Transmissions from the Trail

#2. The Voyaging Cellist

Ian Maksin stands on the edge of a favorite local viewpoint, snapping selfies and enjoying the view. Not even a yard away, hundreds of feet of vertical rock face tower over Lake Crescent. We are at the famous Storm King.

Upon conceiving of this series, I imagined going on fun and enlightening adventures with interesting and expert people. I knew immediately that I wanted to — within reason — maintain a loose structure on the meaning of “trail” and the meaning of “relevant.”

I did not expect for those boundaries to be brought into detail so soon.

This week’s subject was a perfect candidate to stretch those definitions. He is neither a biologist, nor an ornithologist, just a moderately-avid hiker. He had ascended our trail four times and I had never hiked it. Most interesting is considering the more metaphorical side of his ‘trail expertise’. In a way Maksin could be thought of a modern nomad.

Maksin’s norm is being on the move, in unknown landscapes and cultural spaces. In this way, he fits the bill perfectly.

Maksin is a classically trained cellist who broke from his symphonic work to pursue his own artistic voice. His musical DNA is most deeply impacted by Turco-Mongol music, Northern African Blues, and a Zoe Keatings approach to looping on the cello.

He tours alone with his cello a looping pedal and a small effects-rig. He sings folk songs — which he learns in his travels in — 31 languages. Though he speaks five languages fluently, he commits to fully understanding the lyrics and an accurate phonetic reproduction of every word in the songs he covers.

On our day hike, he was on a day off between concerts dates at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Port Angeles and First Congregational Church of Christ in Forks. Part of a larger regional tour which will bring him through Seattle, Portland, British Columbia and central Canada. He has a home and some stuff in Chicago, but really he lives on the road, touring as many as 300 days a year.

Social media

At noon, I find Maksin finishing up some social media posts in the Port Angeles Red Lion lobby. We jump into my van and chat about the place of social media in his busy touring life as we drive out of town.

Social media draws heavily on his creative energy. Maksin says he spends about 30 hours a week drafting posts, advertising, taking photos and engaging with his worldwide fan base. He is however, quick to amend his initial thoughts on the depleting effects of social media; he loves it, too. He thinks he might have a gambler gene, and derives some deep meaning from pursuing such an unlikely goal as making a living as a solo cellist. Social media is a part of that.

Music is not just a passion: it is his business, and targeted Facebook ads are the main thing that he points to as translating directly into ticket sales. Ticket sales are also positively impacted by local fans, and people who spread the word organically. His one hour-40-minute-long set in Port Angeles saw 250 or so attendees, many without previous connections to his music.

At one point he asked the audience how many people had seen his ‘annoying ads,’ much of the audience raised their hands.

In 2023 he played in Forks to a large audience. This year’s Forks show was expected to have a similar turnout. He had done the promotional work to ensure the likelihood of it’s success.

Meditation and breathing

After parking the van in the busy ranger station parking lot, Maksin and I start walking and get into a conversation about breathing exercises and meditation. We dodge over puddles as he speaks.

Though he has maintained deep-breathing practices for years, at some point he adjusted from big deep breaths to smaller intentional breaths.

Sequim Gazette photo by Elijah Sussman / Ian Maksin is seated over Lake Crescent at Storm King viewpoint on a recent hike.

Sequim Gazette photo by Elijah Sussman / Ian Maksin is seated over Lake Crescent at Storm King viewpoint on a recent hike.

He insists that this change made a huge (and immediate) difference for him in his singing, and for his lower back pain, which he was resigned to accept as being a part of the aging process. For a musician constantly lugging bags and instruments from planes, to cars to venues, this relief was huge.

Unlike many touring musicians, Maksin is sober from both drugs and alcohol. He is a spiritual person and his calm and mental stability come from a daily meditation practice. Sessions last about an hour.

As the conversation continues we enter a section of steep switchbacks, I joke that perhaps we should take this time to focus on our breathing. Maksin wants to finish his thoughts on meditation, and after that, we continue onto the next topic and the next.

Back on top of the viewpoint, after filling our camera storages with a few dozen cliff-side photos, we sit eating pistachios, regional jerky, and lemon Luna bars. Maksin scrolls the map on his phone, eventually exclaiming in surprise that we were on a false Storm King, a tourist’s deception. The real Mount Storm King was in fact looming above us.

Maksin asks if I would like to continue to the base of the actual Storm King. Earlier in the hike he had mentioned a dangerous scramble he had attempted on a past visit. He had referred to it as some-other-higher-view.

Now, knowing it to be the true Storm King his interest in ascending is piqued. I, on the other hand, am feeling satisfied with the relative success my calves have provided me in getting to the tourist rock. Still I agree to hike to the allegedly nearby base of the mountain.

I climb with him for a few minutes before realising that I have no idea how far the base of the real Storm King was. I find an epic viewpoint on the side of the trail and assure Maksin that I am perfectly comfortable sitting and waiting. We have cell service and can be in touch. He plans on returning in 20 minutes or so.

When he returns, he repeats several different times how sketchy the hike above became. It was gravelly and loose, and the margin for error was slim. A slip might have meant a continuous fall for hundreds of feet before catching in the off trail forest below.

Maksin had earlier identified a quality that he feels he possesses, he knows his limits in extreme situations. We joke darkly about how unfortunate yet newsworthy a slip might have been.

Supporting Ukraine

Continuing down past the rope supported section of the hike, Maksin speaks about Ukraine for a second time. He never felt a patriotic nationalism about being Russian.

Though he was born in Leningrad, his mother was Ukrainian-Russian and his father was an Ashkenazi Jew, German and Polish.

As a child, other kids asked him where he was from, a question he dreaded.

Sequim Gazette photo by Elijah Sussman / Ian Maksin views Lake Crescent from Storm King.

Sequim Gazette photo by Elijah Sussman / Ian Maksin views Lake Crescent from Storm King.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, he felt he had to speak out. He identifies this as a first, as he had never been publicly political in the past. His outspoken support of the Ukrainian people has made him persona non grata in Russia, he says. This is something he knew would happen when he first voiced his support.

Unfortunately, his status meant missing his mother’s funeral in 2022.

As we amble lower down into the darker, wetter switchbacks on the first half of the trail, Maksin says that he has achieved a degree of contentedness. As much as he travels, he never feels lonely, if anything he craves solitude. He does not feel the urge to reach out to friends when feeling some kind of internal discomfort, but strives towards a deep self-sufficiency.

Even during hard stretches of road, like when he performs jet lagged, there has always been some unknown reserve of energy pulling him through.

Walking from the trailhead to the car, we agree that we will both sleep well this night. Moving forward Maksin hopes to move from Chicago, specifying that he would not move to a major city, but is still unclear on where he might go.

He said he hopes to record a songwriter record when he has the songs.

His main desires are to continue sharing his music with as many people as possible, for as long as possible, while sharpening the quality and intensity of the content of his music.

You can follow Maksin on Facebook or Instagram, find his music on all streaming platforms, and see videos of him performing his cello compositions on mountaintops on YouTube.

View a Storm King Trail map, trail conditions, safety tips and more at

Elijah Sussman is a reporter with the Sequim Gazette.