Saturday, November 22, 2014

Maine North Woods Gravel Grind

the Crossah' at Rum Brook on the Logan Pond snowmobile trail. 

For this edition of Sparky's Ride Blog, the planning began 12 months or more in advance, initially as a slow churn in my brain and a somewhat one-way trip, since at the time my main goal was only that I wanted to ride my bike through Baxter State Park.

For those who are not familiar with BSP' wilderness tote road, that is fifty miles of one sweet gravel road, covering some of most beautiful terrain the State of Maine has to offer. While the planning was in process, I began to consider the approach, at first, compromising a bit and thinking that I would just ride up the tar road on route eleven to Sherman Mills and then make my way to the north entrance of Baxter via Shin Pond Village, then Grand Lake Matagamon. As I spent countless hours studying over my Maine Gazetteer and my snowmobile trail maps from machine operated travels in this area, I couldn't help but wonder what was under all that snow I've ridden on. Was it a beautiful gravel road I envisioned it could be? 

Zooming in on the land tucked between towering Mount Katahdin, Baxter's eastern border, and the East Branch of the Penobscot River, I quickly discovered the Katahdin Woods and Waters recreation area is a vast chunk of land encompasing 100,000+ acres. I had ridden the outer fringe on my snowmobile two winters in a row, so a lot of it was familiar to me for sure. It was what I hadn't seen that lured me in like the powerful magnet the North Woods of Maine does to my nature seeking soul. This beautiful land mass is destined to be donated to the United States National Park System in 2016 as Maine's next National Park. It will be one hundred years of the system, so quite interesting timing for a nature celebration.

A few months have gone by, it's now July 2014, wanderlust has begun to invade my brain and the urge to visit northern Maine is beyond my capacity to contain without getting something on the calendar. My first objective was to rally other hearty gravel road grinding souls to join in on the fun. Naturally, if the lovely Stephanie hadn't wrecked herself earlier in the spring, she would have been right there, though I did have great encouragement from her to 'get out of town' and check it out! A good friend, Blick, became first out side of the bubble to get the word and before knowing anything about what he was getting into, he was on board, I think he actually had subconsciously predicted it would be part of his cycling schedule for this summer. Cyclist, Climber, and incredible human, Todd Ringelberg, AKA TR1, was notified and I know he was right along side the whole time, only in spirit form. After talking the talk on facebook and trying to interest others in joining it was narrowed down to just Blick and I. It couldn't have been more perfect!

 Mount Katahdin from the Loop road, Katahdin Woods and Waters.

I had three weeks or so to pull together this trip. My main worry the whole time was navigating through such vast and remote wilderness, so much of my focus was on route choice. I figured I should email the land managers, as the website indicates interested folks should, and I got a quick reply saying the area was large and remote with no actual bicycle route through and the terrain was ONLY for the most experienced back country travelers. I replied back with a brief, but lengthy resume of experience, which led to a reply from Susan Adams revealing several contacts from others who have traveled exactly as we intended to. I first spoke with Matt Polstein, president at New England Outdoor Center in Millinocket. I caught Matt on a mobile phone while in the grocery store food shopping for a guided rafting trip. I've rented snowmobiles from NEOC in the past and I was quick to tell him that, hoping to just get in the door right off. He provided me with just what I wanted to hear, giving me even more confidence about the trip. I also exchanged a few emails with Larry Johannesman and Fred Michaud who both work for the State DOT in various capacities. Both have ridden the area on bicycle and they too provided me with great resources and information. I also emailed a bunch with a fellow named Eric Hendrickson. I never did catch up with Mark or Susan Adams in my scouting or on our trip, but thanks you two for the contacts and information you provided. You can see what lengths I went to before even attempting the route. 

Blick ready to ride, game face and gear loaded. He's mumbling "Let's go already!"

We parked our cars near Abol Bridge off the Golden road, actually in the Baxter State Park winter campers parking lot. Our first leg would be the Old State road to the southern entrance of Baxter where we had to sneak off the tote road under the closed gate leading us on the Logan Pond snowmobile trail. That's really where it started for me, no more cars or people!

Team KKotRC Plaid in the North Maine Woods - Logan Pond Trail

I had scouted the first two miles of the Logan Pond trail the day before, but the further we got the more remote it seemed. The road was a trail in spots, but very rideable on a cross bike, even loaded up with a rear cargo rack and gear. That did make it a little more technical and fun. I wish I had taken a picture, but at one point the trail was so grown in that I looked back and could only see Blick from the shoulders up as he was riding the trail. It was a funny moment etched in my memory. We had been warned about the bridge that was out going over Sandy Stream, but we were able to walk across it and avoid the detour I had previously ridden on the snowmobile last winter. That's where all of a sudden a human appeared, and he was riding a bicycle! Who would have thought we would see anyone else out on a bicycle. I think he first complimented us on our matching plaid Krempels King of the Road jerseys, then we talked about how he was staying at a nearby camp and had been riding these logging roads for a few days. He was just Texan out riding his bike and enjoying the wilds of Maine. 

This is where the road became a little bit better in true gravel form. I recognized many sections, just lacking the snow cover I was used to. It was a dream coming true to ride here on two wheels.   
When the road went up hill we started reaping the benefits of our efforts with spectacular views of Mount Katahdin.

A familiar spot! The Staceyville road.

