It was midday when I finally decided to leave the camp ground and head into Baxter. I didn't have much of a plan. I looked up a few east trails near the Togue Pond entrance, bought a sandwich from the gas station/ souvenir shop/ deli next door and set off up the road.
I didn't realize how far away the park entrance was until after I started out. I was going along the road for a bit when I saw a brown sign: "Baxter 8." Isn't it just like me to take a 20 mile bike ride on my day off from cycling? I stopped at a painted boulder with scenes of Maine and background views of what's locally known as "the mountain." I was scared northern Maine would be one long mountain range, barely traversable, instead Mount Katahdin rises solo amongst the rolling hills.
I parked my bike and decided to eat half my sandwich for lunch. A dad and daughter stopped for their annual picture by the mural boulder. I told them what I was doing. "Wow, that's a lot of biking," the little girl remarked saying she could barely stand the car ride up here from Boston.
They left an another car pulled up. Two parents were picking up their son who just finished through hiking the AT. It's a lifelong dream of mine to do it and I get emotional just talking or thinking about it. The mom was amazed at my cycling adventure. Told me about a southbound hiker who just started the AT fresh off the PCT. She must have asked me half a dozen times if I needed anything. I said I was fine. She took some photos. We both went on out way.
I locked my bike behind the visitors center at the Togue Lake entrance. It's the more popular of the two main gates, being on the south side of the park. A very nice ranger named Kathy gave me a map and a route that would take a few hours to hike. I walked around Cranberry Pond, through the now dry bog and through the fairy tale-like forest. Giant boulders are covered with moss and lichen. Little streams appear and disappear under the rocks. I chatted with a friendly red squirrel, saw a woodpecker, lots of interesting fungus and berries.
I was walking down the main road, which is primitive, unpaved made of packed gravel just as Governor Baxter decried when he gifted the land to the state in the early 1930s. A man in a white Baxter State Park truck asked me if I was hitch hiking out and if so he'd pick me up after he picked up a few more people. I told him my bicycle was at the entrance and he told me I wasn't too far away. Hitchhiking must be pretty common if the park staff is offering people rides.
Continuing on I saw a family swimming in Togue Pond at the beach. I asked how the water was and one young woman answered that it was nice. I was sweaty from hiking and decided to take a dip. I swim out a ways and back to shore and made feints with the youngest member of the family. Three-year-old Alex handed me a stick she found and told me to sit in the water by her. Her parents were trying to coax her further into the lake but she just wanted to sit in the sand. She asked about my dinosaur tattoo. She called it a dragon. We found rocks, kicked out feet in the water and squished the sand. Eventually I had to excuse myself to bike the 10 miles back to the camp site before dark. The family was from Presque Isle, even farther north than Masardis. They knew right where it was and the matriarch remarked that was a good place for a Bushcraft School since there's really nothing around there.
I stopped in the gas station/ souvenir shop/ deli for some snacks and a 4 pack of Maine cider on my way back to my camp site. I struck up a conversation with a trio of middle aged men at the beer cooler. One had a daughter who just finished a 192 mile two day bike race in Boston. Another asked how many people I was cycling with and couldn't believe I was cycling along. "Why would you do a thing like that?"
"Well," I said. "Sometimes you can't find someone who wants to do exactly what you want to do. But that's no reason not follow your dreams anyway."
The dad of the cyclist gave me a fist bump on the way out. "Keep it up," he said. "Happy riding."