Upta camp

Last year, we found some property about an hour and a half north. 62 acres of woods in the middle of nowhere, Maine, bounded by a river. There’s nothing on it - no utilities, no cell service, and barely a logging road cutting through it that provides access.

In other words, it’s perfect.


These past few years, we’ve been occasionally renting a cabin off-grid in places around the state. Just holing up with a wood stove, some books, and quiet. Playing card games by candle light as a family, or walking the trails.

When we started looking for our own, we wanted to find a place that we could place a cabin, and create our own retreat. For now, the woods have given the Boy and I a place to go camping on the occasional weekend. (The girls have visited a couple of times - but they’ve less interest in staying out in the woods until there’s some kind of toilet to use…)


The first time we went up there was still snow on the ground (it was April, but this is Maine). We used a tent, and just walked the land a bit, hatching plans.

The next time, we built a lean to shelter - something we could toss our cots under and enjoy the campfire. We added a bit each time, learning what worked, and how to keep it dry. It was a simple tarp thrown up between a fallen tree, and another timber I tied up at an angle. Good enough to start.


The property includes an old gravel pit - scraped out by the county when they were building the nearby road decades ago. It’s a handy feature as we think about putting a road into the site we’ve located our camp on, and will eventually place the cabin on. It’s about a quarter of a mile into the woods near to the rapids of the river. The water rushes high in spring, and more placidly in the other seasons.

But the gravel pit also serves as a safe shooting range, standing in the cut towards the pit, where the back bank will catch any stray shots safely. I found a Remington .22 bolt action that is nearly identical to the one my grandfather owned, which I learned to shoot with. A good tradition to pass on.


The Boy and I spent the winter plotting and planning what to do next upta camp. When we went up to ‘open’ the property this season, I was pleased to see how well the shelter had lasted. The front support had collapsed. But underneath, the ground was still dry, and the wood we had stored ready for the fire.


But I had already decided to expand it a bit - we’ve had friends join us once, and look forward to doing so again. Besides, I wanted a bigger fire.


We went with a simple structure, and added a tarp. I left a gap at the ridge pole to let the smoke escape - this will be a little tricky when it rains, of course, but I have some ideas on how to address this later on. Each trip up, we’ll add a bit more. I started one end barrier, and will add another, plus more supports.

This isn’t meant to be a permanent structure, but I do want it to last through the winter. I’ll be clearing trees, and creating the space for a cabin over the coming seasons, but we’ll probably be another year or two before we get around to building the actual structure.


I lost track of the number of ticks I’ve pulled off of ourselves over the trips - early in the year, only one or two. But during the height of summer, it’s just about unbearable, between the ticks, black flies, and mosquitos, it’s true. But that’s really only a stretch of about a month or so.

All in all, it’s a place to find peace. To goof off and learn a few bushcrafting skills. To light a fire and share a can of chili. To plink away at the target, and try to identify the tracks we find along the river. To let the sun fall behind the trees, and enjoy the quiet of nature. And build a few memories together while we’re at it.


I see why Mainers are so partial to the woods.

Upta camp

Since we're Mainers now (well.. as close as a non-native person 'from away' that doesn't have roots going back three-plus generations in the state can get, anyhow), we've been talking about Camp. 

In Maine, going 'Upta Camp' is a tradition. Families have a cabin or a house on the beach, or even a stretch of land that buts up against a river or a lake that they can pull their camper onto or pitch a tent. There's a lot of water in Maine, and more than enough to go around. And failing that, then a Camp near to one of the ski resorts up in the mountains will do nicely. 

There are lots of varieties of Camp. Many of which are as nice (or nicer) than the primary house, with all the amenities of home. Which to me, kind of seems like cheating. 

I'd been planting the seeds of an idea with my Bride for a while. We were watching HGTV and some 'small homes' show, and saw a little log cabin. 

"Ooh. That looks good. Look - they have a woodstove for heat. None of that sissified electric stuff"

Then I'd turn on an episode of 'Naked and Afraid'.  

'Put a tent in there someplace, and that would make a nice Camp, doncha think?'

Somewhere in there, I got my Bride convinced that we should rent a place for a week this summer, and try out a Camp. I found a place someplace between Portland and the Canadian border (about 5 hours away), and showed her the cabin (above). 'That looks nice, doesn't it?'

After she said 'yes', I explained that while you could theoretically get there by car - on a logging road, and only if you had some serious 4 wheel drive, and still had to pack in the last mile by foot - it would be such an adventure to take the float plane in. 

That's our ride. It wasn't big enough to carry us all at the same time. So we took a couple of trips, along with all our gear. It was loud, and it only flew about 600 feet off the ground. There were hills going by above eye level as we flew in. 

But when we landed, we were in Maine heaven. Not another soul nearby. It's the only cabin on the lake. The sounds of the loons, and the fish jumping in the lake were amazing. The cabin was built of spruce felled and peeled on the property. All of the forest around us for miles was private timber land, and there were no neighbors for miles. 

