09 July 2015

Forest Roads

Dearest Spouse made an amusing comment recently. “In any other household,” she noted, “I’d be considered the fit one.” Living with Yours Truly, who is admittedly a tad obsessed with tallying miles and refusing to admit that trips around the sun must have some cumulative impact on the rate of that accumulation, and with Dearest Daughter the Younger, who has been touched by more than just a tad of that genealogical influence, she’s got a point. With her daily exercise routine (she’s at the gym far more often then I), healthy lifestyle (I’m not terrible, but she’s far better at avoiding nutritional vices), overall health (while I fret over my cholesterol and blood pressure, doctors can’t find hers), and toned (dare I say svelte?) physique, she’s the envy of anyone. Unfortunately, that stuff doesn’t show up in the newspaper like results from running Boston, so I tend to get the attention while she clearly doesn’t get the credit she deserves. So let it be known publicly, she’s significantly skewing America’s fitness curve in the right direction, and I won’t be a whit jealous to hear you compliment her on it.

I put that out there publicly because she enjoys teasing me publicly about my habits on outings like our annual sojourn to Acadia National Park. “Apparently,” she points out, “he doesn’t think hours of hiking are enough, so he goes running as well.” True that, guilty as charged. I do generally run on the days that we hike, and since I’ve stumbled into another streak, on this year’s trip that meant I’d be running on every day, including every day that we hiked, which was every day, save one.

But in my defense, the same thing that draws us to Acadia to hike and enjoy the forests, mountains, and coastlines of Mount Desert Island also draw me to want to be out absorbing that beauty and the smell of the pine forest as much as possible – and what better way to chalk up more tree time than to run through those forests? So for this year’s trip, I privately set myself a goal that at least part of every day’s run would be off the pavement, either on simple forest roads or the on the park’s rightly vaunted carriage road system. And to my pleasure, I went eight for eight.

From the cozy cottage we rent by the sea, it’s a brief jaunt before pavement even appears, but under my rules, an extended driveway doesn’t count. From there, it’s a minimum two miles to the closest forest road within the park, though to get there even that quickly requires gingerly stepping across the unique stone pedestrian causeway holding back the waters of Norwood Cove. Not that this is a bad thing; indeed, it’s yet another allure of the place, visible from afar yet oddly hard to actually find, hidden down a long dirt residential drive, and popping out on the far end on the back side of some country-club tennis courts, a seemingly private space where public passage is not just accepted but expected. It’s Maine, basically; there are in most cases no pretentions. Midway across the stones is a somewhat-less-than-confidence-inspiring bridge which, depending on when you hit it, crosses the tide rushing madly in or madly out, either of which carrying the force to hurt you, or, at just the right moment mid-tide, serene balance. Zen.

And not too distant on the other side, into the woods! The park forest road to Valley Cove is a mere six tenths of a mile in and the same course back, such a short forest interlude for the time taken to get there and return, but carrying such an overpowering aroma as to put you miles from reality in about one hundred yards. At the end, a brief trail puts you not just on the rocky beach, but on the rocky beach in a cove so isolated as to be almost magical, a place you don’t want to depart on any day, but mostly on our last day, before heading home (with two hikes enroute), a real ‘so long Maine, I’ll miss you’ spot. (Photos are of Valley Cove from across Somes Sound and from above on St. Sauveur Mountain)

So it is for the other reachable forest roads on the west side of the island. A few miles on paved roads to get there, a few miles back, and only a brief interlude in the trees…but worth every step to get there. Lurvey Springs Road is only a mile and a half of bliss on the south side of Beech Mountain, but it’s bliss worthy of the highway run needed to get back into town (though to be fair, it’s a screamingly fun downhill romp of a highway run). The road through Hio Heath gives about two miles of solitude through woods that are frankly so flat and nondescript as to be calming in their own right, letting you forget which way you’re going or how far it is till you’ll pop out in the back of the park campground, surprising the Winnebago crowd on a misty Maine morning. All these made the week’s agenda at least once.

But the jewels of Acadia are its carriage roads, bequeathed from Rockefeller’s oil fortune, a small give-back considering the monopolistic practices he used to build that fortune. Putting politics and ethics aside, they are a delight: light underfoot, enlightening to the senses, and extensive enough to fashion some major mileage. Being on the east side of the island, we can’t reach them on foot from the cottage, but a short drive is a small price to pay to run these gems.

Sunday post-hike found us at Little Long Pond, just feet from the ocean shore, on one of the few sections of the road system I had yet to traverse (I love covering new ground I haven’t seen – new roads, new trails, whatever). Darling Daughter the Younger and I traipsed a four-mile loop heading clockwise around the pond and over Mitchell Hill with a few sublime viewpoints. After lap one, DDY headed off to snap another hundred photos (seriously, averaging two hundred a day, this kid knows how to beat the hell out of a bucket of pixels) while I spun around, dropped the pace to sevens, and cranked a hard lap in the opposite direction. Zen and satisfaction, what a deal.

Tuesday, our one day of no hiking, Maine cold, Maine rainy, Maine raw, so raw as to make me put on gloves in June, we assuaged our dismay at the weather by putting in highly choreographed long run. Departing from the famed Jordan Pond House, DDY headed clockwise on the “Around the Mountain” eleven mile loop, while I pushed the pace heading east to Bubble Pond before joining her route in the opposite direction, providing us with a Moment of Zen (Oh! John Stewart! We will SO miss you!) as we passed each other on the north side of Sargent Mountain where the views would have been sublime…save that Maine weather. Then, with the intent of covering a few more of the few remaining roads I’d yet traversed, I headed south to tie into the route of Sunday’s run, meaning the last of my sixteen miles, intricately planned to finish within two minutes of DDY, ended seriously uphill, agonizing, yet climbing on a new road (for me) through the valley of a rumbling brook so beautiful it was hard to care about the effort.

Thursday, having covered five summits in boots, DDY and I swapped them out for running shoes and set out on a purely tourist circuit on the northern quadrant of the carriage roads, arcing the outer limits of the Witch Hole Pond area. DDY wasn’t quite used to my tourist running mode and was rather surprised by our laissez-faire attitude, stopping for ponds, stopping for turtles, stopping for views, stopping for bridges, stopping for snakes, whatever.

After all, when the forest calls, sometimes you might work hard, but sometimes, you just go with it.

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