MAINE'S NORTHERN WOODS
After you pass through the small outpost town of Kokadjo, which sits on the east side of Moosehead Lake, the pavement ends and Sias Hill Road begins. That’s one of several gateways that leads to a huge tract of industrial forest. After that, you’re left with thousands of miles of criss-crossing dirt roads and some of Maine’s most special wild places.
Since I moved here, that land has been alluring, and I’ve dreamt of tackling it -- or at least a portion of it -- in my Land Rover Discovery.
Over the course of several spring days, I followed those roadways for nearly 200 miles and saw a variety of wildlife: Four moose, three black bears, two snowshoe hare (which joined me for dinner as welcome guests, not items on the menu), a beautiful red fox and a curious ruffed grouse.
My Land Rover wasn’t just my mode of transportation. It was my four-wheel-drive home for the duration of the trip.
At night, I camped in the back of the Land Rover, sleeping on a makeshift platform I built to fit inside. Below the platform, I left enough room to store gear. Best of all: When I turned in at night, my head was directly beneath the sunroof, leaving an unobstructed view of the stars, which are particularly impressive when there are no artificial lights to mute them.
Dinner was backwoods-simple. I cooked over a fire, or on a small MSR Pocket Rocket stove.
BIG SPENCER MOUNTAIN
The end of May in Maine is late enough to have comfortable temperatures but early enough for the black flies and mosquitos not to show their ugly heads. This made climbing Big Spencer Mountain, a 3,205-foot peak between Moosehead and Ragged lakes a breeze. That is until I hit a section of trail near the top that had downed trees that cropped up often. It felt like every 20 feet, I was scrambling over, under or around the obstacles.
I eventually made it to the top, working my way through several inches of snow, with ripped pants, covered in scratches and pine sap. The view was worth it.
And even the night critters seemed impressed with my accommodations.
One evening, while I was preparing a freeze-dried garlic-butter noodle dish miles from the nearest town, I still felt like something was watching me.
I was right.
Turning around, I saw a snowshoe hare grazing on a patch of grass. I grabbed a camera, and after a few clicks, it hopped off.
A few minutes later, my new friend returned, sneaking up behind a picnic table within feet of where I stood. I crept closer, thinking about a hare hunt I went with off-duty Game Warden Jim Fahey over the winter. I didn’t bag a hare that day -- if only it were still winter and I was carrying a shotgun instead of a camera.
That hare wasn’t alone. Out of the darkness, a huge hare -- likely a buck -- hopped into my campsite. It saw or sensed me, then flipped sideways in the air before it chased my dinner guest as it fled.
For almost two days, I didn’t see another human.
It’s a comfort to know that there are still places you can go for a brush with solitude.
Visuals by Brian Feulner