Backpacking in Baxter

Awoke this morning at 5 am to the sweet  sound of rain falling outside my bedroom window.  Heading up today for the first of two backpacking trips that I am guiding to northern Maine. The rain should be done sometime this afternoon and bright weather should follow.  

   We’ll prepare this morning by lining our packs with  large waterproof plastic bags that will hold our supplies for the week.  Then pack covers will be slid over the whole units, with raincoats or ponchos covering the packs themselves.  

    Here’s the itinerary:

I’m particularly excited about our last day, where we plan to take the newly re-routed Abol Trail to the top of Katahdin. Abol was just reopened on July 1. It has been closed for the past two years, in order to reroute upper reaches of the trail, which was unsafe, due to large unstable boulders and rocks in the slide scar that was part of the old trail. 

 The Abol Trail was the first trail I ever walked up and down Katahdin, 46 years ago, on a week long adventure with Kevin Weir. If all goes well, it will be my 20th summit of Katahdin. 

Stay tuned for blog posts and photos from a very special natural sanctuary that has truly captured my interest and unabiding focus for most of my life.  

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Riding Ragged

“The graying of The Bubbas,”  is real.  Nate said it.

It was humid and the roots were just a bit slimy and slick, but it wasn’t a problem for nineteen Bubbas in The Woods this past Sunday morning.  We broke some kind of  record for attendance today with the help of additional folks like 73 year old Rhode Island Bruce pushing us along.

Our special guest today was Carol, who came up Massachusetts up to Midcoast Maine to “ride Bubba”  again. And here’s Carol herself, front and center as we celebrate her riding with us today.

Carol, front and center !

Carol, front and center !

We’ve been at if for decades, and with the advent of modern bike technology, there’s hardly a frame breaking all season. It’s even a rare event to even have “a mechanical” anymore.  Maybe a broken chain, or a flat, but that is about it.
We ride out of habit. We ride to rack up those Strava PR’s (Personal Records).

The Ride

The Ride

We ride to commiserate on the climbs.  We ride to get our weight down. We ride to sip beers tailgating in the parking lots. We ride to be with other riders.

I’m riding still because I can.

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6 day, 5-night Baxter State Park/Katahdin adventure

Aug.22- 27, 2016
(Due to a recent cancellation I have one space available for this upcoming backpacking trip.)
Join our exploration of the central and northeast sections of Baxter State Park before  ascending the newly rerouted Abol Trail leading to Katahdin’s summit.


Uncle Tom and Guthook ( 2014)

Itinerary: On Day 1, after leaving our van at Roaring Brook Campround, we’ll hike 7.5 miles north through a valley to spend the first night at a lean-to on the shore of Russell Pond (Campground).  Our second day finds us hiking 10 miles further north to an isolated lean-to on South Branch Pond that we’ll access via canoe. Day three will be a shorter hike where we’ll tent at Middle Fowler Pond, where there will be time to relax or explore one of Baxter’s least-visited regions.  Retracing our steps on day four,  we’ll return to our lean-to on Russell Pond. On day 5, we’ll walk back to our van and move to Abol Campground where we will spend the last night in a lean-to. On our final day, we’ll summit Katahdin (5,267 feet) weather permitting), via the historic Abol Trail which has been partially rerouted and has just reopened as of this July.

It is difficult to get a reservation to ascend Katahdin in the summer. This is a rare chance to explore some of the lesser known parts of Baxter as well as to summit Katahdin on the trail traversed by Thoreau in 1846. National Geographic includes Katahdin as one of the top ten summit hikes in the world.

The trip starts and ends in Lincolnville, ME. Transportation to and from Baxter State Park, as well as entrance and campground fees are included in the price. A list of recommended personal gear will be provided upon registration.

Group size: 4.

Price:  $500: Equipment rental is available.  Hikers provide their own food. Meals can be prepared and provided for additional charge.

Reservations:  Call 207-763-3406 or email for questions or to secure reservation.

Additional information about your guide and Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures 

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Fat Tire Bikes Are Not Just For Snow

I prefer to ride my fat tire bike right now, leaving my full suspension 29″  Santa Cruz Tallboy and my converted Diamondback Apex “road” bike in the garage.

Why?  Because each and every bike has a personality and a bike’s personality speaks to the rider in a special language.

Do read Rebecca Rusch’s one page submission from Dirt Rag #189, just like I did this fine Maine morning.

