Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ghost Rider on Snow

Historic Pittston Farm. Photo courtesy of Kevin Robichaud.

Even though this blog is technically all about day two, I'll back up and start where I sort of left off from Day one on Route 66 coming off of Moosehead lake into Rockwood. I hadn't really orientated my sense of direction after coming off the lake in the dark and I envisioned that we were headed due west to Jackman. Andy was leading, thankfully he had seen the trail signs to send us in the right direction. We had left Pittston Farm at around 1:00pm for what turned into a longish (time wise) ride and we were all getting pretty hungry. I was having that "bonk" feeling, which happens sometimes while out riding bicycles, and the roughness we experienced on Route 66 was not helping my situation, I was getting worked over! At one point while riding up 66 there was a flurry of activity, snow machines were approaching from behind, it was dark, we were riding quickly, and I was feeling slightly out of my element for sure. The first guy that passed me was riding standing up, pounding the moguls. He must have been going 50mph when he went by and the roar of his Ski-Doo pierced the sound barrier of my helmet. His mates were on my bumper, so I waved them by. The flew past and then it was just Kevin behind me again. We were pushing it back to the farm to make it in time for dinner that is served from 5-7pm. At one point we stopped quickly at a junction and the sign read "Pittston Farm 20 miles". This was mentally demoralizing for me as the hunger ate away further at my stomach. Andy and Kevin kept our speed up and with me in the middle of them, I had to play the role, chase Andy and keep Kevin off my tail. They had the right idea though, keep the new guy in the middle. I think we rode that twenty miles in about thirty minutes, making it back to the farm with ten minutes to spare before dinner was done. All the food was nearly gone and the cook was getting ready to depart from his job for the day. Graciously, he offered to get us set up with what he had left. So it was salad, fruit salad and a huge piece of prime rib. YUM! After dinner it was a couple of Mike's Hard lemonades and then I passed out during social conversation in the room.

Ok, it's officially day two now. Our plan was a big ride in hopes to get into the Allagash to the Trains which sit idle on a narrow strip of land between Chamberlain and Eagle lakes. First up though, coffee and breakfast. My arms were still shaking from the ride the day before and there was not a muscle in my body that did not ache. It had snowed another 3 or 4 inches overnight on top of the 15+ inches from the storm just before we arrived on Saturday. After breakfast we suited up, fueled up the sleds, and hit the trails again. Slightly more comfortable behind the bars I hit the fast, flat stretch with ambition and just as quick as I hit my top speed of 83mph. Just a few miles up the trail before Seboomook lake dam we rode into a huge snow drift, I got some good air here! The groomer from Pittston Farm had gone out the night before, but the wind off Seboomook Lake had made some pretty intense drifts and there was already a group who was stuck off the trail.

Andy tried unsuccessfully to get around the drift by trying to climb right up it.
Here Kevin is looking up at him saying WTF dude, now what!

You can see the folks stuck just in front of Kevin (standing right) through the blowing snow. The wind was fierce and visibility extremely limited, it was total chaos for about ten minutes, and I somewhat doubted we would make it to our destination with the vicious winds we were experiencing.  No sooner did we get Andy off the six foot drift, he managed to get stuck again off the right side of the trail. A group that had left the farm nearly the same time we did had taken a different trail around the trail we were on, but had heard about all of the stuck sleds and they came over from the other side to help us get out. We got the folks up front out, got Andy out, and after a few sleds went by packing the trail down, Kevin and I made it through without issue. Twenty seconds up the trail we stopped in a nice sunny and "wind free" spot to recollect our thoughts. What an EPIC few minutes that was, but having made it through, we all felt better about the days agenda ahead.

The ride from Raymond's Store at North East carry on Moosehead Lake through the Ragged Lake trail system was absolutely beautiful. Long winding trails, mountain views and the magnetic lure of the Allagash was getting more powerful in my soul with every passing mile. Crossing the Golden road just west of the bottom tip of Caribou Lake is where the off-trail adventure began for us. We hit the Chesuncook Lake club trails and the boys started to play in the deep powder off the side of the trail. I tried it too, but my skills were lacking confidence, so I had more fun watching them enjoy it. 

 Here I am saluting the Surprenant's and old Bobby Jo inside the lake house.

