The Ball and Chain of Routines

Early on a couple Sunday mornings ago my house slipped into blackness as fierce rain and wind downed a tree or two that felled an electrical line in this far corner of town. At least daylight is slowly coming into play here, but the wind is still roaring across the fields and forest and cascades of wind-driven water are assailing the house. An astounding 5.8 inches of rain fell in that deluge, wreaking havoc, floods, and impassable roads.

My last day of work was March 17, 2020. Covid-19 dramatically impacted my ability to do my face-to-face job as a school psychologist. I planned to do another full year before 100% retiring. It’s done now.

So, I’m now leading a simpler life, where the days blur together, and my appointments and meetings are close to none. I use a green felt-tipped pen to cross off the days on the big calendar on the refrigerator. While each day is mostly the same, I still make believe that weekends are different.

On Sundays I engage in a specific routine that involves mountain biking, picking up a Maine Sunday Telegram paper, and buying call half dozen of “everything” bagels at Camden Bagel. I also watch New England Patriots football games in the afternoon, when in season. For decades now, I change into my bicycling gear, including knee and shoulder pads, and head out at 9 AM to join The Bubbas, a band of 30 or so mostly men and some women who ride up and around Ragged or Pleasant mountains, or plunge into the Rockland Bog for a couple of hours of Maine single track.

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Trails currently are super wet and greasy, with the track obscured by layers of sodden foliage that was ripped off the deciduous trees. I can’t afford a bruised knee or worse right now- I have a lot going on.

I’ve been playing catch-up in order to meet my annual hiking and bicycling mileage goals for 2021. Last November, my lower back just stopped working for me. An MRI revealed a cyst lodged below my L7 vertebrae that was impinging nerves that supported walking. Plus there was significant arthritis L4, 5 and 6 due to spinal stenosis that required drilling and grinding or punky bone in oder to release pressure on nerves that went through my lower back into my right hip socket. My surgery was delayed due to Covid-19 until April 9.  I’m overjoyed with the results. I was back on the bike after a month, completely pain free as well as me experiencing significant increase in range of motion in my lower torso.

For the last eight years I have successfully completed any annual distance goals. Right now it’s 2,021 miles, split evenly between hiking and bicycling. While I was able to keep walking slowly through my injury and subsequent recovery, by walking a few miles each day I fell 456 miles behind in my bicycling mileage. Since May, I’ve focused in order to gain back cycling miles the point where I’m now 47 miles ahead of pace on wheels and 40 miles on foot.

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I’m staying out of the Maine woods until high-powered rifle season ends around Thanksgiving weekend. At least there is no hunting on Sundays! During the week, I’m riding back country pavement or gravel. Once December comes, it is likely to start snowing, when I resurrect my winter fat-tire bike and get fully embrace riding in the woods once again.
I have benefited from my annual mileage routine but at times it does feel like a self-imposed ball and chain that’s dragging behind as I head out the door

The post is a reaction to Ryan Holiday’s blog post about the double-edged sword of routines. I’d suggest the reader check that out to fully explore the benefits and drawbacks to the world of routines and goals. I plan to expand this line of inquiry in future blog posts.

I’d welcome any reader comments about how you are managing the struggle to reach goals vs. living in a more spontaneous manner.

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Baxter State Park Clanks Katahdin portal

From The Appalachian Trail Conservancy:

On Wednesday, October 20, Baxter State Park (BSP) announced the seasonal closure of all trails on Katahdin, including the Hunt Trail, which the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) follows 5.1 miles to its northern terminus on Baxter Peak.

“Shin-deep snow has obscured trail markings and freeze-thaw cycles have created vulnerable conditions for alpine plants and potentially unsafe conditions for hikers,” said BSP in a statement published on their website. “These trails will remain closed until the start of the winter season December 1, or later if freeze-thaw cycles continue to render alpine plant communities vulnerable to damage from hiking.”

