Conti’s 1894 Restaurant

Hikers love good food, and lots of it and would flip at finding this double-shot combination at “Conti’s 1894 Restaurant” in the working-class south end of Rockland, ME.
My wife ( Auntie Mame)  and sister-in-law (V8) I ate there tonight, a Thursday, when we were one of three parties that entered the restaurant at exactly the same time. Things work differently at Conti’s. Rather than seating us in individual groups as we walked through the door,  the sole waitress stacked us up as one big group while she graced three tables with home made bread, bowls of salad, house Italian salad dressing and place settings. The decor of the single dining room was casual, with the recycled school cafeteria chairs clustered around an array of tables covered with newspaper.
Next the ordering process. There is just one menu here, hand scribbled on a long sheet of newsprint that hangs in front of the dining room.  Penmanship is not Palmer Method-I couldn’t read most of it, but our hostess/waitress led us through the day’s choices-It’s mostly seafood, maybe 10 dishes worth.  I chose haddock with scallops, Marcia had Scottish salmon ( “the good stuff”) and swordfish, and Jan had the haddock.

Next, you decide what sauce comes with your meal:  Al olio ( garlic and olive oil), marina, and then two more gradations of red sauce, each with increasing heat.  All of it comes on pasta, which for the three of us, was dressed with warm olive oil and minced garlic.  That’s it!
Then onto the dining room, where we got one of the three coveted booths on the right wall.  A fresh candle stuck in a wine bottle, was quickly lit, and provided ambience. The bread is crumbly and a bit dry, but it’s something to munch on with the salad while we endured the short wait for our dinners.
Then came wow.
The dinners came to us on fresh-hot-from-the oven 10” glass pie plates, heaped. My cut of the action tonight was sixteen large fresh-schucked scallops, plus about a half a pound of haddock.
Marcia’s slabs of fish were seared and cooked to perfection.

Auntie Mame, salmon, and swordfish

Auntie Mame, salmon, and swordfish

She knows fish and said that the pound of Scottish salmon retailed for $13, and then there was the 1/2 pound of swordfish.  She ate all she could. Her leftovers amounted to 1 pound six ounces (and two additional meals’ worth, which we weighed out when we reached home) of goodness.
Jan had about a pound of haddock-she was a first-timer and was shocked.  IMG_2884
The wine was Woodbridge-but at $6 a glass, and filled to the brim, I didn’t complain. The last time we came here and it was refill time, Marcia asked about the second red wine choice and the waitress brought her a fresh glass full, and even didn’t charge for it, even after we told here she forgot to tally it in.  A variety of bottled beers in the cooler are something you get for yourself.  When the waitress came and checked on us after 5 minutes, she asked if we needed anything else-I asked for some extra olive oil.  She soon returned with a soup bowl full of warm “extra virgin olive oil,” with lots of fresh chopped garlic. I put the big spoon that came with it to use.
You laugh a lot here. What’s not to like?  Crosby, Stills and Nash and classic 70’s rock emanated from the kitchen, where John was back at it, as he is every day, 365 days a year.  Just remember to bring your cash, as there are no credit cards, nor are there any reservations, appetizers, microwave, freezer, or individual menus here.  They have even stopped the desserts.

Be forewarned.  John Conti’s approach to dining may ruin your experience at other local seafood establishments. I was disappointed in the meager fish plate I had at a renown waterfront restaurant in Camden last week, where the same twenty bucks that brought me to satisfaction city here tonight bought me just five scallops and a small piece of haddock.  Camden has the view, but my heart’s right at Conti’s.
The total for the three of us was $83, including the wine, and that bowl of olive oil.