Illustration by Chris Escobar

Illustration by Chris Escobar

Here it is:  RUSCH JOB: ZEN AND THE ART OF FAT BIKING | Rebecca Rusch .” Fat biking is not a fad. It’s here to stay and has opened the doors to a whole new…”

While Rush’s article reflects her impressions of riding on snow, it captures the essence of moving through the wooded trails here in Midcoast Maine, anytime of year.  There a bit more calmness to “riding fat”, as The Bubbas call it.  For me, at my age and stage of life,  riding on 5 inch wide tires sporting 5 pounds of pressure at 5 mph is fine.  I’m riding difficult trail sections that were impossible for me to clear on 2″ tires.  I don’t steer and aim so much when riding fat.  I let the bike slide and hop a bit until it finds it’s own line.  It’s intuitive rather than calculated.  These same trails are seen differently.  I like to notice that.

It’s been hot and humid here, since I have returned from hiking the Portugese Camino this June.  It’s still cool out here at 6:45 AM on this fine summer day, and I’m free to enjoy it right now.

I’m heading out the door to swing my leg over my Surly Ice Cream Truck right now : out the door, over the hay fields, rocky streams, and onto the snowmobile trails that I keep open to ride up and around Moody Mountain.   I’m happy to be riding fat again this morning.



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My 10 Pound Camino Backpack Kit

Yes!  I am down 10 pounds on my back. Here’s the picture of all the gear that  I carried for the last 5 days of my 1 month, 250 mile ” backpacking” trip on the Camino Portugese this past June.

Stuff that mattered

Stuff that mattered

I started this trip with fourteen pounds of gear.

I was able to experiment with ditching numerous items for the last 5 day of the walk in Spain, at a distance of some 50 miles from Santiago de Compostela to Finisterre. It was the perfect time to experiment with a minimally-prepared pack.

Ditching gear for this leg of the journey was not my idea. It was suggested to me by the “Irish Hiking Machine”,  AKA David Rooney, an important contact that I spoke with for just one hour on my pilgrimage.  After we parted ways I  never saw Rooney again.  Rooney was a three time repeat on the Portugese Camino, and knew the ropes.  At the albergue where we both had bunks, Rooney made a call ahead to his favorite hostel in Finisterre, the Cabo de Vila , where he helped arrange a private room for Marcia and I.  At his suggestion, we also booked an extra night there, in order to relax and enjoy the area.

Rooney encouraged us to further even plan ahead and reserve a night for when we take the bus back, returning from Finisterre to Santiago. We liked our room, and it was near the bus station, so we planned a return to the Hotel Cuidad de Compostela  (49.09 Euros), where we spent our last night before moving on to walk the “Camino Finisterre“.  Rooney’s reasoning was to leave any extra items from our packs at the hotel, where we’d be back in 5 days. The Hotel was very accommodating to this plan.

Even a fourteen pound pack has things one may not really need, and I decided to be ruthless about reducing weight.  I left my summer down sleeping bag at the motel. Sleeping pajama style in my thin merino wool tights and long sleeve jersey worked fine. If I was not warm enough I was able to throw a blanket over myself.  Our lodging places had  extra blankets in the rooms.  It’s been perfect weather here in June, with just two successive days in the month bringing light intermittent rain, and with the five day forecast for clear skies,  I left my warm jacket, rain jacket, and rain skirt behind as well. Other extra items were souvenirs, pamphlets, guidebooks, a Portugese phrase book, and maps we didn’t need any more but wanted to keep.

So how did it work out for me with just 10 pounds on my back?   The bottom line was that I didn’t miss a thing. I had no spare clothes, but it was so warm and sunny during the day that I was able to wash out my shirt and underwear each day, and easily dry them on a laundry line out in the warm sun that lingered here past 10 pm each night.  I’m inspired to  keep my weight down when I return to backpacking at home as well.  It’s a welcome  experience with 10-15 pounds on your back, however, the move requires trusting that things will work out, or that it won’t be so bad if I’m lacking something that I might have brought along.

“The more you know, the less you carry”- Mors Kochanksi ( inscribed on the face page on my copy of BUSHCRAFT)

As for my final packing list:
1. Pack Group:
Backpack – Granite Gear  —-Leopard AC 58                49 oz.
1 Pack cover                                              3 oz.
Total……………………………………………..                            52    oz

2. Sleeping Group:
1 Ibex wool long sleeve zip T                                        5.8 oz.
1 Ibex long tights                                                      5.4 oz
1 headlamp w/ batteries                                        2.1 oz.
1 stuff sack sil-nylon………………………                                1.3 oz
1 pillow case                                               4.0 oz
Total……………………………………………                                   18.6 oz.

