Breaking Out Of Our Comfort Zone

Mary at the beginning of the 0.2 mile length of the Summit Trail of Bradbury Mountain in Pownal, Maine. Holy hypotenuse …

Since getting into the Travel Nurse lifestyle, one activity Mary and I have gotten into is hiking. Being our age we generally stick to groomed trails in known areas, but as time has gone on the hiking has gotten easier. Sometimes we take the dogs, but as many places don’t allow pets because of wildlife we’re not always able to take them. It’s also at those times that we tend to get further out of our comfort zone and end up in places different to us.

One day in June of 2018 we’d hiked one of our normal walks. It’s a paved rail-to-trail known as the Papermill Trail at Miller Park in Lisbon, Maine. We’d probably walked a mile in each direction on a fairly warm day and were ready to call it when Mary decided we should go for a drive and check out the nearby Bradbury Mountain State Park. We love hitting up the state parks in Maine as there’s always something interesting and likely historical. As Bradbury Mountain was just a few miles away, we headed in that direction.

Our thoughts as we got to the gate and chatted with the Ranger was that we’d find a place to park the van, then have a good look around, maybe see some of the sights. Was it possible to drive to the 469ft summit of Bradbury Mountain itself, as you can with the 6,288ft summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire? No, there’s only trail access to the summit, with multiple trails having different difficulty levels. We decided we’d park, check the maps out, and just play it all by ear.

Do you know that feeling you get when you realize something might happen that’ll take drain your energy and make you sleep rather well through the coming night? Remember, we had already walked a couple miles and were ready to head back to the apartment. But Mary’s mind was churning with the possibilities of seeing the summit of this little mountain, and she began reviewing the map and the signage to figure out which way we should head on up. There are multiple trials of various lengths, and eat trail on both the map and the signage is labeled with the level of difficulty.

This is precisely where mistakes happen. I’m only good with certain types of math, such as cooking conversions, measurements of different kinds (I was a precision calibration tech in the Navy), time, and navigation. The latter two are somewhat similar as they each resolve to increments of 60, with time being hours/minutes/seconds and navigation being degrees/minutes/seconds. I’m also halfway decent with algebra, and the SOH/CAH/TOA mnemonic has lived in my brain since middle school.

That last sentence should tell you that, when Mary says it was my idea to take the Summit Trail because it was shorter, you should already know better …

I had my suspicions about particular elevations and the possible ascent angle at the time. The trail maps list the Summit Trail as having an Intermediate difficulty. While this may not sound like much of an issue, we’re not experienced hikers or climbers in any manner. Let’s do the math: A mile is 5,280 feet, so the 0.2 mile Summit Trail distance to hike is approximately 1,056 feet. The summit of Bradbury Mountain is 469ft. A lot of online info is incorrect about the elevation of the parking lot we parked in, which actual elevation maps and services show at 283 feet. This means we would climb 186 feet, which is eighteen stories. Going through the SOH/CAH/TOA equations, the angle of ascent is about 11°.

For inexperienced hikers/climbers like us, that’s some hard work. I didn’t know those particular figures at the time, but I looked at the sign Mary was standing next to, then looked up at where that trail went, and then saw the grin on her face, and thought to myself “Aw, crap … Here we go …” And up we went.

The Summit Trail started out nicely enough, having not too much of a rise to it. It actually seemed as though it was going to be a decently easy and mild walk to the top. The trail had some variations to it, going through areas that were mostly pine needles and old leaves, along with some rocky areas where some had walked beside the rocks on the ground to create a secondary path.

The Google Maps platform has a rather simple Elevation Service that allows you to not only look at topographic maps of the US in rather nice detail, you can also click on a point to find out exactly where that spot on the map is above sea level, or its elevation. Zooming that map in to Bradbury Mountain it’s then easy to see an accurate topographic map of the trails that lead to the summit. The Summit Trail leaves the parking lot in a northwest direction, goes up a number of stepped inclines, then loops back almost due east to the summit itself.

It was those stepped inclines that became more and more difficult, while at the same time throwing the 11° calculated ascent angle right out the window. Looking at those inclines and photographing them, trying to use a decent camera to capture the ascent angles we were looking at and experiencing … The photos don’t quite do it all justice.

The closer we got to the summit, the steeper the ascent became. At some point in the decades since the park was founded in 1939 someone saw fit to cut and add actual steps to certain points in the climb. Sometimes they were helpful, but at other times they weren’t all that comfortable to use and using the ground next to them seemed to be more convenient. Ancient vines and routes covered part of the route which added to the overall difficulty. Fortunately for us the climb was littered with larger rocks and boulders which were very suitable for sitting and taking much-needed breaks. It was also littered with me saying at intervals that got closer together “Take the Summit Trail, you said. It’ll be faster, you said.” Of course, I was generally ignored …

After the final turn, heading east and in the last push to the summit, there were large boulders that had split eons ago. The gap was at first wide enough to stand in but as we climbed higher it became quite narrow and was difficult to navigate, so we ended up climbing those last twenty feet or so using our hands as well to basically scoot ourselves up through the gap.

Getting to the summit of what was basically the hill that is Bradbury Mountaine was a big deal to us. We could have gone up a different route as there were many to chose from, and at our age we probably should have. But there was certainly a feeling of elation at having accomplished something that to us was an outrageous decision made at the spur-of-the-moment. Mustering the willpower to get up that hill wasn’t something we likely would have done at home, or even somewhere near home. Here we were, far from home, ready to do something a little nuts at any moment, and we did so. Summiting Bradbury Mountain made us feel good about ourselves.

From saying we were basically done for the day to taking probably an hour-and-a-half to climb eighteen stories, we think we did really well in breaking out of our comfort zone. I hadn’t done anything similar, and I don’t think Mary had either … But since climbing Bradbury Mountain we’ve gone on to do quite a few things we never would have even imagined doing in the past. Exploring is something everyone should do. The Travel Nurse lifestyle makes it possible. Mary and I are definitely thankful for that.

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