I'm sixty-seven and live in the Maine woods. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2007, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, Vermont's Long Trail in 2011, the Continental Divide Trail in 2013, the Camino Portugese (2016), and Newfoundland's East Coast Trail (2017) . I am outdoors every day. I offer guided backpacking trips and classes in Maine, through "Uncle Tom's Guided Adventures".
It’s raining lightly today, our last at Point Camp.
I’ll probably edit photos, write a blog post, read, take a nap, meditate, and unfurl my umbrella after lunch and take a walk over to Fifth Debskoneag Lake to check out the area for mushrooms.
Yesterday Ivan spotted large chunk of chaga on a decaying white birch tree some distance off the trail. We broke off a good sized chunk, and were able to leave the majority of the growth on the tree. I cleaned it up a bit after reaching camp and boiled up a panful of the deep dark liquid, which to me is a pretty close in taste to strong coffee. I just finished reading Birch, by Anna Lexington, a most enjoyable worldwide history of the tree, amply illustrated by photos and maps.
My favorite day hike here that I have enjoyed the most so far is a three mile loop hike along the ledges north of here as one stands on the porch of our camp.
Once I had hauled myself up the steep loose gravel and made my way around the cliffs themselves, I was granted the following view of Katahdin:
Here is a sketch that I made last year of the ridge’s profile.
While up top, I attached an 18 degree wide angle fisheye lens to my iPhone where I got these shots:
There is much left to do today, with highlighted activities that reflect “drawing back the bow” today, including resting, writing, and expressing gratefulness at the foresight and fortitude of those that have come before us that have left us this legacy.
If you ever find your self riding on the gravel Jo-Mary Road in northern Maine Hundred Mile Wilderness you can follow some tiny hand-lettered DLWC signs marking the varied intersections over the 24 mile drive from Route 11 just north of Brownville to the tiny dock where you unload your baggage and get shuttled by Leslie in a cedar and canvas motorboat over to one of the cabins in this 100+ year old settlement of log cabins on the shore of Fourth Debskoneag Lake.
Marcia and I are here for the second year in a row, sharing Point Camp with our friends Ivan and Lynn for four nights. I’m a big fan of Maine’s historic sporting camps.
When Marcia and I were starting a young family, we started taking annual trips around Columbus Day weekend, we came to prefer enclosed heated cabins on this particular weekend after we were caught in a snowstorm where our only shelter was an open sided lean-to or a summer tents. We moved up the ladder of comfort in Baxter State Park when we began to use the heated bunkhouses that are so popular in the late fall and winter seasons.
Baxter’s bunkhouses are unusually insulated, and heated by wood stoves surrounded by wooden bunks on top of glossy grey wooden floors, and minimally appointed with a table, a few treasured chairs, and a coupe windows to provide some meager day time light.
Years later, I got back into annual winter backpacking excursions, usually on the first weekend in December, where summer destinations like the Bigelows and Tumbledown Mountain were made much more challenging due to the cold, ice and snow that had usually settled in by then.
Eventually Marcia and I began to send weekends Maine Sporting Camps, including The Birches in Rockwood, Chet’s in Jackman, Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps, Nahmakanta Lake Wilderness Camps. You get to these places from our house in midcoast Maine by winding north through fading little settlements that lead to even the more sparsely settled backwoods until you leave the pavement to pay your fee to borrow time on logging roads.
Leslie was our host again this year, likely a true Amazon, who radiates capability in the outdoors. She hefted a cooler full of food onto her shoulder and then bound over the uneven, rock and root strewn path to deposit it at our front door.
The main room of this camp has a big Defiant wood stove with plenty of dry hardwood inside and out.
On our first day at camp, Ivan and I went for a 10.6 mile round trip hike over to Tumbledown Dick Falls (TDF, a stunning 70 foot waterfall that is located 0.6 miles off the Appalachian Trail.
We walked from the Camp all the way out to the where the AT crosses the gravel entrance road at the southern end of Nahmakanta Lake, where we met a couple of happy thru hikers who were aiming to be of top of Katahdin in just four more days. We hiked south on the AT for a mile where we hung a right to Tumbledown Dick Falls.
