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!


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 goodness it wasn’t the Whites

en-dur-ance (noun) the power to withstand pain or hardships; the ability or strength to continue despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions

I have survived. Had I ended up on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, our story might have ended differently. Yes, there were many ups and downs in my 29 miles, but the EKG line (as Katina calls it) of elevation changes looked like nothing compared to what she and my new thru-hiking friends will be facing very soon.

In such a short time, I sampled a lot of trail life – a hostel, shelter camping, lovely trail towns, fields and forests. Elm St. in Norwich, VT is well-known for its generous trail angels, who put coolers out along the road. This kind family offered cold sliced watermelon and homemade banana bread with a special flair.

Katina and I traveled well together, sometimes chatting away and sometimes (on the uphills?) lost in our own thoughts and the beauty of the trail. She kindly slowed down a bit and was always patiently cheerful about another water or photo break. A surprising amount of our second day’s hiking was on roads in the baking mid-afternoon sun.

I never knew sitting under a shady tree in the breeze, with the weight off my feet, could be so incredibly blissful. Dark oak leaves dancing against the blue and white above and the promise of a free cruller and icy cold iced tea ahead at Lou’s Restaurant in Hanover, NH.

Shortly after I hauled myself up from under that tree, we crossed the Connecticut River and Arachne entered her tenth AT state, New Hampshire. Sharing this milestone with her was especially fun because the Connecticut River farther north is part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT), which we have both thru-paddled.

As we walked, a popular topic of conversation was comparing the two trails. There is far less company along the NFCT and only a handful of thru-paddlers on it at any given time. In fact, less than 100 people have been recognized by the NFCT as having completed the 740 miles of rivers, lakes, and portages in its 16 years of existence. That will change, we both agree, when we see the excitement in the eyes of all the people with whom we have been sharing the story of the NFCT. Katina, in fact, just wrote an article comparing the two trails for the online publication Appalachian Trials that is generating a lot of interest. And while I am having fun inserting links, here is the first entry from our trip on Arachne’s online trail journal.

So as I say farewell to Soft G and Just Janelle, Snail and Walking Mink, Oompah and Tuna Roll, they will linger in my thoughts as I wake to a warm shower every morning. I think being dirty was the hardest part for me. That and the fact that every morning seemed to start with an uphill struggle that left me literally dripping with sweat and pulling out my inhaler. To Katina, grateful thanks for including me in your journey, sharing your Desitin, and helping me lose a pound that I can gain back on the cruise!


Walk well, Katina…and next time, let’s PADDLE together!




Surprising myself…13 miles on the Appalachian Trail


Arachne (Katina Daanen) and I ready for the adventures of the trail

The warm afternoon had occasionally been enlivened by cooling breezes and the AT had already taken us up and over several ridges by 2 pm. I stood beneath a newly crafted wooden sign, which spelled out our options. We could stop here at a shelter for the night, after a fairly respectable 7.9 miles for my first day with a full backpack. Or we could go on, 4.7 miles further, in search of a blue barn with a large, welcoming AT symbol to mark it.


We saw two red efts on the trail today

As we hiked, the barn’s purported amenities had drawn us on. A cooler of sodas on the porch, beside a river with a bridge for jumping in. And, of course, the barn would mean no damp dewy tent to pack up in the morning. I could go on. And on.

My slow trudge got a little slower as we crossed an interesting mix of terrain – meadows, fields, and mostly soft leafy paths under open forest. The beautiful surroundings and occasional mountain vistas inspired my weary body. For a time we had hiked by a long and ancient mossy stone wall. It was the Old King’s Highway, once the main route from Boston to Canada. I thought it surprising that there hadn’t been a flatter way to go.


We found it! The Hart family’s thoughtful hospitality even included omelets and toast this morning with lots of coffee and a warm kitchen visit. Thanks for the trail magic!


All powered up for another day, after Linda’s delicious breakfast.


Day 20: Derby Four Seasons Inn and Suites to Great Falls NFCT campsite (10.3 miles)

Motel time is a resource to be fully utilized when the schedule allows.  As in Swanton, I stayed until checkout time at 11, drying, reorganizing, writing and eating.  

From the minute breakfast started until it closed, I was consuming protein and calories to replenish my hardworking body, the body that has lately been amazing me.  They had hard-boiled eggs and yogurt and peanut butter and bagels and real Cabot butter.  Overall, a real surprise to me is that I am craving “real” food more than sweets, except for the fabulous bakeries I’ve visited.

Cloudy with unfavorable winds and an upset stomach as I launched on Salem Lake. Blah!

Today was a challenge to be met, more as I had anticipated the trip, even to the point of being dangerous.  I left Sydney and Marji doing errands, with plans to camp together on Pensioner Pond, after several portages, ponds, and another section of the upstream Clyde.

Little Salem Pond was a world of water lilies and grasses, followed by the sand ripples and clear waters of the Clyde. No mud for a time, anyway.

Curve followed curve, as damselflies flitted among the grasses, and graceful trees stretched bank to bank, an arch to paddle beneath.  A Google Earth image of this stretch would actually make a great maze, complete with dead ends.  

Sadly, all good things must end and gradually I began to fight the current, the shallows, then the rocks, the rapids, my goal the Fontaine Rd. bridge.  I almost made it.  Only one curve separated me from seeing the bridge when I admitted not only was it too risky to continue…I might be swept off my feet…but also that I was exhausted and had not been resting.  Just then, a mown lawn on the left, the sound of a lawn mower, and on the mower, Randy.  From my heart , I said, “You have been a blessing to me today,” as I took out across his yard.

Looking across the river just at the point where I put up the white flag of surrender.

After that, I was just looking for a place of respite and soon.  A quick stop at Scampy’s for snacks to go with dinner and then tiny Charleston Pond looked like heaven, with a welcoming loon.  

It turns out that there is an NFCT campsite there at the start of the Great Falls portage, home for the night.  (Pensioner Pond is further on, but it was getting late and I thought Sydney and Marji must be behind me).   By the way, dinner was cider, chips, and Snickers bars…oh no!

 TOTAL MILES: 295.6 

The slow road home

051715 1 Martin Bridge

Coming home last Sunday, I took the scenic route.  Somehow my GPS knew that I had some time for exploring.  (For an instrument so obsessed with the word “recalculating,” it is still pretty smart.)  This is the Martin Bridge, a covered bridge built in 1890 on a Vermont farm.  It is the last privately-constructed covered bridge in existence in the state and was designed to be especially tall to accommodate wagons piled high with loose hay.  Feeling the need to stretch my legs, I wandered the property, found an old dump, and saw lots of red-winged blackbirds.  The prize, though, was a bobolink.  It looked vaguely familiar, but I had to consult the bird book at home to learn its name.

Bobolink small