In case you haven’t heard, we are planning another long bike tour next summer. This time it will be different, though, because the majority of it will be on trails and dirt roads. To handle the different terrain, we will use different gear – this style of bike touring is referred to as bikepacking. Due to weddings and other craziness this spring and summer, though, we haven’t had a chance for any practice (“shakeout”) tours until now.
It was tough to decide where we would take our adventure. The initial standout options were NH’s White Mts. or VT’s Green Mts. We found several write-ups from other cyclists’ bikepacking trips in these areas, but then came the idea of Western Maine, where I spent a great deal of time growing up. The vast network of logging roads and trails seemed like a perfect destination for our maiden bikepacking voyage. Internet searches turned up no results which was slightly worrisome but also exciting. We would follow an unproven path, but if worse came to worst and our route was a disaster, at least it would be an adventure through a beautiful area.
Our plan: Stage a car for beginning/ending in Rangeley, ME. Ride to Sugarloaf via logging roads, then follow the Maine Hut Trails from Stratton Brook Trailhead to Grand Falls where we would spend the night. Ride from Grand Falls via logging roads, cross Route 27 onto Tim Pond Camps access road. With some luck, we would arrive in camp by lunchtime, spend the night in a cabin, then leave the next morning after breakfast for the ride back to our car in Rangeley.
It seemed like a good plan, but I was unsure that the logging roads actually connected in a few areas. We studied The Maine Atlas and Gazeteer and didn’t have a warm fuzzy but went for it anyhow.
Being Labor Day weekend, campsites in Rangeley were sold out, so we bummed a free night’s stay in Freeport. The bed was too comfortable, though, and we got a late start on Saturday. Along the way I took a wrong turn but my trusty old GPS led us through 10miles of dirt roads to make up for my blunder. We hadn’t even started and it was already feeling like an adventure!
In Rangeley we stopped for boxed wine and a giant pepperoni stick, then set out to find a spot to ditch the car. A kind lady in the Chamber of Commerce at Lakeside Park recommended we call the police to notify them of a car left overnight in the Pleasant St. public lot. Unfortunately none of (the 3 of) us had cell service, so we resorted to a note on the dashboard and the police station door. If anyone reading this hopes to do a similar trip, we recommend calling the police station before getting into town, unless you arrive during normal business hours.
The ride out of town on route 16N finally began at noon. It was great but we came to ride dirt, which would begin with Redington Rd. after ~5 miles. Not more than a couple hundred yards down the road, though, our plan failed. In the Atlas I had seen the boundary labeled “Naval Training Facility” across Redington Rd. but blissfully ignored it. A friendly trucker flagged us down and confirmed that riding through would not be an option. Minutes later a fish and game warden reiterated the same message. We appreciated that they saved us time, but it was a bummer. When we inquired about alternate routes to the trailhead, the game warden consulted his own copy of The Maine Atlas and Gazeteer but concluded that retreating to the main road was a better option than to attempt circumnavigating the Naval Facility on ATV trails. While writing this post I learned the facility is a SERE school, which is an interesting/surreal concept, and there are also conspiracy theories between the facility and the mysterious disappearance of an AT thru-hiker in 2015.
After routes 16N and 27E we had peanut butter/apple wraps at the trailhead, then finally made the transition to dirt around 3pm. The trails are well-labeled, well-traveled, and offer a great variety of terrain. We started easy on the Narrow Gauge Trail and then dabbled with more difficult options. The riding was a lot of fun but the day was growing old so we traded blue squares for green circles. Then we learned to pay attention to the distinction between “multi-use” and “hiking” trails when choosing our route onward. Larry’s was an easy hiking trail that surprised us with lots of roots and a 50’ stairway to lug our gear-laden bikes up. Fortunately there was a nice waterfall before climbing the stairs, but at this point we realized we would fall short of our goal for the day so we skipped out on trails in favor of roads to close out the day.
That night we contemplated between a campsite off a trail along Flagstaff Lake or a random spot on the side of the Service Road. We worried the trail might be rough and prevent us from setting up before dark, so we settled for the known option, ~1 mile south of Flagstaff Hut. After unpacking, we laughed when we noticed moose tracks through the sand directly through our tent spot. We split parmesan couscous with canned chicken that Rachel prepped at home, and then a box of wine for dessert. It was among the best camping meals I’ve had, but we rushed to finish before darkness fell. We quickly hung our food in a wimpy tree that would have stood no chance against a hungry bear, then retreated to the tent at 8pm, with fingers crossed that bears wouldn’t steal our food, or a moose trample us in our sleep.
In the morning, the excitement of the afternoon/night at Tim Pond was enough to get us moving as soon as the sun began rising, despite tired legs and groggy heads. After coffee and some granola bars, we broke down camp and resumed the wet and bumpy trails counterclockwise around Flagstaff.
Our minds were focused on the clock so we took Long Falls Dam Rd to Big Eddy (wow, giant rapids!) then made a bee-line for Rt.27 rather than continue towards Grand Falls Hut. Next we continued along quiet logging roads and at 10:30 we crossed Route 27 onto Tim Pond Rd., where we shared more peanut butter/apple wraps! I was getting very excited to be in the home stretch to camp; it was my first time back in 6 years, after having visited every summer for the first 22 years of my life.
In camp we received a warm welcome, and then settled into our cabin to clean up before lunch. The weather cooperated long enough for us to tour the camp and pond afterwards, then we spent the rest of the afternoon sheltered in our cabin, eating cookies, playing cards and drinking wine, with a fire in the woodstove. It was the perfectly relaxing time that we both needed.
The next morning we re-started our fire and had coffee and cookies in peace and quiet before breakfast. We discussed our route with the staff and found out my initial plan would not work (again). It involved old ATV trails that don’t get used much anymore. Fortunately, there were other dirt roads that wrapped under Flagstaff Lake that proved to be great riding. We had to sneak past a few gates, but the people we met inside didn’t mind seeing us.
Back in Rangeley, I had mixed feelings. I was happy to see the car where we left it, and my ice cream (muddy bean boots!) was fantastic. The accomplishment of completing the trip also felt good, but I felt truly sad as we drove from town. Hopefully it won’t be such a long time before we return, maybe to revisit this bikepacking route! The backwoods of Western Maine certainly hold a special place in my heart. 🙂