Tag Archives: remembering the past

The summit marker on West Peak, in the Bigelow Range in Maine. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Hiking 4,000 Footers in Maine

Although Maine does not have the highest mountains in the US, there are 14 Maine mountains that are 4,000 feet or higher. I never thought too much about climbing them; I just went hiking to nearby mountains, and over the years I have climbed all but two: Mount Redington, that does not even have a trail, and North Brother, in Baxter State Park. As many times as I have been hiking in Baxter State Park, Katahdin or Russell Pond always seemed the preferred hikes for our family or hiking group.

The first 4,000 footers that I climbed were Sugarloaf and the Bigelow chain, West and Avery Peak. It was many years ago, and I was an 11 year old Girl Scout at a Girl Scout camp in Readfield, Maine. One of the first days at camp, our counselors set us down in front of their tent to discuss badges, and we prepared to earn the Hiking Badge. Every day, rain or shine, we would go on a hike to prepare for our big adventure. We would walk out on dirt country roads until one of the counselors thought we had gone far enough, then turn around and run back. None of the girls that I knew had any experience in hiking and certainly no running or track! On some of the hot, humid days it was quite exhausting, and we all stumbled into camp and headed straight to our cots in our tents to rest. We carried canteens, but while running back there was no stopping for a drink.

After a couple of weeks of practice, we gathered in front of the counselors’ tent to see if we had made the list to go on the big adventure, and they told us what we needed to bring in our packs. The next morning we were loaded into two vans for a long drive to Stratton, a valley between two mountains, both on the Appalachian Trail. Here it had been arranged that we would stay in private camps: these belonged to families and were used as ski lodges back in the 50s, when ski areas were just beginning to be developed. This was free lodging for us, and we cooked group meals together on wood stoves. We did little beyond hike, cook, eat, and sleep.

After an early breakfast at our camps, we hiked Sugarloaf. I remember it was the highest mountain I had ever climbed, and it was a sunny, hot day. It is the second highest mountain in Maine. I don’t remember any complaining, but I think the girls were all tired. The counselors thought it would be a great idea to have us jump into a mountain stream. That was another new experience. The water was rushing down and it was frigid cold. No one wanted to do it. Everyone lined up, and one by one each jumped in on a countdown, and we pulled each other out. We were shaking and our teeth rattled on the way back down. The camps were not heated, but we built up the fires in the wood stoves and all helped to fix dinner.

The next day we were up before dawn, built the fires in the wood stoves, fixed breakfasts, packed day packs with food, and off we went to hike the Bigelow Range. This was much longer hiking day and much harder climbing. We were young girls and it was an adventure. It was 13 miles, as we had a long hike to the base of the range, then up and across the Bigelows from West Peak to Avery Peak, then down and out to the trailhead. No one got sick or was injured. I don’t remember the counselors giving the girls much praise, but we formed our own cheering squad and supported each other.

On that first excursion, I had hiked three of the highest peaks in Maine: Sugarloaf, the second highest mountain in the state; Bigelow West, the seventh highest, and Bigelow Avery, the ninth highest; they were all over 4,000’. I earned my hiking badge that summer, and I gained a great respect for hiking and the effort it takes to achieve goals.

I didn’t hike any high mountains again for a few years, but I skied on the top of the snow fields at Sugarloaf and Saddleback Mountains. It is a beautiful sight on a clear winter day. The views are magnificent and the air pristine and clear.

It is an awesome experience in any season to hike these grand mountains and experience nature at its finest. Now that I have hiked twelve of the fourteen 4,000’ peaks in Maine, my goal is to finish the last two.

(posted October 27, 2015)

Madelyn Given's view from one of the tunnels on the El Camino.

El Camino: Learning Spanish History while Hiking the Trail

The fifth day I was on the trail before 6 am and hiked in total darkness with only my headlamp until 7:10 am. In the early morning I spent a long time walking on a Roman road and thought of what it would have been like here so long ago. The stars were very bright and it was so beautiful and peaceful. It was cool walking but it was September 1st and by mid-day it would be very hot.

I went slow and steady and tried to adjust to the very hot days. Walking was hard on my feet; I developed blisters and made up my mind to cut back on my mileage—no more than 30 kilometers in one day. As I was heading west, I had to stop and turn around to see the sun rise over this beautiful land. Dawn is grand out in the open country!

