30-Mar-2008 -- I was in Boston for the Annual National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Convention. I had been there for five days but had seen only a small bit of the surrounding terrain from the hotel to the convention center, and the terrain I had seen was interesting but completely urbanized. Time to get out in the country! In addition, since the NSTA workshops we taught and the exhibit we ran focused on geospatial technologies (GIS and GPS), I thought it was particularly fitting that I practice some in-the-field GPS work.
I departed the hotel at 6:30am on the first shuttle to the airport. It was odd to transfer directly from the incoming passengers area to the outgoing passengers area so that I could wind up at the Hertz Rental Car shuttle. Thanks to their rapid check-in, by 7:40am I was winding my way through the labyrinth of bridges, roads, and tunnels that make up the complex at Logan Field, heading north on Interstate Highway 93. A fine day for a confluence run! But which one to select?
I had been scanning the area's confluence points, and the closest one to the north was 43 North 71 West, in New Hampshire. Perhaps I am not used to the small size of the states in the eastern USA, because upon entering New Hampshire on Interstate Highway 95 and paying the toll, I completely missed the turn, not realizing it until I had passed into Maine. I then decided to make a run for 44 North 70 West. Why not? I had not visited Maine since I was 4 years old, and it was a beautiful early spring day. One of my favorite GIS and GPS-using teachers, Margaret Chernosky, teaches in Maine, and this visit would be a fitting tribute to her. The landscape was still covered in snow that became deeper the further north I drove. I listened to satellite radio for the first time, even finding a bluegrass station and a 1940s music station. I observed that the Maine drivers seemed better behaved than those in other states, with very few of them weaving in and out of traffic. The presence of many state patrol cars undoubtedly helped.
I stopped and purchased the most expensive bottle of water of my entire life before resuming my journey, as I knew a hike lay ahead. As I lacked a printer at the NSTA convention, the best map I had was a hand-made map drawn on the hotel's small note pad. Due to the small size of the map, I didn't realize that the confluence was northeast of Highway 295; I thought it was northeast of Highway 95. As I had the GPS turned on, it slowly dawned on me that I would need to cut over from 95 to 295. Once I realized this fact, I set out on some wonderful Maine country roads. I took Highways 9 and 196 through Lisbon Falls, through small towns and a landscape that was just beginning to free itself from one of the snowiest winters in recent years. I reached 295, only to find that there was no exit at the proper roadway (201). I took the next one (138) and doubled back through more picturesque countryside down 201. The only problem was that this was all taking up precious time, over an hour of winding around, in fact, and I had a plane to catch, way down in Boston.
It was late morning as I drove northwest on Meadow Road, bounded by trees and snow on both sides, and onward to Ward Road. At one point, the road ahead looked too snowy for the vehicle, so I stopped and brought out the necessary equipment. I donned my hat and gloves, sunblock, and my 50 cent sunglasses from the Arvada Army Store that my spouse loves (not). The GPS read 1 mile (1.6 km) to the spot. I was soon glad I didn't try to drive any further, as I had a difficult enough time even keeping my footing in the slush, ice, and snow. When the road began curving away from the confluence, I took a private driveway to the north.
I stopped at the fine looking house and met the homeowner. When she told me that she was a former earth science teacher, my heart skipped a beat. She operates the business Forest Circles and runs healing retreats on the property. I became hopeful that she would grant me access to her property, and I told her about my week at the NSTA convention. Permission granted, I set off, but not before I fell down in the snow in her front yard. I'm sure the landowner thought I was a real city slicker, but she did not laugh at me as I stumbled toward the trail.
I was immediately surrounded by one of the most beautiful forests I have hiked through. I was also, with each step, sinking in snow past my waist! After only five minutes of this step-sink, lift legs, step-sink routine, I was pretty tired. Fortunately, I became smarter as I went. I was able to start selecting spots where I didn't sink through the upper crust, and the going was still slow, but at least I made progress. I stuck to a trail that led somewhat in the correct direction, toward the northeast. I traversed three different wetland meadows, where the going became slower again. I found an unexpected rocky outcrop. After the third meadow, I found another trail and came within 200 meters of the confluence. Unfortunately, as I suspected would happen, the heavy timber cover frequently caused a loss of satellite signal. The trees were not yet in leaf, but there were a great many branches, and some were evergreens. At a frozen creek, I took my bearings again and struck off in another direction. In the dense forest once more, I reached a clearing no more than 2 meters wide by 5 meters long. According to my GPS, I was about 40 meters from the confluence, and this would have to do, as a few steps in any direction would cause a loss of signal.
This confluence lies on level but hummocky ground, near a fallen evergreen tree, in the Maine woods. The temperature was 25 F (-4 C) degrees under beautiful blue skies, though slightly breezy. This was my first confluence in Maine, my first time to 70 West, and my first time on 44 North. A first for everything for me, even though other folks have been to this spot before. It would be fascinating to come back here in the summer.
Sometimes, having a GPS is more than just a nice thing to have along on a hike, but essential for navigating one's way out. This was one of those times. I had been able to keep a grasp on my bearings until the last 20 minutes, when I had begun weaving through the trees to get closer than 100 meters to the point. Due to this circuitous trek through the densest part of the forest, and with the noontime sun nearly straight overhead, I truly needed my GPS to navigate successfully out. The map screen showed no track since I had been losing signal, so I tried to walk in one direction in the hope of gaining signal and finding where I was in relation to my track on the way in. After what seemed like a long time, but in reality was probably less than 15 minutes, I was able to do so, and struck westward. Even so, I felt much better when I actually found my own footprints again. I followed these as best I could, and made such good time that I was surprised when I popped out of the trees at the landowners home once more, about 30 minutes later.
The landowner was loading something in her vehicle and I reported about my journey. I thanked her again but I mentioned that the point is quite a ways from her home, and I'm not sure it is on her property. I walked out onto the driveway, down the road, which was even more slippery now due to the day's melting, and back to the vehicle. The total hike time was about 2 hours. Now I really had to hurry back to Boston. I had no time to visit the missed confluence in New Hampshire, but the morning had been well spent. I made my flight and indeed, it was an excellent way to end the week at the science teachers' conference.