Now that we’re camped way down near six thousand feet, the cold never arrives. There’s a stillness, a windlessness, on this flat sandy mesa, and I sleep cradled within it. The sky is gentle, the lightning-gnarled trees are gentle. The small soft stick-breakers do their dances beneath the moon. The mice run their errands.
I wake at 6:10 and sit on my sleeping pad, eating last night’s leftover cold pasta out of my cookpot, now with Sand in it. I feel hungover. 32 miles, blergh! My first big day on the CDT. Oof. My blood is thick and slow and my brain is full of fuzz. I blew my load yesterday, I’ve got nothing left. Time to do 34!
I have a stumbly sort of morning, everything feeling misaligned or out of order or badly packed. I fidget and snack and…
I’m continuing efforts to sleep outside in locations within walking distance from my house. We’re fortunate in Maine right now to be experiencing a cold front, just at the same time that the pesky, painful black flies would be a major player in any outdoor activity. The cold stopped them last night, plus the wind.
I spent the night on top of Moody Mountain with two of my backpacking pals, General Lee and General Tso. Tso came up from Bath and Lee has been living in Costa Rica since we hiked the Continental Divide Trail together in 2013. The three of us spent months together thru hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2007. The last time we were together was in 2011.
We decided to head up to sleep on top of Moody Mountain, cowboy style, on the spur of the moment. Tso had not planed to spend the night, but around 9:30, after it got dark, I asked Marcia to shuttle us up Moody Mountain Road, where she dropped us off at the start of an old abandoned woods road that led us up to the broad rocky, lichen and moss covered ledges that make up the top.
All we took with us were sleeping bags, pads, and backpacks to carry them in. I spent my second night in my new bivvy bag. Simplicity itself. We lounged around on our pads jabbering away under the stunning expanse of stars until the wind and the cold were persistent enough that we retreated to the warmth of our down sleeping bags.
We awoke just before the sun rose at 5 AM, an orange glow in the eastern sky. Tso had a long way to drive to attend a Memorial Day weekend event with his family, and Lee and I wanted to get in a bike ride before we headed off to Marcia’s own family celebration in Newcastle.
It took all of a minute to stuff the sleeping kits into our backpacks when we headed back along the ridge, then followed a rough and often obscure trail that dumped us out back on High Street where we made it back to the house.
We were back at the house by 6:10 AM. Definitely worth a repeat, but it won’t be so easy when the mosquitoes rule the night. Maybe the tent for next time up there ?
[Please respect the landowner’s rights if you camp out like this. I have permission from my neighbor to do what I do on her property.]
With no success from posting my requests to borrow someone’s bivy sack- via blog, Facebook, Twitter I finally bought my own. I have been intrigued about ditching my tent for certain brief outdoor overnights. You’ve read about my keen interest in following up some of the ideas of the most interesting book Microadventures, by Alistair Humphreys.
Humphreys includes a chapter entitled The Glorious Bivy Bag, where he extolls the benefits of sleeping on the ground, inside your bivy sack. I did a little research and found a huge price difference in what is essentially a sleeping bag raincoat. You can spend close to $250 for a top of the line model. I went for the bottom of the line, and selected a $58 (with shipping) bag on Amazon.
General Lee and I launched our impromptu overnight in the woods by throwing minimal kits together. I packed just a headlamp, sleeping bag, pad, quart of water, axe, lighter and my pack on my back. We hopped in the car after supper and before it was dark and left the car in the Stevens Corner lot . We made quick work of walking up the Multipurpose Road, taking a left at the Frohock Trailhead, then veering up to the backside of Bald Rock Mountain.
We had originally planned to sleep right on top, up at 1100 feet, but that idea got ditched when we experienced the refrigerator wind flowing up the rock face overlooking Penobscot Bay.
We located a flat area between the dilapidated lean-to and the rock ledge leading up to the top where we laid out our sleeping pads and bags. Lee was going pure cowboy, but I put my bag inside the bivy sack and rested that combo on top of my Neo-air mattress.
I had planned to start a warming fire, but when the real dark hit at around 9 PM, we headed right into the bags anticipating a great undisturbed night of open air sleep.
How did it go?
The thick fog was so laded with water that when I awoke in the night to pee, it sounded like it was raining. It wasn’t rain. It was the accumulated fog drops falling off the tree branches overhead onto the ground.
