Day 44: Big Duck Cove on Moosehead Lake to Lone Pine on the West Branch of the Penobscot River (20.6 miles)

Goodbye, Eagle Mt., watch over our special cove until life brings us here once more. A glorious sunny day with the wind at our backs meant a quick trip to Northeast Carry, where I would say farewell to all of my family until reaching Allagash Village in 8 or 9 days.  Mom and Dad arrived after spotting their second moose of the summer on the Golden Road, ready to take possession of my wheels and an overabundance of food that I had sorted out that morning.

DSCN8052
The view approaching Northeast Carry, which is one of two arms that reach upward at the north end of massive Moosehead Lake. Traveling up the eastern arm, the cluster of buildings on the left is your landmark.

Northeast Carry is home to Raymonds Country Store, where Ed and Shirley Raymond are anchors in the remoteness of the north Maine woods. It was Shirley who taught me years ago the philosophy that kept me squatting on a log for hours with a boy from Brooklyn on the Raquette River. “Up here, if someone needs help, you help, even if the person is your enemy.” Shirley also makes a yummy cheeseburger and has the last groceries for many miles, although Ed reported that their store in now closed two days per week due to their various medical appointments. (For some reason, Shirley had decided that they weren’t grilling today, so I actually had cheese and some delicious nutty rice crackers with my iced tea, followed by a nice fresh donut.)

DSCN8066
My soul is relaxing…only the challenge of Mud Pond Carry lies uncertainly ahead…otherwise, the shining path of the river beckons me to drift downstream in my own time, savoring the last days of solitude and discovery.

In many ways, the West Branch of the Penobscot River is like the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, in its scenery, wildlife, and management.  Passing under the bridge at Hannibal’s Crossing seemed the threshold of the wilderness.  An eagle soared from a spruce above, the clarity of sound bringing the squeak of wings against air, squeakiness not being an adjective that I had ever associated with an eagle before.

DSCN8072cropped
In the water, a cormorant may be mistaken for a loon at a distance, but they are more often spotted sunning on a rock or log or taking flight, which loons rarely do.

I was headed for Lone Pine, a small campsite on river right with a quaint handmade table, pleasant views up and down the river, and, most of all, the comfort of familiarity.  You know how you walk into a college classroom on the first day and choose a seat at random?  And then return there for every class, month after month?  That’s Lone Pine for me, in spite of the hike to the outhouse, across board bridges beside a parade of moose tracks.  This year I found many trees blown down and the work of clearing them up still in process, but I still loved being back in my “familiar seat,” gathering wood, chilling my little box of white wine in the river, and hanging my food bag from the ridgepole over the picnic table…a great feature of these campsites.

DSCN8082
Pondering life while watching the ever-changing dance of the campfire…happily, I had added my folding saw to my gear not long ago. Above, the lovely moon still graced the clear, dark sky beyond the firs.

TOTAL MILES: 607.1

Day 43: The Birches to Big Duck Cove, Moosehead Lake (9.3 miles)

DSCN8024
John Willard, owner of The Birches, helped create the NFCT and always cheers me on with my paddling adventures. If you ever visit, be sure to go up for a float plane ride with John and see where you have (or will) paddle from the clouds.

One luxury of through-paddling is working off what you eat, even when it is a stuffed omelette, English muffin and jelly, and The Birches “small” orange juice, which is not small.  Mom waved farewell to the rest of us after breakfast.  Dad would paddle the seven miles around Farm Island and Sue and I were headed to a beautiful cove where we had camped before, an easy day.  Easy, that is, as long as you arrive before the wind gets up and find an empty campsite.

DSCN8033
My aunt, Susan Sefcik, shares my love of the outdoors and, like me, has been venturing out on some solo trips. She joined me for the miles on Moosehead Lake, camping in Big Duck Cove, then stayed for a few extra days, braving some hearty winds along the way.

Paddling strong, we made good time, to discover one of our two favorite back-to-back sites free.  We were on the protected back side, helpful indeed when the wind blew whitecaps down the length of the cove later that afternoon.  Lazy hours in camp to gather wood, watch a red squirrel scamper past our tents with a furry bundle of baby in her mouth, then dabble our feet at water’s edge with a crayfish and minnows for company.  It was a bit cold for swimming, though, and we were glad to layer up after a quick dip.  Family togetherness in the great outdoors!

