Greeted with a reminder of how easy it is fall off the sheer mountain cliff, we stood at the bottom of Precipice Trail, our third day in Acadia National Park.
"You sure you want to do this hike?" Bridget asked.
"Sometimes you just gotta grab life by the balls," I answered.
"Just do it carefully," Bridget said. "Grabbing the balls, I mean."
Precipice Trail is steep. 1,000 feet to the top of Champlain Mountain in about 1 mile and a half. You literally have to pull yourself up by the 100 year old iron ladder rungs that you hope to God wont suddenly decide to dislodge themselves from the mountainside. Not for the faint of heart. And not for the kid who was barely able to convince himself to jump off the 20 foot tall high-dive platform in eighth grade. Yet sometimes the most essential part of the most rewarding journey is choosing to ignore all the reasons it's a bad idea.
After a day of driving up from Boston we arrived to our lake house cabin around 10:30pm. We unloaded the car and surveyed the land. A quaint little cabin with a screen porch and deck, built in the 70's, and a smaller sister cabin, the original, built in the 50's. To be clear, I only know the decades and the fact that Mamsie hand picked the $500 piece of property because we decided to read the elaborate 80 page type-written family history that adorned the coffee table inside. Before tucking ourselves in for the night we made our way out to the small dock overlooking Long Pond. Full Moon. It was beautiful...either that or it looked like the setting of the R.L. Stine Goosebumps thriller The Curse of Camp Cold Lake...but we'll go with beautiful. We sat on the dock and took it all in.
"I kinda wanna get in," Lauren said.
"Me too." I surprised myself. I've never been one to opt in for a cold swim in a dark lake at night. I remembered the elementary school parties at Cascade Lake. I struggled enough with water in a pool - I didn't learn to swim until I was ten. Throw in some slimy rocks and what always seems like a myriad of mysterious things rubbing against your ankles. I'm usually good to just admire from the shore.
I'm not sure if it was the full moon, being surrounded by some gorgeous Maine mountains lit up by said moon, or the realization that all the moons and mountains in the universe wouldn't change the fact that it was pretty damn cold on that dock and the water was likely warmer - whatever the reason, I got in - and immediately realized the water was just as cold. We may have been in and out in 5 minutes, shrieking the whole time at how cold and slimy the water was, but dammit if it wasn't exhilarating.
The next morning we had every intention of waking up our first day in Acadia and hitting the trails early. A stop at the store for some trail snacks and we'd be on our way. We planned for an active vacation. We didn't plan that Yelp's #1 rated Bar Harbor brunch spot would be located right next to the store, or that after finishing brunch we would immediately drive by a local church pie sale. But sometimes life throws you a blueberry pie and you better be ready to catch it - and in this case life was also throwing a key-lime pie as well. They were going fast, there was a lot of pressure, and we did what we could. After waiting in line for twenty minutes the pies were gone in less than three. Suffice to say people in Maine are serious about their pies and we were right there with them.
Two slices later we were setting out on our first hike. A simple trek up the Sergeant Mountain loop trail. About halfway through the five mile roundtrip journey, on top of Sergeant Mountain, the trail meanders right next to Sergeant Mountain Pond. A built in break on a hot day and an opportunity to test your increased buoyancy after pancakes and pie. I dipped my hand in to get a feel for the water and immediately began running through the rolodex of reasons not to get in.
Reason #1: It was freezing. (We've already been over this. I'm not a fan.) Reason #2: I wasn't even that hot, and I didn't really need a break. The water in my camelback would easily do the trick. Reason #3: Lauren mentioned the possibility of leeches - and instantly reason #3 superseded any other reason.
I didn't care. It isn't often that you find yourself standing on a mountain top in Maine in front of a beautifully secluded pond with three great friends. The plunge lasted all of sixty seconds - but the pride I felt knowing we fully lived every inch of that hike, lasted the whole way down the mountain.
We woke up rested the next morning, started the day with a slice of pie, and somehow determined that our one hike the day before was enough to warrant a break. At some point we were going to have to concede the fact that this "hiking" trip was very quickly trending toward a trip to a Sizzler's buffet. Regardless, we determined it was a prime day to relax around the cabin and take advantage of Mamsie's water-sports. And so out came the row-boat from the shed. Now, I've kayaked, Ive canoed, I've watched Ryan Gosling in The Notebook expertly maneuver one of these row boats - how hard could it be? Answer: very. Within five minutes of pushing off from the dock we were fast moving in the opposite direction that I was furiously rowing us in. Forty minutes later we had abandoned traditional rowing methods. Lauren and Steph were in the water attempting to pull us by hand, Bridge and I in the boat using the ores to steer clear of rocks, and local residents were shouting from the shores, "You're doing it wrong."
"We know!" we all shouted back in unison.
Relaxing? Maybe not. One step closer to beating out Gosling for the lead in The Notebook 2? I think so.
Barely two hours afters after we started at the Precipice Trailhead, we arrived at the top of Champlain Mountain. I wanted to look down off the cliffside to see exactly what we had accomplished, but at more than a few places on the way up it felt as though a mistimed sneeze would send you plummeting to your death, so I opted against the look down. A nice sitting rock a healthy distance from any edge was more my speed. I took a deep breath, took off my pack, stared out over the Atlantic Ocean, and just smiled.