Coming back to school this year, my mantra became that nettling phrase, simultaneously so thrilling yet so annoying, get involved. As students on campus, we can all attest to the ubiquitous feeling that there is something going on, some club to be joined, some social gathering to be attended. If you’re not involved in one club sport, plus intramurals, a service club, an academic club, and hey, while we’re at it, throw in work-study at student services, you feel like you’re in the minority. To be honest, you probably are. Well, perhaps the aforementioned five different extra-curriculars is a slight hyperbole, but the principle remains the same.
To reiterate, I knew I needed to get involved and meet new people. Determined, I spontaneously signed up for the Outdoor Adventures Mount Katahdin hike on a whim, as a “Happy Birthday to Me!” I didn’t know anyone going on this trip, nor did I want to. Quite frankly, I wanted a group of random people I had never spoken to before that would in theory, become a group of close friends. Cue the introduction to our lovely cast: We have “Mom” ー geology major and chef extraordinaire (shout out to the quesadillas seasoned with some nice Maine pebbles, the best–tasting ones around), “Dad” ー the most Boston-Patriotic Californian I have ever met, who, as all Dads do, possessed the intrinsic ability to expertly pack a giant SUV ー and then the kids, all six of us, eight total in our dysfunctional hiking family.
The trip began with some quality time squished like sardines into said SUV, cruising up the 95. To those of you, my fellow New Englanders, I will still snicker every time someone calls it the 95. Regional dialects are amusing in a car where more than half of the population is from the Boston area, but the ones driving and reading directions are from the Midwest. After a pit-stop at Target for some bug spray, we arrived at our campsite, pitched the tents, made dinner and slept.
The next morning, it was back on the road. Serenaded by what was termed the “Drunk White Dad at a Party” Spotify playlist, we reached Baxter State Park, the setting for this article. An unexpected visit by Ranger Joe, our new ranger friend, resulted in a gentle scolding over tent etiquette and some words of wisdom. He cautioned us about the impending doom of thunder clouds rolling in over the night and continuing the following morning while we would be attempting to summit Mount Katahdin. Naturally, being the determined, stubborn college kids that we are, we knew better than the park rangers (who have only made their living getting to know the Maine wilderness), made backup plans for the backup plans, and decided to continue with our original mission of climbing the mountain regardless.
Sunday morning ushered in the climax of our backpacking trip, the ultimate goal of summiting the resplendent Mount Katahdin. As far as early wakeups go, we were off to a great start. Park Ranger Joe was wrong, and it was barely raining. We got to the mountain an hour early with plenty of time to catch a power nap, and we even saw the silhouette of a moose! Fortune was on our side. Until Fortune decided we were a tad too lucky and needed to balance it out.
Turns out the park rangers do know what they’re talking about, and hiking Mountain Katahdin after the rain is a less than smart idea. Characterized by lots of slipping, scrambling, and straight-up bouldering, we scaled the side of the highest mountain in Maine. All the while, we were in the clouds, where if you fell over the edge, it appeared that you were just going to keep falling into infinity forever. Really cool, but really terrifying.
I’ll be honest, it was windy, it was wet, and it was frigid. For me, it was simply sheer obstinacy that stopped me from turning back. At the top, we paused only long enough to take pictures, before promptly turning around, shoveling down some Chewy bars, and attempting to scale our way back down the cliffs.
With every step, as we approached the base of the mountain, the feeling of gratification increased. About halfway down, we mused if the climb was worth it, if we would have gone had we known the conditions and the sheer difficulty of the feat we were attempting. By the time we reached the car, changed out of our boots sloshing with water and our clothes which looked as if we had all just taken showers, the answer was a resounding yes. The hike was completely worth it, not for the view, but for the feeling of accomplishment.
Ultimately though, my biggest takeaway from this adventure was not the mosquito bites, nor the new found love for M&M trail mix; it wasn’t even that aforementioned satisfaction of climbing the tallest peak in Maine. It was the relationships I formed. Every individual on this trip had their own history, their own tidbits of wisdom and goofy anecdotes. What I will remember most are the moments when we were squished at a picnic table playing a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity, laughing at the struggles of using the Canadian Bathroom and singing loudly and incredibly off-key to “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson. I’ll remember the support I found from my friends as we struggled together through that absurd hike.
I couldn’t be more grateful for this program, our magnificent leaders, and those individuals brave enough and adventurous enough to spend three days outdoors with random strangers. And the best part: those strangers are now the enthusiastic faces of friends I see around campus. While yes, this article is my adamant affirmation that everyone should sign up, take the leap and be spontaneous, and put yourself out there to seize an incredible opportunity you normally wouldn’t, this is also a thank you letter. Thank you to my new friends for opening up doors and providing a new insight into the world. I couldn’t have asked for a more positive experience.
All photos courtesy of Maggie Harrington ’17