Winter in the North Maine Woods
Mandy has to work this weekend, so I opted to take this trip alone. Well, not really alone. I went with three of our friends. But I wanted to clarify up front Mandy didn't go since all our previous posts we were both present for. She didn't want to go even if she could have, because it was going to be too cold.
I worked the first half of Thursday from home. By late morning, I was packing up a few last minute items and waiting for the rest of the group to be ready. To kill some time, I decided to cruise downtown on my bike to pick up some lunch. I got a Cubano sandwich at Ipswich Provisions. They’re so good. The menu description doesn’t call for mayo (because a Cuban doesn’t have mayo!) but I try to remember to specify because sometimes some ends up on there anyways. Without, it’s wicked good!
After lunch, I put my bike away and hopped in the truck with the trailer hitched up and set out north. I met up with Bob and Ryan on route 95 in New Hampshire. We cruised together until we were pretty far into Maine. Somewhere along the way, Brendan caught up to us on the highway and we all continued on to Rockwood, Me. There, we got dinner at the Stress Free Moose. I got a Lone Pine IPA that was really good. I ordered the Italian sausage and chicken soup and the chicken parmesan dinner, all of which was outstanding! Then, we set out into the woods. We got gasoline along the way at the last station we passed. The fuel cost $3.10/gallon!! That hurt.
We went about 15 miles into the woods and setup camp near historic Pittston Farm. The road along the way in was mostly ice, and full of divots. It was a rough ride in, but we made it. We parked at about 9pm and set to work making fire. It was a little rough starting because everything was damp from the recent rainfall. Eventually Brendan busted out some secret sauce (gear oil) and then the fire was fully involved. We checked the weather forecast and tried to soak in what would be the warmest of our nights. We had beers and laughs around the fire while Bob made us what he referred to as "apple pie" until the wee hours of the morning when we all finally went to bed.
We woke up Friday at some point. I know I was the last to rise. It’s hard getting out of a warm bed into cold air! I warmed up some breakfast sandwiches that Mandy and I made at home before the trip. I ate them while I packed up all my stuff and hooked the trailer up to the truck. We got on the road and made the short ride to Pittston Farm. We were hopeful to buy firewood here that we could bring into the North Maine Woods with us, but unfortunately they had none to sell us. We eventually decided that we would drop the trailers at the farm and head back out to the previous night’s gas stop because we knew they sold firewood.
On the way out of the woods, we came across a full size pickup in a ditch on the side of the road. He was on the low side of a banked turn, so it seemed he probably just slid slowly downhill. Fortunately, there was no vehicle damage or bodily injury. We assessed the scene and devised a plan to extract the truck. Ryan’s Jeep was deployed up the street with strobe lights on to block incoming traffic. Bob parked on the opposite side to block traffic as well. Brendan’s Jeep was parked in the ditch opposite the truck that was stuck. I had to use Microspikes to be of any use at all; even standing still would cause me to slide downhill. I installed a hitch receiver shackle so we had a sturdy recovery point to pull from. We hooked up Brendan’s winch line and dragged the truck back onto the road. The whole effort took about 5 minutes. The truck owner was very thankful for the help, and we were happy to oblige. We continued on to the gas station, but unfortunately, when we got there we learned that they did not have any fire wood in stock. We topped up our fuel tanks anyway and headed back to Pittston Farm.
Just before the road to Pittston Farm, we decided to continue past, to see if there were any roadside vendors of firewood. We noticed a sign for Brassua Campground, and thought to ask there. Luckily for us, they had bundles for sale! The man we talked to was super friendly and even gave us a bunch of kindling and paper to get our fires started! With renewed excitement, we went back to get our trailers and finally enter the North Maine Woods. We passed the checkpoint into the woods around 12:30pm.
We covered several miles over icy roads then turned onto a trail covered in about 8 inches of loose snow that had only been lightly traveled before us. When we finally got to the end and back onto hard pack, we agreed we needed to avoid similar trails if we wanted to conserve enough fuel to get back out of the woods, ever. Somewhere along our way in the midst of nowhere, we decided to stop for lunch. Ryan was in the lead and stopped quickly when he saw a spot to turn off the road. Bob couldn’t stop quick enough because the road was all ice. Luckily, we were not moving fast, so no significant damage was done when they collided.
The campsite we eventually stopped at for the night was Wadleigh Beach. We were in the vicinity of a few different campsites when we were ready to stop driving for the day. We ultimately chose Wadleigh Beach because it was the most wooded, and we knew there were going to be wind gusts up to 40mph. We formed a sort of windbreak with our vehicles and trailers along the pond side of the site, and huddled around the fire. The forecast was bleak, with temperatures in the low teens and possibly dipping into the single digits. We could hear the wind roaring across the frozen pond, but the trees and trailers did an excellent job of shielding us from the worst of it. I warmed homemade baked ziti on the grill and traded half to Ryan for a sausage he had. It was so tasty. Thanks Mandy! The whiskey we shared supplemented the fire in keeping us comfortable against the cold. We called it an early night a little before midnight and climbed into bed. It was so toasty in the trailer, I knew it was going to be a struggle to get up in the morning.
