I’m a mountain-climbing, river-swimming, dirt-road Mainer at heart, but I’ve been spending a lot time on the comparatively civilized coast lately — more in the last three years than in all the previous four decades I’ve lived in Maine. This is a logical, and delightful, consequence of having joined forces with a saltwater man who has a little boat, access to a cottage on the shore and a fondness for spontaneous island picnics.
I have no complaints about this new adventure; you’ll find me happily harvesting mussels at the point, lolling in the buoyant blue waters of Casco Bay and trying to make sense of the tides here at the broad mouth of the Penobscot. It’s all good … yet once in a while I find myself missing the lonely mountains and wild lakes of inland Maine, the dusty logging roads and the small, work-worn towns at the edge of vast tracts of timber.
So last weekend, with the autumn fast fading toward winter, we agreed that we should take a day trip inland. Saturday afternoon, we opened one of our ratty gazetteers on the kitchen table and pored over it, looking for an interesting destination that would include a good hike as well as a driving loop that didn’t retrace itself.
Sunday morning we left early, our 15-year-old dog, Lucy, in the back of the Subaru, and drove to Greenville, passing through Dexter, Sangerville, Willimantic and Monson on the way. We stopped at the blustery southern end of Moosehead Lake to admire the lovely old steamship Katahdin, all buttoned up for the winter. Then we headed up the east side of the lake through Lily Bay and on to the tiny outpost of Kokadjo, where we bought a homemade ice cream sandwich just for the pleasure of transacting business at the “trading post” there.
From Kokadjo, the roads turned to dirt, got rougher and were not well marked. Even with the trusty gazetteer in constant use, we made some wrong turns and drove miles before realizing it. We backtracked and got it right, we hoped, progressing toward the eastern end of Ragged Lake and the Golden Road. Just as we were wondering if we’d gone off course again, we saw a small sign pointing toward Big Spencer Mountain, our destination.
A few miles later, we turned into a small parking area, the only car there. We pulled on our blaze orange vests, slipped a blaze orange collar on Lucy and headed up. The trail was clearly marked, and we had a map. We were carrying our lunch as well as drinking water, extra layers of clothing, a flashlight and a compass. The trail was steep and rocky and covered with damp leaves. We cautioned each other to be careful. We boosted Lucy up a series of wooden ladders and clambered up after her. We stopped often to catch our breath and take in the widening views.
The summit, disappointingly, was crowded with solar collectors, a radio tower and other equipment. But the view was spectacular: Katahdin rising majestically, 30 miles to the northeast, and Sugarloaf, farther away, to the southwest. Under a gauzy sky, blue lakes and endless green forests stretched away as far as we could see in every direction. We ate our lunch, gave Lucy some water and rested before heading back down.
The four-mile trek took us three and a half hours, just as the guide book had suggested it would.
Back in the car, we headed for the Golden Road and followed it into Millinocket, stopping to walk across Ripogenus Dam, where I showed Douglas the small bronze plaque placed in memory of two young divers who drowned there in 1989.
From Millinocket, we buzzed down the interstate to Bangor and were home in Sandy Point in time to make supper and play a game of UpWords. I felt that I had spent the day visiting a wonderful old friend — inland Maine — and acquainting Douglas with an important part of my life that I don’t want to lose track of.