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.
Background - We're 10 friends as a result of a local Jeep club (check us out on northshorejeeps.com) and currently living scattered about Massachusetts. We try to get out wheeling as much as we can, but we all shared a desire to do something a little different. Something a little bit bigger. Maybe too big. None of us - well, maybe one of us - had made a trip quite like this before. The gist of it is Concord, NH to Massachusetts via the North Maine Woods, about 900 miles, and as little pavement as possible. Well, that was the initial design, anyway.
We are Rob (that's me!) and Mandy (that's me!) in our green '99 Wrangler. With us are Topher in a yellow TJ; Shayna in a blue TJ; Shaun, Jenny, and Declan in a white JK; Brendan in a silver JK Unlimited; and Bob and Claude in a grey JK Unlimited Rubicon.
We used this trip report (http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/threads/67758-The-Map-is-Not-the-Territory-A-Northern-Maine-Adventure) as a solid basis for trying to figure out where the heck we should go on this journey. Some of us probably knew about them already, but I learned of the B-52 site and of the lost trains from reading that report. They seemed really neat, and we were all interested in checking them out. Now just how the heck to get there...The planning process was long and involved. We had several more people and rigs during the early phase. I won't bore you all with the details of that. As you know, that's the fun part of the trip, but really only if it's YOUR trip.
Day 1: 6/23/16
So we set out on a Thursday at 7 am. We finally got out of the driveway at 7:11. Don't know what happened there but this is it! It's finally begun! Mandy and I are coming out of Ipswich. Just for the sake of clarification, I drove the whole time. That's not to diminish the role of shotgun! In fact, a lot of the time, it might be more work than driving. (I took great notes for the trip log!) Anyway, the rest of us left from all over the place, but we've agreed to meet in Concord at 9am.
At 7:50, Mandy noted that we have made our first turn-around because I hopped on 495 the wrong direction. Because I was on auto-pilot. Because I hadn't gotten my coffee in yet. (I didn't suspect it would be the LAST turn-around of the trip...)
We met up with Topher and Shayna in Salem, NH real quick so we'd at least have some company and some CB chatter. And I had to pee. Just before we hopped back on the highway, we could overhear Shaun and Brendan on the CB. I tried to contact them over the radio but they wouldn't stop talking long enough to hear me. We saw them fly by ahead of us as we approached the on ramp, but we simply couldn't catch them before Concord. We all arrived precisely on-time-ish and applied stickers and fueled up. Some of us finished waking up. We officially started driving the route when we left the parking lot at 9:52. The somewhat-arbitrarily-chosen order put Bob and Claude in the lead. They were followed respectively by Brendan, Topher, Shayna, Shaun + Jenny + Declan, and Mandy and I brought up the rear.
The weather was pristine. Low 80s. Light clouds. We cruised to the Kancamagus Highway. Of course we had to stop for a group photo at Pemigewasset Overlook. It's just so scenic. Back on the road, the route had us taking Bear Notch Rd. north to route 302. On the way, Mandy convinced us to take a slight detour to check out the Experimental Forest. Joke's on her because that was a planned part of the route already! (I was so excited!) Bob came upon a tree across the road, so we rerouted rather than bushwhacking. Detour number 1. (Technically detour number 1 started when we went the wrong way on 495...) We picked up some speed on 302 and got to Jefferson Notch Rd. We found a big clearing on the side of the road and pulled in to have some lunch. And stretch the legs. As we were getting ready to get back on the road, we realized that we were at our first campsite. Neat! Excepting a chip in Brendan's windshield, everything was going well, so we continued on to Trio Pond Road.
