I believe it was Sir Edmund Hilary who said the reason he wanted to climb Everest was, “Because it is there.” So that was the key reason why I chose to run the River Link trail. There were many other surrounding factors on why to go out for a little bit of a longer run in the midst of the global pandemic, but ultimately to go on a trail I had barely heard of, or actually just read about was simply because it was there.
I had found the trail on-line as I was searching for places that might not get as heavy use. It is great to see so many people discovering the woods but has forced me to search out areas that are not so popular. The River Link Trail is located from Boothbay to Newcastle. It also probably passes through Edgecomb as well, but there were no town line markings along the way, as there usually aren’t in the midst of the woods
At one end of the trail lies the Dodge Point Preserve in Newcastle. This is a place I have been to before, and knew just how wonderful it is and so I suspected it could get busy there, even on a Thursday. Spring was truly in the air. The other end of the trail was located in Boothbay, not Boothbay Harbor, at Zak’s Preserve. In between the trailheads were seven miles plus miles of trail that I hoped to find isolation.
Zak’s Preserve was really easy to find as it lies on Route 27 leading into the Boothbay Peninsula, right across from a former campground that I remembered my grandparents staying at in their RV. I had driven by the preserve many other times often wondering what I was missing out of.
I had grown up on the other side of the peninsula on Westport Island, spending my youth exploring the woods near my home and rowing on the Sheepscot River. I have had a yearning to get back on the water in a rowboat recently and the day before checked out a boat. On line I found a seventeen foot boat that could fit four people with two able to row in tandem. I arranged with the owner to have a look as it was located in Freeport. The owner was a little hard to understand on the phone as he had a thick Maine accent, and with a perfect Maine name as well, Burt. He gave me directions to his home, which was actually located very near a trailhead that I have been exploring as well. The home was at a dead end road, which had two dead ends. When I got out of the car at one home, the owner was outside but looking much younger than the man I spoke with. He chuckled when I asked if he was Burt, and gave me directions on how to get to the right home.
When I did get to the right house, Burt was outside working all dressed up in waterproof clothing. Hip boots, a jacket and also a white trash bag wrapped around his waist. He said he was polishing some stones of which a couple would be made into a bench and another that he said would become his gravestone. Even though he was the right age, he was too tall to be the real Owen Meany from a classic story by John Irving. I had seen a small cemetery between the two homes and asked if that was going to be his resting place. He said it was.
I told him how I had been exploring the trails near his home, and almost ended up in his backyard recently. He told me all about the surrounding land, as well as other Freeport history. He had lived on Bustin’s Island growing up and had to either take a boat to get to the mainland or walk across the frozen bay before biking seven miles to get to school. Now my kids didn’t even need to leave the house
Finally, we checked out the boat which was under plastic sitting on a trailer. I helped him flip it over, keeping social distance while I did keep on my mask. With the boat on it’s side, I could see some light through the hull. He said the boat was at least seventy years old. It was an amazing boat being constructed in Rangeley. He admitted it did leak and hadn’t had time to find the leak to fix it. He suggested letting it sit in water to swell the wood before finding the leak. My heart was a little broken because as much as I longed for this boat, I knew that I didn’t have the time or the skills to take on a project like this.
I decided that my desire to be back in a rowboat would have to wait, and that I should stick with adventures on my two feet instead. Truly, it was a joy and pleasure to meet Burt and I wished that I could sit down with him and learn more about this man who also told me some stories about his sailboat which was at port up in Eastern Newfoundland.
My heart was still craving the water, especially when I crossed over the Sheepscot River and could see areas I had either rowed or kayaked around. Back on land, I got to Zak’s preserve with only one other car in the lot. Another pulled in while I made my preparations. The two car owner’s met one another all geared up to do some trail work. I asked them for some directions as none of the maps at the kiosk indicated where the River Link Trail met the preserve, and I had not downloaded any maps.
It was a little tricky finding the River Link, but once I did there were plenty of markers to lead me. I didn’t go out at any blistering pace as I was more concerned about staying on the right trail and in classic Maine trail style the trail was very windy with plenty of rocks and roots to trip you up.
A few miles into my trek I was able to spot an owl up in a tree looking down at me. As our eyes locked on each other he or she swiftly swooped down from it’s perch being chased after by a bunch of smaller birds. They continued to chase after the large predator, probably chasing the owl away from their nest. I wished they chased the owl a little closer to me as I was struggling to get a picture on my phone.
Lying about halfway between the two trailheads was another land preserve that I had never visited either. Schmid Preserve had its own trail system that looped all around the River Link. At one time this must have been farmland as I came across some magnificent stone walls and could notice that this land must have been cleared of trees. Much like the land around Burt’s home that he had told me was also farmland generations ago.
