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:
Even though its been 6 years since I completed the Continental Divide Trail my 9 year span of experiences gleaned from backpacking three of America’s long distance National Scenic Trails continues to affect my day-to-day life.
I’ve finally caught up with clicking off 2019’s hiking and biking mileages to the point where I’m slightly ahead of pace to achieve my 2019 mileage goal – 2019 total miles for the calendar year, half hiking and the other half biking. May was a slim mileage month, where the flu whacked me down for a couple of weeks. The majority of my miles are off-road, either on trails, or gravel and/or discontinued public roads. My steps and pedal strokes generally come from places here in coastal Maine that I get to by walking right out my door.
My choices in literature are also increasingly colored by these outdoor experiences. I’m currently reading A World Apart by Gustaw Herling, a Polish author who spent two years in a northern Russian labor camp in 1940 after he was arrested for joining a underground Polish army.
I came to Maine back in the 1970’s when my wife Marcia and I were hired to run Alford Lake Camp’s nature exploration program. Once I experienced the deep forests and lakes in Maine, with a shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean, there was no hope of ever returning to my previous life in Massachusetts.
At Alford Lake Camp this afternoon I attended a celebratory service to honor the life of Andy McMullan, held in the Church of the Pines by the shore of Alford Lake.
Andy’s wife Jean ran the camp practically her whole life. Another circle in my life drew to a close today, and although more of life’s losses will invariably come, this day was a gem to be shared with my camping community.
My 45 year connection with Alford Lake Camp endures. I own a camp on the shore of Hobbs Pond, located a mere 1.5 miles from Alford Lake Camp, as the crow flies.
This trip took place outside of Jackman, an area in northwestern Maine that is a dozen or so miles from the Canada border. I’ve done several summer canoe trips around the Attean Pond/Moose River loop, as well as winter camping in this area.
I was pleased with the rooms and service at the Northern Lakes Inn , smack dab on Route 201 and within a snowball’s throw from a gas/convenience store and two restaurants. In Jackman, there are more snowmobiles around town than pickup trucks and Subarus.
For me, the hardest part of heading out to engage in deep winter camping is getting the gear and food together. Spring/summer/fall trips are no problem, unless it involves canoeing, which invites one to bring additional stuff due to the ability of a canoe to carry hundred of pounds. For a three days to a week of three-season adventuring I can pack in an hour. All my adventure gear resides in one spare room, where I work off a packing list that I’ve honed down to the point where I have 17 pounds on my back (before adding food or water).
Plenty of room = lots of stuff’
Winter camping opens doors that can lead to a pleasant experience due to the extra gear that assists in surviving and even thriving in the frozen north.
Foremost on that winter list is my 9 x 12 Egyptian cotton wall tent, weighing in at 17 pounds — a specialized piece of equipment that dramatically enhances the experience of being outdoors for extended winter periods due to the option of placing a wood stove inside as well as the addition of a pocket for a sheet metal thimble that allows stove pipe to pass through the front wall of the cotton tent.
I bought the tent fifteen years ago from Craig McDonald. MacDonald worked for 50 years for the Ontario Government as a Recreation Specialist, primarily in Algonquin Park. He’s mastered the sport after 40 years of snowshoe expeditions. In his spare time Craig manufactures winter camping equipment.
After parking the car at the end of a plowed side road, we stacked gear on two plastic and one wooden hauling toboggans, lashed down our loads, and trudged one mile over a relatively flat snowmobile track that eventually dropped us entered the edge of Attean Pond.
At this point we are hugging the side of the pond on our left and continuing on over clearly defined snowmobile tracks. It didn’t take long for us to realize that there was much more snow up here than I had even seen before, with absolutely zero areas of visible ice. Instead, there were windblown ridges, berms and at last one hidden slush pocket under the ice, which I found by accident. Snowmobiles are not hampered much by surface irregularities like us humans so we followed tracks the best we were able.
Eventually the flat tracks ahead of us multiplied as riders fanned out as the pond’s width expanded and we were left with much fainter traces that we sometimes could not even make out.
