Hello from North Haven!
To commemorate the end of a really great summer, the gardening crew I work for went on a hiking trip. We’re a group of women in our twenties and thirties, brought together by our love of dirt and wearing gardening tools on our belts. Our boss, the incredibly entrepreneurial and talented Christina Vincent, planned the best kind of women’s weekend, full of swimming, hiking, and shopping.
After a relaxing evening in Western Maine, and a good night’s sleep, we drove an hour further west to the Maine/New Hampshire border. We got to the Baldface Circle trailhead at about 8:30, with packs full of snacks and warm outer layers on against the pleasantly brisk air. The sun shone through the leaves, and we crossed the street and headed out on the trail just before nine.
The trail begins by meandering along a creek and swimming hole, and then gradually inclines up North Baldface. I found myself sifting quickly towards the back of the pack. One of my coworkers stayed with me, despite her longer stride, and we chatted amiably. We saw toads, camouflaged against fallen oak leaves, and had a close encounter with a falcon.
After a few hours, the walking trail turned into climbing boulders. I warned my friends that I would be slow, but that I was fine. And that was true – this was hard, but fun. Each rock was an opportunity to strategize and use my muscles. And although I’m a lot shorter than anyone else on the crew, which didn’t help my pace any, I was able to make my way up.
Eventually, we came out on a false summit. We stopped to enjoy the view of Mt. Washington and the Presidential range, and tore into our snack supplies. From there we continued to North Baldface’s true summit, and then down and back up to the top of South Baldface.
We were tired, but happy. The wind was cold and the sun was warm. We encountered other hikers, similarly pleased with the gorgeous day and majestic view. We ate a little more, and then began our descent.
The first seven miles were challenging, but fun. The first half mile of the descent was challenging, but fine. And suddenly, we came upon the scariest half mile of hiking I’ve ever encountered.
As we crested a hill and began to seemingly walk off the edge of the world, our boss looked back. “This next .6 miles – I don’t think you’re going to like it,” she said.
She plowed ahead, two of my coworkers keeping pace with her as they crab-walked, slid, and climbed down exposed ledge. I peered over the edge, cortisol levels peaking and heart pounding. We’d come so far – seven miles – and this was the only way down. I took a few steps, then sat down and scootched the rest of the way to the next rock. One down. Hundreds to go.
My hiking buddy stuck with me, and talked me through each rock. She had rock climbing experience and is a preschool teacher, two skills which I benefited from greatly. This had ceased to be a fun challenge, and had become an anxious experience, something to breathe through.
I was also conscious of the fact that I was part of a group, and people were waiting for me to conquer each step and make progress. It didn’t matter – I couldn’t have moved any faster than I did. We made incremental progress. A short stint of woods walking refreshed me, but then we were back out into an even worse stretch of ledge.
Finally, after over an hour, we reached the rest of the group. My knees, quads and calves ached, and I was beyond grateful for the return of the wooded trail, and for my friend’s willingness to coach me through the scary parts. We put one foot in front of the other, over and over again.
Near the end of the trail, we saw signs for the swimming hole we’d passed on the way in. It was much later than we anticipated – what we’d thought would be a five-hour hike had turned into eight – but darn it, I had just had a near death experience and I wasn’t going to pass up the Emerald Pool. My boss, my hiking buddy and I veered off and down to the water, while our two other friends continued to the truck. My boss climbed up to the top of a cliff and leapt into the clear, green, frigid water, while I waded in. We both got to enjoy the refreshing swim, each in our own way.