Uncle Tom’s Adventures in 2019: Part 1

Welcome to 2019!
Here’s an update on my plans and goals for the year.

I’ve reluctantly suspended commercial guided backpacking trips in 2019. I learned my lesson in 2017 when I had to cancel and refund cash money for two fully booked 5 and 10 day backpacking trips. At that time, issues with serious medical conditions involving two of my family members demanded that I stay home and address the care of my loved ones. While those issues continue to be managed in the best manner possible, there now exists a real possibility that I will not be able to be in the wilderness if and when the health of my family takes a nosedive.
Nevertheless, I have made alternate plans to get out and schedule few things that allow me to be outdoors, sleeping on the ground, hanging out around campfires, and enjoying what I can in the forest.

I consider myself blessed.
Everyday life offers me engagement in the outdoors on a daily basis, in all seasons.

A very slow, but steady mile. (photo by Auntie Mame)

I live in a sort of “park” in midcoast Maine, where several of my neighbors hold large 100+ and even 1,000+ acre undeveloped properties. Long stretches along High Street, where I live at 430 feet of elevation on the southern side of Moody Mountain, not only don’t have any buildings, there aren’t even any utility poles or wires. What’s there instead is a canopy of towering oaks and other hardwoods that tower over the narrow roadway. This past couple months I’ve observed several mature bald eagles who have remained for the winter perched on a rooftops and trees, and even watched them glide over the bare open fields are they scan for their meager, but apparently adequate sources of sustenance.

I’ve stopped caring that the deer are still feeding on my shrubs, and fruit trees. That’s all that’s left for them and the flocks of 30 plus wild turkey after they ate the remains of my vegetable garden down to the ground after harvest.
I am blessed that many of my neighbors continue to allow me to hike and mountain bike right out my door, through the fields, abandoned roads, and trails that I’ve traveled over the past forty years that I’ve lived in this hand-made house. May all this continue as long as it goes.

Heading home, sinking..

At this point, I refer the reader to this article from Self magazine: The 2 Things That Will Help Motivate You to Be More Active

The article builds on data compiled between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018, from all 36 million people who use Strava that was aggregated and de-identified to respect athlete privacy.
Two factors lead to increased activity and help athletes stay active longer: goal setting and working out with someone.
My increasing engagement in walking and biking outdoors has been greatly enhance by both these practices.

I plan to continue writing about my 2019 plans in subsequent posts.

For 2019,  please consider joining the 919 other people who are subscribed to future pots from this blog.

Disclaimer: I paid for my Strava Summit ( formerly Premium) yearly membership

Camping at Shin Pond Village? Not Tonight !

I am here alone at Shin Pond in a 5 person cabin at  Shin Pond Village (It’s a 100 acre estabishment) for my gig this weekend at the Maine Chapter of the International Appalachian Trail‘s annual weekend of meetings.  Shin Pond is the real deal.  It is the absolute last settlement as you approach the northern entrances of both Baxter State Park and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

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.

Biking The Monument

Here is the link to that blog post, complete with pics of the Monument and Mt. Chase Lodge.

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.


Improvising Through Simplifying

For the last 3 days, our house has been without electricity, due to an October 30th storm that downed power lines all over the state of Maine.

Just down the way on High Street
I heard that the owner just bought this truck last week.

We’re back into a simpler life style – out to camp.

Hobbs Pond

Its in Hope, one town over, and just 9 miles from our house. Heck, if we lack anything here, it is no problem to stop by the house and get it tomorrow, or even right now!

At its peak, some 494,000 customers were without electricity, surpassing the number of households that were cold and dark in the Great Ice Storm of 1998. Over 300 power crews are still at it. Back in 1998, it was almost two weeks before our power was restored.
I bought a small 3500 watt Honda generator right after that, and while it helps with lights and keeping the refrigerator and chest freezer going, we can’t use the well pump, electric hot water heater, or our kitchen stove freely and have to improvise and shuttle usage to keep things together. It was stressful, but it gets us through the times when we lose power.

A number of our aging neighbors have taken up the final solution and have installed mega-watt propane-fueled generators that automatically fire up when the grid fails. That route allows one to run the whole house without compromise. That’s out of my league.

On the other hand, it is no problem for me to get fresh drinking water at the house. We’re blessed with a shallow well, serviced by a pump and water tank in the basement. Unfortunately, the well pump overwhelms the generator and trips the circuit when I try to get it to run. Yesterday, I lifted the well cover, tied a bucket onto a galvanized pail and threw it down into the well, and drew out as much water as we needed to flush the toilet, wash up, and drink water. What is making this all possible is that it has been unseasonably warm, to the point of zero killing frost outside.
With no freeze, we still have water at our Hobbs Pond camp, which we draw from the spring fed pond by another shallow well pump.