DSCN8048
Sue loves to cook and I love to eat…with my appetite being especially well-developed at the moment. Dinner was turkey stir-fry with a multitude of fresh vegetables and the anticipation of pancakes and bacon tomorrow morning.
DSCN8042
I love to cut firewood and Sue loves campfires…here is our tidy camp on the cove.

TOTAL MILES: 586.5

Faith, family, and friends carry me to the finish line

 

On Tuesday, August 11, I paddled into Fort Kent on the St. John River, completing my solo through-paddle of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail in 53 days.

 

Yesterday, after a long (30.8 miles) and damp day, Dad and I passed under the international bridge on the St. John, reaching the eastern end of the NFCT. My GPS total reflected 749.7 miles.  With God’s grace, I had covered every mile unassisted.  It felt unbelievable.

I think my numb, white fingers and shivering self tempered some of the emotion of the moment, but I still felt ready to cry.  So many days of beauty, danger, kindness, and endurance were coming to an end.  A dream, that once seemed beyond all reach, would now become a treasured memory.

To all of you, who cheered me on and supported me in infinite ways, please know that you were with me in that special moment and you will always be part of the story of NFCT 2015 for me!

(I hope to write up the rest of the days, with many photos, while it is all fresh in my mind).

Day 42: Rest day at The Birches in Rockwood on Moosehead Lake (only miles for fun)

My aunt Sue Sefcik, my father, and I paddled up to Baker Brook before our French toast and bacon, in the hopes of spotting a moose.  They were also glad for the miles, as they will each be paddling with me on two of the remaining days, Sue on Moosehead and Dad on the St. John River.  I stopped to check out the NFCT Baker Brook campsite on the way.

The rest of the day was restful and rejuvenating – swimming, the hot tub, reading, and a trip to Greenville for some shopping and more.  I even bought a book to take, which I will surely appreciate on Mud Pond Carry! (My food supplies have also filled an extra small dry bag.)

Friends Ken Dale (also our pastor) and his wife Kathy Malatesta treated us to dinner at Kelly’s Landing. The fish fry special with salad bar was a wonderful finish to a restful day. Thanks again, Ken and Kathy!

The last three maps of the NFCT will take me across Moosehead Lake to Northeast Carry, up the West Branch of the Penobscot into the Allagash and then on to the St. John and Fort Kent.  There may be a chance for one more post, but probably not.  

This will be a time for reflection, writing, and photography, and I promise to journal well and finish sharing when I get home.  To each of you faithfully reading along, heartfelt thanks for the multitude of ways you have all generously helped me along the river (or the road)!

Blue moon rising beside Kineo as the day ends

Another look at the first half of the NFCT in Maine

DSCN7659
Hi Becca and Jess…still grateful you shared your campsite on a stormy night
DSCN7695
Paul and Janie Hartman by the Maine guideboat on display along the Oquossuc Carry Rd.
DSCN7765
Loved these layers of birches along the shore of Flagstaff Lake
DSCN7851
Rapids on Little Spencer Stream challenged my endurance
DSCN7857
This loon welcomed me to misty Spencer Lake…I was so grateful to see those open waters after a huge day of battling upstream
DSCN7904
Along Spencer Rips Rd., I saw tamarack, a conifer that loses its needles in the winter
DSCN7914
Spectacular Moose River scenery punctuated by many massive glacial erratics

Natural beauty along the NFCT…sharing some of my favorites

DSCN7835
First moose of the trip…we enjoyed each other while I ate my scrumptious no-bake cookie on Little Spencer Stream
DSCN7847
Canada lilies continue to glorify the river banks
DSCN7855
Fascinating fungus being devoured by a slug
DSCN7876
Flower of the day…quite small…found in wetter areas…Allegheny Monkey Flower, says Chris Gill, one that I know I never discovered before…thanks!
DSCN7892
Butterflies were in abundance during the Hardscrabble Road portage
DSCN7918
Laid back frog hanging out along the Moose River

Day 41: Poplar Hill Island NFCT campsite on Brassua Lake to The Birches, Moosehead Lake (10.0 miles)

Bright morning sunshine and early head winds were with me as I finished Brassua Lake, where the dam doesn’t come into view until you round the point and are right there.  I love heading confidently right to this portage, which is marked by towering piles of dri-ki (giant driftwood).

 

Morning has broken at my island campsite.

 

 

Clouds above Brassua Lake add drama to an already majestic vista.

