Lady of the Wild Woods

Camping in Acadia National Park

The Carriage Road in Acadia

For the Indigenous Peoples’ Day long weekend, Huiyeng and I planned a camping trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. Actually, I just mentioned an interest in going, and she planned pretty much the entire trip, because that’s how she is. She’s an amazing planner.

She said she wanted to cycle the Carriage Road, which is something neither of us has done before, and which I was totally excited about. And we both wanted to do some hiking. We had Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to plan for, since those were the days we could get a campsite in Acadia. So we drove up on Friday, camped. and then packed Saturday full of cycling the Carriage Road and hiking two peaks, and planned a pack up and drive home on Sunday along with a few touristy things as the mood went.

We setup camp at our site in Blackwoods Campground in Acadia. It was a nice site right across from the bathroom facilities. The bathrooms were just toilets with no hot water at all, and hot showers were at a separate location that required a drive and a monetary investment. We checked out the hot showers earlier and found that there were limited options. First, you had to physically drive to the facility. Second, many of the showers were out of order, as well as one of the two toilets on the women’s side. And third, it cost $3 for four minutes, so for me a total of $6. I was not feeling the showers and the effort involved and ended up just lumberjacking it the entire trip. I had brought wipes and just washed my face in the cold water at the sinks. It was not the most unpleasant experience and kind of refreshing with the cold water face washes.

A moment of honesty here. I would consider myself a somewhat prissy hiker and outdoorsy gal, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my own resilience when it comes to going without certain luxuries. I can go a few days without a shower, so long as I have wipes, and I often prefer shitting in the woods to shitting in an outhouse. Here’s why — SPIDERS! I don’t do spiders. NOPE. I don’t care about snakes (unless they are venomous), and I can grab and relocate snakes without hesitation, but spiders??? Forget about it! And if a campground bathroom facility is full of spider webs and spiders both alive and dead? –The stars on my reviews diminish substantially. I’ve watched people come in to clean the facilities in many campgrounds…So why can’t they just sweep away some spider webs??? I mean really! And some facilities have been super clean! But not this one.

It may not be obvious, but this place had a strong presence of spiders! Thank goddess it was cold outside!

That night we set up camp and Huiyeng made dinner, using the fire mostly to make curry rice with Beyond Sausage and tofu. It was delicious!

Though it got down into the forties that night, it wasn’t that cold. We used a double-high inflatable mattress in our “La Casa Grande” tent and a double sleeping bag with a layer (single fleece blanket) underneath and a winter comforter on top. We were snug, and even the obligatory nighttime bathroom visit wasn’t too bad, especially with the facilities just across the way. Sure, you could hear the door bang every time someone entered or left the facility, but that’s why I wear earplugs (and a mask)—Welcome to your late forties where a mask and earplugs are life-changing with regard to a good night’s sleep.

Huiyeng planned our Saturday. First a 14-mile ride on the Carriage Road, followed by a sunset hike up Mount Sargent, over to Penobscot, and then back to the parking lot. It sounded amazing! Then enter one scaredy-cat Gen-Xer. Trials, tribulations, and successes abounded as the weekend progressed.

The Carriage Road was more than I had ever imagined! It’s a series of fine gravel paths that were created by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in the early 20th century, who wanted to travel by horse and carriage without encountering motorized vehicles, and he happened to have the means to carry out this vision. A friend of Nature, he designed the roads in harmony with their natural surroundings. We are fortunate to be able to experience the beauty of these roads today.

The roads were beautiful, and there were so many places to stop and take pictures. There was ample elevation gain and descent, and I was a bit anxious that there might be drop-offs, but there weren’t. The roads were safe and beautiful along the parts we rode.


We rode back to the car, which was parked along the road, far from the trailhead due to extensive crowds visiting on the long weekend. I can’t blame them! By the time we got back to the car many of the other cars had left, so we packed up the bikes, got changed into hiking gear, and drove to the parking lot by Jordan Pond. It was about 3:30 pm by then, and we prepared for a sunset hike. It was my first sunset hike, and though the mountains in Acadia are 1,500 feet or less (compared to the 48 4000-footers in New Hampshire), they are extremely STEEP. I had a fair share of anxious moments and frustrations that tested the resolve of my very patient (non-scaredy-cat) partner.

