MY 33 DAY ADVENTURE
Day 1 - May 31, 2009
Bob paddled with me today. Heavy western winds were causing two foot surf at our stern right from the start. Whitecaps were everywhere. It was hard to control my loaded kayak. Bob seemed to be able to move faster. I wasn’t surprised since he had a longer boat and it was empty. It was cold and we encountered three foot waves entering Inlet. We stopped for some pizza and hot coffee and received a weather update online in a local bar. The first carry was cold and wet. Sixth and Seventh Lakes were calm. I camped alone in a designated campsite on the shore of Eighth Lake with a beautiful sunset.
Day 2 - June 1, 2009
What a beautiful sunrise. I crossed Eighth Lake this morning. The portage was a semi-hard carry in the beginning and eased up afterwards. I crossed the road to the put-in at the end of a wooden walkway to a new dock. The stream and surrounding vegetation reminded me of the cedar streams in the Pinelands of South Jersey where I currently reside. The weather was sunny as I entered Raquette Lake but eventually it got cloudy and blustery as the day wore on. I met up with the team at the lake landing prior to the portage around the falls. We played at Buttermilk Falls for a while taking numerous pictures. I portaged to the lean-tos downstream of Buttermilk and camped under roof for the night.
Day 3 - June 2, 2009
It was an obvious long morning paddle on Long Lake. It seemed like it took forever! I missed the team at the bridge because I left earlier than they had suspected and because I was moving at speed. In order to break down the lake into manageable pieces, I picked points on the map and matched them up with my view ahead. I would calculate how long it would take to reach a point. This helped to make the lake section of the paddle more relaxing. Views of Seymour, Seward, Donaldson and Emmons were spectacular. The perspective from the lake was unique. They are on my radar for a future hike.
What a great feeling when you finally see the end of the lake. The Raquette River was very relaxing until I had to take out above Raquette Falls. What a difficult carry. I had to portage my gear in two trips and then carry the kayak on my back because the trail was too rocky for wheels. The total distance I portaged was 6.5 miles (it was 1.3 miles one way). I skipped Mother Johnson’s lean-to. Too bad – it had a split firewood pile in the lean-to. I guess it was a reward for completing the carry. But there was still plenty of daylight and I was feeling strong so I made a beeline for Sandy Creek. I camped at a beautiful clearing at a point only to realize later that I should have camped at a site next door. But it was late and I had already dumped my gear and put up my tent. I made an effort to be gentle to the flora. I suggest a more obvious notice from the water would benefit all in the future.
NON-DESIGNATED CAMPSITE (Designated campsite next door)
Day 4 - June 3, 2009
I misread the map. I found an old bridge on the stream that I mistook for a bridge on the map. I ended up paddling up Ampersand Creek for one hour climbing over debris similar to that encountered on my Jersey Pinelands Kayakcross in 2007. Even though the obstacles I encountered seemed oddly difficult for an established water trail, I pushed on blindly. I finally gave in when I stubbornly realized I was traveling east and not north and that the mountains surrounding me did not match the terrain on the map if I were in the correct location. I turned around and finally found the correct bridge. Tricky swamp – I won’t let that happen again.
I portaged to Upper Saranac Lake and paddled the connector to the locks. I considered running the rapids to Middle Saranac Lake but the lockkeeper looked strangely familiar. So I turned back and yelled out “Is your name Margaret?” Indeed - it was Margaret Hawthorne who helped get me through the night after a horrible accident coming down the trail from Iroquois in 2006. It’s a small world isn’t it? Once again she helped me. I had a bad feeling about running my first set of rapids. Something drew me back to ask her what her name was. The rapids had a nasty massive rock at end requiring a sharp left turn to avoid. I ended up paddling through the lock and canal instead. I met the team after paddling under the Route 3 bridge and paddled to Saranac Lake with Bob. We had a great dinner in town that night and I treated myself to a night in the Hotel Saranac. My kayak had a room all to itself as well!