Trio Pond Road flipped all that upside down. Now, before we get into all that, it's necessary to explain a bit more background information. See, our route was roughed out using the aforementioned trip report, but it was detailed using topo maps, satellite imagery and GaiaGPS. So the actual surface conditions were unknown, but we were hoping for the best all along. So when Trio Pond Rd. got really rough, we had to just deal with it. All of us are experienced with more technical wheeling than Trio Pond Rd. presented, so this was not a show-stopper. But it did set us back some. We aired down and disconnected the front sway bar for comfort. In the future, I'd do this at the beginning of Trio Pond Rd. We crawled on for a while until, eventually, we came upon a cluster of lake-front houses. Or pond-front? We found this quite odd, especially when we saw the vehicles parked at these houses. They were quite incapable of getting there by their looks. We pushed on. We had to do some winching to help some of our smaller rigs through the mud and boulders. We came upon a small creek with a pretty significant and awkward ledge. This required some makeshift bridge construction to help prevent the trailers from flopping. We all got through with a little nail-biting, but no problems.
For potential future running of this route, we made a note that at "Point 024" on our route, we should have turned left. This is near the houses, and given the state of the vehicles at the houses, it must be an easier route out of the woods. We wondered aloud how they were able to get the building materials for the houses out there along Trio Pond Rd. Or heating propane. Or groceries. There's got to be another way in and out.
Anyway, at 7:15pm we finally arrived to our first campsite! The campsite, just after "Point 026" on the route, was in a clearing on a plateau on a large hillside. The views were spectacular around dusk. The sky was perfectly clear. There were some windmills in the distance spinning casually. When we pointed them out, Jenny shared some confusion as she believed them to be called "powergrid mills". Everyone was a bit frazzled/exhausted/hangry. Jenny and Shayna got to work straight away cooking us all delicious steaks! We also feasted on cheesy potatoes and corn cobs. The food was delicious and well-deserved. Everyone poured themselves a drink (or a few!), set up camp and gathered around the fire Shaun built. The ground at this site was not awesome for tenting, but it was not awful either. Mandy and I hung our hammocks so we didn't have to care. With food and drink in our guts, spirits were boosted and lots of laughter ensued. We recalled Jenny's "powergrid mills" comment and shared a laugh. Sorry Jenny.
Day 2: 6/24/16
We woke up at 5:30 because Mandy forgot to shut her alarm off. Hi, we're on vacation, remember?! Sorry!! That didn't happen again. We got to work making coffee and whacking bugs. Breakfast was scrumptious breakfast sandwiches of sausage, egg and cheese on English muffins. These were super satisfying (as well as delicious) because all the ingredients were the same diameter and concentric. Rob is so weird, but they were delicious! I ate two. We packed up, aired up, and reconnected the sway bar, and hit the road at exactly around 8:40ish.
Everything was going swell. The weather was pristine, the roads were good. Spirits were high. We had the top down and it was sinking in that we were on vacation. You know the feeling. We had covered a fair bit of ground and we had about a half hour or so until we entered Errol, NH. When suddenly...
Brendan stopped abruptly. As the dust settled (literally) I could see that he'd either parked awkwardly across the road, or something was very wrong with his trailer. Upon inspection, we discovered that the passenger's side of the axle had shifted rearward until the tire contacted the fender. He must have finished his coffee by then, because his reaction time was quick enough to prevent any damage to the tire. And there may have been several profanities let loose! So what it appears had actually happened is that the axle U-bolts worked themselves loose. This allowed some relative movement between the spring pack and the axle tube. This allowed significant forces to be translated to the spring pack bolt and at some point, this bolt was sheared. At this point, the axle was free to move along the leaf spring. It stopped when the tire touched the fender. Everyone searched their tool kits for a replacement bolt and unfortunately we had none. We looked at our rigs to find an appropriately-sized, non-crucial bolt that could be removed and installed in the trailer. We came up empty-handed. After some head-scratching, we realized that a 1/4" drive extension is almost an exact fit. We installed it up through the bottom of the leaf pack, and then set it into the spring perch. The taper on the large end ensured that it couldn't pop out over a bump. It was a perfect Band-aid, and served well to get us to Errol, NH.