The Others

For the past 36 years I’ve been walking up the driveway to get the Bangor Daily News that gets delivered to me sometime around 5:30 each morning.  Today, like no other day, a majestic bald eagle greeted me-  circling not 50 feet above my head as I reached into the newspaper box up on the road.
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I don’t work on my birthday anymore, and try to let the day unfold a bit before I go hiking.  It’s a tradition that I have started in 2008, on the one year anniversary of starting out walking from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Maine.  I know that the new year is something that is thought to start on January 1, but for me it starts on my birthday, just a few days after the Spring equinox.  The light is brightening now, the days most years are warmer already. It’s time to walk again.
I wanted to backpack at least half the day today, but sometimes we have to improvise.  Improvisation is one of my major lessons this year. The Improv Wisdom book is a big help these days.
Yes, it’s just as good as it ever was- the hiking today. Maybe not as long a walk than I first wanted, but it’s what worked out. I loved the feeling of stretching out my legs, kicking forward, and leaning toward the horizon a bit- saw no one.
The trail ahead is slippery

The trail ahead is slippery

What a privilege it is to have the miles of trails and warm shelter to myself right now. The sun is setting, skies are clear and it’s definitely back into the 20’s tonight.
Just as I was walking, someone sings  “Sorrows are flowing downstream down the mountain”on the iPhone that I’m listening to . I was in the process of taking this photograph at that exact moment- I’m not kidding.

Flowing but mostly frozen

I just set up final details to do a 100 mile hike down on the Appalachian Trail in May to hike into Trail Days. I’ll be in Tennessee,  North Carolina and into Virginia ! I hope hike a few of those miles with Duff, who is setting out on a thru-hike of the AT this season. Plus Guthook will be breezing through at autobahn level mileages as he storms through Virginia as a total act of devotion to updating his ever popular AT Hiker app. Bob Peoples is helping me with logistics, and I’ll be sure to stay at his place- Kincora- the best hostel of the whole AT.

I am hoping see Crazy Horse down there. When he had the Captain America Corvette he was easy to track down. Now his car is nothing flashy.

It’s not that big a bunch that hikes a lot. These people tend to get to events like Trail Days  and AYZPCTKO ( PCT kickoff).   I will likely spot a few folks that I have not thought about in years but, when I do run into them, I’ll be filled with excitement instantly due to some deep connection we made between each other while out there with The Others. That’s who I belong to- the ragtag bunch of backpackers who do not have upward mobility anywhere even close to their home screens.  These noble folks are the masters of forward mobility.

I started hiking north on the AT on my birthday in 2007.  One thing I really enjoy right now is reading my original Trailjournal from that long hike.  I start reading about today on today, just 7 years later.  And over the next few weeks, I wake up and re-read that day’s journal, reliving the past, refreshing my outlook for the coming season.  No thru hikes for me this year, but I am excited about my progress in completing Cary Kish’s “1000 miles of hiking in Maine in one year” challenge.   I put in six more miles today.

 

 

Hiking Clark Island

Clark Island, a little known, private island in St. George, on the rocky coast of Maine, is definitely worth a hike. Pat, John, and I checked it out yesterday, as we dodged and weaved through serious winter wind on our 4 mile loop around the mostly abandoned territory.

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I found few little web details about this hike. We parked at the edge of the causeway, where there was space for just one vehicle. From there we walked straight ahead through the yard of the caretaker’s house and followed the well trodden winter path all the way to the end.
20140302-091431.jpg From there we decided to walk the shoreline rather than double back. The rockweed was slippery and tread uneven, so we were careful not to fall.

20140302-093426.jpg Part way back, we spotted an ancient trail that wound it’s way back over the main (unplowed) road. Here a photo of John beside a couple of balsam furs that have been stripped by what must if been a hungry deer.