There is power here! The camp’s power was restored at 5:15 PM, the night the storm passed through. We have the outhouse out back and the 380 square footprint of this little (now insulated) camp makes it easy to heat with a wood stove.

Camp – main room.

There is no cell reception at this location, however we have a land phone line and now internet here as well.

Life is good. Embracing improvisation helps once again, and so does the fact that both Marcia and I have each spent months, and even years living outdoors, hiking through the countryside, and living out of the few items that we carry on our backs. At our little camp, we have more than ancient kings could ever dream of.

Permission to Engage with the Landscape? Granted

Microadventures give me major satisfaction. These compressed experiences ignite interest in the wild spaces that surround our lives.
Each morning, we wake, wash, dress, eat, and then work or play in mostly predictable patterns.  I spend my time mostly living reruns.   On good days like today, the jailbreak in my heart launches me over that high perimeter wall.

I’m outside 80 minutes a day, riding my mountain bikes, or hiking almost every day, no matter the weather.  My trusty Strava app tells me that I’ve only missed 8 days in 2016.  I’m a big fan of walking or riding right out the door, rather than driving somewhere to engage with the outdoors.

There still is plenty on challenging terrain, around High Street. Here’s the field that was for sale in the mid-1970’s.

IMG_5891  Back then, I almost bought it, but ended up with an even better neighboring piece that also was a big, south facing field with a stand of red oak that I harvested to craft this timber frame house .

One of the big pluses of living here is the very large tracts of connected land (one of over 1,000 acres) that are undisturbed and unpopulated.  If I walk a mile toward the neighboring town of Hope, the electric and phone cables end and so do the houses.  You enter a wild zone as you trek along a leaf-canopied rural road with no overhead wires to be seen.

I’ve walked past this signpost tree hundreds of times.

Nope? Maybe ?
Nope? Maybe ?

Today, I finally remembered that I had received permission to walk the fields and woods that surround the isolated Moody Pond.

Looking toward Mt. Megunticook
Looking toward Mt. Megunticook

I stood there stunned for a minute or so before I turned off the road and went in.

What took me so long?  I have walked here for almost 40 years but have never left the road right here before.   Loons live here in the summer, when I hear their demented, haunting cries as they wing their way between Moody and Levensellar ponds.

I was immensely satisfied  entering this new world.


What else do we miss as we wander around in a state of forget ?

Snowstorm+Strava=Microadventure !

I got another nudge from my son Lincoln this week. The Jamrog guys ( plus Stephanie, my one and only daughter-in-law) all use the Strava app.  If you don’t know about it, you should.  I don’t care about the competitive aspects of the app, but am really pumped up about the Goals that you are able to access from the premium membership at just $59  a year.

I have set two activity goals for myself this year. Well… three.
In 2015, I was able to use Strava Premium to ramp up the number of times that I went out the door and hike, walk, or ride my bike.  My goal was to put 365 hours of exercise in for the calendar year.  I ended up bettering that by logging 406 hours.

This year, I plan to:
1)    Ride mountain bikes 1,000 miles
2)    Hike 1,000 miles.
3)    Log 456 hours doing this two activities

Lincoln and I were talking two days ago on the phone and he told me that he is trying to shoot for 8 hours a week, so that he can reach 365 hours of activity out  in Montana.  His reasoning is that by going for 1 more hour each week or a regular basis, you build up a bank of hours to draw on for those days when you just can’t get out.

So, I checked my Strava progress for January.

January data
January data

Last week, I had starting to fall behind in reaching my goals, so in the last week, I have almost caught up.

Here’s an encouraging post from today. We have a full blow blizzard outside right now, but who cares? I was able to log an hour and forty-five minutes and over 6 miles this morning.

Today's snowstorm hike
Today’s snowstorm hike

I’m only able to catch up by walking at night and stretching a bit. For example, I walked in today’s snowstorm.  I’ll do whatever it takes to try and ramp up my activity.  It’s a long and sometimes bleak winter up here in Maine and exercise really makes the difference in my outlook.

I also had a microadventure today.

Instead of sticking to High Street, I detoured up and over the ridge off Moody Mountain and then went along Muddy Ridge Road and back around Levensellar Pond to get back home.

A mysterious set of tracks heading off beside what we call the Tarantino farm lured me into the woods.

Who?  Where ?
Who? Where ?

I decided to check out where this truck went.

