In no way meaning to sound pompous, or arrogant, I have to say that sometimes I amaze myself. Every now and then, I do something that I might not have thought I could do, and I do it well. It is as much a pleasant surprise to me as it is to anyone else.
For instance, after I returned from the Avon Walk, and a short jaunt over to North Conway, NH to catch up with a friend of mine, I drove to Camden Hills State Park, for a little camping and hiking. By myself.
I have camped numerous times with family and friends, and of course have done plenty of hiking alone in Acadia. Camden Hills, though, was a new sort of adventure.
I arrived around 3 in the afternoon, and drove on the auto road to the top of Mount Battie. I took in the panoramic views of Penobscott Bay, Camden village, and the surrounding mountains and hills from the top of a stone tower. Then I came back down the lovely spiral staircase and wandered over to another bare outcropping of rock, searching for more photographic opportunities.
What I did find was a milk snake – the largest snake I’ve seen in Maine or anywhere outside of the Southwest. I heard a rustle by my feet, glanced down, and jumped away before my mind had even really registered what I had seen. From five feet away I looked again, stuffed my leaping heart back into my chest, and whipped out my camera.
Milk snakes aren’t poisonous, and they’re not very aggressive. I had scared the thing more than it had scared me, I imagine. After all, I hadn’t nearly gotten stepped on. It had been sunning on the rock and it wasn’t interested in leaving, now that it knew I wasn’t going to squash it. It just wiggled about a bit, and then lay still, reddish-brown patches helping it blend once again into the rocks. I snapped a couple of pictures and then picked a different route back to the parking lot.
Back down the mountain, I registered at the gate and got a campsite. At my site I looked at my map and prepared for a short hike. I had plenty of daylight left, and felt mildly ambitious, although cautious too, having just given my body a really good workout two days before.
I set out on the Megunticook trail, which climbs steeply up Mount Megunticook. At 1385 feet, it is the highest mainland mountain on the Atlantic coast. I moved sluggishly at first, but once I was warmed up my pace grew stronger and I began to feel really good. In fact, I thought I was moving great until I heard someone puffing up behind me, and was passed by a good looking young man who was running up the mountain. Ah well.
At the Ocean Lookout, I took pictures checked out my options. Naturally, I moved on to the summit of the mountain so that it could get checked off the list, and then changed my mind about my continuing route. Instead of heading down and back to my campsite, I chose to go on. Camden Hills was so pretty, and I didn’t know when I would have the chance to come back. I felt the need to see as much as I could while I was there.
About 6 miles out from my campsite, I did turn around at that point. I still felt really good, but a couple of very steep downhills and some brutal uphills later, I didn’t feel so hot. They’re not messing around at Camden Hills State Park! The trails are rooty and eroded and the mountains are short but steep.
I began to get an ache in my left knee on the downhills, and after a few miles the ache stuck around for uphill climbs and level walking. In my excitement to be exploring a new place, I sort of forgot that I was coming off a 39 mile walk, and I overdid it a little. I tend to learn things the hard way, but after limping up and down a few more hills and few more miles, I think the lesson is learned.
Back at my campsite, I took a couple Advil, and hopped in the car to find the nearest drugstore. I had hiked ten miles, and it was just barely starting to get dark. I found a Haniford and limped inside and made a beeline for the Icy Hot bandages. On my way out I grabbed a can of stew and some tortilla chips.
Back at my campsite once again, a bandage stuck to my knee, and a bundle of wood purchased from the nice old lady at the gate, I felt ready to move on to the next project. Camping!
I started a fire, pleased that all the lessons I had received from Ponce actually worked even when he wasn’t there to supervise. Fire going nicely, I set up my tent and made it cozy, and then got out the little backpacking stove that Ponce had given me, and surveyed it warily.
As with the fire, I had used the stove before under supervision and with step by step instructions. Facing it by myself, knowing I wouldn’t get a hot meal unless I figured out how to use it, was momentarily daunting.
However, I took a breath and assembled it, gave the bottle of white gas some good pumps, and then turned it on. Everything worked exactly as Ponce had said it would, including a couple of fire bursts when I lit it with too much gas hanging around. In the end, with it going out only once, I did manage to get the little stove purring and cooked my can of stew.
It was a warm night, and I needed the fire only for ambiance. I ate beside it, alternatively feeding it and feeding myself until I was full and my bundle of wood was almost gone. Then I watched it burn down until it was nothing but glowing coals, red and orange in the blackness of the night.
I climbed into my tent and lay there listening to trees creaking and mysterious rustling and the sound of cars passing on Route 1.
I woke the next morning to sunlight at 5:30, deliciously warm in my sleeping bag, my knee aching only a very little bit, and rolled over to sleep for a few more hours. By 8 o’clock I couldn’t sleep anymore, and the birds were singing loudly, so I got up. I had to be back on the Island to work later that day, so without much ado I packed and climbed into my car and left.
As I drove away, heading home, I couldn’t stop grinning. Between completing the Avon Walk, and proving to myself that I could camp solo, I felt like a new person. It wasn’t exactly anything I could really describe, and when my coworker asked me that night if I had had any revelations over the course of my adventures, I couldn’t really answer.
Something is different though. I feel as if anything is possible. If I can walk 39 miles – a marathon and a half – and build a fire and get my stove to work, then perhaps I can do anything I set my mind to. Which is of course true, but having the confidence to do it is half the battle. Each time I successfully accomplish something that I thought might be a little too big for me, I realize that I do have the confidence. It’s funny that I always realize that after the fact – but perhaps that’s the revelation I was seeking.
You can’t not do something because it might be too hard. You have to go for it, not hold back, just leap into the adventure. Only then will you discover that you had the strength and the daring and the confidence to do whatever it was all along.