Backing down to where Josh was parked I wondered - as I’m sure Josh was - just how serious this problem would become as the roads got rougher.
I killed the engine and Nick B, Jason, Chrip and I got out and walked down to the LX to find the three passengers bent over looking underneath the vehicle in the road. I suggested driving up the side of the ditch to flex out the rear to get a better view and to get out of the road.
Moments later a tarp was ripped out of some compartment, laid on the ground, and Josh was on his back under the LX.
While he hunted for the cause of the smell and noise everyone else decided it was probably time for some lunch and a beer. Well, Erek decided it was time for a shot of tequila and two beers. Erek and Kevin carefully removed their manifold cooked burritos while Nick B and I spread peanut butter on bread. I have no idea what Jason did - he’s a man of mystery, and I don’t ask questions.
Waiting at the side of the road for the better part of an hour, we were passed by only two people - Two older guys in a Ford pickup and a man from Rhode Island in a Honda Pilot so loaded with supplies the bumper was about on the ground. Both parties were kind enough to make sure we were not lost (again with the lost?!) or stuck. Really? Two trucks with two winches? Regardless we thanked them for the concern and they moved onwards.
By the time a beer was gone Josh had emerged from under the LX a little dirtier but no worse for the wear having defeated the busted exhaust a second(third?) time. Josh manned up, opting to eat his burrito on the go - we saddled up and made tracks.
Things cruised on pretty nicely for a while - Nick B, Jason and I enjoyed the comedic stylings of Bill Cosby and kept up a quick pace up and down the hills of the curvy track. The road turned pretty smooth and it was clear this section had been recently regraded with new gravel.
The ride was awesome and I picked up some speed heading into the next left hand corn...
The truck went immediately silent - everyone realized I was barely in control as the FJ started the corner but immediately began understeering. We were headed right at the ditch at 50 mph and as I tried to get the front end to turn in I decided it would probably be better to go head-on into the ditch than try to make the corner and risk a rollover. Feathering the gas and testing the steering I was somehow able to get the front end to turn left enough to make the corner, turning the near-disaster into a rather nice powerslide - if only I had meant to do it. High-fives were exchanged, then II realized Josh was coming up on the corner fast - I grabbed the CB and warned “Josh heads up heads up slippery corner slow down! Slow down!”
I could hear the AC compressor cycling in the FJ, waiting for the LX to come around the corner. We didn’t have to wait long until the headlights were shining through the brush on the side of the road. The LX moved at a more reasonable speed and made it’s way around the corner without incident. They had noticed the tracks from my slide, and learned from my mistake. Now regrouped I cautiously accelerated trying to get a feel for the unpredictable road surface.
After a while I got used to sliding around on the road. Locking the center diff here kept things stable but also created a weird understeer-oversteer oscillation around some corners. Locked was better than unlocked as I was pushed by the rear axle (probably because of all the weight on it) so I kept the speed reasonable and on we went. This road was pretty well graded but it was by no means easy - the grades were steep and the corners sharp. To drive at more than a snails pace I had to stay on top of things - I would say it closely resembled driving in a blizzard.
This also made for some fun around the wider corners where I got the FJ a little loose and watched in the mirror as Erek - who was now driving the LX - did the same.
We approached a large three way intersection, a fork in the road where we approached from the left tine and were turning left - onto the right tine. (make sense?) Looking like a good place to have fun I downshifted to 2nd cut the wheel and floored it. The back end whipped around and sent a big roost of mud flying at the LX. They were too far back to get hit but it made for a good time
The road gradually got better. We approached a bridge - I feel like I should mention something about the bridges..
Bridges on the logging roads are almost always made of wood. Probably because wood is free. They are built one lane wide, usually perpendicular to the river, and almost never have guardrails of any kind. Let me paint a picture: I’m driving (spiritedly) through the light rain on a two truck wide dirt track slowing a bit (down to 45 or so) for the approaching left corner. Rounding the corner nicely I notice two giant potholes as the road narrows to 1 lane - still turning. Suddenly I realize why the road narrows - there is a bridge ahead. The bridge is in the apex of the corner. Too late to slow down I try to straighten out, hit the giant potholes bouncing the FJ HARD and we hit the wet wooden bridge. Crap.
Luckily I had straightened out just enough, we slid a bit sideways over the bridge the tires grabbing dirt on the other side rolling the body hard to the right. Crisis averted. Slow down before the bridges.
Crossing another bridge Nick B and I glanced left. “WOAH” I radioed to Josh to stop after the bridge - we saw an awesome waterfall just upriver. Making our way to the waterfall proved difficult, a few ended up with wet boots and pant legs. Nick spent some(lots of) time taking photos and everyone explored.
It wasn't far from to Jackman, ME from the waterfall. The road had smoothed out and firmed up. It was relatively untraveled. The two vehicles that passed us when we stopped for lunch (which we passed shortly after we got moving again) were the only cars we saw on that stretch of road.
Driving South on pavement we passed through the good sized town of Jackman. A school, NAPA store, grocery, and several gas stations lined the way. Some of the convenience stores had been closed for quite some time. Jackman had a depressed feel to it.