My I-Ching class starts next Tuesday night

I-Ching: How to Use and Interpret
with Thomas Jamrog
$45 – only 5 seats left
The “I-Ching” or Book of Changes is one of the most influential texts of all time. Tom has been consulting the I-Ching daily for the past three years. He wants to help people deepen their understanding of this 3,000-year-old Chinese text. Tom will teach participants how to construct and interpret their own hexagrams out of 64 possible combinations. Based on the principle that everything changes, the practice teaches us how and when to act.

Students will need to purchase an I-Ching guidebook before class:  Suggestions  are  Carol Anthony’s book “A Guide to the I-Ching”, and Sarah Dening’s “The Everyday I-Ching”.

Oct 26 – Nov 9th, 2021
Tuesday nights for 3 weeks from 6:00 – 7:30 pm

Register

Additional contact info: (207) 236-7800 ext 3274 25 Keelson Drive, Rockport, ME 04856 (get directions)  adulted@fivetowns.net

Penobscot River Trails- First Impressions

Lately, I keep returning to  Maine’s Delorme Gazetteer Map 51. It contains Baxter State Park , Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument,  and portions of the recently completed Great Circle Loop.  Plus, the Penobscot River Trails  system is also on the lower right portion of the map.

I ventured north there recently to ride my mountain bike.  One day one I rode 16 and on Day 2  twenty-one miles.  The level of infrastructure and my experience over two days were both impressive.

According to Downeast Magazine, the trails were established in 2019 by the Butler Family Conservation Fund, which has spent close to 5 million dollars establishing 16 miles of riverfront carriage roads and infrastructure along the East Branch of the Penobscot River.

The focus of the philanthropic trust has established a Visitor’s Center, a Headquarters building that is the base for their Maine Outdoor Education Programs, two warming huts along the Riverside Trail system, and three vault toilets. The facility is open from dawn to dusk 365 days a year.

Sturdy  colored maps are available, as is a huge permanent map displayed at the end of the visitors parking lot. I’d encourage the user to take a photo of the big map if needed. The AllTrails app is helpful as well.

I like the traffic pattern as well, where you ride upstream on the RiverSide Trail and back to parking lot downstream via the Tote Road.

In winter, the trail system is groomed for traditional cross-country skiing, however skate skiing and backcountry skiing are permitted in designated areas. Skate skiing is permitted on the Tote Road as well as any of the link trails. Classic and backcountry ski rentals with boots and poles are available to the public by donation only, at the Visitor’s Center. While all types of bicycles are suitable for three season use, In the winter, fat-tire biking with studded tires is permitted on the Tote Road only. If you need a bike, there are plenty for the public to use, as well as helmets, etc.

The two beautiful and roomy warming huts are accessed via trails.

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Pines and Ridges is located 3.7 miles from the Visitor’s Center on the Riverside Trail, with Long Meadow at trails end, 9 miles from the Visitor’s Center.

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Both huts are equipped with wood stoves, tables and chairs, and impressive views of Katahdin.

The trails are suitable for all activity levels.

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The degree of professional expertise that was employed on creating these trials can be compared to that of Acadia’s Carriage Roads. They are at least 6 feet wide,  smooth, with compacted granite dust and tiny ground rock. While you won’t find any of the astounding rock work found on Acadia’s bridges, no expense was spared in laying out wide transitions to and from the numerous bridges, which will last for decades, as they are composed of painted steel girders, and tasteful guardrails.

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The beauty and diversity along miles of the East Branch uplifted me on one of the most spectacular riding days I’ve remembered in Maine, even if no mountains were climbed.

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Over the winter I plan to return, and in the meantime I plan to read up on the history of the location as well.

Originally, I planned to do this as a quick visit, but after I was thrilled to experience my ride (where I encountered no one), I spent the night in my new pickup camper ( $29) at Pine Grove Campground in Medway ( 5 miles away), then went right back the next day to ride again and explore the loop trails as well.

Penobscot Trails are open daily from sun up to sun down.  On Saturdays and Sundays ski and snowshoe rentals are offered (by donation) at the Visitor’s Center.  No dogs or pets of any kind allowed.

Picnicking is permitted outdoors and in designated warming huts. All food, drink and other waste must be carried out. No camping, fires, or cooking allowed anywhere on PRT lands.

