A March gathering of canoeists warms the heart


Thanks to a generous invitation, last weekend I attended my first (but probably not my last) Wilderness Paddlers Gathering. Begun in March 1993 during “a blizzard of historic proportions,” this annual event has become a tradition at the Hulbert Outdoor Center in Fairlee, Vermont. For those of us who love canoeing, what could be a better way to spend a March weekend? Sharing stories, photos and videos, skills, and incredible amounts of tasty food with those who love canoeing the waters of the north.


Once there, I discovered a few old friends and made lots of new ones. I had 25 minutes on Saturday morning to tell my story and practiced at great length on the 4-hour drive over to this comfortable camp on the NH/VT border. See what a great audience I had! As always, though, listening to everyone else was the most fun. Through the beautiful magic of media, we rafted the Grand Canyon, paddled the Alatna and Koyukuk Rivers in Alaska, and followed Chewonki down Quebec and Labrador’s George River.

My favorite was a documentary, “Into Twin Galaxies: A Greenland Epic.” This hour-long film follows three young explorers on a insanely breath-taking quest kite-skiing across the Greenland ice cap to reach a river that they discovered on Google Earth. Delayed by the terrain and a serious injury, they arrive later than planned to find ice where they expected open water. When fate finally provides them with a churning river filled with huge, uncharted waterfalls, viewers will hold their breath in astonishment at what they try to run. Seize the chance to see this one when you can!

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Of course, you never know quite what you’ll learn. Above, retired Vermont fish & game warden Eric Nuse, whose stories are featured in Megan Price’s book series, Vermont Wild, tells a great breakfast story. Seems there was this ripe moose carcass caught up in a tree, one that could perhaps be best removed with dynamite. The key to success, learned the hard way, was to have a long enough cord to get well out of range!

Below is the traveling library that appears at both of the yearly Northern Wilderness Travelers Conferences, including the November Snow Walkers Rendezvous. I borrowed a book that’s been on my list for a long time, Kabloona in the Yellow Kayak: One Woman’s Journey Through the North West Passage by Victoria Jason. I guess that I just can’t get enough of reading by the woodstove, waiting for spring!

Thank you, Aqua-Bound, maker of fine paddles, for writing about Upwards!

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Aqua-Bound, who manufactures quality U.S.-made paddles in Osceola, Wisconsin, recently invited me to collaborate on a blog post about my thru-paddle and book.

A long paddling expedition is built of many components, both within the paddler and without. When it comes to on-the-water equipment, after the boat, the paddle you choose is key. In my case, it was an Aqua-Bound Sting Ray Carbon kayak paddle that brought me safely through to Fort Kent. Here is the blog post, published yesterday. We covered a lot of ground, or should I say water, in 900 or so words!

I was especially pleased that we were able to include a quote from Upwards, in response to one of the more introspective interview questions, about paddling solo. The post also links to two of my favorite websites, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (with an amazing online auction ending Sunday) and the Pemaquid Watershed Association. Thanks again, Aqua-Bound, for introducing the book to a new community of paddlers!

One is silver and the other’s gold

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Mike meeting Dad for the first time on the east shore of Maine’s Umbazooksus Stream. That yellow thing is the collapsible sail that he was experimenting with that summer.

The summer of 2014 was Dad’s time for a grand adventure, a 200-mile section paddle from Spencer Rips on the Moose River to the village of Allagash on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. He had started out alone and was planning to meet me, so we could do the Allagash together. Our rendezvous hour at the Umbazooksus Stream bridge came and went, though, with no sign of him out on the water. I decided to go exploring.

It turns out that you can drive into the last campsite on the east shore of that wide stream, really an arm of Chesuncook Lake. Down through the potholes and brush I went, until suddenly emerging right next to an ancient picnic table complete with roof.  Set up next to the table was a roomy canvas cabin tent looking lived in and loved.

It was too late to escape without being seen. I stopped and walked down to the shore to say hello to a friendly-looking man sprawled in a camp chair.  Mike Messick, from Missouri, had many a story to share and a history of long, adventurous road trips following wherever the spirit would lead.

That morning, it had led him to us or, rather, us to him.  After Dad arrived, over a cup of Mike’s freshly brewed coffee, we found ourselves inviting him to join us on the Allagash. This was a bit beyond the boundaries of our usual behavior, but it turned out to be the birth of a strong friendship.

Hastily, knowing the day was moving along, we spread out maps, jotted down the name and number of our favorite outfitter (Tylor Kellys Camps in the village of Allagash), and agreed to meet a few days later at Umsaskis Bridge.

Even though we were a bit late in arriving there, Mike was waiting for us with a campfire crackling…and the rest is history, part of which made it into the pages of my new adventure memoir, Upwards.