I’ve hiked the Hundred Mile Wilderness several times and before now, but until now have never had the energy or inclination to take in side trips when my going is usually focused on reaching and spending time near to or on Katahdin.
I used the Atlas Guide to navigate this section of the AT and was pleased to see that Guthook included the TDF side trail.
The Tumbledown Dick Falls trail was in great shape.
Someone had been though with a chain saw recently and cleared all existing blowdowns. The trail gradually ascends until the last twenty of a mile where it splits and you can choose the upper or lower falls.
We did both, enjoying our lunch as the board of the falls and the strong flow of the discharge from the initial pool was our soundtrack. Truthfully, the upper flatter stretches were more inviting to me than the Falls.
Several prime campsites were noticeable near to large pools of clear water, where visibility allowed us to see numerous small fish swimming about. This place would make a great overnight micro-adventure on some hot summer day.
On the return hike to camp, we detoured to take a long look up the length of Nahmakanta Lake. It never fails to thrill and becon me back to The Hundred.
In 1994, twenty-give years ago, I published my first feature article. It was about a two week motorcycle ride from Maine to the newest leg of the Labrador Highway- Churchill Falls to Goose Bay. My touring mentor and buddy, Alan MacKinnon and I had just read Great Heart, by Rugge and Davidson and were inspired by the book to explore the region.
To link to a .pdf of the article, complete with original photographs, clink the link below, where you will be able to download the .pdf in separate browser:
I’m riding a wave of opportunities to get out and hike again. In the past couple of weeks I’ve made two overnight trips to the White Mountains to target the remaining four of New Hampshire’s forty-eight 4,000 footers. I’m combining forces with my very good friend and hiking enthusiast Tenzing, who lives in NH. Tenzing needs a few more summits than I do (7) but neither of us mind a few extra mountain hikes, so he’s doing a few repeats and so am I.
We haven’t hiked together for five years. A couple of weeks ago we had a very successful trial hike of 3,268’ Kearsarge North.
This week, I drove up to Silver Lake, NH to stay with my brother-in-law Cam, who put me up for a night so that I couldn’t have to drive up and back from a long day of hiking three more 4,000 footers: Mounts Tom( 4051’), Field (4350’) and Willey (4285’) in Crawford Notch.
We picked the best day of the summer so far to hike. I awoke to 47 degrees, and rendezvoused with Tenzing at Intervale. The cold temps quelled any lingering mosquitoes or black flies. The views from on high were much better than average, although there was some cloud cover up high. We spotted cars at two ends of our route and were hiking by 8 am.
By 9:30 AM we had completed out first 2.5 miles, trudging upward at a very good rate of 2.1 mph. The summit of Mt. Tom was reached by 10:15 AM.
Tensing informed me that he had previously submitted Mounts Tom and Field on Sept. 18, 1994.
Number two 4,000 footer- Mt. Field
After short breaks for water and snacks, we meandered up and down the ridge to reach the summit of Mt. Willey at 12:30 PM.
From there is was a long, and often treacherous descent to a segment of the Appalachian Trail, down to the parking lot off the highway.
The views from an outcropping were rewarding today:
Tenzing posted this additional information on his Facebook page: “A piece of advice anyone wishing to climb Mt Willey: try to avoid climbing and descending from/to the South. The trail is extremely steep, highly eroded, and the footing is frequently scree or loose gravel and very slippery!”
Tenzing and I have another hiking trip planed to check off two more 4,000 voters on 9/10-9/11. Then a 3 day, 2 night hike overnight in October to complete Tenzing’s last 5 and my last 1.
September and October are my favorite months to hiked spend time in the New England woods. I’m fortunate to be able to hike tough stuff and to have friends like Tenzing that I can share my experiences with.
One of the local AT thru hikers, AKA Blueberry, mentioned that she read this book in one day. It took me two days complete, the same as my wife who read it immediately after I did. The book is well phrased, and the author has the credentials to do a thorough job of bring the story forward.
I recommended to anyone, experienced hikers and outdoors folks as well as those who hold that that a long hike on Appalachian Trail is a piece of cake. In any given year approximately 30 people get lost while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Sadly, 66 year old Geraldine Largay was one of them in 2013, when she had the misfortune of wandering 2 miles off the AT in Maine after she became disoriented when stepping into the woods off the AT to urinate.
