Backroads of Somerset County
Words and Photos by Jess Beer
When it comes to driving through Maine, my mind instantly wanders to the tree lined dirt roads, twisting through the mountain sides and up along cold stoned river beds. I think of the Maine state gazetteer, with 70 gridded topographic sections intricately depicting unmarked logging roads, state maintained campsites and waterfalls tucked away like hidden gems deep in the backcountry.
I believe that Western Maine embodies the idea of pure untamed wilderness, with locations only reachable by back roads, most commonly taken by timber loggers and the occasional explorer seeking destinations often unknown and even less commonly visited. With little to no set direction but the desire to explore, my dear friend and I choose section 30 from the gazetteer, pack our bags and set off on an adventure.
We spend hours navigating through unmarked roadways, committing fallen trees, large boulders and colored markers to memory. These often unnoticed details are essential, and help us keep track of where we have gone and have yet to go. As we drive we reference the gazetteer, scouting out geographical landmarks like camping spots, boat portages, and waterfalls along our current route.
These roads, paved with roughly grated dirt and washboards wild enough to rattle every nut and bolt in your car lose, are mesmerizing and enchanting in their own way. We pass large fields overlooking distant mountain ranges and desolate outcroppings of former lush forest growth. Logging is still active in this part of Maine, and we watch the road ahead of us with cautious eyes.
Slices of Pierce Pond can be seen through tall standing trees and encompass you in a tizzy of varying landscapes. We pull over often to embrace the beauty around us, and collect small findings as we go.
We continue on a coarse road until we find a wide shoulder to pull off on near an unmarked trailhead, seemingly just a few short miles from the river front. Hiking is quickly replaced with bushwhacking, as we pull broken timbers and hanging branches out of the way. We slide down steep embankments, grasping for outstretched roots and tree limbs for leverage and support. The sounds of leaves crunching under foot are muffled by laughs and an ever constant exchange of words. Stories and recollections of previous travels are shared and plans for future trips are constructed.
Moss and lichen coat the rocks around us, as water crashes over a waterfall’s edge into deep pools of green. Small rock outcroppings provide us with opportunities to add a hint of risk to our adventure, as we plummet into the cold mountain run off. The water is ice cold, leaving us in a temporary mixture of both shock and adrenaline.
Slowly we work our way downstream from the swimming hole and around a large bend until voices are heard from behind us. We pause to watch as small boats crash over white caps and idle in the spiral of small whirlpools created around rocky rapids. In contrast to the name, the Dead River is very much alive and full of action.
We work our way back up to the truck and continue on down winding roads, stopping occasionally to observe the view of neighboring mountain ranges or scope out potential camping spots. I have kept a pen on hand all day, noting our discoveries with the date in my gazetteer for future reference. This new habit was developed as a way to document the places in which I visit while traveling throughout the state, transforming each page into a time capsule of memories.
As we drive, we are tossed left and right while the truck navigates through potholes large enough to be considered topographical landmarks. We drive down small roadways, just barely wider than the width of the vehicle and listen as the branches of hanging evergreens wipe away collected dust from the body of the truck. Our eyes dart along the road ahead of us and into the thick tree line. With each narrow road we pass, we question where that road leads and what lies at its end.
As the hazy sun has begun to make its descent below the horizon line, we head towards a campsite previously scouted out during our travels earlier that day. It’s a large plot is encased by tall pines and plenty of space for our small two person tent.
As we sit by a roaring fire, our voices are lost in the crackle and burn ofdried timber foraged from the woods around us. We indulging on camp burritos and admire the constellations above us, each star millions of light years away from us. In this very moment I reflect on our day and can’t help but feel at ease within the backcountry of Western Maine. With our camp location being no more than a five minute jaunt to the upper edge of Pierce Pond, we fall asleep to the timeless sound of the Maine Loon and the smell of a smoldering fire.