A Navigational Muddle

Mainers like to brag about our lakes and ponds and rivers and streams, and with good reason. We have lots of all of them, and I haven’t met any I didn’t like. Granted, some of our waters are bigger, cleaner, wilder, fishier, more remote, or more attractive than others, but even the least of them, even those little bog holes tucked away in the middle of impenetrable swampy thrashes, are, like the beauty of the rhodora that flourishes around them, their own excuse for being.

I’m willing to go in search of any little pond for no good reason at all. The pleasures of the search itself are enticement enough: the studying of maps, the reading of compasses, the sweating, the swatting of black flies, the clambering over blowdowns, and, eventually – eureka! – striking water. Isn’t that happiness enough for any summer day?

But then if you add to those pleasures the prospect of maybe catching a fish or two and doing a friend a favor, the lure of seeking out a pond not often visited by rational people becomes even more appealing. My friend Mike called. He needed, he said, for a series of short pieces he was writing on outdoor pursuits in Maine, to go trout fishing not in just any obvious place that you could drive to but in some out-of-the-way, hike-in pond.

“You’ve come to the right man,” I said. “I specialize in outof-the-way, hike-in ponds, and I’ve been eyeing one lately that meets your requirements to a T.”

“Have you ever been there?” Mike asked. “Is the fishing any good?”

“No, and I don’t know,” I said. “But our mutual friend Steve has a map he found on the internet that shows a pretty direct trail to it.”

“Pretty direct?” Mike said.

A few days later, the three of us left Steve’s Toyota ForeRunner on the side of a woods road many miles from any pavement and set off on the trail to what I will call Well Hidden Pond. I use this pseudonym because this pond’s real name would only reveal what inept navigators we were that day and ruin our reputations as grizzled old woodsmen.

The trailhead had been easy enough to find, but after we had rock-hopped across a couple of shallow brooks, picked our way across a beaver dam, and then started up a progressively steep and ever steeper hill where the trail had been eroded away into a rocky, ankle-twisting gully, all the while carrying not just our daypacks and rod cases but also taking turns portaging a pack canoe we expected we’d need to get out on the pond to fish – after all this, the trail turned left and started following around the contour of the hill. We stopped for a breather, a drink of water, and a look at Steve’s internet map. It showed the trail dropping quickly downhill to where it skirted Mud Pond, then swung northwest to Well Hidden Pond.

From previous rambles in this neck of the woods, Steve and I knew the only Mud Pond on this township had to be at least a mile or mile and a half south-southwest from where we thought we were. So we assumed this trail we were on was traveling a far more circuitous path than necessary and that we had better figure out a more direct route.

Just a few hundred yards back, we had seen a side trail heading up the hill, one shown on the map as the mountain trail to Well Hidden Pond. So we headed back to the junction, tucked the canoe away in the brush, and headed up and over the ridge, picking our way carefully along a trail that had seen next to no use in recent years and was heavily overgrown with brush for long stretches. But eventually it took us to our pond. Mike, a model of tact throughout this mismanaged morning, had never once said, “Pretty direct, huh?”

After a few hours of fishless fishing from a leaky scow we were lucky enough to find on the shore, we decided it was time to cut our losses. And we were curious to see where the trail that came in at the southeast corner of the pond went – out, we were willing to bet, but just how?

What we found, after less than a mile’s travel, was the pond mislabeled Mud Pond on Steve’s map, not the “real” Mud Pond but just a no-name puddle some internet cartographer must have thought would be shallow and muddy enough to join the company of Maine’s 67 other Mud Ponds. If we had taken the time in the morning to look closely at the scale on this map and to calculate distances accordingly, we would have recognized this mislabeling for what it was and reached Well Hidden Pond a couple of hours earlier than we did.

A few weeks later, Mike, without any help from Steve and me, found his way to another out-of-the-way pond, caught a few trout, and wrote his article.

Robert Kimber has written often for outdoor and environmental magazines. He lives in Temple, Maine.

 
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