Summer Journal Day 9
Sunday, August 9
Camp is empty this morning. Don took Jake and Garry to the Big Black River. They left at 5 am. It’s cool and overcast right now. I hope there is no rain in the forecast. We both took hot showers. Who knows when we’ll be able to do that again?
It was another beautiful night with a big moon over the lake and plenty of stars. We were in bed by 10:30 and slept well. Chris finished his book before falling asleep. I’ve never seen him read a book so quickly. He thinks I should read it. Maybe I will.
We’ll check with Andrea about the weather this morning and see if she has a muskie lure or two for Chris.
Our plan is to head over to the St. John River near Daaquam. We won’t be able to visit Daaquam as Moody Bridge over the St John has been removed. Apparently it was in disrepair for several years and only light vehicles were allowed to use it. It was of no use to the paper companies if the logging trucks couldn’t cross, so they just left it until it reached a point where for safety’s sake it had to come down. Bob has a camp over in Daaquam where his wife stays while he works at Ross. Without the bridge he has to make a 38-mile detour to get home. Since the bridge closed he has stayed at Ross during the week and goes home only on weekends.
We hope to camp on the St. John for a couple of days and see if Chris can land a muskie. Don caught a 12-pound fish recently. Don had mentioned that the current in the St. John is running pretty quick right now because of all the rain. He cautioned us about putting the canoe in.
Sunday, August 9
Andrea gave Chris three different lures he could use to catch muskie and told him how to land one. Apparently they have large, sharp teeth. Fortunately, I brought along a pair of work gloves. Andrea also mentioned that if we climbed Ross Mountain that we could pick up a cell phone signal out of Canada. There would be an additional three dollar fee as it would be an international call, but we would be able to call home. We’ll talk about it in a couple of days when it’s time to leave the St. John.
Andrea told us as we were about to leave that there would always be space for us at Ross Camps. She smiled when she invited us to stop in the next time we were just passing through. I guess Don must have said something to her.
I had told Chris months ago that I had a surprise for him while we were here. As we got closer to the river I told him it was time for his surprise. He seemed excited as he’s been waiting for this for some time.
In the spring while I was researching the St. John River, looking for a place where we could drop our canoe in and paddle for a stretch and still make our way back to where we started, I happened to look at the satellite shot. As I scanned the river something appeared off to the right of the computer screen. I moved the curser over and there in the middle of the woods, 11-miles from the Canadian border along the banks of the river was a runway. It was closed, but looked to be in good shape.
I did some online research and learned that in 1965 the paper companies built a 1500 foot grass strip here so as to spray for the spruce bud worm. They initially used World War II vintage Avengers, but they couldn’t carry enough payload. After a few crashes, they chose to enlarge the runway to 3200 feet and pave it. They then brought in DC-3’s and were able to successfully spray.
By the early 1970’s the spruce bud worm threat had passed and the paper companies just walked away, leaving everything behind. Local outfitters and guides found the strip and began flying in customers to camp and fish the St. John. In response the paper companies lined the runway with boulders to prevent aircraft from landing. When informed of the liability by their attorneys, they removed the rocks, but made it clear that the runway was on private land and not to be used. For the most part it has sat empty and deserted since the mid 1980’s.
We drove down the Realty Road to its end at the river where Moody Bridge had been. Only the concrete upright supports remain. Had the bridge been there we could have crossed the river and reached Daaquam, about another five miles away. As it is we traveled most of the length of the American Realty Road, beginning in Ashland and driving as far as it could take us to the missing bridge over the St. John. The trip over from Ross Camps was only about 45 minutes and since it was a weekend I let Chris drive some of it.
I then took the wheel and we turned around and backtracked about a quarter mile after which I took a left on a little used over grown road that was sorely in need of repair.
I told Chris this was the way into the campsite we would use that night. In truth it was. When we came around that last corner, the trees suddenly ended and the thick woods opened up in the sunshine. Another 50 feet and we were stopped on the threshold of the 3200 foot strip looking down the runway.
I think Chris was a bit surprised. Here we were in the North Maine Woods, usually deep in the trees, and suddenly everything was wide open. Chris is learning to drive. I got out of the truck and said that for the next two days while we were there, the truck was his.
I expect that normally when a parent turns the keys over to a son or daughter for the first time, they come with advice such as; “Be careful,” “Watch where you’re going,” Keep your eyes on the road,” Drive defensively,” or something like that. When I turned the truck over to Chris I said, “Don’t hit a moose.”
I walked off the tarmack toward where we’d camp. He climbed into the driver’s seat and with a big smile was off down the runway.
I got him to stop long enough at our campsite to unload our gear before he was off again down the runway. I tried to take some pictures as he sped past; back and forth, back and forth. That afternoon he told me he drove as fast at 65 mph.
Sunday, August 9
Chris stopped driving for a bit and helped set up the tent. He then ran down to the river to fish. He was down there for about 30 minutes before coming back empty handed and hoping back into the truck.
Chris’ driving here was one of the big reasons for bringing all the extra gasoline. But since we had been in Ashland a few days ago and filled up, gas is not an issue. Chris can drive as much as he likes.
It seems the abandoned runway serves several uses. We are finding bullet shells scattered about. We’ve found everything from a 22 caliber to a 30-06, including some sliver 38 caliber casings. After collecting shells for a while, Chris was back in the truck and off again down the runway. There is also a paved ramp area that was probably used for loading the chemicals. We explored it including and old shack we found in the woods.
He waves now with every pass, smiling the whole way. He is practicing turns and backing up as well. I hope Chris is enjoying his surprise. The official name of the airstrip and the campsite is Red Pine.
Andrea gave us a printout of the weather forecast for the next couple of days and it isn’t very good. They are calling for rain beginning tonight and lasting a couple of days. We’ll see what happens.
The bugs here are a nuisance. We have to wear bug nets over our heads just to walk around. There are just clouds of bugs, but fortunately these swarming pests don’t bite. I wouldn’t be able to sit here and write without the head net. There is a cloud of bugs between my face and this notebook.
It’s past lunchtime, although we’ve pretty much eaten only when we’re hungry. The problem is the food is in the truck currently racing up and down the runway. I guess I’ll just have to wait until Chris gets hungry enough to stop. We’ll probably have to dump one of the 5-gallon cans into the gas tank later.
Andrea told us that she and Don use the runway every once and a while to clean out the engines on their trucks. Knocking around the dirt roads at 20-30 mph all the time loads up the engines. They come over here and blow everything out. I think my engine will be carbon free as Chris looks like he’s blowing it out for me.
It’s a beautiful day right now; cool with temps in the high 60’s, scattered clouds and a stiff breeze. If anyone comes down the river today maybe we’ll have company tonight. Red Pine is a regular stop on the St. John for canoeists. It will be someone to share the bugs with.
Sunday, August 9
Chris has had no luck on the river with the muskies, but he has sure been driving a lot. We just dumped a 5-gallon can of gas into the truck which brought the gauge up to three-quarters of a tank. We have one 5-gallon can left. I don’t remember where it was that we stopped to put the 2.5 gallon can into the tank. Yes I do, it was at Caucomgomac Dam.
Oh happy day, the mosquitoes are out. We’re both lumpy from bites. We have a fire going that helps keep them away, but we have to sit in the smoke.
We had a late lunch; grilled cheese sandwiches, pickles and chips. It’s overcast with thunderstorms due after midnight. Hopefully it will clear up enough tomorrow for us to dry things out.
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