Background - We're 10 friends as a result of a local Jeep club (check us out on northshorejeeps.com) and currently living scattered about Massachusetts. We try to get out wheeling as much as we can, but we all shared a desire to do something a little different. Something a little bit bigger. Maybe too big. None of us - well, maybe one of us - had made a trip quite like this before. The gist of it is Concord, NH to Massachusetts via the North Maine Woods, about 900 miles, and as little pavement as possible. Well, that was the initial design, anyway.
We are Rob (that's me!) and Mandy (that's me!) in our green '99 Wrangler. With us are Topher in a yellow TJ; Shayna in a blue TJ; Shaun, Jenny, and Declan in a white JK; Brendan in a silver JK Unlimited; and Bob and Claude in a grey JK Unlimited Rubicon.
We used this trip report (http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/threads/67758-The-Map-is-Not-the-Territory-A-Northern-Maine-Adventure) as a solid basis for trying to figure out where the heck we should go on this journey. Some of us probably knew about them already, but I learned of the B-52 site and of the lost trains from reading that report. They seemed really neat, and we were all interested in checking them out. Now just how the heck to get there...The planning process was long and involved. We had several more people and rigs during the early phase. I won't bore you all with the details of that. As you know, that's the fun part of the trip, but really only if it's YOUR trip.
Day 1: 6/23/16
So we set out on a Thursday at 7 am. We finally got out of the driveway at 7:11. Don't know what happened there but this is it! It's finally begun! Mandy and I are coming out of Ipswich. Just for the sake of clarification, I drove the whole time. That's not to diminish the role of shotgun! In fact, a lot of the time, it might be more work than driving. (I took great notes for the trip log!) Anyway, the rest of us left from all over the place, but we've agreed to meet in Concord at 9am.
At 7:50, Mandy noted that we have made our first turn-around because I hopped on 495 the wrong direction. Because I was on auto-pilot. Because I hadn't gotten my coffee in yet. (I didn't suspect it would be the LAST turn-around of the trip...)
We met up with Topher and Shayna in Salem, NH real quick so we'd at least have some company and some CB chatter. And I had to pee. Just before we hopped back on the highway, we could overhear Shaun and Brendan on the CB. I tried to contact them over the radio but they wouldn't stop talking long enough to hear me. We saw them fly by ahead of us as we approached the on ramp, but we simply couldn't catch them before Concord. We all arrived precisely on-time-ish and applied stickers and fueled up. Some of us finished waking up. We officially started driving the route when we left the parking lot at 9:52. The somewhat-arbitrarily-chosen order put Bob and Claude in the lead. They were followed respectively by Brendan, Topher, Shayna, Shaun + Jenny + Declan, and Mandy and I brought up the rear.
The weather was pristine. Low 80s. Light clouds. We cruised to the Kancamagus Highway. Of course we had to stop for a group photo at Pemigewasset Overlook. It's just so scenic. Back on the road, the route had us taking Bear Notch Rd. north to route 302. On the way, Mandy convinced us to take a slight detour to check out the Experimental Forest. Joke's on her because that was a planned part of the route already! (I was so excited!) Bob came upon a tree across the road, so we rerouted rather than bushwhacking. Detour number 1. (Technically detour number 1 started when we went the wrong way on 495...) We picked up some speed on 302 and got to Jefferson Notch Rd. We found a big clearing on the side of the road and pulled in to have some lunch. And stretch the legs. As we were getting ready to get back on the road, we realized that we were at our first campsite. Neat! Excepting a chip in Brendan's windshield, everything was going well, so we continued on to Trio Pond Road.
Trio Pond Road flipped all that upside down. Now, before we get into all that, it's necessary to explain a bit more background information. See, our route was roughed out using the aforementioned trip report, but it was detailed using topo maps, satellite imagery and GaiaGPS. So the actual surface conditions were unknown, but we were hoping for the best all along. So when Trio Pond Rd. got really rough, we had to just deal with it. All of us are experienced with more technical wheeling than Trio Pond Rd. presented, so this was not a show-stopper. But it did set us back some. We aired down and disconnected the front sway bar for comfort. In the future, I'd do this at the beginning of Trio Pond Rd. We crawled on for a while until, eventually, we came upon a cluster of lake-front houses. Or pond-front? We found this quite odd, especially when we saw the vehicles parked at these houses. They were quite incapable of getting there by their looks. We pushed on. We had to do some winching to help some of our smaller rigs through the mud and boulders. We came upon a small creek with a pretty significant and awkward ledge. This required some makeshift bridge construction to help prevent the trailers from flopping. We all got through with a little nail-biting, but no problems.
For potential future running of this route, we made a note that at "Point 024" on our route, we should have turned left. This is near the houses, and given the state of the vehicles at the houses, it must be an easier route out of the woods. We wondered aloud how they were able to get the building materials for the houses out there along Trio Pond Rd. Or heating propane. Or groceries. There's got to be another way in and out.