Everything was frozen solid this morning. The site was a little muddy when we arrived last night, and the mud had turned to brown ice, locking our wheels in place. All the locks on the trailer were frozen in place. When I poured coffee into my cup to drink along with my breakfast, it turned to slush. I warmed a couple more breakfast sandwiches while I packed up the trailer and warmed up the truck. We filed out of the site and onto the road around 9:30am or so. Bob was the last one in, so he was the first one out. He stopped on the road for us to get in line behind him. Brendan was next and plowed into Bob’s Jeep straight away because the road was all ice and he couldn’t stop. Luckily, it was a low speed collision that did no damage.
We cruised along hard packed snow and sheer ice for most of the day. Fuel was becoming a concern, and we modified our intended route due to roads that were impassible, and to get to a fuel station as directly as possible. The goal was to reach Fort Kent, and we had about 120 miles to go. Somewhere along the way, I glanced in my mirror and saw Ryan’s light bar at a severe angle to the road, and knew something had gone awry.
I immediately heard him come on the radio to announce he needed assistance. He’d gone into the ditch. Bob was first on scene as he’d been behind Ryan in the convoy. Brendan and I were a little ways ahead, so we waited to see if we’d need to circle back. Bob notified us he was going to need a full crew as this extraction was going to be more difficult than yesterday’s. We turned our trailers around and headed back. I setup hazard lights up the road to block traffic. Brendan parked in the road facing Ryan’s Jeep, while Bob’s Jeep was parked next to Ryan’s, providing an anchor for a snatch block so we could pull Ryan onto the road, rather than along the road. Once everything was set and Brendan began to reel him in, his Jeep mostly cooperated and he was back on the road a few minutes later. A thorough inspection showed everything seemed to be functional, and there was no damage found. We rolled on.
We eventually got to the Allagash checkpoint and exited the north end of the North Maine Woods. We drove on pavement for a change which was nice. I even got to turn off 4WD! We found a few fuel stations but the gas was pretty expensive, so we kept going all the way into Fort Kent. We decided we should get lunch, too, while we were there. After we fueled up, we went to Swamp Buck Restaurant, just next door. We ordered a round of beers and pulled out the maps to discuss our plans for the remainder of the trip. We ordered some appetizers and a meal as well. We ultimately all agreed that we would end the trip a day early, returning home Sunday instead of Monday as originally intended.
After we filled our bellies, we went back into the North Maine Woods through the St. Francis checkpoint around sunset. We cruised in the dark for a couple hours over a mix of icy roads and loose-snowy trails. We ended our drive at 20 Mile Bridge campsite. We built a fire as soon as we were parked to take the bite out of the cold. I heated dinner which was delicious chicken curry and garlic naan. Thanks again Mandy for the meal prep! We hung out around the fire until we were all sleepy. We were all in bed fairly early compared to previous nights.
We all woke up around 7:15am-ish. We packed up the few remaining items as some of us had breakfast. We were out of the campsite at about 8:15. We cruised along to the Ashland checkpoint and exited the North Maine Woods once more. We cruised down route 11 through Mandy’s hometown, Patten, and got fuel just before hopping onto route 95 south towards home. The ride home was a mix of snow and rain beginning shortly after we got fuel in Sherman.
We made most of the trip uneventfully, except for a minor incident. I attempted a lane change to pass a car. When I hit the slush in the middle of the lanes, the whole truck and trailer went sideways, unannounced. I let it coast, and kept the front wheels pointed down the highway the direction I hoped to go. It righted itself, and then continued to right itself. Too far right. I was simply a passenger at this point. The tires grabbed onto something and it straightened out. I got a split-second of relief, then I was pointing left again. Then I was looking at the breakdown lane out the windshield again. Finally, it settled down and straightened out for good. I’d somehow hit nothing in all that. Bob had been watching in his rearview and congratulated my recovery over the radio once we were sure it was over. I announced that I’d be staying in the slow lane indefinitely and would get home sometime during the week.
Nothing of note happened the rest of the way to Maine Beer Company in Freeport. We stopped in here as we were in need of fuel and a short break from driving. I got a beer and a pretzel, both of which were outstanding. The mustard was wicked good, so I bought a jar to go.
Bob understandably wanted to get home, I think, so he hit the road just ahead of us. Brendan got onto the highway via a different route than Ryan and I, but caught up to us after just a few minutes. We cruised along together, but eventually heard Bob on the radio. He’d lost power steering in his Jeep. He was pulling off the highway to get fluid to add, as we assumed that would resolve the issue. Ryan had to work as a relay, since his radio was much higher power than Brendan’s and mine. We eventually heard that his Jeep was overheating as well. We immediately knew that he must have lost his accessory drive belt. Brendan explained the procedure for replacement, and listed the required tools, so Ryan could relay to Bob what he’d need to do to get back on the road, since we’d already passed him on the highway, and he was insistent that we continue home. He ultimately opted to just get a tow home as he was not at all interested in wrenching in the torrential downpour.
We continued down route 95 into Massachusetts with no further issues. Brendan separated when we got to route 495. I split from Ryan when I got into Georgetown and took the exit. I was back home to a very excited Loki around 4:15pm.
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Bilbo Baggins
We're just an adventure-loving couple with a puppy looking to share our stories with the world.