My two adventure partners on this trip were Pat and Mark, both who have been on one of these winter Jackman winter trips before. Each had also participated separately with me on prior trips. Pat is a self-employed contractor who is currently building a house for himself in Belfast and Mark wears many hats over in Vermont: professional sound engineer, Appalachian Trail hiker shuttle service, photographer, and recently a licensed drone operator, who will be putting to use his skills on this mini-expedition.
The sky was flat grey, and the wind down as we wound our way 4.5 miles across the surface of Attean Pond where we entered the mouth of the Moose River and made our way up just past the open falls.
Unexpected things happen when you enter the wilderness. We try to be prepared to deal such frustrations. On this trip we had multiple issues with plastic, which eventually breaks. Before we even got up here I was moving one of the plastic sleds out of the shed onto the top of my car. The upturned front end of one the industrial-grade plastic sleds I made all those years ago snapped off right ahead of the first oak cross piece. We had enough time before the trip left for Pat to fix it in his shop.
It didn’t matter, because Mark’s plastic sled’s front end snapped off on the middle of the pond, and then a short while later Pat’s toboggan broke again. There wasn’t much of an impact, due to the snow being packed by wind and snowmobile tracks. But then all of he plastic straps holding Pat’s MSR plastic snowshoes onto his boots either cracked and broke. Every single one of them.
Both Mark and I favor traditional wooden snowshoes on these flat land winter journeys; he prefers an oval Green Mountain style and I like the traditional Maine cruiser with the beavertail. My bindings are long lengths of lamp-wick, and have 10 years of trips of up to two weeks on the ice without incident. I’m carrying a spare pair of these cloth strips, so it would be a 5 minute deal to replace then when I have to. Mark has engineered his own bindings with elastic cord material that has served him well so far. Mark’s backup elastic cords harness was able to get Pat back pulling his toboggan again.
Our original plan was to advance further up the river to a sheltered area Mark and I had used on previous journeys beside a broad area of expanded river. It had been relatively easy to chip a water hole through the frozen ice the last time we camped here, when we learned the hard way that it was necessary to get out into the middle of the river to reach flowing water.
This time, we fumbled, and eventually tumbled into what I thought might be a reasonable place upstream of the open lead around the falls where I dunked my whole foot and lower leg into a slush pocket. The other two guys pulled me out onto solid snow and we brought in a downed spruce log that we used to support our stance as we filled cooking pots, buckets and canteens with water.
There was much more snow here than on any previous trip, and what was ahead of us with our plan to proceed up river as hard pulling on unpacked snow.
Plan B went into effect: Stay at our present campsite and do day trips out and back to here. This required one whole morning to locate enough dead spruce, harvest it, drag the lengths back to camp and saw, split, and stack enough wood to get us through the next couple days.
Life is good here, it just takes a bit of work to get there.
My Four Dog Stove and stovepipe weighs in at 14 pounds. That’s no burden since I’ve lost more than 14 pounds since I returned from my 2013 thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail. This stove has proved capable of warming my tent to shirt sleeve conditions at below zero temperatures.
There are real safety issues to consider when using an axe to split wood in this much snow. I suggested that Pat and Mark work together to so this, so we worked out a plan to place a spruce log on the surface of packed snow, which would be the base for splitting lengths of wood, and baton the axe head with a sizable pole so that no one’s leg would be impaled with the axe head (I’ve witnessed one such accident on a previous winter trip).
A few “situations” came up:
#1 I heard Pat scream in terror after he entered the outhouse when he discovered that his new winter glove had fallen down into the hole of the crapper. Neither Mark nor I came to his aid.
#2 Mark’s back is bad, so he came up with the idea of stacking thee mattresses to sleep on, but the tower of power underneath him was tippy, so he lashed a long strap around all three mattresses as well as his legs. Urinating became a confounding variable.