The hiking trails in Acadia are meticulously designed and maintained with numerous staircases and well-marked trails with signs and cairns. They are fairly short in comparison to the ones in the White Mountains and other parts of Northern New England.


The first part of the hike from the parking lot around the west side of Jordan Pond was flat and crowded. It was mostly a series of planks to preserve the wetlands. Once we got off the boards, the elevation gain began — First with “gentle” staircases of wood and then stones. At one point we crossed over the carriage trail where we had taken photos previously in our bike gear.

Then the climb really began. The Dear Brook Trail was just an introduction. Once we hit the Sargent East Cliffs Trail, the vertical gain was quick and disquieting for this hiker with a fear of heights. I am actively working on reducing my anxiety with heights, and it is truly improving, but this trail did not bring out the best in me.

The scrambles up the side of the mountain were difficult, and while physically demanding, not beyond my capabilities as a physically fit person. It was the mental challenges that were the most trying for me and for Huiyeng as my support person. This was not a well-traveled trail at that time of day, so it was just the two of most of the way. As we climbed higher, my anxiety grew with the narrowing trail and small exposed areas.

In retrospect, I was being a big baby, and it wasn’t truly that bad—though hindsight is 20/20. I got myself all worked up, and my anxiety boiled over. At one point, as I was forcing my way up a steep section and feeling scared I began to wonder if maybe this wasn’t something I should be doing anymore. It didn’t, in that moment, bring me joy. It actually made me anxious, and so I allowed myself to revel in this new mindset, and I got angry with Huiyeng for suggesting the route. She had hiked this trail before, she should have remembered it was scary! (This was not her fault at all, and solely mine to own). I was lashing out, full of fear, at the person I love, who was in no way deserving of it.

But since there was no way in hell I was going to go back down the way I had just come up, I sucked it up and forced myself onward. Plus, in my recent growth, I have been able to let go of the fear of going up and not being able to come back down. I knew we didn’t have to tag the second peak, Penobscot, if we didn’t want to, and we could just make our way down. It certainly couldn’t be as bad as the way up, right? So upward we hiked. That’s when I began my first revelation and path toward actually overcoming my crutch of fear.

Huiyeng was nothing short of a saint in dealing with my ridiculousness. She was supportive and fearless. Our communication skills and trust in our relationship had a vast moment of growth during this hike as well. She asked me how she could help me to feel confident in moving through some of the scary sections. To be totally clear, all of my anxiety was totally my own and had nothing to do with her. The fact that she was fearless made me feel like she couldn’t understand where I was coming from or how I might feel in a potentially scary section. If it wasn’t scary to her, how would she know it was scary to me?

I wanted to stop being needy—to stop being fearful. I wanted to be brave like her. So I changed my own perspective. I communicated with her that if I started to feel anxious about an upcoming section of the trail that I couldn’t see beyond, it would help me if she would scout it out and make a judgment of its relative scariness. She did this the rest of the short hike to the summit, and there was only one very small section that was a turn upward, but the section below was a fairly narrow trail with mountain on one side and a slide on the other. So it wasn’t a drop-off, but a granite slope, and I felt very much like I could get hurt if I fell off.

She stood at the edge of the slope and let me walk between her and the mountain. I watched her standing at an edge I wouldn’t dare go near, and I asked her how she could just stand there like that. She said she trusted her balance and her gear, and as long I didn’t push her, she knew she would be fine. That was a huge moment of growth for me, because I realized how truly unrealistic my fear was. The trail wasn’t that narrow, and I’ve walked on the raised curb alongside a road before with one foot in front of the other, and had enough balance to not fall off. My balance is good. My footing is good.

The rest of the hike up to the summit of Sargent was perfect–more than perfect. It was a beautiful 365 degree view! And so worth it! The sun was just beginning to set over the ocean, and the full moon was rising opposite of the sun. It was a magical moment.

