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".
Ben Mongomery’s new book was a must read for me. He’s the author of Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail, a book that I rated as my #1 read in 2014. Mongomery was a finalist for the Pulitizer Prize in 2010. I’m a long distance backpacker, and I relish stories about long adventures powered by foot.
The book is about Plennie Wingo, who was crushed economically by the Great Depression of 1929. With no jobs available to him, and with a wife and daughter to support, Wingo came up with a crazy idea- walking around the world. When he realized that someone had follow up on that stunt, he really got creative and decided to walk it backwards. Through practice, determination, and a pair of glasses that had side mirrors on them that allowed him to periscope what was behind him, Wingo managed to get himself up to 3 m.p.h.
Wingo eventually made it across all the USA ( in two separate trips), but was stopped short in Europe, after he left Hamburg and found himself jailed in Instanbul.
The book depicts life in the USA after the Great Depression, where a quarter still bought a lot. yet a dollar was hard to find . Wingo struggled more than expected in getting through the USA, where he was stopped numerous times by the police who told him it was illegal to walk backwards. He was no stranger to jails, or to con men who put forth the veneer of wealth and friendship to extract what meager funds he did beg up through wearing advertising signs and selling 25 cent postcards of his walk. Many folks also did help him, offering beds, meals, and even some cash surprises.
I thought I ordered a copy of his book through my local library, but I received the 8CD audiobook instead. I have a ” new” used car and had never even considered playing an audiobook through the stereo. I recommend this audiobook. It is unabridged, and very well read, included lively dialogue aided by differing voice patterns by the reader. A bonus CD has 17 pages of maps and photos that brought the book to life.
The book is a great reminder, along with Mongomery’s excellent Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, that major adventures are available to evereryman and everywoman. Taking that first step out of the door is the hardest thing anyone can do, and after that, you build up a momentum that who knows what can happen!
One my most enjoyable, but frustrating, experiences is putting up a building. I have built a half dozen buildings and each was a unique challenge. Two of them were full houses, and four were small buildings, with most of those in the 12’ by 20’ range.
I started building in 1977 after I took evening classes down to Bath (ME) once a week for several months at the Shelter Institute. When the basics were done my wife Marcia and I enrolled in their design class, where we took the principles of heating, snow loads, foundation systems, site orientation, beam forces and moments, and drew up our own plans. With detailed floor and wall plans and materials lists we built our house 1,200 square foot home on a 5 acre plot of land on the 430 foot contour line on Moody Mountain facing south. We’re still married and in the same house!
The post and beam frame of our house was harvested off our land. I was young and foolish enough to cut several dozen large oak trees by myself, and now consider it a miracle that I didn’t slice and dice a leg or have a tree fall on me. A case of beer was all it took to pay my neighbor Alan Davis to fire up his old John Deere tractor and haul the logs up to the road where they were picked up by Basil Pearse and trucked to his custom mill in Searsmont.
A couple of weeks later a massive pile of extremely heavy green and wet oak beams were dumped back roadside for the price of $140. That’s for sawing and trucking. The biggest timbers were 6 x 8 inches by 20 feet long. The rest is history. We are still here, with our lives were permanently simplified by that unforgettable quote from Pat Hennin of Shelter Institute, “ People who build small houses can afford to relax.”
My best friend in Maine is Lock, who worked with me all during that summer. We crafted under the direction of Jay Leach, a real carpenter who was experienced with traditional post and beam construction. Jay knew when we had to find chains and a come-a-long to draw the frame together as tight as possible before we sunk short lengths of rebar into the 1/2 inch holes we bored into the tops of the oak posts. Jay shared everything we needed to know for the job to turn out great.
The next summer I worked with Lock, who built his own post and beam house way up on Appleton Ridge.
I’m sitting here this morning appreciating my hammer and nail relationship with Lock. We’re back at working together ! Lock came over to my camp from Augusta to help me tighten up the new hut I am finishing up on Hobbs Pond. As the rain and the wind pound down this dark cold morning (It is 36 degrees out) I’m thankful for Lock’s friendship and help yesterday.
We started the day with a promising sunrise, followed by fresh omlettes stuffed with tasty hen-of-the-woods mushrooms that Ivan had gathered the at hometo bring here. Also nown as maitake, it is is a mushroom that grows in clusters at the base of trees, particularly oaks.