Anyway, at 7:15pm we finally arrived to our first campsite! The campsite, just after "Point 026" on the route, was in a clearing on a plateau on a large hillside. The views were spectacular around dusk. The sky was perfectly clear. There were some windmills in the distance spinning casually. When we pointed them out, Jenny shared some confusion as she believed them to be called "powergrid mills". Everyone was a bit frazzled/exhausted/hangry. Jenny and Shayna got to work straight away cooking us all delicious steaks! We also feasted on cheesy potatoes and corn cobs. The food was delicious and well-deserved. Everyone poured themselves a drink (or a few!), set up camp and gathered around the fire Shaun built. The ground at this site was not awesome for tenting, but it was not awful either. Mandy and I hung our hammocks so we didn't have to care. With food and drink in our guts, spirits were boosted and lots of laughter ensued. We recalled Jenny's "powergrid mills" comment and shared a laugh. Sorry Jenny.
Day 2: 6/24/16
We woke up at 5:30 because Mandy forgot to shut her alarm off. Hi, we're on vacation, remember?! Sorry!! That didn't happen again. We got to work making coffee and whacking bugs. Breakfast was scrumptious breakfast sandwiches of sausage, egg and cheese on English muffins. These were super satisfying (as well as delicious) because all the ingredients were the same diameter and concentric. Rob is so weird, but they were delicious! I ate two. We packed up, aired up, and reconnected the sway bar, and hit the road at exactly around 8:40ish.
Everything was going swell. The weather was pristine, the roads were good. Spirits were high. We had the top down and it was sinking in that we were on vacation. You know the feeling. We had covered a fair bit of ground and we had about a half hour or so until we entered Errol, NH. When suddenly...
Brendan stopped abruptly. As the dust settled (literally) I could see that he'd either parked awkwardly across the road, or something was very wrong with his trailer. Upon inspection, we discovered that the passenger's side of the axle had shifted rearward until the tire contacted the fender. He must have finished his coffee by then, because his reaction time was quick enough to prevent any damage to the tire. And there may have been several profanities let loose! So what it appears had actually happened is that the axle U-bolts worked themselves loose. This allowed some relative movement between the spring pack and the axle tube. This allowed significant forces to be translated to the spring pack bolt and at some point, this bolt was sheared. At this point, the axle was free to move along the leaf spring. It stopped when the tire touched the fender. Everyone searched their tool kits for a replacement bolt and unfortunately we had none. We looked at our rigs to find an appropriately-sized, non-crucial bolt that could be removed and installed in the trailer. We came up empty-handed. After some head-scratching, we realized that a 1/4" drive extension is almost an exact fit. We installed it up through the bottom of the leaf pack, and then set it into the spring perch. The taper on the large end ensured that it couldn't pop out over a bump. It was a perfect Band-aid, and served well to get us to Errol, NH.
We pushed on. We wanted to find the easiest route to pavement because we weren't totally confident in the limits of the extension-Band-aid. Luckily for us, it was Craftsman! So if it broke, we could just go to any Sears location....oh wait. We were in the middle of nowhere. So we decided not to turn left at "Point 035" because it looked steep and overgrown and unpredictable. The trail system we were on has occasional maps placed at major intersections. These are very well detailed and served us well. Also, we chatted with a local who was stopped at one, and he helped us navigate to pavement. We emerged the woods in Errol, NH a short drive from L.L. Cote hardware, lumber, clothing, sporting goods, grocery, gas station, rest area megaplex. A backcountry Walmart. We divided and conquered. In other words, we fueled up, Brendan got new trailer hardware, we got drinks, used the restrooms, checked out the grass flip flops and other interesting merchandise and then we moseyed over to the Hawg Trawf BBQ. Which, ironically has very little BBQ. We figured it wise to get a full meal while it was available to us, because we were all a little unsure of what lay ahead. One thing we did know was that a quick parking lot wrenching session was in our immediate future. We settled our bill and regrouped in the parking lot under the trailer to swap out the extension for a real bolt. We were practiced now, and worked pretty efficiently as a team. After a minor exploding bolt incident (Brendan threw a little too much muscle into the new bolt and it failed under tension, rocketing up into the floor of the trailer) we were packed up and back on the road.
Over lunch we had discussed some route modification to make up for time lost both crawling over Trio Pond Rd. and addressing trailer suspension issues. We were also keen now to consider potential future breakdowns. We made a group decision to cut off the northern sort of "loop" in NH through Pittsburgh. We took route 16 east from Errol towards Rangeley, ME. We officially entered Maine at 2:30pm.
We got off-road again and hit some more logging roads. We cruised until we found our second campsite. We were all ready to call it a day much earlier today. We parked at 5:10pm. It'd been a taxing day. Though the wrenching was not particularly difficult, it's hard work "supervising". But actually, stress levels were slightly elevated because of the uncertainty of what lay ahead. Would we have more problems? Would we get stuck in the middle of the woods? Setting up camp helped to take the edge off. We had better ground this time.
