I’m looking forward to presenting Friday night at the Snowalkers Rendezvous in Vermont in November. Great weekend experience!
“Walking Matters”- From the ages of 57 – 64, “Uncle Tom” thru-hiked four National Scenic Trails. Tom reviews the latest research on the physical and mental health benefits of walking and discusses physical training and cognitive techniques that bolster a greying snow walker’s experience on the winter path. Tom directs outdoor activities through Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures and is author of In the Path of Young Bulls: An American Journey on the Continental Divide Trail.
The first 2017 group ride with The Bubba to the top of Mount Pleasant in the Warren/West Rockport area had it all- mud, ice, stream riding, and even more snow than expected. The approach from Route 90 departed from the old parking lot at East Coast Rover’s now defunct location, newly recycled as another car/truck repair facility. Thanks to Bubba management for gaining permission for us to park there after work hours.
I was very pleased with my ride today- the most successful technical excursion up and down Pleasant ever for me.
Very pleasant on top today.
Not only did I clear the challenge of ascending Baby Head Hill, I was finally able to loft the front end of my Surly Ice Cream Truck up a pesky little ledge on the section from the Three Way op to the power line after the screaming descent off the summit.
Here is a video of the crew maintaining a controlled skid on the steep, rock-strewn line off the summit itself.
Today, it might have even helped to have stable ice and refrozen snow smoothing out the trail a bit. The Bubbas take climbing in stride- in fact if you can’t tolerate climbing forest trails in this part of Maine, you’ll stay home. S
Most of the Bubbas carry folding saws in our packs. We clear trails as we go, especially this time of year.
Later, we transitioned to riding up the stream that put us on the backside of the mountain just below the blueberry field that set us up for the finish of the ride.
This last wet climb set up a relatively long decent that was a fitting ending to a spring day blissfully absent of the impending blackflies, mosquitoes, and heat.
A most Pleasant morning was spent at my personal Sunday Church of Two Wheels.
Despite being the only guest in the Mount Chase Lodge last night I was served a most excellent breakfast at 7:30, the time of my choice. Sky prepared pancakes, fruit slices, and bacon from a pig that had secured full employment here, on table scrap duty this past season. Fresh coffee, home made muffins and a fresh fruit bowl rounded out the meal.
I was more than willing to take up Sky’s offer of leftover bacon and last night’s brisket. At two degrees outside, I was not concerned about food spoilage.
I’ve waited for this winter bike camping trip for a long time. My last bike packing trip was in 2012 on the Sunrise Trail when I joined my neighbor and biking pal Andy Hazen on a stretch from Ellsworth toward Cobscook Bay. You can check out that most interesting bikepacking trip here.
I have that same Surly Pugsley now. It was the perfect choice for these two pristine winter biking days.
It’s a fat tire bike, with 4 inch wide tires, inflated to 7 pounds of pressure, enabling the wide footprint to track easily over this packed groomed snow.
It is a 15 mile ride directly west over a roller coaster of a tarred road from Mt. Chase Lodge to the parking lot for the Monument.
Ask the staff at the Lodge about the signage that marks the left turn after the bridge over the Penobscot River just before the end of the pavement. A short drive down a plowed gravel road leads to a small parking lot where the winter trail begins.
I parked right next to Guthook’s VW, as we were the only visitors here for these two days.
The map on the KWWNM website is detailed enough to be all you’ll need. One caution-print your own copy in color. Mine was in gray scale. I would have been easier to navigate if my map was color coordinated with the red, orange, yellow, and blue triangles marking intersections and trails.
With my parking pass visible on the dashboard, I unloaded the bike from inside my Honda Element and took off, smiling from ear to ear at the superb condition of the surface beneath my wheels. Access to trails and these huts is free of charge, however, overnight use requires reservations.
There hasn’t been any fresh snow here for more than a week. KWWNM’s snowmobiles tow dedicated groomers that have packed the trail! There were two faint cross country ski grooves that I stayed out of, preferring to ride to the side of the fresh snowmobile track.
