February 23rd, 2021
Overlanding: A great way to get away from it all
Overlanding, a relatively new trend in the U.S., fuses camping and driving an off-road vehicle, and if you’re planning an overlanding adventure in Maine, you’ll need a tough and reliable vehicle. My pick is the Wrangler, though a Land Rover or Toyota Land Cruiser are other popular choices.
Although it’s a bit ironic, the vehicle actually helps you get closer to nature by allowing you to get away — far away — into the wilderness.
In exploring the rugged terrain of Maine, you have several options, including the North Maine Woods, Baxter State Park and Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument.
The North Maine Woods is made up of more than 3.5 million acres of commercial forest owned by an organization of private landowners. It is situated in western Aroostook and northern Somerset, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties. Baxter State Park and Katahdin Woods & Waters are located adjacent to each other in Piscataquis County and encompass more than 200,000 acres.
Known as The Maine Highlands, these places are truly in the wilderness. The roads are not paved. And you’ll find no visitor centers, stores or supply stations.
Camping is available in designated areas, all of which are without a bathhouse, portable toilet or even running water. You will have to bring your own water for cooking and washing as well as drinking. We freeze reusable bottles of water, which serves as ice in the cooler. As it thaws, it becomes extra drinking water. Don’t forget a good knife and some kind of small basin for washing.
To avoid unpleasant encounters with hungry bears, store everything, including dry goods, such as beef jerky, trail mix and bread, in a sealed container. A cooler inside a locked vehicle is probably safe, unless your vehicle has a soft top which may not keep the scent from reaching hungry noses. In that case, consider a good locker, food canister or bear bag.
Another caveat while overlanding — don’t count on having cell phone service. You want to make sure you have everything you will possibly need, including a spare tire, because you probably won’t even be able to reach AAA. If you bring a cell phone, or if your camera uses rechargeable batteries, make sure you have the means to charge them in your vehicle. You’ll also have to plan your trips so that you pass by towns at the right time to get gas and other supplies. GPS navigation is notoriously flawed up in these areas, so get a Maine Atlas and Gazetteer at any sporting goods store as well.
Of course, you will also need to take along anything needed for your preferred activity, from a good pair of hiking boots to fishing gear, bikes, canoes and kayaks. For us, the joy comes from hiking. Among the highlights of our trip was hiking to Billings Falls (extra special because we share its name) located in Gulf Hagas near the Katahdin Iron Works gate to the Maine North Woods.
Overlanding also gave us the chance to eat when we were hungry without concern about where we would find the next restaurant or picnic area. We simply stopped the Jeep, set up our folding chairs and had lunch, using the cooler as a makeshift table. Lunches like this don’t take long, either, leaving more time to dedicate to exploration.
My passion for photography goes hand in hand with my enjoyment of the outdoors. During our overlanding trip, we saw only about a half dozen other people, not counting those at supply stops. This meant I could take virtually any photo I wanted without unwanted people in the shots. There was no waiting for giggling visitors to take two-dozen selfies before I could capture my own image. I didn’t have to worry about anyone walking into the shot either. Those were probably some of the easiest photos to take, but they remain among my favorites.
The closest place to rent a vehicle that can handle overlanding is in Bangor, which is approximately two hours south of the North Maine Woods. A Google search of outdoor outfitters in Bangor will provide all of your camping and sporting good rentals, along with Northwoods Outfitters in Greenville, as well.
— Text & Photos: Johanna S.Billings. Johanna is an award-winning writer/photographer based in Steuben. She covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County for the Ellsworth American newspaper.