Research Trip, Part Two

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I was hoping to come back from this research trip for “Fresh Water from Ben Gile Pond” with some kind of near-death story to share here on the blog. As it turned out, something was either smiling down upon us or giving us the finger (perhaps a bit of both), because we did end up in a situation where I was legitimately scared for my life. It’s a good thing we packed some Jack Daniels. It certainly helped with the nerves afterward.

Let’s backtrack a little. Last weekend I hiked out to Ben Gile pond in Northwestern Maine with my brother, Ryan and wife, Dina. This pond is the setting for most of the aforementioned project I will be moving onto after Topaz.

This trip has been in the making for some time now. I came up with the idea for the book we’d be researching back in May with the idea to attempt living out a portion of it in order to bring more realism to the story. So, with all the prep-work that went into our trek into the woods Ryan and I naturally had no idea where the hell we were going on the morning of the actual trip. We must have driven down at least four or five gravel roads that cut deep into the untamed wilderness of Rangeley and its surrounding areas, only to find each road gated some four or five miles in. Eventually we got to the point where we decided to just park at one of the gates and attempt it on foot.

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Round trip, the entire hike took us about four hours and ended up being just under ten miles. With us was our mongrel dog, Tripp, who impressed the hell out of me by never once trying to run off despite an abundance of moose and deer sign.

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Most of the hike took place on gravel logging roads. I can’t overstate just how eerie it was trekking down manmade roads that obviously see more action from the local wildlife than they do from the species that laid them. At every clearing, we saw tall grass pressed flat upon the ground from animals that had recently bedded there. Deep hoof prints in the mud and gleaming piles of moose and deer droppings let us know that we were in something else’s territory. As a human being it’s easy to build yourself up as the master of your environment when sitting around at home or tossing a ball around in the back yard, but as soon as you enter the undeveloped wilds it immediately becomes clear that you have no control at all.

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We reached the river that feeds Ben Gile Pond at about the 2.5 mile mark. Since we weren’t sure if there would be a path that led directly to the deep woods pond, we opted to follow the river in. Stepping off trail was both the best and the worst idea Ryan came up with during this entire trip. The river was little more than a brook surrounded by fir and cedar that zigzagged erratically through a moss-covered forest floor. Most of the trees that had once grown too close to it were long dead and rotted out. It was obvious that many of the smaller forest-dwellers used them as homes.

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The river ended abruptly at a break in the trees that looked out over Ben Gile Pond. While we were obviously quite excited to have arrived at our destination, we had never seen it outside of the winter and found it to be rather unimpressive. For the purpose of my story it will work just fine, but given the amount of space it appears to take up when covered in snow, it was a bit of a letdown. It was no less nostalgic, though that particular emotion didn’t hit until we made it to the pond’s eastern shore, which we had to access via the bog at its north side.

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Yes, we trudged through a bog. After following the river to the break in the trees, we stepped out into a field of tall grass. The earth beneath our feet was already soft and spongy at that point and it grew softer and spongier the closer we came to the water’s edge. We had already committed to making it through to the eastern shore and were not willing to turn back, so we shucked off our shoes and socks and pushed forward. It wasn’t so bad until we came upon a break in the bog where a branch of the river cut through to the pond. Had we tried to walk directly through we would have sunk a few feet into the mud. Ryan came up with the great idea to lay a small log in the water, which spread our weight out enough to allow for our crossing. He and I made it safely across, but Dina, upon setting foot on the other side of the water, ended up sinking up to her lower thighs in the mud. Ryan and I were able to pull her out, though I ended up going down to my knees in the process. Tripp had no issues at all aside from his initial reluctance to jump across. I captured the moment.

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For those of you who have never been knee-deep in mud, I’ll have you know that it’s a lot scarier than it sounds. With no way to gain proper footing because you are constantly sinking with every step, it starts to feel as though you’re stuck in quicksand. Fortunately there were three of us, and we managed to help one another to the shore where we built a small fire and passed our bottle of booze around while waiting for our gear to dry.

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The trip back was much easier since we were able to follow the trail that lead down to the pond back out to the system of gravel roads we were using previously. Tired, but no less determined, we pushed back toward the car, fueled by Zero bars and Wal-Mart’s Indulgent Peanut Butter Trailmix. Upon our arrival back at the camp I put my notes in order and started hashing out the finer points of the story based on our adventure that day.

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Had I not hiked out with my wife and brother, I wouldn’t have nearly as much material as I do now. The ideas are exploding out of my head, and it’s all I can do to keep from starting on the project right away. But I won’t. Not until Topaz is complete.

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I hope to start on “Fresh Water from Ben Gile Pond” in the early winter of 2014. My plan is to start submitting it in its final form to the publishers of the world in October of that year.

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