Day 5 - June 4, 2009
This morning a local guided me to the put-in on the Saranac River in town. Before departing, I stopped into the St. Regis Canoe Outfitters shop for some last minute advice about the rapids and falls downstream. I spoke with a young man at the shop and he provided me with additional information for running the Saranac River. It was more detailed information than was available on the NFCT map and corrected some errors as well. The information also identified a stealth campsite. I ran my first set of rapids when I reached the top of Permanent Rapids. The fellow at the shop had said that the water was still at Spring levels and that I should add a ½ Class to the designation on the map. I did great until I reached the end where I flipped on the last set of rocks. I was embarrassed but uninjured. However, I did do a perfect wet exit and held onto my paddle. All my gear stayed dry. I have no video of these rapids since I was fearful of damaging my camera and tripod if I flipped. I had decided to feel my kayak out before attempting to run some rapids while filming. My camera gear cost me $550 and I wasn’t about to trash it in the first week. Besides, I brought no helmet. I had long ago decided that bringing a helmet might tempt me to take unnecessary risks. Besides, I hadn’t noticed any mention of the word “helmet” when reading the Blogs of other previous paddlers (all canoeists).
I crossed Union Lake and Franklin Lake in a flash. At the Hydro I met Peter. He approached me and mentioned a canoe tandem he had helped last year. Her name was Eileen McCue and his was William Hafford – or as Peter called him, “Fancy Pants”. I recall reading a Blog about them on the NFCT web site. Peter wanted me to go back and drink beer at his campsite and then shuttle me to Plattsburg. No Thanks. I told him my plan was to do the entire NFCT under my own power while carrying all of my own food and gear. I bid farewell and proceeded to run two Class II+ rapids and bugged out before the Class III+ and Class IV+ stuff further downstream below Silver Lake Road. I camped at the stealth camp identified on the information provided by the St. Regis Canoe Outfitters. PS – a very big beaver was not happy that I entered his pond just above the take-out.
Day 6 - June 5, 2009
It was a difficult but short carry out to the road. However, from the road you would never find it. I had to carry my gear in two loads. My kayak needed to be carried a good distance before suitable terrain allowed me to strap on the wheels. This carry was not pleasant. Thank God it was short. I kept looking for a location to re-launch my kayak but there were never any obvious access points. Along the way I weaved around a road crew filling cracks with liquid rubber. I couldn’t put back into the water until I came to the bridge at Clayburg.
While re-launching I met some fly-fishermen. The Saranac River was a continuous set of sparkling rapids all the way to Baker’s Acres Campground. There were many fly-fishermen in the stream today and luckily the river was just deep enough to run the rapids.
Somehow I missed the sign for the takeout above Class III+ Separator Rapids. I had been advised to carry these rapids by Darrin Kimbler of the NFCT. I didn’t realize my mistake until it was too late. I was diving into them. Somehow I survived the upper rapids and eddied out to regain my composure. Now I had no choice. It would either be a disaster or I would take a big step forward in confidence. I ended up running them and scared the hell out of myself. But I got it all on video!
Later downstream I met up with the team again for a short stop and then continued to the takeout at Cadyville Dam. I was disappointed with the steepness and rocky texture of the takeout. In retrospect, it would have been simpler to takeout at Cadyville Beach. But then I wouldn’t have met Frank Zappala who lived across the street from Cadyville Dam. He invited me to have dinner and a few beers. I had steak for dinner that night! We talked a few hours. Frank is a recently divorced Real Estate Attorney. We discussed the takeout and he mentioned that his son was looking for an Eagle Scout project. I promised I would hook him up with the NFCT in an effort to improve the takeout and possibly build a lean-to. Hopefully Kate Williams and company will contact him. I spent the night indoors. Thanks Frank. You’re a good guy.
Day 7 - June 6, 2009
Lots of terrible carries. Directions to the last Plattsburg carry was somewhat confusing. In fact, all three of the Plattsburg carries were difficult to locate. To date, many of the carries had no signs and it was critical that you pay attention to locate them on your own. My guess is that the trail is still too new. Then again, it is more fun when you have to locate the takeout or put-in. It’s like a game. Regardless, today on the water, aside from the carries, it was a never ending Class II paddle. Fun.
