La Casa De Fiesta is an unlikely name for a topless
bar, especially one in Millinocket Maine, the heart of the used- to-be-thriving
paper mill industry. Sure, there are foreign born loggers, but mostly French
Canadians who drive down from the north. Mark Queijo and I, coming up from
the south, were five hours of road weary when we drove by the bar,
looked at each other, smiled, spun around and pulled into the adjacent
parking lot. We'd fled Acton early, stopped at the Littleton Sub Shop for
a late on-the-fly lunch and were now only an hour and a half from where we
intended to spend the night - Chamberlain Lake. We were also alone. Dan and
Adam with known work obligations, and later, unexpected car repairs, wouldn't
meet us until the afternoon of the following day. If we stopped for a beer
or two we'd nothing to lose but sleep.
Our camping routine is as predictable
as the changing color of red maples in the fall. We know what our preparation
entails - important gear left home; we know what the drive will be like
- long; the first night's sleep in a motel - fast; the subsequent breakfast - huge;
the lake water temperature - testicle retracting; we can even predict
squabbles which might surface. Our tedious routine would explain my reaction to walking
into a room full of naked women when moments before I was scanning
the skies for the Northern Lights. Dissociative. It was fun, it was memorable,
and I can't say I didn't enjoy it, especially the “Preferred“ dance I arranged
for Mark while he was in the bathroom, but I was happy to get back
on the road, to search for our campsite in a birch meadow near the
We drove away from the bar at 10:30 and arrived at Chamberlain Lake before
midnight. How convenient, I thought, I'll get a good night's sleep.
But that was before Has-to-Have-a-Water-View, met Can't - Turn - Back.
The logging road follows the lake north but other than at the ranger
station, it's a comfortable few hundred yards away. To get to the water,
where I hoped to pitch our tent, we needed to find an access road, a
path, two ruts, matted weeds, anything that resembled a trail meandering
in the direction of the water. Under the stars it was no moon dark
and hard to find those trails; in the woods and on one of those trails,
it was the color of lamp black.
The first path we chose began in a silvery green field of knee high
grass. The trail curved down into the woods, but bit by bit the trail got
narrower and narrower as encroaching branches of nearby trees closed
around us - much like a Chinese finger trap. I shivered listening
to the fingernail-on-chalkboard sound as the new Jeep's black finish
fought its way through those branches. Not my car, but I cringed
as Mark continued to drive until the road ended. We jumped and with
flashlights in hand searched for water. We climbed over fallen trees,
plowed through brush, and stumbled on rocks before I suggested, meekly, giving up.
“We can't turn back now, the water must be right over that hill,“ Mark
offered. I laughed, “And then what, walk back for our gear and then
all the way back to the water that we don't yet know exists? “ Retreat from the trap we did, but I smiled knowing Mark shared my need not to give up until tab
A was iinserted into slot B. He'd demonstrated that his need to move
forward was greater than his love for his Jeep's flawless finish.
I'd like to say that the next trail we chose deposited
us at a campsite nestled near the lake. But I can't . I wish I could say the one after that one, or even the rutted path which ended next to a cabin, deep in the woods, which might have been owned by someone
from Texas with a chain saw and meat hooks. I wish I could say, CTB
and HTHAWV conceded and slept there, but I can't. We really are
too much alike. We didn't end out search until the sun threatened
to help us look, until we were too tired to continue and we had come
to our last dead end - a muddy, rocky area next to a narrow stream.
We climbed out of the Jeep, scouted for a flat place to pitch our tent,
failed to find one, set up anyway, and slipped into our down bags as rain danced on our tent. We found our water alright: falling on our tent,
babbling from the brook and oozing up from the ground
The next morning? No, that morning, nowhere near enough hours after we'd fallen asleep, we stuffed our damp down into bags, our wet tent into its sack, and headed back to the lake
where we thought we'd meet Dan and Adam. More rain fell as we lurched
into the parking area at the south end of Chamberlain, and that's why we
ended up cooking breakfast on gathered wet wood, a few feet from a battered
gray camper. This, after begging the park ranger proudly standing in front
of three sheds full of seasoned wood, if he might spare a log or two. He
While Mark cooked over easy's in a small frying pan coated with rain
and butter, I pulled out this year's brain storm, a gold filter cone with
which to make our coffee. Damn thing worked at home, sort-of, where time
was not critical, but for whatever reason - old sediment clogging the holes
or coffee ground too fine - water poured in hot would drip out like that nasty
motel faucet you can't quite turn off. Five minutes later, one cup full of coffee in need of a microwave. Mark provided the morning's entertainment when
he insisted on cooking bacon, to accompany the runny eggs. I laughed as he dodged exploding bacon fat pelted by rain.
Don't mistake the self-pitying tone of this story;
we were not miserable, and god knows, we never whine, in fact we both enjoy telling this story. Mark's only previous camping experience was a Battan-like march and paddle through the Boundary Waters in Minnesota with
enough gear to squash a Russian weight lifter and for me, well, this was not my first trip to Maine.