The surface was not at all icy, but composed of groomed snow that refroze into a decent grip of a track.
This screen shot of my Strava feed summarizes my mileage, speed, and moving time. It was a relatively quick 10 mile ride into Big Spring Brook Brook Hut.
Here’s the elevation profile.
There were three parts to this ride.
The first was four miles over relatively flat terrain on the Messer Pond-Orrin Falls Road, an old logging path eventually passing through a summer gate leading to Haskell Hut on the shore of the expansive Haskell Deadwater.
Haskell Lodge is only a tenth of a mile off the trail and is worth a rest stop.
It is the smaller of the two cabins that are options for your over night in The Monument. The doors are unlocked, but day users are asked to refrain from using the propane cook burners, lights, and firewood.
These are community huts, where everyone is welcome up to the maximum number of sleeping platforms and reservations are required.
Next, I rode along the edge of the Deadwater where I made a brief stop at the spectacular view at Haskell Rock Pitch. I heard it well before I saw it. Impressive!
From there the trail enters thicker, older forest for almost a mile when you reach a fork. With the spring melt down, extra caution is advised with regards to deep meltdown holes on the bridges and sections of deep animal tracks on the trail.
This is dangerous:
The riding is fast and the setting is isolated.
The last segent starts with a right on the blue diamond trail for three more miles or so out past Little Messer Pond where the path ascends to a high point on 900 feet.
You will know a turn is coming when you pass over a flowing stream up high and then see the signage pointing left for the 0.3 mile descent into Big Spring Brook Brook Hut.
It took me two hours to cover the 10 mile distance, which included stops for photos, and my snack break at Haskell Hut. Guthook skied in earlier, pulling a plastic sled that was loaded with 5 days worth of food and gear. It took him 5 hours. Fat bikes shine under these travel conditions.
Big Spring Brook Brook Hut is appointed with basic pots and pans, and is heated with a wood stove with drying racks above for hanging wet clothing.
Water in drawn from the stream in front, with an outhouse out back. There is a large sleeping loft as well and half dozen wooden sleeping platforms on the first floor. The capacity of his hut is listed as sixteen.
Guthook and I combined forces to come up with a superb one pot supper. I added Mt. Chase Lodge’s bacon and brisket to his tortellini, cheese, and tomato sauce.
This trip was brief but rewarding. I spent one night sharing the Lodge with Guthook, who was bushwhacking round the area on several long day hikes.
The snow was solid enough that you could walk anywhere, and with no leaves on the trees your line of sight is immeasurably better in the winter than in the summer when the green word covers all. It was a most satisfying and unique experience for us to warm ourselves by the glowing embers of the stove as we pondered the vast wilderness surrounding us.
I joked with Guthook that we finally made time to do nothing.
We were the only people spending our time within this 87,000 acre National Monument. God bless America!
And I thank you, Roxanne and Lucas, for allowing me to have this unique place to explore for the rest of my life !
The staff at Mt. Chase Lodge are knowledgeable about current trail conditions and travel within The Monument. They are ready to serve as a launch point for your own adventure. Information and Reservations: (207) 528-2183
Prequel: “Bear and Sparkles say come on up! The fat biking is great :-)”
I missed this sign for the Mt. Chase Lodge when I passed through here a few minutes ago.
I’m headed 14 miles further down a roller coaster of a frost-heaved road to explore the northern end of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument for a couple days. Bear and Sparkles are the trail names for two of my hiker pals.
I walked with both of them for the last cold wet days as the thee of us completed our thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010. The couple are the two full time winter staff at Mt. Chase Lodge. Bear and I are also Maine-based Triple Crown Hikers, who also shared the Appalachian and Continental Divide Trails in 2007 and 2013.
Sparkles is a Registered Maine Guide.
My Honda Element is the only vehicle that is not a 4WD pickup truck in the parking lot outside the tiny convenience store here beside Shin Pond . I plunked down two packs of chemical hand warmers and a bottle of Gatorade on the counter.
