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Last Legs, A Runner’s Blog: Week 10: Cutler Coast Trail

By: Jim Burnett

I had been hoping for a good overlook along the trail and now, halfway around the loop as I peered over the edge of a 60-foot drop off to the rocky beach below, I got what I was looking for. Squinting into the stiff onshore breeze, I could see huge waves rumbling in and crashing on the jagged shoreline. The Cutler Coast Trail is 25 miles off US Rte 1 near Machias, Maine. The ten-mile trail takes you along the rugged coastline, then loops back inland through the woods. There are spliced log planks over muddy patches, rocks and roots jutting out of the ground everywhere and a few stretches along the rocky shoreline where you hop from boulder-point, to granite slab, to boulder-point. On top of that there is a thousand feet of elevation gain that adds to the workload. For Mookie, my super-size Labradoodle hiking companion, the trail is a playground. Strong, fit and agile, he bounds full bore on ahead of me scrambling up steep and daunting technical pitches to the tops of piles of boulders, then looks back down to see what is taking me so long. In a flash, as I peer over the edge of the cliff, it occurs to me that Mookie, in his tongue-dangling frenzy, might try to leap onto the tiny overlook with me, a landing pad of perhaps one square foot. Slightly dizzied by my eager climb up to the overlook and teetering on its edge, I think, “What if Mookie bumps me over the edge?”

The fog that had blanketed the Downeast coastline overnight was now, on this chilly October morning, slowly burning away and each view of the ocean from high up on the cliff or from down on the rocks below was more vivid and spectacular than the last. The combination of the powerful and relentless wind, the thundering surf and the bright rays of sunlight reflecting off the tops of the whitecaps was stunning. This out-of-the-way trail along the coast is very special indeed. Exhilarated, Mookie and I continued.

At Fairy Point the trail turns inland and, as we entered the forest, all became quiet. The roar of the siege upon the coast was replaced by the soft sweet smells of balsam fir bows and the rich aroma of decaying plant life. Irish-green mosses and blanched lichen trimmed the trail edge, highlighted by flecks of sunlight, while thick roots snaked their way over, under and around everything in their path. The tangles of roots unearthed by thousands of foot falls, and now draped over rocks and streaming down crumbling embankments, looked like a human body opened wide for autopsy – veins twisted around bones, organs and muscle tissue. Mookie slowed his pace and trailed behind me sniffing every leaf and stick on both sides of the path. We encountered a few groups of hikers during our five-hour trek, but, for the most part, we were happily alone in each other’s company. The solitude and silence provided by the forest, combined with our growing fatigue, conjured up an aura around us, at once warm and satisfying. We were both tired, “good” tired, and only a few more miles lay ahead. We were in no hurry and marched happily on.

Looking back on the many hikes Mookie and I have shared recently, the Cutler Coast Trail tops the list and we will never forget it. It was an awesome, and I really mean awesome, morning hike along the coast of Maine.

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