Birthdays never bothered me until I turned sixty-nine. It was then that I realized my next solemn remembrance would be seventy. By anyone’s definition, seventy is old. Depending upon one’s perspective, it may not be ancient or completely over-the-hill, but seriously old.
Just recently, there was a news announcement about an accident in Hampden. The newscaster reported that an elderly woman had died in a tragic automobile collision but her name was being withheld until the family was notified. No age was given. I instinctively knew that she was younger than I. You guessed it, the poor lady was a youthful 67.
Well, I made it. A couple of weeks ago, I reached the magic seven 0h No! Actually, the miraculous thing was that I’d lived that long. When I was a teenager, my friends used to say that I’d never see 25. Would send a huge blaaaaaaah their way, but I’m not feeling cocky, just lucky in an incongruent way. Like most septuagenarians, I’ve experienced enough near misses to know I’m fortunate to still be taking air. However, old age comes with a price. Not going to whine about my arthritis, well….actually I am. I’m weary of aches and pains. Cards, condolences and especially cash gifts are welcome. Please skip the pithy sarcastic old age jokes.
When I originally visualized my 70th birthday, I planned to spit in the eye of old age by completing a substantial outdoor achievement like running a half marathon in my old combat boots or swimming to Vinalhaven in a speedo. Alas, my plastic knee prohibits running and I couldn’t stand the cold water at Reed’s State Park when I was 15. Doubt that I could handle it in a heavily insulated dry suit now.
Mountain hiking has been an important part of my life for over forty years and fall is mountaineering prime time, so that seemed like a natural fit for the momentous occasion. Climbing something substantial in the White Mountains was my first choice. However, since I was resisting a mysterious senior affliction, I opted for a more moderate trek, Pleasant Mountain.
There were good reasons for selecting Pleasant Mountain. First and foremost, it is an excellent mountain hike with spectacular views. Secondly, it provides an opportunity to shamelessly plug my mountain guidebook, Mountains for Mortals – New England. Featured in Mountains for Mortals, there is a detailed description of the Pleasant Mountain hike, with photographs and important trail information. Twenty-nine additional hikes around New England are recommended including ten more in Maine.
About an hour and a half drive from my home in Topsham, for me Pleasant Mountain is the closest significant mountain hike. Located in the Lakes Region of southwestern Maine, it is also home to Shawnee Peak Ski Resort. At 2,006 feet, it is the highest peak in southern Maine and a prominent landmark. Over the past thirty years, I’ve completed several dozen Pleasant Mountain hikes with scores of friends and family. One particularly memorable frosty adventure was right after the ice storm in 1998. Virtually the entire mountain including all of the trees and brush were enveloped with glistening ice – a truly breathtaking experience.
Pleasant Mountain offers multiple alpine choices. Four trails lead to the summit, providing a variety of options including loop hikes and traverses. The two most scenic trails, Ledges and Southwest Ridge, are my preferences for that reason.
A missing birthday element, I needed other celebrants to constitute a party. Fortunately, I have a fairly wide circle of retired friends that my late amigo Skip Pendleton dubbed AARPYS. Concerned with the prospect of a weepy-eyed old mountaineer wandering alone on his birthday, two of my closest AARPY friends, Brent Elwell and Suzanne Cole, volunteered to accompany me on that somber day.
Meeting at the Denmark Road trailhead in East Fryeburg, we ascended the Southwest Ridge Trail in a hardwood forest for about a half mile to an open ledge with excellent views west. Edging along sometimes precipitous cliffs following cairns for about a mile to a high point on the ridge, we dragged my old bones over the southernmost peak, dropped down to a saddle and then scrambled steeply to the summit. Passing a closed fire tower to an overlook facing northwest, we enjoyed phenomenal panoramic vistas of the Mahoosuc Mountains of western Maine and the Presidentials in New Hampshire.
While lingering at the overlook, Suzanne presented me with a much appreciated gift, a favorite pastry. Gobbling down a crème roll while savoring the views, I was momentarily young again with great friends in a special place.