By V. Paul Reynolds
Most sportsman who have spent much time trying to find good places to hunt or fish have experienced bad roads. I mean really bad roads.
I have seen my fair share. Their memory doesn’t keep me awake at night, but some of the worst roads left an impression.
Back in the 1970s, when I was hooked hard on trout fishing in Aroostook County’s Red River country, bad roads went with the territory. My first year there a high school shop teacher, who was part of our fishing crew, was determined to get his old Army jeep into Gardiner Pond from the old road. It was an impossible excuse for a road with long, water-filled washouts that were three feet deep in places. Clyde said that he was up to the challenge, though we counseled him to forget it. A few minutes later his jeep was bottomed out with wheels spinning and tossing mud and rocks in every direction. The harder we laughed the more determined Clyde got and the deeper he dug himself and his old four-wheel drive.
“I’ll either get it out or burn it up right here,” Clyde asserted through clenched teeth.
It was a sight to behold. Clyde got out, but his vehicle did not. For all I know, remnants of it may be found there today. That same trip the late Guy Boober tried valiantly to get his VW down the hill into Galilee Pond. He got there only to become mired in black muck. A crew of seven was able to lift his small vehicle to higher ground.
In that same era during a heavy, late-April rain, I forded the Pleasant River on the Ebeemee Road en route to Pearl Pond. With me was a friend, E. Duncan Geikie, and a Mr. McCormick from Brownville, who wanted to sell us his old camp at Pearl Pond. The crossing of the river was a little hairy on the way in but my Toyota Tacoma never missed a beat, though Mr. McCormick’s heart may have skipped a beat or two. In midstream he cleared his throat a lot and drummed his fingers.
Little did we know. During our inspection of the camp the rain came down in buckets.
Yes, the return trip was memorable. The waters of the river had risen considerably higher during our morning camp visit. I had no choice but to go for it. I can still see the water cresting over the nose of the truck as we inched our way across the swollen river. The exhaust sounded like an old lobster boat. No one spoke. Needless to say, we were all a little dry mouthed from the experience. A white-faced Mr. McCormick said that we were crazy and that he guessed that would be his last ride with us!
The Mother of All Bad Roads that I have known is a narrow mountain road where I have elk hunted in western Colorado. It is bad when it is good. It is eight miles of serpentine switchbacks that wind upward along craggy precipices and 1,000 foot dropoffs. When it is bad, when snow or rain transforms the dry mountain dust into a grease-like muck, it is very, very bad.
Having confronted this road a number of times under a variety of conditions, our hunt crew has learned to respect it, to always approach it with solemnity, a clear head, and high-end, aggressive chains on all four wheels. We put my eldest son, Cool Hand Luke, behind the wheel and pray for his steady hand and pilot-trained reflexes.
Last October we made our way down this “road” after dark in a cold, driving rainstorm. The rain came on suddenly and in blinding sheets. We were not prepared having foolishly removed two of the four tire chains. It was the descent from Hell. Two miles an hour the entire way down that road’s slick, slimy surface. At each switchback the truck stubbornly refused to turn and slid like a levitating hovercraft closer and closer to the abyss. Nobody spoke. The only sound was from the driver, a few under the breath ooooos and ahhhs as he gingerly tapped the brakes and nursed the truck down the hill. (When Cool Hand Luke bites his lip and grimaces you know that you truly are on the edge.)
We survived that bad road, like all the others, but it left us all with sweaty palms and jangled nerves.
Will we ever go back? Of course, anything for a chance at an elk.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.