I read all 39 comments about the book here in Goodreads. I am left wondering whether some of the reviewers read the same book that I did ! For example there were comments that Ms. Largay did nothing wrong, that she waited patiently in place for 26 days for a rescue that never came despite the coordinated efforts of hundreds of searchers doing close coordinated searches of the area on multiple occasions
As a former thru hiker of the AT who has since obtained his Maine Guide’s license I have received training on lost person behavior and I have also experienced the anxiety being left behind and/or temporarily disoriented myself. Ms. Largay lacked two specific skills that might have saved her life: land navigation and fire building. Her body was eventually found after keeping herself alive for 26 days while in possession of a compass and a map of the area. Ms. Largay had a lighter with her but the postmortem site analysis revealed that she was not able to maintain a fire large or long enough to call attention to her location.
Since Ms. Largay’s death I have added a satellite-based communication device ( Garmin InReach+) to my day hike pack, as an emergency back up. I pay 12 dollars a month for the subscription as I am out in all seasons. I’m not getting any younger and things do go wrong in unexpected ways in the wood and waters of Maine.
I also orient myself with a compass and map and complete a “handrail check” before I enter the woods or a large body of water. A handrail is a feature or landmark that leads towards your destination and one that you can follow or keep within sight. It can be man made or natural. For example, if Ms. Largay had done this, she would have known that Maine Route 27 was directly east of the section of the AT where she became lost. She might not have been able to see the Northeast handrail of Sugarloaf Mountain through the dense foliage, but that big old sun came up directly from the east on each of those 26 days that she was waiting for help. Route 27 was 11 miles directly from her location, and while she might not have been able to get there in one of even two days, she might have recognized the AT as she would have to cross it on her way to the highway.
Smart phone’s GPS/ mapping systems are great tools that I use myself, but Ms. Largay’s sad story only drives home the fact that rudimentary map/compass and navigation skills are necessary when all else, including our sense of direction fails us.
I’ve had four days of varied amount of outdoor experiences. I’ve taken time off from my usual routine of mixing work and the same old recreational routes to open myself up to what can best be described as microadventures, a term I credit to Alistair Humphries, author of one of my favorite books.
Both my sons Lincoln and Arlo are visiting for 5 days with their respective partners, Stephanie and Alanna. I’m blessed with family members who are adventurous individuals, that are vigorous enough that they can engage in little excursions that pop up as possibilities.
On Thursday, Lincoln and I joined up with a half dozen or so of my mountain biking group, The Bubbas, for a rock and root punctuated couple of hours of pounding the meandering trails built on Ragged Mountain’s Snow Bowl recreation area.
On Thursday, Alanna, Stephanie, Lincoln, and I went 4.7 miles up Ragged Mountain, from the opposite side of the biking that Lincoln and I did the night before.
This ascent is challenging as well with a relatively flat run at the beginning, with the trail turning much ore rocky and vertical.
Stephanie and Alanna hiked strongly in the lead and went even a bit further than this map indicates, and actually made it to the Ragged’s summit tower. Lincoln and I explored this view when we hung out for a short while waiting for Steph and Alanna to come down from the actual summit.
Swimming and hanging at camp was a welcome break from the heat and humidity.
On Saturday, Lincoln and I went fishing. In 2008, my friend Mike Gundel and I shared a canoe on our early season 8 day thru-paddle of Maine’s Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Check out that story and view photos here. The theme of that adventure was, “The Russians are coming!”
Mike is a Maine Guide who specializes in fishing. He was available on short notice and provided the canoes, rods, and tackle we needed to catch largemouth bass. What are the chances that Mike chose to take us fishing on one of the bodies of water that are depicted in the Ragged ledge panorama depicted above ?
We met Mike at the put in at 7 AM, where the next four hours flew by as Mike guided us around the lake to where we actually caught fish! I caught three fish, including a largemouth that was eyeballed in the 3.5 pound range.
My 4 day run of fun included an outdoor wedding on the ocean shore in Tenants Harbor that took up Saturday after noon and late into the night. Marcia and I made the wedding but had to pass on the revelry at the reception.
