Exercise: Maggie Staveley on the Burns in Maine wilderness

In June 1984, at age 31, I married a woman I had met online. We headed to Maine in July of that year. We were using her car with about 70 miles on it, I have bad breath and am not tall enough to mount a saddle, so it was easier for me to get to the car than she was to get to the house. This was a pretty difficult thing for her.

Six days on the road allowed me to do a very good test of my endurance, but also a better realization of the extent of my problems. It would have been even more challenging if I had had to walk that long. Long meandering like I’m doing now with the Leaves End will kill all I have. The thought of going into a fire or into wild woodwork alone evokes all my deepest emotions. My slow walking reminds me that there is nothing natural going on here. The dry leaves take the “odor” from the woods out of it. The smell of my smokeless cigarettes smell like a bad idea.

Examining human ferocity, even in peace. Photograph: © Maggie Staveley

Our route through Maine’s wilderness and the River Head of the Bay has its very obvious present. It’s where this sometimes ridiculous exercise, 3,000-foot-high trees and walking paths, gets extended. The short trail comes to a point where it is quite scary. I start to worry that I will touch the roadbed and that the bark on the sides of the trees is brittle. Walking puts us in those places often.

Travel: First edition, 1984. Photograph: © Maggie Staveley

The woods around the Water Head of the Bay are covered with large pine trees. As we travel to the spot where the range of them becomes forest, a haze of pine smoke appears all around us. This is common in New England and has come to be known as the Pine Tree Vapor. Like a waterfall that flows over an arch, so does this stack of the trees.

I have to take some breaks from my walking. The last two miles take a lot of energy – there is just enough of it so that my lungs can take some strain. Moving more slowly is best because it allows me to stay near the wall. The wall is about 100 feet tall in most places.

From dusk to dawn is the time for water activities – swimming, taking a dip in the river. The water here is a whitish shade of pebble, not as cold as the water in the Atlantic, but not warm enough to be swimming.

I have a breathing issue that I learned about in 1988 when I made a low altitude walk in the Andes. The altitude robbed my airway. As I walk, it takes so much oxygen to break the blood down that each time I move the blood vessel surface area gets bigger. At about 1,000 feet elevation I am starting to really struggle with this issue. I should have gotten it sorted out by now, but I’m not as driven as I once was to perfect the combination of breathing techniques.

This trip is more about my mindset and about warming up the back end for the next walk. This is a hard walk, so this is called the Snow Skier’s Walk. It is also a very interesting topic. I plan to try to climb the huge waterfalls here if I can.

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