Natural beauty along the NFCT…sharing some of my favorites

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First moose of the trip…we enjoyed each other while I ate my scrumptious no-bake cookie on Little Spencer Stream
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Canada lilies continue to glorify the river banks
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Fascinating fungus being devoured by a slug
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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!
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Butterflies were in abundance during the Hardscrabble Road portage
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Laid back frog hanging out along the Moose River

Answers and insights…more on my NFCT 2015 through paddle

Well, I have been humbled, energized, and amazed by all of the comments and emails that I have been receiving along the way.  Together with the generous, friendly folks that I have met and paddled with, you are making this journey a deeper, richer experience.  And often cheering me up when I get down!  I thought I could update you all best with this post, so here goes.

Q:  You always sound so cheerful, but are there times that are tougher?  A:  At heart, I am a “look on the bright side” person and that is reflected in my writing.  The toughest challenges so far, in no particular order, have been not feeling my best at the beginning, the difficulties of the portages, misplacing things (especially my credit card for a few days), and the pain and numbness in my hands.  Luckily, I now have an arsenal of Aleve!

Q:  How are your various aches and pains?  A:  Praise God that my eyesight has been back to normal since about the start of this adventure.  The laryngitis and cough I had in the first week are gone.  My left foot feels better every day and is very happy when I am paddling instead of walking.  Perhaps the cold water immersion is soothing, too.  How is that for looking on the bright side of constantly wet feet?  My hands are as noted above, but otherwise I feel strong.

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Q:  Of what did Peter Macfarlane make his boat?  A:  Peter builds and sells boats and his business is called Otter Creek Smallcraft in Vermont.  He completed his very wet 2013 through paddle of the NFCT (without wheels) in his “14′ solo Sylva Tripper cedar-strip canoe by Otter Creek Smallcraft.”

Another challenge is communication, especially getting my posts the way I want them, with infrequent time and access to a good internet connection.  (Hence my middle of the night posting here at the Grey Gables Mansion B&B).  Before I leave for the wilds of Canada, I would like to share a few photos that I will later add in to the appropriate days.

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Mother and fawn on First Lake in the Fulton Chain of Lakes less than an hour from the start
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Hanging out with Z (Zion) and Alton, while we were waiting for their group’s canoe to be recovered from a strainer
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Nancy and Tom, trail angels of the finest kind, took kind care of me in Plattsburgh. Nancy later tried to track down my lost credit card, which she will be glad to hear is now found!
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Turtle in the Missisquoi wildlife refuge. Yes, Chris Gill, this is a wood turtle, right? Sadly, I know it is not a threatened spiny softshell turtle, which I had really hoped to spot there.

May you find fireplace birds

Fireplace birds

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.
Dr. Suess

We christened them the “fireplace birds,” but of course they had another name.  In those shortening days toward the end of August 2009, the Allagash was a quiet place.  As Dad and I canoed from Umsaskis Bridge to Michaud Farm, the cool mornings and chilly swimming were more than compensated for by moose heavy with antlers and the beautiful solitude of the river. 

Our cheeky friends first visited us at Lock Dam.  Hopping contentedly among the ashes of the fire pit, focused on pecking who knows what, they were surprisingly tame. The colorful male and his drab partner were a species new to us.  Dad and I love our birds, especially new ones, and felt their presence yet another gift of the late summer wilderness.  Imagine our surprise, the next evening, when we discovered two more in the Outlet campsite on Round Pond.  

Dad and I will never forget those birds, or the midnight stampede of a moose through our campsite and down into the river with a mighty splash, or our first otter family in the Musquacook Deadwater.   A journey is so much more than the destination.  One of my hopes for this summer is to absorb the experience, treasure the moments.  And which parts will live on in my stories, in the memories of my heart?  I don’t know, of course.  But if you ask me why I will live on tuna and granola, portaging in the pouring rain and paddling into the wind, with sweat and bugs my closest friends, I go because of the fireplace birds, whatever they will be. 

Oh, that’s right, you would like to know what those birds were, right?  White-winged Crossbills, Loxia leucoptera, a finch that feeds almost exclusively on spruce and tamarack seeds, eating up to 3,000 in a single day!

Still training…still shopping…days going faster

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A pair of hooded mergansers in Biscay Pond

Yesterday evening we loaded my old kayak on my vehicle in preparation for the trip to the NFCT Freshet Fest in Vermont this weekend.  This past week has been blessed with summery weather and the trees, flowers, and people are all blossoming.  Sunday I had my longest paddle yet, going down to Bristol Mills and back, for a total of 8.5 miles on a windy afternoon, followed by 4.8 miles on an even windier Monday.

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The fun of shopping continues, with a growing pile of stuff to show for it.  So, what’s in the pile?