While passing through this area, my thoughts turned back in time when I used to work for the weekly newspaper in Boothbay, The Boothbay Register. I had spent a couple years there shortly after college, and it was amazing to think that nearly half of my life has passed by since then. Back then I was eager to explore mountains, heading off for trips on the Appalachian Trail.That was all before the internet, when it was more challenging to find places to explore. And also before many of these local land preserves began making trails. If I wanted to explore the woods around me, I had to bushwhack, or follow the thorn ridden trails along power lines. Now I was discovering areas that were practically in my backyard, giving me the opportunity to swiftly move my feet while my mind’s pace slowed with the light breeze passing through the new born leaves taking in the fresh sun’s energy.
I came out to an empty parking lot for the Dodge Preserve, this one was an auxiliary lot and I had no idea if the main lot was full or not. At the information kiosk there was a list of rules posted. It was pretty simple, only about four or five, none of which were new to me. I thought how easy it was to follow a few simple rules in order for people to continue to enjoy such a beautiful place. On the ride down, I listened to NPR which was telling how the President was going to be visiting an automotive factory in Michigan later that day, and how the state had rules, laws requiring facial protection in cases like this. I, along with most of the rest of the world knew that he wasn’t going to be following this simple rule. If I could follow a few simple rules to ensure enjoyment by others, why couldn’t the President?
Dodge Point made the seven plus mile run to it completely worth the effort. As I came down to the water, the tide was still slightly out and I looked out into a vacant river. My heart churned with the desire to be dipping oars into the salty water facing the direction I had come from. Only a mother with her two young children happened to pass by while I rested along the shore. The trail weaved in and out from the shore for a short while, and I wished I had brought along more of a lunch than a couple pretzel rods, so that I could turn off my watch for an extended break.
There was only one other person I came across in the preserve, who I heard his phone ring before I saw him and his dog. I zig-zagged along the Ravine Trail for a mile or so before finding my way out of the preserve and back to the River Link. By now, my watch indicated that I was close to ten miles. I had expected the day to be somewhere between 14 and 15 miles, and with the sun’s increasing it’s BTU output I got my mind ready for more miles than planned.
Maybe it was the familiarity of the trail that made the trail beneath my feet click away a little faster on the return leg of the journey. I kind of knew what to look for, including one spot that I took a wrong turn and had to backtrack a little. Even with making decent time back, I knew I wasn’t going after an FKT or PR, and that I was able to stop and explore a unique growth of trees near one of the old stone fences. I also was on the lookout for the owl, who probably was resting somewhere out of sight getting ready for a night of hunting.
I couldn’t dwadle along too long in this forest though. NIcely, my wife who was working remotely, spent the morning getting our kids ready for their on-line learnings, and I knew that I should get myself home to do my part of responsibilities for the afternoon. Still, I couldn’t help but think of those former co-workers at the newspaper. A few of them have passed in the time since we would work together literally cutting and pasting the paper getting it ready for printing. I got pretty good at using an exacto knife in order to spread out paragraphs on the paper. An effective use of white space is what one co-worker called that process. He was the happiest person I have ever met at being utterly miserable. He was full of one liners at how badly life was treating him, yet he kept doing all the same things that were making him such an old cuss, and making us laugh about his misery. My favorite was that he swore that God was a woman, because no man could give him such a terrible fate. Yes, he was a bachelor. If he didn’t smoke a couple packs of cigarettes a day, he really would have been an incredible ultra-runner with that kind of attitude.
Sometime before I got to a road crossing somewhere in the Schmid Preserve, I did come across two other men, and two dogs. There wasn’t much to say between us all, as one gathered up his loose dogs, and I just wanted to keep moving and finish my day. Unsure of the mileage still ahead of me, I did my best to put a spring in my step(s) in order to call it a day. Thoughts passed through my head of tacking on a little more when I got to Zak’s Preserve, as I knew I hadn’t seen nearly as much as I could have that morning.
I knew I was getting close when I passed by some power lines, laughing to myself at how I used the poles as trail markers one time in my life. There were many intersecting trails which I did not know which ones to follow other than the route I had started on and with my mileage past the seventeen mile mark, I decided that I would call it a day when I got back to my car. Which now sat alone in the lot.
A quick call home to my wife to let her know I was safe and on my way after I would stop in on my parents. The day wasn’t over, but my adventure was. It was needed in this time of isolation to get away. The day could have been grander, could have been more challenging, but it gave me what I needed. And a new place to explore. I remember when I was getting done with working at the newspaper a co-worker said to me between drags off her cigarette, “You’ll be back someday. They always come back.” I suppose, despite the River Link’s lack of glamour or any real unique characteristics, she may be right. Someday I will go back. After all, because it is there.