3.  Packed clothing :
1 pr. wool shortie socks                                           2.6 oz.
1  wool midweight long sleeve hoodie                             9.4 oz.
Patagonia Houdini wind jacket                                4.3 oz.
1 pr. New Balance Minimus shoes                            9.1 oz.
Total……………………………………………                             30.2  oz.

4. Kitchen Group:
1 qt. water bottle ( Tiki Mon)                                     5.4 0z.
1 1-liter Platypus                                        1.5 oz.
1 spork……………………………………                             0.3 oz.
1 cup, bowl=Orikaso                                             4.2 oz.
1 bandanna………………………………………..                   1.0 oz.
Total………………………………………….                          12.4  oz.

5. Hygiene Group:
1 small pack towel……………………………..                        1.3 oz.
1 bottle hand cleaner                     …………                    1.3 oz.
1 small zip lock………………………………….                                      1.3 oz
w/ floss, vitamins, ointment, emery boards
1 partial roll toilet paper……………………..                                        2.0 oz.
1 Baby wipes                                                                                  2.0 oz.
1 chap stick                                                                                     0.2 oz.
1 disposable razor                                                                           0.1 oz.
1 small child toothbrush……………………..                                         0.5 oz
1 small tube tooth paste…………………….                                         0.7 oz.
Total……………………………………………..                                 8.5  oz

6. Electronic Group:
1    iPhone with headphones,  wall charger and cable              6.6 oz.
1     Anker Charger                                        5.8 oz..

Europe Electrical converter box                                6.6 oz.
1     Wahoo Ticker heart rate monitor                          2.0 oz.
1    Kindle reader                                            6.7
Total……………………………………………..                        27.7 oz

7. Navigation Group:
Map/guidebook                                                   6.0 oz
compass                                                 1.6 oz.
pen                                                        1.0 oz.
Write in the Rain notebook                                    1.5 oz.
Montbell “chrome dome” umbrella                            5.8 oz.
Total                                                    15  .9

Passport                                                    1.4 oz.

Checkbook w/ credit card ( stripped)                        3.0 oz.
Flowfold Wallet                                            2.0 oz.
Total                                                    6.4 oz.

1  sunhat
1 pr. sunglasses
1 Ibex wool shirt
1 pr. synthetic underwear
1 pr. zip leg synthetic pants
1 pr.  socks
1 pr. On the Beach/  boots
1 pr. Leki poles
total packed weight, dry, without food                 10 pounds, 8 ounces

Posted in Backpacking, Camino Portugese, Gear, hiking, walking | Tagged , | 4 Comments

“Farm to Face” on the Portugese Camino

In September of 2013, I walked away from the treadmill at my local YMCA where I had been a faithful member for decades. An 18 mile round trip Camden and back to walk indoors on a mechanical device with all these TV screens on the wall in front of me blaring trivia and shock news seemed wrong.  Instead, I now walk or ride one of my bikes for 75 minutes almost every day. I also tend my vegetable gardens.

The best souvenir that I‘ve brought back from the Portuguese Camino is not my small wheel of aged Galatian cheese,  my tiny espresso cup/saucer, my scallop shell/cross tattoo, or my wool cap.  It’s this picture.

Typical Portugese veggie garden

Typical Portugese veggie garden

It was taken along the coast of Portugal on my first day on my month long hike.  It’s one of many hundreds of small summer family vegetable gardens that are the norm in this part of the world. All the basics are covered:  lettuce, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and the almighty collard green- looking like a morphed cabbage plant that also serves double duty as a parasol. These gardens sometimes are paired with a few chickens, in one of the planet’s mutually beneficent relationships.  The chickens eat the weeds, garden trimmings, and consume bugs, with the garden receiving nutrition from chicken manure.

That picture has framed my activity here at my home for the past week.  I have a renewed interest in elevating my vegetable gardening skills to a higher level.  I don’t just want to plant a garden, I  now look forward to tending it lovingly as well.

Last year was the first time I used an electric fence to keep the voracious deers from eating my food.  It worked, and now that fence is serving its second season of duty.

No more "Dear me.  They ate a row of lettuce last night !"

No more “Dear me. They ate a row of lettuce last night !”