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Here’s reference material from a 2002 Courier-Gazette:

“At the end of the causeway is a lone house that stands at the entrance of Clark Island. Beyond it are trails that wind through fields, stately pines and other trees and fragrant wild flowers. In a few places it was evident where deer traipsed through. A few of the trails led me to different granite quarries. Standing on the edge of one of the quarries and looking out and over the tree line I could see the ocean. Large slabs of granite and trees make the quarry secluded and private. Some of the rocks that border the area are a perfect spot to sit for a picnic or to lay back and sunbathe..”
This island is still untouched and has a great deal of history. One side of the island is built up with granite walls that form a pier. In the early 1900s, ships used to dock there and load up on granite that had been cut from the quarry. The operation stopped more than 70 years ago when workers struck water and it filled up and was never used again. Evidence of the quarry operation abounds. The rock pier still has steel or iron spikes where the tug boats used to tie up. And large slabs of granite still have ridges in them from where they were cut.

“Opposite the island, on the Clark Island peninsula, even more granite was taken. Operations there continued until 1969, when a fire destroyed the building that housed all the tools for the operation.

“At the time the quarry was at its peak was in the late 1930s and 40s,” said Arnold Hocking. Thomaston. Hocking’s father was superintendent of the quarry during the 1940s. “About 300 men worked there and they shipped out about 1,500 tons of paving blocks by barge a day.” The island and quarry operations were owned by John Meehan & Sons out of New York and Philadelphia, Hocking said.

“Hocking and his brother took over the operation of the quarry until the fire destroyed everything. Granite had been taken from the area since the early 1900s, before the island was serviced by electricity, Hocking said, and everything was operated by steam or compressed air.

Historical evidence, beautiful scenery and solitude make Clark Island a worthwhile destination.

Carey Kish: It’s time to step up to the 1,000-mile challenge | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

As part of a regimen for the 1,000-mile goal, include hiking time in Acadia National Park. With views like this, you’ll be invigorated in both body and mind. Carey Kish Photo

As part of a regimen for the 1,000-mile goal, include hiking time in Acadia National Park. With views like this, you’ll be invigorated in both body and mind.
Carey Kish Photo

Carey Kish’s idea is superb. I like the idea of setting a long term goal that requires bit of a stretch. Totally in the right direction, which is getting outside. It’s also Maine-based.

Hey, Carey, I’m on this bus! Maybe we can hike together sometime in this 2014 campaign. I vowed to stay close to home this year, and your plan is making me look forward to the next few months.
I’d like a third hike of the Hundred. Carey’s thru-hike of Baxter state park inspired me to do the same this coming August. And yes to Grafton Loop. Definitely will do a thru hike of the George’s Highland Path and all of Camden Hills State Park

Readers click here—>>Carey Kish: It’s time to step up to the 1,000-mile challenge | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.

Why Small Houses Matter

In 1977 my wife Marcia and I were in our twenties. We had just brought Lincoln into the world.  He was two. We lived in a $1,000 used mobile home on a 5 acre south-facing,  piece of peace on the coast of Maine that we bought from Carol Frost for $4,500. He wanted the money to buy himself a brand new Honda 750 motorcycle. My friend Steve Horton knew Carol and encouraged me to move on the deal.

The trailer was in rough shape.  When we turned on the feed from our dug well the water lines took on the form of a sprinkler system because whoever used the trailer last ( We moved it here from Owls Head) never drained the pipes, which had burst when they froze. I replaced most of the the copper pipes myself. It was not a big place to live, and although the oil fired hot air heating system kept us warm enough, by the end of that winter more than an inch of ice had formed on the inside of the aluminum door that was in our bedroom.  The three of us had to do something.

Enter Pat and Patsy Hennin and the Shelter institute. I drove down there once a week, on Wednesday nights, for several months and learned how to build, in theory.  Then Marcia and I signed up for the design option and we hand drew one sheet of  plans to build a 20 x 30 post and beam house.  I had a small 16” bar Stihl chain saw that I used to cut down a few of dozen tall, straight trees that were part of the land here- big oak trees. I was scared they would fall on me, but somehow pulled it off, as you do when you are full of hope and energy when you are young.   This was before the Hazens moved in up the street.  Alan Davis was living in that house alone, after his wife divorced him. He was going downhill fast and close to  freezing to death. He owned a big old John Deere tractor, and volunteered to haul up the logs to the side of High Street for a case of beer.  We did it in one day.

