Miles to go before we sleep...Sugarloaf, Spaulding and Abraham
Submitted by Nancy
Mountains: Sugarloaf (4,250), Spaulding (4,010) & Abraham (4,050)
Date: June 21, 2008
Time: 12 hours
Weather: Partly sunny, temperature in the 70s, a threat of rain for moments on Abraham
Elevation Gain: 4,331
Trails: Up the ski slopes of Sugarloaf to the Appalachian Trail to Mt. Abraham Side Trail and back
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
"I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply all my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy."
Hiking is a metaphor for my life. Every hike holds an opportunity to see myself more clearly. As I look back over the past two years, I realize I am different - in how I hike and how I live. I am changing.
Our plans call for two mountains. We arrive in Maine, and talk with Sue, the Stratton Motel manager, who tells us it is possible to add Mt. Abraham to our hike. She also tells us they have had eight inches of rain and the Carrabassett River is running pretty high and the water crossing on the Appalachian Trail (AT) up to Sugarloaf might be tough.
We regroup. We decide to add Abraham to the plan, which means we'll need one less trip to Maine to finish the New England 4,000-footer list. We are climbing Sugarloaf, Spaulding and Abraham, three 4,000-footers, in a little over 15 miles. We decide to climb up the ski trails of Sugarloaf to avoid crossing the Carrabassett River.
The next morning, after breakfast at the Stratton Diner, we are at the condos alongside Sugarloaf ski trails by 8:30 and up we go.
The second we hit the ski trail we are immediately inundated by black flies swarming around us. Oh my goodness. I drop my backpack and immediately start slathering myself with bug dope, batting away the bugs and swearing loudly. Pat was smart enough to do this ahead of time. I'm sure I look pretty funny, and I can't help but laugh at myself.
Within minutes of setting foot on the trail, we are both sucking pretty hefty wind climbing the steep slopes that afford skiers a thrill when they are going the opposite way on snow. The view of the surrounding Bigelow Range is beautiful and gets more and more dramatic as we gain altitude. We can see the tower on the summit and we keep climbing straight up. We arrive on top of Sugarloaf, the second highest mountain in Maine, at 10:30 and take a few pictures before continuing along the Sugarloaf spur trail to the AT.
The hike from Sugarloaf to Spaulding is a bit over two miles. About halfway there we get a view of Spaulding looming in front of us. It blows me away. The mountain looks massive. I gasp inside, which is my usual reaction, a habit.
"Oh my god - it looks like we haven't even started to climb!" I whine. But then I remember what I have learned over the past two years of hiking - it ALWAYS looks worse than it is. Always. And then I notice a difference in me. I used to let the massive mountain ahead of me eat away at my belief in myself and I would spend the next hiking hours dreading the up even while I was doing it. But this time, I don't let what I am looking at zap my positive energy. I feel the calm inside of knowing it looks worse than it is and I can make it -- easily. And I do.
That is the first difference I notice on this hike. But more are to come. Pat and I are less talkative today. We are often processing something deep in our own lives and sharing that experience, but today we are quiet. I find myself just here, noticing the plants, the beauty of the trail, the flowers lining my way, the moose droppings, the woods, and my body as it works. My mind wanders every once in a while, but then comes back to what is around me, like a meditation. It feels like I have let go of all perceived personal problems and stories and I am just here hiking in the moment. You know, I hear lots of talk and read articles about living in the moment, and it all sounds good. But I realize there are no words that could describe the power or feeling of the actual experience of being in the moment.
We reach the top of Spaulding at 12:21 p.m. and have lunch. We talk with a couple who are doing almost the same hike we are, Tricia and Pete. They seem very nice and it is good to know there are others on our journey today. We don't stay long on Spaulding -- we have miles to go before we sleep.
From Spaulding it is almost 4 miles to Mt. Abraham. And even though I know the distance, I don't let it into my worry zone. I know it and I just keep walking. I feel energetic, strong, peaceful, complete. In the past, on a long hike, I would be psyching myself up for the long haul and cheering myself on internally. Today I am tranquil inside, and don't seem to need anything. We arrive at tree line and meet Pete and Tricia again who have just summited Abraham and are heading down, saying they are a bit nervous about rain. I give them a joyful high-five for bagging three 4,000-footers in one day before we head our separate ways. Although it looks like it is going to pour at any moment, by the time we get to the top of Abraham, the sun is out and the views are spectacular. With our hiking boots standing on the summit of Abraham we have climbed 102 mountains in a little over 2 years, 63 of the 67 NE 4,000 footers and 77 of the 100 highest mountains in New England. Whoooo hooooo!
