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Maybe one of the reasons, as I grew into hiking, that I never found myself consumed with fear of being alone in the deep dark unknown of the wilderness is that I never gave much thought to ghosts. It’s not to say that I don’t believe in them, but when you spend so much of your life running around a bright and loud metropolis, who the hell has time to think about ghosts?
Now, I’ve most certainly heard some things in the wilderness that I can’t explain, but there's plenty of wildlife out there I don’t even know exists. If I hear a screech or a howl that I haven’t heard before, I chalk it up to just another animal crossing my path for the first time. If it's a mating call, then I just make sure my tent is well secured lest some furry rascal comes looking for some interspecies kink, and back off to dreamland I go.
My relationship to paranormal activity all changed for me in Cutler, Maine. During 4th of July weekend this year I packed up the car and decided to wander the full coast of Maine. I had my sights set on the tip of the state for some secluded hiking along the ocean coast. Cutler seemed like a perfect place for such a desire.
Cutler is one of those small fishing villages that makes you feel like you traveled through a time warp to a place from centuries ago. It sits on a small bay where the lobster boats rest when not out collecting the town’s main income. What Cutler also has is some of the best hiking trails on the east coast. There are thousands of acres of public land managed for wildlife habitat and us nature lovers to wander, which is what brought me there.
Now while most of America was taking in the beach, BBQ’s, and firework displays in the cities or small towns of the US of A, myself and a hand full of others decided to hike and embrace the wild landscape of America to pay homage to our country.
I picked a loop that combined the inland wilderness and high coastal cliff hiking of Cutler. It was a solid 12 mile loop that I would take my time with, camping out amongst the rocky cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I’d have views of the far off lighthouses and Grand Manan Island.
The hiking was at its best. It wasn’t a hike full of difficult challenges, but more so the incredible awestruck visuals I so craved. I wanted to breath in America much like our settlers did, taking in this untouched land. As I hiked to my desired location for the night, knowing there were few designated camping spots due to protection laws, I saw just a handful of other hikers, and even fewer planning to camp for the evening.
In the late afternoon, I found my spot, and it was spectacular! I had the last camping space on the loop. From here it would be another 6 miles inland back to where I started. This is an important part of the story. There were no more camping spots if you continued deeper along the loop. If I wanted to attempt to stealth camp (create my own camping spot) 1) it would go against everything I believe about leaving protected land untouched 2) it was near impossible to stealth because the forest floor was literally covered in moss and swamp, which meant lots of plank hiking. There was absolutely nowhere to plop your tent down.
I took the time to set up camp in this perfect scene. Instagram was made for this spot. By the time I finished setting up, it was close to 7pm. Dusk on the cliffs of Maine was breathtaking, and I was going to make the best of it. I headed up onto some boulders with my dinner and smoking pipe. I was excited to settle in and let the scene overtake me.
As I finished preparing my dinner, I heard a small bark from behind me. Surprised, I turned to check it out. I was greeted by an older gentleman, mid 70’s or so, and his dog sitting on a boulder not to far from where I was relaxing, just before the trail led back into the swampy wilderness. He resembled one of those old time fishermen--worn jeans, heavy boots, and a thick turtleneck sweater--and was reading a book while his man’s best friend sat by his side. He lifted his head from his book and looked my way. I gave a wave of greeting and he nodded his head back at me before returning to his read. My first thought was, “Maybe I didn’t get the last camping spot on trail. Maybe there was one more spot down below the rocks that I hadn’t noticed.”
At this point, darkness was quickly arriving. I hadn’t noticed a backpack, hiking poles or any other gear that would indicate he was here to take in the sunset and make his way back to the trailhead 3 hours or so away from where we sat. No, he must have found another clearing to make camp for the evening that wasn’t visible from my spot. As I enjoyed my dinner, every so often, I took a look back to see my neighbor. There he sat reading away, his dog as stoic as could be by his side. I knew I needed some water and knew that there was a freshwater spring close to the trail where it reentered the woods. I figured when it was time to retrieve needed water I would get a peek at his camp spot. Maybe have a quick chat and wish him a happy 4th.
As I wrapped up dinner I decided to enjoy my pipe before I headed to the water source. As I stood up and turned, the old man and his dog were gone. Gone without a hint of noise. It was just 5 minutes before that they were still enjoying their time on the cliffs and now they were no more. I was curious, to say the least. I collected my water filter and headed over to the water source. Just enough light to still see the surrounding area and I took in every square inch. There was no tent. No camping hammock. There was no designated camping area. There was just the trail reentering the darkness of the wilderness. The nearest camping spot to mine was a half mile back also along the cliffs. He would have had to pass me to head towards it. I could see it from my location and knew it was occupied by two couples I had passed earlier. Where did the old man and his dog go??
I collected my water with wonder. Perhaps this was land he knew well, his home. A place he came often to dive into his book while the ocean breeze breathed life through him. But I knew from the hike in that the hike out would be just as difficult to navigate, even with a headlamp. I couldn’t stop wondering, “Where did he go?”
As I turned in for the night the stars shined brightly. To my surprise, the Cutler Naval Base off the coast treated the small town--and us woodland wanderlusts--to a display of festive fireworks. I drifted off with lingering embers swirling in the night sky and lingering bewilderment about the old man and his dog swirling in my mind.
I woke up at 5am ready to hike out to avoid Maine’s unbearable summer mosquitos. Off I went at a quick pace, but instead of scanning the beauty of the woods, I searched for hidden campsites, a streak of color from a tent set up. Anything to show me the man and his dog knew of one last place to call it a night amongst the woodlands.
Nothing…Not a space that I could even imagine someone setting up for the night. The hike out was a lone trail surrounded by dense, wet, undisturbed wilderness. I imagine there were some options for the oldtimer and his dog the night before, but those options seemed risky or near impossible. When I reached the trailhead I drove off from Cutler, and for the first time in my life I was left with a question that many often debate…….
Did I just see a ghost?
Hike the good Hike…..