Basil Pearse still had his sawmill going in Searsmont at the time, and drove down and picked up the logs and milled them out in his tiny sawmill next to Sprowl Lumber.  I had no idea how it was done, but figured if I cut roman numerals into the butts of the logs with the chain saw and gave Basil a piece of paper with what lengths and what dimensions would come out each numbered log it would work.  It did, and a week later Basil dumped a big pile of green oak 6 x 6’s, 6x 8’s, and even a couple of 7 x 9’s by the road.  He handed me a handwritten bill for $140 dollars and my oak frame post and beam saltbox was ready to be put up.

I had my grandfather’s 1940 John Deere L tractor then.  My parents gave it to me, as they were no longer farming in Massachusetts and it still had a bit of life left in it, at least enough to hook a chain to the back of it and drag the timbers down the hill into place.  My friend Lock and a real carpenter named Jay Leach worked with me that busy summer of 1978 to build the house. I worked day and night.   Basil Pearse also sold me sheathing, rafters, and the flooring.  I pried a few choice 24” pine boards out of the pile to floor our upstairs bedroom.  We are still here. Lincoln’s in Montana.  P1050104

I still remember what Pat Henin told me- “People who build small houses can afford to relax.”  I continue to be totally happy with our smaller house.  It is pure 1978 technology, and stays warm on 2 cords of wood a year.  The water is clean and steady from the 10’ deep dug well.  It’s easy to have a great vegetable garden, and this year I decided to start cutting and hauling my own firewood.

Small buildings are coming up out west, too.   I spent the night and resupplied in Dubois, Wyoming this summer on my thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail.

Ready to hitch back to the trail in Dubois

Ready to hitch back to the trail in Dubois

The town was first settled in the late 1800’s, more than 100 years after people were carving out an existence here on High Street in Lincolnville. Dubois is nestled in a valley between the Absaroka and Wind River mountain ranges. The Wind River meanders peacefully through town.

Look what they are doing in Dubois-  Frontier Tiny Homes !

Tie-Hack Fort

Tie-Hack Fort

I love it, and encourage any one who is thinking about a home to consider going small.

Marcia and I also have a tiny camp on Hobbs Pond nearby in Hope that she found advertised for sale in Uncle Henry’s.

Uncle Tom's cabin
Uncle Tom’s cabin

I think small houses are the best. Marcia is a big fan of tiny houses.

I have fantasies about cutting way back and living in our 328 square foot camp instead of this bigger house here.  Who knows what will happen?  It’s hopeful to live small.

How To Live In A Heated Tent

Three buddies are heading up with me to the Jackman, Maine wilds next week for a five day winter camping trip.

Photo by Paul KIrtley

Read another superb blog post from UK’s Paul Kirtley, blogger, wilderness bushcraft instructor, and general expert in outdoor skills.

Paul’s blog entry has loads of info about how we will survive, in style.

Click it!  – How To Live In A Heated Tent.

Liking Little Lyford Cabins

I  left the house at 9 AM and rolled into Greenville down past the Indian Hill trading post exactly at 11. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, the view of Moosehead Lake unfolding downhill stuns me.  Today, the surface of the lake is covered in standing water, with the temperatures above freezing after some 5 inches of rain and a unexpected thaw. It’s eerie.

