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Thread: Drifting in Northern Baxter State Park

  1. #1
    Senior Member Raven's Avatar
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    Drifting in Northern Baxter State Park

    Link for Pictures of the Traveler Mountain Loop:

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B1...XdtTV9HQUZhd0U

    I was sitting at my desk at home on Wednesday morning thinking of what to do with a few free days I had. The ocean, mountains, and lakes were all close and there was a perfect weather window in the next few days. As I started thinking, I realized it had been over a decade since I had been to Baxter State Park. I decided to check the park to see if just by chance there were any campsites left. I was pretty flexible and lucked out. There was one site open for two nights at Trout Brook Farm Campground, about the furthest north in the park. I packed in an hour quickly gathering whatever food I had on hand that would work: peanut butter and jelly, bread, a pound of frozen ground beef, mac and cheese, ham steak, nuts, dried fruit, and anything else that made sense. I grabbed my camping and hiking gear, strapped my mountain bike to the roof, and headed north. I stopped once to add to my supplies but it was not for long as I had to be at the gate before 8:30. Once in the park, after checking in with the ranger, I slowly drove down the park road, a very narrow, curvy, dirt road with a 20 mph speed limit. On my right, Grand Lake Matagamon was opening up as I drove in the shadow of the imposing cliffs of Horse Mountain on my left. Baxter is impressive immediately upon entering the north gate. After reaching my site, I was quickly set up and relaxing in front of a crackling hot fire by my tent. The air was cooling off fast and lows would be in the forties overnight, hardly dangerous, but chilly for August. I sat there peacefully with a cup of hot tea listening to the sounds of all the loons on the lake. It had been too long. It was meditative, and I slept wonderfully in the chill air.

    After waking and making breakfast, I packed up my backpack with the necessary gear but kept it as light as possible without leaving anything necessary behind. I was hiking the Traveler Mountain loop, a ten plus mile hike with extended stretches above treeline. It was known for its beauty as well as its difficulty. After driving a short way to South Branch Pond, I began the hike up North Traveler Mountain. The mountain rests at the edge of the pond and the trail climbs across the face and over open rocky ledges as it ascends. The views open up and get increasingly dramatic near the top. At points the trail skirts the edge of cliffs and although it’s never too dangerous, the feeling of exposure is pretty good in a few spots. The wind and sun were both strong making for a perfect hiking day. The pond below, like all ponds in Baxter, looked undisturbed and natural. Its beauty is hard to describe with massive ledges dropping into the water and flashes of sunlight dancing like crystals on the waves. The winds formed sheets across the surface as they moved the air masses over the pond. I returned to the hike. As I climbed over the rocky summit of North Traveler, I felt like I entered a completely different ecosystem. Ahead of me was a beautiful flat meadow filled with all kinds of grasses and plants and small trees. It reminded me very much of many mountains in the southern Appalachians. Hiking through this section was serene. Soon enough, I began climbing again working my way up Traveler Mountain. The summit area of this peak was really unique with a carved out, amphitheater-like area highlighting the summit sign. The views of Katahdin, of the pond below, and those into the great wilderness to the north, are beyond description. I felt like I had stumbled on an absolute gem hidden behind the mass of Katahdin. Throughout the entire hike, I was engulfed in this striking and dramatic world to the north. Coming down Traveler Mountain toward the Peak of the Ridges, the third in this loop, it reminded me very much of the shape of Mount Monroe in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range. In some ways, this peak is the prettiest of the three. I crossed the rocky summit cone on tired legs and began the descent to the pond. The day had been filled with uneven, rocky trail and numerous ups and downs on the ridgeline. There’s a lot of overall elevation gain on this hike. I worked my way down a steep and rocky trail and into the trees below where I would eventually find flatter, softer trail. On finishing the hike, I was quite sure this ten mile loop was as physically difficult as any I had done in New England including those on Katahdin and the Presidential Range. It was also their equal in beauty but surpasses both in solitude.

    After eating a whole box of mac and cheese with the entire pound of sautéed ground beef mixed in, I sat again in front of a blazing fire and listened to the call of the loons. It’s such an eerie, ethereal sound, almost otherworldly. Other than my daughter’s laughter, it may be my favorite sound. I was in my sleeping bag shortly after dark and was soon asleep from the long day. It was a good thing as although I did now know it at the time, I was going to need my rest. Another adventure was about to begin the next morning, an unplanned one.