From where we are standing we can trace our upcoming seven-mile journey back down Abraham, along the ridge, up over Spaulding summit and down, more ridge, then up to the towers on top of Sugarloaf, which mark where we will head down the ski slopes to our car. It looks very, very, very far away. But somehow, although I definitely register the distance, it doesn't get to me. It doesn't fester into doubt. It doesn't degrade into worry and angst about whether we will make it. We talk about the fact that we probably won't get back in time for dinner at the diner that closes at 8:30. And, even though this is the summer solstice, we are glad we have our headlamps, because we just might need them. That's it. We head back, smiling, still full of energy and strength and calm and quiet.
Maybe this is my new way of being and I am seeing it clearly today, hiking. In my daily life, I used to spend my time processing issues involving my past, worrying about all kinds of minor and major stuff, and stressing about whatever is coming up next. I think much of my life has been filled with all that worry, angst, stress and drama, day after day. It gave me something to do, something to focus on. I guess all that rigmarole gave me purpose. That is what I needed then. But now I am living differently. Over the past two years, it seems that gradually, almost imperceptibly, I have been letting go, bit by bit. I hold onto less. I am living my life more like I am hiking today in the mountains.
But I am left with a persistent, unrelenting question. If I don't have my past to define me and my worry and stress to guide me and my stories and drama to provide purpose in my life - what is left? This question makes me feel so empty. I am raw and vulnerable in my emptiness. It feels heart wrenching to me, to want something so badly and not know how to find it. I don't know how to re-fill myself or with what.
Yet I don't feel the emptiness as keenly when I am hiking in the mountains. I am filled with the moment. I want to feel every day the way I feel hiking on Saturdays.
I want to feel as triumphant in life as I do on the summit of every mountain. I want to feel as empowered everyday as I do when I see a massive mountain rising before me and I know I can reach the top. I want to feel as joyful in my daily life as I do when I am giving a fellow hiker a summit high-five or a standing ovation. I want to feel as graced in my daily life as I do when I am walking along a trail surrounded by blue sky, warm sun, soft breezes, birch trees and bright green ferns. I want to feel awe at home the way I do when I see alpine wild flowers. I want to feel as strong every day as I do when I make it up and down 3 mountains in 12 hours. And I want to feel that beautiful exhaustion of finishing a 15-mile hike after my daily workouts. I want to feel as fulfilled by what I am doing every day as I do when I check off another mountain on the hiking list. I want to live as intensely as I hike. But even that is not enough...
Over the next seven miles of trail Pat and I retrace our steps down Abraham, over Spaulding and back up Sugarloaf. Heading over the ridge, we pass some through-hikers on the AT who started at Katahdin in early June. Wow - and I think I have far to go! I give them a way-to-go-whoooo-hoooo before continuing on. It is not until we summit Sugarloaf and start down the ski trails that I feel the effects of the hike. About mid-way down the slopes, as we debate which trail to take to make sure we don't miss our car, I realize that I am finally physically done. With relief, we see the condos and Pat's peak-bagger-mobile. It's 9:05 - 12 hours after we started.
I take a very deep breath as I slip off my pack. Another as I take my weight off my feet and sit down on the front seat of the car. And then a satisfied sigh as I take the first sip of my cold Snapple. I can feel my body still working internally, but I am done! Ahhhhh...There is no better feeling.
This hike magnifies the blessing of living in the beauty of the moment and accentuates my desperate yearning for more meaning. Don't get me wrong. I have led a very meaningful life. I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful daughters. I've had many rewarding professional and personal experiences. I am blessed to be hiking with Pat. I am incredibly lucky. It's just that I want more. I don't want to look at my past and say I'm done. I want to shine my light even brighter today and then tomorrow and the next day -- and I am not sure how to do that. This is not a new revelation for me, but the more I let go, the bigger and deeper the ache for purpose.
What do I really want? I want to change the world. I'm not saying I can. I'm just saying I want to. I am hungry to contribute to a greater good, to make a real difference. I want to know my life matters today and tomorrow. I want to express myself and use my gifts in a way that inspires others. I want to know in my heart that the world is a better place for my having been here.
I have not have found the answers I am searching for...but I know I am on the trail.
63 out of 67 NE 4,000-Footers