Mandy found a bunch of delicious field strawberries. (They were quite scrumptious. Claude agreed.) We were at the base of a wind farm, on another hill. So the views were again amazing. The weather was still perfect. We set up our hammocks again as everyone built camp. Jenny and Shayna got to work on dinner of chicken, beans and rice. Yet again, the food was delicious. We were beginning to notice a trend of hangry, followed by excellent food, followed by elevated spirits. Maybe it was the drinks. Maybe it was Shaun's fire. Maybe it was just being content with being done for the day. Whatever the cause, I think the nights after dinner were the most relaxed moments. One by one, we headed to bed.
Day 3: 6/25/16
Strangely enough, it was Shaun who awoke first. Even stranger, it was only 6 am! Everyone hustled out of bed and huddled around to collect their share of the long-hyped overland pancakes. It was everything we hoped it'd be. So. The evening prior, other than the good timing at which we arrived to one of our chosen campsites, a large part of the reason we stopped where we did was because the path forward was unclear. Our best guess is that the imagery used to plan the route was dated and the path shown has since become overgrown. The intended route made a sort of corner (north, then east) which we simply cut off diagonally by heading over established roads northeast. It was a short diversion. Back on logging roads, we were able to space out (for dust abatement) and cruise around 30 mph.
We came across a village? (later research shows it is classified as a "township" - Holeb, ME) that was quite odd. It's very secluded, and then suddenly there is a small cluster of maybe a dozen houses very densely built. We crossed the train tracks to push forward along the route. We didn't get too far before we were stopped as the trail fizzled to what was about a walking trail. None of us were looking to bushwhack at this time. So we pulled out the maps and found a loop around to the "other side" of the bushwhack. So back through Holeb and onto logging roads again we went. We found a small pond (just west of Long Pond) at which we stopped briefly to stretch our legs. I had to go for a swim because, well why not? It was warmer than I was anticipating, but very refreshing! Eventually we got onto Holeb Rd. which we took east to route 201.
We took 201 south a short ride into Jackman for fuel at Citgo. We spent some time in Bishop's grocer/liquor store/deli/restaurant/convenience store thing. We got sandwiches for lunch here. Then we drove back up the road a tiny bit to a pretty sweet park we saw on the way into town. There was plenty of grass and shade for frisbeeing and after we worked up a little sweat, we went down the hill into the pond to swim and continue frisbeeing.
After a while in the water, we noticed that we were all surrounded by tiny, dead, baby fishes floating on the surface. (EWWW! - I couldn't swim in the lake anymore after noticing them.) Eventually, a yellow lab named Diesel trotted onto the beach alone. We noted that he had huge balls. Some old lady was yelling at him from atop the grassy hill. He didn't seem very interested in obeying her. Once we were all sufficiently grossed out at the tiny, dead, baby fishes we got out of the water and back on the road.
We took mostly highway to Moosehead Lake so that Shayna would be able to visit the B-52 crash site and Gulf Hagas with us before she had to split off and head home. We felt like we were running "behind schedule" although we didn't actually have one. We were worried if we ran the route as planned (give or take) that we wouldn't have any time to enjoy these sites (even ignoring when Shayna would break off from the group). We revised the plan from doing a clockwise loop (i.e.-follow Canadian border to Allagash wilderness, then head south toward Gulf Hagas), to a counter-clockwise loop (head east to Gulf Hagas, then north to Allagash wilderness area, and then follow the border southwest if time permitted). This plan would allow Shayna to safely drive alone back home (she had to leave the trip early) without any challenging or technical roadways.
So that brings us to the B-52 crash site. In 1963, a B-52 bomber plane crashed on Elephant Mountain near Greenville, Maine. Only two of nine crew survived. Some of the crash debris was cleaned up for analysis at that time. It was then redistributed throughout the woods. It's a very short, easy walk into the site from where we parked. It is really interesting to see the aircraft hardware strewn about the nature.
We passed through Greenville and made our way back to logging roads and the route. Somewhere near "Point 192", the route became rather vague. It is important to note that for nearly the whole trip, Bob had been unofficially deemed the leader, but at this moment I was, for reasons unknown, in the lead. The trail had all but disappeared into overgrowth, but I decided to push ahead just a bit to see if it became clear again. It didn't. But it didn't get any worse either. I kept creeping along and Bob followed, just in case. The rest of the group hung back in a small clearing where the trail had seemingly ended. We stayed in touch via CB. I gave the all clear and that the path was pretty mild, though overgrown. Minor pinstriping was the worst of it. The decision was made for the rest of the group to circumnavigate a short distance and link up with the route at the next waypoint. They'd found another path. We and Bob were committed at this point, as it was too narrow to turn around, and too difficult to navigate in reverse. So we pushed on, the only way we could. Luckily for all of us, we had tuned our CBs before this trip, so we were able to stay in contact. The rest of the group were making progress, but it didn't sound as though their path was clear. Neither was ours. Eventually, though, we broke through to what appeared to be a formerly-logged area. There were small branches and sticks all over the ground, preventing new growth from overtaking the area. It worked out awesome for us because it gave us a reasonably-flat, open, wide makeshift road and an obvious direction. I jogged ahead to make sure the going was good, which it was. So we pushed on and arrived at "Point 193" which was a large clearing atop a hill.