All in all, the trip was a success. We each provided complete dinners-from soup to nuts-for the group, with breakfasts, lunches, and snacks on our own. I had a successful experiment with freezing cracked eggs for frying one morning, and also enjoyed very large and delicious bacon and cheddar cheese sandwiches on fresh seeded rye bread for breakfast. Pat was the coffeemeister, brewing up freshly percolated coffee for us every day.
Mark’s video drone footage is still being edited, so stay tuned for a bird’s eye view of our adventure that I’ll post on this blog as soon as he’s released it.
I reached two fitness goals by the last day of 2018: riding my bikes 1,000 cumulative miles and also walking (via hiking or backpacking) 1,000 miles.
I have zero interest in indoor walking/running or biking, either in a gym or at home. After decades of continuous health club memberships, I walked away from my local YMCA in late September of 2013, due to my shifting preferences and awareness of what my heart ( literally) was telling me. I needed to be outdoors more. That fall I had returned from third thru-hike, amassing 2,500+ miles on the Continental Divide Trail. I was fully planning a return to my gym rat status, but all it took was for a single return session for me to change my long devotion to the gym.
For 2019, I plan to amass 2019 cumulative miles via foot, either hiking or biking.
Another goal on my list is to read 40 books this year. I “shelve” books to read and books that I’ve read and monitors my reading, with the help of the Goodreads app. It tracks my progress toward reaching my total book goal. I especially like the scan function which allows me to immediately scan ( via the app) a book’s barcode which links to the exact same info that appears in Amazon (also owns the Goodreads app). If I plan to read the book, I save it to my Want To Read list. So far I have read 3 books in Jan. I pretty pleased that one of them was the 557 page The Outsider, by Stephen King. I have it 4 stars, by the way, even though none of it included scene from Maine.
I’m here in Florida this week for 6 nights of camping with my older and closest friend Edward and his wife Jane. He’s here at Fort Wilderness Campground for a few months break from running his fruit and vegetable farm in MA.
I am becoming more familiar with my Seek Outside tipi. Is warm here but it sometimes rains hard, like it did last night, from around 2 in the morning until 9 am. The 12 foot diameter span gives me a palace of a place here, with 6’10” of headroom in the center.
We are able to find leftover firewood that we have used every night to enjoy a warming fire.
I plan to get a lot of walking in while I am down here for a week. Yesterday , I logged 7 miles.
I finally decided to add yet another goal for 2019. It came to my attention through Alistair Humphreys, whose Microadventures book and website promote cultivating a mind that leads one to enjoy adventures that are likely right outside the back door, rather than thinking of and treating them as distant journeys, every one.
For 2019, I plan to sleep outside at least one night in every calendar month. January ? Check!
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 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 limited 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.
I’ve worked up a new presentation entitled “The Allure of the Long Distance Hike” to share with the whole group after dinner on Saturday night, at Mt. Chase Lodge. I enjoyed my stay at the Lodge last March the night the night before I packed up my fat tire bike, load it with overnight gear and explored the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument for a couple days.
The Maine section of the IAT/SIA is 130 miles long. Heading north from the Katahdin Lake East (KLE) Access trailhead of Baxter State Park, the route passes through boreal forests and follows trails, old logging roads, an abandoned railroad bed, and rural public roads to the potato fields of Aroostook County. Beyond Fort Fairfield, the trail enters New Brunswick.
After I read the following yesterday I planned to hang at a campsite tonight and sleep in my Honda Element. With the rear seats folded to the sides, I have 6’6″ to lay my sleeping mat and bag down and either look out the window above my head or if the night is right, have that window open to the stars.
But 44 degrees, mud, clumps of ice and snow on the ground and hard rain convinced me to trade up to a warm cozy room for $36 .
So, I’ll watch The Untouchables on the DVD player, while eating a piece of coconut creme pie from Dysart’s . Shaping up to be a good weekend.
TOM JAMROG – – THRU-HIKING THE CDT (CONTINENTAL DIVIDE TRAIL )
FEBRUARY 1 @ 6:30 PM- 8:00 PM
Tom Jamrog will present on Thursday, February 1 at 6:30 PM on his 5 months of experiences on the CDT, one of the toughest long distance hikes in the world.
