Thursday, December 12, 2013
By KEN ALLEN
Hiking picks up in a Maine summer, and often the whole family participates, creating lifetime memories that may last decades and maybe more.
When a family stays in shape over generations, a Saturday hike may include children, parents and grandparents. Also, families into good health often have one or two generations that remember walking along trails with the great-grandparents of their kids, so the outing may span four generations.
Most hikers head to public woodlands with blazed trails, but many people like me prefer getting away from crowds. That wish involves bushwhacking cross country across private land, where a summertime hike gets us completely away from humans, and hopefully any signs of them.
Besides avoiding people, blazed trails may not head in the direction that suits me, starting with this consideration. I prefer walking into the wind so animals don't scent my approach. That plan offers possible sightings of everything from deer to grouse to turkeys to moose to foxes to you name it.
Granted, though, hikers accustomed to public woodlands with well-defined trails dislike cross-country rambles. Hikers may feel uncomfortable with that important step of obtaining landowner permission, but those without solid compass and GPS skills have an even greater fear -- getting lost and maybe spending the night under the stars.
It never occurred to me until the mid-1990s that getting lost frightened so many people. Back then, I was single for six years, and hiking dates were common. At the time, on rambling hikes across private land, my companions often popped two common questions -- sometimes several times per hour.
"Ken, are you sure you know where you are?"
"How come you don't have a GPS?"
In those days, I was a registered master Maine guide, and part of the licensing process included expertise with a compass and topographic map, two items that I religiously carried in a daypack.
These days, I have a GPS for my motor vehicle and another for my bicycle. I still don't carry a GPS in the woods, though, just too cheap.
Maine hikers usually walk on a giant compass, because in this state, ridges run north to south. In areas where ridges don't follow this predictable direction, a compass offers peace of mind.
Which reminds me of a quick story highlighting a truth about Maine hiking. A woman once voiced her concern about us getting lost.
"If I dropped dead right now," I said, pointing south, "walk along this ridge top in that direction with the sun shining perpendicular to your left shoulder. Route 105 is 1¼-mile away in that direction."
I grew up in those woods, and the top of steep ridges there offered a direction line that observant hikers can easily follow.
In many places, hikers can stand in one place on these ridge lines and easily view the sharp slopes, dropping on both sides.
My companions worrying about being lost should have insulted me, but I took it in stride with this thought. If my companion worried about us getting lost, then it made sense for me to accommodate them by sticking to hiking areas with blazed trails. And Maine has plenty of these places.
Camden Hills State Park ranks as my favorite destination for straight hiking, an opinion that has withstood the proverbial test of time. Trails in this park often have absolutely magnificent views of Penobscot Bay as well as of mountains and lakes. This park attracts a jillion people but provides 30 miles of trails. I can always find solitude on the less popular paths.
To find the Camden Hills, please check DeLorme's "The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer," Map 14, D-3 and D-4. My favorite trailhead begins off Route 52 at Maiden Head, well-marked on the map.
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