Here's Madelyn Given at the summit of Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine.

Katahdin: Highest Mountain in Maine

My father rarely read to me as a child, but I clearly remember the time he read to me the book Don Fendler, Lost on a Mountain in Maine. The book is about Don Fendler, age 12, who was climbing Mount Katahdin with several members of his family and became separated and lost for 9 days. Remarkably, he found his way out alone and without food.

Imagine a young boy lost on Katahdin, which is contained within Baxter State Park—an area of over 200,000 acres or 320 square miles—and beyond the borders of this park is a vast and remote wilderness. This happened in 1939, and it was a sensational rescue operation. Don Fendler credits his survival to his Boy Scout training.

Fendler was from Rye, New York, but he now lives in Maine. His sister and brother and their families lived in the small town where I grew up, and I knew them quite well.

Baxter State Park was the gift to the people of the State of Maine by one man, Percival P. Baxter: a bachelor, Governor of Maine, and born into a wealthy family. The park is run with strict by-laws that will keep it forever a pristine wilderness unspoiled by mankind. There is a minimum dirt-road system to get to a few designated campsites within the park. It is wilderness hiking at its best. The trails are all rugged and a strenuous climb. Mount Katahdin is 5,267 feet, and with a small pile of rocks added at the top, it is one mile high; here’s a photo of me at the summit, pictured at the top of this blog post.

View of Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. Photo by Madelyn Given.

View of Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. Photo by Madelyn Given.

When I was growing up, Percival P. Baxter’s nephew and family lived in our small town. Their children were my age and involved in some of the same activities, especially Girl Scouts and the community ski club, but Baxter State Park was not among my memories of childhood activities. My family was too busy or not interested in hiking and it was never an option.

My roommate in college often talked about climbing Katahdin, and this was the trigger that set things in motion. I agreed we would do it sometime. Then came marriage and children. When our children were little I took them on various hikes, and by the time the oldest was 8 we decided to hike the rugged Katahdin.

We sent in our permit requests in January for hiking in July. That first time we stayed in a lean-to at Roaring Brook, climbed to Chimney Pond, and stayed there one night in the small bunk house.

This was the beginning of many trips to Katahdin, whether I went with my family, or did annual reunions with my college roommate, her family, and sometimes her young students. Later, in my years of hiking around the world, I would always compare everything to Katahdin. It is my mental gage for level of difficulty, height, and remoteness.

On Katahdin, we looked for moose and were not disappointed. There were certain places we could count on to see a moose. We saw 21 in one day! Moose like to be alone, never in a group, but one at a time; it was special to see 21 in many different places. A moose will come up on you very quietly sometimes, and they are dangerous wild animals.

Moose are large and quite clumsy, but a bull with a full rack is a sight to see. A female is a good mother and very protective of her young. Often I have seen twins hiding in tall grass, staying perfectly still while waiting for their mother to return.

Other wildlife can alos be seen on Katahdin. Once on my way down from a climb on Katahdin, a bear cub followed me for a good distance. I did not run, but neither did I stop, as I knew the mother would not be happy to see me.

At the end of the day of hiking, we would enjoy a campfire dinner, and while staying at Roaring Brook, the sound of the rushing water would lull us to sleep. I had many great adventures on Katahdin, and I remember them all, but the first was very special. Our children were young and thrilled to carry their own packs. We praised them for their accomplishment of a rugged hike.

Our six-year-old daughter had found a heart-shaped rock on the climb up Katahdin, and as we were preparing to go home, she took out this sizable rock from her pack! We all laughed in amazement that she valued it enough to carry it up and then down the mountain. I believe she may still have that rock!

(posted August 25, 2015)

Boarding the plane for my trip home after hiking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Lisbon, Portugal, and Home: Part 2

In fall 2014, after hiking the Camino de Santiago trail, I had a bit of a problem taking my trekking poles on board at the International Airport in Portugal. Now I am ready to depart and head home. After going through security, I was running very late, so I quickly checked the boarding board above the walkway, and my flight said, “Boarding, go to gate.” I started running, but it was a long way to gate 45A. When I got there, people were lined up in the hall, being checked though security again. I was the last person checked and then the boarding began at random. There were no special boarding privileges for first class, handicapped, or families with children—it was all on a first-come, first-served basis.

We boarded buses and were taken out onto the tarmac to board. S.A.T.A Airlines didn’t even have a terminal! We waited on the hot, locked bus, where it was so crowded that many of us were standing. Finally, our bus pulled up to the airbus and we boarded. Some of the passengers were already seated, but when I boarded, chaos ensued.

The handicapped had been allowed to board at the back of the plane at the same time as the other 4 bus loads of passengers boarding from the front. Everything came to a standstill when I was halfway down the aisle. The stewardesses could not help, as they were too far away.

I knew I had to put my teaching experience to work. The woman in front of me had a big suitcase and she was determined to get to her seat. I gently tapped her and said, “Come back.” It took quite a bit of convincing and with me carrying her suitcase to slowly move back the way we had just come. At the same time I told people behind me to all back up we had a problem up ahead. Slowly the word was passed back and everyone moved back.

