Friday, September 3, 2010

Lake Willoughby

Lake Willoughby has a special place in Jeff's affections, since this is where he and his family vacationed for three weeks every summer from when he was ten until he was in college and busy summers making money to pay for it.  His folks continued to go there and bring back home movies, however, so it was well ingrained in the Davis blood.

We planned this year's trip to have two week-long breaks on the way to Washington DC, and this was the second one.  Once again we had a few days to ourselves, then were joined by others, this time our tandem friends Steve and Janet Sisson from Seattle.

The house we found online turned out to be even better than in the photos on our computer screen, a log cabin with two bedrooms and a loft we never used, plus a screened porch looking down to Lake Willoughby that we turned into a sort of Lake Willoughby Book Club -- although we're all reading different books.

Lake Willoughby is famous for the Willoughby Gap, the dramatic break between Mt. Pisgah to the left and Mt. Hor to the right, each about 1,500' higher than the lake.  The part of the lake between the two mountains gets deeper than 300' so the lake is always a rather brisk swim, though we hear it's good for fishing.

Before Steve and Janet arrived we spent a truly lazy day just recovering from our ride there, which was our first day since we left Toledo two months ago that we got drenched, all 32 miles of the way.  It was an interesting business walking around the supermarket 8 miles before Willoughby, leaving a trail of drips as we went up and down the aisles to pick up a few essentials to get us through the first day and a half.

After that day and a half it was back to the food store to pick up more food for us and the Sissons.  It was fun riding there with just empty panniers and an empty rack trunk, but the ride back, which involved a 450' climb, was a good workout as we once again had to haul about 40-50 pounds of milk, juice, canned and bottled goods, without crushing the loaf of bread, the eggs or the tomatoes.

Our last day alone we took a walk along the west side of the Lake past this charming former one-room schoolhouse and onto an old logging road that started fairly promisingly but eventually got a bit too thick for easy hiking.


We've been through here in the third week of September, when the Fall color starts in earnest.  This time of course it was still late August, so no real color except for an occasional tree or part of a tree trying to be the first on the block to turn. 

None of Jeff's trips to Willoughby was complete without a hike up Mt. Pisgah.  The problem for us, however, was that the trail started at the other end of the lake, more than six miles away.  Resourceful travellers that we are, we stuck out our thumbs on the highway and sure enough a pickup truck stopped and loaded the four of us into the back.  We started the hike by a beaver pond a few hundred yards from the semi-continental divide where raindrops decide whether to roll north to Lake Willoughby and thence to the St. Lawrence River, or south into the Passumpsic and Connecticut Rivers down to Long Island Sound.  A short ways further and we passed some impressive boulders, possibly parts of Mt. Pisgah that rolled downhill or possibly glacial erratics, chunks of rock that the glacier dropped here 10,000 years ago.

The hike proved interesting.  It seemed really steep the first time Jeff did it at age ten, then it got less steep each year after that.  Then it got a bit steeper again when we biked through here in 1995 and climbed it together for the first time.  By golly, it's gotten as steep again as that first time fifty-plus years ago since then!  Who says mountains don't change!

What hadn't changed were the views, and the Pisgah hike has lots of them.  First up was Pulpit Rock, when you're on a bully pulpit of granite about a thousand feet higher than Lake Willoughby.

Next up was Summit Rock, where Steve is looking off to Burke Mountain, elevation 3,267', about fifteen  miles south of us.

Beyond the summit the trail continues northward, eventually re-descending to the Lake, but not before passing three more lookouts that are about 1500 feet above the water.

On the descent we apparently passed an enchanted toad, who turned Jeff's hiking companions into dance competitors.  Jeff controlled the camera at this point, so there's no embarassing evidence of what it did to him.

Well, there was one more thing to check off the bucket list for a perfect lake stay, and that was a canoe trip.  Our cabin was 200 yards from the lake, but the canoe had wheels, and pretty quickly we were waterborne.   And what would a paddle around a lake be without a whole bunch of oohing and ahing at all the beautiful lake homes.  There were quite a few to pick from for our favorite, but you'll probably agree that it's pretty hard to beat a place like "The Birches" for North Woods beauty.

Alas, the week was finally up.  We set off to the north and east as the Sissons headed south and then east to a rendezvous three days from now in Fryeburg Maine.  We'll then canoe the Saco River for a day, followed by two days of riding together to southern Maine.  We'll finally say goodbye then as they meet up with their daughter and future son-in-law for a ride to Boston, while we take a slightly different route to Beantown.  We'll explain it all when we blog next.

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