My first mistake was putting too much trust into a device I already knew to have many faults. A quick search in my GPS showed Baxter State Park as a point of interest, so I clicked on "Go"; in hindsight, that was pretty stupid. The little voice in my ear managed to lead me far off course, along a few old logging roads, splashing and bumping along the zero-maintenance paths and directly to the heart of nowhere. Every time I thought I was making forward progress the road would abruptly end into a wall of trees or turn into an impassable and overgrown road from once upon a time. It really made me start to wonder where the Garmin company got their information from when compiling their maps
In any case, I eventually burst out of obscurity and into what appeared to be a busy campground situated along a thin river. I assumed it was busy because of the number of campers parked around the property. What I noticed a few moments later was the lack of people and then the lack of cars or trucks to pull the campers, which were all trailer-style. It turns out, I had found what I can only describe as a red-neck resort. The owners, instead of constructing cabins on the property, had gotten a bunch of old camper trailers, parked them in rows along the river, and put little wooden decks in front of them. A novel idea, I suppose, but it certainly looked ridiculous and the campground didn't offer much in the way of a view. I managed to find a sole individual busily buzzing about the property, possibly preparing the "resort" for the summer rush of jim-bobs and a billy-sues looking to "git" away from it all. I approached him and offered a greeting. In response, he slowly turned and appeared to already be exasperated by my presence, staring down his long nose at me. Not wanting to take up his obviously invaluable time, I quickly explained that I was looking for the nearest entrance to Baxter Park and I seemed to have gotten turned around. His response was, "Dyah use a GPS ta get out he-ah?" I replied that I had, but of course, he already knew that and replied "Ayuh..." and then continued to silently stare at me
. Obviously, he was not the most accommodating of the "Mainers" I had met so far. "So, is there any chance you could point me in the right direction?", I asked, hoping to push him along a little. He waited a few more seconds in silence, lending me his condescending stare while he enjoyed his current place of superiority, then replied, "Dyuh come up hee-ah from Mill-ah-nocket?" I told him I had, to which he replied with another confident, "Ayuh...", and then (after another lengthy pause) he gave the most useless advice I'd ever heard, but acted as if he thought he were lending me the greatest wisdom he had to impart. In his haughty and heavily accented tone he said, "Well, fahst ya wanna throw that GPS out ya windah, then yah bettah go back down they-ah tah Mill-ah-nocket, staht ovah from they-ah, n' follah the signs ta the pahk." What an amazing revelation. I was a little stunned at how firmly this man insisted on being as unhelpful as possible. There were many things I wanted to say to the man at this point, but I chose to simply force a smile and a "thank you" before getting back in my car and leaving "Camp Cost-effective" and its curmudgeonly caretaker well behind me in a cloud of gravel dust. At this point, I knew what might have happened, because when I first started, I had been following the signs out of town. There eventually came a point when the road split into two parallel roads that ran along each other for a while before heading in different directions. Since I didn't see any additional signs at the fork where the roads split, I trusted the guidance of my GPS and took the road leading left
. I made my way back to the fork and started following the road to the right. Not surprisingly, it ended up being the correct road, but I would like to point out that it was a good stretch down that road before there was another sign indicating the park.
Now that I was about two and a half hours behind my intended schedule, I arrived at the park, feeling a mixture of frustrated accomplishment. Little did I know, another major pitfall was just a couple of odometer clicks ahead. As chance would have it, the park was closed, no reason given. I had checked the website for the park before making the drive and also spoken to a few locals about it to get some information; there was nothing from either source to indicate that there would be any difficulty getting into the park. Alas, it was
closed, though not entirely. There were a few roads on the very southern edge of the park that were open and led to a couple of trails, but there seemed to be no chance of getting deep into the park and up to the location I had hoped to reach. The park's main loop road was sealed off by red and white striped gates made from steel pipe. I yielded to the circumstances and made the decision to park along the road at the next trail-head I encountered.
After finding a trail marker, I pulled off the road and made my way into the woods
. The woods were very beautiful up here and the ground was covered by a verdant carpet of different mosses and lichens. The hiking itself took a little getting used to because the ground was very soft and unstable from the many layers of fallen leaves and other plant matter. It was like walking on a thin foam mattress. I also discovered that fallen logs were not good choices for stepping points. While appearing solid and intact, every log I attempted to step across gave way and crumbled beneath my weight. I walked into the woods for about an hour and a half before making the decision to turn back. I didn't see much wildlife, aside from the usual squirrels and birds whose sounds in the brush always make me hopeful of potentially encountering something larger and more interesting. Once, I noticed a previously still part of the ground wriggle under my foot and discovered a small snake. I have no idea if it was poisonous, and I suppose it wouldn't matter unless the snake decided that my leg looked like a chew-toy. I did happen upon a couple of interesting plants along my trek. One is known as a "fiddlehead fern" and from observing local markets, I know that they are edible and locals apparently enjoy them, but I never found them on the menus of restaurants I visited. I would have liked to try them at some point, but I also wasn't sure how they are prepared and doubted that eating them raw would be wise. I also frequently happened upon small green plants bearing hard red berries. After picking one and mashing it between my fingers, I was greeted by a very sweet and familiar scent as a blast of minty wintergreen met my olfactory nerves. Wintergreen is not just a gum flavor though, the plants were first used by Native Americans for tea and the plant is also used medicinally. The oil of the wintergreen plant is an effective pain killer, similar to aspirin, except it is best employed through topical application. I decided to grab another berry to chew on, but ingestion of the plant in large amounts can cause sickness.
I continued making my way back out of the woods and returned to my car. After poring over my maps for a while, I decided to make my way to Vermont via Littleton, NH, where I planned to stop for the night.
This morning, I awoke extra early to drive up to Baxter State Park in Maine. The park has a couple of choice spots for moose-watching, and I wanted to arrive early and stake out a spot to wait out the day in hopes of an opportunity to watch and photograph some of the large beasts in their natural habitat.