Location
East Branch of the Penobscot River

2540 Grindstone Road

Soldiertown TWP, Maine 04460

Telephone: (207) 746-5807

 Directions:
From Bangor, take 95N to Exit 244, Medway.
Take a left at the top of the exit ramp, continue driving past the Irving Gas Station, and take your next right onto Route 11. 
Take Route 11N for 11.9 Miles, turn left after Haybrook.
PRT Entrance Sign located on left side of the road. 
Follow signs for .5 mile to our Public Parking Lot and Visitor Center location. Please register (sign in/out) at our VC for your daily use.

Five Days of Backpacking Baxter’s Quietest Corner

I returned from a 5-day backpacking trip at Baxter State Park. My trail buddy Ryan made reservations for us, in the most lightly explored area of the 200,000 acre Park-the Scientific Management Area (SMA). It is accessed via the Matagammon Gate- the official northern entrance to Baxter. He had snagged the last available campsites in Baxter, however, I was not disappointed !

Carey Kish devotes three pages to the SMA in the 11th edition of the Maine Mountain Guide. Established in the mid-1950’s, the 29,537 acre area is the only part of the Park where timber harvesting is allowed. Hunting is legal as well. For four days we saw nor heard any evidence of recent harvesting, and encountered only one day hiker and a trail maintainer.

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After leaving the car at the Freezeout Trail trailhead at Trout Brook Farm Campground, we hiked 5.5 miles to our first night’s lean-to at Little East Campsite.

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Neither Ryan or I packed a tent, as we had four different lean-to’s reserved for just the two of us. I packed a mosquito head net in case the bugs were bad at night, but never needed it. I’ve never had much concern with biting insects at Baxter from mid-August on. Today’s campsite was a gem, nestled into a confluence of Webster Brook and Second Lake. Unfortunately the first two days of our adventure were marked by high heat and humidity, however we were able to refresh by swimming/cooling off each afternoon after reaching every one of our campsites. Another plus that assisted us dealing with the heat and humidity was the fact that we encountered only 20 feet of elevation gain over the whole 5.5 miles, as we trekked close to the shores of Second Lake. Before I fell asleep I reacquainted myself with the process of using my Garmin InReach Explorer + unit by sending my wife an evening check-in. I subscribe to a Garmin’s satellite messaging/ rescue service for $13 a month.

Day two was marked by 105 whopping feet of elevation over 10 miles from Little East to Webster Outlet campsites. We had been warned by the Trout Brook Farm ranger that we would encounter numerous blowdowns in the first 5 miles. He estimated 80-100. It was a tough day, with persistent humidity and 115 blowdowns-I counted them. I really don’t like crawling under blowdowns, but am nonplussed at walking around or over them. Ryan had packed his Gomboy pruning saw and cleared numerous smaller obstructions.

One feature of the day was Grand Pitch Falls, cascading toward the East Branch of the Penobscot just a mile after starting out from Little east Campsite.

The Webster Outlet lean-to was large, neat as a pin and inviting, as was the refreshing rinse in Webster Lake.  We needed to rinse off after pushing through, over and around the numerous blowdowns.

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Approaching this trip, I was concerned about the length of our hike on Day 3 – 15.5 miles. I had spinal surgery in early April, and while the operation resulted in zero back pain, I had not yet walked that distance, especially with an overnight kit on my back. Worrying is not a productive activity, as we were able to make our miles by-mid afternoon, backtracking on the Freezeout Trail for the first 2.4 miles then hooking up with the Wadleigh Brook Trail for 13 miles to reach the Frost Pond Campsite via the Frost Pond Trail.  Later, we learned that Trout Brook CG regidtered a low temp of 37 degrees for the night. As I had packed my 40 degree down bag, merino long underwear and socks buffered my comfort. With zero cellular coverage in the SMA, I enjoyed being free of texts, emails, and playing touch-touch with my phone.

Day 3’s weather remained hot and humid. I made good use of the merino sweatband that I received as a gift from Ryan’s father. Today I turned my right ankle, but caught myself from worse damage by quickly planting my hiking pole. My ankle swelled up considerably, and was in the first stages of black and blue when I removed my sock at the end of the day.

