Tag Archive 'Maine woods'

Jan 28 2015

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Maine Hiking Narrative

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UT coverFinally the Maine hiking narrative has reached print. A lot of readers have been waiting for it, I realize. I’ve been busy promoting my Adirondack book during the past year and a half so I’m just now getting around to publishing this. At any rate, The Unexpected Trail is now available both as a paperback and a Kindle download at Amazon.com. Those of you would like to purchase it directly from me can go to woodthrushbooks.com. I’ll have copies in-house and ready to ship in a week or so.

The Unexpected Trail is a detailed account of my trek through the 100 Mile Wilderness, located in northern Maine. It’s the most remote section of the entire Appalachian Trail, where supplies cannot be acquired. That means anyone hiking it has to carry provisions enough for ten days, at least.

Fording rivers, traversing two mountain ranges, and slogging through bogs – yeah, it was a tough hike to be sure. But Maine’s sprawling North Woods is lush, wild and beautiful.  Most of its backcountry lakes and ponds are pristine. Well worth the effort, even for a chubby, old woods wanderer like me.

Matika, my longhaired German shepherd, accompanied me on this trek. She carried a few things in her doggie backpack and provided lots of comic relief along the way. I was worried about her ability to navigate the toughest sections of trail, but she stayed out of trouble for the most part.

This narrative is similar to previous ones that I’ve written yet it has its own distinctive flavor. I’ve done my best to capture the unique character of the Maine Woods – it’s history and ongoing land-use fight as well as its flora and fauna. I hope you enjoy reading it.

 

 

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Sep 04 2009

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Weighty Matters

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Supply is the great challenge of the 100 Mile Wilderness.  This seems a rather abstract and unimportant consideration until you lift an all-too-heavy pack to your back and try to hike 10 miles with it.  Like many of those who have taken on this challenge over the years, I trimmed what I could from my load then shouldered the weight.  This decision set the tone for my trek.

AT thru-hikers running north from Georgia travel with the minimum amount of food and equipment.  Most of them have ultra-light gear and that alone sheds ten or more pounds from the load.  Since they’re accustomed to hiking 15 to 20 miles a day, they traverse the 100 Mile Wilderness in 6 to 8 days, sometimes less, even though there are signs posted at both ends urging backpackers to carry at least a ten-day supply of food.  I encountered one fellow who had only a four-day supply.  He was resigned to hiking long days and going hungry –– a regrettable strategy if anything goes wrong along the way.

Some backpackers get creative.  They have a support team that drives up one of the many logging roads in the area and supplies them on the run, or they pay the folks at Shaws Boarding House to do this.  Others take a side trail to Pemadumcook Lake, where they sound a horn and the folks at Whites Landing motor over by boat to pick them up.  At Whites Landing you can pretty much get whatever you want… for a price.  The owners advertise it as “an oasis in the 100 Mile Wilderness” and many hikers use them that way.

Make no mistake about it, the Maine woods are magnificent woods, and the 100 Mile Wilderness – that section of the Appalachian Trail cutting through the heart of it – is as wild and beautiful as any sprawling forest can be.  But its remoteness should not be underestimated.  I started into those woods with a 65-pound pack and cursed this ridiculous load all the way, even as it grew lighter.  Then again, I was completely self-sufficient, never having to rely upon AT shelters or anything else.  In that regard, it was a bona fide backpacking trip.

The logistic challenge of this trek was interesting enough, but next time I venture into the woods for an extended period of time, I’ll do things a little differently.  My big regret is that I spent too much time pounding the trail, racing against my dwindlng supplies.  Next time I’ll hike ten or twenty miles into the woods and land somewhere for a few days.  After all, what’s the point of being out there if you’re not going to take the time to groove on the wild?

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Aug 31 2009

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The 100 Mile Wilderness

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After a couple nights sleep in a bed, hot showers and an abundance of fresh food, my excursion into the Maine woods seems like something of a dream.  But l have a swollen knee and aching ankles, along with plenty of scratches, bug bites, bruises and rashes, to assure me that it actually did happen. I also have a journal full of notes to jog my memory, so you can be sure I’ll be writing about this journey in great detail during the months to come.  That is, after all, what I do.

The 100 Mile Wilderness is everything it’s touted to be:  a long, winding trail through the wild, northern forest of Maine, full of pristine lakes and ponds, roaring brooks, huge bogs, and rugged mountains.  All very boreal, of course, so moss grows on everything, conifers create a somber mood, and the trail is easily worn down to roots and rocks.  My boots never completely dried out and some of my hiking clothes, well, it was best just to throw them away when I returned home.  This is not a trail for the faint of heart.

The 100 Mile Wilderness isn’t a wilderness per se.  It gets its name from the fact that you can’t obtain supplies on the Appalachian Trail north out of the town of Monson until you reach a campground at Abol Bridge a hundred miles away.  That makes it quite a challenge, logistically speaking.  Everyone hiking this section of trail is either overloaded or running short of supplies.  This is considered the wildest, most remote section of the entire AT, and that is precisely why I wanted to hike it.

Most AT thru hikers blasting north from Georgia hike the 100 Mile Wilderness in 6 to 8 days.  The average section hiker does it in about 10.  I hiked it in 12 days because that was the maximum amount of food that I could carry for my dog and myself – 30 pounds total.  Between this weight, the ruggedness of the terrain, and my dubious physical condition, the trek tested the limits of my physical endurance.  That said, I only wish I could have taken more time to be out there, so that I could have enjoyed some of the beautiful places I visited more than I did.  Among my favorite places: the sandy beaches of Nahmakanta Lake, the crystal clear East Chairback Pond, Gulf Hagas Stream, and North Pond.  I easily could have spent several days in any one of those places.  Each is a slice of paradise.

