Awaking to a chilly, but beautiful morning in western Maine, I knew I had a long day ahead of me. Lucas and I walked down to the Carrabassett Valley Academy dining hall and ate with the students as they readied themselves for their weekend kayaking, backpacking, and other outdoor, grade-level trips. Lucas was heading to Booth Bay to go sea kayaking, something he has done professionally for years.
We said our goodbyes and I lazed around his apartment, finishing up some dishes and finalizing my post for the day. Then, I continued north on Route 27. I crossed the Appalachian Trail, drove up Quill Hill, idled past the Rangeley Lakes, and even saw signs for the border patrol. In Maine, you really are never more than a few hours from Canada.
Eventually, I had to turn south, taking Route 4 in the direction of Farmington. On the way, however, I had a pit stop in mind. Smalls Falls had been recommended to me by one of Lucas’s fellow teachers. With cliffs ranging from twenty to forty feet over deep pools, I couldn’t resist. A relatively undeveloped trail led away from a parking lot filled with cars and picnic areas. As I hiked over the traffic-worn rocks, I realized how popular this place must be. The jagged rocks had been smoothed over by hundreds, if not thousands, of feet eagerly hiking towards the falls. Two minutes later, I looked down into a deep, dark pool with a wonderful waterfall rushing into it. With no one to guide me, it took me a little while to figure out which pools would be safe for jumping. During my exploration, I found two other pools with water rushing gently over gradual slopes into shallow pools of crystal clear water. The water also just so happened to be frigidly cold.
Once I found the rope leading up the rock face from the deeper of the two pools, I knew I had found my spot. I set up my GoPro on the opposing cliff and, with no one to tell me not too, went for it. It is amazing how similar every cliff jumping experience is. A nervous feeling spreads through your limbs, rendering them slightly unresponsive to your brains commands. Then, in a rush of willpower designed to overpower your evolutionary instincts for survival, you leap into the air. A half a second later, you realize what you’ve done… and that you are still hurtling through the air. That moment of panic on the way down indicates that you have chosen a cliff that is high enough to really ensure a solid adrenaline rush. Thirty to forty footers generally have the desired effect. It is in that moment that you need to keep your wits about you and maintain your form. It also just so happens to be one of the most exciting parts of the whole experience. A moment later, you’ve struck the water. Here, there is another moment of panic as you frantically try to control your gravity-inspired descent into water of unknown depth. You know the bottom is down there somewhere, but you sure as hell don’t want to find out where it is. I have no idea how deep my pool was, but I felt I had only scratched the surface of the water with each of my jumps. A wave of relief washes over you as you stop sinking uncontrollably and start to climb your way back to the surface of the water. As your head breaks free, you gasp for air with an uncontrollable smile stretching from ear to ear. You did it. You overcame your fear. You conquered your evolutionary instincts to do something totally dangerous and more than a little reckless. Man, it feels so good.
In England, they call this sport “tombstoning”, and for good reason. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people die each year from poorly aimed jumps, scantily scouted pools, and awkward landing angles. Reminding yourself of that makes every successful jump that much more exhilarating. Smalls Falls is an excellent spot for a bit of tombstoning. There are a multitude of different heights to jump from, the pools are unfathomably deep, the water is clean and cold, and the spectators are full of encouraging words. I spent at least an hour jumping, photographing jumpers, and hanging out with the local crew, who were largely college students from Farmington or Orono. Noonday adventures don’t get much better than that.
My next commitment was collecting my mom from the airport in Portland. En route, I decided to swing by Nezinscot Farm in Turner. This local farm makes killer breakfasts and has a full farm store with Turner-sourced crafts, supplies, baked goods, and everything a liberal, granola-loving college student would be inclined to support. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to stop by. As I headed through Lewiston afterwards, I had to swing by and grab my passport (oops), but then I was off to Portland. Silly’s, my favorite restaurant in the world, would be catering our drive north, which meant I had the all-important task of picking just one thing off of the menu. For me, that was an exercise I generally tried to avoid. In my college days, I would regularly gorge on two entrees and two desserts. When there aren’t too many vegan-friendly restaurants in the area, the splurge feels totally justified.
With the car smelling faintly of sautéed peanut butter noodles and vegetables cooked in a mango sauce, I pulled up to the Portland Jetport. I had spent my wait time at Silly’s reorganizing the car for a second occupant. My mobile command center had to be largely disassembled, but having a copilot would surely make up for that. My mom was my first long-term guest, so I had to make things nice and clean as well. Our goal for the night was Saint John, New Brunswick, but we had to cross the border at Calais, Maine. As dusk turned to night, my affinity for non-interstate roads led us into a massive traffic jam awaiting the Windsor monster truck rally, across a gorgeous bridge spanning the Penobscot Narrows, and through the sleepy town of Belfast, where we ate our magnificent feast from Silly’s.
As the night wore on, we arrived in Calais, passing nonchalantly through customs at midnight. Somewhere near Bucksport, a roadside worker had been hilariously shocked at my pronunciation of Calais. I had gone the French route, when he, between bouts of laughter, corrected me. The word he was saying sounded far more like “callous”. Leave it to American English to butcher what could have been a remarkably beautiful word.
From Calais, we drove towards the moon rising slowly above us. As the mileage had switched to kilometers, Saint John approached much more quickly than we expected and we made our way towards our sleep spot for the night. Guess where? If you said Walmart, you are clearly catching on. This Walmart, however, was different. It closed at 10:00 PM! This meant that it probably wasn’t as welcoming to overnight guests and that we couldn’t use the facilities. We prepped the car then made do with the amenities that we could find before tucking in for the night. There was plenty of room for two to sleep comfortably and I was out like a light.
Three hours later, we woke up to board the Rose of Fundy, the ferry that will carry us from Saint John, NB to Digby, NS. Pretty exciting!
P.S. Stay tuned for some GoPro footage from Smalls Falls!