The next morning, folks were sleeping in. I decided to make the usual Bubba Church Sunday morning mountain bike ride, again up Ragged Mountain with a different route than Thursday night’s ride. It was the most humidity I’ve ever remembered on a ride, some 96%. I left the parking lot and went up 15 minutes before the rest of the group started and decided to keep going at one of the designated intersections, due to unrelenting assault by mosquitoes. I tried to relay my plan via text to one of the guys but my fingers, phone screen, and every piece of cloth that I had on my body, and even in the pockets of my day pack were saturated and I couldn’t make the screen respond to input.
I left them this message of sorts. Uncle Tom is my rail name- has been since 2007:
Just before I took off I heard bikes clattering and surging through the rocky, rooted trail and we all descended the ext downhill on the slops: the G5 Connector, where I ended up flatting my rear tire. After I put a tube in the tire, I put my air pump to the task but that had to wait until I was able to reattach the pump’s air hose, which never happened before!
It’s been quite a different four days for me- this stretch this of mid-August microadventures- one that I’ll repeatedly appreciate as I fall under the spell of euphoric recall !
About once a month I have experiences that can be described as surprising coherent.
This summer I have been devoting 2 hours each early weekday morning writing my second book. I learned a lot from publishing In the Path of Young Bulls already, which is closing in on a third printing. One of my lessons was that it takes frequent, regular, and focused work to crank a book about. I learned that at this stage of writing I am targeting amassing words on the page, ideas, angles, within an evolutionary process that is surprisingly interesting. Editing will come later, probably by a wood stove this winter if I can put in the time .
A couple of days ago,I picked up Poets on the Peaks: Gary Snyder, Philip Whelan, and Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades.
I’ve read it twice already and decided that I needed to re-read it for this new book. Luckily, I was able to head over to my local library and find the book in the stacks. The book is excellent, and harkens back to a time in my life when I was a teen and was just beginning to start backpacking in the New Hampshire’s Whites, which were a few hours drive from my house.
Today, I thought I was headed up to Mt. Waumbeck in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, one of New Hampshire’s 4,000 foot peaks. Instead I joined my old hiking pal Tenzing for a strong day of hiking up and down North Kearsarge, near North Conway, NH. Although it was not a 4,000 footer, Tenzing chose it as a practice run for some longer and more demanding hikes he and I will take through the end of September that will allow us both to finish up our individual 4,000’ lists.
Tenzing even printed out calendars for us to lock in our next three hiking adventures,
Much to my surprise, I discovered a very well preserved fire tower on the top of the 3,268 foot granite cone.
Originally built in 1909, the existing fire tower lookout was re-built by the the US Forest Service in 1951 and continued in operation until 1968, when the increased use of airplanes for fire detection replaced the need for lookouts.
What’s uncanny is that I’m sitting in bed here tonight at the White Mountain Hostel, and writing a blog post about today’s hike with a book by my side with a cover shot of a fire tower that is the same vintage as the one I entered at noontime today and enjoyed a brief respite from the rain squall and cold wind on top of Kearsarge North.
When men live long enough, we’re drawn to acquire things and experiences that eluded us when we were younger forms of ourselves: cars, motorcycles, and in extreme cases younger women, a cluster of behaviors that might be filed under the “midlife crisis” drawer.
I’m an example of this.
In the 1990s I purchased not one but two brand new BMW motorcycles. I had a decent job, paid off the loans, and enjoyed years of long distance motorcycle travel. In 1996 I squeezed all my gear on a spanking new white R1100GS and proceeded to spend six glorious (mostly) weeks spanning some 13,500 miles of adventure/camping, traveling from Maine to Alaska where my motorcycling mentor Alan and I explored every possible road, gravel or paved that we could find in that spectacular state. In 2007 my motorcycle infatuation phase faded after I completed my first thru-hike, of the Appalachian Trail. Simply put, I no longer experienced any satisfaction in putting in weeks of exploration while sitting atop an engine, even one as powerful and well suited for adventure as those BMWs. Eventually, my fleet of motorcycles dwindled from an all time high of 5 down to just one-a nearly antique Kawasaki KLR 650 that still has less than 13,000 miles on it, with most of those miles coming from tours of Labrador, where in 1993 Alan and I were the first motorcyclists to ride the “ Labrador Highway” from Churchill Falls to Goose Bay.
