Well, Then

It seems odd that I have actually tried winter camping before spring camping, but life doesn’t always go in a straight line, right? Or actually it never does, we just like to kid ourselves that it does, otherwise we’ll go mad dodging around like that little metal ball in the pinball machine.

But this was the year to try spring camping, which is really similar to fall camping. The biggest benefit is no bugs or only a handful that are easy to ignore. Also, the days are getting longer, so you don’t have to break the headlamps out at 4 pm and put on the extra layer and huddle close to the fire.

We packed up the boat, the gear, and the food and headed out to our favorite spot on the Saco River. When we were leaving after our last camping trip in October, we did notice a sign on the gate to the road (which was always open) that said the road was not maintained in winter. It also gave the dates of the closure. I remember the month it closed was November. I didn’t remember the opening month date. But surely April was a good month to open a gate on a dirt road right?

Apparently not.

We got to the gate, which was securely locked and the sign said the road was closed November to May. We were a mere 10 days off. No matter, we knew there was another entrance to the road and it had more houses on it. Surely that end was open.

On the way to that road, we decided to investigate a potential new boat put in that was a little way down stream from our favorite site. We usually paddle about 2 hours to the site. This would be paddling upstream, but even if we had to really work at it, it wouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. Depending on whether you were on Google Earth or Google Maps, the road went from solid line to a dotted line and then kind of petered out close to the water. Yet, we had seen from the river that there was a parking lot with a car.

It went from paved to graded dirt road, so far so good. We ignored the “dead end” sign because we were hoping it would end at the river. We passed a last house and got to a point where the graded dirt road turned into dirt, dirt road. We got out to take a look. We walked past a giant puddle at a low point, and after that it wasn’t too bad for a stretch, but then the ruts got deeper and the middle got higher and there were rocks and more puddles. No problem for a truck or even an SUV with 4-wheel drive. My little low-rider Corolla weighed down with the Dreamboat? Not so much. The good news was that the road did lead to the river, and if we could get the boat down there, we could launch it. The water looked higher than usual, but we expected that in the spring. Some day it might be fine to attempt a launch. However, today was not that day. We got back in the car and drove to the other entrance. Halfway in we encountered another gate with the same sign. Ugh. We had driven 3 hours to camp, and I was willing to bypass the gate to do that, but of course it too was locked. They probably knew the city yahoos would try to drive on it before May 1.

We looked at each other for a minute. OK, back to the dirt, dirt road. The few people living on that road must have wondered what the hell the Massholes were doing driving back and forth on a dead end. Thankfully, they chose not to tell us.

Back at the puddle. I still didn’t like the look of it. While I love camping in the middle of nowhere, I do not want car trouble in the middle of nowhere. However, a good look at the puddle revealed it wasn’t actually that deep and we could pass it. At the ruts we stopped again and debated about hauling everything down to the water and giving it a shot. It was not a short walk, especially when you are carrying coolers, a tent, equipment, and firewood. Did I mention we don’t travel light? We also noticed there was a perfectly placed parking spot next to us that led to a flat wooded area. I was willing to give the launch a go — in for a penny in for a pound, but the easier camping spot that was right next to us beckoned. We made camp in the woods.

After we set up, we went down to the river and had a better look. The water was a lot higher than we had ever seen, and the current was, um, zippy, to say the least. But we decided to take the empty boat down, and see if we could paddle to our site anyway.

We managed to paddle along the edge where there was less current, then paddle up a shortcut, which in the summer is a small, impassable brook. We had to portage over a spit of land to get back to the main part of the river, but we made it and we could see our site across the way. It was 80% under water. Also, there wasn’t a sandy beach in site, and that is what everyone camps on in the summer, including us. We managed to paddle over to our site and we could see by the traces of mud that not that long ago the little island had been completely underwater. And truthfully there wasn’t enough land above the water right then to make putting up a tent seem like a good idea. Soooooo, here’s to gated roads.

We paddled back to our new site with that awe you feel when you have totally, ignorantly, without any skill or intention, dodged a bullet.

Well, then. But that is not the end of the story. At this new (to us) site we noticed the remnants of an old stone cellar, dug right out of the granite. Large trees were growing inside, so it was clearly built a large-tree-lifetime ago. Nearby we discovered an equally ancient, beautiful, hand dug, deep well. The rocks were covered in moss, and I could see clear water at the bottom. Whatever housing had covered it was long gone, A few trees had fallen across the opening (or were placed?) but it was still gloriously wild — no manmade covering or a “Keep out” or “Danger” sign, no filling to erase the craftsmanship or nature’s wholehearted embrace of rounded stone in a deep, dark, damp place.

It simply felt magical, and I felt moved by its very existence and somehow connected. I still feel it now. Its magic has stilled my words, so I will leave you with this image. Well, then.


  1. I believe Gary is correct when he claims “ camping is anything under 300 thread-count.
    What you’re describing sounds like those half-planned outings we were taken on as Boy Scouts. “Leave ‘em alone, everything will turn out fine”.

    1. Ha ha!! And I appreciate that you both still love me even though I’m one those, you know, (shudders) *campers*. It helps to have a friend who cooks gourmet meals. No hotdogs and beans for me!

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