A nearby cabin

Hiking to Katahdin Lake- Baxter’s “Newest” Acquisition

With hushed celebratory internal fanfare, Marcia and I passed through the Togue Pond Gatehouse at Baxter State Park on Columbus Day weekend. We’ve been here many fall weekends before, but this time was unique. This will be our first time at Katahdin Lake.
We brought no printed reservations for our two-night stay at Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps.   I was asked to share my name, and the answer to “How many nights?”,  and was immediately handed a pass to place on my windshield.  We drove up six miles on the dusty Roaring Brook Road , where we parked at the old Avalanche Field group camping site, and prepared to walk 3.3 miles on the Katahdin Lake Trail to get there.
The walk in was magnificent.

Marcia on the puncheon beside the corduroy road

Marcia on the puncheon beside the corduroy road

It looked like peak foliage, with abundant fiery red leaves still thick on the deciduous trees. The beeches are bursting coppery, and yellow luminous.

Beeches show off

Beeches show off

The air is cool, but not cold.  The footpath is relatively flat, with puncheon walkways meandering through the wetter sections. Streams are occasionally sounding in the distance, as is the rustling of the leaves.
The first night, we rented a furnished cabin for $63 ( Friends of Baxter State Park discount).

Purgatory Lodge

Purgatory Lodge

Our second night we splurged and bought into the meal plan, instead of cooking in the cabin. Our place had dry firewood, fresh water, a big cooler with a frozen gallon of water in it (refrigerator), three propane lights, and a gas cook stove.  A wood heat stove, and a rubber tote bin with clean dishes and silverware rounded out the amenities.

The kitchen and wood stove

The kitchen and wood stove

There were four beds inside: two doubles downstairs, and two single beds set up in the loft.


The bedroom and loft

The Camps are private, and are still holding on to a 20 year lease for these 30 acres on the southern shore of Katahdin Lake, the most recent ( 2006) acquisition to the Park in many years.
A brief history of these classic old Maine hunting/fishing cabins are featured in John Neff’s “Katahdin”. The Camps were established in the late 1880s, when they served men who lived in Eastern seaboard cities who wanted to hunt moose, caribou, and bear. The establishment was dealt an economic blow when moose hunting was banned by the 1918 Legislature. For a number of years, the camps were abandoned, but revived again in the mid 1920s. In 1925 a group of businessmen from New York set up a lease on the camp and ran it as a private fishing cub with rights to 12,000 acres surrounding the camp. Then the Depression hit and that venture ended. Around 1921, the Cobbs acquired the lease and after extensive remodeling and improvements, ran it for the next 32 years. The Camp leases were transferred to other individuals in 1965 and then again in 1970.
I was surprised to see the age on this cluster of buildings. They are ancient!   A staff member guided us down a path to Purgatory Lodge, our cabin for the weekend, with the shore of Katahdin Lake not 50 feet off the front porch.  We learned that this was one of the two oldest log cabins, dating back to around 1900. It is still solid, but thoroughly patched, with old pieces of newspaper plugging some of the holes and cracks around the window frames, new tarpaper shingles nailed to places around the sills, and ample use of insulating foam evident both inside and out.
These camps have no electricity, running water, or cell phone coverage.

A nearby cabin

A nearby cabin


Maybe the smallest one?

Staying at these camps in a huge step backward to a time when one left the hustle and bustle of life to get away from it all, with guests arriving by buckboard from the Roaring Brook Road, by pontooned  floatplane, or by walking.
Except for the buckboard and a couple of solar panels on the Lodge’s roof, nothing much has changed.

Katahdin and the Knife Edge Trail

Day 2
Chimney Pond up Cathedral Trail to Baxter Peak–>Knife Edge to Pamola Peak–>Dudley Trail to Chimney Pond
4.0 miles

It’s still a stirring call on that first morning in Baxter when I’ve signed in at the Chimney Pond register and write 7:10 AM on the going-up-to-the-top of Katahin column. If I make it, it will be the 17th time I have summited the 5,267′ mountain.
After Guthook and I checked into the Hiking Register, we headed up the most direct route to the top, the 1.7 mile Cathedral Trail. It’s initially a walk over increasingly large rocks, then a boulder scramble up the middle section. I highly recommend gloves, and leaving your hiking poles at the bottom.
It’s a tough walk that has parts that are definitely rock climbing. There are several times that foresight, picking a good line, and using your arms in pulling yourself up will be required. It’s a trail unlike many others, one that requires real focus and concentration.
” I’m calling this a primal trail,” I shouted out to Guthook as we took turns trading off leading the ascent. Primal in the sense that conscious thinking is not necessary, nor encouraged. Moving up here is best when instinctual- deciding foot placement, silently moving fingertips along the edges of rocks hanging above until a handhold is good enough.