“Ya think yer gonna get yer hands frozen, dear?” asked the perky woman behind the counter. She reminded me of my mom, who turns 91 this summer.
“I’m buying these so my hands don’t get cold. Didn’t it drop to zero here last night?” I replied.
Welcome to Shin Pond, a tiny rural settlement in bona fide rural Maine that has registered several of the coldest winter readings on record. Three locals were gathered around a table behind me.
I asked the clerk for directions to the Lodge, when one of the fellows chimed right in, ” Go up across the bridge, head up the hill and take your second right”.
I made it up here after I received a spur of the moment invitation from my hiker pal Guthook to visit him on his own 5 day adventure in the winter Maine woods.
Despite my last minute decision to drive north, I had my reservation completed and parking pass in hand within 30 minutes of logging onto the KWWNM website, and never left the house to do so. The whole exchange was assisted by an actual person, who was e-mailing me back and forth. I made a reservation for Big Spring Brook Hut, which is a recently built log cabin, that is unstaffed and set up with propane fuel for cooking and lights, pots and pans, coffee percolator, water jug, airtight wood stove, and stove wood.
Although the Monument promotes travel only via skis, snowshoes, bicycles, and on foot the major winter trails are groomed at least weekly by snowmobiles.
The cost to enter the Monument and stay in the tent sites, shelters, and huts right now is zero, but that will change after the Monument goes through it’s period of public input as it crafts the rules and procedures that will ensure that this most unique gift is used to it’s potential.
On August 24, 2016, President Obama signed an executive order designating 87,000 acres to the east of Baxter States Park as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The previous day Roxanne Quimby, of Bert’s Bees fame, transferred that land to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Monument came complete with a $20,000,000 cash gift as well as a pledge to raise an additional $20,000,000 in matching public funds. Despite the lingering opposition to the Monument’s very existence, I believe that there is more than enough open space in this vastness of forest to provide for the needs of those of us who seek opportunities to backpack and immerse our spirits in the healing forces of trees and leaves. There are more than three and a half million acres of timber growing in The North Maine Woods. The Monument’s footprint is exactly 0.024% of that vastness. Fact check this yourself by standing on Katahdin’s summit to view a undulating sea of green that stretches out to the horizon along every single one of those 360 degrees of sight line. Haven’t we all just worked this out?
The Monument is staffed by Recreation Managers who work out of Lunksoos Camps, a most historic establishment in it’s own right. When the 12 year old Donn Fendler stumbled out of the Maine wilderness in 1939, he came out on near Lunksoos. His shriveled and pin cushioned body was administered to and the nation’s newspapers and radio stations came to Maine to report the events recalled in Donn’s classic book Lost In The Maine Woods.
Tomorrow I head into the Monument, but tonight I’m staying here at Mt. Chase Lodge, on upper Shin Pond, all by my lonesome. I love looking at the historic photos of the trophy deer and bear that were harvested in this area.
From their brochure:
“Mt Chase Lodge was established in 1960 as a recreational sporting lodge catering to sportsmen, hikers, family vacationers, snowmobilers and other outdoor oriented folks who appreciate the adventure and tranquility of the north Maine woods. Situated on the shore of Upper Shin Pond, in a quiet wooded setting, our comfortable lodge and private cabins offer excellent accommodations. Full bathrooms, automatic heat and electricity, and cooking equipment for those who prefer, are offered year round.”
The Lodge itself rents 8 rooms, and four cabins. My three course dinner was top notch and prepared by Bear himself. Breakfast came with the price of the room, which was a most reasonable $79 plus tax.
I plan to wait a while for it to get warmer before I bicycle into the Monument tomorrow morning. It is supposed to drop to around zero degrees tonight. Time to turn out the light!