The tracks went all the way up through a long narrow hayfield, where then ended just before a break in a stone wall over which I am able to ride my bikes. I had gone in so far off road at this point that I decided to keep going uphill on the unbroken snow to reach Muzzy Ridge Road.

Here are some photos of my personal bike path.

Camouflaged trail
Camouflaged trail

I am not showing you the bypasses to obstructions that I have cut for myself in these pics.

Trail is close to the left of the oak’s trunk

Before the snow came this month, I took Mike Hartley for a ride . This is what the top looks like in full fall color:


Here is what it looks like now.

IMG_0006 (1)

Coming over the high point, I started walking north where I saw another fresh set of 4WD tracks coming south from Muzzy Ridge Road that stopped before the serious tangle of trees on this old road.  I decided that the same truck had worked its way up both sides in an unsuccessful effort to make a continuous trip from High Street to Muzzy Ridge Road.

This is just the sort of back woods adventuring that I really enjoy doing in my rural neighborhood.  It is also why I’m done with the gym.

Hiking The Hundred Mile Wilderness – Day 2

Heading out
Heading out

On our second day, walking 11 miles,  all three of this Boston clan received their trail names.  It was a specific request that they all made of me coming into this adventure.  I could not guarantee that it would happen, but said that it was possible.  I’m not that impressed with all the Rainbows, Blue Skys, Striders, and Mountain Men that populate the trail year ofter year.  The AT tradition is to have another hiker give you a name based on some incident or personality characteristic that offers to others a glimpse of  your own uniqueness.

Dino was the easiest for me to scope out.  He worked for a major natural gas company in Massachusetts.  Dino was also a “go at it “ type of guy, so the name of Gaspedal bubbled right up into my consciousness, and he felt that might work.  I had warned Dino that hikers can end up with names that are pretty weird, like what happened to Assface and Balls.  He took to Gaspedal right away.

Gaspedal with Mud Pond in the background
Gaspedal with Mud Pond in the background

Rok Rabbit’s identity was part of a magical event.  As Jake as I were carefully picking our steps across a stream that was the Mud Pond outlet, avoiding a slip on the slick stones, he shouted out, “  Look, check out the rabbit coming along with us!”
I turned to my right and witnessed something I had never seen in my life- a brown snowshoe hare slowly hopping its way across the 15 foot wide stream, picking shallow spots, hopping up on a couple of rocks, splashing along, and making it happen. Jake then pulled out a green rabbit’s foot from his pocket, and showed it to me, and told me that the rabbit was a special animal to him. Bingo- trail name #1.

I was impressed with Nick’s keen eye for small life forms.  He spotted a nymph casing floating in the water on the edge of Antler Camp point, was excellent at spotting tiny little toads, often stopped while walking to poke around in the greenery to examine tiny beings, and appeared particularly attuned to the details along the trail.  I learned that Nick was an entomology buff, and had a good collection of insects in his own room at home. I suggested Bugdawg and he went for it.  Yes !

Gaspedal, Rok Rabbit, and Bugdawg staying upright
Gaspedal, Rok Rabbit, and Bugdawg staying upright

We were all experiencing sticky clothing in the unrelenting heat and humidity.  Gaspedal was concerned about possible chafing in his shorts, so I asked him, “ You wearing underwear?”
He answered, “Of course”.  So I suggested that he go without them and see how that worked out.  Later in the afternoon, he said, “ I just tried going commando, and I like it. Mucho better.”

It was so hot that we took three swim breaks today:  Antler Camps, Sand Beach, and when we stopped for the night at the Nahmakanta Stream campsite.

Sand Beach
Sand Beach
Antler Camp point
Antler Camp point

Gaspedal cut his foot on some rocks at Antler Camp , so I was able to try out the New Skin that my friend Joe recommended.  It worked!  I painted a bit over the cut, which dried in 2 minutes.  Then I placed a small piece of duct tape over it and everything held up after we checked the wound at the end of the hike. The layer of New-Skin was still on there after the tape was peeled off and the cut had already healed up.

We stopped to drink and fill out water bottles at the Potaywdjo spring near that same-named shelter.

Hiker at Potaywadjo spring
Hiker at Potaywadjo spring

This spring is the largest on the whole Appalachian Trail, where ice cold crystal clear water comes up to the surface through white sand.