I now understand better why Henry David Thoreau was fixated upon the sprawling forest of northern Maine during the latter part of his life, and why so many other outdoors enthusiasts are drawn to it.  Nowhere else this side of the Mississippi will you find such big woods – not even in the Adirodacks.  There were times when, standing on a mountaintop or exposed ledges, the wild stretched before me as far as the eye could see.  Loggers are hard at work in those woods, and guide service float planes aren’t uncommon, but this country is wild all the same.  It’s a country meant for all those who want, for a few days, a week or longer, to run feral. Bear and moose thrive there and, for 12 days, so did I.

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Jul 14 2009

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Planning a Trip

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A month from now, I’ll be commencing a long walk through the Maine woods.  Since this particular trip poses several logistical difficulties, it’s not too soon to prepare.  The section of the Appalachian Trail that I intend to hike is called the 100-Mile Wilderness because one can’t resupply along the way.  That’s means I’ll have to carry everything, including all my food – a true challenge for a hiker who moves as slowly as I do.  To further complicate matters, I’ll be taking my dog, Matika, with me.

To a casual observer it would appear that I like to make things difficult for myself.  Truth is, I’m willing to go to great lengths to spend a big a chunk of time in deep woods.  As for taking Matika with me, well, I couldn’t deprive her of the experience.  She loves the wild as much as I do.  Besides, she’s the ideal hiking companion.  She doesn’t talk.

Dog food is bulky so I’ve introduced dehydrated food to Matika’s diet.  I thought she’d resist it but, to my great surprise, she gobbles it right down.  Altering my own diet won’t be so easy.  After working out some calorie-per-pound calculations, I have reached a conclusion that is sure to make the readers of my Long Trail book laugh:  I’ll have to carry a lot of nuts.  Back in ’95, I swore I’d never do this to myself again.  But nuts are the perfect solution to the logistical problem at hand.

Clothing isn’t as much a matter of weight as it is bulk.  The solution is simple.  It’s all about the ability to stay warm so cottons must be kept to a minimum.  Cotton is comfortable but useless when it’s wet, and this is a wet year.  Besides, it takes forever to dry out.

Cooking.  I’ll build campfires whenever I can, carrying as little stove fuel as possible.  But, like I said, this is a wet year.  Hope I don’t regret this decision.

Shelter: a tarp only.  To keep it from tearing apart in a storm, I’ll reinforce the grommets with duct tape.  This spark of genius came to me while I was driving home from work a few weeks ago.  What’s that?  You think I’m crazy?  Hey, don’t underestimate the power of duct tape.

Luxuries, only one: binoculars.  I expect to see some wildlife on this trip.  Okay, maybe two: a disposable camera.  No, my journal isn’t a luxury.  That’s how I stay sane, both in and out of the woods.

What else?  There are a thousand details.  A long walk in deep woods isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.  A first aid kit, an emergency blanket, a full set of maps, a backup compass, a solid-shank knife, water filter, and water purification tablets just in case.  Yeah, I can’t wait to get out there.  I like being completely self-sufficient.  It feels like… freedom.  There’s really no other word for it.

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Feb 05 2009

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Dreaming of Wilderness

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Last week I purchased a set of maps for the Maine section of the Appalachian Trail.  The first three maps, heading south from Mt. Katahdin, cover a patch of wild country known as the 100-Mile Wilderness.  Not a wilderness in the true sense of the word, this is the most remote stretch of the AT.  Hikers are told to carry 8 to 10 days food when going through this part of the Maine woods because there’s nowhere to resupply.   That’s music to my ears!  When I first learned this, I vowed to hike the 100-Mile Wilderness someday.  Well, now I have the maps in hand, and that day is less than seven months away.

Since acquiring the maps, I have pored over them with such intensity that I’ve practically memorized the route.  For a hundred miles the trail skirts lakes, follows streams, winds through wetlands, traverses two significant mountain ranges, and fords rivers.  And I’ll be deep in the forest most of the way.  This is my idea of a good time.  Most people dream of sleek cars, beautiful new homes, and lounging on Caribbean beaches.  I dream of a long, sweaty, bug-ridden slog along a muddy trail with a 60-pound pack tugging at my aching shoulders.  Maybe I should have my head examined.

My wife, Judy, is all for it.  She knows I need to get away like this every once in a while.  She’ll drop me off at Abol Bridge and pick me up 12 days later at Monson.  That’s a lot of driving, but she’s willing to do it for me.  Yeah, I’m a lucky man.

Matika will be going with me, of course, and her pack will also be fully loaded.  No chasing squirrels on this outing.  Matika and I are both soft and fat now, but diet and exercise will whip us into shape during the next six months.  The main thing right now, in the dead of winter, is to cut back on the treats.  No peanut butter biscuits for her; no jelly beans for me.

Some people hike long distances for the fresh air and exercise.  Others for the brag of it.  I hike as an excuse to spend a big chunk of time in deep woods.  That’s why I’ll be doing this section of trail in 12 days instead of the recommended 8 to 10.  That means carrying more food, but I don’t care.

Right now it’s a few degrees above zero outside, there’s a foot of snow on the ground, and my body is fighting off a cold virus.  The upcoming hike seems far away.  But six months goes by quickly when you’re my age, so I’ll be standing on Abol Bridge soon enough.  Until then, I’ll be dreaming of wilderness… and getting ready.  The single biggest question is this:  Can Matika get by on dehydrated dog food?

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