Baxter State Park: Middle of Nowhere Maine
By the light of a cozy campfire I read out loud, “I started to run and found I couldn’t, because of the boulders; that made me frantic and I climbed over them like a cat and yelled and shouted and cried all the time. I yelled for my dad. I climbed up as high as I could on a big rock and screamed for him – then I waited. No answering shout – nothing – just the noise of that wind and the purring sound of fine sleet driving against my clothes…” -Donn Fendler as told to Joseph B. Egan in Lost On A Mountain In Maine.
At the time, Donn was a 12-year-old boy who spent 9 days alone in the brutal Maine wilderness.
Talk about really bringing a book to life. This was a home run. I couldn’t have done more right by a book. Hours earlier Scott and Nate had summited Mount Katahdin. They walked the very footsteps that Donn walked until he went wildly off course.
I tried to end there for the night. The kids revolted. “Keep reading! Keep going! What happened to him?! I’m not going to bed! Keep reading.” We made it to chapter 6 before my voice gave out and it was well past bedtime.
We were spending our second night in a lean-to in Abol Campground in Baxter State Park at the foot of the mountain. This was a full camping expedition. No electricity. No potable water available. No signal on the cell phone (not no internet, no signal at all).
For the record, this little adventure bore zero resemblance to “camping” in the RV. Not the same animal. I forgot that when I was getting ready to go.
Baxter is the real deal and the ultimate goal of the people who love it and look after it is to keep it wild forever.
Nate likes to hike. He and his mom are working through all the 4000 ft mountains of New Hampshire. My mom suggested we take a look at Baxter for a few nights so that he and Scott could do some hiking together. She comes up with the best ideas. That conversation happened in June. I thought there was no way there would be any availability in the park. The only open nights I could find were back-to-back in lean-to #12 the second week of July. I took that as a sign and reserved them on the spot.
When we arrived we set up camp and got settled we headed to a “Leave No Trace” event hosted by the rangers for the kids. We were split into teams: Jack and I versus Nate, Evie and Scott. Despite an early lead (and some help from a sympathetic ranger), Jack and I got crushed. We’re a competitive family. My teammate was more interested in butterflies. The upside is that the coveted bundle of firewood to the winner still came to our campsite.
The next morning, I got up at 5:30 am to make a bacon, egg, pancake, hot coffee breakfast. I know – bonus points to me for being awesome. Then we all piled into the car and drove over to Roaring Brook Campground so Scott and Nate could hike the Helon Taylor Trail to Knife’s Edge to the summit. From there they took the Hunt Trail to the Abol Trail which dumped them, literally, right back into our camp.
The weather was ideal – sunny and 75 with low winds.
Meanwhile, the kids and I explored the ponds just north of Katahdin Stream Campground. We were hunting for moose. Several factors, however, worked against us. It was the middle of the day. Moose usually come out in the early morning and dusk. More importantly, every wild animal for at least a mile radius could hear us coming and gave us a wide berth.
Oddly, wild animals aren’t attracted to Moana songs delivered at full volume. I know, surprised me too.
The little people and I were on an easy section of the AT when the bugs closed in and made life miserable. These were crazy, giant, aggressive bugs – black flies, noseeums, moose flies. I fought them off for a while. But after carrying Jack, getting hot and sweaty and making impossibly slow progress my patience tapped out. Frustrated, “What the **** is up with these bugs?!?! This is awful.” Like in a movie, Jack slowly turned his head to me, smiled a toothy shit-eating grin and (with enthusiasm) said, “****! ****! ****! ” Then he proceeded to try the word out in different ways – loudly, quietly, to his sister.
Head slap. Great. Awesome. Good job, me. He’s not gonna lose that word any time soon. I’m dreading the day he uses it in front of the Grands.
Scott and Nate were back at the campsite before the kids and I arrived. They started hiking at 7 am and were in camp around 1:30 pm.
It was a fun couple of days. Nate and Evelyn earned their Baxter State Park Junior Ranger badges. They are both capable of reciting the 7 principals of Leave No Trace. Pop quiz them at will. Nate and Scott got in a memorable hike together. Jack and Evie still haven’t seen a moose but we will – I promise. We finished Lost on Mountain In Maine before we hit Orono on the way home. Spoiler Alert: Donn survived. So did we. We’re gonna have to do this again!
Only campsite with a fruit plate! No reason not to be civilized in the wilderness and it’s always the right time to encourage good eating habits.
Playing with the Rangers:
Extra credit for me – crack of dawn, slept on a wood platform, preparing to cook on an open fire… and I have a smile on my face.
Not scared of heights… unbelievable!
Collecting wild raspberries:
I left the kids on a rock in the middle of the pond and had a little paddle on my own.
Big turtle sunning himself:
Jack jumped off the rock in the top of the picture and ended up knee deep in the muck. We all thought he was going to lose his shoes and I wasn’t going to go digging for them.
There were approximately 8,000,000,000 shades of green in the forest.
In the spirit of Leave No Trace, this is how we left our site. Even the garbage is carry-out. (Yes, I grabbed the stuff on the table).
We used every inch of available space in this little car. It may not look like much more than a roller skate and sometimes I do try to use my feet to give it a little extra umph (Fred Flintstone style)…. but the Gray Man has been very good to us.