Bruce Coffin: A few weeks back, I spent a glorious sun-filled autumn day hiking in the western part of Maine along the Bigelow Mountain Range. The route I’d picked allowed me to cross yet another section of the legendary Appalachian Trail off my list. I’ve been tallying up sections as I complete them, determined to walk every inch of the 282 miles of trail running through the Pine Tree State. While Maine can only lay claim to about twelve percent of the entire trail, it possesses some of the most picturesque and rugged terrain to be found among the thirteen states through which the AT passes.
As always, I try and plan the majority of my fall treks during the height of foliage season, when deciduous trees dress up like starlets at a Hollywood premier and forests resemble an artist’s pallet. Maples are cloaked in breathtaking hues of orange and crimson, while oaks, elms, and birches don magnificent lemony yellows and golds. Warm autumn colors brilliantly juxtaposed with the cooler blue-green shades of pine, hemlock and spruce.
It’s difficult to convey in words the thrill that comes from lacing up a pair of well-worn boots and heading out into the Maine wilderness. Hiking during any season of the year can inspire, but autumn even more so. Dawn arrives, crisp and invigorating. Fallen leaves, coated with frost, blanket the path before me. The sun gradually warms the air as woodland creatures scamper about, and distant foothills morph from lavender into a fiery patchwork under cerulean skies. The scent of balsam, conjuring wonderful holiday memories, overpowers each breath. Roots, crisscrossing the trail, playfully grab at the soles of my boots, a constant reminder that I am merely a visitor here.
Admittedly, hiking is a little harder on my body than it was twenty years ago. I have to work much harder at the local gym to stay in trail shape. Much like life itself, hiking requires perseverance, the ability to forge ahead even when you don’t think you can. Mountains seem infinitely taller in person. A mile on the trail can easily seem like five. Legs feel like rubber, knees ache, and your pulse races. The payoff, of course, comes at the pinnacle of each mountain, where I pause to rest on a stone outcropping or ledge, letting the sun warm my face. I drink in both the cool water from my camelback and the magnificent view. A sprawling unmarred vista reminds me just how great it is to live in the Pine Tree State.
And so, I return every fall, crossing paths with like-minded people of all ages and all walks of life, each of us in pursuit of nature’s gift, a vibrant tapestry of contentment and fulfillment, a recharging of the soul.
Have you hiked any of Maine’s Appalachian Trail? If not, what’s stopping you?