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We climbed until we saw…a celebration of personal triumph, friendship and much more

On Sunday, October 16th, I climbed to the top of Penobscot Mountain in Acadia National Park with seven of my closest friends (my U of M sorority sisters) to celebrate a physical and emotional transformation that has truly changed my life.

It was an amazing experience aimed at celebrating a personal triumph, as well as lifelong friendships that have endured the test of time. This mountain climb was symbolic, celebratory, challenging, and emotional — with a touch of thrill and adventure to make it extra special. The truth is, it will be something I will remember for the rest of my life and I suspect my friends/sisters will too. Certainly it will make for great conversation at our girlfriend getaways for years to come!

The Climb. Penobscot Mountain offers several paths to the summit – some longer and a bit more harrowing than others. In total, it’s only about 3.2 miles but we inadvertently got lost a couple of times on the descent and hiked more like 5.5 miles in four hours when all was said and done. We only know this now — after retracing our path via a map we bought at the Acadia gift shop post climb.

Because we took the long way down the mountain with a few twists and turns, we didn’t finish until dark! Yes, we were deep in the woods of Acadia as night fell, uncertain if we would end up at the trail head where we started. At one point as the sun set over the mountains and the forest grew dark, some of us were contemplating hunkering down in the woods overnight.

It didn’t appear that anyone at the park knew we were still out there. Cell phones didn’t work and we didn’t have a handy dandy hiking GPS — or a map! Luckily, we did have savvy BWCAW hiker Karen in our group and she led us out in the nick of time.

Our hike began at the famous Jordan Pond House. All eight of us set off together at about 2:30 p.m. entering the woods by crossing Jordan stream over a small footbridge. At about .3 miles we came to an intersection marking the Jordan Cliffs, which my dear friend Anne Knapp had warned us about, so we quickly avoided that path and headed up the Spring Trail.

Little did we know, the Spring Trail is not really a trail. It’s more of a steep scramble between boulders (real mountain climbing) and it required us to pull ourselves up through some pretty tight areas. Luckily, there were a few iron rungs and rails built into the cliff side to assist. But there is no question that very early on pretty much everyone in the group, including me, wondered what the hell we had gotten ourselves into! This was no Oberg.

In one spot, you had to use both hands and feet to pull yourself up through a narrow patch of rocks. I was uncertain whether I – or other members of the  group – would make it. There was not only worry about how we would get up the boulders but also some fear of climbing down this narrow stretch while keeping our footing. And this was only .5 miles into the climb!

We all decided to go for it and helped each other through. To be honest, while at first it was a bit scary, it made the climb feel “real” and the challenge made it even more adventuresome.

Before we knew it, we had each navigated the narrow patch and reached the overlook above Jordan Pond where we rested, enjoyed the view and a photo opp, and wondered if indeed we had crossed the most difficult part of the trail or if there was more to come. Everyone decided to continue on. Yeah!

Secretly, after we all got through the tight spot on the Spring Trail I was excited! Though I’d be lying if I didn’t say that several in the group were crabby as they worried about the descent. So the thrill of it all didn’t last long as I felt responsible for getting us there and for not fully understanding the difficulty of the climb.

After another short climb straight up, the trail opened up on the mountain face and we ascended the granite mountain top. We followed cairns and blue paint markers that marked the route. The panoramic views from the open side of the mountain were simply breathtaking! I mean…breath-taking. By far, the best I have experienced. Mt Dessert Island and Atlantic ocean as far as the eye could see. Incredible! Jean was our group photographer and took scenic photos along the way, while I seared the views in my memory since I chose not to carry my camera on the trek.

We all made it up the mountain another mile to a large rock located about .5 miles from the summit and cracked the champagne. We toasted to my amazing journey, to sisterhood, and to our climb — for some their very first mountain climb. It was truly incredible to have my beloved friends and sisters with me to celebrate -150 lbs, a new life, and all that is yet to come. Words simply cannot describe how incredible it felt to be surrounded by such love and support. All I can say is WOW – I AM A LUCKY GIRL!

Several of us continued on to complete the entire 1.6 miles to the summit of Penobscot (which the Internet says is 1194 feet above sea level but Betsy’s car GPS said 1200 feet). From the summit, which consists of a pile of rocks and a marker, we experienced even better panoramic views of the ocean and the islands of Maine, as well as Sargeant Mountain.

