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.


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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.