Today was very windy in the afternoon. Once I reached Lake Champlain I realized that crossing to South Hero Island might be too risky. I decided to cross Cumberland Bay at a midway point and hug the shoreline. From there I would reconsider my options. I ate two lunches at the Plattsburg marina and then headed out across the Bay with high winds and whitecaps to my back. I was shaking by the time I reached the shoreline. Was I ever scared. I paddled very little and kept trying to keep the stern directly into the wind and waves. I turned up the coast and rounded the point. The water turned to glass once I was out of the wind (protected by high bluffs). The ferry had just pulled in and was unloading cars. I hailed the ferry so the captain knew I was paddling behind him. I didn’t want to get run over after all I had been through.
I considered trying to paddle across but decided it would be foolish. I had already taken a foolish chance and had gotten lucky. It was late so I decided to continue paddling north along the western side of Lake Champlain – all the time not knowing where I would spend the night. I cut corners as much as possible to save time. By 7:58 pm I finally reached a marina on the northwestern shore. After explaining my trip and quandary to the authorities, I managed to get permission to camp at the marina that night. Once again I lucked out. I paddled 13 hours today. Picnickers gave me beer and chips. Thanks.
NON-DESIGNATED CAMPSITE (permission granted)
Day 8 - June 7,2009
The morning brought calm waters and no wind as so often occurs that time of day so I paddled around Rocky Point and up to Cloak Island before crossing Lake Champlain to Point of the Tongue. The day was uneventful. I met the team at the last bridge and had lunch with them. I departed for the Missiquoi as the weather turned windy and rainy. The surf kicked up again into whitecaps. Was I ever happy to finally enter the river and leave Lake Champlain behind. I made it to Swanton late in the day. Takeout on river right downstream from the designated takeout. I found a Laundromat and met the owners. ??? (I need your name) was a 3-time former State Senator. He offered to store my kayak and give me a lift to a motel. I graciously declined since as I had mentioned previously, I had promised to take no shuttles. I ate pizza at Mike’s next door. We talked about the area. He was involved in the planning for the NFCT in Swanton and also had a large involvement in the local rail trails. I stayed at the expensive Swanton Motel for the night.
Day 9 - June 8, 2009
The best time to thru-paddle the NFCT is in the Spring or early Summer if you want to ensure enough water on many of the streams and rivers. However, this is also the time of the year for fertilizing fields. The Missiquoi at this time of year could be called the mess-a-quoi. The smell of cow manure on the farmers’ fields is everywhere.
I tried to paddle and line my kayak up Abbey Rapids today but it was too difficult. I couldn’t locate the campsite on river right. I had already fallen into the river twice trying to get upstream. I was cold and wet. It was getting late and the weather was looking questionable. So I decided to paddle back downstream to the Route 105 bridge where I hoped I could find a legal takeout.
As luck would have it once again, I noticed a sign for a store just upstream from the bridge. I had missed it on the way upstream earlier since it was tucked away tight to the left uphill and close to the road. It promised all that I needed. All I had to do was secure permission to camp in their grassy back yard. Good people at Devyn’s. After pitching my tent, it started to rain. But I was dry and happy. I had a hot dinner and ice-cream. I was so lucky. It was very late and raining but the cheesesteak was great.
Day 10 - June 9, 2009
I had a big breakfast inside the store and hung out until the rain stopped at 12:30 pm. I started my carry up the rail trail to bypass Abbey Rapids. Before long, I met up with the team at the next possible put-in near a cemetery. I paddled to the end of the day finally reaching Enosburg Falls. I debated whether to camp or find a place in town. Regardless, I was going to find a place to eat in town. As I was debating my options, the team appeared and mentioned that some friends had shown up to paddle with me the next few days. So I decided to return with them to their campground and surprise my friends Juan and Steve. Bob barbequed chicken & burgers. What a treat. The food was naturally great as was the beer and time spent with good friends. I was able to get a hot shower tonight.
Day 11 - June 10, 2009
Another day of paddling upstream – intermingled with carries around rapids. Today was the day I introduced myself to the cows. Cows are so curious – especially if you moo them closer. They can also be scared very easily. Hopefully the videos did the scene justice. The whole cow scene was pretty hilarious.
