DRAM 2, Dirt Roads Across Maine.

spencyg

This Space For Rent
ad·ven·ture noun \əd-ˈven-chər\
: an exciting or dangerous experience

: danger or excitement


Those on the Eastern shores of the United States often turn their gaze toward the North when the topic of adventure and the unknown wilderness creeps into water cooler conversation. As one enters the Northeast via the typical I-95 corridor during the fall season, you can't help but to notice a change as the miles disappear below the moan of All Terrains. The view becomes distorted with Evergreen Trees. The roads become rough. The people, though friendly, have a look in their eye which is evidence of the coming seasons and of the months of darkness which lay ahead.

Welcome to Maine, The way life should be.



Maine happens to be my home state, so when I have thoughts of adventure, I need only look out the nearest window. One of the many special features about my state is that you really can't drive very far without coming across a dirt road. Once you set your first tire off pavement, there aren't many spots within Maine that you can't go. To travel from one end of the 23rd state in the union to the other is feasible, and this is the inspiration behind DRAM. My first foray into the idea of Trans-State travel came to life in 2009 when I attempted to navigate a route from the boarder of New Hampshire across the state with an ending point in Lubec, one of the farthest easterly destinations in the United States. The path would cross mountains and rivers, and pass by gigantic lakes, tranquil streams, and dense forest.

In November of 2009 I had a route planned from just off Route 16 at the NH boarder to Millinocket, a mid-point in the journey. The planning was based on local and regional maps, advice from friends who were familiar with certain areas, and lots of hope. With frost on the ground I set off with my dog into the woods for a great adventure.












The trip was a great success as I had managed to get from New Hampshire to Millinocket on 95% dirt roads. The landscape was extraordinary, the roads were entertaining and overall I was hooked. The following spring I had every intention of completing the route to the Atlantic Ocean.

Fast Forward 5 years.

I now have 2 beautiful daughters, a rig which is considerably more capable than it was in 2009, the same old dog, and an incomplete DRAM trip.

For a few years Boomer the Camper Van didn't get much love, but as our family has matured just a bit, our collective appreciation for the adventures that this old van allows has grown. We recently completed a trip to the Northern Shores of Nova Scotia, and ever since our return my brain has been dedicated to dreams and plans of continued adventure travel. As I continue to work down the never-ending list of vehicle repairs and improvements, I have also been planning DRAM 2.

This time, the trip will not end in Millinocket. The starting point will be the same as it was 5 years ago, but for DRAM 2 the only acceptable finish line is at waters edge in Lubec Maine.

3 days
630 miles of dirt
35 miles of pavement

A call went out for team mates to join me on this excursion. Heading into the woods alone is seldom a grand idea, and the thought of sharing this experience with like-minded overland travel enthusiasts appealed to me. As the interest started building, my route planning commenced and a thorough driver packet was assembled to ensure everybody would enter this informed and ready for what lay ahead.



A date was established to correspond with the local deer hunting season. This was done for a couple reasons. Primarily, being in the woods when there are others in the woods is a good thing from an overall safety standpoint. Hunting season draws thousands of sportsman to Maine, and we would have a good safety net in the event of an accident or other situation requiring outside assistance. Secondly, the routes would be taking advantage of logging roads which are typically traveled by vary dangerous logging trucks. During the hunting season, these trucks are far more aware of "civilians" being on the road which makes traversing these otherwise fearsome areas far more pleasant. As the date of departure approached, each team worked to prepare their rigs and themselves for the adventure that stretched out ahead.

The group of people and rigs who represent the DRAM 2 convoy couldn't have been hand picked any better. Leading the charge would be myself, Spence with the big blue camper van, Boomer.



Next on the ticket is Ryan from ExploringNH with his remarkable Excursion.



Jon showed up with just about the coolest Nissan Titan I have ever seen. It came equipped with a Flippac camper, complete slide out kitchen setup, and all the goodies that come with the Pro4X package.



