Fifty feet into the woods, without looking back, I hold the key fob over my shoulder, squeeze the button and listen for the familiar sound that lets me know the car is indeed locked. Beep! Good. With the last civilized worry relieved, I stash the unit in my pants pocket and continue down the trail. The first backpacking trek of the season has officially begun!

There’s a measure of uncertainty and hesitancy at the start of these early trips. Given that, I always pack a tote bag of potential extras and mull over their use on the drive to the trailhead. Like extra food (took but didn’t eat), an extra layer (packed but never worn), and a light poncho versus heavier rain jacket and pants (carried the latter but it didn’t even rain).

You can combine the Coastal Trail and the Inland Trail at Cutler Coast Public Land for a sweet 10-mile backpack trip. Photo by Carey Kish

When you’re out for just an overnight like this one, there’s really not much to worry about, but you do just the same. Later in the summer after multiple trips, the backpack pretty much packs itself, so refined is the gear list and the routine. With the perfect base weight achieved, I can amble off assured that everything needed is in there, other than those unnecessary pounds.

Trundling ahead, I give the load on my back a shift, tighten the waist belt, adjust the shoulder straps, tweak my trekking poles. I fiddle with such minutiae for a while, but finally I pause and listen and look into the big woods around me and smile. I’ve entered the comfort zone of wild country and there was no looking back, at least for a brief period.

A mile and a half in, I reach what I’d come for: rugged rocks, bold headlands, blue ocean, cobble beaches, refreshing winds and warming sun. I scramble down to the first of many overlooks and sit for a long time on a sharp rock on the precipice edge to drink in the extraordinary view that ranges across two countries.

The Coastal Trail at Cutler Coast Public Land leads along the undulating margin of Maine’s extraordinarily beautiful Bold Coast. Photo by Carey Kish

From the vista, I strike out along the undulating margin of the shoreline. There is no hurry on this fine day, just one deliberate footstep after another. My mind wanders freely, and my eyes wander over the exquisite landscape. The calendar may read spring, but there is nary a whisper of it here; winter has just barely let go in these parts.


As I cross the golden meadows pouring down the slope from the upland peat bogs to meet the cliffs and coves, I pay homage to those who took to the trails long before me and provided this hiker with a lifetime of inspiration to walk the trails and see the wild spaces, people like Thoreau, Muir, Fletcher, Hillaby, Shaffer, Garvey and Ryback, to name just a few.

After an afternoon of glorious movement, I arrive at a clifftop perch 100 feet above the ocean waves and begin to transform the campsite into a proper home for the night. I empty the pack of old friends of many miles, the office garbage bag-turned-ground sheet, the orange two-person tent, the yellow air mattress and the downy black sleeping bag and set up.

There are five authorized campsites along the Coastal Trail at Cutler Coast Public Land. This is one of three sites at Fairy Head. Photo by Carey Kish

Trading boots for camp shoes, I arrange my kitchen on a log, the gas stove, cup and spoon, then meander a quarter-mile over to a familiar streamlet, where fresh water, tinged light brown from the tannins of the bog that is its source, flows free. I add purification drops to the water bag and saunter over the rocks back to camp.

Supper is a simple affair of pasta and chicken, and afterward, I pour a nip of bourbon and wander around the neighborhood. Boats in the channel, invisible in the flat gray light, are audible thanks to the rumble of their diesel engines. The bell buoy marking an offshore ledge lazily clangs every so often. The rush of the incoming tide kisses the rocks below.

The evening view of the Little River Light and Western Head is sweet from the campsite on Fairy Head. Photo by Carey Kish

In the evening blue I bid adieu to the three lighthouses off in the distance and slip into my shelter, content knowing I’m the only human around for miles. After a good night’s rest, I’ll complete the loop through the inland forest. On the road home there will be the first blueberry pie of the season at a favorite spot, and I fall asleep with that delightful treat in my thoughts.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of Beer Hiking New England, AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook and on Instagram @careykish

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