“Trail to the North: A Bill Gordon Story” was famous Maine writer Louise Dickinson Rich‘s fifth book. Published in 1952, the fictional story is somewhat of a sequel to the 1949 “Start of the Trail“, which followed newly minted Maine guide Bill Gordon and his game warden father Les on numerous adventures.
The book picks up shortly after where “Start of the Trail” left off, with Bill several months into his first year of college in southern Maine. As luck would have it, Bill gets an early break from school for the semester, and heads to his family’s wilderness home to do some deer hunting. But along the way, Bill crosses paths with a mysterious man from the city. Turns out this Mr. Stark is a rich businessman from the city with a tragic background. With all of his family being killed in a tragic accident at birth, Stark worked his way up in the world, but later found out his youngest brother, an infant at the time, may have survived the tragedy. Bill, Les and Stark spend the next couple of weeks on an adventure in the wilderness, searching the various lumber camps for the long lost brother turned logger. A near murder shrouded by mystery adds to the suspense, and nobody knows what to expect upon meeting the man and solving the mystery.
Just like “Start of the Trail”, this book moves along fast. In fact, I think it moves faster than the former. Events unfold in the incredible wilderness background of the western mountains of Maine. Rich adds plenty of specifics to the locations visited in the story – including the names of rivers, lakes, logging camps, which I think make the story come alive. The story unfolds within this vast wilderness, and the remoteness combined with unpredictable and often severe weather provide an added conflict Bill and his companions must negotiate.
“Trail to the North” concludes the two part Bill Gordon series. Louise Dickinson Rich went on to write about 20 other books after this one, but for some reason she never wrote any other Bill Gordon stories. Its too bad…..folks I know who read the stories today love them and wish there were more.
In both of the Bill Gordon books, Rich’s personal life is clearly reflected in the settings and characters. The western mountain setting of the stories is that same setting where Rich met her future husband and went on to spend much of her adult life, in a remote cabin just like the one the Gordons lived in. Rich spends a lot of time describing Bill’s mother and his sister Sue. His mother is likely somewhat a portayal of Louise herself – a woman who moved from the city in Boston and came to live and start a family in the wilderness. Sue may be based on a friend, niece or daughter. Bill and his father Les are certainly characters based on Rich’s husband Ralph and her other woodsman acquaintances in the area.
“Trail to the North” is a great read, and often a difficult to find book. After several years of searching, I found an old library copy online a while back for about $25. For readers of Maine outdoor fiction, this and “Start of the Trail” are books you’ll definitely want to read, and would make great gifts for that younger reader (like I once was) with dreams of someday becoming a Maine guide and woodsman.