For the present, the pandemic has changed our world. I feel a sense of helplessness about the predicament. I’m old and supposedly more vulnerable. Totally lacking in healthcare-giving skills, it seems I’m a spectator in the unfolding emergency. I want to be part of the solution not part of the problem. I don’t want to contract the virus but just as important I don’t want to spread it to others. So I’ve resolved to follow the dictates and recommendations of the medical experts and our leaders. I encourage others to do the same.
As the crisis worsens, the cautionary guidelines evolve. So rapidly in fact that by the time this goes to print, they may have transformed substantially. Hiking while maintaining the suitable six foot social distance is presently an acceptable activity. For the time being, the social distancing rules don’t apply to my wife Nancy and me. That’s a good thing because both of us have hearing deficiencies. If we’re forced to stay six feet apart, yelling will be the primary means of communication. That would probably upset the neighbors and there could be serious legal implications.
One of our favorite mountain hikes is Mount Megunticook in the Camden Hills. We first began hiking there when living in Rockland in the seventies. I’ve been returning three or four times a year ever since. Occasionally, Mrs. Chase graces me with her company. Recently, the snow had melted and the forecast was an ideal cool sunny day. We were good to go.
Normally, there is an element of predictability trekking in the Camden Hills. Early spring when trails are muddy is not a popular time to hike. Arriving at Camden Hills State Park Headquarters on Route 1 in Camden, the large parking lot was more than half full, similar to what I would expect on a beautiful fall day. Clearly, we weren’t the only ones planning to practice social distancing in the mountains.
Determined to comply with the separation specifications and hopeful that others were similarly inclined, our trek began smugly walking past the tollgate. One of the few benefits of old age, seniors who are Maine residents get in free. Being more likely to succumb to the coronavirus seems a poor tradeoff.
Proceeding straight up the Campground Road towards Megunticook Trail, we were encouraged to observe that most people were walking up the Mount Battie Road. After passing through a wet muddy section at the beginning, trail conditions improved when higher elevation switchbacks were attained. Turning left onto scenic Adam’s Lookout Trail, its east facing cliffs offered excellent views of Penobscot Bay. Climbing steeply over exposed ledges the narrow path soon connected with Ridge Trail.
The extraordinary benefits of the Mount Megunticook experience begin there. Scrambling precipitously over a continuum of ledges along vertical cliffs, exceptional vistas are a constant before arriving at iconic Ocean Overlook, one of Maine’s most phenomenal locations. Many think the overlook is the top of Megunticook. It’s not. The true summit is eighty feet higher and almost a half mile beyond.
After an extended interlude enjoying the magnificent view, the hilly occasionally icy trek to the top was completed. During the descent, a few hikers increased to crowds. They seemed to explode onto the scene. Most were carefully following distancing guidelines. Apparently, a couple of large groups of young people had not received the ubiquitous memo.
A pet peeve, pardon the intended pun, more than half of the hikers with dogs let them run free. How they can rationalize their choice is mystifying to me. The park is inundated with signs mandating dogs be leashed. They’re posted at the entrance to the parking lot, on the tollgate, at trailheads, on park maps, and various other locations. There are good reasons for the law. Loose dogs endanger wildlife, bother leashed dogs, and are a safety hazard for other hikers.
When we returned to the parking lot, it was full. Park employees were directing newcomers to the overflow parking area. The sheer volume of people increased the need for hikers to adhere to safe distancing recommendations.
The excursion concluded, we were back to the new normal, a repetitive regimen of hand washing, sanitizing, and disinfecting. Wearing masks is probably next. These are challenging times that will require self-discipline and abnormal consideration for others.
Stay safe. Think smart. Be positive.
Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountain for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .