The Best Sad Day

The bridge to the AT in Vermont Credits: Jennifer Popper
Route 12 Appalachian Trail, Vermont Credits: Jennifer Popper
The logbook for Thru-Hikers Credits: Jennifer Popper
Grassy field ascending up the trail in Vermont; white blazes point to way Credits: Jennifer Popper
Warning: Electric Fence Credits: Jennifer Popper
Taftsville Covered Bridge, a rare example of early vernacular wooden truss covered bridges. Built in 1836, it was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Credits: Jennifer Popper
Quechee Gorge State Park trail system Credits: Jennifer Popper
The Quechee Gorge - the picture doesn't do it justice! Credits: Jennifer Popper
The Bridle Path-Falling Waters Trail Head in Franconia State Park, New Hampshire. Credits: Jennifer Popper
Credits: Jennifer Popper
Grafton Notch State Mark, Maine - the first of many things to see in the park, waterfalls run and are beautiful! Credits: Jennifer Popper
Grafton Notch State Park in Maine. Credits: Jennifer Popper
Table Rock Loop Trail that meets up with Appalachian Trail in Grafton Notch State Park. Credits: Jennifer Popper
Entering Table Rock Trail. Credits: Jennifer Popper
Credits: Jennifer Popper
Rungs had to be climbed on the Table Rock trail in more than one instance. Credits: Jennifer Popper
Views of Old Speck and more from the summit of Table Rock. Credits: Jennifer Popper
Views of Old Speck and more from the summit of Table Rock. Credits: Jennifer Popper
The flagship L.L.Bean store in Freeport, ME Credits: Jennifer Popper
Near the Eastern Promenade in Portland. Credits: Jennifer Popper
Snapped this at a red light in Topsham, Maine - East Coast Greenway! Credits: Jennifer Popper
Raven's Nest at Schoodic Peninsula Credits: Jennifer Popper
Jenn Popper and Terrie O'Rourke at Schoodic Head Credits: Jennifer Popper
Maine lupines Credits: Jennifer Popper
Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park Credits: Jennifer Popper
Winter Harbor, ME Credits: Jennifer Popper
Climbing the South Ridge Trail to the Cadillac Mountain summit Credits: Jennifer Popper
Schoodic Peninsula Credits: Jennifer Popper
Credits: Jennifer Popper
Clockwise from top: Bonnie Popper, Chris Popper, Collin Popper, Jenn Popper, Mary Downie, Terrie O'Rourke, Jessica Williamson Credits: Jennifer Popper
The Downeast Sunrise Trail, which will be at the very end of the 2018 walk to Gouldsboro, Maine. Credits: Jennifer Popper
L-R: Terrie O'Rourke, Jenn Popper, Mary Downie and Jessica Williamson after hiking up Cadillac Mountain's South Ridge Trail. Credits: Mary Downie
L-R: Terrie O'Rourke, Jenn Popper, Mary Downie, Jessica Williamson after hiking Cadillac Mountain. The "Best Sad Day" at Blaze in Bar Harbor, ME. Credits: Jennifer Popper
With Chris Popper, my biggest cheerleader when I needed one the most last summer. Credits: Mary Downie

When you don’t have to adhere to a train schedule or work a nine to five job, it’s easier to make spontaneous vacation plans.

Since I was braving a trip back to Maine in June to mark one year since the accident, I decided to add an extra week to my excursion.  I would knock off two more states in my bucket list quest to hike a part of the Appalachian Trail in every state.  The AT runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia all the way up to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  As much as Michael and I had visited Vacationland, we had stuck more to the coast, so the state still had to be conquered.

I planned my itinerary, and made reservations for two nights in Woodstock, Vermont, and then two nights in Bethel, Maine.  It seemed like the perfect addition to the one night in Portland I had already booked before I would head back to Winter Harbor.

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My journey began at the Jackson House Inn in Woodstock, and after a delicious breakfast that first morning prepared by Rick, I packed my backpack, and grabbed my map. 