We pushed on. We wanted to find the easiest route to pavement because we weren't totally confident in the limits of the extension-Band-aid. Luckily for us, it was Craftsman! So if it broke, we could just go to any Sears location....oh wait. We were in the middle of nowhere. So we decided not to turn left at "Point 035" because it looked steep and overgrown and unpredictable. The trail system we were on has occasional maps placed at major intersections. These are very well detailed and served us well. Also, we chatted with a local who was stopped at one, and he helped us navigate to pavement. We emerged the woods in Errol, NH a short drive from L.L. Cote hardware, lumber, clothing, sporting goods, grocery, gas station, rest area megaplex. A backcountry Walmart. We divided and conquered. In other words, we fueled up, Brendan got new trailer hardware, we got drinks, used the restrooms, checked out the grass flip flops and other interesting merchandise and then we moseyed over to the Hawg Trawf BBQ. Which, ironically has very little BBQ. We figured it wise to get a full meal while it was available to us, because we were all a little unsure of what lay ahead. One thing we did know was that a quick parking lot wrenching session was in our immediate future. We settled our bill and regrouped in the parking lot under the trailer to swap out the extension for a real bolt. We were practiced now, and worked pretty efficiently as a team. After a minor exploding bolt incident (Brendan threw a little too much muscle into the new bolt and it failed under tension, rocketing up into the floor of the trailer) we were packed up and back on the road.
Over lunch we had discussed some route modification to make up for time lost both crawling over Trio Pond Rd. and addressing trailer suspension issues. We were also keen now to consider potential future breakdowns. We made a group decision to cut off the northern sort of "loop" in NH through Pittsburgh. We took route 16 east from Errol towards Rangeley, ME. We officially entered Maine at 2:30pm.
We got off-road again and hit some more logging roads. We cruised until we found our second campsite. We were all ready to call it a day much earlier today. We parked at 5:10pm. It'd been a taxing day. Though the wrenching was not particularly difficult, it's hard work "supervising". But actually, stress levels were slightly elevated because of the uncertainty of what lay ahead. Would we have more problems? Would we get stuck in the middle of the woods? Setting up camp helped to take the edge off. We had better ground this time.
Mandy found a bunch of delicious field strawberries. (They were quite scrumptious. Claude agreed.) We were at the base of a wind farm, on another hill. So the views were again amazing. The weather was still perfect. We set up our hammocks again as everyone built camp. Jenny and Shayna got to work on dinner of chicken, beans and rice. Yet again, the food was delicious. We were beginning to notice a trend of hangry, followed by excellent food, followed by elevated spirits. Maybe it was the drinks. Maybe it was Shaun's fire. Maybe it was just being content with being done for the day. Whatever the cause, I think the nights after dinner were the most relaxed moments. One by one, we headed to bed.
Day 3: 6/25/16
Strangely enough, it was Shaun who awoke first. Even stranger, it was only 6 am! Everyone hustled out of bed and huddled around to collect their share of the long-hyped overland pancakes. It was everything we hoped it'd be. So. The evening prior, other than the good timing at which we arrived to one of our chosen campsites, a large part of the reason we stopped where we did was because the path forward was unclear. Our best guess is that the imagery used to plan the route was dated and the path shown has since become overgrown. The intended route made a sort of corner (north, then east) which we simply cut off diagonally by heading over established roads northeast. It was a short diversion. Back on logging roads, we were able to space out (for dust abatement) and cruise around 30 mph.
We came across a village? (later research shows it is classified as a "township" - Holeb, ME) that was quite odd. It's very secluded, and then suddenly there is a small cluster of maybe a dozen houses very densely built. We crossed the train tracks to push forward along the route. We didn't get too far before we were stopped as the trail fizzled to what was about a walking trail. None of us were looking to bushwhack at this time. So we pulled out the maps and found a loop around to the "other side" of the bushwhack. So back through Holeb and onto logging roads again we went. We found a small pond (just west of Long Pond) at which we stopped briefly to stretch our legs. I had to go for a swim because, well why not? It was warmer than I was anticipating, but very refreshing! Eventually we got onto Holeb Rd. which we took east to route 201.