By 9:15 we reached the highest point in Maine at 5,267′ Baxter Peak, where we found just one other person, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who was just completing his 2,200 mile journey. Pics were snapped and then several other thru-hikers started coming up. All their heads snapped around to look at Guthook after he told one of them his trail name. One hiker said that he had found Guthook’s AT Hiker App very useful and accurate, and a couple of his pals chimed in with the affirmative.
But Guthook and I had other tasks to compete up above tree line. First off, Guthook wants to complete his first ever walk over the notorious Knife Edge Trail, a one mile traverse over a region of maximum exposure, where the trail may narrow to just a little point with the inside edges of both feet hugging the granite spine, as you experience a two thousand foot drop on either side of you.

IMG_3406.JPG It is a route that is not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. I assured Guthook that it was a perfect day for the experience, with dry rock, full sun, and no wind.
It took us about an hour and a half to walk, and sometimes crawl along the blue-blazed path. There was a bit of a pile up at the Chimney, the one place on the Knife Edge that I still fret about. I have long legs, and have learned to keep facing the rock, and trust that by lowering myself with both arms on a thin rock handhold and then stretching my lower right leg I can gain the last foothold before the bottom.
We reached the end at Pamola Peak, a superb place to soak up the day’s warming rays, air the socks out, and savor the view of what we’d just experienced.

IMG_3757.JPG It was funny, partly incredible, and astounding to me that not only does Katahdin host that knockout view of the massive cirque from the Chimney side, but it also has this very unique Knife Edge trail radiating east from Baxter Peak.

Not done yet. I head down the ridiculously steep and bolder strewn Leroy Dudley trail back to Chimney Pond. It is so much easier to get down with gloves on.
It’s also useful to be ready, willing, and able to jump. Jump ? Yes, jump. I ended up jumping off drops six times on the way down. It was something that I have been training for in the last few weeks. Proper jumping with both feet coming down underneath you, and cushioning the impact by using your knees as shock absorbers is a much more efficient, and in some cases safer, alternative to skittering down on your butt, or clutching vegetable handholds ( trees and shrubs) and wrenching an arm or an elbow. Brief, light jumping sessions a couple of times a week have been associated with reduced risk for osteoporosis, especially for women.
Guthook was headed down to Roaring Brook and back to assist with his garnering more GPS tracks in the Park.
Back at the campsite, our neighbor had been telling us about the difficult he’s been having with his boots. He just bought a $180 pair of Asolos at LLBean. He finally discovered the source of the irritation that was troubling his Achilles’ tendon. It was a manufacturing defect involving an extra piece of inner fabric that raised a protrusion of exposed stitching. The stitches were rubbing skin to the point that he was hobbling.
He asked me what I though of him cutting that area away. I told him that it the only practical solution that would result in him being able to do what he came here to do- hike to the top and do the Knife Edge. I gave him my sharp Moro knife and he went at it.
IMG_3766.JPG I looked at his work and suggested he remove even more material so that none of the irritated/ inflamed area would hit the inside of the boot. He handed me the boot and the knife and said , “Do it”, so I did. When he put the boot back on his smile got wider and wider.
“We’re up at daybreak and heading to he top in the morning now!”
Four miles felt like 14 on this route today. It was enough for me.

Guthook’s account of the day is here.

Hiking with Transient

I hiked with Transient, another Triple Crowner,  in the Camden Hills State Park today .  Here’s our 10 mile loop:

10 miles in Camden Hills

10 miles in Camden Hills

I had a 23 pound pack on, just for the weight. The weight was 90% rusted towing chain.  I’m putting the finishing touches on preparing for a week of backpacking in Baxter State Park here in Maine in two weeks.

On the way up, I saw something I had never seen before, a woman pushing a regular carriage containing  her baby up the Multipurpose trail.  She let me take their picture: IMG_3347 2

Transient came by for a brief overnight stay on his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  I had maybe 6 encounters with Transient in 2010 in California, Oregon, and Washington while we were both thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  We camped together a couple of times and reached the California/Oregon border at the exact same day and time. The two of us had never hiked together until today. Transient talked non-stop the whole three hours of the walk. I loved it. He talked about people and events that happened on the PCT that I didn’t experience or that I had already erased from my memory.  For example, I did not know that Stick had spent 9 years in prison in California.

