Last Friday morning I drove up to the Forks for two nights of camping on the Kennebec. Route 17 took me to Augusta where I hopped on 201 to Waterville, 139 to Norriddgewock and then on to Skowhegan.

I considered going out to see the influential Skowhegan School of Painting and Design, but the woods were calling out to me, so I decided to save it for another trip. In Solon I visited the graves of my great grandparents, Asa and Lizzie Walker.

Lizzie was born Lizzie Wyman, and I felt a ludicrous sense of ownership as I drove up past Wyman Lake, a scenic treasure in its own right. Finally, I passed into the Forks and stopped off at Three Rivers store where they gave me directions to Mosquito Mountain.

Then I made my way to West Forks Family Campground.

“This is camping as it should be,” I thought, as I found my way to the riverfront site. In eager anticipation I had packed the car the night before, so I felt ready and organized as I set up my campsite.

I’m a backpacking enthusiast, but, as real life has set in, I find myself increasingly satisfied with good old fashioned American car camping. I had my Coleman stove and my trusty two-man backpacking tent from L.L. Bean.

Aside from the kitchen gear, I was able to operate out of my backpacker’s kit. The simplicity of the pack with the culinary possibilities of a five-star kitchen.

Ah, Solitude! It may be antisocial, but I just love being away from it all by myself in the woods.

It is a rare opportunity to see all the niceties of contemporary living fall away and experience the forest primeval. A body can sit back by the campfire and get some reading done. Best of all, it makes me miss and appreciate the ones I love.

No one was around at first, but a few minutes after I finished making camp, a couple arrived and started chatting with me right away. They were kind folks from Fairfield, and I smiled as I tried not to listen to them bickering while they set up their tent. Just as I was getting in the car to set out for Mosquito Mountain, the man came over with a big grin on his face.

“I hope you won’t mind us,” he said. “We’re harmless but we’re going to be loud and noisy and party all night.”

I laughed at his funny joke and assured him I would be too busy hiking to pay them any mind. “No worries from me, man!”

I went to Mosquito Mountain. The bugs weren’t too bad, but it was as muggy as a men’s locker room. Three other cars arrived at the trail head at the same time as I did, and most of the way up I shared the trail with some intrepid fellow hikers. Mosquito has a false peak, a scenic overlook with views of Lake Moxie.

Word on the trail was that this was the only real view; the peak was wooded in and not worth the toil. Most of the other travelers pooled up to take in the vista, but I chanced upon a fellow solo hiker, who counseled me that the real peak was further up and not to be missed. “There’s a few downed logs that make the trail hard to follow but stick to it and you’ll get there. It’s worth climbing over a few tough spots.”
He was right. I got away from the madding crowd and found my weight to eat in wild blueberries. I got to the top and could see clear to Rangely on the other side. The humidity broke up above the tree line and I took myself a nap, burning to a crisp in the sun and loving every minute of it.

After my hike I went into Northern Outdoor to have a beer before heading back to camp. The rafting resort was mad with an early dinner rush, but the host recognized a fellow tapster and let me take a seat at the otherwise empty bar to have a few cold ones. The kids working there reminded me of myself not too long ago, and I wished I had five years to spend working on the river. I traded a knowing look with the bartender when a river guide came behind his bar and helped himself to some olives. The guides have the status but waitstaff is where then money is. Same team but not really.

I drove back to the campground feeling good. I had two nights of camping and a full day of hiking still ahead of me. I was planning to take a dip in the river and spend the evening reading by the campfire.
As I came around a bend in the campground road, I realized I couldn’t see my tidy campsite. For there were half a dozen easy-ups and no less than ten large tents in the adjoining site. A stereo-system fit for a garage band was blasting 80s tunes and a there was a beanbag toss tournament taking place with official brackets and score-keeping signs. Several people in Yankees hats were smoking cigarettes and staring in wonder at my small tent.

Ignoring all, I went down and took a dip in the Kennebec. The cool water rolled over me as I floated in a small pocket of stones in the riverbed. The sound of Journey was dulled down a bit and I felt fine as I rocked in the current. Eventually I toweled off and walked back up to the site. The friendly man from before came over with a smile on his face. “Told you so,” he said. I chuckled and he invited me over to toss some bean bags. So much for solitude. Remembering the lesson of the river, I cracked open another beer and went with the flow.

W. W. Matteson is a writer who lives in Hope, where he weaves tales about Maine’s coast and mountains.