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New friends, united by the river.
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Picking blueberries at the campsite that had it all, including two whitetail bucks, a moose, a gray jay, and plenty of sunshine to light up our morning. An evening view from that campsite, Deadwater North, graces the front cover of Upwards.
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There’s nothing better than blueberry pancakes and bacon
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Mike was at home in (or under) a canoe
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Moon over Round Pond
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Until we meet again…saying farewell at Michaud Farm

I’ve been thinking this week that our lives flow along as glistening threads in an almost unfathomable web, their intersections our places of decision or serendipity. My author’s walk, still in its infancy, has been strewn with crossings, some joyful surprises, others the fruit of grasping courage with both hands and making them happen.

I’ve met trail founders, penned prayerful inscriptions for friends and strangers battling cancer, and sent copies of Upwards to stores hundreds of miles away. Through it all, the abiding kindness of people and the strength of their stories has filled me with new energy. On Thursday, I came in from my morning bus ride with the students of Bus #14 to discover that my school was celebrating ME, with snacks and speeches and lots of love! The handmade card below, created by Karen Hight, is one I will always treasure.

I’ve found there is something in those who go to the rivers and forests of the north that reflects those places and their intrinsic character. These are souls who live by the rhythm of the seasons, who know gratitude and peace. Rooted in the land, they love hearty meals and heartier laughs, have simple stuff, but complex thoughts. They are people like Mike, who quickly become dear to the heart. If you have gone there, you know. If you haven’t, I hope you will!

 

Floating on cloud nine

Somehow, I was still floating on cloud nine yesterday afternoon, even after discovering exactly how heavy 1,000 books truly are. Most of them are now tucked away upstairs, after Dad, Mom, and my Aunt Sue drove to Cambridge, Massachusetts to pick them up. I love them. I adore them. I slept for eight hours last night and have woken ready to start shipping. Then, this evening, I’m doing a short talk for the Penobscot Bay Sail and Power Squadron in Bangor, Maine. It’s started and I’m loving it!

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Look at that grin from Dad, who carefully packed and tied in his precious cargo

The official book release date has been set for Thursday, October 19, 2017. That would have been my Grandma Jan’s 110th birthday…good memories and a good feeling about choosing that date. By then, I hope to have the books available for purchase here and on Amazon. You can already find them for pre-order in the Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s online store, where members receive a 15% discount.

So thank you, readers and friends, family and organizations, for patiently waiting!

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Ah…holding a copy in my hands

 

Moosehead in all its moods

School’s begun, but the long weekend gave us the chance to head north to the NFCT once more before summer ends. It was the usual cast of characters for a stay at The Birches in Rockwood: my parents, aunt, uncle, and me, plus one canoe, two kayaks, and Dad’s motorized skiff. Name the weather and we had it. From bathing suits to the woodstove, it all felt good at some point.

Dad’s hand, which he broke back in July on Little Spencer Stream, is almost healed. At the tiller, he motored us up Tomhegan Creek a couple of mornings in search of wildlife. Moose, really, but they must have missed the memo. In place of moose, we got herons, kingfishers, and a bald eagle.

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Dad, Aunt Sue, and Uncle George on the lookout for wildlife
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Sue braved the chilly waters for a long swim

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Sunday was the day of wildest weather, winds, and whitecaps, but at dawn the lake still slept. Some confusion of dream woke me, ready for adventure even as my eyes opened. Two cups of quick-brewed coffee, some of Sue’s banana bread, a whisper of my plans to Mom, and I was gone. Mist still clung to the rocky shores as my canoe began the 8-mile journey around Farm Island.

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Rounding the north end of the island, I turned toward home and breakfast, warmth and bacon. The risen sun threw a path of wave-tossed sunlight straight to me. As I paddled south, it followed, for miles. I paused a moment and the canoe turned to face the sun. In the distance, a loon cruised through the shimmering light, and then moved on.

The morning solitude allowed my thoughts to flow freer than they had in many days.

Nature, I thought, embraces us. It’s unpredictable at times, perhaps, but never judging. Nature listens more than talks. Nature simply is, a continuity fading backward into the mists of time, and carrying the promise of a future long after we are gone.

What meaning there is in nature is for us to find, and maybe, each one of us finds what it is we need just then. That morning, I needed rest and found it. 

Glamping, Northwoods style, on spectacular Fish Pond in Jackman

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Fellow adventurers Bill and Mary Bausch were among the group who camped together last week up near Jackman, Maine. Bill’s panoramic photo above captures the spirit of aptly-named Fish Pond, where we had a small campground all to ourselves, for five days and nights of campfires, swimming, berry picking, and more.