After a brief photo opp with each of us standing on the summit, and another champagne toast (thank you Karen) we descended the mountain at a pretty fast clip, determined to get off the mountain before sunset.

On the way down, we made a group decision to follow Penobscot Mountain Trail and hopefully avoid the narrow descent over the rocks of Spring Trail. It was quite a bit easier to descend the mountain via Penobscot Mountain Trail but it did take longer. My friend Jean, who had fallen off a horse a week before, made the climb with a bruised hip and needed to go slower on the descent.

At one spot on the carriage road, there was confusion about which path to take and, after cussing out the Acadia park guide we spoke with before the climb who declined to give us a map, we picked a path for our descent and started to follow it. We soon found out this was incorrect as it took us back to the carriage road where we had originally started. The trails were not that well marked and without map, we were lost. After a couple of false starts and wrong turns, we finally hooked up with
Asticou Trail – a 1.2 mile trail that led us through the woods and back to the small wooden bridge over Jordon Stream. VICTORY came just as night fell and the forest became dark and, admittedly, a bit scary.

To celebrate our victory and dull our aching muscles, we finished off the champagne at the bridge and took one final photo to document the darkness that fell as our trip ended. The Jordon Pond House was now closed (further evidence they would not have found us in the forest had we not come out) so we hiked our tails back to the car and went out for dinner in Blue Hill to celebrate. Mission Accomplished.

Symbolic. For me, the journey up Penobscot Mountain was symbolic. Ten months and 150 lbs ago, I not only didn’t hike, but I certainly had never climbed a mountain, and hurling myself up a big granite boulder – well, that would be unheard of! So this trip up Penobscot was a symbol of accomplishment and personal triumph for sure.

We climbed Minnesota mountains during Fitness North and the pride I felt after my first mountain climb up Oberg was probably much like that of my sisters on this climb. The challenge of Penobscot and the stories we can now tell about our venture makes this one extra sweet!

The climb was also symbolic in the sense that my friends and I were celebrating 30 years of friendship and sisterhood, accompanying each other on a life journey through joys and celebrations, pain and heart ache. These past 18 months, in addition to my personal fitness journey – Cindy lost her Mom and a sister in law, Annie lost her sister, Kathy lost her beloved aunt and her daughter got married, Betsy lost a job and  is in transition… and the list goes on. We have seen each other through some pretty incredible journeys – triumphs and tragedy. And this trip up the mountain, was a celebration of all we have endured and a friendship that has remained through the gifts of laughter, love and devotion.

Celebratory. Certainly, for me, the climb was a celebration of all I have accomplished and all that is yet to come in this new life. And, I can’t think of anyone I would rather celebrate with than this group of amazing women who have been by my side for 30 years. The fact that I could celebrate it myself and truly take in my own accomplishments – well, that’s icing on the cake called success! (figure of speech, of course. No cake served.)

Challenging. It is fitting that this climb was more challenging than I had anticipated. It sweetened the accomplishment to tackle something that was tougher than expected and challenged my strength and endurance. And, to do so with my girls definitely brought us closer together. We had to help each other through, as we have all of our lives. And the shared victory was sweet.

Emotional. When I reached the mountain top, I took a moment to take in all I have accomplished and I cried. Overwhelmed with gratitude for this second chance I have been given, and surrounded by love and support from my sisters, I took a moment off by myself to thank the excavation team – Leif, O’Neal, Sandra and Julie my trainers, and all those who have supported me and helped me get here..right here to this mountain top where I truly feel on top of the world! What a gift.

As I close this blog, I am reminded by the poem that my friend Jean sent me just before I started my Fitness North program last November. It seems fitting now to repeat the last line here: “I HAVE A MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB!”

I simply can’t wait to do it again! I had a blast. Jean, Cindy, Karen, Kathy, Betsy, Barb and Ann – I adore you. Thank you.

LOR (Schaef)

P.S. A special thank you to my friend Anne K. who offered her gorgeous coastal home as my reward for achieving my weight loss goals. This was a dream come true. She knows how much I love the coast of Maine and her unbelievably beautiful coastal home. And this mountain climb in Acadia was the perfect way to celebrate. Thank you Anne…for everything!

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