I’ve biked indoors on rollers when that was all we had, back in the 1970’s. Since then turbo trainers came out. I haven’t used mine for at least a decade. I don’t want any part of riding indoors. The sweat dripping off one’s body rusts the painted surfaces of a bike frame, and collects on the floor. When I rode indoors, I was in the habit of draping absorbent towels over the surfaces of the bike that caught the stream of sweat running down my chin and brows. It’s also boring to bike indoors. That’s why people watch TV, read, or watch their computer screens while they crank the pedals round and round.
Yesterday, I took an actual 10 mile ride in the middle of a rainy day, when there was a 1 hour break in the precipitation. Normally every ride I take from my house is a loop. We get locked into old patterns.
I live on High Street on the edge of Lincolnville, bordering the town of Hope, Maine., where there are some very large parcels of land held by relatively few folks . The last mile or so of the road toward Hope doesn’t have any telephone poles nor overhead (or underground) wires. There stands one old farmhouse smack dab in the middle of 1,100 acres around Moody Pond. Without any need to trim foliar entanglements, oak and maple limbs reach from both sides of the street to entwine, creating a tunnel effect that is most spectacular in autumn, when the landscape lights up with spectacular waxy hues of red, orange, and yellow.
People enjoy walking High Street. This year, increasing numbers of people parked at either end of my street to walk for the joy of it. It’s not busy, except for late afternoon. Most of the time, walkers never encounter us residents. It is also one of the few stretches around where you are not going up or down some 400 plus feet in elevation on a bike ride or walk.
These last two days, I took a short one-hour spin on High Street. I didn’t travel more than 1.3 miles in any direction from my house, and felt guilty at how much fun I had riding a double route on this recently resurfaced asphalt road.
It took me 32 years of riding right here to take this most simple ride: out the door to the street, then ride right to Levensellar Pond for 1 mile, then head backpast the house in the opposite direction to Moody Pond, where I turned around and headed back 1.3 miles to my house, where I repeated the exact same route, snagging 10 miles in just under an hour.
Moving over the landscape on foot or two wheels is my daily practice. There is bigger purpose in my 10 mile triumphs. I’m needing just 48 more miles to reach my goal for 2016- one thousand miles on the bike. I met two other 2016 goals already: 1,000 miles of walking/backpacking and reading 25 book, one every two weeks.
There was a time earlier today when I just wanted to quit hiking uphill and retreat the 7 miles downhill to Wassataquoik lean-to number two where where we’re scheduled to hole up for the night. Just a half hour into today’s hike, I was cold, wet and had no desire to ascend the 2000 feet from Davis Pond all the way up to Katahdin’s Hamlin Peak (4756’) in thick clouds with the air temperatures in the high 30s and strong clearing winds blowing out of the West.
There would be nothing to see but the inside of a freezing cloud.
My boots were still cold and totally soaked from walking. Lingering 40° wet coated the foliage that protruded into the trail. When I brushed against the leaves, cold water eventually saturated my shorts and ran down my legs into my boots and socks. My feet are wimpy when it comes to dealing with cold. My hands also suffer when the temps drop.
Just before I was going to split off from Guthook and Hans to retreat, cumulus clouds started forming, blue patches opened up in the sky, and was clear that the rain and dark clouds going to be history.
Hamlin is one of the three 4,000 foot Baxter State Park mountains that are on the New England 4,000 foot peaks list.
The other two are Katahdin, at five thousand two hundred and sixty eight feet and North Brother, at 4151 feet. While on top, we encountered only one other peak bagger trudging toward Hamlin Peak.
Today turned out to be a very good time to be on top of this mountain. Despite my hands being too cold to function, I was able to get my body heat up by jogging the flat expanse to and from Hamlin Peak.
Patches of ice were fund on top of rocks that dominated this landscape.
The views today were expansive, with views stretching to Canada on one side, and nothing but trees and lakes stretching 40 to 50 miles in all directions.
At the end of this twelve mile backpacking day, I was most pleased to have made the choice to keep going when it became painful to do so. The shelter of this lean-to along the Wassataquoik Stream nearby was a sort of homecoming. Approaching this lean-to, I begin to embrace the sense of completing a day well spent in the wilderness.