Will and Ralph arrived with a very nicely equipped Nissan XTerra which was ready to tackle anything we could throw at it. Ralph was co-pilot on this adventure, but being the professional photographer in the group, he had his work cut out for him.



Last, but certainly not least, was Ashwin and his co-pilot Elise in the rediculasly capable Toyota 4-runner. This rig does it all. They sleep inside, cook on the "step", and travel in enviable comfort.



The meeting place for the beginning of DRAM was a set of LAT/LON coordinates which each team needed to find on their own. We would meet the night before the journey would begin, each party never having met the others. With a sense of excitement and a little bit of apprehension, I set off around 7pm toward the rendezvous point, approximately 2 hours away from home. A light rain fell as the moan of my own tires formed a distant harmony with the 4 other vehicles pointed to a converging spot on the map.

To Be Continued.
 
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Swegner99

New member
This is going to be good, I always think of Maine as one of those "wild frontiers." The terrain and scenery appeal to me in a way that I cant seem to describe to the wife (who doesn't want to move out of the desert) I'm excited to follow this one.
 

spencyg

This Space For Rent
“May your adventures bring you closer together, even as they take you far away from home.”
― Trenton Lee Stewart


The journey to the starting point was uneventful for myself and Brook the Dog. We came in and out of radio stations, and eventually settled on the peace of our own thoughts mixed with the drone of the International diesel. Approximately 15 miles away from the final destination for the evening I was able to top up the diesel tanks at an eerie 24 hour unattended diesel pump. This diesel would prove to be only one of two opportunities to top up along our eventual route.

The head of the primary dirt road to our camping area approached quickly after the fuel stop, and upon hitting dirt I opted to lock in the hubs and warm up the offroad beams. I also started broadcasting on the pre-determined CB channel 16 to see whether any other DRAM participants may have their ears on. Nobody was listening, so as Boomer approached the turn off I really had no idea what to expect.

Well, I wasn't the first one to arrive...by a long shot.



Will and Ralph had been kicking around for 5 or so hours, and were quite convinced by the time I had arrived that they were A: In the wrong place and/or B: Had been left behind. Of course neither was true, we were all just very very late to the party. Once I parked and figured out a sticky lighting relay fix (sharp thwack to the relay box with my fist....perfect). I grabbed a regretfully cold beer and got to work getting to know my new traveling companions. The first thing I couldn't help but notice was how well set up their camp was.



We flapped our lips for quite awhile, but the cold drizzle was starting to freeze and we were feeling the effects of the hour. 3/5th of the adventure team had yet to arrive, and I had been informed at at least Ryan and Ashwin wouldn't be expected until after Midnight, with Jon coming in after that. Not feeling the need to have the latecomers greeted by frozen statues, we bid each other good night and disappeared into our respective domiciles.

I haven't ever set up shop in Boomer during the cold season, so the sound of sleet on the roof mixed with the whir of the propane fired cabin furnace was new. Without much effort I had the interior converted over to sleep mode and quickly drifted off.

6:45AM Friday

ALARM GOES OFF

Ugh. Why did I keep the cabin temp at 55 again? I figured maybe punishing myself just a little for sleeping in a heated cabin on 6 inches of foam was the least I could do with Will and Ralph sleeping in tents outside in the snow. Maybe 60 would be ok next time.

I roused myself out of bed, quickly getting on some warmer clothes and starting water on the stove for coffee. A quick peek outside informed me that it had in fact snowed over night, and that everybody had eventually arrived in one piece. Ashwin and Elise were already bopping about with breakfast prep, and Ryan was out of his rig starting in on the same thing. It seemed Ralph and Will weren't moving quite as fast but nobody was going to pick on the poor bastards sleeping in the tents....at least, not at 6:45AM.











Once I had a pot of coffee in hand it was time to go out and meet the rest of the team. It was clear from the outset that this group was top class, and as the weekend progressed I couldn't have been more correct. You wouldn't be able to hand pick a better group of people to travel through unfamiliar and inhospitable terrain with. After making sure everybody had enough hot coffee to melt the snow off their noses, it was time to get packed up. After a quick CB radio check and the prerequisite tire pressure air-down procedures were complete, we formed a single file out of the camping area and wound our way down to the beginning of DRAM2.

