Pain, Disappointment, Some Perspective

It looks like a beautiful evening up in Piscataquis County, Maine.

The sun will be setting soon, after having the sky to itself all day. The night will be clear and cool (low, 40 degrees). Season and weather would be perfect for camping next to a pond in the forest and mountains, getting rested before a day’s hiking.

Whidden Ponds, Baxter State Park, September 2006

Whidden Ponds, Baxter State Park, September 2006

And that is what I had hoped to be doing this evening. There might even have been time, after the day-long drive from home to Baxter State Park, for a pond-side walk to listen out for loons and spy for moose.

I think it was on Saturday that I finally accepted that the trip would not happen. My big hope for a serviceable left knee – even just temporarily – was a cortisone shot. I had it on Thursday morning, and waited for the miracle. By Saturday morning, I was convinced the doctor must have injected me with his tea by mistake so unchanged were my symptoms.

This morning, when I should have been driving north, I instead called Baxter to cancel my six nights of camping. Now, compared to the pain and sadness that can afflict humans, my missing out on the north woods this year is small potatoes. Unlike some pain, mine probably has a cure. I am off to speak to a surgeon about that tomorrow.

It is a pretty evening in Connecticut too. I am going to limp outside to enjoy the last of it. Maybe I’ll find my wife already out there. We won’t hear a loon, but maybe an owl.

Perspective and compensations, but disappointment nonetheless.

The Great Autumn North Woods

Mt Washington from Mt Webster, decorated with rime, mid-October 2007.

Mt Washington from Mt Webster, decorated with rime, mid-October 2007.

I mentioned in Heading Back to Baxter that I’d visited that state park in 2006. The trip took place at the very end of summer (September 20-22), but it was definitely autumn up there. The following year – mid-October this time – I escaped the office again for a few days and based my hiking out of New Hampshire’s Crawford Notch. I was catching the bug for the Great North Woods in fall.

" ... but woke to a glorious dawn". Zealand Ridge, October 2012.

” … but woke to a glorious dawn”. Zealand Ridge, October 2012.

Work and other matters got in the way for a few years (although I did find time to get Lost in the Adirondacks with my youngest one September). Then, three years ago, I returned to the October White Mountains for a backpack from Crawford Notch to Zealand Ridge and back. I pitched my tent on the ridge in gloom and rain, but woke to a glorious dawn. It was likely on the trek back to the Notch that I decided to make a habit of a short fall adventure up north.

Thoreau Falls Trail, Pemi Wilderness, October 2013.

Thoreau Falls Trail, Pemi Wilderness, October 2013.

Two years ago, I circled and crossed the Pemigewasset Wilderness over the course of four days. Last year, I spent the same amount of time in and around the Wild River Wilderness. Both treks left inerasable and sustaining memories.

Which is why I am very reluctant to let this year’s expedition be scuppered.

Sunrise lights up the White Mountains, October 2014.

Sunrise lights up the White Mountains, October 2014.

The troublesome knee I talked about in my last post is still troublesome, very much so at times. The orthopedist did not offer a quick fix. There are, he thinks, several things wrong at once. He also said that, short of running a marathon or playing a lot of basketball, I cannot do it much further damage. That leaves pain as the limiting factor. Right now it is limiting me to getting around little and slowly. I am hoping that a cortisone shot will change that dramatically, and allow me to enjoy Baxter later in the month, even at the price of restricting myself to its lower, flatter, joint-friendlier parts.

Heading Back to Baxter

Sunset on Katahdin Range from Sandy Stream Pond

Sunset on Katahdin Range from Sandy Stream Pond

I don’t like packing for hiking trips. I don’t care much for putting my gear away afterward either. What I do enjoy is the planning – the reading up on trails and landscape; the thinking ahead about weather, amount of daylight, challenges and risks. I am happily in that phase now.

Last weekend I completed camping reservations for Maine’s Baxter State Park, so, barring force majeure, I will be heading there in late September for a full week of day-hiking.

For anyone unfamiliar with Baxter, it sits bang in the middle of the hump of Maine, the bulge that sticks up into Canada. At 327 square miles, it is larger than Singapore, and one third the size of Rhode Island. It has no paved roads, and no permanent human inhabitants (just, to quote the park’s website, “moose, deer, bear, otter, mink, marten, fisher, weasel, coyote, bobcat, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, woodchucks, snowshoe hare, squirrels, chipmunks, flying squirrels, mice, and voles”).

Stream crossing on the Wassataquoik Stream Trail

Stream crossing on the Wassataquoik Stream Trail

I have been to Baxter twice before, once with two of my daughters long enough ago that they were then seven and five years old. Even the second time – quite fresh in my memory – is now nine years back. Both times I did not stray from the southern half of the park, around the base of Katahdin, the park’s emblematic mountain that is also the terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The photos in this post are from that second trip (the first predated my digital camera).

This time, I will spend three days in the north of Baxter, based at South Branch Pond. The idea is to explore the Traveler Range and the “splendid U-shaped valley running north to south from the Travelers to South Turner” (park website’s words again). The Google Earth image below shows that topography rather nicely – the foreground mountains are Center Ridge and The Traveler, the ponds are South Branch (upper and lower).

Midweek, I will drive south on the Park Tote Road to Katahdin Stream campground, and likely meet A.T. thru-hikers facing the last, steep leg of their hike. I hope to climb Katahdin again too, as well find other trails to explore in the southern half.

More Baxter posts to follow for sure.

The Traveler Range -- Google Earth

The Traveler Range — Google Earth