We took 201 south a short ride into Jackman for fuel at Citgo. We spent some time in Bishop's grocer/liquor store/deli/restaurant/convenience store thing. We got sandwiches for lunch here. Then we drove back up the road a tiny bit to a pretty sweet park we saw on the way into town. There was plenty of grass and shade for frisbeeing and after we worked up a little sweat, we went down the hill into the pond to swim and continue frisbeeing.
After a while in the water, we noticed that we were all surrounded by tiny, dead, baby fishes floating on the surface. (EWWW! - I couldn't swim in the lake anymore after noticing them.) Eventually, a yellow lab named Diesel trotted onto the beach alone. We noted that he had huge balls. Some old lady was yelling at him from atop the grassy hill. He didn't seem very interested in obeying her. Once we were all sufficiently grossed out at the tiny, dead, baby fishes we got out of the water and back on the road.
We took mostly highway to Moosehead Lake so that Shayna would be able to visit the B-52 crash site and Gulf Hagas with us before she had to split off and head home. We felt like we were running "behind schedule" although we didn't actually have one. We were worried if we ran the route as planned (give or take) that we wouldn't have any time to enjoy these sites (even ignoring when Shayna would break off from the group). We revised the plan from doing a clockwise loop (i.e.-follow Canadian border to Allagash wilderness, then head south toward Gulf Hagas), to a counter-clockwise loop (head east to Gulf Hagas, then north to Allagash wilderness area, and then follow the border southwest if time permitted). This plan would allow Shayna to safely drive alone back home (she had to leave the trip early) without any challenging or technical roadways.
So that brings us to the B-52 crash site. In 1963, a B-52 bomber plane crashed on Elephant Mountain near Greenville, Maine. Only two of nine crew survived. Some of the crash debris was cleaned up for analysis at that time. It was then redistributed throughout the woods. It's a very short, easy walk into the site from where we parked. It is really interesting to see the aircraft hardware strewn about the nature.
We passed through Greenville and made our way back to logging roads and the route. Somewhere near "Point 192", the route became rather vague. It is important to note that for nearly the whole trip, Bob had been unofficially deemed the leader, but at this moment I was, for reasons unknown, in the lead. The trail had all but disappeared into overgrowth, but I decided to push ahead just a bit to see if it became clear again. It didn't. But it didn't get any worse either. I kept creeping along and Bob followed, just in case. The rest of the group hung back in a small clearing where the trail had seemingly ended. We stayed in touch via CB. I gave the all clear and that the path was pretty mild, though overgrown. Minor pinstriping was the worst of it. The decision was made for the rest of the group to circumnavigate a short distance and link up with the route at the next waypoint. They'd found another path. We and Bob were committed at this point, as it was too narrow to turn around, and too difficult to navigate in reverse. So we pushed on, the only way we could. Luckily for all of us, we had tuned our CBs before this trip, so we were able to stay in contact. The rest of the group were making progress, but it didn't sound as though their path was clear. Neither was ours. Eventually, though, we broke through to what appeared to be a formerly-logged area. There were small branches and sticks all over the ground, preventing new growth from overtaking the area. It worked out awesome for us because it gave us a reasonably-flat, open, wide makeshift road and an obvious direction. I jogged ahead to make sure the going was good, which it was. So we pushed on and arrived at "Point 193" which was a large clearing atop a hill.
The "road" we had been on intersected a well-kept actual dirt road! So we hopped on that and very shortly arrived at "Camp Dirt Lot". I scouted the site on foot and came what was apparently too close to a mother bird and her nest. This was deemed a mistake for which I would be required to pay. The bird was on the attack! I had been jogging through the site as it was rather large and I was ready to setup camp if it looked like a good spot. Well, I about-faced and sprinted back to the Jeep, and Mandy. "How is it?" she asked. "We're not staying here!" Also, there was a rather extreme number of flies around which we tired of swatting as we waited for the rest of the group to make their way to us. Eventually, they arrived at the North Maine Woods office/gatehouse. This was marked as "Strange House" on our route. It's not that strange in person. They inquired about campsite availability and the decision was made that we would camp in the North Maine Woods! We'd made it! We just had to continue along the dirt road we were on, and we'd arrive shortly at the "strange house". But not so fast...