    The morning came and much like the prior day, I made tea and breakfast moving a bit more slowly perhaps than the day before. It had been a couple months since I had done a strenuous hike as I had sprained an ankle not too long ago and was just now getting back to pushing some higher mileage again. I loosened up soon enough though and headed out to the summit of Trout Brook Mountain, a small peak which sat just south of the campsite. It’s the northernmost peak in the park. From the summit, I had great views of Traveler Mountain and could gain some perspective on the hike of the day before. After a total of about three and a half miles, I was back at the campsite. I quickly packed up what I hadn’t done after breakfast, got in my car, turned the key, and after hearing a terrible sound accompanied by an equally bad rubber smell, heard nothing but beautiful silence.

    Continued....
    Humankind has not woven the web of life.
    We are but one thread within it.
    Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
    All things are bound together.
    All things connect.
    ~ Chief Seattle, 1854 ~

  2. #2
    Senior Member Raven's Avatar
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    Continued...

    I was about as far north in Baxter State Park as you can be in a vehicle. There is no cell phone reception anywhere nearby. The closest town is thirty miles away and it’s a small village. After looking under the hood, I pulled out the remains of my serpentine belt, cut in half. This seemed to be the problem. The AC motor had seized causing the belt to shred. I took a deep breath, set myself up for fixing a problem that may take days, not hours, and was honestly quite grateful this didn’t happen before my hike causing me to miss the Traveler loop. That would have been a problem. Priorities. I walked to the ranger’s cabin near the campground. I wasn’t exactly sure how this was going to work out, but I had a bike, AAA, all the gear and food I needed to survive a few days, and a good attitude. I’ve fortunately got a few guardian angels as well. The ranger was incredibly helpful and agreed to radio the ranger at the Matagamon gate at the entrance to the park. She could call out on a phone there and would call AAA for me. It took some time to radio the information to the ranger who was not only speaking with AAA, but also trying to manage the cars entering the park. She said she would radio back if she had any luck. We waited. After some time, the ranger on site suggested that she may be too busy with other issues to deal with it. As I was thinking of some options involving my bike and a long ride, the radio blurted….”Matagamon….Trout Brook….Matagamon….Trout Brook.” I was hopeful. As it turned out, she had made contact and there was a tow truck in a town about an hour away. He would come when he could. I thanked the ranger sincerely for their help and headed back to my site. I figured I may as well make some tea, read a book, and enjoy the surroundings. It was going to be awhile, but I’ve waited in far worse places for a tow. I was relieved knowing I was going to get the car out of the park. The solution to this problem had begun.

    The tow truck driver’s brother was a mechanic in the family business and met us at the gas station where we eventually ended up in a small village well outside of the park. He made some calls to try to get the needed part and see what time frame we were looking at. Of course it was a Friday. Breaking down on a Friday is tough if you need parts ordered. After thinking through my very limited options, I gathered the backpack, food, water, and other essential gear, left the car with them to fix, and told them I’d be back next week. I bought some extra food and drinks in the little store and walked down the road into darkening clouds. It had been a few years since I had hitched a ride. This was going to be fun.

    I stood on the long, lonely entrance road to the interstate, southbound side. I’m not sure if you can go north from here. I picked a good spot where cars would have plenty of space to pull over to pick me up. There was even room for two vehicles if more than one person wanted to give me a ride at the same time. I try to be optimistic. Humor helps immensely in these situations. I stood under a nice blue metal sign that listed all sorts of things prohibited on the highway and put my thumb out. I like irony. I assessed my chances of getting a ride. I’m a guy and I have a beard. These are negatives. However on the positive side, I’ve got a hiking backpack, not a sketchy duffel bag. I tried to smile and look friendly. A few cars went by. I’ve done this before. Patience is a virtue here. This was a rural exit with not much traffic and it was getting later in the afternoon. Light misty rain began to fall. From where I stood, I could see a stand of trees up above the highway that looked like a good spot for a camp. Even the median on the highway was a virtual forest. The wheels began to turn. I envisioned my tarp keeping me dry as I cooked dinner on my primus stove and camped for free in the median on the state dime while listening to the occasional logging truck roll by. I think I’d be a really good drifter. I was having visions of the local constable escorting me to the edge of town when I was brought back to reality as a car pulled over with an older gentleman who was kind to offer a ride, but only going one exit down. A short while later a younger man offered the same thing. The locals were nice. After a while, my thumb grew tired. I had bought a banana at the store, so I held this in my hand with it pointed like a hitch-hiker’s thumb. Somehow I thought this might help my chances. I’m sure it made me look slightly out of my mind. In time however, a lovely older couple pulled over and asked if I wanted a ride 45 minutes south to Lincoln. The man Randy suggested I would have better luck hitching from there and they had a motel or two and restaurants. My day was getting better. As I put my backpack on the seat next to me, Elaine, the woman in front, told me they don’t often pick up hitchhikers and that I should be warned they are protected by Smith and Wesson and that I should behave myself. I assured her that I would. As we drove south, we talked a bit. This was a very, very kind couple. The man wore a big silver cross and had the appearance of someone who had spent years outside. His face was lined with a few years of age, but he radiated life through his quiet voice and heavy Maine accent. He had spent most of his life in Northern Maine and had apparently hitchhiked quite often himself, as he advised me on what truck stop to go to when I got to Bangor to best catch a ride. I bet he has some good stories. He was really enjoying giving me the advice, reliving some memories he had. As we talked more, we spoke of our hometowns and it came to light that my daughter and their grandson are in the same grade and school together less than three miles from my home in New Hampshire, but hundreds of miles from where we were at the time. Sometimes, it’s small world. But sometimes, I think there’s an unseen connection that links various people together. I think it’s why they pulled over for me. We went to the post office and pharmacy on the way so they could do the errands they were out to do. Before dropping me off in Lincoln, Elaine asked if I had eaten dinner. I lied and said I had as she joked about being overly motherly. I’m 46. She said they would be seeing a man that evening who ran a shuttle and could possibly give me a ride to Bangor the next day. She took my number and said she would call if he could. I was very grateful and thanked them profusely before getting out. It’s always good to have options.