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The crew (from left) were Phil Blomquist, Mary Berger, Bill and Mary Bausch, Dad, Linda Blomquist, Kathy Buhl, plus me and Mom, who was staying in a cabin on Big Wood Pond

“40 degrees in the ME woods yesterday as we woke!” Mary Bausch wrote after arriving safely home. “The crackling fire Phil started @5 got us up out of our sleeping bags and into the hot coffee, chocolate and oatmeal (with fixins). Three hours from here to there doesn’t take into account the 30+ minutes it takes to get out from the campsite on 13 miles of a dusty dirt – dodging the huge trucks hauling – logging road! But well worth the hazardous road to get to this lovely campsite on Fish Pond, connected to Spencer Lake. We did two long paddles to fab lunch sites on the local lakes, enjoyed an actual fish fry one evening thanks to the avid fisher people with us! Our fare was clearly gourmet – “glampingly” so, since we had our cars near our tents, plenty of coolers. Finally ran out of ice and paper towels this morning. Not much of a hardship. And we saw TWO whole moose(s) across our Fish Pond. Altogether a successful adventure.”

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Up early to welcome the sun on our first morning
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Mary Berger wets a fly in the cove by our campsite
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This chair was one of many perks that would never come along on a river trip
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Almost ready to paddle island-studded, mountain-ringed Attean Pond
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Yoga? – No, Kathy trying to entice a gray jay closer to camp
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One morning, Phil discovered a stowaway in his kayak, peeking out from behind the foam in the bow. After being evicted, the tiny gray shrew swam valiantly (and safely) to shore.
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The “before” photo: Dad starting out on a solo adventure, a two-night trip down 14 miles of the NFCT, starting in this tiny inlet to Fish Pond and ending on Spencer Stream near Grand Falls

Continuing his quest to section-paddle the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Dad brought along portage wheels and a pole and set off to tackle both lakes, plus the rapids and rock gardens of Little Spencer and Spencer Streams. On his first morning, camped below Spencer Lake,  a party of fisherman came by just after dawn and included Dad in their stream-side bacon and egg breakfast. That may have been the high point of what turned out to be a challenging day of climbing endlessly in and out of the boat on slippery rocks. Dad made it, though, and was waiting as planned when I arrived to pick him up.

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The “after” photo: A broken bone in Dad’s right hand and a new story to tell around the campfire

How quickly life can change! Instead of an August trip down the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Dad and I will be finding lots to keep us entertained at home. Right now we are in the midst of a grand family reunion, with cousins, aunts and uncle, kids, and dogs. There’s nothing as sweet as gathering with loved ones in the glorious Maine summer!

Going back…to some of the NFCT’s treasured corners of Maine

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Paul Heintz (third from right) was on the thru-paddlers panel at NFCT’s 2015 Freshet Fest.

Last summer, I kayaked in Honduras, Norway, and the Netherlands, but not anywhere on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Surprising indeed, since every other summer since moving to Maine in 2003, I have. I think I first heard about the trail in 2008, at the Lobster Stream boat launch, where Mom, Dad, and I met thru-paddler Paul Heintz. Paul was a cheerful guy, tall and bearded, with a canoe full of an impressive amount of gear.

In those early years, I paddled the NFCT many times, without knowing it. For sure, I was on Mooselookmeguntic, the Richardsons, the Allagash, Flagstaff, the West Branch of the Penobscot, Moosehead, and Chesuncook, all without benefit of NFCT’s great maps. This year, I promise to do better. In fact, I already have one NFCT sojourn in the books.

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Paul and Janie Hartman welcomed me to their Mooselookmeguntic cabin, Cup o’ Tea, for a couple of days of kayaking, restful reading, chilly swimming, and, of course, their amazing and warm outdoor shower. Janie has the perfect apron for the hostess of Cup o’ Tea.

The Hartmans’ cabin was my home for one night during Paddle for Hope in 2011 and two during my 2015 thru-paddle. A week or two ago, I returned for a more relaxing visit. Paul and Janie have owned their place for almost fifty years and have a lifetime of natural discoveries to share with visitors. This year we hiked to Angel Falls, off nearby Bemis Road, not far from where the AT crosses the road.

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Paul and Janie rock hopping at one of several stream crossings on the way to Angel Falls
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Angel Falls, with a 90-foot drop, is among the top three highest waterfalls in Maine. Janie says that it used to be called Angel Wing Falls, until a stone “wing” cracked off decades ago. Some online sources say that the shape of an angel’s wing can still be seen in the moving cascade.
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Most of the crew for the next planned NFCT adventure, up in the Jackman area. Phil, Dad, Mary, Bill, Linda, and I (taking the photo) warmed up with a paddle on the Pemaquid River last week. Don’t you love the color palette?