“The graying of The Bubbas,” is real. Nate said it.
It was humid and the roots were just a bit slimy and slick, but it wasn’t a problem for nineteen Bubbas in The Woods this past Sunday morning. We broke some kind of record for attendance today with the help of additional folks like 73 year old Rhode Island Bruce pushing us along.
Our special guest today was Carol, who came up Massachusetts up to Midcoast Maine to “ride Bubba” again. And here’s Carol herself, front and center as we celebrate her riding with us today.
We’ve been at if for decades, and with the advent of modern bike technology, there’s hardly a frame breaking all season. It’s even a rare event to even have “a mechanical” anymore. Maybe a broken chain, or a flat, but that is about it.
We ride out of habit. We ride to rack up those Strava PR’s (Personal Records).
We ride to commiserate on the climbs. We ride to get our weight down. We ride to sip beers tailgating in the parking lots. We ride to be with other riders.
While Rush’s article reflects her impressions of riding on snow, it captures the essence of moving through the wooded trails here in Midcoast Maine, anytime of year. There a bit more calmness to “riding fat”, as The Bubbas call it. For me, at my age and stage of life, riding on 5 inch wide tires sporting 5 pounds of pressure at 5 mph is fine. I’m riding difficult trail sections that were impossible for me to clear on 2″ tires. I don’t steer and aim so much when riding fat. I let the bike slide and hop a bit until it finds it’s own line. It’s intuitive rather than calculated. These same trails are seen differently. I like to notice that.
It’s been hot and humid here, since I have returned from hiking the Portugese Camino this June. It’s still cool out here at 6:45 AM on this fine summer day, and I’m free to enjoy it right now.
I’m heading out the door to swing my leg over my Surly Ice Cream Truck right now : out the door, over the hay fields, rocky streams, and onto the snowmobile trails that I keep open to ride up and around Moody Mountain. I’m happy to be riding fat again this morning.
My Ice Cream Truck is back from the bike shop. The big, black, two-wheeled tractor has suited me well on the 10 mile loop that I put together for myself on this Patriot’s Day holiday here in Maine.
The bike went to the shop after my 4.7” 45N Dunderbeist rear tire sported a two inch tear right along the rim line last Thursday night on Ragged Mountain. It wasn’t my fault. The tire had 161 miles on it.
I hit nothing that tore it. It just failed. Luckily I was not running tubeless. I was sporting a minor bulge, due to the 6 pounds of pressure I had in the tube.
My upgraded tire is the improved version of the Dunderbeist, with the same grippy tread pattern as before, along with additional interior layers of fabric that were added to the sidewall. Under warranty for the next two years, there was also no charge for mounting either. Thanks, Sidecountry Sports, and 45North for the quick service. I am ready to roll again.
I continue to be interested in backpacking, hiking, and riding my bike close to home. Since I have read Microadventures, I have experienced increasing satisfaction in my outdoor recreational activities. I have also been outside almost every day. The radius of my path today was just a mile and a half, yet it took me thirty-nine years to discover two distinct segments of today’s ride. Yes, I have mountain bike trails from right out my door. I have NEVER seen anyone else riding this loop other than when I meet up with snowmobile riders, but that might not ever happen some winters.
Here’s one of the views on this ride, this one not 10 minutes ride from my driveway.
On the abandoned Martin Corner Road, there are often these large waterholes that linger after any hard rain. My riding pal Andy Hazen rides though here often. He tells a story about escaping the jaws of a snapping turtle that was hanging out in one of these pools a couple of years ago.
After ascending the steep section of Moody Mountain Road, the middle of this ride is along and around the French Road that runs north along the back side of Moody Mountain toward Levensellar Pond. This loop is the product of decades of my clearing and connecting the old snowmobile trails.
Here are a couple of shots of an old woods road that loops off the French Road.
A blow down blocks the trail ahead, where I have cut a go-around that hardly visible to the unschooled eye.
