Saturday, December 7, 2013
Rhon Bell, an outdoor enthusiast, spends his time exploring the Maine Woods and documenting his journeys.
Growing up in Aroostook County, he embraced the outdoor lifestyle at a young age. Living today near Portland, he spends weekends and week-long adventures hiking New England summits, canoeing the historic Maine waterways, and ice fishing for lake trout.
Follow the journey as Window to the Woods discovers new destinations, and check out his other blog, Backwoods Plaid.
The wilds of winter are quickly taking grasp of our little “ Vacation-land” here in Maine. Vicious trios of bitter winds, cloudy grey skies, and spitting snow showers have arrived. Vitamin-D deficiency begins now. Admittedly, I'm not focusing on the negativity of scraping frost-covered windshields and shoveling feet of fluffy snow from behind the car. I look forward to the comfort of layering in wool sweaters and checkered flannel shirts. Like a baby to a blanket, there is something great about cozying up in winter layers that you simply can't find in a summer t-shirt. It’s heaven.
From the contentment of my easy chair, I gaze out the window this morning and watch the blowing snow in the front yard. The grasses of an ever-so-distant July fade behind a layer of white. Tall pines, along the field line, shift ever so slightly in the growingly bitter wind. The irregular swaying of branches and treetops is endless. The forest soon falls into what seems like a choreographed dance.
Snow kicks up below the lower-most layer of limbs and swirls upward. This vision chills the bones from a warm living room. The true cold is really only realized when I step outside in my boots to explore. Winter tends to means laziness to some degree. We all retreat indoors, projects shelved until spring, as we grab our blankets. Our two dogs enjoy lying on the over-sized bay in front of the large picture window in the living room and gazing outward. They, too, stare, entranced on the motion winter brings with it. December brings beauty and snow adds character. I think the reason winter seems so attractive is because fall has just stolen the summer colors we so enjoy - and just as all becomes dead brown - winter brightens things up. Our eyes, which have grown at this point in the year, so used to the featureless settings are fully awakened by the first snowfall. Winter saves us.
The snow hasn't fallen yet. It's a late fall afternoon and shorts are still an option. A rising drawbridge reveals one of the most scenic fishing villages in all of Maine. What I call 'Hide-a-way Cove' is labeled as Perkins Cove on the map. This is one of the last quaint towns to have an active drawbridge in the state. Each lobster boat seeks shelter and safety within the confines of the tiny harbor. Streets are lined with small shops, take-out eateries and lobstering tour-boats. We enjoy the best french toast imaginable complete with a topping of Maine-made maple syrup at a small restaurant on the outskirts of town. Slowly making our way towards the ocean, we enjoy the sights and sounds of a summer's morning. Finding a vacant bench, time is well-spent watching the comings and goings of the waterway. A truly relaxing vacation from the woods. Places to See:Breakfast: Egg & I, Ogunquit - worth the line, worth the wait. Try the pancakes.Whale Watching: Deborah Ann, Ogunquit - pleasant service with excellent views of Maine's coast and wildlife.
We're on the fifth day of our remote canoe trip. Plans have us reaching our destination tomorrow morning - a boat landing where one of our two vehicles is parked. Unfortunately, it's my honeymoon and my loving wife left the keys for that vehicle at our launching point, 40 miles North. A moment of panic sets in as those words leave her lips. We can't paddle back up river and we're nearly out of food. I know that 15 miles away, on Chesuncook Lake, is a small inn. It's been around forever and used to house loggers during the logging boom a century ago. It's our only real chance to get out of here.We pack our gear into the canoe and begin paddling against the wind, hoping for a lucky break and a ride back to where we first launched (and to a vehicle we have keys to). Hours later we round a cove with a full view of the lake house and it's grassy banks. This small village is home to 13 residents, mostly seasonal. It used to be, a couple years back, that you could only get here by boat or seaplane. Now there is a very rough trail that can sneak 4-wheel drive trucks in - during the right time of year. I knock on the open screen door and take a step inside. I'm taking in the smell of bacon, as a lady enters the room. I give her the abbreviated version of our honeymoon misfortune. Tilting her head to the side, in a sense of understanding, she asks if we've had breakfast. "I don't want to inconvenience anyone here, and I appreciate that, but I'm just here to see if I could grab a ride back up to Lobster Lake, where I left my pickup. Keys to both our vehicles are inside and that's my only way to get outta here.", I explain. "My husband will be back shortly and he'll be willing to take you...", she says. My feet nearly leave the floor. "Now won't you join us for breakfast?", she asks a second time. "Sure!", was my only answer. Before long, I'm shaking hands and greeting David, her husband. When he hears our story, he asks if we'd like to simply stay the nite. Apparently he has to leave for town tomorrow anyhow. He explains that the Inn is vacant and there is plenty of pot roast for dinner tonight. The last part was the doozy - it would all be at no cost. I couldn't believe my ears. A beautiful honeymoon trip through the last remote wilderness in Maine that almost came to a poor ending actually ended up better than ever anticipated - a comfortable bed, ice cold beer and exquisite food. Refusing to accept any cash, I snuck back up to the bedroom before we drove away stuck a few folded bills under the pillow. If you're looking for a vacation, get-a-way, or a back-to-basics trip in the wilderness - you need to look up the good folks at the Chesuncook Lake House. They treat you like family - and that's a rarity you have to appreciate this day in age.
