An Off-Grid Field Test with Amundsen, Deep in the Rugged Maine Backcountry
Exploring the North Woods by float plane, canoe and on foot to discover the Norwegian spirit of friluftsliv and turn a weekend in nature into eternity
Set in the farthest remote reaches of the United States' northeasternmost state, the North Maine Woods is a 3.5 million-acre playground for those seeking a break from the usual hectic and stressful work week grind. These vast landscapes contain no roads, no cell service or wifi, and, most importantly, no stress, making it the perfect location for an Amundsen Field Test.
Getting there isn't easy, but after extensive Googling (and numerous rejections from transporters), we stumbled upon Bradford Camps. This family-run lodge has been in the North Maine Woods since 1890, with the sole purpose of offering guests a good dose of friluftsliv—the Norwegian philosophy of disconnecting and living simply in nature—in the forests of New England.
Prior to our arrival in Maine and just 10 hours before our planned seaplane pick-up, we found ourselves in the streets of New York City. Loaded down with our lives on our backs, we navigated traffic and sidewalks while simultaneously confirming where and when to meet the plane. This adventure was not about the city though; vehicle acquired and with no time to lose, we set a course north towards Pittsfield, Maine.
The next morning, the noise of propellers buzzed in the distance beyond sight of where we were told to leave the car for the weekend near a runway and waterway. Finally the plane arrived and our host, Igor Sikorsky, greeted us welcome and we began to load up, strapping our wooden skis onto the aircraft and buckling in for the flight farther north.
"In nature the quantity of harvest doesn’t matter; it’s all about the quality. This is the Norwegian philosophy of friluftsliv."
Our air route into Bradford Camps took us over Mount Katahdin—the tallest peak in Maine and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail—and then beyond into and over the Allagash Wilderness before revealing our destination, Munsungan Lake. Tucked into the trees on the northeast shore there's a cluster of century-old log cabins, our HQ for the weekend.
With our weekend finally underway, we headed to nearby Bluffer Pond, where Bradford Camps has an outpost cabin, to spend a few secluded nights. In these forests there's no power and no cell service, two realities that set the tone for the days to come, which would be filled with roaming, fishing, bushing, and hunting.
With our location on the water, fishing became an easy way to enjoy our time. Igor had set us up with gear and we spent hours on the lake guessing where the fish would bite, patiently waiting. More than once, we were lured to believe we had hooked the largest fish ever caught in the lake only to realize we'd simply snagged the bottom.
Then, suddenly, a real bite. The intensity rose in the boat immediately; we knew it might be the only fish we'd see on the trip. After a short struggle, the fish surfaced and we got it landed for a moment before giving it a goodbye kiss and releasing it back into the pond (too small to find its fate on the grill). Feeling accomplished, we spent the night around the campfire, soaking in the fresh forest air.
"We wanted to 'get lost,' to roam the forests without a plan and see where we ended up."
On adventures, mornings should always include the bright-and-early highlight of darkly roasted coffee. Lighting the fire and having a few cups while the early day puts on its show is one of the small details that makes life outdoors so special. After a (lengthy) breakfast of eggs and bacon, we strapped on our backpacks, loaded our shotguns, and got underway with the day.
Today we wanted to "get lost," to roam the forests without a plan and see where we ended up. But we did have one mission: We were after an appetizer for dinner and a local grouse would do the trick to complete the menu. With the density and crookedness of these forests, stalking these birds proved to be more difficult than we'd imagined. Up and down, under and over logs, hooking our skis to branches, and stumbling into creeks, we made our way around.
As it'd been with fishing, it's when you least expect or believe anything might happen that it suddenly does—a grouse took off from a log just to our left and we took the shot. We only got one, but it was the one we needed. Back at the cabin, we butchered the bird before grilling it to medium rare and enjoying it by the fire with a sip of beer. Another day completed with hours spent in nature—friluftsliv—where the quantity of harvest doesn’t matter; it’s all about the quality.
The following morning, full and juiced on coffee, we yet again strapped our lives on our backs and headed out on our way “home.” There aren't any trails in these forests; around here you trust your instincts—and the combo of a compass and overview maps. Bushing around, up and down again, over creeks, getting stuck in the mud, we finally cracked through the last branches along the shore of Munsungan Lake. A canoe had been placed along the shore for us to complete our trip back to camp. Once we found the vessel, we loaded our packs and began to paddle. Igor and Karen, our gracious hosts, were waiting on the shore of the camp to welcome us back.
As we loaded the float plane for our departure, the past two days seemed like an eternity. Sense of time and place disappears in the wilderness, even on short trips like this one. Maine's North Woods weren't easy to get to but they did their job; with refreshed minds and souls, we headed back to the concrete jungle.