by Nick Callanan
If you say you’re traveling from the West Branch of the Penobscot to The Forks (or vice versa) someone’s bound to ask you: “Are you taking the dirt or the pavement?”
For me, the answer always is the dirt. First of all, I think it’s quicker. I also enjoy the scenery of the Maine woods. I enjoy the privacy of the dusty, bumpy road. And yes, I like being able to pull over and take a leak whenever I feel like it.
However, for the benefit of the inexperienced dirt road navigator, I must discuss several potential obstacles one could face on the dirt road.
First of all, of course, dirt road travelers must be conscious of the wildlife. These dirt roads go through the Maine forest; foxes, rabbits, bears, deer, moose, turkeys, and many more live in these woods. Watch out for them. Although it is common to see all sorts of different species, be especially aware of moose after nightfall. Moose are big, slow-witted and they don’t seem to care if they are in your way. Henceforth, these animals have the best odds to actually kill you: according to the Maine State Police, four motorists have died in Maine already this year as a result of a collision with a moose.
Here’s a recent story to illustrate the moose’s persistent oblivion: one evening last week, I was headed west from McKay Station toward Kokadjo. About a mile after the Golden Road turns to dirt, I came around a slight bend in the road, going about 35 to 40, and, sure enough, there’s a little calf standing in the center of the road, staring at me like I was a bearded lady in the circus.
I slammed on the brakes and my truck slid sideways, missing the moose by two feet, and I ended up half in the ditch. This ruckus startled the calf and she bolted down the middle of the road. Now, lucky for me, I own a luxury vehicle – the luxury being that I need not worry about every new scratch or dent. By the time I got the shit box back on the road and caught up to the moose, the scared little thing was flailing all over the road. I tried honking the horn. I tried flashing the lights, but she would not let me pass. Finally, I stopped and turned off the lights and counted to 30. When I turned them on again, the calf stood right in front of me, staring into my skull with her dark, muddy eyes.
This time it was me who was startled. I began to pull forward and she began to run again. To hell with this, I thought, and I aimed for the pucker brush and stomped on the gas. With two tires off the road I passed the little moose with six feet to spare on her left side. As soon as I got by her, the calf ditched it into the woods. Figures.
As it turns out, moose may not be as dumb (or dangerous) as another species of wildlife sometimes found on the dirt roads: The misguided tourist. These creatures are typically piloting $30,000 Sport Utility Vehicles while at the same time attempting to navigate with only a $2 fold-up map from a convenience store. Most of the time they can be found stopped at a fork in the road; however, I have had several close encounters with less mentally endowed tourists who park just beyond hills and sharp curves.
Approach tourists with caution as they will probably attempt to bombard you with requests for directions, gas or advice on how to change a flat tire. Oftentimes it is safest to oblige, because a misguided tourist is an unpredictable tourist. As an extra safety precaution, please try to resist any temptation to give these creatures false directions. As funny as it is to see a pompous stranger drive off in the absolute opposite direction to where he’s headed (“Honey, how the hell did we make it to Canada? You would’ve thought there’d been a sign…”), this tactic only prolongs the tourists’ wanderings in the dirt road area and further congests travel for other people. (It is pretty funny though.)
Perhaps the most important knowledge to take with you when driving across the dirt is that the logging trucks have the right of way. These extra wide behemoths will not yield to you, so you better yield to them, sucker. Paper companies own and maintain these dirt roads; so your use of the roads comes secondary to their use. If you hear a rumbling in the distance accompanied a few seconds later by a massive cloud of dust, pull your vehicle to the edge of the road and roll up your windows. Once the logging truck passes, continue on your way.
So, when you’re out on the dirt this summer, keep one hand on the wheel, one hand on the cool refreshment of your choice (the other day in Camden an ambulance turned in front of me with sirens blazing, and I looked in and the driver had one hand on the wheel and the other on a Coolatta), and both eyes on the road! One last piece of advice, if your nervous about traveling across the dirt, take the pavement.