There’s nothing quite like a brand new pair of hiking boots — the excitement of unboxing the vehicles for your next adventure is unmatched. I recently bought the Merrel Moabs after busting a hole in the front of my old ones, which I had purchased secondhand from a guy named Bear at a used sports outlet in Colorado. I knew I had to choose a suitable hike for my first excursion with my new kicks. Naturally, this first adventure was a spontaneous hike in the Bigelow Preserve (a place I had found out about that morning) on a Sunday afternoon when I didn’t feel like doing my homework. Call it productive procrastination.
I set out for Cranberry Peak around noon with high hopes and a stomach full of Dana’s best granola. The drive to the Bigelow Preserve, where the mountain is located, was about an hour and fifteen minutes, making my start time (building in incidentals, gas, etc.) roughly two p.m. There were scattered showers forecasted for that evening, but I figured with my extreme stamina and morale, I would be done looooong before then. I thought wrong.
The hike began tamely with mild inclines through dense hardwood forest. The scent of rotting wood and tree sap lingered in my nostrils as the incline steepened and the trail grew roots and jagged boulders jutted up beneath my feet. Sure enough, I was bouldering and climbing tree stumps about a mile in. The damp air left rocks slick, making hand and foot holds even more difficult to find. I learned quickly that gaining 2500 feet of elevation over two-and-a-half-miles is no joke, especially when one has fallen victim to the Colby Cough.
The Maine wilderness is beautiful and rich with diverse flora and fauna. It is also rich with crazy Appalachian Trail thru hikers and Subarus (Toyota Tacomas get an honorable mention). But, before the granola invasion, the inhabitants of this beautiful land now called Bigelow Preserve were the Nanrantsouak, a sect of the Wabanaki Confederacy, also known as the Dawnland. The land was then overtaken by settlers, and the villages of Dead River and Flagstaff were established where Flagstaff lake sits today by Benedict Arnold on his famous march to Quebec in 1775. The Flagstaff and Dead River Villages functioned as small milling towns until legislation for a dam in the adjacent Dead River was approved in 1920, and the villages sank below what is now Flagstaff Lake by 1949. The land was given its state preserved status in 1976 by public referendum in order to prevent the construction of a ski resort and is now open for the enjoyment of hunters, hikers, snowmobilers, and apparently now vanlifers (one of which I had the pleasure of meeting in the parking lot with his van — great dude)!
When preparing to hike in the backcountry, there is a small list of essential things you must do to prepare: make sure you have enough water, bring layers, tell a few trusted friends where you’re going, and set a turnaround time. The time you must turn around and head back down the trail by, regardless of whether you summited or not. This is to prevent getting stuck in the dark or bad weather.
My turnaround time was 4 p.m., just enough time for me to get back to my car before sunset. The clock was running fast and I was nearly at the summit when it struck 3:55. The sky was already darkening with rain clouds and the dense forest blocked out most of the remaining light. With my turnaround time looming, I made the hard decision to head back short of the peak.
When choosing to turn back short of the summit, there was a small part of me that felt like I had failed. I knew that if I had kept going I could have gotten lost in the pitch dark or slid down a much slicker trail in the looming rainy weather. Still, I felt weak for not pushing on.
These feelings are normal. It’s so easy to get caught up in your own head, especially at an elite school like Colby. Everyone’s always talking about what classes they’re taking and their GPAs and even what major they’re pursuing. What’s important is to set realistic expectations specific to your own situation. Maybe you can’t crank out physics problem sets all day or code your own math homework on the daily or write a ten page essay in a day. You may not even be taking any classes that require that. It’s okay. I promise. Get out of everyone else’s head, and even more importantly, get out of your own. Looking back, I’m so proud of myself for looking past all the B.S. and doing what was best for myself in that moment. The peak will always be there.
Even if you decide to abandon an idea or task in the moment because it’s too much, that doesn’t mean you’re letting go of it forever. In fact, this past Friday, I returned to the base of Cranberry Peak with much better weather and much more daylight ahead of me and made it to the summit swiftly. By giving yourself better circumstances and preparing, that hard thing you may have to or want to do will be that much more attainable.
Though the everyday challenges we face as college students may not be literal mountains, they’re much more complex than simply putting one foot in front of the other. Give yourself more credit for getting through all the B.S. and learn to trust yourself. You’re smarter than you know. Now go get after it!
~ Liz Cutting `26