Lessons From a Hike in Maine

When I get stressed out or anxious, I know it’s time to get lost in nature. Spending time rafting, river boarding, or romping around the woods does the trick to give my mind and body a reset. My stress was getting to me last week and I needed a nice solo hike to jump back on the positive vibe train. I decided to go to Tumbledown Mountain to hike a 5.6 mile loop trail that I checked out on AllTrails.

To get to the trailhead, I drove five miles of foliage-filled gravel road with nothing but blue skies above me. It was the quintessential Maine autumn day. I parked at the first trailhead, knowing that starting the hike with a mile or so along the road would be much better than ending the day that way.

I walked along the road and got to the second trailhead where no cars were parked. YES! An empty trailhead on an autumn Saturday in Maine is practically unheard of and exactly what I needed after four months of city life! I was stoked and got a move on up the leaf-laden trail.

I made it a ways up, soaking in the beautiful fall scene of granite boulders and orange leaves. I started up this steep section with a clear trail that required hand over hand climbing using roots and rocks to get up. I made it to the top of that section, looked up, and saw that it was even steeper above me, with fewer spots to grip and stuff my toes.

The thoughts in my head were something along these lines…

Maybe I hadn’t seen a marker for a while? I should probably check the AllTrails map. Man, I wish they had real maps at the trailhead. Well, a real map doesn’t do you any good without a compass… I should stop at L.L.Bean and pick up a compass!

I looked at the AllTrails map and according to my location, I was about a hundred feet east of the trail. Oh, shit. I tried to find a safe spot to traverse over but there was a rock face in between where I was and where I wanted to go.

Up or down? Up looked exciting and based on the map, the end of the steep section was so close. Down looked to be pretty slippery and not inviting… plus, if I went all the way up, then I could come back down, right? I decided to go up. I was convinced that I could make it and that it wasn’t that far or that much steeper than what I had already been up.

The climb to this point wasn’t exactly something I wanted to be doing alone, but I thought it was about time for me to push my boundaries a bit. Like I said, it had been a while since Mother Nature kicked my ass. Unfortunately, I reached a point where I couldn’t go any further, just a short 20 feet from the top. The few and far between handholds became further and farther between on a sharper incline.

Uh-oh. I had kept going up the pitch to this point because I had in my mind that I had already gone so far, why would I turn back now? Shouldn’t I just keep going and not lose all of my progress?! But that wasn’t the right attitude to have…

I didn’t see any cars at the trailhead, I hadn’t seen anyone all day, I was climbing something pretty difficult, and if anything happened, I would have been in serious trouble. The likelihood of that happening may have been low, but the consequences were huge. It all came down to my assessment of risk, the likelihood of something happening multiplied by consequences of it.

I sat there for a little while and checked for cell phone service. Maybe I should call for help just so that if anything happens, at least someone knows where I am? No service. I blew the whistle on my Osprey pack. No response.

I used every single muscle in my body to get back down to the trail. When I finally found a blue trail marker, I gave myself a pat on the back and started going up again, regaining the elevation I had just lost in my side-adventure.

For the rest of my hike, I thought about some of the lessons that Mother Nature has taught me through the years. First, we all need to pay better attention to where we are in the moment. Yes, planning is useful but we need to think more about the train ride than the train station. Secondly, be patient. Give people and situations time to adapt and ENJOY that time. Thirdly, ask for help when you need it, even if you’re asking it of yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for a helping hand, an encouraging word, or for someone to just be there for you to laugh or to pick up the pieces. If nobody can help, buck up and rescue yourself! Find the encouraging word and outer strength to get you through.

Everyone goes through sticky, challenging situations and I have always found that my greatest moments of growth have grown out of those same situations.

I drank a beer and ate a sandwich at the top of the mountain, meditated for a moment and then sent an om to the north, south, east, and west. I walked down the mountain smiling, checking out each brook and bright red tree along my way. When I reached Duke, the only car left in the parking lot, I took of my boots, smiled and laughed and was so grateful for that little mishap.

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