The 2,500 mile National Scenic Trail is now 70% completed. It starts at the Mexico border and travels along the spine of the Rockies as it winds through New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Montana into Canada. The presentation will draw on images and stories from his newly released book: In the Path of Young Bulls: An Odyssey Along America’s Continental Divide Trail.
Blue Hill Books will assist with book sales at the event.
I’m spending a week in Disney World where I’m sharing a tent site at Fort Wilderness Campground. I was in shirt sleeves and shorts yesterday and racked up 13 miles of walking on day 1 and 10 more on day 2. I’m hanging with my best friend, Edward, who lets me stay at his campsite here any time for as long as I want and he won’t take any $$ from me. Of course, I have have no rental car.
Edward has been here from November and will stay until early March, as he has done for every single winter for the last 40 years. When March comes, he’ll head back to his fruit and vegetable farm in Masschusetts where a 100 hour per week schedule awaits him for the rest of the calendar year.
I ‘m testing out a brand new tent, made by SeekOutside. It is 6’10” high and 12′ in diameter, weighing in at 4 and a half pounds. There’s just a single telescoping carbon fiber pole. Here is a a picture of the unit from Seek Outside set up with interior heat with a titanium stove and stove pipe, probably somewhere during elk hunting season in the Rockies.
From the website: “The Four-Person Tipi is roomy and storm worthy. Extremely lightweight for the square footage, this tipi is a palace for solo use. It is capable of sleeping up to four with minimal gear, but is better suited to the luxurious solo trucker, or for two with late-season or winter gear. Handmade in Grand Junction, Colorado, the tipi features: Dual zipper doors with storm flaps, Single peak vent, stove jack with rain flap, 6 inch sod skirt with rain flap, ultra robust stake loops, interior hang hoops for tying clothes line for hanging gear, and external guy-out loops to steepen walls, or pitch the shelter down in tight spots.”
I am awaiting shipment of a custom titanium stove and stove pipe from Don Kivelus, owner of Four Dog Stove out of St. Francis, MN.
I have been using one of Don’s full size titanium stoves for 15 years of winter camping and it is still like new. The big stove pairs with with a much larger, custom 9 x 12 foot Egyptian cotton wall tent that stands 7′ high. It easily houses 4 winter campers and all gear.
This tent is targeted for personal use, and will hold only one more camper and all the accompanying gear in winter. I plan to experiment with this tipi and stove later this February on a multi day winter camping trip in Acadia National Park. If everything works out, I should be able to transport the tipi and stove on racks bolted to the rear of my Surly Pugsley fat tire bicycle and embrace winter riding and camping in style.
Today, I ate my usual eggs and toast Sunday morning breakfast that precedes my regular “Bubba Church” mountain bike ride with my aging off-road posse. On early morning Sundays, I read the digital version of the NY Times and catch up on the news, fake or not. I didn’t find much of interest today, so instead I clicked on my Instagram feed where I download media to read later at my leisure. Instapaper is my own custom newspaper.
I don’t ever listen to podcasts when I eat breakfast, but today I am pleased that I did. I listened to Texas Parks and Wildlife Podcast’s Epidode 13: Hiking Across Texas. It is short, only 12 minutes long, but it spoke deeply to me today. It’s a refreshing interview with Dave Roberts, 72 years old. Dave is currently on a 3,000-mile “ramble” across Texas, weaving through at least 40 national parks.
I remember reading about Dave a year and a half ago, and dug up the following article about Dave, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who has found his unique retirement groove- long distance walking, biking, and kayaking. Dave’s on a $20-a-day budget for this Texas adventure, but more importantly appears to have exactly the right attitude to keep on doing what he enjoys best- being outdoors and having varied experiences.
As Dave puts it, ” If everything does according to plans, you are not having an adventure yet.”
Do listen via the podcast link above, and if you like what you hear, read the Jan. 2016 Times feature below, to learn more about Dave and other retirees who have stood up to leave the couch for later.