Finding Yourself Without a Map in Camden Hills State Park
Eleven hours of hiking. That’s what it took my friend, Douglas, and me to see all the peaks of Camden Hills State Park a few weeks ago. Was it necessary for us to do this in one day? No. Was it a particularly thought out idea? Certainly not. Was it a great chance to spend time with a friend and gain some comfort in an uncertain time? Absolutely.
I grew up on the Midcoast, but it wasn’t until I got into high school that I started hiking the Camden Hills with friends. Maiden’s Cliff was always a favorite for a quick hiking-fix and Mount Battie is so accessible that you can easily fit in hikes, even with a busy schedule. But I have not had the chance to hike all that Camden has to offer. I recently returned home after travel and college and Midcoast Maine has taken on a new look for me. A return to a place that is made different when you aren’t busy with school or sports: a familiar place in which new experiences are made. As a young person just out of college, I have about as much direction in my life as a weathervane in a windstorm. The listless post-college thing is almost a cliché, at this point, but that’s about where I am. Hiking all of the Camden Hills in one go sure seemed like a way to enjoy a day and distract myself from this worry.
Luckily, my best friend was returning to the area for a few weeks after college graduation and before beginning his professional life. I roped Douglas into a quickly-made plan to hike all of the Camden Hills with me because I recognized one of those crossroads where people are about to go in different directions in life. You have to try and make those experiences with friends, I’m told that life comes too fast and I don’t want to lose these chances for memories.
I grabbed a map of Camden Hills State Park the night before and outlined the trails that would take us to each named point; working out a quick estimate we figured that we would be hiking 25 of the 30 miles of trails in the Park. The plan: Mt. Battie, Adam’s Lookout as a detour, Ocean’s Lookout, Mount Megunticook, Bald Rock Mountain, Derry Mountain, Frohock Mountain, back over Derry, Cameron Mountain, Maiden’s Cliff, and back to Mount Battie. Here, at last: a definite plan.
Seeing the mountains and the bay so early in the morning inspires reverence—reverence that is traded back and forth for chatting about old friends, girls and the future. One of the reasons I like hiking is that you can be reverent and irreverent in turns—it’s like taking in the beauty of the landscape shots on Planet Earth while hearing the behind-the-scenes content. Cameron Mountain gave us an example of a buddy-comedy trope that was begging to happen: this beautiful little blueberry hill called Cameron Mountain, poorly marked but a perfect place for lunch and a quick nap. It warms up and Douglas and I are feeling good about life, until the path back down we wanted to take becomes confusing and we end up on someone’s lawn. In my hasty planning, I had forgotten the map—it was an unwelcome reminder of the directionlessness that had sent me on this hike in the first place. After an almost-twisted ankle and clouds of Lincolnville mosquitoes, our morale and egos had taken a bit of a hit, but we stumbled back to the path and had a good laugh. We had been manageably lost—a good metaphor.
Somewhere around mile 15 we got a whole lot less talkative–and much slower. The day had gotten hot. We then finally see our first fellow hiker. What a different quality the day takes on after we had been living in our own little world for some hours only to see another person and realize these are not just our trees. The trees and the view we had enjoyed alone were being experienced by others, they have been enjoyed by others many times before and for many years before. Maybe our experience was different because of our condensed time frame, but these same views are public. Rightly so thanks to the preservation of the wilderness for the public’s benefit. This solidarity—and the preservation of this place’s character—gave me the chance to think about my own post-graduate life. A life with little direction, but weatherable and good all the same.
The great outdoors provided Douglas and me with a way to have one, hopefully not last, hoorah before life sweeps us up. In a way, that hike was in a vacuum away from responsibilities and the outside world, but in another it provided us with a space to create memories, and it provided me the chance to reflect. In such a beautiful and familiar place, we were able to come to terms with some of the uncertainty that lies ahead for us. We saw these hills that have weathered through time and I think our friendship will weather just as well. And maybe I gained just a little comfort in knowing that I’ll be okay even if I don’t have a map for my life.
Ethan Merrifield is a reader, a runner and, now, a writer. Always active and looking for ways to challenge himself – outdoors and intellectually – he has returned to Midcoast Maine after college and is searching for his next adventure.