Today at church, Arne Aho asked me if there would be more blog posts. The answer is definitely yes.
The weeks of being back home have been full. Since finishing the “missing chapters,” I’ve started scribbling thoughts for the book. Family visits, house painting, walking and paddling, and a happy start to the school year have filled my days.
I thought you would like seeing two newspaper articles that have been published. The recognition is fun, but also very humbling. Both included many photos, which tell the story well. Hope the links (in blue) work!
Deirdre Fleming, a staff writer for the Portland newspaper, tried hard to meet me on the NFCT. She and a photographer had hoped to camp and paddle with me. Alas, we couldn’t connect on the trail, but last Monday she came to Bremen.
Deidre brought her canoe and we went out on McCurdy Pond, from Ed and Carol Knapp’s cottage. Today’s article in the Maine Sunday Telegram captures the essence of our conversation and promotes the NFCT well.
Paula Roberts wrote a front page article in The Lincoln County News soon after I got home. She spent a lot of time with me, covered a generous amount of material and included some of my favorite photos in color in the Aug. 27 edition.
Thanks to both writers for their interest in my story and efforts to raise awareness of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail!
Dad capsized. I dropped our camera in the water. Not a promising start for a 27-mile day.
After a hearty breakfast, we started off at 8:45 a.m. with less than a mile of the Allagash remaining before the St. John. In this short section lies fairly straightforward Casey Rapids.
Dad suggested I go first today, to find a good line through the whitewater sections. I had just swiveled around to check on Dad when he tried to navigate between two rocks and hung up on a third, tipping over and going for a chilly swim. I scooped up his floating hat and water bottle, as he walked his canoe to shore, still with a solid grip on his double-bladed paddle. In my helpful fashion, I hauled his boat up on shore and dumped out the water. It was a day later (on the way home) before he realized that was probably where he lost his GPS, rather than in the river itself!
Turning downstream on the St. John, we searched carefully for the last two missing items…Dad’s spare custom cherry canoe paddle and his bleach-jug bailer. You will be happy to know that although Dad spotted just one of them, it was the paddle. Where Pelletier Brook enters on river right is a Class II rapid not marked on Map 13, which I successfully ran right down the center. Dad was nearer shore and was forced to line his boat along the edge. Trying to take his photo with one hand and bring him a makeshift walking stick in the other, I dropped the camera, so no action shots today. From here our luck had nowhere to go but up.
Mom has gotten comfortable driving Dad’s Toyota Tacoma truck just for this trip (thanks, Mom!) and she met us in St. Francis for lunch. In spite of the challenging morning, we decided to continue on after our lunch of cheeseburgers, soda, and candy bars from the general store. Norm Pelletier, who generously let us access the river through his campground, estimated that we had 4 1/2 hours to go to reach Fort Kent. As much as I had wanted to dawdle on the Allagash, I wanted to hurry now. It was starting to rain in earnest, but the four difficult Class II rapids were all behind us. Dad had run the last several perfectly, including the huge standing waves in Rankin Rapids. So off we went in the fast-moving current, averaging about 4 mph.
TOTAL MILES: 749.7 (the official NFCT literature gives the total trail distance as 740 miles)
I woke to crisp air and ate the last pack of Quaker cranberry walnut protein oatmeal, a delicious choice that I didn’t tire of all trip. I stayed late in camp again, photographing more mushrooms and drying all my gear thoroughly, as tonight would be a cabin night.
I had forgotten how beautiful the last miles of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway were, with tall conifers as a backdrop for green grassy banks. I felt the sadness of ten years ago, treasuring every mile, knowing that next summer’s plans may not bring me to the Allagash at all. The thought of the meal awaiting me at Two Rivers Lunch did cheer me up a little and kept me from just stopping altogether. This section includes some Class II rapids, both those at Twin Brooks (marked on the map) and another set midway between McGargle Rocks and Ghost Landing Bar. These names are haunting, as both stem from logging fatalities of a bygone era.
Tonight we would be staying right here, behind the restaurant, in one of the cabins owned by Tylor Kelly’s Camps. In 2011, when I arrived in Allagash Village with Dad and Taylor during Paddle for Hope, Sue Kelly gave us the warmest welcome imaginable. She baked us brownies, brought us shampoo and half and half and let me use her computer for hours (not to mention donating to our fundraising for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program)! We had made a friend, and have since come to know the rest of her friendly family. So tonight felt like home, especially after Mom and Dad drove in with pork chops to cook for dinner. Tomorrow Dad will rejoin me to paddle the St. John River, perhaps in one marathon day to Fort Kent. We’ll see!
Today is Sunday, a day of rest, and a quiet morning in camp gave me time for thanksgiving and awe at the fact that I have safely journeyed so many miles. A “good morning” from the garter snake (or is it a milk snake?), the warmth of a campfire, three cedar waxwings in the cherry tree, journaling…and a visit from ranger Matthew Jackson, who came up to chat after learning that I was doing the NFCT. His family is from the village of Allagash and he has recently moved home to the family’s farm at the site of Dickey Plantation, the home of one of the area’s early settlers. (Kathy, it won’t be difficult to remember his name, will it?).