The sunset hike became a full-moon hike. It was my first hike at night, and I felt blessed. Penobscot looked like a hop, skip, and a jump away, but Huiyeng worried I’d have another panic attack. So we agreed, at my insistence, that we would decide on whether to tag Penobscot once we get to the junction below.

Summit of Mt. Sargent

The junction of the trail to Penabscot listed it as being 0.1 miles to the summit. I knew she had wanted to do both summits today, and I didn’t want to take that away from her because of my shenanigans, plus I was feeling so much more confident! I pushed for us to take the summit trail, as 0.1 miles is a crazy short distance!

So that’s what we did. And the summit trail was pretty much straight up, but I managed much better. And I had seen the topo map, and the trail looked like a gradual descent down on the ridge with a small area that was a bit steep. It couldn’t have been any worse than Sargent, which I had since vilified as terrifying (it’s not).

The summit of Penobscot in the full moonlight was beautiful, and the descent gradual, though in the dark, I thought it looked like so many drop-offs. And whenever I felt anxious, I just asked Huiyeng to shine her bright flashlight over to the area in question (we both had headlamps), which ended up never being scary at all–another confidence booster!

We finally ended up in the trees again, and the steep descent down began. I was wrong about Sargent. Penobscot was just as tough, but it’s not like I could turn around at that point. I had to persevere. I focused on what was right in front of me, even when the rock scramble down was super steep. I took it slow and kept my head about me.

There were parts that had iron rungs to hold onto and wooden railings, and I did it all. There was only one section that stopped me for a bit, but I didn’t whine about anything anymore. This particular section was very narrow with no rung. The fall down was not super far but might definitely break something. The hairy part was that you had to carefully take a few steps on the narrow part, then stoop down under a rocky overhang, before you could get on the secure area. Of course, Huiyeng did it like five times to show me how to do it. She’s like a freakin’ cat (a tiger!), and I’m a lumbering ape. But I ended up just sucking it up and just doing it—because there was no going back. And I was fine.

Then it was an easy, flat hike back to the car and then back to the campsite for a late dinner. I threw together some of my gourmet camp magic and made mushroom rice with veggies. Huiyeng grilled up the Beyond Burgers.

After a well-deserved meal and a restful sleep, we made breakfast the next day and packed up camp.

We stopped briefly to walk the short trail by the campground to the beach.

Before heading out we decided to check out the gardens. We stopped at Thuya Garden first. To get there we had to traverse through the Asticou Terraces. I had thought I was done with heights for the weekend, but apparently this amazing garden has a series of terraces on the side of the mountain on the way up to the garden. I did get a bit anxious in a couple of places winding up the side of the hill, but the path was wide, and there was a railing, and I again realized that I was going to be okay. There was no danger. Another notch in my belt of growth in overcoming my anxiety.

And the gardens were beautiful! What a great place to get ideas for flowers and landscaping. I brought my camera to take some closeups of flowers and bees and butterflies. Then we went to the Abby Aldrich garden, an Asian-inspired garden, which was peaceful and still filled with color.

After we finished at the gardens, we drove to Bar Harbor. Huiyeng had heard about land bridge that led to Bar Island from Bar Harbor. It is only revealed during low tide, so we found out when low tide would be and timed our visit there, so we could check it out!

While we were exploring the sandbar, Huiyeng said she had seen anemones in tidal pools at Acadia, and she wanted to show them to me. A park ranger had said the best place was around the sandbar, so we combed the area looking for anemones, but didn’t find any. We were disappointed that we didn’t see any, and the search morphed into an expanded exploration in search of sea anemones. Since they tend to be visible in tidal pools, we decided to head to the Ocean Path and see if we could find any there.

The search was fruitless, and the light began to fade, so we got back into the car and began the 5-hour drive home. We decided to stop in Portland for dinner at the Green Elephant. It’s my favorite restaurant in New Hampshire, and I had never been to the one in Portland. Huiyeng treated me in celebration of my completion of my MFA in creative writing from Cedar Crest College! It was delicious!

“Should fate unkind send us to roam, the scent of fragrant pines, the tang of salty sea will call us home.” –State of Maine song

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