It was a good hike to Lorca, the first village since I left the albergue, then on to Villatuerta and Estella. In Estella, there were still banners hanging across the streets from the recent Fermin Festival—a tradition dating back many centuries—when they have the running of the bulls down the old narrow streets. The bones of St. Andrew are in one of the local churches. The palace and the government buildings are typical of the grand Spanish style.

In the nearby town of Ayegui, I came to the Fuente del Vino, where there are two fountains, one for agua and the other for vino, supplied by the winemaker Bodegas Irache (established 1891). Since I began the el Camino, this place had been mentioned in conversations: it is the one and only place on the entire trail where you are offered free wine! No one is there to supervise, and when I arrived alone, no one else was there. Soon a few hikers caught up to me and we all toasted each other, “Buen el Camino!” I only wetted my lips; it was still morning and cold water tastes best while hiking. This was wine growing territory and I was walking through vineyards dating back to the twelfth century.

I walked a long track over rolling hills, crossing roads and going over medieval bridges, past farms and farmlands, over streams, past abandoned buildings, and under a high Roman aqueduct. The trail went under roads through tunnels decorated with graffiti, as you can see in the photo at the top of this blog post. I continued on to Azqueta. It was hot by this time of day and all up hill.

I met Kim, from Korea, on the trail and we walked together for the rest of the day. For miles and miles as I walked I could see an ancient fortress sitting at the top of a distant mountain. This was just above the town where I was headed: Villamayor de Monjardin. The castle had been captured from the Moors in the tenth century and Charlemagne had won a battle here.

When we entered Villamayor de Monjardin, Kim and I were so hot and tired that we took the first albergue we saw. It was a new, private, small one and cost a few euros more, but it was a welcome change from the big albergues. At evening Mass, one of the three young priests who I had met hiking on the trail asked me to do a reading. I declined because I was in shorts, as all my other clothes were in the washer or dryer at the albergue!

Carrying everything in a backpack for almost two months means you go light: you take only what you wear (several layers). In most cases it works out. Later that evening Kim and I walked about the town and enjoyed a meal in an outdoor café. Every day was eventful, fun, and a great learning experience.

(posted January 6, 2015)

Although Aunt Doris traveled around the world, she never forgot her Maine home and family.

Visiting My Grandmother: Part Four

Going to my grandmother’s house was special because my grandmother was so loving and my Aunt Flossie was so much fun. It was a happy place. I had another aunt, Doris, who lived in Oregon and came home each summer for two or three months. Ever since she married and went west, she vowed she would come east to help take care of her mother, and she did. She came by car, by train, and by plane over many years—really a long lifetime.  She lived to the age of 96.

Aunt Doris was the oldest of my father’s siblings; he was the youngest and he thought the world of her. Sometimes she and her husband (Uncle Fred) would drive across the country and he would visit for a few weeks before flying to see his family in England. Those times were great because both would take me on day trips when my parents were too busy and I would have them to myself.

Aunt Doris and Uncle Fred had met after college, married, and soon moved to Oregon. They owned a business and many of their associates were international. When they retired in the 1950’s, they took a year and went around the world to visit their many friends. As a young child of rural Maine, I thought this was pretty amazing. As often as possible we would sit on the porch in old rocking chairs, she telling her stories while I listened, as if on a magic carpet ride. She also liked to write and recite poetry.

My grandmother could cook, Aunt Flossie had all the animals to tend, and Aunt Doris would be the organizer. Each time I would come walking through the woods and hurry onto the porch there would be lots of activity. The dog would greet me; the folks all stopped their chores and greeted me. Sometimes rooms were getting a good cleaning, or a new car had been purchased. Sometimes all three were canning vegetables from the garden. They were always busy from dawn to dusk. They were cheerful and never an unkind word was spoken. They were happy, thoughtful people.

It was always sad to see Aunt Doris leave in the fall. During the winter our family would receive letters, a few phone calls, and a big package of holly to share at Christmas time. She always took care of her mother throughout the year. The support was very noticeable.

Aunt Doris loved her roots of Maine. After I graduated from college I went to visit them in Oregon. They had a lovely home and were a happy couple, but in her heart she never forgot how she cared about her family and childhood home back in Maine. These three women made a difference in my life. I was blessed to know them.

-August 5, 2014