I assumed the lead position as my GPS would be leading the way for the duration of the trip. Spots 2, 3, and 4 were shuffled amongst Ryan, Ashwin and Jon, and Will took up the sweep position. The CB radios provided adequate range for a majority of the trip so I could reach all the way back to Will. As we would come across obstacles, bridges, areas of interest, or just chit chatting, the CB radios proved invaluable while at the same time being easy to use. Setting out from camp, it was immediately apparent that the snow depth was increasing as we were gaining elevation. The precipitation from the night before had been sticky, and all the trees bore the weight of their white blankets with a graceful beauty. Others had been on the road before we passed by, so there was no need to break trail.





As the group wound its way through the landscape, it was remarkable how small shifts in elevation directly correlated to the snow level. If we went up 200 ft, there was snow. Back down 300 ft and we were in mud. Back and forth. I find contrast to be interesting throughout life. Without it you really don't have context for where you've been , or where you're going. The contrasts we were experiencing right at the beginning of this trip made it seem like we had already been traveling through another world for days.



Once in awhile there would be evidence that this land we traveled through was somebody else's office. For the most part we didn't see much logging activity over the course of the weekend, but we were always on the lookout. The logging equipment in Maine is serious, and the people that run them are more serious still. You don't want to put a truck driver barreling down the road in a 100,000lb rig in a position where they must decide between their life or yours, as you will most likely draw the short straw.

Luckily, this guy wasn't going to do any damage today.



Driving further on the first leg of this journey, the road started getting pretty rough, and at one point Boomer found itself somewhat airborne after poorly navigating some VW-swallowing potholes. Luckily the old girl takes this abuse in stride, but on this particular occasion we happened to spit my spare fuel container off the rear rack, bouncing helplessly down the road. Following distances were something we were all paying strict attention to, and because of that the incident was merely something to laugh about. The fuel container survived the tumble without spilling a drop, and after strapping it back on we were once again rolling down the road.



Not too many miles after the attempted Flight of the Boomer, we happened upon a VW that did in fact get eaten by the road. The hunters had been driving along when the car just died. They are started pulling distributor caps, plugs, and miscellaneous wires out of the engine bay in hopes of finding the answer to their problem, but then realized they didn't know how to put it back together. Keeping my disdain for all things VW to myself, I helped them get the parts put back where they belonged to the point where we might as a group be able to diagnose their issues.







Unfortunately, it was immediately clear that they had lost their fuel pump. We did a check of the fuses and listened for the pump during startup, but in the end those guys were not going any further in that car. Ryan and Will offered to give the guys a lift back to their camp a few miles in the direction we'd just come from.



While they were off being chivalrous, I had a chance to get to know Jon a little better, and to scope out his Titan with the Flippac Camper. Jon has been assembling his rig for the last couple years, and after stumbling on a few amazing deals, he started putting his own flair into the setup. The end result is a very well thought out camping setup bolted to one of the most capable platforms I've ever seen. The dogs, Butterscotch and Brook, also had a chance to get out in the snow a little while we waited.



Once Will and Ryan returned from their delivery we all boarded our respective vehicles and headed down the road.



Before getting to the end of leg 1 we passed by evidence of some pretty serious logging operations. At the head of the road, a lonely logger was securing his last load of the week. I'm not certain what exactly the look he gave us as we wound by him represented, but we'll say for the sake of good will that maybe he had a stomach ache. Or his head hurt.





At pavements' edge most of the group headed right to gas up and get a few supplies while I pushed to the left in the other direction of Gold Brook Road. The snow we had seen up to this point wasn't anything like what lay ahead. As I waited for the rest of the group to arrive, I broke out the grille for a roadside sausage lunch. Ryan arrived soon after and threw a couple of his dogs on there as well.