One of the issues in the hiking community right now is overuse, due to the increasing number of hikers that are taking to the Appalachian Trail.  Nowhere is that more evident in the outhouse that was set up here at the far edge of the Nahmakanta Stream campsite.  Let’s be clear- there’s no way I would want to be the volunteer who is responsible for maintaining this segment of the AT.  I’ve been in hundreds of privies in my day, and the one here was not only strewn with unused and a “bit used” toilet paper, it reeked to a place that was definitely not high heaven. It was nauseating.   I was the only one that ended up using it, and that was because I forced myself to breathe through my mouth, and I was very efficient at getting in and out of there.

Today, we had one uphill segment to lumber up- Potaywadjo Ridge, a mile long climb of some 400 feet in elevation gain.

Coming up Potawaydjo Ridge
Coming up to Potaywadjo Ridge

I was impressed at the strong,  steady walking of the crew, who all made it up without a whine and just one brief stand-up rest stop.

The walking today was punctuated by numerous sections where the trail is traversed on puncheons,  split-log  timbers with one face smoothed, used for avoiding walking in deep mud.

Deep wet forest
Deep wet forest

They are slippery when wet.

We met two couples who were parked on the Jo-Mary Road just before Nahmakanta Lake.  I asked them if they were willing to take our trash and they said yes.  The policy on the AT  is to Leave No Trace.  Sometimes it’s hard convincing hikers that this also means you don’t leave working items at the shelters that you don’t want to carry any more, but that you believe other hikers want. For example, rolls of duct tape, jars of food, battery operated lanterns with used batteries, metal water bottles, saws, or full bottles of white gas.  Pack it in, pack it out.  It makes the work of volunteers easier.  They are the ones that have to carry all the great stuff out that no one wants to carry anymore.

We also established a new pattern of cooking and tenting today.  Last night, at the wild camping site, we did both in sequence, and ended up being pressed into using our headlamps before we had all of our tasks completed.  I was also nervous about the possibility of a spark from our cooking igniting the deep dry bed of pine needles that were all around and under us. So, this afternoon, we cooked at a place that was next to water, and had safer undergrowth, which minimized fire danger.  Then we washed the cook pots and utensils and packed up and moved on, hiking for a couple of miles before we settled into this official campsite for the night.  There was one other section hiker who also was tenting at the site, Chopsticks.

Nahmakanta Stream Campsite
Nahmakanta Stream Campsite

Maine’s Tim Smith stars on Dude You’re Screwed

Looking forward to those end-of-the season college football games tomorrow? 
Not so much?

Then how about watching a very interesting survival scenario episode where a genuine Maine bushcraft master uses smarts, strength, and dogged determination to extract himself from extremes of winter weather and “win” the survival game.

We’ve got a TV star up here in Maine, where Tim runs his highly respected Jack Mountain Bushcraft School.

–>>The final episode of season 2 from Dude You’re Screwed featuring Maine Master Guide Tim Smith.

These guys expect “Tiny Tim” to fold, but his wit, and uncanny trove of skills gets these “experts” to sit up and take notice.

A superb hike in Acadia National Park

West Side Trail map
West Side Trail map-click to enlarge

After hiking some 8,000 miles of National Scenic trail in the past six years, I have a feel for the best segments of trail.  I found that yesterday, in Acadia National Park, 65 miles and 90 minutes away from my house on the coast of Maine.

I was invited along on an all day hike by a good friend, and increasingly frequent hiking sidekick Ryan Linn, AKA Guthook, owner of Guthook’s Trail Guide Apps.  We had been up to Acadia together a few weeks ago for a long day hike in this same area, but this time, I felt as if I discovered the best kept hiking secret in Maine.

It’s still beautiful on the coast of Maine on this Halloween hike- there is still colorful foliage lingering in the trees.

Green World
Green World

The rich hues of green imbedded within the carpets of moss on ancient hummocks punctuated by glacial boulders in a landscape framed by the chilling grey waters of the Atlantic Ocean make this loop a definite to-do on any hiker’s checklist.

We started early and hiked until late, reminding me that from now on, I’m packing a flashlight on any day hike.

Take a good map- I  had the Acadia National Park Waterproof Trail Map by Map Adventures. Carey Kish’s 10th Edition Maine Mountain Guide has a full map of the much more popular eastern side of Acadia, but you’ll need to look elsewhere for some of the western side map details, for example Beech Mountain.  There is so little traffic on these western side trails- we saw not one hiker out on our 14 mile step-fest today.

Here was our itinerary: Park at the Pine Hill lot by Seal Cove.  Up the Great Notch Trail, down to the lower part of Sluiceway Trail.

Guthook detected the remains of an ancient granite step staircase off to the right on the way down the Sluiceway. Here’s a shot looking down the steps. It appears to go straight up Bernard Mountain. I plan to go back and try to tease that out through a bushwhack that might get steep.

