Hiking Alone

This morning, my family woke up to no power and a dock that had been smashed to pieces. I suppose that’s the way hurricane remnants treat New England – it’s no skin off my nose, really, even though my dad and I spent an entire afternoon putting the docks in. That’s just the way things go sometimes, I guess.

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I have had the rare privilege of a week off this week, particularly cherished because it has been finally summer-hot here in Maine, which would have been unbearable in the city (central air is not common up here) but was undeniably perfect for a trip to the lake. The weather held out until the Katahdin trip I took with my sister and brother-in-law, when the skies opened up as soon as we entered Baxter State Park. It stopped raining long enough for us to set up our tents and eat dinner. It stormed all night, but the morning dawned without further rain and we headed up the Helon Taylor trail towards the famous Knife’s Edge.

As has been my MO recently, I left my camera (phone) in the car and traveled with my senses only. Alice and Andrew happily left me in the dust (a phrase used for its cliche only, considering the fact that everything was wet and the only “dust” was a cloud of particularly carnivorous black flies), and I learned something I had never had the privilege to discover: I love to hike alone.

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I am not a speedy or tremendously athletic person, so I’m either the person in the back who everybody has to wait for or the one in the front causing a pile-up. In telling my siblings to head on up to the Knife’s Edge without me, I found that alone, I could hike as far and as fast as I wanted. I could stop to chat with the people I met on my way down. I could sit in a sunny spot above the treeline and eat my banana and peanut butter at the speed of a torpid sloth. I could stop at the impossibly clear river and wipe the black fly blood from my ears, arms, and legs. I could whip out my tiny notebook and write down the words and phrases that came to me like music from the woods.

In fewer words, I found freedom. The freedom of being as much of a bird nerd as I wanted (I had accidentally and fortuitously brought my field guide up the mountain with me). The freedom of stopping mid trail for no reason to sniff the air and savor the song of the Hermit Thrush. To learn from my eyes and my ears (and my Sibley guide) that it is the white-throated sparrow that calls “Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody.”

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I didn’t do the Knife’s Edge. I barely made it to Pamola peak, and having made it to Baxter peak two years ago, I didn’t feel the need to push myself. As it is, it has been two days and I still can barely walk, but I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. The Maine forest has something to say, and even though I can’t hear it unless I hike like an easily distracted tortoise, I can’t wait for my next adventure.

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5 thoughts on “Hiking Alone

  1. Thank you for taking me with you on this hike through your writing! It was truly a beautiful trip. I’ve never hiked Katahdin before and would love to next time I’m visiting my folks in New England.

  2. JEALOUS!

    But also, not to be a worry-wort or anything, I sincerely hope that if/when you do ever go hiking truly solo, you keep your phone on you. (I always have mine turned off and stowed in an easily-accessible outside pocket of my daypack.) Ideally, pre-programmed with numbers for the local ranger service, etc. I know that you are, in fact, a very careful person and probably would do so anyway, but you know, worry-wort here.

    This public service announcement brought to you by a mild case of hypothermia!

    • That’s actually not something I’d thought of (the preprogramming)…I’ll definitely do that next time. I usually don’t do anything all that big, but one can never be too careful…

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