I have purchased a new hose to water my garden, as well as successfully employing a drip irrigation line to carry us through the dry days.  We are limited to how much water I can draw from my dug well, so this week, I am setting up a system to collect rainwater off my roof where it can be stored in a large plastic tank and then gravity fed into the two plots below.

I am a bit behind in the planting schedule. I was able to plant leeks, onions, tomatoes, kale, and some lettuce before I went a way to hike in Portugal and Spain for the month of June. It was unseasonably cold here when we were away, so both the vegetables and the weeds held back a bit until I returned.   I had plenty of compost  to apply, under the plants, that had aged nicely over the last year from inside my two plastic bins.

Deer love lettuce, so I made a wire cage overlay to protect a small area of various leaf styles.

In the space of a week, seeded plantings of beans, beets, carrots, Chinese cabbage, bok choi, and salad mix are out of the ground and greening up under the sun.  My neighbor Bill had overflow plants from his own greenhouse that he shared with me:  cabbage, Brussels sprouts, summer squash, and zucchini.   I bought a few more plants to round out the garden choices:  eggplants, broccoli, peppers, basil, parsley.

Leeks, onions and lots of plastic bags.

Leeks, onions and lots of plastic bags.

I have a new experiment going with my brassicas.  I have been planting on this land for close to 40 years and in that time I have developed a serious problem with clubroot on my broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts plants. Clubroot is a soil born disease which causes grossly enlarged and malformed roots and stunted, sickly plants.  The normal solution is to use a 4 year rotation for those vegetables along with treatment of the soil with lime, but it’s easier to read about  this practice than carry it out.  I am trying out a new idea.  

Home Depot had 40 pound bags of topsoil on sale for $1.58.  I bought twenty bags. I planted a broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower seedling in each bag, which I perforated with 12 holes on the bottom.  My reasoning is that the plastic bag will keep the disease away from the fresh soil in the bag and I should be growing and harvesting some serious greenage this season.

An unexpected benefit from my work in the garden is the surprising degree of exercise that I have been able to derive from all the digging, tilling, planting, wheelbarrowing, hoeing, watering, pulling weeds, and removing rocks that are part of home agriculture.  Here’s a screenshot from Saturday’s Fitbit results from my iPhone 6, that sat  in my pocket in a plastic bag while I worked :

Eight miles of motion

Eight miles of motion

8 miles of movement, and it’s not just walking!  I can attest from the aches and pains in my muscles that I am  getting a practical “crossfit” experience in dealing with these two plots that are less than 100 feet away from my door.

Now that the chickens have moved out , I also have a greenhouse on the south side of my garage that can carry another whole bevy of fall and early winter vegetables that I can establish.  And there is that pine tree that I have to cut down that’s shading the greenhouse too much. And the grass needs cutting, and there is firewood to cut up from the six trees that Gary and I felled in May before I left to hike.

There’s also the satisfaction and nutritional benefit of eating real food. I give way a bit of extras.

And finally,  I am most interested in planting Padron pepper seedlings in the greenhouse and enjoying the experience of roasting, salting and eating those delicious appetizers in a couple of months.

Padron paradise on a plate

Padron paradise on a plate

 Who would have predicted that this “back to the lander” from the 1970’s would be leaning on the most simple of actions to improve his quality of life ?  

Maine is the real deal.  

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Our Last Day in Portugal

My sister-in-law, V-8 , occasionally sends nuggets of true wisdom my way. We followed one of her maxims on our last full day in Porto, Portugal.
“Don’t do any more than three major tasks a day.”

Our Brazilian peregrino pal Heleno was here for three days before he started walking the Camino. Before we parted company, he adorned our map with some must-do locations that we decided to check out today.

First on the list was a visit to Bolhāo, Porto’s large open-air traditional market that opens at 8:30 AM.

It's huge!

It’s huge!

It was an easy uphill walk of a half-mile from the Yes! hostel. The market was loaded with vegetable farmers, grain vendors, florists, fishermen, butchers, wine and cheese merchants, as well as purveyors of traditional crafts and souvenirs.

The old and the young view the offerings

The old and the young view the offerings

I have a favorite place in Porto!
After doing a run through of the two story sprawling floor plan, we found a little café along the rows of booths where we sat and enjoyed our €.80 cafe con leches.  Little free pastries came with our cups.  I wandered off and bought Marcia a flower as part of our modest celebration of completing our Caminos.