The "road" we had been on intersected a well-kept actual dirt road! So we hopped on that and very shortly arrived at "Camp Dirt Lot". I scouted the site on foot and came what was apparently too close to a mother bird and her nest. This was deemed a mistake for which I would be required to pay. The bird was on the attack! I had been jogging through the site as it was rather large and I was ready to setup camp if it looked like a good spot. Well, I about-faced and sprinted back to the Jeep, and Mandy. "How is it?" she asked. "We're not staying here!" Also, there was a rather extreme number of flies around which we tired of swatting as we waited for the rest of the group to make their way to us. Eventually, they arrived at the North Maine Woods office/gatehouse. This was marked as "Strange House" on our route. It's not that strange in person. They inquired about campsite availability and the decision was made that we would camp in the North Maine Woods! We'd made it! We just had to continue along the dirt road we were on, and we'd arrive shortly at the "strange house". But not so fast...
We got a couple hundred yards down the road and had to stop. There was a tree down, blocking our path. Bob and I busted out our hatchet and axe, and got to work straight away. We were ready to be setup camp and stop driving at this point. But there was work to do. Unfortunately (or not? I don't know) it was a whole bunch of small branches, and not one big log across our path. So we got to chopping. We were through about half the work and I paused a moment to realize that about 50 feet beyond this tree was another, bigger tree down. Shit. So we kept at it, doing what we had to. Topher came up the road from the office to meet us, ensuring that we were going the right way. He conveniently arrived just as we finished clearing the road. We got him turned around and then we had a very short ride to the gatehouse. We paid $39 for two people to camp and we were in! Entering the North Maine Woods was one of our major goals with this trip, so this was an exciting moment.
We chatted a while with the gatekeeper and paid our fees. He gave us several maps and hand-drawings and explained the route to the campsite in great detail. It seemed a bit odd at the time, but now I get it. Because we managed to get lost on our way to the site. We came all this way, with all this technology, explanation and more maps than we could count and we still managed to lose our direction before we arrived at our site. This was really frustrating for the group; we were hungry, we were tired, and we just wanted to be done with the day. But eventually we figured it out. Well, Bob and Shayna did, by splitting up and travelling the same dirt road, two different ways and somehow arriving at the same point, which we still don't understand, but whatever we don't care because we were finally at the site! At 7:45 pm. To be fair, it's a very long ride from the gatehouse to the site. I can't speak for everyone, but it's gotta be the largest campground I've ever been in, by several orders of magnitude. It's just gigantic.
Jenny and Shayna got to work making dinner again while everyone setup camp. We pitched our tent instead of hammocking. This night it was sesame steak tips, green beans and sweet potatoes. I don't know if it was because of the long day we'd had or the frustration, or maybe just because it was an excellent dish, but this meal was a hit with everyone. When we arrived, I think everyone was a little hangry (I certainly was, and Mandy had a headache), but this dinner (and drinks!) turned that right around and everyone was much happier in no time. We had a fire again (that's every night, so far), and gathered around for more drinks, stories, jokes, planning, and relaxing. This site was right on a stream, which was great. But also right next to another group of campers, which was fine, but we were not used to. We'd been so alone and remote each night before this, it was just different.
Day 4: 6/26/16
We got a later start; we were up at 8:05am. We had to figure out our 2-day plan which would take us to the end of our trip. Over breakfast burritos and Maine Gazetteers, we plotted our route to the Allagash Waterway.
But first, we drove to Gulf Hagas. This was another goal/stop/attraction in our original plan. We weren't sure if we'd be afforded any swimming opportunities, but I wasn't taking any chances to miss out! So I swapped into my swim trunks and in the process I lost my key. We scoured an area about 10 feet in diameter for 10 minutes as a group until Shayna found it on my spare tire. We'd already held up the group enough at this point, so when we couldn't find our camera, we said whatever, and went without it. Unfortunately for us, the views of the canyon and the waterfalls were amazing, and we couldn't get any pictures. But we did get to swim in the river pools, which was equally amazing. And the hike was pretty great, but a bit longer than we all anticipated. We should have brought some more snacks, or eaten a bit more before we hiked. We were parched and hungry when we finally got back to the parking lot. So we replenished ourselves and hit the road to the north gate and left Katahdin Ironworks Jo-Mary Forest to head towards Millinocket. We fueled up and iced up and beered up in Millinocket and then headed to Baxter State Forest.