Ryan decided to track a side trail connecting to the Tote Road so I walked alone the last 5 miles into the Frost Pond Lean-to. The humidity vanished overnight and the remainder of our trip was cooler and much more enjoyable. I had dehydrated dinners for myself in prep for this trip and enjoyed a tasty, filling pot of Turkey Spaghetti from the book “Lipsmackin’ Backpackin'” by Tim and Christine Conners. Here’s that recipe:

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I treated my ankle after arriving at the lean-to, deploying the RICE procedure, a self-care technique that helps reduce swelling, ease pain, and speed up healing. The RICE method includes the following four steps:
Step 1: Rest– This was limited to the time resting in the lean-to after the hike. We had to keep moving tomorrow, as we are on a reservation schedule.
Step 2: Ice/Inflammation– While ice is a tried-and-true tool for reducing pain and swelling, I don’t include an ice pack in my first aid kit. I did the best I could by cooling my ankle in Webster Brook. I downed 800 milligrams of Ibuprofen, and four hours later took 600, titrating down as time passed and the ankle swelling reduced.
Step 3: Compression– I fashioned a compression wrap with a roll of gauze that was in my first aid kit. I slept with it on. An ankle wrap should be snug but not too tight — if it’s too tight, it’ll interrupt blood flow.
Step 4: Elevation– I had to get the ankle higher than my heart. I was able to lean it up against the wall of the lean-to and later rested it on a pile of extra clothing on top of my empty backpack when I finally went to sleep.

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Frost Pond Campsite

Frost Pond and Little East sites would be excellent choices for day hikes, but even better as campsites accessible from these gently graded trails based out of Trout Brook Farm Campground.

Day Four
Involved driving. First, we had to hike 5.8 miles from Frost pond lean-to back to Trout Brook Farm CG.  Next was a long drive over a couple of hours south over the Park Tote Road down to the Togue pond Gate where we went left on the Roaring Brook Road to the parking area at Avalanche Field.

Our destination was the Martin Pond Campsite, a mere 2.6 miles from our vehicle, making it a 7.6 mile backpacking day for me. My ankle was functional but tender, so I passed up accompanying Ryan on an additional 11.6 miles out and back on the Katahdin Lake and Twin Ponds Trails. Ryan had never been out there. I’ve already explored the Twin Lakes a couple of years ago when staying at Katahdin Lake Wilderness camps.

I enjoyed my time alone at the Martin Ponds Lean-to.

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View of Katahdin from Martin Pond

The view of Katahdin from the edge of the Pond in front of the lean-to is dramatic. You view all of the Helon Taylor Trail including Pamola, which is a mere 5.5 miles as the crow flies. We were close enough that we were able to view a single headlamp moving down from the beginning of Helon Taylor Trail in the dark around 9 pm. Must have been a very long day for some forlorn hiker.

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Morning sunrise

I soaked my ankle, read my book, snacked, and wrote up portions of this report as I basked in solitude in my favorite Park. Ryan eventually dragged himself in, with legs that were scratched and crisscrossed with reddish welts. He told me that he was only easily able to reach the first of the Twin Ponds, because the second, larger pond had become overgrown. I ate a lot of food while I was resting and hydrating.

The morning of Day 5 broke clear and cool. Before we hiked back to the car, we decided to check out the status of the Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps by hiking 1.9 miles on the Martin Ponds Trail past the South Katahdin Lake Campsite. We hugged the shore for a brief distance to the now abandoned Katahdin Lake Wilderness camps.

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I have spent several Columbus Day Weekends there and might have been the last paying guest there a couple of years ago. We were surprised to see that everything looked exactly as it had when I left it. Nothing has been removed from the buildings The cabins are are all locked. We learned that the folks that had been running it only were in operation for the first three of a 15 years lease from Baxter. It’s a tough place to get to, and had been primarily serviced via float plane in summer and snowmobile trails in winter. It is over 100 years old. Sad.