Of course, there was also no electricity. Or cell coverage. Or running water.  

There was a fresh spring trickling out from underneath a rock about 200 yards through the woods down a trail. 

('I see a bear!' The Boy shouted this at me as we unloaded the gear and waited on the girls to arrive on the second flight in. I laughed, but I looked rather carefully down the trail towards the spring - which we still had not yet walked. 'It's moving there!'  

It was a log and some dappled sunlight waving through the trees. But I admit, it was an exciting few minutes while I tried to spot what the Boy was seeing.) 

Despite the 'roughing' it - the cabin was amazingly well outfitted. There was a kitchen cabin with 4 beds, and a connected 'sleeping' cabin with another 5. (Overall the place could've slept 16 people). Both cabins had a woodstove - we kept one of them going all the time. There was a propane fueled refrigerator and a stove top, and inside 'camp' lights with gas mantles. 

There were packs of cards and leftover spices. A few cribbage boards and a half dozen hunting and fishing magazines to read if the mood struck. There were 2 canoes and a 2 person kayak, and plenty of trees near the lake to string our little portable hammock up in. And a pair of adirondack chairs to laze in. 

And we had the best outhouse I've ever had the pleasure to sit in. 

It didn't take long to slow down once we settled in. It was quiet and peaceful, and the lake was gorgeous and welcome to swim in during the early afternoon hours when the temperature reached 80 degrees or so. 

We all read a lot, and hiked a lot, napped frequently, and just enjoyed the pace of the woods. At night, we'd listen to the cries of the loons, and once to a pack of coyotes ranging through the woods near camp. 

All of our meals were either cooked over the fire down next to the water, or in the woodstove in the cabin. Every meal tasted amazing, with that earthy, welcome tang of fire and smoke. My Bride had planned every meal (there were spreadsheets involved, and cryovac packaged portions), and we still ended up with more food than we needed. The first night was ribeye and asparagus. And that was just a sample of how well we ate while we were there. 

The kids both took to the woods readily. The Critter was just back from 4 weeks of sleep-away camp in New Hampshire (and not exactly thrilled at the idea of another week without access to her phone and friends), but admitted that the quiet was welcome after living in a cabin full of chattering 14 year old girls for a month. 

She didn't move too far from the lake for the duration of the week. 

The Boy and I were the ones to explore. The cabin backed up onto a 700 foot high peak (see my earlier note about how high the plane flew), and he and I climbed up and around and through the woods, finding and forging trails, and peeking underneath rocks and fallen logs. He asked me a couple of times as we were out exploring if we could stay there for ever. I'm pretty sure this boy likes the woods. 

He got his very own pocket knife for this trip (he turned 9 a week after we got back), and took to carving and whittling. Only cut himself once. And it didn't bleed too badly. So we're declaring victory. 

The morning after we arrived, we were all hanging out near the lake, and the Boy shouts 'Hey! Moose!' 

I had a moment of '...probably right next to the bear you spotted earlier' until I looked up, and saw a 7 foot bull moose standing in the water at the end of the lake. Sure as shit. Our first moose. (Not just this trip. This is our first moose spotting since moving to Maine). 

The moose proceeded to calmly walk out into the water and graze on the lily pads and water grasses, and then did something I never would've imagined. It completely submerged itself, diving down beneath the water for several seconds. It would pop its head up every once in a while, and we could see the water flashing and cascading off its antlers. It did this for about half an hour, before it got back up and wandered into the woods. The entire time, I think the four of us sat slack-jawed in awe, watching this gigantic beast. 

The next day, we saw a cow moose and two calves a little further around the corner of the lake - that was early in the morning, and I didn't have a camera with me. Because the Boy had woken me up at 5:30 am to go fishing. 

He has been wanting to fish for years - since before we left Massachusetts. And I finally ran out of excuses on this trip, and broke down and bought him a pole.  He was so excited about this - despite the fact that I hadn't been fishing in over 25 years. My Bride and I were you-tubing videos of how to clean a fish on the drive up, as neither one of us had any real idea anymore. 

We didn't catch a thing all week. The lake is full of brook trout and land locked salmon, and we got several good bites. But our skill or luck wasn't there, and we couldn't reel any of it in. But he wasn't deterred. He'd spend an hour or more quietly casting out and slowly reeling in, or letting his line sit in the water as I paddled us out in the canoe. He found the zen of fishing immediately. It was the coolest thing I've probably ever done for that Boy, and I was beyond myself with joy at being around him while he was having so much fun. I was also huddled around the hottest, strongest coffee I could make. It was 5:30 in the morning, and we were out on the damn water in a canoe, after all. 

On our last morning, we woke up to a pouring rain, and all of us decided to back up in our sleeping bags a little longer, and listened to the rain hit the roof of our cabin. The plane couldn't get there through the weather, and we waited a few extra, welcome hours before our return to civilization. 

I don't know if we'll ever buy something like this on our own, but I'm pretty sure all of us would be up for going back to this little spot of magic.