I'd heard about "the golden road" in Baxter, so I was secretly a little excited to get to drive it. But I was also curious if this was just a colloquialism. I'd asked the group, no one knew. Turns out it's just a road named Golden. Golden Road. Not THE Golden Road. It should be called Dusty Rd. It was very anti-climactic for me. Well, not exactly. We crested a hill along Golden Rd. and had awesome views of Katahdin from the west. We took a right onto Telos Rd. There were more awesome views on the bridge over Ripogenus Gorge. We followed Telos Rd. until it intersected with Main St. At this intersection, we took a right and followed a path a short distance to a campsite on the northwest shore of Harrington Lake. We weren't sure if we were supposed to have paid, or how much, or where, but we decided that if someone came along to collect a camping fee, we would gladly oblige. The guys setup camp while Jenny and Mandy worked on dinner. We were tired and dusty. We had cheeseburgers for dinner and they were, of course, delicious. We pitched the tent again, in lieu of hammocks. The campsite was pretty awesome, the ground was flat and grassy and there was plenty of room for us to spread out our vehicles and our tents. Of course we had a fire, yet again. And we gathered around to have some drinks and stories. Some of us dropped off early to sleep, some of us stayed up til about midnight. The night sky views over Harrington Lake were outstanding. We saw several meteors and countless satellites.
Day 5: 6/27/16
We got up at 7am. Jenny and Mandy made breakfast burritos! Do I need to keep saying the food was great? We spotted a rabbit in our campsite, near the tree line, before it hopped away. It was pretty big. Then we all got to work cleaning up the site and packing our gear away. In the process, a red squirrel went into Bob's open tailgate and was climbing all about inside his Jeep. This was hilarious for the rest of us because he strongly despises red squirrels. We got on the road and headed to the Telos checkpoint, which only took us about 10 minutes. We thought we were further away. We checked in and told them we would be camping near the Allagash Waterway. It's $35.50 per adult. It took a while for them to process the whole group; their pricing system is odd. So we had some time to look over maps and get a better idea of what we could do on our last day of the trip before heading home. We found out that the abandoned trains were only 30 miles from where we were and we decided as a group that we must go see them. We had considered it in the early stages of planning the trip, but ruled out visiting the site because it was far off the route we had planned. Since that plan was long since abandoned, we were all in. But things had been going a bit too smoothly...
As we set out, we were making good speed on the logging roads. Everyone was spaced out and cruising comfortably behind the dust. But then we saw brake lights through the cloud of dust. Topher had stopped unannounced. He was looking at his suspension. This always means that something is not right. So we stopped and I went to see what the issue was and if he needed help. His rear shock bracket at the axle end had sheared off the axle. Unfortunately, this allowed the shock to drag on the ground and bent the shafts rendering the shock useless. Since there was nothing else to be done, he simply removed the shock and put it inside his Jeep. He packed up the minimal tools used and we were back on the road in about 10 minutes. A very minor setback. For now...
We drove to what's probably not the best parking spot to hike in to see the trains. There's gotta be a better trail than what we took. We were bushwhacking for about two miles, following pink ribbons, trying to guess what the trail maybe was. We eventually found some rails in a small valley. Right about the time it started to rain on us. In this regard, the dense forest we were trekking through was a blessing. It helped us stay dry. Fortunately, it only rained for a few minutes. (Unfortunately, this meant the roads were still going to be very dusty. Oh well.) As we continued our hike, we began to see more and more railroad debris strewn about the woods. Eventually we found a clearing and a trail that looked much more travelled. Bob scouted ahead and shouted back that we should follow. Walkie talkies would have been useful here. He'd found the trains! It's a pretty neat site. It's so strange to see trains buried so deep in the woods, with no clear way in or out or how they got there. We spent a while climbing on and photographing the trains. We picked a different trail back to the vehicles, which eventually linked up with the one we came in on. We got back on the road and saw a moose! Well, I didn't see the moose, but some of us did. It was walking along the road we were driving on.
Earlier at Telos checkpoint, we had found a site labeled "Ice caves" that we knew nothing about, but had a campsite nearby. We had planned to check it out and hopefully camp there. But after hiking back from the trains, which took longer than we'd anticipated, we were all somewhat exhausted so we decided to skip the ice caves in favor of setting up camp early. We found a campsite nearby at Round Pond and set up around 5pm. I think everyone was slightly jealous of Brendan's location within the site, right on the waterfront.
Jenny made us delicious chili for dinner. Shaun and Brendan gathered, cut, and split plenty of firewood. We were having a fire yet again. We had one each night, at every campsite. As I was sitting by the fire relaxing with a beer, I saw a fox trot by at the top of our campsite along the road.
