Deep Woods Expedition:  Maine

9/20/03 - 9/27/03

Round Pond - Click to Enlarge

Allagash Wilderness Waterway

Gas Can Rack for Maine Trip

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Waypoints

 

Prologue

While looking for some exploring to do while I was home in Massachusetts in the winter of 2002, I checked out the New England clubs online.  On one of the ride boards, someone was trying to get interest in a trip to Maine.  It was a little different from what I have experienced with my club and the people that usually come with me.  This leader wanted to make it competitive with the winners left standing and the losers left behind.  I think there was some jest in that, but the destination intrigued me.  Some folks in Maine had made a winter trek to a pair of abandoned locomotives in the Allagash Wilderness.  This is ghost town stuff.  I have never really had the western ghost town experience so the thought of two huge locomotives in the remote wilderness might be the closest I would get to anything like that.

Naturally, this meant that I would spend hours trying to pinpoint the location of the locomotives on a map so that I could determine whether or not a trip of some sort was feasible.  I put all my research skills to bear and soon had located the locomotives, at least in theory, on the map.  Ironically, when I finally had enough data to be able to look at the right region on the map, I discovered that the map itself marked the spot with the humble annotation "2 locomotives".  In a way it mocked me for all the research I had done, but at the same time the location was so far away from anything I could have seen without doing the research that I was pleased to find it marked in this way, and pleased that I had done the hard work that made me familiar with the surrounding area through which we would travel.

The research pointed me to our stepping off point, Greenville Maine.  It lies at the southern end of the great Moosehead Lake.  This by itself is a worthy destination, and no doubt my interest will probably be tempted by this landmark which is but a stopping point on our trip.  One surprise that came from my research was the rediscovery of Henry David Thoreau's writings about The Maine Woods.  I had done a search on North Maine Woods to get information about our access to the wilderness area and his book came up.  I got distracted by it and soon had read the account he wrote of all three trips.  I was a lost cause.  While his stories are over 150 years old, the beauty and mystery of the region that he described made me more committed than ever to go see this place where some remnants of the wild might still remain.  Thoreau's accounts also provided great insight into the landmarks, conditions, and even the feelings of this place.  I would read all three stories two or three times over while following his trips in my maps.  It was almost mystical to see him chart his course and see it on a map that shows our destination for this trip.  It reminds me a little of reading the J.R.R. Tolkein's Trilogy of the Rings and following Bilbo and Frodo's travels in the little map provided in the books.

I have no illusions that much of Thoreau's Maine has fallen to modern times.  And I am somewhat resigned to the fact that much of the wilderness that remains is heavily regulated, probably to the benefit of people who wish to see something of it in an unspoiled condition.  I am perversely pleased that the area we want to travel to is so remote that we must bring extra fuel with us.  For what would an expedition be if frequent gas stations along the way prevented us from truly reaching the wilderness?  It makes clear that in modern terms, the stakes are a couple notches higher than a trip to the local forest where, though we might walk a half-day to get out, we would never be far from "civilization".  Not so here.  The trip will require a measure of self-reliance that will be softened by modern technology and convenience, space-age navigation, and good homework.  But Murphy's law applies to everyone, so remains some excitement that the unexpected could bring a new dimension to the trip.

A full nine months of planning has gone into the trip.  I purposefully limited the knowledge of the trip to a close circle of people with whom I have had repeated positive outdoor experiences.  I was unwilling to share this with anyone who would become a dependent or a liability, anyone who did not respect the wilderness and her power.  I was unwilling to share this with anyone who did not perform on their word, for surely if things go wrong, trust becomes the most important item in our bag.  And so it was that I invited people with these qualities and strengths.  Over the course of the planning period, most of 2003, several people signed on and later signed off.  For the most part the problem with a trip like this is that the planning is far in advance of the event, and requires a commitment of a weeks time for the trip.  This by no means was easy for me.  I found it difficult to choose a week that worked for everyone, and in the end selected a week that provided the opportunity for good weather, great scenery, and that fit into the calendar of those who were at that time signed on.  In future this week may well prove to be the best time, but in any case, the date will be set very much earlier so a wider audience can be invited early in the planning.

I learned a great deal about Maine in the months that I spent planning for the trip.  It was amazing to look at the maps and see that the Native American names of many places had stayed in place and were still preferred.  It was interesting to see how the paper industry still controls one of the largest privately held pieces of land in our country.  I never thought of Maine as a land of lakes, having spent my life enjoying the coast and the every eastern portion of the state.  Now I see better the mystique attached to anyone who holds the distinction of "Maine Guide".