PADDLER’S NOTE: The river flow was still very high for August, measuring 1,900 cfs as reported on the bulletin board at Michaud Farm, where all paddlers officially check out of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (although the AWW continues to Twin Brooks). I saw many groups between Eagle Lake and Churchill Dam, but then must have gotten ahead of the crowd.
Last summer, Dad, our friend Mike, and I shared a magical campsite abounding in wildlife and blueberries, called Deadwater North. Today’s goal was a long day of paddling (23 miles was the projected distance in my notes) to return there, although I knew that this year there would be no bacon and blueberry pancakes or baking in Dad’s reflector oven. Anyway, it was disheartening to start out into a hefty wind right in my face, one that also seemed to keep all the wildlife from the water. The pull of the current was a welcome ally as I returned to the river after several miles of slow going. At Long Lake Dam, perhaps in memory of Chris, I decided to line the boat through on river left, as we did in 2005, rather than portaging on river right.
Lazily, I did not even attach a stern line, and was lucky that I didn’t end up swamping the boat. With the present high water levels, I could actually work it along most of the shore in very shallow water, where the metal spikes remaining from the original dam could easily be avoided. When I reached the last swift drop, though, the safe, shallow edge evaporated, the river snatched at the boat, and it was almost a disaster. For a moment, the canoe tipped and took on some water and it took all my strength to wrestle it back under control and maneuver it into the calm pool beyond. All’s well that ends well, but next time I would definitely attach a second line!
As I entered Round Pond, a squall blew through. First, a dark gray cloud inevitably overtook the sky, before reaching a point where the cloud simply enveloped my whole world. Rain pounded the lake and I paddled furiously in an effort to stay warm, passing a family huddled under a tarp at the Inlet campsite. As usual, I was in my bathing suit and a thin t-shirt and shorts, and probably looked crazy. At the ranger station, I stopped to bail out the boat and Kale invited me in where it was somewhat warmer, especially after I put on a dry thermal top. I recognized him from last summer at Michaud Farm and we chatted about float planes and bears and the hit that the moose population has taken this year.
Kale explained that a species of tick which had never successfully overwintered this far north has now gained a permanent foothold. The ticks are drawing so much blood that moose are becoming anemic, and dying, or, if they survive that, then scratching themselves bare in large patches, and freezing to death during the harsh winter. After that conversation, I felt quite lucky to see three moose after the weather cleared, a bull and two cows.
For supper, I tried herbed mushroom risotto with basil pesto, a gourmet dehydrated meal from a new company called Good To-Go in Kittery, Maine. The company’s meals were recommended to me in the camping department at Maine Sport and this first taste of their food was delicious, with a fresh, colorful appearance and a list of ingredients that were all easy to pronounce (as the package points out). Not bad when there is no reflector oven in sight!
PADDLER’S NOTE: The Saranac River in flood stage was much more powerful and the rapids on the Moose River trickier with less water than Chase Rapids. I was glad I decided to keep my gear, which gave my boat the same feel that it has had for hundreds of miles. The first mile of Chase Rapids has all of the Class II rapids, with a chance to catch your breath between each.
What an awesome day, what an awesome place, the icing on the cake of this incredible journey!
OK, I could have, should have perhaps, gone farther today, but look at the experiences I wouldn’t have experienced. Chase Rapids is fast approaching and must be run in the morning between 8 and noon, the hours that water is released from Churchill Dam to create a five-mile run of Class I and II whitewater. Instead of trying to make it that far, I set up camp by late morning just short of Heron Lake and Churchill Dam, poised to be first in line tomorrow.
The morning began well. Rounding Priestly Point, the urgent call of a loon greeted me, then echoed back with intensity and precision from the darkly wooded shore. Again and again the male called with gusto, his mate nearby. Always the answering voice quickly responded. I was so enjoying the wing stretching, the closeness, the echoes, that I didn’t give thought to the why of the scene. Until I spotted a small dot near the mother – a chick, of course. I angled away to leave the little family in peace, the calls and their echoes immediately fading into memory.
After my loons, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker, and Moose #4, I arrived in camp and was all settled in well before noon. I love looking at maps…today I just stared for a while at Map #12 as it dried, seeing how one body of water flowed into another and trying out the Abenaki names.
By mid-afternoon, I’d had my fill of reading, snacks, and gathering firewood, and decided to paddle over to the Churchill Depot History Center at Churchill Dam. Leaving a note for my Vermont friends welcoming them to camp with me, I spent a full hour at the museum reading about Paleoindians, examining artifacts, and trying to imagine the historic photos bringing life and people to the places that are now so wild. On the way home, paddling in the lee of the west shore, I spotted a cascade of water. A bull moose, just raising his antlers, still in velvet. The reward of Moose #5 for not lazing around camp!