I should note that this writing is derived from a journal that Mandy and I kept as we travelled. Whenever there was downtime, we would jot about what had gone on for our memories. So since it was the last night and (we thought) the whole story was written at this point, everyone wanted us to read it back to them. So we had story time around the fire and it was actually pretty neat. Everyone notes different things about the journey because of their perspectives and it was fun to share ours and hear others'. We haven't kept a travel journal before, but I think we will continue to do it in the future.
After story time, Bob and Declan were looking out over the pond when one of them spotted a moose! They got the rest of the group’s attention as quietly as they could so we could all get a look. It was a couple hundred yards away along the shore, standing around in the water. We watched it not do anything for a while then returned to the fire. Just before bed, Mandy took a peek down by the water to see if the moose was still around. There was a large black thing in the water immediately in front of where she was standing. She thought it was a large boulder until the moose lifted its head. Jenny saw it too. By the time the rest of the group got out to the shore, the moose was swimming away. Which was still really awesome to see. It seemed it was trying to get around our campsite to the shore on the other side, but didn't want to come too close to us, so it swam by about 30 feet off shore. After that, we headed to bed so we could get an early start. We had a long ride home ahead of us.
Day 6: 6/28/16
We woke up at 6 am to start packing. It became apparent that over the course of the night, something had taken care to cleanup the leftover chili from our garbage bag. It was THAT good. By 7, everyone was packed up and we left the campsite. We took a left out of the site to take a shortcut through some trails that would get us to Telos Rd. After about 25 minutes or so of driving down trails that seemed to be slowly dwindling in size, we reached a water crossing. From looking at the maps, it looked like the trails would continue to diminish. I think that everyone wanted to be on the way home at this point, so we decided to go the long way instead. The way we knew would get us there. The way we came in. So we turned around, and since we had been in the rear, we were now leading the way. We had a chuckle as we passed by our campsite around 8am. We'd explored as far as we were going to and we were officially headed home. We would cover no new ground. But that didn't mean it was about to get boring!
We reached a large intersection, and unsure which way to go, we stopped to handoff the lead back to Bob and let the rest of the group catch up. When he arrived, Topher hopped out to confirm his suspicion that he'd broken his other rear shock mount. Same issue. Same fix. Just a few minutes to remove the rear shock and we were good to go again. Towing a trailer with no rear shocks was not ideal, but we drove on anyways.
We had almost reached the Telos checkpoint when disaster struck yet again! Not really disaster, though. Bob got a flat tire. We figured that with 7 people on it, they should be able to handle fixing a flat, so we continued on to the checkpoint to use the restroom and brew a coffee for the road. See, we'd foregone breakfast in favor of getting an early start, so I was a bit hungry. Right as I was finishing cleaning up our snack remnants and packing away the coffee gear, the rest of the group arrived. We got a few group pictures and some locals hit us with some questions, and showed a general interest in our trip. After a short stop, we headed back toward Millinocket.
We gassed up in Millinocket and said our goodbyes. I think some of the group were going to get breakfast somewhere nearby. Mandy and I both wanted to go straight home. Which we did, with just one fuel/pee stop. Mandy got some messages from Jenny which said Topher had swapped his trailer over to Bob's Jeep because it was too difficult and dangerous to tow with no rear shocks. And that when they were on their way, some of the axle nuts came loose. Luckily they stopped in time to tighten them down, that could have spelled disaster for real.
We got home around 4 pm.
We decided to take a road trip to Yellowstone. It wasn't quite as spontaneous as all that. It was a trip in the making for several months. Since I had just graduated pharmacy school this seemed to be the perfect time to go before I started a new job. Rob had very limited time off, so we figured the best approach would be to rent a car, drive to Wyoming, and then catch a flight home. We loosely planned the trip but didn't have any hard goals other than the flight home. We picked up the rental car in Beverly, MA on Friday. Originally we had reserved a compact car in order to get good gas mileage. When we arrived at the rental car company we were informed that they were out of compact cars but we got a free "upgrade" to a Chevy Malibu. We weren't thrilled about the increased fuel cost we would surely incur, but we hoped the extra interior space would be nice. It was Memorial Day weekend so we wanted to get out of the greater Boston area as quickly as possible to avoid traffic.
We got the car packed and set out on the road around noon. Other than a few pee-stops and to stretch our legs, our first lengthy stop was at Niagara Falls, on the U.S. side. Neither of us had been to the falls before but we both had grand expectations. I expected the falls to be much taller. It’s width is pretty impressive, however. The park surrounding the falls was a great area to spend a couple hours wandering on foot. We even got to see some fireworks, which was a nice surprise!
After leaving Niagara Falls in the late evening, we fit in a few more hours of driving. Eventually, we stopped somewhere at a gas station in Pennsylvania to catch some sleep in the car in the parking lot. The Malibu seats were extremely uncomfortable for sleeping, but we got about 4 hours of shut-eye. Unable to feign sleep for one more minute, we decided to push on. We were lucky to catch a fantastic sunrise over Lake Erie near Cleveland.