Coffee begins percolating over the propane flame around 4:45am. The evening had a chill that the sleeping bag simply couldn't cut. Luckily, this Coleman stove is slowly unthawing my finger tips at the picnic table. The darkness begins to clear from the sky and it's that perfect dusk where you can't quite make out the shapes in the distance. "Is that a stump in the middle of the river?", I ask Gab. Now I say river, but this is the widest section of the entire trip and I'd guesstimate it's 900 yards to the far shore. "I know we passed one on the way to this campsite", she replies. We watch for a few more minutes as the stump keeps floating and then it's legs touch bottom it's full bull-moose height is revealed from above the water line. Gab, excited to realize that drift wood has sprung to life, yells, "That's a big moose!".A golden sunrise begins to light our way around camp. I like to pack up everything not related to breakfast as soon as I wake up. There is nothing worse (to me) than tearing down camp. I love setting it up, but I always hate to work to leave. Plus, that leaves the best part for last - eggs, bacon and more steaming black coffee. Today we'll leave the mouth of the Penobscot River and enter into Chesuncook Lake - the state's third largest. I've had bad experiences on this lake. Wind quickly and easily picks up into some very large whitecaps. Like most guys who have spent a lot of time on the water in small boats - it can get very choppy. At a few miles wide and 22 miles long, it's not a place you want to topple a canoe. Three years ago I was out here with a buddy of mine - it was my first time on this waterway and we lost our way. We paddled 40 miles that day. It's a day I'll never forget. We spent a night in the wilderness without any way of communicating with the outside world and we didn't see a soul all day for directions. Lesson - buy, study and carry a good map. Today would hopefully be different. We stop at Chesuncook Village at the Store in the Woods. Not really a store - more of a home - with a porch - and a refrigerator, full of homemade root beer and fudge. I've been here three times and I think the root beer packs a punch that it probably shouldn't - but it tastes great. Any cold soda tastes great after drinking river water for four days I suppose. Nonetheless, I love this little place and the history behind the village. A few hours of paddling and we make our way about 15 miles down the lake to a small sandy beach camping spot. The view here of Katahdin is like none other. It's complete solitude and a literal heaven. If the world ended, you'd find me camped out here. We toss the tent up and get an early dinner started. As I toss out the sleeping bags, I realize I only see one set of keys and a stray thought enters my mind. You see, we brought two vehicles out here. My wife's is the pick-up vehicle at the finish point. She'll drive us back up river (40+ miles) to my truck at the launching ramp. The plan was to drive out together and back home. "Honey - where are your car keys?" Silence filled the air as she thought - never a good sign. "Babe, WHERE are your car keys?". "Your truck", she says. Stranded on our honeymoon.... Stay tuned....
Part III, continued...Deer, Canadian geese, troves of wild blueberries and hammock relaxation greet us on day three of our canoe trip down the West Branch of the Penobscot River outside of Baxter Park. It's been over 80 hours since we last saw another human being. There are few places in this world that one can still say that. Even with a cabin in the woods, you often see a truck drive by. Complete relaxation and campfire cooking are good for the soul and right now my soul is doing great. We get a decent start on the day once we feast on a big sausage/egg breakfast after reigniting the coals from last night's fire. Grey early morning clouds clear from the sky revealing what looks to be a beautiful day. After an hour of paddling, we round a bend in the river - which has had low water levels, we've gotten out twice to pull the canoe over rocks - to see a whitetail deer feeding on tall marsh grass. We're really close. He stares our way momentarily and decides to ignore our presence. It's astonishing the comfortableness that wildlife in these parts have with people. We watch him for a few minutes and say our goodbyes. At noon we reach our next camping spot, posed high on a rocky bluff overlooking a large span of river. We setup camp and wander around the landscape a bit in search of signs of the logging past. We find old tote roads literally filled with blueberry bushes in their peak. We fill a medium-sized bowl in fifteen minutes of plump, juicy berries for morning pancakes. With today's work done (and as it's vacation and never really too early to drink) I grab a bottle of Jack from the cooler, hang a hammock between two sturdy pines and let the view take my mind and run. With our trip nearly half way over, we still have no idea the turn of events that is to come. For now, tonight, we'll spark a campfire and share stories around the flickering flames and enjoy the silence and solitude that Maine is providing on our honeymoon. Stay tuned and enjoy the photos...