A couple of events dominated today’s activities. First, we were able given permission to view the interior of Indian Camp between 9 and 10 am when the cabin was vacant between guests where the following photos of the interior were taken:
The following information is from “The People, The Logging, The Camps : A Local History” by Bill Geller (May 2015): One of the small cabins that is available to rent here is known as Indian Camp, perched right on the shore. Dating from the 1890’s, someone at the time intricately decorated the camp’s interior walls and ceilings with birch bark shapes. The birch bark artist is unknown but it’s something that history has lost even in that relatively short amount of time and no one really knows who did. Two two tales persist. One claims that the person living in there acquired an artistic native American wife. Others believe that an artist brought his wife to stay at the camps for health reasons and that he decorated the inside when he was not painting. Another aspect of the tale is that the owner’s grandson discovered birches on the hillside Southwest of the outlet with old cut out bark-shapes matching those in camp. Some also believe that President Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the old Indian Camp somewhere between 1905 in 1909, visiting his Indian mistress. Take your pick of one or maybe all the stories are true!
Ivan and I were also able to take a long hike today (10.5 miles).
Carey Kish’s new Maine Mountain Guide lists the major hiking trails the accessed from DLC, with routes depicted on Map 2 – Maine Woods, contained in the back flap of the book. (Yesterday’s 2 mile loop up and along the cliffs near the camp is not in the book, but should be, as there are fine view of both Katahdin and the Southwest landscape from the ledges on top.)
We completed the Eastern half of the Debsconeag Lake Trail, hiking counter-clockwise and visiting Fifth Debonskeag Lake, Stink Pond, Seventh DL, Sixth DL, and then returned to our camp at Fourth DL. It took us 6 hours to walk the 10.5 miles, including a couple of side trails and an added 0.8 miles due to a wrong turn getting to Fourth Deb. Lake. While the trails here are brightly blazed and those markings are frequent, they are all blue-blazed and there are sometimes unsigned intersections where people like me make mistakes.
Here are some photos taken on that loop hike. While the colors of the foliage have intensified there are still a number of deciduous tress that have not yet shown their true colors.
When Ivan and I get together in the Maine woods, we soon revert to mushroom hunting mode, especially in the Fall a few days after a hard rain. We had a very good day yesterday, harvesting two small edible and choice toothed hedgehogs, and a mess of freshly popped oyster mushrooms.
They will be cooked in butter and seasoned for sampling for dinner tonight.
Some background from the Bureau of Parks and Lands Nahmakanta Public Lands Guide and Maps : Debsconeag Lake Camp are within the Namahkhanta Public Lands, encompassing 46,271 acres of forest and low mountains, punctuated by numerous streams and brooks descending from higher elevations that flowing to the numerous lakes and ponds in the area. The area is at the far end of the 100 Mile Wilderness sectino of the Appalachian Trail. 24 of these bodies of water are characterized as “great ponds” which are 10 or more acres in size. Within the Namahkanta Public Lands is the state’s largest ecological reserve, an 11,800 acre expanse that includes the Debonskeag Backcountry.
I’m a big fan of old Maine sporting camps. The state is full of them still, leftovers from the post logging period where former settlements that housed the little armies of men who worked in the woods were converted to establishments that catered to upper class men and women who wanted to hunt and fish under the wings of Maine Guides. I’ve stayed in places from the Maine/Quebec border all the way down to the Midcoast area, where I bought one of my own tiny camps 11 years ago, on Hobbs Pond, in the town of Hope, just a 10 minute drive from our house.
When Marcia and I had a young family, we started a tradition of spending Columbus Day weekends at Baxter State Park, initially camping in their three-sided lean-tos, until we spent a early October weekend in snow and ice. Fording Wassataquoik Stream when the shores were frozen is painful. Enter our discovery of the Baxter bunkhouses- true winter setups, complete with wood stoves and tighter quarters. Those were larger events that included friends with family, as we learned to reserve the whole bunkhouses for our October adventures.