I was very pleased to have been successful in putting my reconstructed back into hiking mode for almost a week, and of reaching 15.5 miles on one of those days.
I  had a great first time in Baxter’s Scientific Management Area and plan to come back again, hopefully after those 115 blowdowns have been cut out of the trails.

I felt like I handled the dark side of doubt well on this adventure. When worries came up about my ankle or the length of a long day backpacking I dispersed them. I was fortunate to have turned my ankle before and knew how to treat it on the trail.

Worries are useless anchors on our souls.  Baxter State Park absorbed all of mine.

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ATC Warns of Surge in COVID Cases Near 100 Mi Wilderness – via The Trek

Yesterday, The Trek just posted a very disturbing piece of news that was also communicated in a Facebook post by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

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Link to The Trek

Link to ATC

Both revealed multiple reports of Covid-19 infections along the AT in Maine , and mentioned both Monson and the 100 Mile Wilderness as areas of particular concern. I backpacked for 5 days in the northern corner of Baxter just two weeks ago where benefits included seeing only two hikers in 4 days and clean lean-tos each night where my hiking pal Ryan and I were the only inhabitants.

The Trek post is correct in reporting that Penobscot County has experienced an uptick of 35% in cases and 85% increase in hospitalizations in the last 14 days. Many AT thru-hikers are converging on the 100 Mile Wilderness, either finishing up their 2,200 mile odyssey as well as other hikers who have bypassed a direct south to north path and have jumped up to Baxter State park to climb Katahdin and then head south to where their northbound progress ended, likely in southern new England. This is a real trajedy. What should be the most enjoyable and remote section of the AT as one nears the end is now a proverbial mine-field of pitfalls.

The Trek’s article notes that Millinocket hospital has been conducting rapid -response testing at Abol Bridge. Phil Pepin has closed his highly-regarded 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures Hostel for the season, as did Lloyd Kelly with his Katahdin Shuttle service.

I’m not sure what I would be doing right now if I were finishing up a thru-hike of the AT, but I sure wouldn’t be hitchhiking to Monson, riding in strangers’ vehicles, sleeping in lean-to’s, sharing food and snacks with my hiker pals.

I really hope that this thing gets turned around before more people succumb to COVID-19. Normally, I am out hiking for a week or so in The Hundred this time of year, enjoying the foliage unfurl, but this year I plan to head out on a more remote route .

Scott Jurek pulls out ….and more

Scott Jurek aborted his latest long distance running/hiking attempt just five days after summitting Katahdin here in Maine.  He was attempting a sub 40 day thru- hike/run southbound of the Appalachian Trail ( AT), after holding the record for a brief time.  

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“Six years after setting the fastest known time (FKT) on the Appalachian Trail, ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek is going after the record again.

Back in 2015, the 47-year-old conquered the roughly 2,190-mile trail, stretching from Georgia to Maine, in 46 days, 8 hours, and 8 minutes. His run, and the attention it received, revived the popularity of long-trail records.

Other ultrarunners quickly followed in his footsteps. Jurek’s record fell three times over the next three years to ultrarunning legend Karl Meltzer, Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy (who completed the trail unsupported), and Belgian dentist Karel Sabbe, who holds the current record of 41 days, 7 hours, and 39 minutes”.- Runner’s World

Jurek is not the only person in the Maine news this past week related to the Appalachian Trail.  There are two other stories of note:

Nimblewill Nomad, the 82-year-old long-distance backpacking legend, whose book, Ten Million Steps, recounts his 4,400 mile continuous thru hike of the east coast of North America, has been backpacking from  Alabama. He hopes to emerge as the oldest thru-hiker of the AT. 

Continue reading “Scott Jurek pulls out ….and more”

82 Year old Man Hiking Full Appalachian Trail Setting Out for Record

I’ve been following the shot at the record for the oldest person to complete the AT. Check out the story and brief video of 82 year old M. J. Eberhart AKA Nimblewill Nomad. He’s just finishing up his last day in Pennsylvania, northbound.

Local News
— Read on www.brctv13.com/news/local-news/27698-82-year-old-man-hiking-full-appalachian-trail-setting-out-for-record