Trail Work & Road Trip

Bee balm everywhere

2013 update: Maintenance of the Cohos Trail is ongoing. I heartily recommend planning a day of trail work as part of your Cohos Trail trip. The Facebook page for Friends of the Cohos Trail is a good place to check for information on planned work days.

The trouble with full days is that I get tired in the evenings when it’s time to record the day’s events. Not a bad problem to have. Today was tiring, but in total, quite satisfactory. My aching body is aching less, which is encouraging.

Today, I worked on a new segment of the CT, which we all hope can soon be formally dedicated. Lainie & I started at Round Pond, where the proposed Round Pond Brook trail begins winding its way to US Rt. 3. As of now, the CT is on US 3 from River Rd. in Pittsburg to the Quebec border. Alternate routes & spurs are slowly being designed & approved, and will be developed piecemeal. The RPB trail was flagged by CT volunteers last spring, and state approval is pending, with a walk-through by a state official needed eventually.

Lainie handed me a pair of loppers & told me to follow her & look for flagging tape. Within 10 minutes, she realized that someone had come through & reflagged the trail on a slightly deviated route. Her GPS was only slightly helpful, but our compasses sure came in handy. I did very little lopping, but I helped get the trail’s flags back where they belonged.

A problem that became obvious — far more obvious on the Camp Otter Trail, where we worked in the afternoon – is that the flagging earlier in the year was done in the spring, before summer grasses grew several feet high. Some trail routes along snowmobile trails looked just lovely 4 months ago. Now, it’s midsummer. Grasses & ferns & the aptly-named hobblebush have grown several feet high. The snowmobile clubs won’t be working on the trails again until fall. The routes we checked today would pose a maintenance nightmare. Not an insoluble problem, to be sure, but a challenge.

We were on game trails when we weren’t on snowmobile trails. I saw a bobcat track for the first time. We saw plenty of moose tracks, as well as a spot in the Camp Otter area that’s obviously used by moose as a place to bed down. Bears left the most traces, though: prints, scat, more scat.

Coming out of the woods on the Round Pond Brook trail, before we got to US 3, we came upon a field full of Joe-Pye Weed and bee balm. This area is bursting with summer blossoms.

Camp Otter was an arduous couple of miles of slogging through mud & stumbling over long, tangled vegetation. This is the area where the trail association wants to put in 500′ of badly-needed bog bridging. I’m told that the materials have been acquired but are being stored down in Stark.

Rain began as we started to whack our way through the vegetation along Camp Otter trail. We were already so muddy that we didn’t care. Lainie is fine company, and she is undeterred by such minor matters as mud! Her attitude was contagious. She fed waypoints into her GPS, reflecting the improved trail route we flagged today. I became the first non-CT-board member to hike these segments. With breaks, it took us about 5 hours to walk/bushwhack/slog 4.1 miles. We felt like very wet pioneers when we were done.

We really were filthy by the time we were shuttled back to the Bungalow. Lainie insisted that I get first crack at the shower, and she  was kind enough to put my muddy clothes along with hers right into her washing machine. Once I was cleaned up, I made a double batch of mac & cheese for a late lunch, and that simple little dish was perfect.

As I ate, I thought about some of the things I had planned to do on this trip. After only a couple of days with blisters, I had to admit to myself that Mt. Magalloway is out. I lost it the moment I dunked my feet in the mud on the Lake Francis trail and then didn’t dry them promptly. A steep uphill walk would be torture at this point, leaving me unfit for the other walking I need to do.  There are already unexpected delights on this trip, though, in areas to which I could never have dayhiked from here.

Later, with my laundry hanging to dry, Pete proposed a ride — “bring your camera!” We piled into their beat-up but valiant truck, and off we went.

First stop, Young’s, where everyone had things to pick up. Second stop: Moose Alley Cones, where I reveled quite messily in a double scoop of chocolate moose-tracks ice cream. Good thing I’d bought paper towels at Young’s. This ice cream stand had been on my to-do list for the trip, and I hadn’t told anyone about it, so this was an auspicious start to the road trip.

