Monday, December 9, 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.
Part II continued...
The West Branch of the Penobscot is famous for its wildlife and our first day on the water proved that fact. An hour into our paddle, we were passing the flask around a corner as a moose spotted us from the muddy waterside bank. With inquisition and a hint of tameness - he stood in place - rubbernecking as our canoe made way down river. That's something to raise a toast to.The river was extraordinarily calm all afternoon. We setup camp the first night at Thoreau's Island - his journeys document his staying on the same island. New to canoe camping, we try to make organized work of unloading the canoe - essentials first like the tent, sleeping bags and food. Then we move on to the wood and other gear. The site, equipped with a fire ring sits on a tall, grassy hill overlooking the river. A beautiful view - not a person within a 10 mile radius and only a handful of loggers beyond there. Pulling the waxed tab off the Maker's Mark - we relax by the campfire as our first real camp meal begins cooking. Tonight we'll enjoy a beef stew with everything in it but the kitchen sink. At camp or on the river - you need meals that stick to your ribs. You usually only have the time for a good meal twice a day. Crackers and cheese isn't going to do this man any good. 4:30 AM comes early. Through the darkness cracking twigs ring out near our tent. Startled, my wife hits me in the side, harder than I wish she could. Flashlight in hand, boxers and Bean Boots - I crawl from the tent to investigate. The cracking moves further from the tent, towards the far end of the island. I think it's a moose, but I don't see him. I slowly make my way through the thicket to the other end of the island, down the bank to the water and spot a bull moose swimming across the river. I ask him politely to stay in place while I grab my camera. He listened, but when I returned I had forgotten my longer lens. The moose in thick fog would have made a great photo.
PART I: After debate over a tropical honeymoon get-a-way, we opted to purchase a canoe and spend a quiet week on Maine's historic West Branch of the Penobscot River. With a total paddle distance around 50 miles, we'd break it up evenly, fish the afternoons away and spend evenings at the remote campsites, dotted every few miles along the riverbanks.
Afternoon temperatures dip low as we ascend the first peak of Mt. Major. The treetops, high above, sway back and forth with the early onset of winter winds. Strong steady gusts requires me to flip down the sides of my wool Stormy Kromer cap over my ears for protection. Higher elevations of other local mountains have already received snow. Our first break is at a small mountainside stream. Casco stops for a drink of the rushing waters, pausing only as late fall leaves interrupt his stream-side-lapping. We press forward, anxious for the summit's view.Trees that once clung to their last leaf now stand bare. Fall colors have passed and forests have grown rather bland with browns and tans. Our plaids are truly the best, and currently brightest, part of fall. When cool air blows from the Northeast and I'm able to finally wear layers, I find comfort. Today marks the first day of the season I can wear wool pants. Within a few hours of battling steep elevation gains, we reach our destined peak. The views are of the beautiful New Hampshire countryside. The mountaintop is home to half an old stone-built shelter. The stay is short as the winds howl up and over the point. We slowly descend with Casco leading the way. Our last hike before snow falls over the low-country is enjoyed. The air is cleaner, the water clearer, and the peacefulness is soaked up. Time to dig out the snow shoes... LOCAL HOT SPOTSSandy Point Restaurant (Alton, NH) - Whether you're hiking hunger is calling for a thick burger and beer or a battered lobster tail - this is the place I refuel. Weirs Beach (Laconia, NH) - Even if it's not Bike Week, you'll find a spot to kick back for a couple hours to rewind, eat and drink. Check out Broken Spoke Saloon, not far down from the
Today I explore the Northernmost state park in the East. Aroostook State Park is located at the tip of Maine and touts the honor of being Maine's first state park (about 5 hours North of Portland). The sun rises behind a cloud-filled sky as we tighten up our packs. This last short-sleeve adventure of 2013 is one I'll surely look back upon with fondness while ice fishing in three months...
The unmatched beauty of Northern Maine is apparent throughout the park. The entrance to the park has views to the peak foliage of Quaggy Jo Mountain and the calm waters of Echo Lake. Steep elevations greet you no matter the trail choice. From the tranquil lake shores and the remote campsites, we rest assured that this is God's Country. The summer crowd has vacated the park leaving only a handful of nature lovers.
The Northeast may have a mild winter in store if one weather prediction method used by Old Farmer's Almanac holds true. The woolly bear caterpillar (known for their transformation inside a cocoon to a full-grown moth) is composed of 13 segments; black on either end with a reddish-brown center. The hypothesis states that more black segments suggest a harsher winter. Studies show that when the average of black segments rises above 5 - this is the tipping point to a longer and colder winter.Whether or not this methodology holds true I cannot say for certain, but I know colder days are ahead. My winter jacket is already hanging by the front door, directly above my Bean boots. My shovel is standing desolate in the entry way. The first snowfall has already made its way to the mountains and far Northern Maine. My suggestion: Keep an armload of firewood by the stove to cut the chills of early mornings and always keep a good book on the coffee table for snowed-in afternoons. Below are photos from a local hike this weekend and evidence of a mild winter to come.(Follow me for NEW photos and tweets at @BackwoodsPlaid)