One is silver and the other’s gold

031915 first meeting
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.

031915 on the allagash
New friends, united by the river.
031915 pciking berries
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.
031915 yummy
There’s nothing better than blueberry pancakes and bacon
Mike was at home in (or under) a canoe
Moon over Round Pond
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!


Day 45: Lone Pine on the West Branch Penobscot River to Umbazooksus Stream West (14.4 miles)

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.”

A new day reflected in the peaceful waters of the West Branch of the Penobscot

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.

Whitecaps race across the top of Chesuncook Lake, as seen from the protection of Gero Island.

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…

Today gave new meaning to the term “unsettled weather,” as I experienced gusty winds, warm sunshine for swimming, violent thunderstorms, pea-sized hail, and drenching downpours.
And a rainbow, viewed from inside my tent.