I followed Transient’s southbound 2012 Continental Divide Trail Journal.   Transient had a rough time with the June snowpack in Glacier National Park.  His journal persuaded me to hike northbound.

Transient is just one week from returning from a month long solo hike on one of the Caminos, starting in France, and ending at the Atlantic in Spain.  He is right now in total hiker shape, and I had to push myself to keep up with him. He still harbors thru hiker habits. Transient was leaned out enough that his shorts bunched around his waist.  He needed a belt.  I graciously declined Transient’s offer of a half an unrefrigerated egg salad sandwich that he dug out of his pack.

Transient came up with an great idea that I adopted on my own CDT thru-hike.

Transient's gift

Transient’s gift

He had made up a number of “Trail Angel” patches that carried with him and gave to individuals that assisted with rides when he hitchhiked, with rooms offered, and with instances of unexpected grace that came his way when he needed it.  He sent me a few dozen that I also handed out on my own 2013 hike.

Here’s the only photo of Transient and me that I have.

Transient and Me

Transient and Me

It was taken today by a hiker up near the top of Mt. Megunticook at 1400 feet.  It’s the best I could get, given the mottled sunlight and shade.  Transient was irritated that I was taller than he was so I slunk down a bit.  I think it conveys the reality of our lives, that we have blended in with the open trail.

Running 5 Minutes a Day Has Long-Lasting Benefits

Running 5 Minutes a Day Has Long-Lasting Benefits<—from the NY Times

photo from iStock

photo from iStock

I’m a total convert to brisk walking.  In terms of evolution, walking is what got us to where we are today.  For a very interesting summer read, I’d recommend hitting the library and check out  “The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease” by Daniel E. Lieberman. liebermanbook Lieberman writes  that when we eventually stood up some millions of years ago, we could finally use our hands to reach for fruit on trees, and when we became more adept at walking, we were able to pursue living food sources, and in some cases escape larger predators that saw us as their next meal.

Walking, and it’s biomechanical sibling- running, may well be the key to your own personal longevity right now.

How long has it been since you have pushed your body hard, stressing your legs muscles and joints?  I don’t run anymore.  I tried that when I was in my 20’s and ended up with the frayed and torn cartilage being removed from both knees. Big heavy guys like me shouldn’t be training for marathons, or triathlons.

I then took up bicycling and am still at it, and enjoying it more than ever, but I’m fearful of the growing texting-as-you-drive phenomenon and try to stay off the roads and keep to the woods on my bikes. I don’t want to be taken out by a drifting, inattentive, possibly impaired driver.

The NY Times ran this most interesting article this past week, one that I’ve re-read three times to get it right.  It’s about the marked benefit of very brief running, like 5 minutes.  I like the NY Times health/fitness reporting, because the writing is science-based. They are wary of putting out fluff, and they have the people power to fact check most articles they publish.

This is a huge sample. The Times reports:  “..55,137 healthy men and women ages 18 to 100 who had visited a clinic at least 15 years before the start of the study. Of this group, 24 percent identified themselves as runners, although their typical mileage and pace varied widely. The researchers then checked death records for these adults. In the intervening 15 or so years, almost 3,500 had died, many from heart disease.”

On the surface it seems to good to be true, but I think there’s something for sure to be gained from ramping up one’s own activity level.  It’s not nuts.  What this appears to be is a very brief snapshot of Interval Training, or workout intensity bursts.

Five minutes of increased physical activity is definitely going to hurt, but only for a little while.  This could be a very good fitness deal  (Of course, you have to be cleared by your doctor for this level of intensity)!

I’m in!



What’s Your “Fitness Age”? – 2014 version

The first “fitness calculator” I learned about was Dr. Oz’s Real Age.  It became popular several years ago.  Real Age is an online calculator that is based on the results of answering questions about 125 factors related to a person’s overall health, including health, feelings, diet, and fitness ( i.e., How often you eat fish versus red meat to exercise and sleep habits, asthma, smoking, aspirin use, cancer history, parental longevity, and conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.). I took it once but didn’t get too worked up over using it more than once, even though my ” real age” was about 10 years younger than my actual age.

Now there appears to be a much briefer method of determining your relative fitness that is based on just 5 factors.