 

The rapids as I returned to the Moose River were on a par with those of yesterday, one perhaps a Class II with fun standing waves.  A fly fisherman in waders reported a good morning’s catch of “brookies” and salmon and, not for the first time, I wished there had been space and time for fishing.

 

For the end of Map 10, a friendly stranger took my photo near the Rockwood kiosk, but with Mt. Kineo in the background. I cannot believe there are only three maps left and that I will be finished in two weeks.

I resisted the temptation to be lazy and instead paddled into the wind to sign in at the Rockwood kiosk, before turning and sailing in style down to The Birches.  An old family favorite, this lodge has all the rustic charm of bygone days and staff and owner who we count as good friends.  Tomorrow will be my one and only rest day, a chance to recharge and reorganize for the wilderness sojourn ahead.

TOTAL MILES: 577.2

Day 40: Lower Narrows on Long Pond to Brassua Island NFCT campsite (16.4 miles)

Wow, I am blogging from my tent as dusk falls, determined to post this before it gets dark.  This week I’ve had many long, tough days and my body is begging for a rest.  Again this afternoon, I was digging deep to keep paddling until I reached camp.

The day began with bright sunshine as I finished Long Pond, paddled a short section of the Moose River and then tackled the almost four-mile Demo Rd. portage to reach Little Brassua and Brassua Lakes and my island camp.

It was hot enough mid-morning to go for a swim from this island near the end of Long Pond.
This two miles of the Moose River had four fun rapids, the most challenging I’ve run with my new canoe, and a moose in a cove at the third one, where there was no hope of stopping.

 
 

A highlight was discovering the same composition book journal here on the island. It has survived seven long Maine winters and still has some of my Paddle for Hope business cards tucked in it!
   

TOTAL MILES: 567.2

Day 39: Sally Mt. Beach on Attean Pond to campsite on Lower Narrows, Long Pond (15.9 miles)

(Just discovered that I have four bars on my phone and can actually blog from the trail, my original hope for my trail writing.  It is now tomorrow!)

So, it was another five miles into Jackman, which I could not have endured last night.  So good decision to stop and camp.  

This morning, paddling into town went easily and I was grateful for no float plane traffic on Big Wood Pond, just a couple of planes tied up near the Jackman Landing Campground, where I took advantage of their nice laundry.  Then on to my favorite Jackman restaurant, Mama Bear’s for a turkey BLT, fries, brownie sundae, and some writing.

  

The seven-mile stretch of the Moose River out of Jackman is a relaxing paddle.  I saw a deer, that snorted as I was drifting and reading my map, and also was very unobservant in not noticing a giant deadfall tree full of ospreys until after they took flight!  That was just as I entered Long Pond from the river (below).

  

Tonight is what camping should be.  This was my third time trying to camp in this site on the Lower Narrows of Long Pond and I made it.  On the 2006 Map 10, it is in the wrong location, but this time I knew right where to head.

 

Sunset from the campsite beach, where there was a bench by the fire and I lingered until after dark eating all the fresh food from my grocery store run and listening to the loons. Later, I even had a glimpse of the moon, which has recently been obscured by all these cloudy mights.
 
TOTAL MILES: 550.8

Day 38: Fish Pond campground to Sally Mt. Beach campsite on Attean Pond (18.1 miles)

When I look back over today, the words that come to mind are “photos” and “exhaustion.”  

On my camera (not this phone) are lots of great memories from this day of walking six miles of logging roads and paddling a spectacular route along the Moose River and across Attean Pond…flowers, ripe raspberries that drastically slowed my progress, a laid back frog, and some massive glacial erratics.  I love that phrase, “glacial erratics,” God’s punctuation on a river of immense beauty.  So look for those soon on a blog post near you.

Pickerel weed at the hand carry to my campsite

 

The inlet at the top of Fish Pond really does exist and it even held Moose #2 of the trip!

 

A memorial to a World War II POW camp that stood on this site near Fish Pond, in front of the camp’s oven for baking bread. The portage route passes by here on Hardscrabble Road.

Time to finish writing for today, but I will be happy to hear news of Sydney and Marji, whose new wheels broke yesterday on the long portage!  Help was on the way and I hope it arrived.  I was too exhausted to reach Jackman, particularly with towering, black clouds and the rumble of thunder.  Found a nice empty site at Sally Mt. Beach, safe from the severe line of storms that came through during the night. 

TOTAL MILES: 534.9