So with plans put in place for outfitting vehicles and people, and with a date set, we locked down our plans and staged for departure.  Our road trip will take us to Massachusetts where we will pick up my father, New Hampshire, where Carl will spend the night with his brother, then to Ellsworth where we will pick up Carl's father.  The last leg of our road trip will land us in Greenville, Maine where we will step off into the wilderness and travel up the western side of Moosehead Lake, into the North Maine Woods at the 20 Mile Check Point.  We may make a brief stop at Pittston Farm.  Then we will work our way up to the area around Allagash Lake where we will make camp and explore the vicinity for a day or two.  After a visit to the trains, and perhaps to the Ice Cave on Allagash Lake, we will explore as we go, no doubt with the self-encouraged delusion that we are the first to come to these places...

Navigation

Plans being what they are, and me being who I am, it would not be enough to put five or ten waypoints into the GPS and leave the rest to chance.  After studying the maps for almost ten months, I became familiar with the places surrounding the trains.  There is a labyrinth of roads and trails.  On some maps, they are shown better than others.  I studied two different series of USGS topo maps, the DeLorme's Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, and DeLorme Topo Zone on CD.  It is very valuable to have as many sources as possible.  One might be tempted to think that a map is a map is a map.  That is not the case, and any one of the maps I used had shortcomings that were made up for by the others.

Once I had determined where we were going, how long we were staying, I spoke with the Allagash Wilderness Waterway ranger and got some local insight.  I learned things that I couldn't possibly see on the map, for instances which roads would provide us with the most driving challenges, where we could not park, and the nature of the woods near where we wanted to hike.  With all this information, I began the very tedious process of recording waypoints, naming them with a scheme that would cross-reference them to the DeLorme's Atlas that we'll be using, entering them into the GPS, creating routes, and finally verifying each and every one to confirm that it was recorded and entered correctly.  In all there are nearly 100 points that will be used in our navigation.  When I got to the validation step, I found that there were about six marks that had been entered incorrectly.  As it turned out, three of them were critical marks as they represented the location of camp sites for which we have fire permits.  I am happy to report that the errors were easy to spot and correct.  The final review of the waypoint plot compared to my annotated DeLorme's confirms that there are no more errors.  This certainly is taking something to the extreme, but when it comes to knowing where we are in a place like this, I just can't see any other way.

Provisions

We started out with the food planning at the beginning.  The process accelerated when I refined the itinerary and thus determined the number of days we would be in the woods.  From there, I just took the approach of seeking food that would be nourishing, tasty, light-weight and compact, packaged in individual servings, packaged in paper, and things that were ready to eat, or mixed with water.  This enables us to conserve weight and burn our trash.  It allows us to have some individual flexibility as to what we are going to eat for each meal, and minimizes the possibility of leftovers.  Our noon meals are designed to be eaten on the trail so do no require cooking.  The large proportion of these provisions for four days of meals for five people fits in one of my trunks.  This approach also significantly reduces and possibly eliminates the need for refrigeration.

Complications - Hurricane Isabel

Just when I thought I had all the plans completed, and everything pretty much laid to rest, a hurricane developed and began its swing in from the Atlantic, setting its course for the Outer Banks, and promising to deliver a whack to my home town just for spite.  For days the weather reports were doom and gloom.  The news reports trumpeted urgent recommendations of emergency preparedness.  You get used to the dire sounding reports of an impending sun shower, given that the great majority of longtime natives to the region do not know real hardship when it comes to weather. 

Being a Yankee, with the "when I was a kid I walked 10 miles in the snow to deliver my papers, and it was up hill both ways..." mentality.  That's actually true for me, so I do tire of the bogus weather paranoia.  Be that as it may, there was no denying the infrared satellite images of a huge storm system lumbering in from the ocean, ready to make good on everyone's fears.   So I reluctantly decided to look at my provisions for the trip as the best kind of readiness should the worst happen.  If the weather wreaks destruction on my home, I will be forced to abandon my trip or at the very least get a late start.  There is no way I could justify leaving my wife and kids with no power and no way to cook or get water.  Real survival always takes precedent over pretend, for surely one component of this trip for me is the need to prove I can survive in sub-rural conditions, stink notwithstanding.

9/19/03 11:27AM

The storm has blown through.  We were left with a carpeting of fallen twigs, and one large limb broken on one of the trees near our driveway - not threatening the house. 

Hurricane Isabel AftermathHurricane Isabel AftermathHurricane Isabel AftermathHurricane Isabel AftermathHurricane Isabel AftermathHurricane Isabel Aftermath

The entire crop of acorns appears to have fallen overnight.  We lost power from 12:45am until 8:45am.  It is on with some temporary outages.  Our neighbors did well too - parking the vehicles in the field overnight proved worthwhile.  I called the group and everyone else made out OK as well.  If the power stays on and the weather holds - we'll be good to go.

