June 22nd, 2015, I drove off in a black rental Chrysler towards New England. My head rested against the headrest pulsing with that first day road tripping energy. I couldn’t wait to cross the Maryland-Delaware state line; my first state out of the area. Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph” and Wiz Kalifa’s “See You Again” looped as my anthems for the 8 hours ahead. Open roads, clear skies, and a solo female driver full of fantasies. My end point? Bar Harbor, ME; half a mile away from the entrance to Acadia National Park. I had a cabin reserved and a bag filled with hiking clothes sans makeup or hair products. Stripped of my usual beauty and fashion mandates, I saw my bare face and natural untamed waves. My two accessories? A Kelly green cross-body and sky blue sunglasses. With a brand new camera still in its casing, I drove on 95 North.
Two days later, after a stop in Boston and Portland, I checked into my cabin hungry, tired, and excited. The sun was beginning to set on Bar Harbor and the sky mesmerized me. It had been 16 years since I witnessed this sunset over the coast of Maine. I tried to take pictures of it, but none captured the right feeling. So I packed my camera, and lay on the cool grass. A tiny chill spreading up my legs. It was sixty-five degrees a distant cool from the humid ninety degree DC day of departure. My lungs stretched east to west inhaling the sky, the ocean, the ground beneath me. I knew it was going to be an important trip, but at that moment I had no idea that I had it me.
I read about Cadillac Mountain sixteen years ago, when my family drove through Acadia National Park at closing time. It is the first place on the East Coast to see a sunrise, I had read. Since that day, I knew I was going to hike it. In fact, that day I tried to convince my mother and brother to come back the next morning to hike it. It never happened. So now as a grown-up, I was back and I had to do it. Still, I was stirring with insecurities. Would it be bad for my joints? Was I capable of the climbing detailed on the hikers reviewer pages of Trip Advisor? Was I strong enough? Did I have the right shoes?
I told myself no one would know if I didn’t do it and that I could make my final decision in the morning–Friday. Thursday I had chosen to train for the hike by hiking from Jordan Pond to Eagle Lake. It was a much shorter trail and supposedly mostly flat. Upon arrival at Eagle Lake forty-five minutes later, I sat at the edge on a log and gulped down the view. During the forty-five minute trek, there was only two words on my mind: Eagle Lake, Eagle Lake, Eagle Lake. At one point, I crossed paths with a couple of hikers and begged them to tell me how far away I was. One of them laughed, while the other said you’re so close, keep going…about a quarter-mile. I remember saying, “Thank God” as I passed them. Their laughter echoed in the woods–my only human contact since I began the hike. I sat in front of Eagle Lake and thought yeah this was worth it. Grateful that I had made it to my destination, I rested against a tree. That evening, I arrived inside my cabin, tired and sure I could make it up Cadillac Mountain. The Eagle Lake trek had been 3 miles, surely I could do just a couple more the next day. Proud of my training session, I showered and was asleep within minutes of laying in bed. It was still light out mind you.
I woke early to the cold morning temps, the next day. Once more I looked at the spanking new trail map and traced my finger along the path up Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail. After eating a bowl of frosted Wheaties, I got in my car and drove the half mile to the mouth of the trail. My red bag strapped to my back, I stood across from the trail watching a family of four climb up the rocks leading to the trail. The youngest looked about 5 years old. If she could do it, then this 34-year-old could do it for sure. Suddenly confident, thanks to the family ahead of me, I began my climb. The first twenty minutes were stunning. I didn’t know where to look, how long to imprint the view to my memory, or how many pictures to take to capture each point of view and feeling. After my last stop, where I decided I would eat a snack and meditate for a bit because surely I was half way there already, I met an older couple coming back down the trail. The two were from Quebec and were in town on a cruise ship for the day and decided this would be the way to spend it. They asked me to take a photo of them with their cruise ship in the background. I took four just in case. Then the husband insisted on capturing my happy face in the same spot. I asked them how far up I had left to go and here’s when I heard my first red flag. Instead of giving me a distance, the two said in unison: “it’s so worth the view, keep going!” It did what it was intended to do–It motivated me and I became sure I had only a quarter-mile left to hike. Ten minutes after I said goodbye to the Quebec couple, red flag number two dropped like a fifty pound bag of rocks on my back: A teen camp was hiking up the trail and I ran into the stragglers which consisted of one slightly out of shape girl who was silently trying to killing the two over positive camp counselor every time they said, “you can do it” to her. Her countenance sent a waterfall of panic down into my shoes. Above us was at least another mile of climbing atop rocks straight up hill. With no trees to shade our way, the naked sun formed a heat bubble around my body soaking me through. Every step meant pain, thirst, hunger. Then I heard one of the camp counselors, now behind me, say: “let’s just count in rounds of 8, and when we get to 8 we’ll start over.” The calmly furious teen rolled her eyes, but I thought– brilliant. This is what Kimmy Schmidt would do. So I began, One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight; One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight.
I can’t tell you how many eights it took me to reach the top. But I can say that I considered hitching a ride back down numerous times. Even to the point of scoping out the absolute safest person to approach and explain that there was no way I could make it back down to my car and would she find it in her heart to take me down in her air-conditioned car. I also considered sneaking on to the tour bus parked there and riding it back down. Until, I saw that teen girl finally reach the top. A short, but distinct smile had spread across her face. So, after eating my juicy nectarine and tiny granola bar, I trekked back down crossing paths with the campers again. Each camper brought to mind the past school year and stories of the seventh graders who will change into giant little eight graders over the summer.
When I got to my car, I almost kissed it for having wheels and an engine that could take me places so that I didn’t have to spend an ounce of energy. Inside my cool car, I asked myself two questions: Are you glad you did it? and Would you do it again? Before I share my answers, I should recount the calorie input for my day so far: 1 cup of Almond milk; 1 cup of Frosted Wheaties; 1 Quaker oats chocolate chip granola bar; and 1 deliciously ripe nectarine. I had hiked 4.4 miles says the trail map, but really it felt like I’d hike 8 miles. Hungry is a weak word to represent how empty and desperate my stomach was to be filled.
At 2 pm I finally walked into The Thirsty Whale Tavern and ordered the Crab and Avocado BLT. Those who know me well, know me to be a grazer. I don’t normally finish an entire meal on my plate at a restaurant. This time, however, every crumb dove into my belly. With my stomach the size of an 8 pound bowling ball, I realized a truth about myself. If it weren’t for the view that I was after that day, I would have turned around and went back down a long time ago. So was I glad I hiked the North Ridge Trail of Cadillac Mountain? I was glad I got to the top. Would I do it again? That day my answer was a resounding hell no, but now three months later sitting on my large sectional I’d have to say yeah I want to do it again because standing atop a mountain is the closest I can get to feeling completely free of the man-made things that occupy my life; yet, connected to the ground that holds me up.