Make no mistake, this loop requires at least two and a half miles of climbing. After the ascent up to the high point on Moody Mountain Road, the climbing continues along a woods road that almost reaches the ridge above High Street.
One more climb off the Muzzy Ridge Road leads to a huge blueberry expanse that comes with a view of the Atlantic beyond.
The end of the ride includes three miles of descent, part of which is freshly maintained snowmobile trail that leads off the blueberry field, where it twists and turns its way back down to High Street and then back to my house. I have been hiking it for a few times before today. This is the first time that I have ridden this segment. Unfortunately, a new blow down really needs a chain saw to clear it out. I plan to bring along a small hand saw next time to clear a route around the blow down.
Sometimes, going around is better than forging ahead.
Exiting the car in the iced-over parking lot on Friday afternoon I decided to leave my Stabilicer traction devices in the vehicle.
My brother Roy was already walking on the multi-purpose trail and he shouted over, “No ice here” so in they went. I hate carrying extra weight and with all the pierogis, kielbasa, and my 8 person car-camping cook set bloating my pack I was well into 30 plus pounds on my back. Stabilicers would have helped this weekend.
I started humping up the big hill. Auntie Mame was walking beside me, decked out in her rain poncho. My brother Roy was up ahead, as he was for most of the weekend’s hikes.
Less than a half-mile up the hill, we encountered the two lead hikers in our party, Kristi and David Kirkham, who love their granddaughter’s baby carriage so much that they use it any chance that they can !
It was alternately sleeting and raining, so the following 9 miles were a slush walk.
Walking in cold rain at under 40 degrees is a setup for hypothermia. Once again, I was slightly under dressed: two thin merino undershirts- one short and one long sleeved, and a ratty, old Patagonia Specter rain shell holding it all together. In these conditions, I have to have something covering my hands. Today, the fix was waterproof mitten shells with felted wool mittens liners.
Who cares? We are staying in a cabin heated by a wood stove. Wet clothes will be dried out. Miles were traveled. Old friends are also with me.
After we dropped off our packs at the shelter, I accompanied Auntie Mame out to the alternate parking lot.
We were bringing in the last member of our overnight party. Both of us decided to accompany Ann Breyfogle on her walk in to join us.
Those two ladies had no problem walking up yet another big hill and making a couple of more miles as the foggy evening light started to fade.
For me, this weekend was also about hiking, and my plan for Saturday was to roll the walking odometer over into double digits for the day. I am fortunate enough to still have people who not only want to do this with me, but have the ability to make it happen.
Ann, Pat Hurley, and my brother Roy joined me. Here is a photo taken at the today’s high point atop Mt. Megunticook.
Unfortunately there are no views from the summit so we descended on the often icy Ridge Trail.
We quickly reached the highly popular Ocean Lookout.
From here we descended to the junction of the Jack Williams Trail, which we followed for two miles where we came back onto the Ridge Trail. I showed the group a short cut that eliminated a dangerously icy incline at the start of Zeke’s, which we took back to the Multipurpose Trail and the end of our day’s hike. Here’s the morning’s Strava data:
The 5.5 mile hike took us two hours, which was super good time for the often icy path. After an afternoon of reading, sleeping, and gabbing, Roy, Pat and I decided to take a night hike up to the top of Bald Rock Mountain. Here are Pat and Roy, just before the sun left u in darkness.
Kristi told us the moon rise over the Atlantic would not happen until 10:30 PM. She was absolutely correct. Although the starlight was astounding, we did need headlamps on the way down off Bald Rock and back to our shelter, where we added another 5 miles to our tally for the day.
Despite the crappy weather getting in on Friday, the weekend was a huge success. If any of you know Ann, ask her about Uncle Tom’s uncanny ability to psychically locate lost car keys, including her’s. I’d also like to thank John Bangeman for his Saturday visit, and a huge shout out to Martha Conway-Cole for guiding Pat and the rest of us through a most excellent, best ever, Saturday morning breakfast.