I stopped carrying maps. I still own a collection covering the bulk of high points along the Eastern Seaboard, but I am lending them to a hiker-friendly vacation rental on Mount Desert Island. Pathetically, I have memorized the elevation profile of the AT and its side trails in Maine. When I want to go anywhere else, I can consult my trusty Delorme and apps on my phone.
For full disclosure, I have not been out in the woods much in the last two years. I fell in love with a house, and then a man, and I gave up everything to secure those two important lifelong investments. This summer, I seek to reclaim what comprised my everything that I gave up, or as much of it that I can.
My island house–the house that had been left for dead, the house that needed to hear a radio again and the patter of little feet and have meal after meal cooked in its kitchen, the house that needed to be fussed over–is funding my hiker bum lifestyle. It is surreal. I clean it a couple times a week, mow the lawn, and in return, that house gives me the freedom with my time and the money to pay my bills that I have always wanted.
I still have sporadic commitments, I cannot climb something every day of course, but I slip away as often as I can. I am still a devoted wife in the evenings and weekends, but my daytime is my own and I refuse to spend it inside.
This morning, I debated between Sugarloaf and Bigelow. I have never taken the side trail from the AT to the summit of Sugarloaf, but out of consideration of my Honda Fit, I did not know if I wanted to traverse the hairy Caribou Pond Road. I hopped in the car and drove in the direction of Anson without making a firm decision. Instead of heading to Kingfield, I turned at the Long Falls Dam Road, Bigelow on my mind.
Just as I have relationships with my now two houses, I can talk about Bigelow like the mountain is an old friend. My father loved Bigelow first, and he passed that on to me. We may have attempted the Fire Warden’s Trail as a family when I was still in a stage where I was afraid of heights. However, my first true memory on Avery Peak happened when I was fifteen and my dad and I were traversing from Caratunk to Stratton. I remember having the summit to myself, napping as I waited for my father at the top, and both of us vowing to have our ashes scattered there.
Today was a blue sky day much like that day 17 years ago. No doubt I struggled more today than I did that day, more than any other time that I have ascended the mountain even though my load was light. My hiker legs are a mere memory, and I stopped more frequently than I ever remember. I gave myself permission not to summit if I ran out of water or stamina; I do not force myself to push on death march style any more.
Heading up the Safford Brook Trail and connecting on to the AT southbound, even struggling, I loved every boulder. That section of the Bigelow range is littered with the largest erratic boulders I have seen of all of my hikes in New England. I marvel at them every time. A couple are slanted in such a way it creates a little shelf you could sit under in a rain storm. I remember day-hiking there once, and a northbound thru-hiker was making a second breakfast of ramen and instant mashed potatoes under one of those erratics.
Even though I had given myself permission to turn back, I did indeed summit Avery Peak. I wanted a selfie with the sign, but it appeared to be removed and I settled for a photo shoot with Flagstaff Lake in the background.
Damn, I felt proud of myself. I read an article this spring that has been haunting me. It said we are suppose to be saying to ourselves, “Nice job on your past accomplishments, but what have you done lately?” It made me sit up to read that. I consider myself to have made the most of my almost 32 years on this planet, but who cares what I may have done 10 years ago? I am trying to concern myself the most with today.
Today I did not need a map. Today I felt like an athlete on one of my favorite mountains in the universe. Tonight I will sleep well.