The hardest part of the day may have been finding the parking lot, which lies below street level.  There isn’t much elevation on this part of the Appalachian Trail just off Route 12.  There were, however, electrified wires I had to climb over via a rickety ladder!  Once safely on the other side, I walked along the trail as it rose through an open grassy field that allowed the sun to beat down on me on what was already a ninety-plus degree sticky day.  At the top, the view was beautiful, but not one of the more memorable ones.  However, Vermont AT - check!

At dinner that night, I met a couple from Cape Cod who asked me why I was in town.  I gave them the digest version, and told them about my walk from New Jersey to Maine in 2018.  Since my walk along the East Coast Greenway will take me their way, we exchanged numbers and I expect to get in touch as I firm up my plans!

It was time to leave Vermont.  For the drive to Bethel, I chose a route that would take me through New Hampshire's Franconia Notch State Park.  I was on no one’s schedule but my own, so I took a break to stretch my legs at the Bridle Path-Falling Waters trail head, and walked in to see some waterfalls.  Back in 2013, Michael and I had hiked from there to Little Haystack, walked across the ridge to Mount Lincoln and Mount Lafayette, and returned down the Old Bridle Path after a stop in the AMC Greenleaf Hut.  It was a tough trek with an almost 5,200 foot rise, and according to my fitness app, I had burned 1,789 calories on that hike!

I arrived in the quaint town of Bethel, and checked in to the Mill Hill Inn, owned by Woody and Lee.  Dinner that night was spent at the Bethel Inn, just a few doors down from my B&B.  The restaurant was crowded with golfers, so I sat at the bar and chatted with a couple who have a condo nearby.  They were celebrating their anniversary, 46 years together.  And the husband just happened to be retired from the Coast Guard.

The next morning, Woody made what can only be described as a hiker's breakfast, complete with popover, and perfectly suited for the day's upcoming activity.  Significantly stuffed, I grabbed my hiking boots, and drove the short distance to Grafton Notch State Park in Newry.

I chose to hike the Table Rock Loop Trail, a 2.4 mile loop that is described as moderate-advanced.  The boulder-strewn orange-blazed trail leads to the summit, which offers views of Old Speck Mountain, the Eyebrow and Grafton Notch.  My descent was made via the Appalachian Trail, and required less scrambling, to my relief.  A well-earned lunch was spent at the Sunday River Brewing Company, where the pint of Mountain Mama was so good, I just had to stock up for a friend who loves craft beer!  Maine AT - check!

My time in this part of Maine came to an end, and I was off to Portland; of course, there was the obligatory stop at L.L. Bean in Freeport along the way.  Driving into the city, I made the decision to stop at the Eastern Promenade to seek out the East Coast Greenway as homework for next year's walk.  But the visit to Portland, the city to which we considered moving, was, overall, bittersweet.

Saturday morning arrived.  On this day I would head back to Winter Harbor, to the rental house we shared last year.  Was I crazy to be doing this?  There were plenty who thought I was. 

For just this one night, I would be by myself.  I entered, dropped a bag of groceries and spotted a card from the owners of the house addressed to me.  I had never met them, I had always dealt directly with a property manager, but the Coast Guard had to pack our things last year, had to be in their house.  Reading the kind words they had written broke me, and I cried overlooking the water filled with lobster buoys.

By Wednesday, all friends and family had arrived, and we had the pleasure of having cocktails at Littlefield Gallery with owners Jane and Kelly.  They had also invited Barbara Zucker, an artist whose painting I had purchased not long after the accident.  She and I cried together while our hosts showed Mary, Jessica and Terrie around.

One year later, on June 22, I said my final goodbye to my husband on the top of Cadillac Mountain after hiking the South Ridge Trail.  If you have ever been at the summit, you know the views are spectacular, looking down on Bar Harbor and out to the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman’s Bay. 

But it isn’t there that I said goodbye, where crowds of people who drove up the mountain congregate.  No, science played a role in my choice, and was consistent with hikes we had taken together that led to seeking out NOAA's geodetic disk that provides latitude, longitude, and elevation.  He would have approved.

Milestones like this can suck.  But it was the best sad day I've had since that most terrible one in the summer of 2016.


A walk on the East Coast Greenway from New Jersey to Maine.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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