Outdoor writer Rhon Bell of Backwoods Plaid and L.L. Bean, explores the history-ridden shores of Maine by canoe.
Twenty two miles long and up to four miles wide. The third-largest body of water in a state with over 3,400 lakes. Maine is where it's at and this is where our adventure takes place. For the next four days my cousin and I will explore the shores, islands and waters here on foot, with our canoe and the fly rods. This primitive, western part of the state is full of mystique. Log drivers and lumbermen worked in these rugged woods for the last 200 years with nothing more than their leather boots, wool pants and more fire-cooked meals then they could count.
Three hours on a dirt road is where we sit. It's here, on this interconnected chain of lakes and rivers, that many men lost their lives for the purpose of sending lumber downstream. As the ice went out in spring and the tons of logs stacked atop the ice were set free, it was the duty of these river drivers to dance across the logs and release any jams with nothing more than a wooden rod and metal hook, only to get back to shore in time to avoid drowning in ice cold waters. That's a true man.
Our trip is a bit more cushioned than that of travelers 200 years ago. I'll be sleeping in a synthetic hammock strung between two trees with a down sleeping bag and be cranking across the water using an antique, but trustworthy, outboard motor. Not exactly the Ritz-Carlton, but for me, this type of relaxation and utter serenity can't be found within any fancily wall-papered suite in the city.
The first day of our trip is spent bouncing over the waves of a windy lake in a canoe my cousin hand-built. Now, that's travelling. We stopped on our first sand beach and made dinner over open flame. 10PM arrived without a hint of light pollution and the stars began to shine so brightly that their reflections glowed on the lake's surface. I'd forgotten my camera's tripod and after a few futile attempts of capturing this piece of heaven, I put my camera away, laid back on the lake shore and stared for hours at the constellations that glimmered up above.
Rising early, we put on a pot of coffee and quickly packed our hammocks into the canoe. Today we set out for what's known as the oldest plot of still-standing white pines in the state. Straight as an arrow and tall as the sky. We hiked mid-way across this reserve of 3,900 acres for a few photos and for a cold drink to celebrate our hike of solitude.
A nearby beach holds hidden fossil remnants of seashells from a time long ago when sea levels covered the state. We explore for hours, turning over every rock in attempt to find a more fossilized rock than the last. Continuing on the way to our next campsite - we'll find peace once again tonight in our hammocks. We collect wood for a campfire before nightfall and then tie on a few dry flies that are local to the area, a combination of a Hornberg and a Muddler - simply, but quaintly, known as the Hornberg Muddler. The sky begins to fill with the well-known colors of a Maine sunset as we carry up a good sized trout from the banks of the lake. Luckily, the fire is going strong. Perfect for a fish fry.
We set off at first light for another day of exploring. Out of fuel for the motor, today is spent at a more leisurely pace - that of a easy paddle. We don't cover quite as much ground as intended, but we do beach the canoe and find remnant structures of a time long ago where moorings and anchor held back logs until the time of release. The water here is still crystal clear - highly unpolluted like that of more popular, touristy areas. We haven't seen another soul for three days - tonight will be the perfect night to break out a flask of whisky, tie on a few fresh flies and cast into a nearby stream while a juicy steak is grilled over the camp fire. Cheers!