By late in the day we ended up in the town of Richford, VT. The town has seen better days but the people were friendly and helpful. Bob, Steve and Juan left to go back to the campground. There was still time left on the clock so I proceeded upstream after talking to two locals for advice. However, the rapids proved to be too difficult to line late in the day and I opted to portage in an attempt to locate a place to camp. I ended up portaging two miles. Along the way a neighbor suggested a spot near the railroad that he surmised would not be on private land. And then out of nowhere as luck would have it again, I met a mute jogger running south on the road. She turned around and walked with me for a distance. She could read lips. She communicated that I could probably camp under the railroad trestle that night as she proceeded the veer off back home where the road splits. It was a great little spot in the ferns by the river – just big enough to fit a tent. However, later that night I was shocked by her husband looking for me with a flashlight! They were quiet people. He just wanted to make sure I had deleted a picture of his wife that I had taken without her permission. All ended well. Both were nice people. Needless to say I was scared as hell when I saw that flashlight and heard someone yell out “Michael.”
Day 12 - June 11, 2009
Tough upstream paddling. Before I crossed the border into Canada I checked in with both customs agents. Once I was back in my kayak, I paddled under the bridge and out of the USA. The river became easier to paddle now and the smell of fertilizer finally dissipated. Eventually, I reached the campground where Bob, Sandy, Juan and Steve were staying. I had lunch with them (burgers & beer) and then continued into the quaint French town of Mansonville. What a cute little place. A hotel, a bar with hot food and a bakery for breakfast in the morning. As luck would have it, I also met a fellow and his girlfriend working on their B&B. They offered dinner and to also put me up for the night. I was about to accept the offer when my crew flashed through town looking for me. Regretfully, I never did stay at the B&B. Then again, my friends had come a long way to spend time with me. I flagged the crew down. I spent the night in the campground.
Day 13 - June 12, 2009
The Grand Portage was a 5.7 mile carry from the Missiquoi watershed to the Lake Memphremagog watershed. It also required an elevation gain and loss of approximately 700 feet. Due to the need to secure permission at the takeout from the North Branch of the Missiquoi, I decided to portage an additional 1.3 miles from Mansonville as well. The carry was hot & tough. As expected, my paddling/portaging partners for the day would be ahead of me since they were carrying very little extra gear. Juan never seems to wait when we hike. Today would be no different. Before long, he peeked back down the mountain and then blasted off. I never saw him again until I reached Lake Memphremagog. His boat was empty. Mine had 75 pounds of gear. Steve stayed with me.
Bob and Sandy dropped off Juan’s truck in Newport, VT. On the way back, they were stopped at the border and spent 90 minutes unloading the back of the truck for the customs agents. Bob had planned to paddle the lake with us but decided not to. He was concerned that the truck would be unnecessarily searched once or twice again if Sandy drove back to Newport to help with the kayak shuttling of 3 boats.
Juan, Steve and I paddled back to USA doing 12 miles in 3 hours (wind to our back). I checked in with customs over the video phone, said goodbye to Juan and Steve, and then continued up the Clyde River after taking the wrong way into the ponds. Although I fell in love with the accuracy, quality and ease of use of the NFCT maps, they did have a few errors. In this case the map indicated that a campground existed on Clyde Pond. This proved to not be the case. As the evening was nearing I once again got lucky and found a spot in a power line opening on the far side of Clyde Pond that would make due for the night.
Day 14 - June 13, 2009
I finally found a McDonald’s! I had a double breakfast and bought a quarter pounder for later in day. I passed the “Doctors Inn”. It was both a B&B and Chiropractice. Hmmm? Good cell phone service along the road was a blessing so I made numerous calls to check on work as well as talk to my significant other - Marie.
Access to Salem Lake proved to be somewhat difficult as the area is mostly private land. However, at the advice of a friendly neighbor, I was guided to a put-in without concern. A little later on I had a great encounter with a pair of nesting loons on Pensioner Pond. At first I was surprised that they were letting me get so close to them. But eventually I spotted their nest and eggs. I tried not to disturb them but I knew I had to take some photos and a video. Both turned out spectacular. I ended the day hoping to find a place to camp near East Charleston.
