Baxter State Park

After we left Tir na nOg, we decided to visit the city of Bangor--which, a lot of people had told us wasn’t all that exciting, but we wanted to give it a shot. I guess it is because it was a Sunday, but it seemed as if the whole “city” was dead..there was barely anyone around and all the stores were closing or had been closed. We went to a little antique store and decided to move on. We found a little marketplace with a cafe in it so we could sit down and figure out our next move. Because we weren’t going to Baxter until the next day, we needed to find a place to sleep. It was getting late fast, and it had been 2 weeks since we had to live in the van. We were feeling a little discouraged and decided to just find a WalMart and go to bed early.

The next morning we woke up and it was pouring rain, but we still decided to get going early. We stopped at Dunkin Donuts (and got pumpkin coffee--which I was totally sick of last year, but now I have rediscovered my love for it) and set off! We pretty much had decided that we wouldn’t be able to climb Katahdin that day because the rain was too bad, so we knew we’d have to stay 2 nights. I didn’t want to originally because the campsites were $30.00 a night, and I’m trying to keep us on a budget of sorts--but John pointed out that some things, like the relief of knowing we had somewhere to stay, the comfort of staying in a campsite, and the convenience of staying in the park are worth the money. We stopped at a little Trading Post that advertised “last wifi” and since we already hadn’t had service for the last half hour, we used that time to post a picture to Instagram and text our families saying where we were and that we wouldn’t have service for a few days.

We drove into the park, through fog and rain, hoping that we could just reserve a campsite right when we got to the entrance post. Baxter is a very popular place--it’s a great park for people who want to really get out into true wilderness. the park is centered around Mount Katahdin, the highest point in Maine at 5,270 feet. Katahdin is also the finishing point for the Appalachian Trail. Because it was a Monday in the beginning of September we got lucky and were able to get ourselves a campsite for 2 nights! From the entrance, it took us about a half hour down a dirt road to get to our campsite. It was really nice because they gave us a handicapped spot, so we had a lot of room to park Penny sideways and spread out. When we first got there it was really rainy and cold out, so we made some breakfast, played UNO for a little bit and relaxed, knowing we had 2 full days to enjoy.

The weather started to clear up so we went up to the park ranger’s office where there was a trail that lead to Sandy Stream Pond, which was supposed to have a great view of the mountain. The trail was made up of narrow logs (to preserve the ground cover below) and they would veer off occasionally to show you different “view points” of the mountain around the pond. We took the first trail that branched off towards the water and were led to a beautiful pond lined with rocky shores and huge, wind-bent trees. The mountain is shaped like a horseshoe, so you’re down in a sort of valley, with the mountain spanning across the whole lake. On the other side of the pond, layers of trees faded out into the clouds, which were covering most of the mountain when we got there. The whole place just had a great feel. At the moment, it was exactly what we had hoped to find on this trip. We hung out for a little bit, took some photos, and then moved on to the other outlooks along the pond. The second path led out to a huge rock and the third was a small opening overlooking the mouth of a stream running off the pond.

We continued down the trail, through intermediate periods of rain, to a sign pointing to the peak of another mountain in the park. We started walking in that direction just to see what it was, and before we knew it we were hiking the mountain. We got about a mile into the 2 miles hike to the peak before we realized that we were being silly--neither of us had proper shoes on, and we had no food or water bottles--plus it was getting later and we knew we didn’t want to get caught in the dark on our way back. We remembered that we had our Sawyer Mini water filter, so we walked back down to a stream that we had just passed, and used our Sawyer for the first time! It was a bit of a weird feeling at first--we grew up never even thinking about just drinking out of a water source like that. Honestly, this water was crystal clear and probably perfectly safe to drink with no filter, but there’s no reason to risk it unless it’s totally necessary. John put the straw on the filter, bent down, and had a good drink of water. I tried it too--it was cold and delicious, and besides a little bit of initial resistance from the filter, you would never guess that you weren’t just drinking out of a straight straw. We made our way back down the base of the mountain, and walked the mile or so back to the pond, which was on the way back to the campsite. The clouds had risen a bit at that point, and the mountain was much more visible, so we stopped to get some photos for a bit before heading back to the van.

We went back to our campsite and put up our attachable awning (the first time we’ve actually gotten to use it) and pulled the picnic table underneath. We made dinner with the fresh vegetables we had gotten from the Farmer’s Market--eggplant and spaghetti with garlic bread. After dinner John wanted to run back up the trail to see the mountain at sunset. We grabbed our headlamps (just in case) and his camera and speed walked up the slippery log trail to the first viewpoint. It was pretty, but there really wasn’t a sunset and it was getting dark very fast, so we turned around and went back. I think this is one of the first lessons anyone learns when being in the wilderness, but it literally went from “we should head back now before it gets too dark” to “it’s way too dark” in what felt like three minutes. In the woods it was already almost pitch black--we had about a 15 minute walk ahead of us, the logs were slippery and no one was around us at all. We had our headlamps, but it was so quiet we were both getting creeped out. Neither of us wanted to look anywhere but at the ground, because if there were any red eyes staring at us, we didn't want to know about it! It was so quiet, and so dark and so creepy that--and I’m not even kidding you--we started singing a medly of Usher songs to get our minds off of it (and to keeps bears away, they hate Usher songs). I don’t know how that even started, but we were literally speeding through this spooky forest singing “U Got it Bad,” “My Boo” and “Burn” on a loop. After singing as much Usher as we knew, we finally got back to our cozy, safe campsite and made a fire--I read my book and John started working on leather until it was time for bed.

We woke up at 6:30, ate a quick breakfast, packed our bags and got going on our hike. We had decided that we would try Katahdin, but were both willing to turn around as soon as we felt like it was too much. We were at Roaring Brook campground which was the start of a 3.2 mile trail called Chimney Pond that lead to the base of Katahdin, and from the end of that trail to the peak was another 2 miles. We thought that Chimney Pond was going to be a fairly flat, easy trail that then led to the ridiculously steep and rocky hike to Baxter Peak. Chimney Pond, however, was a steady incline of large boulders, turning into short spurts of almost 45 degree angles of hiking. I will honestly say that I am not an athletic person--I never have been--and I do pretty well with standard hiking, and I can walk for days, but climbing at an incline like that was not my thing. As the hike went on my leg started to bother me and the more bursts of high incline rock climbing we had to do, the more it hurt. We aren’t hikers, and we didn’t stretch (dumb, dumb) so we had already accepted that we might not make it to the top..but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to try. There were a couple great viewpoints along the way that I guess were at the right altitude to get service, so we were able to facetime our families and show them the view. Our favorite one was Basin Pond, which had a couple large rocks to sit on and was off the beaten path enough that no one was there. There was a great view of Katahdin and we just sat there for a while taking it all in. This was similar to Sandy Stream Pond in that you’re within the horseshoe of Katahdin, but here we were much closer, and really got to look up and see details in the mountain. The coolest part was standing there in the silence and then hearing wind coming. It would start faint and then get louder and louder as the gust rushed through the trees--and then it would hit you and honestly almost knock you over if you didn't have a good footing. I had never experienced anything like that!

We got going again after a little rest and continued on. After what felt like a very long time, we saw a sign ahead and thought for sure that we had gotten to Chimney Pond campground, but to our dismay just learned that we had another mile to go. That meant that in that whole time we had only climbed 2.2 miles and we still had at least 3 much tougher miles to go! There was another arrow that pointed us to the 2nd highest peak on Katahdin, Hamlin Peak, which was just 2.2 miles from where we were, so we made the decision to change our plans and head to that one instead. The climbs were a lot more steep and a lot more frequent this time, and I was losing stamina fast--I really wanted to get close to the top..I had accepted that it probably wouldn’t happen, but I really wanted to prove myself wrong. After a long time and a lot of false hopes that we were nearing the top of the treeline, and a lot of stubborn tears from me, we decided to turn around. We were running out of time to get back, my leg was starting to really bother me, and we were bear, but we had done our best.

We stopped back at Basin Pond to eat sandwiches and to enjoy the view of the mountain that defeated us, and after about an hour we went on our way. The hike down was a lot easier, but we were letting our disappointment in not reaching the top smother the joy in the beautiful weather we had, the views of the mountain we got to see, the chance to facetime our families and a day spent outside together. By the time we got back to our campsite, we had sucked it up and were happy with what we had done that day--there’s always next time! We went upstairs in Penny and accidentally took a nap for a few hours. John got out our solar shower (something we hadn’t used yet) and our privacy tent and filled the shower in the stream nearby. The way it works is that you fill it up and put it in the sun, and the black interior of the bag is supposed to absorb the heat and warm the water. Well, due to the fact that it was later in the day and our campsite was surrounded by trees, there was no chance of that icy cold stream water getting warm. The showers were cold and short, but well worth it to feel refreshed and clean after a day of hiking! For dinner we made grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and a cold cucumber and tomato salad--and for dessert we made grilled peaches on toasted blueberry lemonade bread (leftovers from the farm). Can you say YUM? That was one of my favorite meals yet. We sat by the fire, went to bed early and got a great sleep.

The next morning we made home fries with regular fingerling potatoes and these awesome black ones that had a purple center (we had gotten them from Ron at the market) and toast with butter and jam! We started packing everything back into Penny and got out by 11:30. We stopped at that Trading Post again to figure out what our next move would be--we were only about 5 hours from the Canadian border, which is farther than we like to drive Penny in one day, cause she’s an old lady.

Anywhere outside of Baxter is in the middle of nowhere so we knew our only choice was to get to Canada that day. There was a road that went directly towards the border crossing that we needed to get to, but the map seemed a little off. John went inside to ask their opinion and learned that would be about 100 miles of dirt road before you hit pavement again. I don’t think so… So we had to swing back down and around the woods to get to some main roads. We drove through nowheresville Maine until we found a little tiny town called Dover-Foxcroft and spent an hour in a surprisingly legitimate coffee shop there called Center Coffee House. We also found a post office and got to send a bunch of John’s mason jar sleeves to Philter in Kennett Square, as well as a belt for Chris, the owner, and two leather bracelets for his little boys! We probably stayed at that coffee shop a little longer than we should have, and probably stopped to stare at a few too many lakes, because it got a bit later than we had planned and the sun was starting to set with us still a couple hours from the border. As the sun was setting I think both of us were bummin’ a little that we’d be getting to Canada in the dark, but we had been without service for hours and knew we couldn’t just pull over and try to sleep there. The drive through Maine was stunning at times. We had to stop at a few ponds and lakes as we drove by, to take in the view and try to capture at least a little of what we were seeing in a photograph. The sunset quickly turned to pitch black. Driving through those winding Maine roads at a beautiful 55 mph soon turned into a slightly scary 40 mph, led by 30 year old headlights that aren't exactly lighting the world on fire. It wasn’t until around 7:30 that we started seeing signs for Canada, and a half hour later we had arrived at the border. A lot of people might have thought this old van would break down a few days into our trip, but instead she had gotten us to a whole new country!