For the past six years or so, I’ve sat comfortably at my desk and watched an interesting weekly event: My colleague, Aislinn Sarnacki, emerges from the woods, sits down, and documents her latest adventure, composing her very popular 1-Minute Hike feature.
How popular? Well, having stood beside Aislinn at plenty of outdoor expos over the years, I can tell you that she’s got plenty of fans, who range in age from about 4 to somewhere around 104. In fact, her hikes are so popular, she has even (INSERT GLOWING TESTIMONIAL HERE!) written her own book. It’s called “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” and the first thing you should do after you read this column is run to your local bookstore and buy five copies of it.
There. Now that I’ve got the “say nice things about your semi-favorite co-worker” part of the column out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks. (Aislinn, if you’re reading this, now is the time for you to, well, take a hike). I’ve got a story to tell. And it’s not pretty.
In fact, this tale may blow the lid off this whole 1-Minute Hike franchise. If it does, I’m totally prepared to supplant those offerings with my own 30-Second Waddle series.
Last week, Aislinn and I headed deep into the woods of Maine, where we spent a couple of days in and around the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Each of us gathered information for a series of stories that you’ll read over the next several days, leading up to the one-year anniversary of the monument’s official designation.
For most of the trip, we teamed up on our efforts. When I was interviewing someone, for instance, she’d often take photos that I’ll be able to use with the story.
Also, when she went on a 1-minute hike, I figured I’d pitch in by finding a nice, shady spot, lying down for a few hours, and taking a nap.
But last Thursday, that perfect plan was foiled when Aislinn invited me along on a pair of her hikes. Since those were the first 1-minute hikes I’d ever been invited on, I figured it’d only be polite if I tagged along.
And honestly, how hard could they be? They are, after all, just one minute long.
In all seriousness, over the years, the people who stop by to talk with Aislinn at those outdoor shows have often jokingly asked why her series bears that name, since both the hike and the video of the outing that she produces are far longer than 60 seconds.
The answer: The original goal, six years ago, was for her videos to last about a minute. Then people loved them, so the videos grew. But last Thursday, I quickly found myself asking a similar, yet different question: “Where’d my 1-minute hike go? We’ve been out here for hours!”
“Hiking out is optional,” Aislinn told me before we began our death march (oops … I meant to say “fantastic hike”) into Orin Falls, where I’d fly fish for native brook trout in pools below the raging rapids. Then she paused and fixed me with a withering glare. At least, I seem to think she might have been almost glaring.
“Hiking back is mandatory,” she said, leaving no room for discussion nor dissent.
This, I have learned, is what experienced hikers tell larger, panting, less-experienced hikers when they’re taking a walk that the expert thinks may end with the out-of-shape, portly, rookie hiker being left for dead on a trail where he (me) will likely be eaten by a bear, or a pack of coyotes, or a murder of crows. Or all of the above.
More succinctly, this is what Aislinn was saying (though she’s much too nice to say these exact words): If you sprain a lard or break a hoof, don’t expect me to carry you out.
So we hiked. Man, did we hike.
For three miles, we walked along an old logging road. Every now and then, Aislinn stopped walking, crawled under bushes, and took photos of random snakes. (Did I mention that I don’t like random snakes?)
For the last two miles, during which my out-of-shape feet began to burn and ache, we stopped periodically to swat away mosquitoes and reapply the all-natural bug dope she carries on a carabiner attached to her pack. Sometimes, the bug dope nearly worked.
Then we’d trudge onward, getting bitten by mosquitoes slightly less often.
Eventually — far more than 1 minute into our journey — we made it to Orin Falls, which was certainly worth the trip. The falls were beautiful. My plan, as I may have mentioned, was to cap our hike by fly fishing Wassataquoik Stream when we go to the boulder-strewn falls.
Instead, I sat on a rock, panted for a bit, chugged a bottle of water, and groaned about my aching, out-of-shape feet.
Meanwhile, Aislinn did her best mountain goat impression, hopping effortlessly from boulder to boulder as she worked her way up the stream.
Before long, it was time to head back.
I pleaded for a piggyback, but as she’d stressed, hiking (or plodding, or limping, or crawling) back to the car was mandatory.
For me, at least.
Just before we left the stream, we met a nice 73-year-old man who’d been busy exploring the nearby woods. He, too, had made his way to Orin Falls.
And he, too, was heading back to the parking area. It turns out that he was much smarter than me, though.
“Three-inch tires,” he said, describing the “fat bike” he rode to the stream. “They work great on a road like this.”
When we were just a couple hundred yards into our return slog, the man went zipping past. He probably reached the trailhead an hour before we did, I thought about a million times on our return trip. Heck, it probably only took him 1 minute (or so).
And I bet his feet felt great when he got there.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke