On Friday night I wore two pairs of long johns, Red Sox-themed fleece pants with a long-sleeved, insulated undershirt, a flannel shirt, a hoodie and a one-piece, insulated Dickies jumpsuit. A wool hat, two pairs of socks and gloves completed the look. Then I wriggled into a 20 degree down mummy bag and then squeezed into another, 40 degree poly-filled sleeping bag. For good measure, I wrapped an army-colored wool blanket up around my head and shoulders, except for a small breathing passage.
I lay there on the floor of my tent, on the shore of Lovewell Pond in Fryeburg, panting from the exertion. I could see my ragged breaths whistling through the woolen blow hole by the light of a flickering candle. The moisture crystalized on my beard as it left my body and hit the cold air. The thermometer said the temperature was just above zero.
“Yay, camping,” I thought.
As it turned out, I was toasty all night long and the ice eventually came out of my beard. I awoke early to the sound of coffee sloshing in tin cups. The gang of sidecar motorcyclists I was camping with had already gathered in Keith’s tent for some go-go juice. His tent was large enough for all five of us to squeeze into and he had a wood stove.
A few hours later, after Thermos cooked us some bacon and home fries in a pan as big as a motorcycle wheel, temperatures soared into the high twenties. So, we mounted up and hit the ice.
Conditions on Lovewell Pond were nearly ideal. The ice was thick and smooth, frosted with a couple inches of granular snow. There was traction and slickness when you wanted them. We looped around and around, making doughnuts, cookies and all kinds of motorized confections. Poacher Bob, who sussed out our pond side accommodations, stopped and talked to some ice fishermen he knew.
Eventually, we made our way to a boat launch at the far end of the pond and took off on some road adventures. John’s seat came apart at one point but he fixed it with some wire ties I gave him. We ended up on the River Road in Hiram. The ice ruts were deep enough to loose a school bus. A fender luggage rack on Bob’s rig broke off withe the stress of hammering over the washboard.
We had lunch at a roadside joint and headed back to camp for some quality campfire time. Luckily, along with the campsite, Bob hooked us up with more than enough fire wood.
As the fire got going, Sputnik and Pieman, two sidecar cats we know, drove in to visit. As the flames sparked into the snow-spitting sky, Sputnik told us the spot where our tents stood was just a musket toss from the site of the famous Battle of Pequawket.
In 1725 an English guy named Capt. John Lovewell came to the pond and nearby Saco River to find some American Indian scalps. A nearby Abenaki settlement gave the battle its name and the pond is known for Lovewell. He died in the fighting. Longfellow, Hawthorn and Thoreau all wrote about it. The fight was basically a draw but the Abenaki abandoned the settlement.
Around 9:30 p.m. the wind suddenly shifted and the temperature dropped like a stone. The party broke up and we all headed for the shelter of our tents. The snow came down and the wind howled all night long. I still kept warm, swaddled in my cocoon.
In the morning, the gusts were coming hard off the frozen pond. As we enjoyed coffee in Keith’s tent, a blast moved my tent about six feet and filled it with snow. I hadn’t been able to stake it down because the ground was frozen and I’d accidentally left the door open, only closing the vestibule as I emerged.
Oh well. I didn’t have to sleep in it again. A couple hours later we were packed and saying our goodbyes.
The ride home was cold. By the time I got to Portland I’d lost the feeling in some of my toes. A cup of tea and a hot shower fixed me right up. As I type this, my tent and sleeping bags are drying in the kitchen. I’ve got to keep my camping gear in order. We’ve got plans to camp in New Hampshire next month.