  • One pair of wicked-expensive liner socks from REI, great for portaging…they will join the 2 1/2 pairs I already have – the missing sock is somewhere in the South Branch of the Dead River! (cost $0, thanks to my member’s dividend)
  • Two tiny dry bags, one red and one blue, different colors to have fun with organizing something.  Color coding and a system is a key to success ($15 LL Bean close out) – couldn’t find these this morning for the photo – this being a great advertisement for my system of organization – you should see my room!
  • A 21-serving bag of dehydrated refried beans for burritos which arrived yesterday ($10 from Amazon Prime)
  • Lots of camper’s toilet paper.  I always bring this…not sure if it is worth the expense, but it sure is so well packaged, cute and compact ($5 for every 3 rolls).
  • My first ever Platypus collapsible water bottle, to replace one of my Nalgenes.  Still holds a quart of water, weighs 0.9 ounces, compared to 6.3, and takes up no room empty.  This will be especially good since there are large stretches where I will be buying, rather than filtering, my water, and containers will just be going along for the ride. ($9 from LL Bean)
  • The lightest weight combination cable lock I could find – weighs 4.9 ounces and is 5 ft. long, which is barely long enough ($5 from Walmart) …this was more like a necessity for my peace of mind (if I ever finish my book about Paddle for Hope you can read about the time some fisherman “found and rescued” my boat)
  • Three pairs of Ex Officio black quick-drying underwear from LL Bean, with the hope that they can be hand washed as I go (hate to say it – they are $18 a pair)

Almost forgot to share this:  my new canoe will ship out from Wenonah on May 11 and arrive 3 to 5 days later.

Wind and water

“Welcome home,” whispered the gentle waves
Spring still life

Well, I am debating whether I can manage without taking my iPad Mini this summer.  I already know I can’t live without my binoculars and GPS and SPOT and phone and probably my camera, at least for the latter part of the trip.  So here’s my first “phone-only” post!

We’ve been away for the first bit of April vacation, so yesterday morning was my first paddle on the open waters of the lake, totaling 6.6 miles.

Going out, I was headed into the wind, but got quite a push from the current on the usually placid river, about 1.5 mph.  On the way home, thank you wind!  Birds galore: swallows, flickers, buffleheads, an osprey, Canada geese, and a pair of very vocal loons. I thought I heard a kingfisher, but have yet to see one this year.  I may add a couple more photos from the camera after this experimental post works.  More soon on our explorations earlier this week…

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Pair of buffleheads on the sparkling lake
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“Are you looking at me?”

The world is alive with the sound of music

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Remnants of shrinking ice have a beauty all their own
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A painted turtle meanders slowly across the muddy river bottom, beside the wavering reflection of a birch

This brilliant Monday morning was yet another gem in a string of true spring days.  Lily (my black lab friend) literally bounced along on our early morning walk and I felt like bouncing too! Up she scrambled to the top of one of the few remaining snow mountains, then tore down to explore the mysterious muddy smells emerging from winter’s blanket.

The woodland symphony added some new members this morning.  Joining our old friends the chickadees and woodpeckers were the first thrushes trilling from both sides of the road, between the impossibly deep drumming of not one, but two, pileated woodpeckers.  The soft clucking of a distant turkey might have been lost, had we not stopped to enjoy the thrushes.

Yesterday on the river, the story was the same…life blossoming, spirits released from the rigid ice of winter. I am still paddling my kayak, with the new canoe scheduled to arrive early in May. I paddled the Pemaquid River from the visitor’s center to the bridge and back, about 4 miles.

Thought you would be interested in yesterday’s river wildlife list: wood duck, ruddy ducks, mallards, other yet-to-be-identified ducks, ospreys, great blue heron, swallows, and a painted turtle who was hanging out on the river bottom.  The ducks were again great in number, rising in flocks long before I approached, with sometimes a group of delicate, downy feathers floating to mark where they had been.

Late this afternoon, I paddled the river again, going as far as the lake, where I met an unrelenting barrier of ice, then back to pull the boat out (about 3 miles).  As my dog-sitting stay ends tomorrow, the kayak now waits at home for ice-out, when it will take up residence on a nearby lake.

A Good Friday

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Today the temperature reached 60 degrees, according to The Weather Channel.  After joyfully noting this miracle, I hurried home to walk the dog, then set off for the river, where I promptly came as close to being stuck as has ever happened with my RAV4. I guess you really can’t just drive ANYWHERE with aplomb. A bit of maneuvering and I was back on the gravel boat launch drive and unloading.  What a joy it was to slide my kayak into the water for the first time in 2015.

Remember those stories of the earliest wilderness explorers, who wrote of vast flocks of waterfowl, more than could be counted? That was the Pemaquid River today. I felt like an interloper, one who had arrived weeks before human presence was allowed.  On every side, ducks took flight and Canada geese honked belligerently from the water and on the ice.

My muscles know that I paddled today (and did my upper body workout with the weights).  There is that familiar little nagging stab in my back, about halfway down and more to the right than to the left. Today I logged the first 2 miles of what will be many hundreds for the year. It was a good Friday and also Good Friday, with worship at the Bremen Union Church after my paddling adventure.

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Liberated from its winter captivity in the barn, my paddle once again dipped and dripped in a comforting rhythm.