Fall to the Rising Sun Trip • Road Tripping and Hiking in Maine • October 9, 2016
After over 2 weeks in Canada, it was time to return to the US. So, with one last stop at Tim Horton’s, we said goodbye and began heading West. As we drove South on I-95, we were feeling tired and were wondering how much longer we’d continue traveling. We had several more days of leave, but we weren’t sure we wanted to continue. It was a dreary day and the week didn’t look much better, so we weren’t sure how much we could do outside. At this point, we just hoped to make it past the rain and have a dry night for camping.
But even while driving we can meet some of our goals. We got off the interstate in Medway to get gas, and as we looked at the map we saw that we would be able to get more counties if we continued on highways instead of taking I-95. This isn’t anything new for us, we always prefer highway roads over interstates, but today this proved to be the best decision we’d make. While the interstate had been almost entirely lined with grey skies and green pine trees, the back roads were filled with stunning fall colors that made this gray day seem so much less dreary! We suddenly felt the same excitement that we had experienced at the beginning of the vacation, when there was still so much to see. We made so many stops along this drive, not even for hiking or letterboxing, but just to wander around and soak it all in.
Northern/Western Maine felt like a whole different place than the coastal towns. While driving on highway 1 felt incredibly long and was packed with tourists and stop-and-go towns, this part of Maine was so much quieter, with empty roads, peaceful towns, and long stretches of wilderness. This is definitely where we’d come back to visit, rather than returning to the crowds at Acadia. We were driving through NW Maine on a holiday weekend (Columbus day weekend), when fall was at its peak and the mountains were stunning in their fall glory, and we hardly came across anyone. Back when we were driving on highway 1 and visiting Acadia National Park, it was in late September, during the week, mostly in the mornings, and honestly nothing felt scenic until we reached Acadia, yet the roads were packed and we just couldn’t get away from tourists. What makes the latter so much more popular than the former? We say it’s because of two reasons: one, the ocean and coastal towns always seem to attract more visitors than inland areas, and two, because of the hype the national park brings. Having traveled so much, we know that national parks/monuments/etc. are always busier than the random mountain range that isn’t nationally known or doesn’t have viral pictures circling around the internet. It can be just as beautiful as a national park, but locals have the joy of calling it their own “hidden gem” because no one knows to visit it.
However, this area is actually in the process of becoming a national monument — Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. While at first we were excited to hear about it, and were glad to hear that this land will be protected and preserved as many other national sites are, our feelings on the matter changed as we drove through the area. In the small towns, we would see the usual political signs on the corners, but among them would be one that stood out: “NATIONAL PARK – NO”. We recognized right away why people may not want the attention a national park would bring. Making this area into a national park would bring many more tourists — and with that, these quiet towns would potentially be filled with traffic and crowds of people just wanting to visit this once quiet place because it’s a “national site”. While some could see it as a way to boost the area’s economy with hotels, restaurants, shops and tourist traps, they have to know that they’d be giving up that quiet small-town feeling. Is it really worth it?
On the other hand, maybe this wouldn’t be the case. The infrastructure – paved roads, visitor centers, large RV accommodating campgrounds – doesn’t exist, and won’t for some time. Those who today visit Mt. Katahdin and the surrounding area are generally locals or adventurers like us, willing to travel miles out of the way. It’s possible that this new monument would be more like Chiricahua or Organ Pipe National Monuments rather than Castillo San Marco or Devil’s Tower (two monuments we found to be very busy when we visited).
Regardless, it is well out of our hands now…and we did not visit the area where the national monument would be, mostly because dogs aren’t allowed there and because of weather. We would have loved to hike Mt. Katahdin, the highest point in Maine, but again dogs aren’t allowed in that area. I guess we’ll have to save that for our triumphant finish when we do the Appalachian Trail. 😉
Instead, we drove on our highways enjoying the scenery and generally making our way towards New Hampshire. As we got close to the NH/ME border the weather began to clear up and Curtis recalled a shorter hike with letterboxes that we could do before the sun set: Mt. Will, a shorter peak just off of US 2 south of Newry, ME. It was a quiet hike with hardly anyone else on the trails. Like with most trails out east, the views were mostly obscured by trees, even at the peak. But there were two ledges, one on either side of the mountain, that offered up their views. And great views they were. All the colors we had been enjoying on the back highways were condensed into one view. It was still overcast, so we didn’t get nearly as far a view as would be possible (it would be easy to see Mt. Washington from here) but what we did see made us excited for the days ahead. We would be in the White Mountains of New Hampshire again, easily one of our favorite locations in the Northeast. And if the views on this speck of a mountain were fantastic, how much more would be the views from the bald summit of a 4000 footer.
We completed our hike, got back in the car, and headed towards those mountains; reinvigorated for the final stage of our trip.