Mystery steps
Mystery steps

Then up the Bernard Mountain Trail back up to the Great Notch and down the upper part of the Sluiceway Trail onto the Gilley Trail.

Great Notch
Great Notch

Head east to the Cold Brook Trail through the Long Pond parking lot where we picked up the Valley Trail.

Guthook plots the next moves at Long Pond lot
Guthook plots the next moves at Long Pond lot

From here we ascended Beech Mountain via the South Ridge.

Beech Mountain fire tower
Beech Mountain fire tower

From the summit, we took the Beech Mountain Loop north.

Looking north up Long pond.
Looking north up Long pond.

Here we picked up the Valley Trail  all the way back to the parking lot at the south end of Long Pond. Then a long shore side walk on The Long Pond ( Great Pond) Trail to where it terminates on the Great Notch Trail back to our car.

You may not want to do all of this is one day, so let me cut to the quick:  the best stuff was on Beech Mountain.   The trail was what I call “World Class Hiking”.  Trust me.

Going up Beech Mountain
Going up Beech Mountain

All in all it was a great , long, and highly rewarding day, capped off by a visit with Carey Kish, who welcomed us to his new place on the western side.  Kish has seen and done most all of what there is to do in Acadia.  The high point of the evening was when Carey dug out  the hand written notes that proceeded the original 1970’s vintage Appalachian Trail Data book (he has that too) that he used on his 1977 thru-hike of the AT.


Walking the Trails Near Katahdin Lake – Baxter State Park

Crafty Use of Birch
Crafty Use of Birch

Our second full day at Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps was so interesting.

Last night I awoke to the sound of waves slapping against the sand beach below us.  I walked out on the porch to check it out and was pleased to see a starry sky. Right in front of me was the Big Dipper, boldly presenting right above the horizon behind Katahdin Lake.

Our front porch
Our front porch

This porch faces directly north, boldly defiant in it’s willingness to comfort any potential traveler.

I awoke to a still, cold morning with the thermometer outside registering 34 degrees. I took a number of photographs just after light appeared.

Katahdin to the Turners - Panorama
Katahdin to the Turners – Panorama

Here are two brave canoeists who were wearing winter coats and gloves.

North Across Katahdin Lake
North Across Katahdin Lake

The unmistakable sound of a powerful airplane engine echoed against the nearby painted hills. Just about everyone in camp was on the beach to greet Jim, ace bush pilot at Katahdin Air, who was taxiing right up to the beach. Jim flew three of us into the Hundred Mile Wilderness in August.   to pick up Chris Huntington, a landscape painter who was wrapping up a two week residence here today.

The Artist Exits
The Artist Exits

Three of Huntington’s paintings of Katahdin hang in the dining room here, along with two of Caren Michel’s pieces. He told me that he had been  here for two weeks, but usually lives here for  a month.  Marcia and I shared two meals with Caren, who is a Maine-based painter, and was bundled up and standing outside all weekend, creating new treasures.  I particularly enjoyed two of Michael Vermette’s small, thickly layered renditions of the mountain that were on display above our wooden table.

Classic Baxter signage
Classic Baxter signage

Marcia and I walked a 5 mile loop today to the Martin Ponds where a new lean-to faces yet another unique view of Katahdin.

Katahdin from Martin Pond
Katahdin from Martin Pond

It is the closest view of Katahdin that we’ve seen. Canoes for rent pepper the shores of the Lake and ponds here.  ($1 an hour in Baxter, $10 a day at KLWC).

We walked over a beaver dam to start our loop.

High Water Would Have Been Tough
High Water Would Have Been Tough

The path was rocky, rooty, and covered with moss in parts.

Marcia keeps dry boots
Marcia keeps dry boots

I was hoping to get in some canoeing this time, as walk all the way out to the end of the Twin Ponds Trail, which would have added 10 more miles to the day’s efforts.  Next time, for sure.

Marcia and had our last dinner in the Lodge tonight. We didn’t know the menu, but found out when the cook himself quietly tapped on our cabin door at ten minutes of six to ask how we wanted our sirloin steaks prepared. Caren and the two of us were the last “sports” served dinner this season, as the camp was closing tomorrow, on Columbus Day. They tend vegetable gardens here. The roasted potatoes, boiled carrots, and friend onions that accompanied our perfect steaks were especially tasty.

Auntie Mame
Auntie Mame

We lingered for an hour or so in the tiny, ancient library in the Lodge before we walked back to our car, the woods vibrant  in pulsing light.

Fall Treasure
Fall Treasure