Then I went on alone and helped a handicapped woman to her seat. I still had my hand up, telling everyone to wait. Then I helped an elderly man carrying a woman’s walker. He was all worked up and did not want to be separated from the woman’s walker—perhaps it belonged to his wife. Finally he sat down, while I put the walker in the aisle. Three more handicapped came down the aisle and sat down.

Finally, the stewardess came down the aisle and took the walker for storage, and another stewardess helped the woman behind me with the large suitcase, and I went to the next to last row in the plane. As I walked down the aisle, the stewardess thanked me, and the passengers who had witnessed the scene all clapped and thanked me. One said, “The airlines should hire you.” By now, I only wanted a safe trip home. It had taken an extra half hour to board this plane.

It was a safe flight to Boston, and except for a crying baby directly behind me, I had no major concerns. When I arrived in Boston, I only needed to pick up my trekking poles in checked baggage. I went to the oversized cargo area and waited and waited. Finally, after there was no sign of my poles, I was told to go to another office. S.A.T.A. had no office but was sharing space with Swiss Air. When I found the office, a sign on the door said, “Closed. Open tomorrow.”

I now had to catch a shuttle bus to Portland, Maine. I followed up by calling the next day, and AAA also called several places, to no avail. My trekking poles and I had parted ways, but I was safely home. I hope my next trekking poles give me as much happiness and as many miles of trails as the last ones!

(posted August 11, 2015)

Azulejos (painted ceramic tiles) in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Lisbon, Portugal, and Home

On my final morning before flying home, I woke up, turned over, and went back to sleep. Sleep seemed more important than touring—a sign it is time to go home. I love to see the sites in foreign countries, learn the culture, and absorb new international trends. For everything to see and do, I leave so much more than I have time to accomplish. There will be another time, and my mind can focus on only so much. Now, after completing my hike of the Camino de Santiago, I am anxious to go home, be with family, and take on needed responsibilities.

I took a final half day of sightseeing in Lisbon. I stopped for an espresso and pasties de belém, a delicious Portuguese pastry. I walked many of the city center streets, enjoying the window displays of elegant shops. I admired the culture of this lovely city, and I enjoyed looking at the azulejos (painted ceramic tiles), which you can see in my photo at the top of this blog post. I returned to my hotel in a grand square of the city, checked out, and took a cab to the airport.

At the international airport, the craziness began. I was taking a SATA flight, an airline that was unfamiliar to the locals—even the management at the grand hotel was unfamiliar with this Portuguese airline. I learned it was bought out as a recent merger and the name had changed. I entered the terminal, which was crowded with travelers, and walked around, trying to get oriented.

I came to long lines for ticketing for Swiss Air, Delta, British Air, and Lufthansa, but no signs for S.A.T.A. International. I kept walking, over in an area of construction, I happened to see several people with luggage going into a back room of the terminal. I decided to check it outand followed them. Back there was this one terminal for S.A.T.A.! There were 14 people in line waiting for the terminal to open.

We waited half an hour before an attendant came. By then, the line for this international flight was very long. Two more attendants came and worked the counter, but the line just kept getting longer. Finally, two more staff joined in behind the counter, and by then I was able to get my boarding pass, and was given the okay to take my trekking poles with my carry-on backpack. The attendant said I was the last person to secure a seat. It was an expensive trip home, but I had no regrets.

I headed through the crowded terminal to security and boarding. Every airport in every country is different. At one point of the terminal, passports were checked. The waiting lines were very long. There was no problem until after I checked through security.

A supervisor spotted my trekking poles and stopped me. He was emphatic, “No!” He took them off my pack and told me to go to a special S.A.T.A. office. I said, “Where?” He walked me a few yards and sent me off with an attendant. He opened several gates, and we kept moving in the opposite direction of all the hundreds of passengers waiting to go through security and on to their boarding gates. He passed me on to another attendant and we continued through the terminal to the small unmarked office in an area I would never have found by myself.

We went to three places before we got to the right place. I was left at the window, and after waiting for a woman and daughter to take care of their lengthy business, I presented my problem of the trekking poles. The office clerk had no idea and went for help. Meanwhile, I was becoming about missing my flight.

I thought about leaving without my poles, but they had been around the world with me to seven continents! They had a lifetime guarantee, had been sent back to the company for new parts, and they had personal meaning. The woman returned and asked for my boarding pass and left again. Now I had to wait! She came back with the supervisor and the supervisor came out in the hall to help me. Together, we walked to the oversize baggage department. She waited with me in line.

I was practically jumping up and down with worry about missing my flight. The attendant wanted to charge me $200.00 for taking the trekking poles on board. Fortunately the supervisor was there and she said, “No.”She was pleasant and a blessing to me. Now my poles were to be picked up in Boston. I thanked the supervisor, hurried off again through the passport line, and then the security check.

Now I was late! The same security supervisor recognized me and told me to take off my boots. I was the only person in sight that was asked to do so. Never before have I been singled out in such a manner, but I passed the security check. Now I hurried to my terminal, hoping there would be no more obstacles. I was anxious to go home.

(posted August 4, 2015)