Day 15 - June 14, 2009
I paddled into the “Fen” today. To my best knowledge, a Fen is a swamp with many waterways. I got quite lost trying to stay on the main course. In a fen, water seems to flow from many directions making navigation confusing – even with a map. After taking many wrong turns and retracing my path a number of times, I finally found what I thought was the exit from the Fen into the Upper Clyde River only to realize I was on a Clyde River tributary. At this point I decided to portage back to an area where I could re-access the Clyde upstream from the Fen. Five Mile Square Road access was the put-in I was looking for. But I decided to walk the next two miles into town at this point as I was unsure of how navigable the Clyde would be and concerned with getting lost once again. I wished I had paddled it now. Any connection to Boston’s Fenway Park?
I had lunch in the town of Island Pond. Afterwards, I paddled the Clyde River under the Clyde Hotel, paddled across Island Pond and did a long buggy portage to the Nulhegan watershed. The mosquitoes were horrible from Island Pond until I reached a breezy high point on the road just before the airport. I was becoming concerned with sleeping with the bugs until I stumbled upon an abandoned airport. The office was empty but the building was locked. The garage on the other hand was unlocked and was looking mighty tempting in lieu of the stormy weather in the distance. However, sleeping on the rocky garage floor was not inviting. Besides, although there were no signs, I would technically be trespassing. I’m not sure what I would have done if the storm hadn’t passed. I traveled a little further down the road and located a descent campsite at end of the airport runway on a sand mound surrounded by trees.
Day 16 - June 15, 2009
I put-in on Nulhegan Pond and paddled through the tube to the other side of the road. It was misting. Later in the morning it would be raining. The Upper Nulhegan reminded me of home in South Jersey’s Wharton State Forest. The stream is very narrow and tight and twisty. Some places required that I push my way through the vegetation. There were many beaver dams to cross as well. However, the dams are a blessing as they create pond water that is deep enough through which to paddle a boat. As I continued further downstream, additional feeder streams added to the flow and the Nulhegan got wider but not any deeper. Oh, by the way, it rained all day.
Finally I came upon the Middle Nulhegan where I knew to expect many Class III+ rapids and big boulders. It was still raining but it didn’t matter. However, this section was quite remote and no help could be expected if I got hurt. It was chilly and rainy and damp. I was nervous. But I was committed. I ran most of the rapids but decided to line my kayak on the right where the river split around a small island. I put back in just below the island and then proceeded to portage around the massive ledges. I paddled again until the river got too “boney”. Rather than put back in at the East Branch of the Nulhegan, I decided to carry a little further down Route 105. I was concerned with navigability. Eventually I spotted a put-in on the right just past a grassy back yard. Before long I met the confluence with the Connecticut River at Bloomfield. I had made it through unscathed. Luck was with me once again. Oh, by the way, it rained all day.
I saw a fisherman on the New Hampshire side of the river. We yelled a few words over the sound of the rain and rapids. But the river was flowing so fast that he was long gone back upstream in a flash. Finding a place to camp tonight would be wet but the map indicated a campsite at the Maine Central Railroad Trestle. It was very muddy at the shoreline and up off the bank. It didn’t look like much of a campsite. I didn’t find a privy either. So I decided to press on downstream. Oh, by the way, it rained all day.
With little time left to be picky I finally came upon Stratford-Maidstone Bridge. I tied-off under the bridge and climbed the boulders. There was just enough room to squeeze a tent in between the bridge foundation and the boulders. This would be home for the night.
By chance, the fisherman I had touched base with back upstream, showed up to do some last minute fishing. His name was “Big Sleeve Steve.” It had stopped raining. I heated up some water and made myself some freeze-dried dinner. Steve and I talked a bit while I ate dinner. The next morning he stopped by before I pushed off with some coffee and breakfast. He proved to be an interesting guy who was into fast cars and motorcycles.
Day 17 - June 16, 2009
Paddling down the Connecticut was very quick. I’m guessing the current pushed me close to 6 MPH. The confluence with the Ammonoosuc to Groveton, NH was both welcomed and dreaded. Paddling back upstream for the next 24 miles would be no easy task. The going was slow but I eventually reached the takeout below town where I once again met up with the team. I continued into town and had lunch at the local pizza shop. There’s a Laundromat in town so don’t miss it. I decided to carry around all three dams and put in above Red Dam on river left. From here the Ammonoosuc was very difficult. The river flows swiftly. Paddling upstream was very strenuous. I was constantly in and out of my kayak – portaging some, lining some, slogging some. Paddling a river up a mountain is not fun. Paddling over the White Mountains of New Hampshire is not easy. It was a very tough day ending at the beautiful Stark B&B in Stark, NH.