We got a couple hundred yards down the road and had to stop. There was a tree down, blocking our path. Bob and I busted out our hatchet and axe, and got to work straight away. We were ready to be setup camp and stop driving at this point. But there was work to do. Unfortunately (or not? I don't know) it was a whole bunch of small branches, and not one big log across our path. So we got to chopping. We were through about half the work and I paused a moment to realize that about 50 feet beyond this tree was another, bigger tree down. Shit. So we kept at it, doing what we had to. Topher came up the road from the office to meet us, ensuring that we were going the right way. He conveniently arrived just as we finished clearing the road. We got him turned around and then we had a very short ride to the gatehouse. We paid $39 for two people to camp and we were in! Entering the North Maine Woods was one of our major goals with this trip, so this was an exciting moment.
We chatted a while with the gatekeeper and paid our fees. He gave us several maps and hand-drawings and explained the route to the campsite in great detail. It seemed a bit odd at the time, but now I get it. Because we managed to get lost on our way to the site. We came all this way, with all this technology, explanation and more maps than we could count and we still managed to lose our direction before we arrived at our site. This was really frustrating for the group; we were hungry, we were tired, and we just wanted to be done with the day. But eventually we figured it out. Well, Bob and Shayna did, by splitting up and travelling the same dirt road, two different ways and somehow arriving at the same point, which we still don't understand, but whatever we don't care because we were finally at the site! At 7:45 pm. To be fair, it's a very long ride from the gatehouse to the site. I can't speak for everyone, but it's gotta be the largest campground I've ever been in, by several orders of magnitude. It's just gigantic.
Jenny and Shayna got to work making dinner again while everyone setup camp. We pitched our tent instead of hammocking. This night it was sesame steak tips, green beans and sweet potatoes. I don't know if it was because of the long day we'd had or the frustration, or maybe just because it was an excellent dish, but this meal was a hit with everyone. When we arrived, I think everyone was a little hangry (I certainly was, and Mandy had a headache), but this dinner (and drinks!) turned that right around and everyone was much happier in no time. We had a fire again (that's every night, so far), and gathered around for more drinks, stories, jokes, planning, and relaxing. This site was right on a stream, which was great. But also right next to another group of campers, which was fine, but we were not used to. We'd been so alone and remote each night before this, it was just different.
Day 4: 6/26/16
We got a later start; we were up at 8:05am. We had to figure out our 2-day plan which would take us to the end of our trip. Over breakfast burritos and Maine Gazetteers, we plotted our route to the Allagash Waterway.
But first, we drove to Gulf Hagas. This was another goal/stop/attraction in our original plan. We weren't sure if we'd be afforded any swimming opportunities, but I wasn't taking any chances to miss out! So I swapped into my swim trunks and in the process I lost my key. We scoured an area about 10 feet in diameter for 10 minutes as a group until Shayna found it on my spare tire. We'd already held up the group enough at this point, so when we couldn't find our camera, we said whatever, and went without it. Unfortunately for us, the views of the canyon and the waterfalls were amazing, and we couldn't get any pictures. But we did get to swim in the river pools, which was equally amazing. And the hike was pretty great, but a bit longer than we all anticipated. We should have brought some more snacks, or eaten a bit more before we hiked. We were parched and hungry when we finally got back to the parking lot. So we replenished ourselves and hit the road to the north gate and left Katahdin Ironworks Jo-Mary Forest to head towards Millinocket. We fueled up and iced up and beered up in Millinocket and then headed to Baxter State Forest.