We also had a purpose here at the market. I have been disappointed about my lack of success in ordering a traditional Portuguese soup so I decided that we could make it ourselves.
There was a well-appointed kitchen for resident use at the Yes! hostel where we are spending our last two nights.  We fleshed out a traditional list of ingredients for the soup: potatoes, collard greens, onion, shelled beans, a tomato, local chourico, and garlic. Fresh bread rolls rounded out our list.  I also purchased a bottle of white port from one of the vendors to bring home, plus three little bottles of various quality port wines to try out later today.

Marcia was interested in the chickens, perhaps springing the cage?

Interspecies communication

Interspecies communication

By this time, we were hungry for lunch and we just happened to be in the vicinity of the Majestic Café, one of the iconic establishments in Porto, and the second place recommended by Heleno.

Cafe Majestic

Cafe Majestic

•            “… it is in the country’s second city that we find the most stunning of all cafés in the nation and one of the most attractive in the world.”

We were given a small table adjacent to the piano in the center of the large café. Check out the stunning website.

This place is a gas.  It truly was a special meal. Marcia wanted a gin and tonic. The stylishly uniformed waitress, who spoke English, asked Marcia what brand of gin she preferred.
“ I’m OK with the house brand,” Marcia replied.
“The waitress retorted, “We don’t have house brands here, but we do have anything you would like.”  She steered Marcia to the Bombay Sapphire, and then brought back what appeared to be a stunning double.
We were provided with a few tapas dishes to start our brunch.

Tapas, the lily, and one big gin and tonic

Tapas, the lily, and one big gin and tonic

I had seafood soup and a chicken Caesar.

Rich and thick

Rich and thick

Marcia preferred a seafood salad.

Artistic presentation

Artistic presentation

All concerns about costs went out the window,  to the tune of €78 for drinks and lunch.  Other couples who sat around us were content with a couple coffees and their selfie shots, as they rolled their eyes at the menu.

With two down, I had one more even to go today.  We parted after the meal, with Marcia content to wander the shops on the Rua de Santa Catarina while I headed back to the hostel to drop off our purchases and then walk down some twisty steep streets to take in the third of Heleno’s recommendations, the WORLD OF DISCOVERIES, an interactive museum and “Theme Park” that re-enacts the adventures of Portuguese navigators as they crossed oceans to discover previously unknown worlds.  Around 1500, Portugal played a leading role in this process, creating new maritime routes and circulating all around the world.

At 14 Euros, the entrance fee is over priced.  Billed as an interactive theme museum, it’s a bit weak, but my frame of reference is Disneyworld.  I was able to get into the 4 pm English-guided option. There were two parts, billed as a 75 minute experience that stretched to an hour and three quarters due to a bit of waiting around.  The story was narrated by on young bearded man who was dressed in period. There was considerable money and design to the place, which had replicas and some historical objects, as we were led through a half dozen rooms that were illustrated with standard mannequins and replicas. The data we were getting was not 100 percent. For example, I liked the part of the tour where we were shown models of the half dozen types of sailing vessels that cruised the seas in the late 1400s.

Portugese ships/ narrator

Portugese ships/ narrator

I asked our guide how long the biggest one was- the gunboat. He told us it was appointed with 360 cannons.  He first said it was much smaller than our present ships, but I pressed him:
“How many meters long ?”
When he replied, “ Ten to twelve,” every one of the four other guests looked as shocked as I was at what was obviously an incorrect figure. I knew that Columbus’ Santa Maria was the largest of his three ships and that was just under 20 meters (58 feet) long . A couple of folks even challenged him but he held firm.

The boat trip was disappointing. The cheap headphone only produced sound out of one side, and that was poor quality. The audio portion was laggardly, with periods of silence that were too long as the boats weaved in and out of the different rooms of the voyage. The gift shop had the expected nautical puzzles, magnets, etc, but there were also some strange things offered for sale. When I was looking around there were many middle school aged students in the shop and they were tittering at something on one of the sales tables. After they moved on I went over to see that they had been checking out a box of embossed chocolates that depicted 12 Kama Sutra couples actually coupling. I did not check out the dining room, which received great reviews.

So three events were enough for me today- almost.
I’d call our supper collaboration a success as well.  A good kitchen make it easy to whip up a good meal, this one with local ingredients that we purchased this morning for very low prices- 5 Euros or so.  I did get my Portugese soup, on the last day.

Our last supper !

Our last supper !

We had to come though, and we did, together.

Posted in Camino Portugese, hiking, walking | Tagged | 2 Comments