This was a good initial test of the bivy sack. While the cover of my bivy was absolutely soaked with water, the outer cover of my down bag was barely damp. I liked the big teeth of the heavy duty zipper that extended half way down the bag. This bivy is huge. I did not cinch the drawstring at the top of the bivy, but did extend the ample hood over my head. It’s definitely good to be wearing a head cover- I had on a wool hoodie, so put that over my head for warmth. One thing to think about when sleeping out in a bivy is what to do with all the gear you have with you. If it’s great weather, you just put your stuff in your pack and let the whole package just sit there overnight. But if it rains, or the trees are dripping water all night, you want that gear to be dry. None of this matters much if you are just dirt bagging it for a night then packing up and going home, but if you are out for more than one night, you’d better be packing a large waterproof bag to put your gear in.
Humphreys admits that the bivy is sort of silly, but it’s fun if the weather and the bugs cooperate. I think he’s right in that, ” When inside a tent, you are basically in a rubbish version of indoors.” If rain were predicted, I would not be choosing the bivy- I’d pack my tent which weighs the same.
We were up at 5 for the 5:08 AM sunrise, which was just a thin orange band sandwiched between grey washes of clouds.
I’m looking forward to spending my next night within my new bivy, soon.
Three men wielded three chainsaws, numerous splitting wedges, and a maul this morning. In the space of three hours, we felled enough trees along the field-stone wall in front of my house to render two cords of hardwood- the good stuff: oak, maple, cherry and ash.
General Lee is back in the USA from Costa Rica, visiting with me for a couple of weeks. He’s no stranger to real physical work. He lumped enough stove length sections that he stacked between two trees to leave me a wonderful man-made artistic sculpture wall that can be seen in the back left of the picture. I’ll view that stack from the window above our kitchen table through the summer and early fall, when I’ll disassemble it into my wheelbarrow and push it up the hill to split and stack into the woodshed. From there it will dry for a full calendar year before it gets used to heat our oak-timbered post and beam saltbox.
From Camping in the Old Style, by David Wescott: “If you want to learn to fell a tree, find a mentor. There are few books that can teach it well, if at all.”
Gary Robinson is even older than me, and also grew up on a the family farm in nearby Warren. His years of hard farm work have included felling over a thousand tress in his lifetime. Gary is considered a true master of the firewood harvest rituals. He’s got enough split and stacked hardwood over at his place to heat my house for at least five years.
I’ve got some history with these woods. In 1977 I bought the five acres, and went into the oak grove below and felled some two dozen large, towering oaks that were hauled up roadside and taken to the Pearse’s sawmill over in Searsmont. The timbers that came from that order were chiseled, framed, drilled, and pegged together by me, Jay Leach, and my friend Lock Kiermaier. It’s as snug a home as one could ever hope for, warming our hearts and bodies for close to to forty years now.
This house heats on two cords a winter. We easily got that today, in a few intense but satisfying hours of collective work. The black flies were starting to could up and bite. There was mud in places underfoot. I myself took a couple stumbles along the stone wall.
We spent a long time struggling with our last tree. Two chainsaws got wedged tight into the base of the ash, which decided to fall in the wrong direction, but we eventually figured out a way to release the tree without damaging ourselves or our tools.
General Lee and I are looking forward to completing the job this week. The local fire ban has ended, so I’ll pick up a fire permit and we’ll enjoy a big brush pile file one of these nights coming up.
At the start of 2015, the British explorer and micro-adventurer Alastair Humphreys called for people to live more adventurously, and challenged us to spend one night out in the wild each month during the year.
It’s all in Humphreys’ new book, Microadventures. The idea of a microadventure intrigues me.
The book came out as an e-book in 2014, then in print in 2015, and while clearly British-based, has inspired me to get out into the woods and fields more often.
In April, I slept out a couple of nights with Tenzing in Mike’s back yard in Austin, where I was awakened by the local neighborhood rooster each morning.
I plan to get out this week, before the black flies and mosquitoes really limit my enjoyment of hanging in the outdoors. Of course there is always my trusty mesh bug shirt, made for me by Berta Estes, out of Winslow, Maine. Unfortunatley she’s been out out of business for at least 10 years now.
Who wants to try and sleep outdoors for at least one night a month this calendar year ? We can start a #Mainemicroadventure movement?
I’ve just received permission from a local landowner to not only walk the 1,200 acres that her family owns, but also to be able to sleep on the top of the highest mountain in the area.