For being 66 years old, I consider myself in fairly decent shape. After all, I've been cranking pretty hard on my bike pedals since August of 2000. Back then, it was the start of getting prepared for my 2002 solo ride from North Carolina to Texas in support of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. So yes, when it comes to cycling and walking, I feel fit as a fiddle.
I bring all this up, because I was just beaten to death by a mountain this past weekend. Come to find out — the hard way — the leg muscles I use to cruise on my bicycles for thousands of miles each season went "on vacation" when it came time to scale a 4,088-foot oversized hill.
Scott, my oftentimes cycling partner, myself, and a group of four others set out on Saturday to climb Bigelow Mountain's Avery Peak, one of Maine's highest summits. To give you a little background, Bigelow is named after Major Timothy Bigelow, one of Colonel Benedict Arnold's four division commanders during the 1775 Invasion of Canada. He climbed it "for the purpose of observation."
And, indeed, the view from the top was spectacular. It was a clear day, with a refreshing breeze, offering us a great look at many of the state's other 4,000-footers, including the popular ski resort on Sugarloaf Mountain.
But I digress; back to my painful story. The going-up part wasn't the problem; the trail was strewn with rocks and laced heavily with exposed tree roots. The first 2.2 miles were a comfortable, gradual incline — a good warm-up. Then we hit the junction that hooks into the Appalachian Trail; yes, that well-known 2,200-mile path from Georgia to Maine. And up we went for two miles, over big boulders and more big boulders. I had to keep reminding myself to look up to see where I was going; if I didn't, I felt light-headed — the same thing that happens to me when I try reading in a moving vehicle.
But as I stated earlier, the ascent wasn't the issue. No catching my breath; my Garmin watch showed a steady heart rate in the 90s range. And again, the view from the top of Bigelow was priceless. We even chatted with a thru-hiker from Atlanta, Georgia, who was making her way south.
After nearly a half hour of relaxation and a bit of food, the climb down got underway — the not so fun part. Basically, one had to take care with every step; mindful of not wanting to become an avalanche of flesh and bones. The threat of injury was accompanied by the threat of embarrassment — a double whammy. Also, those big boulders encountered on the way up were still there waiting for us on the way down. It wasn't a pretty sight; there's nothing graceful about scooting over a massive rock on one's backside just to keep from falling. But who cares? We all survived and nobody got hurt. That part came later.
To put things into perspective, here are some details on the day's climb. Our total elevation for the hike — up and down — was nearly 6,000 feet. The total distance was 8.5 miles and we covered it in just over six hours. That's roughly how long it took Scott and me to cycle 100 miles in the Pedal the Penobscot century ride two weeks prior. In fact, during the hike I remarked that I would rather ride 100 miles than do what I was doing at that moment.
Unfortunately, the unpleasant parts of the hike stayed with me for the next three days — in the form of screaming thigh muscles. Just walking was a chore, let alone trying to climb down any stairs. Working at the bike shop on Tuesday brought much humorous banter from my co-worker Alan over my uncomfortable situation; even to the point of mimicking my old-man shuffle on more than one occasion.
I ended up being off my bicycles for four days, which in itself was extremely painful. Especially since I'm closing in on 4,000 miles for the season. But I'm back on the saddle, and loving every minute of it.
So yes, the Bigelow Mountain experience was both good and bad. But I'd do it again in a minute, just because of the grand spectacle that awaits at the top. It was definitely worth the temporary ouches I endured.