Day 18 - June 17, 2009
It was another tough day on the Ammonoosuc, followed by tough portage over a mountain to the Androscoggin watershed. Although the Ammo is a series of pools from Stark to West Milan, the current is swift enough between pools to make upstream travel extremely strenuous. At times, walking the stream is your best bet. Luckily, it was June. Unfortunately, it had rained a lot. The rain makes for a navigable stream but also makes upstream travel tougher due to the increased flow. You can’t win unless you are traveling downstream. However, I seemed to have extra energy for some reason today. Although tough, the Ammonoosuc was very picturesque. I would love to paddle it downstream someday.
The takeout at West Milan is not very good. I’m not sure why you couldn’t paddle a little further upstream before taking out. Perhaps private property is the issue.
The portage was another issue. Although it looked long, hard and steep on the map, I found it to not be as tough as expected. Why, I don’t know. My shin was sore from whacking it up pretty bad a few days earlier so I was walking with a limp still. Maybe the endorphins kicked in. But I seemed to fly up this section smoothly. The downhill side was welcomed. I continued on to Pontook Dam.
Day 19 - June 18, 2009
Today was a rainy day paddling and portaging rapids up the Androscoggin. I seemed to have lost my energy today. I guess the past two days caught up with me. I started napping in my kayak paddling upstream. I was being lulled into daydreams. This was bad as I easily felt as though I could doze off, fall out and drown. I decided to carry around Thirteen Mile Woods due to the numerous rapids and had lunch and a nap at the Androscoggin Wayside Park. Once I got back on the river, I decided to quit in Errol as it was chilly and still raining. I almost camped in a Chamber of Commerce kiosk (lean-to) but probably would have opted to stay at the motel just up the road. As I was trying to decide what to do next, the team showed up by chance. I decided to spend the night with them back at their campground. However, before departing, I arranged to leave my boat across the road with the Northern Waters outfitters. It was good to spend the night with friends.
Day 20 - June 19, 2009
I awoke to a rainy day. I had been going for 19 straight days. I decided to take the day off. We went shopping in Errol at L.L. Cote. But it stopped raining and the skies started to clear. I became impatient. I needed to be back on the water. So I launched late in the day at 2:00 pm. The paddle to the carry for the Rapid River was uneventful other than a short wrong turn. The portage on the other hand was another story.
Once I reached the rapids, I noticed what appeared to be the takeout for the portage. However, there was no little yellow NFCT directional diamond on any tree indicating so. I decided to hike back to the camp to look for a marker or trail sign. All trails from the camp led to dead ends. There was going to be no easy way. The carry was indeed right along the river. It was muddy and rocky and impossible to wheel. I half drug, half pushed, half cursed my way – all the time thinking there had to be an easier way. It couldn’t be this bad, but oh, yes it was. Rocks, trees, mud holes, slopes, etc. After 3 weeks on the trail I no longer wanted to unload my kayak to lessen the weight unless it was absolutely necessary. I would just drag the boat and hope I didn’t wear or punch a hole in it. But I had to give in once again and unload.
When I first planned to paddle the NFCT, I figured the worst thing I would have to deal with would be the bugs since I would be paddling in prime bug season. And even though I knew I had a minimum of 54 miles of portages, I figured they would be a great diversion from paddling – especially after long hours on the water. Portaging would provide a respite and some rest for my paddling muscles. It didn’t turn out that way. By far the most difficult part about this voyage turned out to be the portaging. Portaging on roads or rail trails were difficult only due to steepness or distance compounded by the weight of the boat and gear. But many of the carries through the forest were extremely difficult due to unwheelable terrain. The Rapid River carry was no different until I finally merged onto an old double track jeep trail.
But I had started too late in the day. It was damp, buggy and difficult. I never had a chance to make it to the Middle Dam campsite. I finally spotted some high ground. It was a deer bed. I had to clear quite a bit of droppings before pitching my tent. And today I only spent 4 ½ hours on the trail.