We arrived at the Chesuncook Lake House for a refuel and a little warm up inside before venturing out to the trains. Gas is $5.00 bucks a gallon here, and anything on the menu is $12.50, be it a grilled cheese, burgers, or hot dogs. Between both stops on the way up and back including fuel and food for three, it was $160. The photo above is me back at the Lake House after a few years and a bitter experience that I have previously and somewhat cryptically written about here. It's a lesson of life to be cautious and guarded while traveling in the North Maine Woods. No need to be super nice to people up here, a respect when respected kind of story, blah...blah...blah.

View of the Katahdin Range from Chesuncook Lake.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Robichaud.

Traveling up Chesuncook Lake was amazing and we all found some deep powder to play in. There was a bit of slush here and there, but it was SO fun riding through the deep, fresh, snow. There were sleds who had headed out in front of us all with the same destination in mind, some of the machine tracks were getting covered from the winds, but we were able to follow without issue. We got off the lake on the Guy Allen road and started to head in the opposite direction northerly toward Allagash Lake, I quickly realized this, but we had to chase Andy down and convince him we had gone the wrong way. He kept saying he had seen a sign with an arrow to the trains, I just knew in my gut we were heading the wrong way and my GPS was also in agreement with this. We eventually turned back, got on Chesuncook lake again near the Umbazooksus campsite. We needed to head further north on the lake toward the Mud Pond carry at Umbazooksus stream. Back on track, we headed into the chainsaw trails leading us to Chamberlain lake.

Mud Brook between Mud Pond and Chamberlain Lake.

I got a little sentimental as we stopped for a quick break on the shores of Mud pond, telling a tale of Thoreau's first journey through this area back in the 1857. If only HDT could see us now I said aloud. With that statement, we fired up the machines and continued on. Braaap!

Andy back on the train after having visited as a wee one on a canoe trip with his family.

To anyone who has never seen these locomotives, they are quite a sight. Whether you hike, paddle, or ride to them, I highly recommend checking them out. I have been many times in both summer and winter and I never get tired of the trip. The history of why, how, and when is pretty cool too.

Kevin, all smiles, happy to have made the journey.

I have yet to really talk about the machines we were riding, but here goes. Again, my snowmobile experience and knowledge was fairly limited and I've been researching what sled I will eventually buy. Having written off Polaris and Arctic Cat in my mind and only having experience riding a ski-doo two-up rental for any extended length of time, naturally I've been admiring Ski-doo's as my first future machine purchase. Now though, I think I have pretty much squashed that idea for the incredible fuel economy and reliability of the Yamaha brand. You see, Kevin's pop in-law owns Ken's Yamaha in Norway, Maine. After much discussion with Kevin and Andy on the topic, having ridden all three machines on the trip, I'm absolutely sold and eagerly await my first investment...hopefully soon to come. 

 We watched a couple of Eagles playing on the ice just in front of the lake house while eating lunch.

Our one way mileage to the trains was about 93 miles and daylight was fading. So we made the stop at the trains pretty quick then headed back to Chesuncook Village for fuel and lunch. Departing the lake house we opted to ride the optional trail down the lake eight miles back to the spur trail and this proved to be a much faster exit. We could pretty much cruise along at 60-65 mph comfortably. There was a few slushy spots, but it was mainly smooth and the view of Katahdin and surrounding peaks was beautiful the whole ride down. We stopped just for a quick regroup just before getting back on the trails. Andy motioned to Kevin to take the lead, he hesitated, so I jumped at it. I had my iPod playing on shuffle, it went from Mozart to Iron Maiden and beyond with a great music set and we ended up hammering out the first 35 miles, quickly and super aggressively. It was zen for me, I was having such a blast riding. We averaged over 40 miles per hour in the first stretch back toward our "home" for the night. At one point we stopped on a nice sunny knoll while riding the Ragged Lake club trail system for this, one of my favorite photos from the trip.

The view of Big Spencer mountain from the Ragged Trail system.

We continued our ride back to Pittston Farms and as the sun went down, I rode the memories from the day back through my mind over and over. The rush was amazing and I felt as I could rode all night long. Our GPS tracks and a few more photos to finish the day. Day three write up coming!

Ghost rider, Chesuncook Lake.

 The deer that gather daily for feeding at Raymond's store in North East Carry.

This guy stared at us for about five minutes.

The North East Carry groomer.

Sunset shot. photo courtesy of Kevin Robichaud.

Ghost Rider- Rush
"Pack up all those phantoms, Shoulder that invisible load
Keep on riding north and west Haunting that wilderness road
Like a ghost rider
Carry all those phantoms Through bitter wind and stormy skies
From the desert to the mountain
From the lowest low to the highest high
Like a ghost rider"

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