This 2013 study, from the  Norwegian University of Science and Technology,  reveals a more efficient, low-tech means of precisely assessing how well your body functions physically. It culminated in each of the 5,000 participants in taking a treadmill test assessing peak oxygen intake (VO2 max), or how well the body delivers oxygen to its cells. From the study, “VO2 max has been shown in large-scale studies to closely correlate with significantly augmented life spans, even among the elderly or overweight. In other words, VO2 max can indicate fitness age.”

The real value of this study is it’s apparent ability to establish one’s own VO2 max without the cost and inconvenience of paying for the medical procedure.  The researchers found that  just five measurements — waist circumference; resting heart rate; frequency and intensity of exercise; age; and sex — into an algorithm allowed them to predict a person’s VO2 max with noteworthy accuracy, according to their study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

The researchers have used all of this data to create a free online calculator that allows you to determine your VO2 max without going to a lab. All you need to establish is your waist measurement and your resting heart rate.  You plug these numbers, along with your age, sex and frequency and intensity of exercise, into the calculator, and you’ll learn your fitness age.

From the NYTime article, “The results can be sobering. A 50-year-old man, for instance, who exercises moderately a few times a week, sports a 36-inch waist and a resting heart rate of 75 — not atypical values for healthy middle-aged men — will have a fitness age of 59. Thankfully, unwanted fitness years, unlike the chronological kind, can be erased, Dr. Wisloff says. Exercise more frequently or more intensely. Then replug your numbers and exult as your “age” declines. A youthful fitness age, Dr. Wisloff says, ‘is the single best predictor of current and future health’.”

I have been recording my heart rate on a daily basis for the past two months with an iPhone app called Cardiio .

Cardiio app on iPhone 5s

Cardiio app on iPhone 5s

While there are manual methods that don’t rely on a watch, the program’s charting features give you the ability to aggregate and share data. I  sent the summary results to my doctor, as I am concerned about my occasional heart rate drops into the high 30’s.  While heart rate is one of the five measurements in the Norwegian study that drove my “fitness age” to 38, I want to stick around to enjoy my fitness.

She referred me to a local sport-aware cardiologist for a screening after my own office EKG results were normal.  I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, I’m going to try and drop another inch off my waist line, continue hammering the backpacking and bicycling, and doing my TM twice daily, which I feel has resulted in a decreased resting heart rate after practicing it twice daily for 42 years.

What’s Your ‘Fitness Age’?. <<- click here for full New York Times article.




Amtrak’s Magic Wears Thin

It’s 7:15 pm on the third and hopefully last day of our cross-county Amtrak ride from MA, Montana. I booked this ride for my mom and I last October, after being wowed by the stunning experience in Glacier National Park, the end point of the my thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail.
I had three reasons for booking the trip: one-I visit my son Lincoln and his fiancee Stephanie who live in MT. Next-I wanted my 87 year old mother Isabel to see her grandson and to spend a couple of weeks with her myself, and I also wanted to ride a train across the United States.
I booked an Amtrak “Roomette”.

Isabel settling in to our Roomette

Isabel settling in to our Roomette

It’s a tiny sleeping room for two.  Tiny means 6’8” long and 3’6” wide.  It’s tall enough to stand up, but not when the upper bunk lowers from the ceiling. Two padded seats expand to form a lower bed. It’s just big enough to also fit our small suitcases in there. After two nights of sort-of-sleeping, we are getting used to it.
My mental picture of what this grand train ride would be like is constantly being altered in live time, and is altered by a rapid downgrade.
There are definite positives, like not having to drive or fly and deal with airline hassles.  Our sleeper-car tickets also include automatically prepaying all meals, off the limited but adequate menu. The food is freshly prepared and of good quality. Its cool to order whatever you want and not think of spending any more money.  It’s also highly interesting to view the changing countryside as one moves westward and anticipate encountering the Rockies ahead.

Isabel enjoying the view from the Observation Car

Isabel enjoying the view from the Observation Car

We are meeting and conversing with a wide variety of American passenger, like a retired opera singer and a young black man headed to Chicago for a month’s residency with a dance troupe.
But these freakin’ delays!  Before I left, I received an e-mail from Amtrak warning me that the western half of the trip would have a four to five hour delay, due to a huge amount of freight traffic on this Chicago to Montana portion of the route. The rail out here is shared and owned by the freight companies, who give their trains priority, with Amtrak falling to last-place status.  Translation= numerous times when this Amtrak has to get on a side rail and wait for big long trains to go by-in both directions.
Bottom line-we now 8 hours behind our scheduled departure and it’s only 8 PM.  We were supposed to arrive at East Glacier station at 8:15 PM, where I have a room booked in the Whistling Swan motel.  Only now, we were just told that the earliest we will get to our destination will now be 4:00 AM! By the time we gather our bags and walk to the motel it will be daybreak, and the night will be over.
My crumbling attitude is holding up but I am getting stir crazy after not being able to hike or bike for a couple of days. My mom’s outlook is more realistic and resigned. It’s going to be another long night for us in the roomette on a very narrow mattress that I am harnessed into on one side so that I don’t get pitched off onto the floor. Eric, our concierge, told me that he’d wake us up in time to depart the train in East Glacier, where I’ll pick up my rental car and figure out what roads in Glacier are plowed, and which are still closed.
Most folks think that backpacking , day-in-and day-out, is tiring and stressful.  For me, this is worse.