9/19/03 6:59 PM

I was mistaken.  Carl did not have power.  I guess he told me, but somehow I missed it.  He is in a holding pattern right now.  JJ is all set as am I.  If Carl does not get his power back, he does not plan to make the departure.  I am thinking that I should go ahead with JJ anyway in the hope that Carl will get power back and catch up to us in Ellsworth or Greenville.   If he falls behind by much more than a day, I think he might miss the trip.  I am torn because I almost don't feel right about going without him, but at the same time, we are in such a high state of readiness it doesn't make sense not to go.

Stupid Moves

On the way home from getting the last of the food for the trip, I came upon a road that was closed to through traffic.  So I went around the sign and continued.  Since my house was just up the way, I felt OK and considered myself local.  A little further up there was a yellow tape across the road.  I decided to do a little wheeling and went off into the woods to go around it.   As I came back down to the road, something didn't feel right so I stopped and got out to take a look.  A branch the size of my leg was jammed between my tie rod and my front axle housing, and was pinched on my drag link.  Knowing the legendary weakness of these components, I decided brute force was not the answer.  Instead, I took down my Hi-Lift for what is probably the fourth time in three years.  I jacked up my front end until the front axle housing was hanging free and easily removed the tree branch, all the while very conscious of the precarious perch that my Jeep was upon.  Then I jacked it back down and put the thing away.  The Hi-Lift comes through again.  I continued up the road a little way and came to a spot where there was a power line low on one side, but with plenty of room to go under on the other side.  So I did.   Maybe it's bad karma?

So right now things are looking a little bleak with the possibility of Carl not coming...

Packing

I did my best to balance my packing with taking care of the storm mess.  I got the yard picked up enough so that Maria could drive the car in and out of the driveway without having to run over the fallen debris.  I checked all the trees and found one that was badly damaged but not in any immediate danger of falling on anything.  Then I turned my attention to the Jeep and loading up.

After several camping trips, the routine for loading is well established, and indeed, most of the gear I needed was already organized into trunks.  Several trips had refined the organization and location of the contents so aside from packing two trunks with duplicate quantities of food, the packing was pretty straight forward.  The dual gas can rack that I had built earlier in the week was a minor interference since it must be bolted to the tub and prevents the rear from opening easily.  But that too was becoming routine after many test-fittings and the realization that it would be a factor in any packing activities.  I allowed for my father's gear, which by his account would consist of a duffle bag, sleeping bag, and a couple of clothing items carried in hand.  With the packing and double checking out of the way, I got to bed around 11:00 PM, and did my best to get a good night's sleep.

The Trip - Daily Journal

Due to the number of images, the rest of this story will be broken up by days, starting with the road trip to Massachusetts.  For the account of each days events, just click on the link to open a new window.  When you're done reading it, close the window and return here to select another day.

Saturday, September 20, 2003 - Road Trip to Templeton, Massachusetts:  Paul and JJ drive to pick up Paul's Dad (Leo) in Massachusetts

Meeting at Germantown Wal*Mart

Sunday, September 21, 2003 - Road Trip to Greenville, Maine: Paul, Leo and JJ meet Carl on the road and drive to Moosehead Family Campground in Greenville, Maine, with some interesting stops along the way.  Once camp is set up, excursion number 1, the Trip to the B-52 Crash Site commences...

Group Shot parked on the Maine Turnpike

Monday, September 22, 2003 - Road Trip to Round Pond Campsite:  The expedition breaks camp in Greenville and steps off into the wilderness.  Some wheeling, much dirt road driving, and second camp at Round Pond.

Seeboomook Wilderness Campground

Tuesday, September 23, 2003 - Hike to the Ice Cave:  Excursion number 2 takes the group to the Ice Cave on Allagash Lake, and a visit with the proprietors of Loon Lodge.

Jeeps near Johnson Pond Trail to Ice Cave

Wednesday, September 24, 2003 - Hike to the Trains:  Excursion number 3 takes our fearless crew to the Trains on Eagle Lake, with some navigational "moments" and unparalleled wilderness beauty.

Jeep Parking Spot on winter road

Thursday, September 25, 2003 - Unstructured Explorations:  Excursion number 4 leads to explorations of marked but unused logging roads, a visit to the Eagle Lake Ranger Outpost, and some more off-road exploration and Carl's flat tire.

Parking near Eagle Lake Ranger Outpost

Friday, September 26, 2003 - Breaking Camp:  The group breaks down camp on Round Pond and retreats from the wilderness, with stops for JJ's Fan disintegration, Carl's windshield crack, and the return to civilization, and the road trip to Templeton, MA.

Paul, Leo, Carl, and JJ

Epilogue

Saturday, September 27, 2003 - The Road Trip Home:  Paul and JJ's run for Maryland and Virginia, with stops to work on JJ's cooling system.

JJ on Route 695

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Deep Woods Expedition:  Maine Waypoint List

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