Eventually Will, Ralph, Jon, Ashwin and Elise pulled in. Everybody did their own lunch thing amongst the snow showers and wind. Once the grille was cooled down I buttoned up Boomer for Leg 2, and just as I was about to hop into the warm cab we had a visitor.



At first I wasn't sure how this conversation was even going to start, not to mention end. I had seen a sign about the Canadian boarder being somewhat close, but wasn't planning on the trip getting nearly close enough to the DMZ for interactions with Boarder Patrol Agents. Luckily, the nice gentlemen was just extremely interested in these 5 vehicles parked in a row. I always look forward to an opportunity to expose somebody to the overland adventure travel community, and this was a perfect setup for such a chat. After a few minutes, the Boarder Patrol Officer wished us luck and headed on his way. In the opposite direction, up Gold Brook road toward snow, we headed on our way too.

To be continued.
 
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spencyg

This Space For Rent
Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.
-Robert Frost


The beginning of DRAM2 Leg 2 was an ascent into the Kibby mountain range. Had the weather been a bit less interesting, the team would have seen views of the Kibby Mountain Wind Project, a 132MW wind turbine farm stretching across 2,367 acres. The case being what it was, the snow density increased as we rose into the white mountain range, and not a single turbine could be seen.



The road had once again been traversed by others prior to our arrival, so the need to break trail was minimized. At this point we were all in 4WD as the snow depth increased to approximately 10 inches.





The season hadn't been cold enough to freeze everything over, so amongst the snow we occasionally would need to accommodate small "water features". With Boomer in the lead, there wasn't much concern for getting a vehicle mired, so we proceeded cautiously but with conviction.



Eventually we came upon the kind soul who had been breaking trail for us. His Toyota Tundra was making fine work of the chore and as the leader of the pack, I appreciated his efforts possibly more than the rest of the crew did.



Eventually he pulled off the road into his hunting camp and I stopped to thank him for his hard work and to make sure he didn't want to continue being the hero. He was pretty sure he didn't, so we moved on with Boomer breaking trail.



The woods were absolutely beautiful.









After a little more forward progress we stopped at a scenic peak for a pee break and a tea break.







Tea on the trail!! Ashwin and Elise really stepped it up....



The dogs had a romp and then it was back in the rigs. The afternoon was waning and we still had some miles to cover before camp.



Gold Brook Road eventually turned into something else, which turned into something else, which dumped us onto a brief stretch of pavement. We found ourselves stuck behind a salt truck which made me wince. Boomer has a very hard time keeping rust at bay, and salt is just about as bad as it gets for the old girl.



A couple miles later we were back on dirt, winding around a pond and slowing seeing the snow disappear as we came back down closer to sea level.







Before darkness set in, we located the setup spot for the evening and everybody set to work amongst the spitting snow and cold blustry wind getting their shelters established for the night.



I set to work collecting some firewood from area deadfall so we might have a bit of warmth for the evening. Boomer doesn't really require setup upon arrival, so it freed me up to take care of some of the community chores.







The evening was filled with a warm fire, hot chocolate (with pudding), and great conversation. There was a sense of accomplishment from the days' travels with anticipation in the air as to what tomorrow would bring.



One by one, the travelers met their cold quota for the day and disappeared into their preferred shelters. Ryan and Ashwin both have in-vehicle sleeping setups so they were ready to go just about as quickly as Boomer was. Jon's rig requires a little setup, but nothing extraordinary. Ralph and Will had the most ominous of setup and tear-down chores, but as with the whole group, their attitudes were top notch and in their mind, it merely contributed to the adventure. I hadn't yet made dinner, so I retired to the heated comforts of Boomer where a dinner of pasta with sausage-laced sauce and garlic bread filled my belly. With the thermostat set for a paltry 60 degrees I drifted off to sleep with the blustery frigid wind rocking Boomer, Brook, and me, to sleep.

To be continued.
 