The journey continued on I-90W through Ohio and Indiana. We were approaching Chicago near lunch time. We were getting hungry. We had heard that Chicago has great pizza, so we thought we would try to find some. Not really knowing where to stop we decided to just get off the highway and wing it. We saw signs for a college and knew there had to be pizza nearby. Success! There were people inside and it was around noon, but when we walked in they told us they didn't open until 2pm. We were so confused and now flirting with hangry. Really, we just wanted to get some food and get back on the road. To our surprise, there were no other pizza joints to be found nearby, so we decided on a sandwich shop that appeared local. We walked in and ordered some sandwiches. This is the moment we realized that Jimmy Johns is a chain restaurant we’d both never heard of. We left Chicago feeling underwhelmed by the food experience. We had higher hopes, but we know it was our own lack of planning that caused it.
As we continued through what was left of Illinois, we passed the Belvidere assembly plant. We felt bad we hadn't anticipated this, but fortunately, it seems they don't offer tours, so we didn't miss out! But at the time, we were intrigued, and it was too late to stop in. So, we made our way through Wisconsin. We got dinner in La Crosse on the Mississippi River. We walked around a bit to stretch the legs and happened upon a neighborhood of floating houses. Boat houses, but not house boats. We were perplexed, because it appeared that some of the houses had bicycles on their decks and cars parked nearby but we couldn't figure out how they got there. Some of the cars were pretty deep in the water and there were no signs of any roads or driveways.
We got back on the route and called ahead to Palisades State Park in Garretson, SD to secure a campsite for the night. We were excited to set up camp and not sleep in the car again. But we still had to make it through all of Minnesota! We were doing our best to make good time as we had to get to the state park before they closed the gate for the night. It was here in Minnesota that we had a run-in with the police. Rob was driving over the speed limit to make time and we got pulled over. Oops. I gave him a quick heads up about the Minnesota accent before the cop approached the vehicle as Rob had never heard it before. It was a hilarious surprise! The cop was very nice; he even apologized because he "had to give me a ticket". Then he told me where I might look out for his colleagues.
We finally made it to the state park and pitched the tent. Immediately after we got the tent set up, it started to rain. The thunder and lightning might have been the most intense either of us had ever witnessed. It was tough to fall asleep but we did end up getting a good night's sleep and woke up feeling refreshed and ready to explore.
We wandered around the state park for a little bit in the morning and grabbed some pictures. We hopped back on I-90W and headed for the badlands of SD. I LOVED the red dirt roads throughout South Dakota. We decided to venture away from I-90 for a bit when we reached the Badlands. We followed US240 through the park and enjoyed the change of scenery from the rest of the drive. We had ample opportunity to get out and explore, snap some pictures, and even play a game of Frisbee. We rejoined I-90W in Wall, SD. We had covered so much distance the day before so we felt like we had plenty of time for adventures in this area. Being so close to Mount Rushmore, we couldn’t just drive through without stopping so we made our way down to Keystone. When we actually got to Mount Rushmore, we realized they wanted to charge us a fee just to park at the monument. But we could see Mount Rushmore from the road, so we called it good enough and didn’t feel like parking would get us significantly better views. I guess we did drive through without stopping! We stopped in Keystone though and that seemed like a pretty neat town.
Our plan for the night was to get a campsite at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. As we made our way there, a rainstorm blew through the area, and as we arrived we could just see it on the horizon, moving away. We got an amazing campsite near the base of the tower. We were so excited to get another good night’s sleep in a dry tent. At some point in the night though, the wind picked up. The tent was caving in. We pushed it back out and it was fine for a few minutes. But then it happened again. There was intense thunder and lightning. I’m not going to lie, I was terrified we were going to blow away with the tent. I’ve never camped with that much wind before! I convinced Rob that we should sleep in the car again. (It didn't take much!) We quickly put our gear in the trunk while we were getting pelted with rain from the torrential downpour. The tent didn’t seem safe to leave set-up but it was also soaking wet so we just took it down and shoved it under the car to “protect” it. In hindsight, this is probably not the best treatment for a tent, but in the end it was fine. So we had another night of restless sleep in the car. The morning was beautiful when we woke up though. And the tower is way cooler than Mount Rushmore, definitely worth a stop if you’re ever in the area.
We were prepared for the "last stretch" of driving. Not actually the end, but the last major leg that we intended to do in one day. We left Devil’s Tower and made our way towards Bozeman to meet my friend Kelly. She was attending grad school at Montana State University. I met her in 2009 while were both doing research projects there because we’re nerdy like that. I was so excited to be in Bozeman again and to experience it with Rob. We got to Bozeman around noon and met Kelly for lunch at Ted’s Montana Grill. The bison burgers there were amazing! It felt great that we had completed the majority of our drive. From here on out we could take a more leisurely pace. We enjoyed the day with Kelly and some of her friends and did a small hike on the outskirts of town. We spent the rest of the day hanging out. We were planning to sleep in the tent on the lawn but decided to crash inside instead. It was nice to sleep in a bed and get a free shower. THANKS KELLY!!
