Three Who Turned Fifty, Part I

By Cecil Maxfield.

Is there significance to these three northern New Englanders' places of birth giving rise to their love of the outdoors, not to mention their sense of individualism? I submit that there is; hopefully you'll see it, too, reading between the lines of what they have to say about themselves as they reflect on turning the Big Five-O, and looking back across the landscape of those years spent in the outdoors.

Our first Birthday Boy is Steve Pinkham, who turns 50 this month. An AT-New England hiker, Long Trail hiker, organizer of multitudes of events for Chiltern Mountain Club, and history-buff extraordinaire, Steve has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about himself and his life in the outdoors. We caught up with him via email; here's what he had to say:

Cecil Maxfield: When and how did you begin to be interested in outdoor activities beyond the running, jumping, and exploring that one might expect from boys?

Steve Pinkham: When I was about ten years old, we lived in an unorganized township in western Maine. I had a dog named King and he and I would roam for hours along old woods roads, deer trails and streams. That's when I first fell in love with nature. In the next year I experienced a number of trips that hooked me on the outdoors - a 3-day fishing trip to High Pond on the top of Pierce Pond Mountain, a fly-in fishing trip to Enchanted Pond, and a hike up Mount Kineo with my uncle and aunt.

CM: Was there a mentor or other hero for you who introduced you to the world of outdoor activities? Please say a bit about that person/s, if so.

SP: Yes, my grandmother. She was the one who taught me to fly-fish, to love nature, and told me stories of her father's adventures as a Registered Maine Guide on the Rangeley Lakes.

CM: What are your top 3 favorite outdoor activities?

SP: Hiking, camping and canoeing.

CM: Of all the memories you've surely created over the course of your years out in the wild, is there a favorite moment or memory you can share with us?

SP: That's a tough one, I've had so many wonderful and memorable experiences over the years - being rescued from a flood, being chased by a moose, coming face-to-face with a black bear, almost drowning in a river. One of my most memorable experiences was while I was backpacking alone on the Long Trail back in the 1970's. I was walking through a small beech grove on a sunny day. The small trees were very thick and the trail was literally a swath cut right though it, forming a tunnel. At one point the trail came to a small round open area the size of a small room, then continued out the other side. When I stepped into this area, the sun glistened on the yellow leaves and for a brief moment the entire room and I were bathed in a glowing golden light for a few seconds, though it seemed much longer. As many of my outdoor experiences fade into memory, this one always seems to resurface and I find myself experiencing all over again and again. I have no idea what it means. It just creates a wonderful, warm and secure feeling each time I relive it.

CM: Fifty is no small milestone for anyone; things start to shift in our bodies, after all. What changes have you noticed in your body (or mind) as the years have gone by?

SP: While I still have a good amount of stamina, I find that I am beginning to slow down a little. I tend to walk up stairs rather than run and I find that the idea of climbing tall mountains has begun to take a back seat. Having climbed the 100 highest mountains in New England, I find myself not going back, but quite happy to climb smaller mountains and hike in the woods, along streams and to waterfalls as I progress in years.

CM: Can you ever imagine yourself stopping your outdoor activities? If so, why?

SP: No. You see, since I was a very small boy, I have always had a vivid picture of myself living to be a very old man with my abilities and faculties in place. I have always pictured myself going for a daily walk right into my nineties. While I can see myself getting to a point where I will no longer camp or backpack, I see myself going on small walks and hikes for may years to come.

CM: What has been the biggest benefit for you from all of your years of outdoor activity?

SP: In looking back I think see that for many years I was leading trips and experiencing the outdoors to fulfill benefits like the beauty of mother nature, camaraderie, and the need to constantly organize. It was not until about four years ago that I began to find a marriage between my passion for the outdoors, my love for local history and my constant curiosity to know where things started or how they got named. About four years ago I decided to write a book called The Maine Mountains – Their Stories, Legends and Names. This began a wonderful journey of research and writing (which is 90% finished) and over the years I have collected such a vast amount of material that it has has given birth to two other books beyond that. I am also writing a two-volume set - Tales from the Maine Woods. This will be a compilation of printed stories from the late 1700's to the early 1900's about peoples experiences in the Maine Woods. After that I hope to write a History of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. I truly feel that writing these books is the true purpose of my journey, but I could never have gotten to this point without all those wonderful outdoor experiences.

CM: Do you have any advice for others that you wish you'd been given by someone older, regarding how to keep going as you keep aging?

SP: I think the thing that has kept me going all these years are my passion for the outdoors and my passion and love for the history of the trails and mountains. I don't think my elders could teach me about passion or that I would have understood it anyway. You either have it or you don't. Looking back I see that they simply nurtured me along the way and allowed me to discover my passions in my own time and own way. My grandmother, who was my mentor, and my parents have all supported me in all my outdoor adventures, encouraged me to follow my dreams and continue to help me on this journey today.

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