I'd heard about "the golden road" in Baxter, so I was secretly a little excited to get to drive it. But I was also curious if this was just a colloquialism. I'd asked the group, no one knew. Turns out it's just a road named Golden. Golden Road. Not THE Golden Road. It should be called Dusty Rd. It was very anti-climactic for me. Well, not exactly. We crested a hill along Golden Rd. and had awesome views of Katahdin from the west. We took a right onto Telos Rd. There were more awesome views on the bridge over Ripogenus Gorge. We followed Telos Rd. until it intersected with Main St. At this intersection, we took a right and followed a path a short distance to a campsite on the northwest shore of Harrington Lake. We weren't sure if we were supposed to have paid, or how much, or where, but we decided that if someone came along to collect a camping fee, we would gladly oblige. The guys setup camp while Jenny and Mandy worked on dinner. We were tired and dusty. We had cheeseburgers for dinner and they were, of course, delicious. We pitched the tent again, in lieu of hammocks. The campsite was pretty awesome, the ground was flat and grassy and there was plenty of room for us to spread out our vehicles and our tents. Of course we had a fire, yet again. And we gathered around to have some drinks and stories. Some of us dropped off early to sleep, some of us stayed up til about midnight. The night sky views over Harrington Lake were outstanding. We saw several meteors and countless satellites.
Day 5: 6/27/16
We got up at 7am. Jenny and Mandy made breakfast burritos! Do I need to keep saying the food was great? We spotted a rabbit in our campsite, near the tree line, before it hopped away. It was pretty big. Then we all got to work cleaning up the site and packing our gear away. In the process, a red squirrel went into Bob's open tailgate and was climbing all about inside his Jeep. This was hilarious for the rest of us because he strongly despises red squirrels. We got on the road and headed to the Telos checkpoint, which only took us about 10 minutes. We thought we were further away. We checked in and told them we would be camping near the Allagash Waterway. It's $35.50 per adult. It took a while for them to process the whole group; their pricing system is odd. So we had some time to look over maps and get a better idea of what we could do on our last day of the trip before heading home. We found out that the abandoned trains were only 30 miles from where we were and we decided as a group that we must go see them. We had considered it in the early stages of planning the trip, but ruled out visiting the site because it was far off the route we had planned. Since that plan was long since abandoned, we were all in. But things had been going a bit too smoothly...
As we set out, we were making good speed on the logging roads. Everyone was spaced out and cruising comfortably behind the dust. But then we saw brake lights through the cloud of dust. Topher had stopped unannounced. He was looking at his suspension. This always means that something is not right. So we stopped and I went to see what the issue was and if he needed help. His rear shock bracket at the axle end had sheared off the axle. Unfortunately, this allowed the shock to drag on the ground and bent the shafts rendering the shock useless. Since there was nothing else to be done, he simply removed the shock and put it inside his Jeep. He packed up the minimal tools used and we were back on the road in about 10 minutes. A very minor setback. For now...
We drove to what's probably not the best parking spot to hike in to see the trains. There's gotta be a better trail than what we took. We were bushwhacking for about two miles, following pink ribbons, trying to guess what the trail maybe was. We eventually found some rails in a small valley. Right about the time it started to rain on us. In this regard, the dense forest we were trekking through was a blessing. It helped us stay dry. Fortunately, it only rained for a few minutes. (Unfortunately, this meant the roads were still going to be very dusty. Oh well.) As we continued our hike, we began to see more and more railroad debris strewn about the woods. Eventually we found a clearing and a trail that looked much more travelled. Bob scouted ahead and shouted back that we should follow. Walkie talkies would have been useful here. He'd found the trains! It's a pretty neat site. It's so strange to see trains buried so deep in the woods, with no clear way in or out or how they got there. We spent a while climbing on and photographing the trains. We picked a different trail back to the vehicles, which eventually linked up with the one we came in on. We got back on the road and saw a moose! Well, I didn't see the moose, but some of us did. It was walking along the road we were driving on.