The next morning we headed into Yellowstone through Gardiner, MT. We checked out Mammoth hot springs and wandered around a bit on foot. We stopped at the office and reserved a back country site for the next night. We had to watch a bear safety video first. After reserving our site we explored some more. There was a family of elk that had made their home in Mammoth, on the lawn outside the back country office. It was fun to watch them. I had been to Yellowstone before when it was much more crowded. We were there at the start of the tourist season this time, but the crowds get bigger as the summer goes on.
We grabbed a campsite at Norris for the night. We were planning to make our dinner on the campfire but the wood was wet and we were hungry so we decided to go for a drive. We figured we would feed our hungry bellies at one of the restaurants in the park near Old Faithful. After dinner, we stepped outside and watched Old Faithful erupt. It’s pretty incredible to see in person how high the geyser can shoot. We made our way back to Norris for some sleep before our activities the next day.
We started the morning by visiting the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I’ve never been to the “actual” Grand Canyon. I have! I love the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone because of how it shimmers. It’s just so pretty. After taking several pictures we drove to the trailhead for our back country adventure. We started our 5-mile hike in to our campsite on the Hellroaring Creek trail. This was a beautiful hike. I’m not really one for hiking up mountains, so this hike was more my pace than others I have done. It was mostly flat with some minor elevation changes.
I started to get tired throughout the hike, though. Neither of us were used to backpacking and carrying ALL of our gear. The weather held off pretty well but my feet did manage to get wet. We found our site with no problem and set up camp and secured our bags over the bear pole. Of course, as soon as we got everything set up it started to rain. We relaxed in the tent and decided that an early night to bed wouldn’t hurt.
The hike out in the morning was more brutal than on the way in due to it being uphill most of the way. Those minor elevation changes were okay the day before because they were mostly downhill. I was definitely slowing down towards the end of the hike on the way back out. I had to offer some motivational speeches to keep her going. We followed a deer for quite a while on the hike back out; he seemed to be leading us back towards the road. This was such an awesome brush with nature and it really highlighted for us how far we were from home. Overall, we both loved the back country adventure and it was probably our favorite experience in Yellowstone. The hike was beautiful and it gave us an opportunity to explore some of the park without the masses of crowds. Really without any other people at all. It was just us and the wildlife.
We had plans to head out of the park to Gardiner the next day. Kelly was planning to meet us again there along with our friend Harrison who we had also met during our summer doing research. It was nice to catch up with them again and spend more time with them while we were in the area. We met for lunch and played a couple games of pool.
After lunch with Kelly and Harrison it was time to part ways again for the last time on this trip. We headed back into the park and wound up near Yellowstone Lake. We stayed at Bridge Bay campground which was very different than being in the back country. It seemed that they had a lot of campground rules. Do this. Don't do that. But, we FINALLY got dry weather and a clear night sky which made for some excellent stargazing.
We departed the next morning. Our last day in Yellowstone. We enjoyed a leisurely drive through Grand Teton National Park and were mesmerized at the enormous size of the mountains. They truly are majestic. We were also relieved to find amazing weather in this area! It was 80 and sunny. A nice change from the cool, misty weather we had been experiencing. We made it to Jackson for lunch and explored the town center on foot. Obviously, we had to get photos with the antler arches.
The campsite of the night was at Curtis Canyon Campground. This campsite was phenomenal. By far, the best one of the trip. It was up on a hillside overlooking Jackson Hole with the Tetons in the background. We spent some time in a field there watching the sunset behind the Tetons. Some locals paraglided down from higher on the hilltops behind us. A few landed right next to us. Later that night we went out to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar for some drinks and food. This bar was very cool and we had a blast watching the locals dance. I think I would be content to spend some more time in Jackson.
The next morning we packed our things and made our way over to Mormon Row. The views were amazing and we got some great shots of some barns there with the Tetons in the background. We continued on our journey to Riverton, WY. This was a very small town but we got a “family” discount on the rental car and apparently that means you can only rent/return the car at corporate locations. Riverton was the closest we could find to Jackson. We stayed at a hotel here (and showered!) and visited a fair that night before catching a flight out the next morning.
Our flight from Riverton to Denver was tiny. I think there were twenty people on the plane. Unfortunately, one leg of our connections (LaGuardia to Manchester, NH) was cancelled. So we got rerouted to Atlanta and upgraded to first class! We enjoyed the free alcoholic beverages and the comfy seats. We finally made it to New Hampshire around midnight but our bags were nowhere to be found. Apparently they didn’t get rerouted to Atlanta like we did. No big deal. We made it home and climbed into our nice, big, comfy bed and slept like babies. Without the pooping and crying. And our bags finally showed up a few days later.