Times changed and I got into winter camping, favoring traditional foot travel on lakes, rivers and streams. I still do that, hauling ample gear on a long narrow toboggan, even lashing a canvas tent with wood stove and stove pipe to warm the body when it is well below freezing outside. In Jackman, I sampled Chet’s traditional cabins before venturing out for longer forays on Attean Pond and the Moose River.
Lately we’re enjoyed Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps, Namakhanta Lake Camps, and are now here at Debskoneag Lake Wilderness Camps, an ancient place, where at east one of the little camps was built in the 1800s. We are here at Point Camp, set on a tiny peninsula that is surrounded by water on all three sides.
Marcia and I are sharing it with our friends Lynn and Ivan. We came in yesterday and they are joining us today. You get here by heading directly north from our home in Midcoast Maine for a few hours, winding your way through faded little hometowns, and sparsely settled back country until you veer off pavement just past Brownville Junction to hit the gravel Jo-Mary Road, a relatively solid dirt highway of sorts that meanders some 25 miles through working forest until the road peters out approaching the Debnonskeag Lake Camps.
We unloaded our gear to a small dock where we were picked up in a motorized wooden freight canoe that transported us a half mile up the Lake to the camp itself.
Leslie is our host here, an Amazonian descendant if I ever saw one. She radiated capability, friendliness and girl power. She was strong enough to heft a fully loaded vintage steel Coleman cooler up to her shoulder as she moved quickly along the very uneven twisting path to deposit our cooler on the floor of the cabin.
I’m usually too busy to relax much of the day, but after we unpacked here I slid into alpha brain wave mode easily when I rocked in the hammock for a while after I started a campfire on the shore of the lake outside our camp.
It rained lightly of and on on the whole time that a grilled hot dogs over the wood coals. I don’t eat hotdogs much but enjoy them and even thick slices of Spam when they are grilled to perfection over hardwood coals. On toasted buttered rolls, appointed with fresh mustard, relish, and a healthy dab of my homemade kimchi, our first supper was just right on this Fall weekend night.
Then some reading and writing in the main room of the cabin, around the big Vermont Castings vigilant wood stove that we didn’t need to light tonight. Although this cabin is tight enough, it is more than 100 years old, and has weathered through so much water and wind and flying debris that I consider living in it for a few days is a rare privilege.
I finally got around to exploring the mountains and waters Donnell Pond Public Lands for three days over this past Labor Day Weekend. This is the first combo canoeing/hiking adventure that I’ve taken in several years. My shoulders have just not been able to handle the paddling, but things worked out this time, due to the linted water travel involved.
This summer has been a bit of a bust in Maine due to the almost unrelenting humidity and heat, but now that September and cooler weather has rolled around, I am again interested in exploring the best of what Maine has to offer.
From the Natural Resources Council of Maine web site: “The Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land unit includes mountains, pristine lakes, and remote ponds all spread out over 14,000 acres in eastern Maine. There are sites for camping along the pond’s beaches, and great options for those who enjoy paddling. The land included in the unit has grown over the years to reach this expansive size with the help of different conservation groups and generous private landowners.”
For those of you who are not familiar with Maine’s Public Lands, they are an option to the State parks, and Acadia National Park. Permits are not required if you use established fire rings, and there are no fees for camping, where you are allowed up to 14 days at one campsite. Leave No Trace practices are encouraged.
Here’s a overview of the DP area ( top of map), located some 12 miles east of Ellsworth:
A bit of history from the DP website: “No notable Native American archaeological findings have been discovered here. During the nineteenth century, attempts were made to extract gold, silver, and molybdenum from Catherine Mountain with little success. The logging that has long been part of the history in the area continues to this day. Recreation and leisure play prominently in the history of the area. For nearly two hundred years before the advent of refrigeration, ice from Tunk Lake was harvested during the winter and stored in sawdust-filled icehouses for eventual sale and distribution. A lakeside fish hatchery on Tunk Lake supplied small “fry” fish for sport fishing until the 1970’s. Wealthy vacationers established an estate on the south end of Tunk Lake in the 1920s. This estate would later end up in the hands of famed Antarctic explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd and was a recognized historic landmark until it was destroyed by fire in the 1980s. The land conserved at the Donnell Pond Public Lands was assembled in phases with the assistance of numerous conservation partners-The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Land for Maine’s Future Program (which helped to fund more than half the acreage acquired), the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, and private landowners deeply committed to conservation.”
