Until then, happy trails!
In late summer of 2016, a team of 5 vehicles set out to prove a proposed trans provincial overland route that East Coast Overland put together in New Brunswick and dubbed “NB Expedition”. The team was made up of Virgil’s Jeep JKU with trailer in tow, Jonathan’s Toyota FJ Cruiser, Lew’s Toyota Tacoma, who came up from Vermont to join this adventure, Nick’s Jeep JKU and RJ’s Jeep JK. This is our story.
With just four days available at the end of August, squeezing in an unproven route, covering an approximate 1000 kilometers was a very ambitious undertaking. With all the rigs loaded up and some last-minute parking lot modifications to Nick’s newly acquired CB Radio setup, the team set out to the trail-head to air down and start this adventure.
August is the best time of year to explore the Maritimes, the weather is hot, the bugs have thinned out and a lot of people are on vacation. The sun was out and the excitement of adventure and the trails ahead was in the air. The route would take us from the Capital Region through central New Brunswick, through the north-western region of Bath and north-east again through Acadian Timber Lands to Mount Carleton Provincial Park. We anticipated reaching Mount Carleton at the end of day two, however this turned out to be too ambitious.
The number of detours and turnarounds we had to conduct due to gates, private land or impassable bridges added countless kilometers to the route and ate up more time than allocated. But such is the nature of adventure, exploring in its purest form, scouting trails, finding a route where there isn’t one. After a beautiful day of exploring, spirits ran high and we settled on a campsite at the end of Day 1, nestled at the end of a dead-end trail. In the evening, RJ and Nick set out on a quick recon of the power line adjacent to our camp site to assess its suitability to continue the next day. As it turned out, we had reached an impasse and would be forced to backtrack a few kilometers the next morning.
Day 2 started out with a light rain that began tapping on our tents overnight. Breakfast that morning was quick and the camp tear down didn’t take long. Once everyone was loaded up we attempted one more potential route that might lead us back onto the main track. On the satellite image, it looked feasible so we set out to tackle it. However, a gate onto private land put a quick end to that and so we started to backtrack through the rain and fog patches.
After about 10 km on gravel logging routes we took a quick stint over pavement before branching off onto gravel again. With each turn we took down another gravel road, the tighter the vegetation became and less used the routes were. Shortly before noon we came upon a Y junction, the plotted route of course would lead down the overgrown trail that looked like it hadn’t been travelled in many years. Due to the high probability of a turn-around somewhere down this trail, Lew offered to take the lead so I would have a better chance of turning around with the trailer, should the need arise. As the rain was pouring down, Lew dipped the nose of his Tacoma down the trail and soon disappeared into the overgrown brush. We waited a minute for a sit-rep over the CB, then followed down the winding, rocky, washed-out and overgrown trail.
At the end of the trail our satellite image recon hinted at what could potentially be a bridge across the river, which is what fuelled the decision to pursue this trail in the first place. However, what awaited us at the end of this trail was anything but a bridge. We had to turn around again, but not without first taking a closer look at this spectacular abandoned dam that had misled us to believe it was a bridge. Making discoveries like these is exactly what exploring is all about. Despite the rain, this find was well worth the turn-around that followed.
The rain persisted throughout the day. After the turn around, the challenge to find a new route took us deep into the woods of central New Brunswick and despite the downpour and muddy dirt roads, the low hanging rain clouds, scattered throughout the highlands, clinging on the tree tops like cotton candy was a beautiful sight to behold. Fuel levels started to reach the half-tank mark at this stage and we were far removed from any nearby towns. We had to make sure not to take too many more risky trails since at this point we had to consider the distance left to travel to the goal for the day, the amount of daylight hours and the dwindling fuel. We all carried sufficient extra fuel for just this reason, but it is always nice to keep that in reserve for when there are no other options left.
We pushed on further north towards the town of Juniper Station and came across a small convenience store, serving some welcome hot coffee on a rather cold and rainy day. On we went, trying to reach Plaster Rock before nightfall. As fate would have it, private access controlled forestry lands put an end to that objective. Despite our best efforts and phone calls with the Company, they wouldn't allow us to pass, forcing us to take yet another detour. With time becoming a serious factor, we opted for a few more kilometers on pavement to make up for lost time. Instead of north-east, we were forced north-west towards the town of Bath, a small idyllic town along the banks of the St John River. However, getting to Bath wasn't without its challenges and yet another detour. This time a recently washed out bridge forced us to find a bypass. After consulting our maps and satellite navigation, we decided to attempt a small trail down towards a narrow bridge at the end of an old farm path, or ATV trail, hoping it survived the recent rain storm. The bridge was constructed of a semi-trailer with old wood beams. Sketchy at best, we decided to attempt the crossing first with the lightest of our vehicles, RJ’s 2 door JK. It held up and one by one we crossed the river. Due to weight considerations, we decided to unhook the trailer and walk it across separately.
Around supper time we reached the town and came across our first service station since the journey began. We ended up using all our spare fuel leading up to this as too many detours consumed more than we had planned. But this is why we always set out prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Having fuelled up and restocked on a few vital snack items and ice for the coolers, we set out North in pursuit of finding a nice camp site for the night. We searched along the banks of the river but didn’t find anything that really pleased us. We followed the road along a steep river valley surrounded by cliffs, waiting for the ground to open up a bit and allow our 5 vehicles to park and set up camp. We ended up following a tail that took us up onto a mountain in search of a suitable campsite. By the time the rain ceased and the trees gave way to the stunning valley below, right as the sun was setting and the rain clouds were scattering, the scenery was nothing short of spectacular!
On the morning of Day 3, Nick and RJ were forced to return home, each to take care of some issues that had come up. The sun was out again and started to warm up the wet tents that we left up until the last possible moment, hoping they would dry up a little before stowing them for the day. After a quick map study and a hearty breakfast, the remaining three vehicles were ready to set out for the last leg of the journey, Plaster Rock to Mount Carleton. The sun was out, the sky was blue and the mountains around us were getting taller. Northern New Brunswick is shaped by the tail end of the Appalachian Mountain range, and the Appalachian trail runs through this region.
We reached Plaster Rock after a few hours of driving. We purchased our permits to gain access to the privately owned Acadian Timber Lands. At $11 a person, they aren’t cheap, but their land is very well taken care of and absolutely beautiful.
By the end of the day we reached Mount Carleton and our journey would be complete. I should say, half complete, since the goal was to make this overland route a full loop. Given that on this trip we only finished half of what we had planned, this became known as NB Expedition Pt 1. Pt 2 will take place this summer. It will also lay the foundation for NB Expedition Challenge, which is East Coast Overland’s first overland event, and with it, the first official overland event on the East Coast. More details about this are available at EASTCOASTOVERLAND.NET
Until then, happy trails!