I grabbed a quick lunch of corn chowder and a hot dog, then drove out of town past the airport along the Katahdin Iron Works ( or “KI road”) for ten miles or so toward increasing wilderness and the Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins winter parking lot at Hedgehog Gate.  It didn’t take long for me to become terrified. It was steadily raining now, and any sand that had been spread over the thick ice on the road had long been washed away.  The roadway is essentially a lubricated, smooth ice-rink. But ice rinks are flat, and this goes up and down and pitches from side to side.  The only reason I didn’t skid off was 4 newly studded winter snow tires on my 2000 Plymouth Voyager.  Even so, I was so anxious and hyped up that I settled myself by “pranayama-ing” along, with one hand up on my nose, alternating yogic nostril closures while the other hand gingerly worked the steering wheel at 20 miles an hour. I knew that one mistake would skid me into the deeper snow on the side of the road, and so far there was no one else dumb enough to be out here. There were also no ” rescue me” Verizon bars showing on my iPhone.  I was definitely on my own, creeping and sliding.

Toward the end of the road, I saw my first and only vehicle- a white 4 wheeled drive pickup traveling in the same direction way up ahead. I thought that if I could catch it, they would see me behind them, and rescue me if they watched my head lights flash sideways if and when I skidded off.

I knew I was in trouble as I advanced up the last long uphill.  I was coming up the hill faster than they were to the point where I had to start slowing dow or I would run into them- uphill!   Why were they going so slowly?  Momentum was the only way I could make it up.  If I had to stop on the hill, I would not be able to start uphill again, and would likely have to back all of the way down to a flat spot and try again. Miraculously, I crept to the top behind them, and there was the sanctuary of the parking lot.

The lot itself was so icy that I had to put on my traction devices just to unload my gear, including my Pugsley.  The three guys in the truck were also headed into Little Lyford. You unload your gear here into a little kiosk where a snowmobile trailers it into LL at 2 pm every day, allowing the unfettered guest to ski or snowshoe 6.2 miles into camp.

The driver of the truck was shocked to hear that my vehicle was not all wheel drive. They were experienced outdoorsmen, and worked in the military- aviation mechanics. I learned why they were moving so slowly. This was their second attempt at coming in this morning. The first time, they actually turned around and went back to Greenville where they bought  chains to attach to the wheels. The slow speed was necessary to prevent centrifugal force from stretching the newly-installed chains.  Slow and steady worked for them, as it did for me.

I am definitely an oddity with my bike here.  In fact, I had to get permission to ride to LL this winter season.  Yes, I’m the first fat-tired bike rider to cruise the winter road to LLC.  I gambled that the surface would hold me up and won. The other three Bangor guys walked in with the aid of traction devices, taking them two hours and 45 minutes, an average time for foot travel.  I, on the bike, clocked in at 1 hour and 3 minutes.  All my practice with recent ice riding trips in midcoast Maine for the past two weeks paid off.  Using my studded 45N tires made a fall-free entrance possible, running 3.5 psi front and rear.  I had a blast.

I’m here at the invitation of my new Triple Crown backpacking friend Bonelady, who is the head cook this winter, her third in a row. We had been Facebook CDT 2013 Group acquaintances until we met face to face on the Continental Divide Trail this season.  I have wanted to stay here for a few years now, but it has never materialized.  Turns out, the guest count is nonexistent at mid-week , and I promised to be no bother.

I’m staying in Little Lyford’s littlest cabin tonight.

My cabin

My cabin

I overheated it.  Bonelady warned me that it would probably be too warm, but even with a one stick stoke at 4 pm, by my bedtime after 9, it must have been over 80 degrees inside. The log walls and metal roof hold the heat.

A wood stove and a water basin are just fine

A wood stove and a water basin are just fine

One bed- propane lights illuminate ( and heat up)  the spaceOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s a coupe of propane lights on the wall with an ancient outhouse out back.

My very own outhouse

My very own outhouse

Little Lyford camps have been in this exact location since it was started up as a lumbering camp in 1870. The Appalachian Mountain Club has owned it for the past 10 years. It is a thrill to experience this setting.

Main lodge- dining room and library

Main lodge- dining room and library

And yes, the food is superb, and plenty of it.

To read more about Little Lyford check out Village in the Woods from the January 2014 issue of Downeast Magazine.