From here it was a mix of light Jeep (or Subaru) road and great going gravel. There were a few descents I took like a mad man, just praying I would not flat a tire. One final sharp downhill and we were on the Whetstone bridge over the East Branch of the Penobscot River.

I've been here a couple of times on the snowmobile and it's a beautiful spot. After some snacks and water we we're off and headed up the East Branch road which runs up the west side of the Penobscot River, East Branch.

The Crossah bike at Whetstone Bridge.
Blick's bike came in well under the posted weight limit, but he may have just crushed the speed limit descending to Whetstone.

From the Whetstone bridge, we turned due north and slightly west onto the East Branch road. The further we rode, the more incredible the wilderness became, truly only human power can get you in these parts. A few miles up, we had our first stream crossing, off came the biking shoes. When this land was purchased by Roxanne Quimby, all of the old snowmobile and atv bridges were pulled and the land was left to remain still and calm. This was and still is the cause for some controversy among groups of folks who, in my opinion, just don't really grasp the fact that it's her land and she can do what she wants with it. As an outdoor type, now seasonal motorhead, I can understand both sides, but ultimately it comes down to respecting her decisions. Her motivations for buying and gifting this land to forever be preserved and protected for people to enjoy far outweighs the lack of ability to ride through on a motorized vehicle.

Just a few miles further north and we were tip toeing across the decomposing bridge spanning Wassataquoik Stream. It was pretty high up off the stream and definitely crumbling under our feet, but I'm typing this blog, so we didn't fall through.

A little snack break and we were off again, riding bikes! Our next obstacle was a rather deep stream crossing at Owen Brook which drains into the Penobscot. This is a funny moment in the ride, but when we first arrived here, I thought we were hosed. The stream crossing was deep and I really wasn't interested in swimming with my bike and gear. We started looking for alternate ways of crossing, which included some super thick bushwacking. I made it across, several clicks east of the actual crossing and then back again to get Blick and retrieve the bikes. So here we go through the thicks just below the beaver dam. I got my bike across and turned to help Blick, when I hear this. "Hey dude, dude, can I get a little help here?" Just a few feet more and I see Dan, just about up to his waist in thick moose bog type mud and sinking, while also telling me his feet were not touching the bottom. I think I said a couple of funny cuss words like maybe "Holy Shit Dude" and we both laughed and laughed after getting him out of that mess. He was pretty well covered in mud. We both rinsed off in the stream once we emerged from the woods. This would be another 'should have taken a picture' moment of the trip.

One other image forever stuck in my mind, and you'll have to take my written word for it, but we were riding fairly close together when I see above in the trees a huge bird get up and fly from one branch to another. When the bird landed again it rapidly turned around and looked down at us, it was the most amazing owl I have ever seen and his look down upon us was incredibly powerful, so much so that I think he looked right through me! He was completely curious and followed us down the trail for a while, but that look I will never forget.

Riding Bikes on the International Appalachian Trail

After many miles of a tree covered old logging road with many waterbar ditches where they pulled all the old bridges, we merged with the IAT. It was pretty cool getting to this point, but Blick and I were running low on water and the day was fading beneath our wheels. We decided to alter the trip to our first 'bail out' option and head toward the suspension bridge which would get us to Bowlin Camps, the closer we got I started to recognize this section because I had been through and up to Lookout Mountain on the sled last winter. Secretly I was saving the water filter I had carried all this way for absolute desperation and only if we really needed it. Come to think of it, we should have used it, but I hadn't used it in a very long time, so I was slightly paranoid it wouldn't protect us and the lure of Bowlin Camps made me push Blick, out of water at this point, a few more miles since I thought that we would be able to just get some good water there. 

We made it to Bowlin! Photo credit Dan Blickensderfer

Another familiar spot on the trail, the suspension bridge leading to a CLOSED Bowlin Camps. What's that I hear, someone hammering on wood back behind that garage? Yep, it was one of the caretakers working away. I think he was quite surprised to see us on bicycles and even more surprised to hear where we had come from, on bicycles. We asked for water and he was kind enough to set us up, even offering up ice cubes for our bottles. I was getting pretty tired and running low on water wasn't the best choice I'd made. We filled up and went down to the river to soak our heads and cool off for a bit before riding off up the gravel access road. Eleven miles later we made the Grand Lake road running east to Shin Pond Village, but it was another 14 miles before our stop for the day and it really, really hurt. I was so exhausted and depleted of energy when we got there, but that didn't matter, we had hit 90% of goal and made it to Shin Pond in time for dinner. I'll have a coke, cheese pizza, cheese burger and fries. Blick - "I'll have what he's having."

Post publish special request picture of me (and my manliness) totally bonked.
Photo credit - Dan Blickensderfer.

Thanks, Dan, for one of the best bike rides I've done. All you suckers who wished they had joined us better be prepared for 2015. Thank You, Terry and staff at Shin Pond Village for accommodating us on this trip. You guys have a wonderful spot, with new possibilities for business with the soon to come National Park. I wouldn't hesitate to stay with you again and plan to this winter for some sled fun. To Sparky Blog readers, this is probably one of the longest thought out and written posts ever, thanks for suffering through.
Part two, the recovery ride through Baxter State Park coming, but might be more of a photo essay instead. 

                                                                                             A screen shot of our ride.

1 comment:

db said...

So good. I am right back there. Let's go again now! :)