When I began planning a self-propelled trip from Kittery to Fort Kent , I thought I would spend most of my time on the Appalachian Trail. The original idea for the trip was to hike the Appalachian Trail through Maine , preceded by a bike ride at the beginning and then with an Allagash trip tacked on at the end.
At that point, my 50-year-old, right knee decided that it would be a good time to take umbrage at a football injury, and the subsequent surgery, that occurred more than thirty years ago. The knee swelled to twice the size of its well-behaved mate. Hiking and running became excruciatingly painful — even walking wasn’t all that great.
This cruel betrayal came completely out of the blue. It was as if my wife of twenty years suddenly woke up one morning and decided that my dalliance with a prom queen in 1979 was just too much to bear any longer.
To add insult to injury, my new orthopedic surgeon — who is younger than my scar tissue — suggested to me that at my advanced age and condition “long-distance, strenuous hiking” should be avoided. He said it just that way — as if there were any other kind of hiking.
The diagnosis was moderate to severe osteoarthritis.
And despite the fact that this is the 21st century — there are apparently no immediately available replacement parts or surgeries that would solve the problem.
So there I was — caught between the obvious inadequacy of 21st century medical technology and a pledge to my 50-year-old self that I would travel from Kittery to Fort Kent on a self-propelled trip.
As the trip has evolved it has come to resemble a string of canoe trips pasted together with bike rides to cross over the high ground between river drainages. Oddly enough, bicycling doesn’t bother the knee at all.
So instead of hiking through the 100-mile wilderness section of the AT, I will be mountain biking through the adjacent properties owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Nature Conservancy and the Maine Bureau of Public Lands. And instead of hiking the AT from Grafton Notch to Sugarloaf Mountain I will be canoeing a roundabout section of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
But there is one part of the original vision that I can’t compromise on. To approach Baxter State Park on the AT, just like the thru hikers, and then to summit Katahdin — has always been on my wish list. It’s something that no self-respecting, self-propelled trip from Kittery to Fort Kent could do without.
With a light pack pared down to summer essentials, with trekking poles to help on descents and with an industrial size bottle of ibuprofen — the knee should make it to Baxter Peak and beyond. The plan is to hike north after reaching the summit — to Russell Pond, to South Branch Pond and ultimately to Webster Lake and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
My knee may be happy to see the canoe again.