Earlier at Telos checkpoint, we had found a site labeled "Ice caves" that we knew nothing about, but had a campsite nearby. We had planned to check it out and hopefully camp there. But after hiking back from the trains, which took longer than we'd anticipated, we were all somewhat exhausted so we decided to skip the ice caves in favor of setting up camp early. We found a campsite nearby at Round Pond and set up around 5pm. I think everyone was slightly jealous of Brendan's location within the site, right on the waterfront.
Jenny made us delicious chili for dinner. Shaun and Brendan gathered, cut, and split plenty of firewood. We were having a fire yet again. We had one each night, at every campsite. As I was sitting by the fire relaxing with a beer, I saw a fox trot by at the top of our campsite along the road.
I should note that this writing is derived from a journal that Mandy and I kept as we travelled. Whenever there was downtime, we would jot about what had gone on for our memories. So since it was the last night and (we thought) the whole story was written at this point, everyone wanted us to read it back to them. So we had story time around the fire and it was actually pretty neat. Everyone notes different things about the journey because of their perspectives and it was fun to share ours and hear others'. We haven't kept a travel journal before, but I think we will continue to do it in the future.
After story time, Bob and Declan were looking out over the pond when one of them spotted a moose! They got the rest of the group’s attention as quietly as they could so we could all get a look. It was a couple hundred yards away along the shore, standing around in the water. We watched it not do anything for a while then returned to the fire. Just before bed, Mandy took a peek down by the water to see if the moose was still around. There was a large black thing in the water immediately in front of where she was standing. She thought it was a large boulder until the moose lifted its head. Jenny saw it too. By the time the rest of the group got out to the shore, the moose was swimming away. Which was still really awesome to see. It seemed it was trying to get around our campsite to the shore on the other side, but didn't want to come too close to us, so it swam by about 30 feet off shore. After that, we headed to bed so we could get an early start. We had a long ride home ahead of us.
Day 6: 6/28/16
We woke up at 6 am to start packing. It became apparent that over the course of the night, something had taken care to cleanup the leftover chili from our garbage bag. It was THAT good. By 7, everyone was packed up and we left the campsite. We took a left out of the site to take a shortcut through some trails that would get us to Telos Rd. After about 25 minutes or so of driving down trails that seemed to be slowly dwindling in size, we reached a water crossing. From looking at the maps, it looked like the trails would continue to diminish. I think that everyone wanted to be on the way home at this point, so we decided to go the long way instead. The way we knew would get us there. The way we came in. So we turned around, and since we had been in the rear, we were now leading the way. We had a chuckle as we passed by our campsite around 8am. We'd explored as far as we were going to and we were officially headed home. We would cover no new ground. But that didn't mean it was about to get boring!
We reached a large intersection, and unsure which way to go, we stopped to handoff the lead back to Bob and let the rest of the group catch up. When he arrived, Topher hopped out to confirm his suspicion that he'd broken his other rear shock mount. Same issue. Same fix. Just a few minutes to remove the rear shock and we were good to go again. Towing a trailer with no rear shocks was not ideal, but we drove on anyways.
We had almost reached the Telos checkpoint when disaster struck yet again! Not really disaster, though. Bob got a flat tire. We figured that with 7 people on it, they should be able to handle fixing a flat, so we continued on to the checkpoint to use the restroom and brew a coffee for the road. See, we'd foregone breakfast in favor of getting an early start, so I was a bit hungry. Right as I was finishing cleaning up our snack remnants and packing away the coffee gear, the rest of the group arrived. We got a few group pictures and some locals hit us with some questions, and showed a general interest in our trip. After a short stop, we headed back toward Millinocket.
We gassed up in Millinocket and said our goodbyes. I think some of the group were going to get breakfast somewhere nearby. Mandy and I both wanted to go straight home. Which we did, with just one fuel/pee stop. Mandy got some messages from Jenny which said Topher had swapped his trailer over to Bob's Jeep because it was too difficult and dangerous to tow with no rear shocks. And that when they were on their way, some of the axle nuts came loose. Luckily they stopped in time to tighten them down, that could have spelled disaster for real.
We got home around 4 pm.
"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.