We pulled into the first gas station on the right. It was full, so we got in line and waited. Waited... Waited some more.... Nobody seemed in a hurry to move their vehicles away from the pump. Weird. We pulled out and went ¼ mile down the road to an empty Mobil. This time it really was the last chance for gas (promise) so we filled everything - we each had two 20L cans.
I had decided it was time to do something about the uneven weight balance and started moving things forward on the roof rack. The high-lift was moved to the front bumper to help keep the nose down.
While Erek and Kevin waited for Josh to finish denting my roof, the manifold cooker got loaded yet again. Probably smells pretty awesome in there by now....
We also saw this guy driving his - you guessed it - Husqvarna mower to the bar. Aahhh Maine
North on 201 I looked for the next turn Northeast - Old Kelly Dam Road. I had spent some time in the morning studying the maps but... I had only gotten as far as Jackman. The only “route” we had from here on out was the proposed track I downloaded to my GPS from Google maps. The Map is Not the Territory...
Our favorite place in the whole world is the North Maine Woods (NMW). Been many many miles on the logging roads and trails and can never get enough of it. Haven't been able to go for a while so you are really helping with filling the void. Keep the pic's and story's of you trails and trials going. What a great contribution yall are making to the rest of the group here on EXPO that have never had the incredible pleasure of being in the NMW. I know as you that the pic's dont hardly do justice to the real beauty of the place. Great travels and keep it coming !
Old Kelly Dam Rd was just like the roads we had been on for the better part of the day except... worse. The potholes were huge and everywhere. We had to slow it down (to 50 ) to keep from bouncing all over the place. Josh and I both had about 30 psi in the tires, we worried about going lower because of the speeds we reached at points. Cornering at speed while loaded was also a concern.
We still drove hard, before we knew it we reached a gate (light?) house.
The gatehouse was unmanned, inside there was a phone and transmitter, all solar powered. This was it, the entrance to the North Maine Woods! We were required to call and ask permission to enter. It had been cloudy for days, and the phone didn’t work. Big surprise. We filled out the requisite paperwork, dropped it in the slot and took off again.
Not really knowing where I was leading us....
Our next destination was Pittston Farm - a campground, restaurant, and outpost on the banks of the Mighty.. small.. Branch Penobscot River.
To get there we had to exit the North Maine Woods where we learned our paperwork was all wrong (despite Kevin filling it out). The nice lady would fix our errors while we drove to the outpost, and have everything ready when we got back. She did concede that the paperwork was confusing.
Ate Erek’s Hair in One Bite
Ok, I lied. they did have fuel
Heading back into the North Maine Woods they wanted to know our destination, campsites, trip duration etc. I couldn’t tell them “no idea we don’t have a plan” so I made something up. We would stay at some (randomly picked) campsite because the other one was full for the Moose Hunt. We learned Moose season opened Monday. It was Saturday afternoon and I’m sure all the hunters were drunk already.
We drove back into the park not knowing our destination for the night....
I had never planned on staying where we told the gatekeeper. We would follow the route until we got tired, then find a (legal) campsite and set up there. The roads were the widest we had seen and in decent shape. Almost too good, hitting giant potholes at 65 hurts.
As it got later - and darker - it was hard to see the potholes forcing us to slow down. I stopped to take a leak while Josh cleaned his headlights. There was so much mud on them they didn't put out any light. He would drop back a ways now to keep the lights from getting covered, and we would drive to the Baker Lake camping area.
Arriving at the Baker lake campsite at around 10:00 we head generators running and lots of yelling. There were tons of people here. Not our kind of people. They kindly (not) informed us the campsite was full, so we backtracked about a mile to a clearing where there was overflow camping. There were only two groups at this campsite... The usual RV couple and some Maine hunters blasting Phil Collins across the way. This would be an interesting night...
Keeping with his man of mystery ways, Jason had shown up an hour and a half late to leave on Thursday. Oh yeah, he had $60 for the whole weekend. Awesome.
Nick and I cooked a can of baked beans and boiled some potatoes for dinner. Just as we were about to eat Jason showed up from wherever he had been. Must have smelled food.
No fire tonight, there was no good place for one and no wood we could burn - so we sat around the lantern again chatting and drinking beer. Not having a fire allowed us to really enjoy the stars, and they had come out tonight! Around midnight all sources of light were out, and killing our headlamps we were treated to quite a sight! We were so far North there weren't many planes flying overhead and no light pollution. The milky way was the brightest I've ever seen it!
Chirp wasn't too fond of the darkness. As everyone grew still and quiet she let out a low growl. Nobody gave it much thought at the time...
Again Chirp growled - louder this time - evoking our attention. We were all still and quiet, waiting.
Then without warning an extremely loud bark and half squeal from chirp with a gigantic crashing directly to my right and in front of Erek! I jumped a mile as I heard - we couldn't see a thing - the contents of my food crate explode all over the campsite. I along with everyone else fumbled with my headlamp, one, two, three, four beams of light came on frantically looking around. No 5th beam! (Jason didn't have one)
Off to my right there was a low cackle... It was Nick B laughing.
"What the **** was that?!?"
"Chirp doesn't like the dark, so I scared her" answered Nick B
We began to calm down as we gathered up the pots and pans, food and silverware strewn all over the campsite.