Yesterday, August 28, was a clear, sparkling late-summer day in Maine and I decided to seize it by dropping everything and driving up to the Bigelow Range and hiking the “Iron Triangle”– the “Horns” trail up to the Appalachian Trail, the A.T. across the Bigelow ridge to West Peak, and down the Firewarden’s Trail and back to the car. Bigelow is sometimes called Maine’s “Second Mountain,” after Katahdin, and in many ways it’s reminiscent of that monster in its isolation, its ruggedness, and its beauty. It was a good way to note the end of summer, and the dawning of the fall. My son Sean started 8th grade on Thursday, and today, Saturday, I’m off to Colby for the first pre-semester bit of work with student leaders, so summer’s end is not just a theory: it’s here. We take our leave of our summer headquarters, and the lake house, and return to our normal working lives this weekend.
The trail was hard, though, and not only because I’m no longer a young thing. Ten hours for me round trip, and most of that alone. Late in the day i got the willies, hiking alone through the slowly-deepening twilight. Raised my spirits by singing (also in order to scare off any black bears thinking the coast was clear.) So if anybody heard a voice in the woods singing, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” or “The Lakes of Pontchatrain,” or “Arthur McBride and the Recruiting Sergeant,” or “Uncle John’s Band,”… well, now you know. That was me, walking all the way from bright Maine summer and into autumn.
Thought a little bit about Stephen King’s commentary on “how to write a novel”– i.e., “one word at a time,” the response that often draws a laugh, but which is, essentially, how you do it–or anything, really. I’ve thought about that advice a lot this summer as I’ve mined deeper and deeper into the now 700+ pages of Falcon Quinn II. It’s also how you climb a mountain: one step at a time. One foot after the other.
Got home at 8 PM and drank a beer and had hot chipotle mac n cheese with the family. And told them all about my day in the sky.
A few lovely surprises on the trail:
• met up with a family– mom, dad, two kids, and grampa– doing the circuit with a three month old labrador retriever puppy. They lapped me a couple times, and I thought, as I nursed my middle-aged knees: Okay.Fine. I’m slower than a puppy.
• met up with a couple, about 60, painting blazes. Trail names: Old Moose and One Step. I introduced myself by my trail name: Spider.
• on the A.T. a bunch of through-hikers came through at lightening speed– four hearty young men, about 23. One wearing a kilt. They passed me like a vast diesel Mac passing a kid on a tricycle. Met up with them at the summit– they’d started in Georgia on April 4. One of them used the name “Tweak.” I asked, What was the best day on the trail? Without a pause, the four of them said, in unison, “Today.”