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This must be the place: When I pass by all the people say, just another guy on the lost highway

Sunset in New Harbor, Maine. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Sunset in New Harbor, Maine. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

Last Sunday morning, at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Route 27 in Wiscasset, Maine, I decided to turn right instead of going straight. 

Instead of the usual drive down U.S. 1 to Interstate 95 and back into civilization, along the highways that lead me to my native North Country of Upstate New York, I chose Route 27 and pushed north into the desolate backwoods of Maine. I had a lot on my mind and preferred the scenic path. No need to rush back to my parents’ house. 

The day before, I found myself attending a wedding of a dear childhood friend, Alex. The ceremony was held at an old Revolutionary Way fort tucked away in a quiet harbor on the coast of Maine, the village of New Harbor to exact. 

And always looming in the distance is the mighty and mysterious Atlantic Ocean. Some 34 years into my existence and no smell in my memory provokes my utter joy of the universe and its glory than the scent of the ocean on the coast of Maine at sunset. This is truth. 

Alex has been a soul brother of mine since I was 11 years old and he was seven. Our families rented cabins next to each other in New Harbor for summer vacations. He had a Boston Red Sox hat on, so did I. Sox forever. Traded some baseball cards and formed a friendship, one where our parents also became best friends. 

Some 23 years later, we’re all back in the Maine, in the same harbor of where we first met, now here for his wedding. We ate lobster and drank beers during an ocean sunset for the rehearsal dinner. A full circle moment, to say the least. 

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Lots of familiar faces in the crowd at the reception. Drinks with my father. Laughter with my mother. My 5-year-old niece is growing like a weed, my little sister a good and proud mother in her own right. 

It hit me so hard and swift during the procession as to how fast time actually flies, and how much I haven’t been around for moments like these over the last decade or so, something anyone in pursuit of long-held dreams can probably attest to. 

I’ve spent so much time and effort chasing after the written word — tens of thousands of miles down the lost highway — that I’ve ended up so far from where I began. And for that, I’m sincerely grateful: all the blood, sweat and tears to this point. No regrets. And I keep chasing these dreams. 

But, my heart was heavy at that moment being around the folks that I haven’t seen or talked to in a long, long time. Not by choice, it just happened. Following hugs and goodbyes with the wedding crew, I found myself on Route 27, eventually merging onto U.S. 2 through the dense forest of northern New Hampshire. 

With the truck windows rolled down, the stereo blasting some fuzzy oldies from some radio station over the ridge, I came across an access point for the Appalachian Trail. I pulled into the Rattle River parking lot and threw on my running clothes seeing as the out and back to the nearest shelter was only 3.2 miles roundtrip. 

It felt so serene and joyous just jogging through the White Mountains and along the cosmic energy of the AT. I kept thinking how crazy it is that this exact trail goes all the way down to where I live in Haywood County, North Carolina. All of those miles and all of those people: all on this route. 

I even came across some thru-hikers, which made me remember the thru-hikers I crossed paths with down in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina when they were just beginning their AT journey in March and April.

When I arrived at the shelter, it was empty. I looked at it and the nearby fire pit, just picturing all those stories, experiences and nights shared together around the fire by countless individuals who jump on the AT for whatever personal and spiritual reason they may have.

I emerged from the trail refreshed with a sense of clarity that serendipitously occurs during runs into the depths of Mother Nature. Hopping up onto the truck tailgate, I decided that in five years I’m going buy a piece of land in Maine and build a cabin. 

I’ve been talking about having a cabin in Maine since I was a teenager, an escape hatch by which the humble abode will offer a sanctuary to write freely and listen to scratchy vinyl records, perhaps breakfast for dinner if the mood is right. A piece of my heart and soul will always reside in these ancient woods and waters. 

From that point forward, I also decided to be more present to my North Country family and friends, and all those loved ones above the Mason-Dixon Line. For what is a life well-lived without those who know you the best and love you the most?

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 

 

Hot picks

1 A fundraiser for the Appalachian Women’s Museum, the “Music on the Porch: A Celebration of Aunt Samantha Bumgarner” will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Monteith Farmstead in Dillsboro.

2 Asheville author Dale Neal will present his new novel Appalachian Book of the Dead at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.

3 The 1970s are going to come roaring back with the smash Broadway hit “Mamma Mia!” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12-14, and 2 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.

4 The annual Macon County Agricultural Fair will take place Sept. 11-14 at the Macon County Fairgrounds in Franklin.

5 The Smoky Mountain Rollergirls will conclude its 2019 roller derby season with a double header on Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Swain County Recreation Center in Bryson City. 

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