice to see that I can encourage people, and give them the tools they need to get out there and have their own experiences,” Sarnacki said.
The idea for her new book stemmed from a 2015 “Act Out with Aislinn” blog post, entitled “Lesser-known Maine hikes (that are awesome!).” The subject wasn’t just near and dear to her heart — it also struck a chord with her readers.
Maine is a state with scores of beautiful places to hike, but lots of people tend to stick with popular destinations such as Mount Katahdin and the Precipice and Beehive trails at Acadia National Park. In Sarnacki’s second hiking guidebook, she wanted to showcase more of the lesser-known trails that wind up wild mountains, wend along scenic riverbanks and traipse through quiet woods throughout the state. Altogether, she chose 35 hikes, including Rumford Whitecap Mountain in Rumford, the Canal Path in Searsmont, John B. Mountain in Brooksville, Black Mountain Cliffs in Franklin and Orin Falls in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
“This book gave me lots of opportunities to gather my favorite hikes,” she said. “One thing I’ve learned covering this outdoor world in Maine is that not just tourists but locals flock to the same places. They’re popular. But Maine is filled with hiking trails that are beautiful. You don’t have to go to the place that everybody is talking about. And the state is so diverse. You can visit so many different habitats and types of communities. It’s a big, big state, and there’s a lot to explore. This book is just scratching the surface, really.”
To the reader, though, it seems quite comprehensive. In both her new book and her previous guide, “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” published a year ago, she shares the helpful tips she has learned over the years along with detailed information of each trail.
Her descriptions of the hikes start with information about how difficult they are, whether dogs are allowed, how to get there and how to access the trails (hikers also will find the maps and GPS coordinates useful). But it’s her friendly, conversational writing style that keeps readers coming back, letting them feel almost as if they were hiking right along with her, her husband Derek Runnells and her dog, Oreo.
“The first time I hiked John B. Mountain was on a sunny day in early March, and when I woke up that morning, I hadn’t planned on hiking,” Sarnacki writes in the “Personal Note” that follows the description for that hike in Brooksville. “I had originally intended to go cross-country skiing, but my plans abruptly changed when I sat down on the couch to drink my tea. As I sat there in the morning sunlight, my dog, Oreo, jumped up on the couch and thoroughly smothered me with his warm little body. It didn’t take long for me to cave in and start to make new plans, ones that could include Oreo. I simply couldn’t leave him behind. So instead of a ski trip, I chose to snowshoe up the dog-friendly John B. Mountain.”
She also punctuates the pages with vibrant color photos of the trails, the flowers and wildlife she spots and beautiful vistas from the summits. And she really does dig into lesser-known adventures. Some of the hikes she features are located in far-flung corners of the state, such the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge Baring Division in Washington County and Lobster Mountain in Piscataquis County’s remote Lobster Township. But others are hikes that seem almost to be hiding in plain sight, including the Jordan Cliffs Trail in Acadia National Park. The park, especially the portion located on Mount Desert Island, can get crowded in the summer months. But this particular trail does not, she has found, even though it features iron rungs, just as the Precipice and Beehive trails do, as well as dramatic views of Jordan Pond, Seal Harbor and the Cranberry Islands.
“People still love Acadia and I still love writing about it,” Sarnacki said. “I tried to choose a trail that is literally off the beaten path. For Jordan Cliffs Trail, you have to know it’s there. You won’t see it from the road.”
Through her book, she wants more people to know that they can find this and other lesser known hikes, and have a great time while they’re at it.
“I hope the book shows people there are many different options out there for adventures in Maine,” Sarnacki said. “It’s not scary to try and find something that’s off the beaten path, if you have directions and you’re prepared.”
“Maine Hikes off the Beaten Path” is available at bookstores throughout Maine. A book launch party is planned for 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, June 7 at Epic Sports in downtown Bangor.
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