In our almost twenty years of coming to Acadia, we’ve hiked Cadillac twice and its almost-as-high companion, Dorr Mountain, once. It’s been a couple years since the last time we did Cadillac, but we decided to do it again this year.
It’s our “practice” to save one really challenging trek for our last full day. Last year it was a 9-mile carriage trail. Though it had some elevation, it was only a couple hundred feet and spread out. Also, the carriage roads are somewhat paved. Neither of those made it difficult. It was the nine miles that tested our stamina.
I’m not sure why we save the most difficult trails for the end of the trip. Probably because we build up our hiking muscles for ten days and then, on the last day, we see how far we’ve come. Through this whole vacation, Joseph kept calling this hike “the big test” – that is, could we still do it almost 20 years after the first time.
So we got up this morning ready for the challenge. Joseph had some cereal but I got distracted. I didn’t realize later that all I’d eaten was a slice of toast. I later regretted that!
We left the cottage and stopped at the lunch place near the cottage for provisions: the “Grandpa Jack” meatloaf sandwich, coconut water and dessert. We’ve learned over time that, for the long hikes, a mid-way lunch is both motivating and energy-giving. Then we drove to Acadia, got on the Park Loop Road and made our way to the entrance to the trail. It isn’t well-marked, but easy to find because there are always lots of cars parked along the road. We lathered up with sunscreen, grabbed out hiking sticks and started out.
Cadillac Mountain the tallest mountain in Acadia, over 1500 feet. There’s is road that takes sensible people up to the top of the mountain for either sunrises or sunsets. It’s often visited because it has “the nation’s first sunrise” – which is only actually true during the fall and winter. I’ve done that several times, the most striking visit was the year that Joseph and I drove up in a fog, questioning ourselves the whole way up – until, just like in an airplane, we broke through the clouds into perfect weather. We watched the sun rise though those clouds and it was stunningly beautiful!!
There isn’t any other way to describe the hike up Cadillac Mountain except challenging. But we were ready and started out full of enthusiasm and excitement. It’s a rocky path that goes almost straight up. At least the first third of the hike is through bramble and bush, with no good scenery – a fact I was wishing I’d remembered.
When we were about half-way to the summit, we stopped to chat with a woman whose partner we’d already passed; he was struggling. She said someone told her it was another hour to the summit. Another hour??? That couldn’t be because it had already been over an hour and we still had a ways to go. She was thinking about going back. We wished her well and continued onward and upward.
Joseph was wearing his Eagles tee-shirt and it got some attention. One young guy, passing us on his way back and seeing the shirt, joked, “You know, it’s Patriot’s territory up here.” They had a little teasing back and forth and then talked briefly about the upcoming season.
About two-thirds of the way, I was sweating and tired. I started wondering what we were thinking. What was the point of this trip? Aside from the beautiful views (which I could also see by driving up the mountain), it wasn’t even a pretty hike.
About three-quarters of the way up, things started to change. It was cooler at the top and there some gentle breezes and they were so welcome.
Instead of rocks and boulders, we were walking on sheets of rocks. It was easier than the lower part of the trail, but I was huffing and puffing.
The closer to the top I got, the stronger the wind was blowing and the more I wanted it to be over. The wind kicked up and Joseph was having some trouble keeping his Tilley hat on his head.
I wondered, “Would I ever see the summit? “and “How much further??”or “Can I make it to the bathrooms?” And then I noticed some pain that wasn’t coming from my feet. “Was that a jaw pain?” I asked myself, thinking about how doctors say that jaw pain is a sign of heart attack for women. Did I have any aspirin with me?
Then, almost suddenly, everything opened up. I could see for miles all around. I felt a little like Maria von Trapp. OK, I felt like Julie Andrews in the opening scene of Sound of Music. I thought “this is the perfect time to burst into song with a little “the hills are alive…” I didn’t do it – and not because the quality of my singing voice would have annoyed other hikers (and it would have), but because I needed whatever energy I had to get to the top of the mountain. So, instead, I hummed the tune inside my head…and kept going.
A little more hiking and, even with my destination in view, I was ready to make a deal with the devil just to be done.
Finally, there it is was: the big, beautiful summit…and the much needed bathrooms. I’m truthfully not sure which was I was more excited to see.
I quickly decided the mountain would wait. I hit the head and then freshened up a little – though seriously, after a 2 ½ hour hike, how fresh do you think I could have gotten?
Next, finding a fairly private and scenic spot, Joseph and I unpacked our hearty lunch. There’s something wonderful about working that hard, getting to the top of the mountain and enjoying a hearty meatloaf sandwich, a pecan bar and some coconut water while looking at the beautiful Frenchman’s Bay below. We relaxed into the meal and the beauty all around us. It was satisfying to body and soul.
After a little while, Joseph looked at his phone. It was just after 2:30. I wasn’t too interested in taking the same way back. In fact, I checked with a couple tour buses to see if we could buy ourselves a ride down the mountain. We couldn’t. The only way down was the way we came up – on foot.
The trip down wasn’t going to be easier than the way up, but for different reasons. The hike up the mountain required stamina and a lot of breathing. The trip down required the knees of a twenty-year-old. Though I suggested we take the road down (as we’ve done in the past). Joseph didn’t want to do it – he wanted the full Cadillac experience – which he later regretted.
One of the challenges of this hike was the rockiness of it – worse coming down than going up. We had to concentrating on our footing to make sure we didn’t fall, slide or twist something. We were so busy keeping ourselves safe that we couldn’t talk to each other. For me, half the fun of a hike is getting into some nitty gritty conversations about life. Also, once back into the bushes, there isn’t much to look from about half-way down. So not only was the trip down hard, it was boring.
During the two hours it took to get back to our car, I got a little philosophical and “the lessons” started coming to me – mostly in the form of ways to remind myself of why I never want to do this hike again. But the lessons weren’t all about the hike. While on that trek down, and since Joseph and I couldn’t really talk to each other, I started thinking about boundaries.
In my thirties and forties I took on challenges, particularly I business, because that’s how I got from there to here. I wasn’t very discriminating and fun wasn’t a conscious part of the equation. Too many times I agreed to things without question or a lot of practical consideration. When I was younger, I wasted time with myself, or on projects and with other people.
It’s true about experience being a good teacher. My experience was a normal and a part of growth, both personally and in business. But I’m grown now and, while I want to grow more, I want to be smarter about the challenges. You know the saying, “when you know better you do better.”
Just like the Cadillac hike, I want more from the challenges I choose and I want to look for more within the challenges I don’t choose. From now on, I’ll be looking for two “must haves” in my challenges: fun component along the way and a big payoff at the end.
It was nearly 5 o’clock when we got back to the car. I was happy that I did the Cadillac hike…it was a doozie. But I got to see some beautiful scenes – and happy to be looking at more from the comforts of my car!
©AnnmarieKelly2014. All Rights Reserved.
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Every year, for the last 19 years, I trek to Maine. Find out what keeps me returning year after year in The Maine Diaries.