Our campsite on Redmond Beach allowed us to put in a full 9 mile day that took in Caribou and then Black mountains via the Caribou Loop Trail.
Here’s a shot of our campsite. I’m in the tipi, and my hiking pal Guthook is in The One.
The next day, we awoke early in order to beat the wind and explored much of the North shore of Donnell Pond, checking out the shoreline for possible campsites for future trips.
In my experience, the magic hour for wind picking up in favorable weather on lakes and ponds in Maine is 10 in the morning. It is uncanny.
We eventually crossed over to the western side of the pond at the narrowest point where we followed the shoreline to the popular Schoodic Beach, which is more easily accessed by a 0.5 mile trail from the Tunk Lake Road/Route 183 parking area. As we were exploring the shoreline on our way down Schoodic beach we came upon two hikers with fully loaded packs trudging through the water heading for the Beach. We stopped and asked the two girls what was going on and one told us she was a student at Harvard University who came up here with her best friend. On the spur of the moment they drove up from Boston to Donnell Pond to camp on Schoodic Beach. When they experienced the overloaded level of camping and merriment there they had bushwhacked up the shore in order to have privacy and escape the noise. One of the girls had also been greatly distressed by the sight of a snake, so they took to aqua-blazing. They jumped at the chance to hitch a ride back to Schoodic Beach in our canoe. They asked us if there were any other places where they could camp for free Guthook steered them to Camden Hills State Park, where I agreed that they would find a better experience camping on the summit of Bald Rock Mountain in Lincolnville.
We beached the canoe on Schoodic Beach and did a relatively quick hike to the top of Schoodic Mountain, a 1,069′ gem of a walk, and 3 mile round trip that leads to excellent views of Frenchman’s Bay and the mountains of Acadia National Park.
Carey Kish’s AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast book was my best resource for hiking the Tunk Mountain and Hidden Ponds Trail that we were able to fit in the last day of our getaway.
Kish’s 4.9 mile, 3 hour, and 1,060′ elevation info was spot on, as was the description of the extensive open mountain ledges and far reaching views of the Downeast landscape, and full-on views of the Hidden Ponds. Sometimes we walked over a rooty path, lending a Tolkienesque quality to the experience:
It was a kick to see the occasional ATV churning up a cloud of dust on the Downeast Sunrise Trail far below, where I’ve biked and even camped on a few years ago.
The Downeast Sunrise Trail is an 85-mile scenic rail trail running along the coast connecting multiple scenic conservation areas, and providing year round recreation opportunities. It is open to snowmobiles, ATVs, horse-back riders, skiers, hikers, bikers, walkers, and joggers. It passes through several sections of the Donnell Pond Public Lands between Franklin and Cherryfield. Here’s the link to my bike-packing experience on the Sunrise Trail.
Exploring Donnell Ponds Public Lands is a must if you haven’t checked it out. The foliage should be coloring up soon , which will only add to the experience.
I’ve planned several hiking trips for the next few weeks. Next up- 5 days of challenging backpacking in Baxter State Park, including a long hiking day which includes The Traveler Loop.
There are those folks who react to those of us who like to record and review our outdoor adventures by posting disparaging comments like, “Just ride the damn thing!” ( Implying that it is unnecessary to gather and work with data from program such as Strava, or Fitbit) that might take a pointers from the backpacking community, where ” Hike your own hike! ” is a well-know slogan. It translates to ” Do your own thing.”
Of course you can just ride ! You can also just walk and forgo the adoption of a technology such as a bicycle to get around in the woods.
It is motivating for me to set yearly performance goals, based on my own baselines. My goals for 2018 are amassing both 1,000 miles in riding my bike and another 1,000 in hiking. Here’s how I am doing:
Recording rides and hikes keeps me on track- I am not guessing about whether I rode or hiked enough this week.
Goal setting, along with cardiac monitoring through technology such as heart rate variability keeps me on track, and out of trouble, as I age along the path. My yearly physical took place this past week, with the blood work, prostate results, and cardiac markers all very favorable. Even my previously pathetic Vitamin D level skyrocketed into the outer limits.
Public communication about fitness goals and progress is consistently supported by science!