My inner self is relaxing. There are so many layers of civilization and responsibility to peel away, to quiet the mind. I rose willingly and ventured forth into a day of clouds and sun, clouds and sun. Just me beneath the ever-changing sky, able to cross the tranquil waters on a straight course, a gift for rising early. To me, Lock Dam is the logical portage, just a quick carry over the hump of the dam, although I paused and actually got out my stove to make a second breakfast of potato soup with bacon, my tent drying while the sun was out.
The rushing stream into Martin’s Cove is a manageable and picturesque half mile of fun and the entrance into Eagle Lake. I paddled along by Pillsbury Island, where Thoreau once camped, under a steel-gray cloud, hopefully watching the sun shine on distant Farm Island. Well, the cloud won this time. The skies opened, with gusty winds, an instant drop in temperature and a crazy pummeling of rain on all the world. Committed at that point to bathing suit and shorts, it was a little late for a rain jacket. I simply kept my speed up, burning calories and racing toward that distant sun, still there. As the squall passed, I watched the sun move along the shore, rippling toward me tree by tree, until we met, all my bare skin instantly warming. Heavenly!
Everyone knows exactly how many times they’ve done it – usually either once or never. “Done it once, don’t need to do it again,” was one through-paddler’s assessment. (Although I once talked with an Allagash ranger whose count was 9.) Would mine reach two today? Twice traversing the treacherous 1.9 miles of Mud Pond Carry, the historic gateway to the Allagash?
The feet of generations have worn the path deep, so that it is never dry, just clear and rocky in places and murky and mysterious in others. To reach its start, I paddled up Umbazooksus Stream against a storm-strengthened current, pulled myself under the dam through a scary trough of waves, and crossed Umbazooksus Lake to the landmark rock cairn.
As the water grew deeper, each foot was placed with care. Invisible under the often ankle-deep murk hid rounded rocks, the remnants of an ancient boardwalk, and a deceptive bottom that might be solid for your left foot and a sucking vortex for your right. Today the portage yoke proved its worth yet again. In fact, carrying the boat was actually easier than lugging the second load’s weighty bags, trying to keep them above the mud.
The scariest moment came when my right foot suddenly slipped between two of the hidden boards, then wedged at an awkward angle. Luckily, I was slowly maneuvering bags at the time. As I wiggled it out, I shuddered, imagining the possible outcome if I had been carrying the heavy boat with a lot of forward momentum. Soon after, the bottom firmed up, the water cleared again, and I realized that, yes, I was going to make it. My count would indeed reach 2. “Did it twice, don’t need to do it again!” says this aspiring through-paddler.
The croak of a raven and glow of the sunrise made for a time of peaceful writing in camp, getting me all caught up on my journaling. This meant, traveling solo, that I could pause during the day to journal: “The slow drifting of surface bubbles contrasted with the swift darting of the swallows, as they skimmed just inches from the water. It was the last of that shadowed time before the bright sun illuminated all.”
Not many others were on the river, but I visited several times with a young family in a canoe and kayak, telling them that I hoped that they would see a moose. The young boy excitedly explained that anyone who spots an animal gets ice cream. I heartily approve of that rule!
A bald eagle circling in the growing wind was the extent of the wildlife and, by the time I reached Boom House near Chesuncook Village, the conditions kept my mind fully occupied. Chesuncook Lake, which I would cross at its northern end above Gero Island, is usually windy and choppy. “We’re in for a wild ride,” were my parting words to the family with kids, who were heading down the length of the lake.
At first the wind was a friendly, ferocious force at my back, then a confusion of waves as I entered the lake and saw that glorious view of Katahdin and its neighbors far to the south. Then the waves were fighting me for control of my boat. I safely passed the comforting Graveyard Point, paddling for the most part into the powerful waves at an angle, first toward the north shore, then toward Gero Island to the south. Where would I camp? Where could I reach? Well, the wind answered that for me, finally just turning my boat broadside to the waves as my arms grew weary and scooting me along, thankfully close to the shore of Gero. It felt safe, if a bit funny, to be simply along for the ride.
Well, the excitement wasn’t over yet. After lunch on a comfy log on the lee shore beach of Gero Island, I braved the wind anew to cross into the arm of Umbazooksus Stream, which stretches north above the lake, funneling the waves, this time in my direction of travel. Staying near the west shore of the arm, I surfed with abandon, luckily having success aiming straight for Umbazooksus West campground, somewhat unusual with its road access and longterm RV residents. I daydreamed that they were all in awe, watching my perilous journey to join them.
When I got there, the campground was deserted, the RV’s mute as to my paddling prowess. This also meant there was no one there but me to see my empty boat, pulled fully up on the gravel beach, be picked up by the wind and deposited in the lake. Boy did I ever drop my last load of gear and run, catching the skidding boat by one hand in waist deep water! I will let the photos below tell the rest of the tale. Tomorrow…Mud Pond Carry…