Sometime in April as the pandemic slowly ground the life I knew to a halt, and as I found myself in the midst of cancelling/rescheduling and then re-cancelling most of my work and spring, summer and fall plans, Stud called up Baxter State Park on a whim and was able to reserve us a lean-to at Chimney Pond for mid July. These lean-to campsites are highly coveted and very hard to get. I’ve been there a couple times but not in almost a decade and I recall having to mail in a reservation request with 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice dates exactly 4 months in advance to the day.
Stud just so happen to call in the exact right moment and speak with a ranger who was working from home and was able to book us a lean-to Chimney Pond for 3 nights in July. I could hardly take in the news and had no idea what July would look like and if we’d even be able to go under the pandemic circumstances. We watched the covid-19 cases and death toll rise and fall in Massachusetts as well as neighboring states while following along with protocol updates with the various trail systems in the state and national parks and forests of the northeast. We read about entitled AT hikers who defied all rules and protocols running from rangers into closed parks as we carefully deciphered whether or not we could ethically go to Katahdin in July in a safe-ish rule-abiding way. We processed the crap out of our potential plans with our partners and the four of us got together and talk it through in the 6 weeks leading up to it.
On July 1st Baxter State Park opened for day use and then a week later, they were open for camping. Maine issued a “Keep Maine Healthy” plan requiring all out-of-staters to either get tested for covid-19 before traveling to Maine and bring proof of a negative test result taken within 3 days of arrival (72 hours) or quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. We went and got tested together on a Wednesday afternoon so that our results would be valid for our Saturday afternoon check-in. Our negative test results came in on time and we rejoiced and started packing.
Stud picked me up early Saturday morning and we hugged for the first time since February which is likely the longest I’ve ever not hugged Stud since we met 15 years ago. This would be my first car ride with anyone other than my partner and it was very exciting. There was no traffic and we stopped at a few rest stops feeling nervous about how we might be perceived wearing masks since most people in New Hampshire in Maine were not wearing masks and we’ve heard stories about people getting harassed for wearing masks in some areas. But it was all very chill and no one bothered us and there were very few people traveling so our normal but extra elevated public bathroom anxiety lessened as our journey continued. We had a full cooler with all the food we needed for the next 5 days and thus avoided going into any of small towns only stopping at rest stops to use the bathroom.
Shortly after passing Millinocket, Maine, the last town before heading into the wilderness, I was delighted to see my phone no longer had service. As I put my phone on airplane mode, I vowed to not take for granted this gift and absolute privilege of being able to unplug for a few days in the backcountry.
We pulled into Baxter State Park in the early afternoon clutching our negative covid-19 test results along with our signed Certificate of Compliance as requested on Maine.gov but no one asked us for any of it. The masked ranger who checked us in at the toll gate’s only concern was our plan to hike North Brother Mountain the next day in the rain. He sent us on our way and we drove the 20 mile an hour dirt tote road counter clockwise thru the park towards Nesowadnehunk Field Campground where we’d be staying for 1 night before hiking North Brother Mountain and then making our way onward to Chimney Pond.
It was maybe 1pm as we drove past the trailhead for North Brother, I thew out the possibility of us maybe just going for it and hiking it right then. I did the math and calculated that if we started now, we’d be back down by 8 or 9pm and would maybe have to hike the last mile or 2 in by headlamp which seemed kinda fun. For a moment we looked at each other and tried to imagine it but it was kind of late for an unknown 9-miler and the weather was iffy for an exposed alpine summit and were a bit anxious and unsettled so we continued on to Nesowadnehunk as planned where we took a long walk before settling into our lean-to where we set up this massive bug net that Stud pulled out making a bug net box inside the lean-to and then we played a few rounds of yahtzee before having a 4pm dinner from our cooler and attempting to make a fire between the the rain showers. We were in our sleeping bags by 5pm processing about life, racial justice, social media, covid-19, work, queerness, relationships and like everything and anything that was occupying our minds. Then Stud read to me from Jurassic Park. We reminded each other that summiting mountains was not the most important thing and that we were just so happy to be in such a beautiful wild place that was quiet and smelled really good. We watched the lightening bugs light up the field as we wondered what tomorrow would bring before slowly drifting off to sleep.