The Real Mysteries of Puzzle Mountain, Maine

Looking up toward Puzzle Mountain
Looking up toward Puzzle Mountain

Mysteries surround Puzzle Mountain, which was the site of last weekend’s Maine adventure.

After a successful rampage through the L.L. Bean clearance facility, we started the journey northeast to the weekend home of N’s parents. It’s a lovely old farmhouse near the Appalachian Trail. And on the way – the mysteries begin.

9. How does Google maps pick its prescribed route from point A to point B?  Somehow we found ourselves taking a one lane road dotted with potholes through multiple small towns. Extremely scenic, but I’m sure there was a more direct route.

8. What’s a bean supper? Every small town in Maine seems to have one on Saturday night.

7. What are confederate flags doing in Maine? That was a really weird one to me. Here in the south, we spend a lot of time working to take them down, but they seem to be going strong up north.

6. How many ways can you cook apples? Daughter A is an expert pie maker (a skill she did not inherit from her beloved mother) and brought a delicious apple pie up to Maine, which she somehow carried on an Uber ride to a train station, on a train to Portland, and on our trip in N’s Previa up to Northwest Maine. She returned to Boston with another two bags of apples, picked fresh off the tree. Unclear what can be done with a hundred or more apples.


5. What mountain ranges can you see from Puzzle Mountain? We set off fairly early on Sunday for our trek up the mountain. It was a short drive to the trailhead, and the leaves were at their peak color. The trail climbs fairly steeply in sections, but is interspersed with enough flat sections to keep it interesting. The first part was all birch forest, pale yellow leaves set off against the peeling white bark of the somewhat spindly trunks. Finally, we came to an opening in the woods and could see across the patchwork valley to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and other unnamed ridges.

Birch forest
Birch forest

4. Where were all the people? It was Columbus Day weekend (or more correctly, Indigenous People’s weekend), and I would have expected at least some other hikers, if not the raging crowds we’d faced on Mt. Washington last year. But except for one other group who only made it to the first peak of the mountain, we saw absolutely no one.

Mount Washington in the distance
Mount Washington in the distance

3. Where did the blue blazes go? Most of the trail is nicely maintained. But after we reached the second and highest peak (a whopping 3100 feet), we took a loop trail down that was considerably overgrown. At one point, coming out onto a rock outcropping, it simply petered out into a tree. Although there were some remnants of blue paint on the rock, and a very misleading cairn, it turned out the real trail was in a completely different direction. And it turns out that daughter A’s belief that always going left was the right answer did not work.

2. Which way is down? Now, this seems like a question with an obvious answer. But not so. The descending trail seemed to have as many uphill parts as down, and at one point I was convinced we were corkscrewing ourselves around the mountain.


1. Where is Puzzle Mountain? Some mysteries are best left unsolved. And I promised our hosts that I’d help keep it hidden!

Pain and Train – Getting Ready for Orizaba

Rainbow on Cayambe descent
Rainbow on Cayambe descent

Now that Labor Day has passed, it is time to return to the backbone of any successful summit bid – and that is the long hard slog of training.  I haven’t stopped since Ecuador and our adventures on Cotopaxi, Illiniza Norte and Cayambe, but I have definitely taken it a bit easier.

For example, I treated myself to the luxury of stairs without a 25 pound backpack. I haven’t attempted a seven mile run. And I have not been at all diligent about any weight lifting. It’s been nice.

But, as the Walrus said In Jabberwocky, the time has come. So on Saturday, after much futzing around (you do need to make sure your sunglasses are adjusted just so, headphones properly positioned, etc.), I embarked on a five mile run. I’ve been running four milers, but if we want to have a hope of scaling Mexico’s 18,491 foot Pico de Orizaba in January, I need to be back up there at the seven mile plus level. The run actually felt good. And on Monday, I’m going to reload the pack with the weights from my weight vest and lug it back off to work where my 16 story office building awaits.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading excerpts from a book called Fast After Fifty. It’s aimed at athletes who are trying to maintain or improve after age fifty and emphasizes interval and anaerobic training. But – true confession – I didn’t really do anything particularly athletic until I was almost fifty! So I have some reservations as to how applicable those principles are to me….although that may just be a copout as I have no desire to run as hard as I can for thirty minutes to find my lactic threshold.

At least I can find some inspiration in the movie, Meru, which we saw last night. It’s a documentary based on alpinists Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk’s two attempts to climb Mt. Meru in the Himalayas – 21,000 feet above the headwaters of the Ganges River. It’s the sort of mountain that makes Everest seem like climbing for dummies. Over the course of the three years between the first failed attempt and the second successful one, one of them was in a near fatal snowboard accident, which resulted in a severely fractured skull, and another narrowly survived an avalanche. But they ultimately made it up what is called the Shark Fin – razer like slabs of granite so unstable Chin said he could feel them move under his fingers.

On the first attempt they got within 500 feet of the summit – but ran out of food due to an unexpected four days waiting out a storm in a small tent half way the mountain.

The physical and mental strength it takes to know when to turn around and when to keep going is huge. I may not be headed to the super high mountains of the Himalayas, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my Florida version of training can at least get me ready again for something higher than Mt. Dora. For those of you non-Floridians, that’s what we in Central Florida call a summit – it’s a whopping 184 feet above sea level.

Labor Day – Take a Deep Breath

Taking a deep breath - Mt. Washington 2014
Taking a deep breath – Mt. Washington 2014

Many things just seem to stop on Labor Day. Including my 24 year old refrigerator that has occupied a convenient niche in our garage for the last several years.

Since I started this blog back in May or so of 2014 I have tried to publish posts once a week – I’m old enough that I tend to regard blogs as the digital equivalent of a weekly print magazine. But occasionally those periods occur where labor (aka work) takes over, becomes all consuming, and unfortunately, training, this blog, and yoga all take a back seat.

But all things pass, and it’s appropriate that they do so in time for Labor Day. It’s time to take a deep breath, and look forward to the fall and next adventures. Just like that first gust of cool wind on a fall day. After a summer of Florida heat and humidity, there’s no describing how refreshing that is. Unfortunately, I know from 25 years here that September isn’t much better than August.

So what is upcoming after the excitement of this summer’s trip to Ecuador? Most immediately, a trip to Maine with daughter #1 and the boyfriend N, and a hike up Puzzle Mountain. And after that….God willing and the creek don’t rise – we are seriously considering a trip to Pico de Orizaba in Mexico the first week of January 2016. It’s the third highest mountain in North America at 18,491 feet. And of course, it’s a volcano. Has anyone out there done this trip? We can certainly use all the help we can get.

In the meantime, this year’s Labor Day has involved refrigerator replacement, re-planting the vegetable garden, and a four mile run. I’ve taken a deep breath. Now it’s time to set our sights on the next summit.