    After a quick fast food dinner, I was back road side again, my banana long gone, but my thumb rejuvenated knowing that I was a little closer to home. The local joker in town drove by a few times with comments for me, but they were funny and light hearted, so I took it well. There’s always one. Before long, the rain started getting harder and it was getting late. I thought it would be best to cut my losses and grab a dry motel room for the night. No way I would get a ride after dark. I walked back into town and found a cheap room. A shower felt good and later on in the evening, I got a call from Elaine with the number of the shuttle driver. He could pick me up at the motel in the morning and get me to Bangor. Progress.

    I got a cardboard box and a marker from the office to make a good road sign for the next day. I figured if the weather was good, I’d hitch from Bangor to Portsmouth, close enough to home and a straight shot three hours down the interstate. The next morning, it was dreary and rainy out. Less than ideal. Thinking of other options, I was lucky enough to find a rental car to reserve online in Bangor for later that morning. I guess I like the idea of being a bit of a drifter, but maybe only a fair weather drifter. It’s not so romantic of an idea in the rain. I was picked up by John right on time and we left for Bangor. We chatted for a bit about hiking, kids, and other common topics before he began telling me much of his life story. I found myself wondering if we had met for a reason. He was very likeable and kind and it was obvious from his stories, he was filled with compassion. He was getting back into hiking with his son who was finding it a nice respite from some very tough challenges in life. I think he needed to unload some of these things. We traded stories and maybe a little friendly advice on the ride to Bangor before exchanging numbers as he dropped me at the rental car office. Before leaving we discussed some possible hikes and the idea of getting together at some point. I grabbed my pack and asked what I owed him. Through a big grin, he said Elaine and Randy had already taken care of it for me. I smiled, shook his hand, tipped him, and left, reminded once again of the sincere goodness in people. At a time when some would have us believe the world is a scary and dangerous place, it’s clear to me the exact opposite is true. We’re all connected. We’re all in this together. The world is not a place to be feared. Rather, its absolute beauty is simply perfect as it is.
    Humankind has not woven the web of life.
    We are but one thread within it.
    Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
    All things are bound together.
    All things connect.
    ~ Chief Seattle, 1854 ~

  3. #3
    Senior Member wardsgirl's Avatar
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    Epic story!

    I wish we still had those green squares to give out
    AMC Adopt-A-Trail Program Region Leader Emeritus: Pemigewasset 1993-2005 Southern Presidentials 2005-2017
    Trail Adopter: Webster Cliff Trail

  4. #4
    Senior Member Raven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wardsgirl View Post
    Epic story!

    I wish we still had those green squares to give out
    I remember those! And thank you. I recalled this story when I was reading the other thread where I posted. I enjoyed reading it again myself. I had forgotten some of the details of that adventure!
    Humankind has not woven the web of life.
    We are but one thread within it.
    Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
    All things are bound together.
    All things connect.
    ~ Chief Seattle, 1854 ~

  5. #5
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    It is a classic. Hard to beat the Travelers and the trip home was something to remember. There are lot of good folks up in that region, its pretty sparse population and I think most folks realize that they need to help out others as they may need the help themselves some day. Many locals commute some very significant distances every day.

  6. #6
    Senior Member TEO's Avatar
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    Raven, thanks for sharing that great story. The Traveler loop is a special hike. Of course it's no fun to have to deal with car trouble, but you obviously handled it well. Hitchhiking can certainly turn even a relatively mundane hike into an interesting and memorable adventure.

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