As far cars, I’ve never spent much on them, other than buying a new Dodge Caravan when they first came out in the 1980s. After the head gasket failed on the engine after the car passed out of warrantee, I’ve moved to used, practical vehicles, mostly high mileage diesel VW’s. I now run a 2005 VW Golf turbodiesel(224,000 miles). I mostly drive a 2006 Honda Element that I bought with 180,000 miles on the odometer that is now up to 227,000 and doing just fine.
Luckily, I had the fortune of marrying the right woman. Marcia and I had our 47th anniversary his past May. She still has my heart, and is also my best friend. I’m not about to trade her in for a newer model.
A couple of days ago, I hopped on my 1986 Diamondback Apex bicycle and rode the 20 miles back and forth to the Camden Library where I picked up a book that I requested through inter-library loan.
After I read the book I added it to my list of books read in 2019. So far, I’ve read 33 books toward my goal of 40 for the calendar year. And then it hit me that this behavior of mine- riding my bike to the library, and recording my reads has been one that I’ve engaged in for more than 60 years !
The house that I grew up in was a mile from the Somerset Village Library. My mom let me ride my bike there and back from the time I was 7 years old. Early one June morning in 1958 I spotted the Summer Reading program announced on the wall near the main desk. It was a pasteboard that had names of kids aligned on the left side and then little boxes for dates under a line of digits that went from 1 to 20 books running across the top of the page. I was thrilled to be invited by the librarian to join the program, and slowly the blocks next to my name began to fill, mostly with Hardy Boys mysteries and books about dinosaurs. As a young boy it was immensely satisfying to me to plug into his program, one that has become a a lifelong habit.
My reading lists are now virtual, thanks to Goodreads, where books I want to read, books that I am reading, and books that I have already read are listed.
After 60 years, I’m still pumped to ride my bike to the library, check out books, and enter data about books I read or plan to read.
Don’t need no new motorcycles, cars, or women- no, no, no !
I’m at camp here the day after a very celebratory Fourth of July fireworks display last night on the shore of Hobbs Pond, Hope, Maine.
Holidays are for recreating, backing off, and celebrating an major cultural event. To me, the Fourth of July represents a celebration of freedom.
Our national day for embracing freedom is now past for 2019. I am the grandchild of immigrants from Poland, and that my presence here has only been possible due to the decades of hard work that have been put in by my grandparents, parents, and now my own family to achieve what we have.
I own a home and a tiny a camp in Maine, a couple of cars, four bikes, and an old motorcycle. Everything is finally paid for. it’s taken me 69 years to do it.
As much as I want an easy and expansive life, a little voice inside my chest whispers to me, “Don’t make it too easy.”. I’m not sure how the little commentator got in there, whether it is my Polish suffering gene, or my Catholic roots, but it is there and it is something I don’t need to return to therapy to obliterate. Today’s Daily Stoic message is just what I need to hear right now.
From today’s DailyStoic.com:
It’s very easy to get comfortable. To build up your life exactly how you want it to be. Minimize inconveniences and hand off the stuff you don’t like to do. To find what you enjoy, where you enjoy it, and never leave.
A velvet rut, is what it’s called. It’s nice, but the comfort tricks you into thinking that you’re not stuck.
The Stoics knew that this was a kind
of death. That as soon as we stop growing, we start dying. Or at least,
we become more vulnerable to the swings of Fate and Fortune. Seneca
talked over and over again about the importance of adversity, of not
only embracing the struggle life throws at us but actively seeking out that difficulty, so you can be stronger and better and more prepared. A person who has never been challenged, he said,
who always gets their way, is a tragic figure. They have no idea what
they are capable of. They are not even close to fulfilling their
So that leaves you with something to
think about today: Are you challenging yourself? Do the choices you make
push you or do they help you atrophy? Are you in a velvet rut?
I’ve set aside time this summer to plunk away at my new book. While I’d prefer to head over to my hut to hunker down and go at it, I have too much that has been neglected in my life to go that route. I’m intending to average 10 hours a week, writing two hours early in the morning before the day’s responsibilities unfurl. Any work that skips a day will be made up on the weekend. I can be a disciplined workhorse when I need to be ! I may be floating some stuff over this blog from time to time. 16.5 pages down so far.