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Mass_Mopar

Keep it simple stupid
Great job on the write-up, do you jot down any notes as you go or just remember by the pictures you take?? I know from experience it's tough to remember the little things even just a few days later
 

spencyg

This Space For Rent
I typically jot down notes, but on this trip I was so exhausted at the end of each day that I had nothing left for notation. When I returned home I jotted down a bunch of keywords which, combined with pictures, have made recollection easy. If I were to wait much more than a week before starting the report I'd be in trouble...

SG
 

Swegner99

New member
Great right up and story-telling! But I take it all back from my original post, I'm not jealous anymore because I don't think I could ever make it in the snow. I've never even seen the stuff, lol.
 

spencyg

This Space For Rent
Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment.
~Henry David Thoreau


6:45AM

The Alarm Goes Off

Groggy but less cold than the night before, I peeked out the muddy window at the field of travelers to see whether I was the first, or the last, to welcome the day. Sure enough, the last. I seem to have surrounded myself with morning people. Karl Marx was quoted as saying “Surround yourself with people who make you happy. People who make you laugh, who help you when you're in need. People who genuinely care. They are the ones worth keeping in your life. Everyone else is just passing through.” On this morning, I had no idea how this sentiment would ring true just hours later.

The morning tradition of Coffee was put into effect, and I made the rounds to see if we had any people-sickles in the group.





Luckily, the wind had died down and everybody, even Will and Ralph, survived the night. There were stories of the wind collapsing a couple tents in the wee hours of the morning, and given how much Boomer was rocking with the gusts I believed every word of it. Tear-down went smoothly and after patrolling our accommodations to ensure we left no more than tire tracks in the grass, we were on our way toward the adventures of Day 2.

Today was different immediately upon setting out.

Dust.





It is safe to say we all preferred the mud and snow to dust, but dust it was. I couldn't possibly complain about the dust personally, as my only pain associated with this new feature was the chatter over the CB with a majority of the blame being thrown my way. Boomer isn't delicate underway....

Luckily, the last of this leg was just a few miles down the road, so the dust didn't remain the primary topic of conversation for very long.











Pavement indicated we had reached Rockwood where there would be fuel and supplies. Everybody topped up while curious onlookers pointed without daring to ask what exactly was going on.



Boomer took on around 14 gallons, which was significantly less than I thought had been burned.

As we headed toward the 20 mile road and Pittston farms, we finally saw a moose.



Rockwood lies on the shores of Moosehead lake, and one of the most notable geographical features in the area is Mt. Kineo lying in the middle of the water. During the winter time adventurous souls can take snowmobiles to the very top, with the same trip being possible by foot during the more hospitable spring, summer and fall months.



Our path toward Pittston Farms and the Golden road quickly turned to dirt, with lots of posted warnings making it very clear that we were once again in a working forest.





Being Saturday, we knew our chances of being run down by a rushing logging truck were minimal, but we all kept our guard with the instruction to call out on the radio if anybody saw anything that looked like logging equipment headed our way.

Pittston Farms. Home of good things.









Pittston Farms is a neat little outpost. Founded in 1911 by Great Northern Paper Company as a supply point for their Northern Maine harvesting operations, the farm still exists as both a supply depot as well as for lodging and as a museum. For our purposes, the homemade pie in the refrigerator, coffee in the coffee maker, and toilet paper in the head was what we came for.



Following this little detour, we headed just down the street to the manned registration gate which regulates the comings and the goings within the North Maine Woods.





After each truck paid up for the privilege of being beat to snot on the upcoming logging roads, we pushed forward.



Strangely, there had been a non-documented redirect on the road between the gate house which got us a little turned around, but eventually we got to the head of the road.



The next 30 miles wasn't much to talk about aside from the horrendous potholes. In all fairness, the potholes weren't any worse than anything else we'd been traveling on, but the Golden Road coaxes you into both a higher rate of speed as well as lulling you into a sense of security. The roads are wide and straight. What could possibly go wrong.

Lots.

Along the dirt superhighway, we did come across a couple interesting pieces of equipment that were doing some thinning on the side of the road.



Just before the turn off toward Kokadjo, we spotted Mt Katahdin. Beautiful in any weather.



To Be Continued
 
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