Seeking Midcoast’s Maine’s Tastiest Fried Clam: Week 1

I kicked off my search by visiting Two iconic Maine restaurants this week:  Moody’s Diner (Waldoboro) and The Lobster Pound/Andy’s Brew Pub (Lincolnville Beach).

Some background: Raised in southeastern Massachusetts, I loved fried clams. I believe that I ingested the best fried clams I have ever eaten at Macray’s, a clam and clam cake shack that was on Route 6 in MA.  Westport’s  Macray’s was launched in 1957 and closed in 1992. I fondly remember those clams as slightly crunchy, nutty tasting, and all under a very light batter.  The place was take-out only, with people standing in line for up to a half hour to eat them. My dad and mom took my brother Roy and me there during the summer, often on the way back from Horseneck Beach. To this day, Roy and I are both in the habit of ordering friend clams on a regular basis at seafood restaurants. Unfortunately I have never yet had a fried clam that have matched my sensory memory of a McCray’s product.

Thankfully,  I’m in Maine now, which also celebrates the fried clam. I’ve dug them, I’ve tried to fry them, and I learned it ain’t easy to do home-made with a clam. This summer I plan to locate a plate of clams that matches  Macray’s.

moodys sign

Moody’s:  The clam roll is $9, with a clam plate for $14.59. It was lunch, and I was going to get the roll, and also potato and cole slaw, but those added $3 to the cost, so I ended up with the plate instead.
Here’s what I got:

Moody's best

Moody’s best

I have been avoiding french fries lately, and opted for the potato salad, which was excellent.  You also get a huge, delicious fresh yeast roll with your clams.  The fourteen clams were only fair-a bit too rubbery, and with a batter coating that was too heavy for my liking.  One aside- Twenty years ago I heard a Moody’s waitress describing the fried clam to a couple of inquiring customers from away. She told them, in a matter-of-fact voice, “Yeahh, the clam got the bellies here, but if they are too big, the cook squeezes them out some so they are not too squishy.”  That same waitress waited on me this week .  Before she finished my order I asked her if they still squeeze out the clam bellies. She told me, “ Nope. They used to, but no more. Too bad.”

l-2Andy’s Brew Pub:  The home-town choice was next, after a few recommendations from locals.  The Lobster Pound has been at the beach since the 1920s, and has re-opened this season in conjunction with Andy’s Brew Pub, featuring Lincolnville’s Andrew’s Brewing products, with a separate pub menu on the Andy’s side.  Fortunately, you can sit in the Brew pub side, order a fresh pint of Andrew’s, and they’ll bring over your Lobster Pound fried clams, as both establishments share the same kitchen.
Here’s the story:

Andrew's brings it on

Andrew’s brings it on

The clam roll is $9 and the plate is $16.  It was dinner time, and Marcia and were graced with being seated at the best little table in the place, right in the corner, facing the stormy, thrashing waters of Penobscot Bay.  I chose cole slaw with mashed potatoes, which were buttery and fresh. I passed on the  hand cut fries.  The 10 clams were lightly battered, and were not as dark as the clams I had at Moody’s. They also tasted better.

Bottom line:  In Week 1, Andy’s trumps Moody’s.

Next up may be Chez Michel, right across the street from the Lobster Pound/Andy’s Brew Pub.  I have had two recommendations to go there.  However, I may well start that assignment back to this Andy’s Pub, specifically along their 35-foot handmade slab bar with a pint of Andy’s English Red Ale (6.5% ABV), a new Andrew’s Brewing ale that’s  not yet available in bottles.  Then I’ll walk to Chez Michel, across Route 1 to put another plate of fried clams to the test.  It’s a tough job, and I blame all of it on Macray’s.

[Disclaimer-I live in Lincolnville, next door to the Andy Hazen family, where I regularly buy beer.]