We proceeded north on US 3, the “Moose Alley” of all the tourist literature. We stopped at 2nd Connecticut Lake, at the boat ramp off the highway. We were the only people there. Once out of the car, I looked around in awe, overcome by profound silence. We were away from the dam at the lake’s south end, so there was no sound of rushing water. At that moment, there was no bird’s song or call, though I’m told loons are frequently seen here. No aircraft overhead, no carloads of tourists, no boats or boat motors – a place & a moment of peace, with nothing in view but the lake & the spruce trees all around.

From there, we drove north a couple of miles to Deer Mountain State Park, a campground with 20-some-odd sites. This gave me a chance to scout my quarters for next Sunday & Monday nights. Pleasant spot, lots of trees, Connecticut River the size of a brook rushing down a stretch called Moose Flowage: all good. The attendant lives on-site; we’re way beyond commuter territory. There’s no rec building or any other community structure. About a third of the sites were occupied, which confirmed my hope that a reservation & its fee would be unnecessary. I love the signs I’ve seen at all three state parks on this trip: “If office is closed, occupy any available site” – and leave the fee at the iron ranger, of course. Lots of honor-system operations up this way. As I expected, there’s no electricity at the park. In fact, we’d left the last US utility lines behind us a few miles back. (Our border station relies on Canadian utilities.) The park also has no water supply aside from a single spring, piped up at a spot near the entrance.

Notes made & photos taken, I hopped back in the truck. We headed back south past 2nd Lake & turned east onto Magalloway Road. I noticed mile markers, and it turned out that all the back roads we were on last night had them. I suppose they’re useful, as long as you don’t expect to use a cell phone to summon help to your broken-down car at mile marker 3 on Magalloway Road. There is no, I mean NO, cell signal there.

These back roads, originally created by logging companies & still maintained in part by them, cut right through thick, thick woods. Spruce predominates. “Great North Woods” is no mere chamber of commerce conceit. We passed a number of small logging cuts that hardly put a dent in anything. The spruce all looked nearly black as the sun began to set.

At a fork we headed right, to Buckhorn Road. There were camps here & there, most of them looking neat & maintained despite the absence of cars in the driveways. The sky to our right was beginning to take on beautiful tints & tones in the last of the day’s light. This was when Lainie made the first remark about not seeing any moose yet. I’d been scanning the roadsides myself, and for all the beautiful sights, I didn’t see any critters.

Another turn put us on Cedar Stream Road – the same Cedar Stream Road I’d found so boring a few days ago. We were miles farther east, though, at mile marker 19. This stretch was wilder, with fewer camps, and still no moose. We drove westward, & the full glory of the sunset was right in front of us. I could afford to enjoy it; I wasn’t the one who had to drive into the glare.

At the intersection where I had veered off to the Bog Branch bridge & the Lake Francis trail a few days ago, we turned left onto the east end of the nine-mile-long Deadwater Loop Road. This was the Wild America stretch, seen by very few flatlanders like me. This would have made a more interesting hike than Cedar Stream Road, coming from Rudy’s. I’ll remember that the next time I’m up this way.

Approaching the village, we turned onto Cedar Stream Road again, then Rt. 145 and then US 3. We drove onto giant Murphy Dam – giant for these parts, anyway. Pete told me this is an earthen dam, built in the 1930s.

Back on US 3, we passed the Pittsburg high school. I’m going to get a picture of the building on Old Home Day next weekend so I can show my son the home of the class S baseball champs. Their tournament victory made the front page of my downstate newspaper a few weeks back — a high school of 37 kids, with 14 of them on the team.

(As I write this, a small plane is passing overhead. That’s unusual here.)

The evening ride’s last leg was around Back Lake, ringed with inns and resorts. As we returned to Danforth Road after three  unforgettable but mooseless hours, I said it would be funny if we drove over 40 miles & didn’t see a moose until 200 yards before the driveway. I was off by just a bit. On the way up Danforth, there was our one & only moose, waiting for us as if hired. Our tour was complete.