Since the movie “A Walk in the Woods” based on the book by Bill Bryson is opening in theaters today, I share my very small, very short experience of walking a portion of the Appalachian Trail (AP).
A wonderful part of my childhood was spent in Maine (age 9 – 12 1/2). Maine is definitely a great place for a kid to grow up. We did a lot of outdoor stuff and the state is so incredibly beautiful. When we lived in Bangor while my Dad was overseas, my Mom took us to Baxter State Park several times. I got to see my first (and to date only) moose, dived for coins in an icy cold mountain stream, had a chipmunk stand on my outstretched hand without it biting me and celebrated my 12th birthday beside a beautiful lake. We took many hikes. One time I remember we found an entrance to the AP. The trail seemed fairly easy and flat for the short distance we were on it. However our hike was cut short by Mom when she realized that due to recent rains, the trail was a muddy mess. I don’t think she was comfortable with driving five muddy kids home.
When my husband found out about my little adventure on the AP, he was envious. He had always dreamed of walking part of it. He pushed for a fall foliage trip to Maine in October 2013. We planned a partial hike of the Hunt Trail to satisfy my husband’s AP requirement. Hiking to the top of Mount Katahdin is not for the weak of spirit or body. After the tree line, the going gets rough, requiring strength, stamina and good climbing skills to get up with the aid of iron rebar embedded in granite. Keep in mind, we were an out of shape couple in our 50’s who live in very flat Florida. In my case, I am also overweight. Our plan was to hike as far as Katahdin Stream falls, approximately 1.2 miles.
We set off early on a chilly Thursday morning (37 degrees F). I had made reservations for parking at Hunt Trail. It is highly recommended to make them online in advance of your trip as the parking lots are first-come, first served and fill up fast during the peak times from late spring (after the end of mud and black fly season) through summer and on weekends in the fall. When we pulled in a little after 7 AM, there were maybe 2 other cars and the lot never filled during the day. If you opt to hike on weekdays after Labor Day, a parking reservation is probably not needed, except at Sandy Pond, which always seems busy.
Tip: Make sure you use the privy before starting your hike or you might find yourself doing what bears do in the woods.
We signed the trail head log. A log at every trail head helps the park rangers can keep track of who is hiking, in case someone comes up missing. Hikers have underestimated how long it may take to hike a trail round trip and have been caught in the dark on the trip down. It’s amusing to read the log as people write funny things including their trail name if they have one.
Hunt Trail starts out gently enough, but not for long. It’s not a hard climb, but there are a lot of rocks and tree roots. The various sized rocks are meant to be used as steps. I highly recommend good quality hike poles to make it easier. I sometimes have pain in my left hip, so I used a cane. The fellow hikers we met or that passed us on the way up were very friendly. Hikers are a convivial bunch. We are all out here enjoying nature and doing what we love. I thought I would be a hindrance to other hikers, but my husband told me later the looks people were giving me were ones of admiration, not the scorn I had imagined. Slow as I was, I felt such a sense of accomplishment.
The layers I had dressed in got peeled off as we progressed up the trail and the warmer it got, comfortably in the 60’s. I gave my camera a workout. This place is a photographer’s feast with the beautiful fall foliage, misshapen tree trunks, lush ferns, fascinatingly shaped fungi, etc. I stopped every few minutes as interesting things caught my eye. I tried to drink it all in, to savor each tiny nuance of the incredible beauty.
I almost didn’t get to the falls. Right before bridge I was met with the obstacle of a huge boulder taller than I was. Now what was I going to do?! There may have been a way around it, but that would mean going off the trail. Just then, another hiker on the way down appeared on top of the boulder and hoisted me up.
Katahdin Stream Falls are not real big, but still pretty. My weary but happy husband rested on the bridge while I took pictures. My husband had propped my cane against a boulder at the entrance to the bridge. As I sat down next to him to rest, my foot caught the cane, sending it hurling down under the bridge! Great! How is this fat old lady supposed to get down there? Sputtering and mad I figured out how to ease myself down on choice rocks to get to the cane. Not bad. I was even able to climb back up without a problem.
We started our descent. You would think walking back down would be easy, but think again. You are now tired and a little bit sore. Thank God for the cane. My stops to take photographs had us taking a while to get down again.
The experience was so worth it. You learn what you can do if you are determined and find the mental as well as physical strength to accomplish it. I am now working on losing weight and getting into shape so I can go on more hiking adventures.