“How many more minutes to the bottom?” A woman gripped her daughter’s hand. The girl’s knee was mildly bloodied, the result, I was certain of a fall against rock.
I looked at my husband. “Twenty minutes?”
He nodded. “Yeah, about that.”
By all rights, we, too, should’ve been heading down the mountain at that hour. At three o’clock in the afternoon, we were pointed in the wrong direction.
People climb Cadillac Mountain for a variety of reasons: Some attack the mountain, seemingly wanting to prove something to themselves or the other climbers, running up as fast as they can, stabbing feet and cleats and ski poles into the face of the mountain. Others leisure their way up; stopping here and there to snap pictures of Bar Harbor posing prettily amid colorful boats in Frenchman’s Bay. Some people, clearly ill, stagger and huff and crawl up the mountain, refusing the hand of a sister or a son waiting patiently a few steps ahead, and it’s these people who I hope make it to the top.
But this day, we hurried up the mountain.
Cadillac Mountain sits on Mount Desert Isle—an hour’s drive from our cabin in the woods. To get there, we drove through quaint towns dotting Route 1 and headed towards Bar Harbor. We passed tiny libraries and lobster traps stacked neatly on lawns. We drove past an in-home quilt shop and a place selling homemade pies. As we approached Acadia and crossed the bridge to the island, the homes were replaced by tourist attractions: miniature golf courses and places selling clams and lobsters and mussels. We saw groupings of one-room cottages, white with green shutters; an unused outdoor pool enclosed in wire and shadowed beneath an ancient tree; the slimy water reflecting nothing. At another hotel, a man sat on the office’s concrete porch in a folding lawn chair, a Pepsi machine to his right, watching the traffic pass by. The businesses began playing with words: Mainely Hair and Mainely Maine and Mainely Meat. Gyp joints offered tee shirts and souvenirs and all manner of kitsch that could never do justice to the memory of place.
We’d gotten a late start and the park was crowded—much more crowded than the last time we’d visited several years ago. There’s a twenty-seven mile one way loop around the mountain and you’d better know where your trailhead is, or risk circling round again.
The brochure said to be prepared: to carry a map and water and food; to leave a detailed itinerary in our car. But as usual, we were mostly unprepared. All we carried was water. But that was enough: We intended not to stray from the path. There were cairns to guide us, and blue markers painted on rock. It would be easy to stay on course.
As we began our ascent, my husband filled us in on the details: Cadillac Mountain is the highest mountain on the North Atlantic Seaboard and at certain times of the year, is the first point in the United States to be hit by sunlight.
This would mean, I suddenly realized, that Cadillac Mountain would also be the first spot in the United States to get dark. It would be hard to see blue paint and cairns in the dark.
“Hurry up,” I said to Filibuster.
In the woods, we came to a staircase of rock, rectangular rock neatly placed by a volunteer over a hundred years ago. I pulled off the stairs, ostensibly to let a couple pass, but in truth, to catch my breath. At just over 1500 feet, Cadillac isn’t easy.
The couple smiled, gestured us through. “Go ahead.”
I staggered up the stairs, caught up to them. “What do you think,” I asked, “about another half hour?”
They looked at each other. “Oh, no. No more than twenty minutes.”
I thanked them and struggled onward, grateful to know that our journey was nearly complete.
It was twenty minutes before we met up with a group of people heading towards us: “You’ve got about ten more minutes,” a man said. Filibuster and I looked at each other and laughed and pressed on.
Twenty minutes later still, we met another man. “Twenty more minutes!” His tone was a shade too jovial for my taste.
“Someone half an hour back said twenty more minutes,” I said.
The man smiled and shrugged. “But I’m not lying.”
We trudged on until we met a man and his daughter, who rushed up to pet Destructo. “’Bout twenty more minutes and you’re there,” the man said. “Hey, you guys need water?”
“We’re saving it for the top,” I said.
“Where’d you guys park, anyway?” If he had to ask, he’d certainly not made the hike, but driven to the top.
“At the bottom,” I said proudly. Too proudly, for soon it would be dark.
“Really?” He poured some water into his hand and offered it to Destructo. “That’s awesome. How you getting down?”
I glanced at my husband. How were we getting down?
“We’ll walk it,” I said. “If the trail is too dark, we’ll take the road.” Adding, I was sure, at least five miles to our journey.
“Oh, man. I should give you a ride in my camper. I parked it just over that hairpin.” He gestured.
“We’ll be fine,” I said.
“Twenty more minutes,” he said. “And you’re there.”
Half an hour later, we reached the top and used the bathrooms and bought snacks and hit the trail again within ten minutes, me urging everyone to hurry, hurry the entire time.
Within ninety minutes, with daylight to spare, we’d reached the bottom again.
And I realized that I hadn’t seen a thing that day.
We went home and cooked dinner and set up a game of cards.
“What are we doing tomorrow?” Squints asked.
“I want to hike the mountain again,” my husband said.
* * *
We woke early and packed a picnic lunch and found a secret parking spot a few minutes away from the trailhead. It was cool; afternoon thunderstorms were forecast.
We took our time, following a French-Canadian family up the trail; passing a man sharing a corn dog with his son; pausing to take pictures.
We walked past dense pine trees still wet with dew and large ferns. We crossed streams and wild blueberry bushes and every other step, Squints paused to pluck a berry from the bush and plunk it into an empty water bottle. We admired cairns and gnarled trees that seemingly grew straight out of rock. We studied moss and bark and listened to the birds ushering in the day. And then, we rested on rock three hundred million years old. As we rose, the fog settled lightly upon our shoulders until we couldn’t see more than a couple of feet ahead of us. It grew cold; we could see our breath. We watched thin strands of fog blow past. Looking down, we could see nothing.
Suddenly, we were at the top. We picnicked in a remote area and made a dessert of wild cranberries, pointed out to us by a Boston tour guide.
And it occurred to me, as we headed back down the mountain, that, among hundred-year old stairs and three hundred million year old rock, twenty minutes of climbing—even three times twenty minutes of climbing—is no time at all.
Labels: Blueberries, Boys, Daughters, Family, Girls, Maine, Nature, Sons, Summer