Many applications in wireless sensor networks require communication performance that is both consistent and high quality. Unfortunately, performance of current network protocols can vary significantly because of various interferences and environmental changes. Current protocols estimate link quality based on the reception of probe packets over a short time period. This method is neither efficient nor accurate enough to capture the dramatic variations of link quality. Therefore, we propose a link metric called competence that characterizes links over a longer period of time. We combine competence with current short term estimations in routing algorithm designs. To further improve network performance we have designed a distributed route maintenance framework based on feedback control solutions. In real system evaluations with 48 T-Motes, our overall solution improves end-to-end packet delivery ratio over existing solutions by up to 40%, while reducing energy consumption by up to 22%. Importantly, our solution also achieves more stable and better transient performance than current approaches.