Day 21 - June 20, 2009
I found a Bohemian fly-fishing village on the carry this morning just 300 yards from where I camped last night! People. I actually encountered people living in a cabin. It was a cute older couple from Canada who owned the “Sugar Shack” and they were having coffee with a friend who lived further up the carry. I stopped in to say hello and they offered me a drink. As it turned out, I could have spent the night in a guest cabin. Some times you get lucky, sometimes you don’t.
Further down the carry I met others – a lady planting her summer garden, a fishing guide, and three fly-fishermen. The gardener lived in Forest Lodge. She offered me a copy of “We Took to the Woods” but I graciously declined. I didn’t want any more stuff to carry. The guide offered to let me use his shower and well. I filled up on fresh water and continued. Finally I reached the end of the Rapid River and spotted Lower Richardson Lake. I was ready to get back on the water and be finished with the bugs.
I was determined to make up for lost time today. There was little wind and I made great time - close to 4.5 MPH acrossthe lake even though it got quite foggy. I felt like a Viking paddling in a fiord and almost thought I heard trumpeting horns. Unfortunately, the surrounding and distant mountain peaks were familiar ones I had climbed previously but could not see.
The carry to Mooselookmeguntic Lake was short but not uneventful. The put-in was blocked by a cheapskate knucklehead trying to launch a large boat from his trailer. I watched in amusement as he buried his trailer and truck wheels in the mud - proceeding to trash the shoreline in the effort. He ended up needing a tow. I wish I had taken a video. It was classic Three Stooges stuff.
I think I traversed Mooselookmeguntic almost as quickly as Richardson, spotted the team on shoreline, and then made for the town of Oquossoc for some lunch. I still had a few hours left and although it was damp, I decided to paddle Rangeley Lake to Rangeley (8miles in under 2 hours) before calling it a day.
I met a local near the takeout and he let me leave my kayak and gear in his back yard for the night. What a great house he had on a beautiful location at the end of the lake.
Day 22- June 21, 2009
After leaving town in the wrong direction, I turned around sheepishly and headed north. But before leaving town I was flagged down by the proprietress of a new B&B. I thought she was interested in me. It turned out she only wanted to use me for some marketing photos.
As I left town I passed what looked like a new depot for the Border Patrol. I wondered if existed before 9/11. I continued my portage across to the Dead River watershed wondering whether or not there would still be enough water in mid-June to float my boat. I was guessing I’d be OK since it had rained so much recently. Along the carry I reached the highest point in Maine - at exactly 3 weeks into my trip. It seemed like a poignant moment.
When I first saw the South Dead River at the curve in the road at the bridge, I smiled. The water level still looked good. I was lucky once again. I launched with much anticipation. I was finally going downstream again! What a great little river. Pretty scenery and fun rapids. However, I decided to take out above Fansanger Falls as suggested – not knowing what “enough water” really meant. The takeout was once again terrible. I spent a lot of time diverting around Fansanger Falls. I’ll never know if I made the correct decision or what I missed.
The put-in below the falls led to some more difficult rapids. It got sunny and the water sparkled like diamonds. However, the water level made paddling somewhat gnarly and difficult. What I wouldn’t have given for 6 more inches.
The team would be up ahead. We had planned some action shots in the rapids. He managed to get a great picture. I paused for a few minutes, and then was gone.
The day took longer than I had expected. I spotted the team again on Kennebago Road Bridge. They left a message downstream that I might be spending the night at the Tranquility Lodge B&B. It started raining again. I had hoped to make it to Stratton by the end of the day but I decided it would be foolish and dangerous to push on. It was getting late and the toughest rapids were still ahead. I found myself a suitable dry and bug free location to camp for the evening and called it quits.
Day 23 - June 22, 2009
I awoke to another damp dreary day. The largest rapids on the South Dead River lay ahead of me - exhilarating and tough Class II and Class III. It was a good thing I waited until morning as it started raining again. The rapids were long and very rocky. I was almost flipped two times after getting stuck in an undesirable lateral position. I handled the rapids with some fear and trepidation. Finally the river turned placid as it met the back waters of the lake ahead.
In the distance I spotted the Route 27 bridge. I tucked my kayak in against the concrete boat ramp hoping to keep it out of site from the road. I had planned to have breakfast at the B&B but no one was around. The owner had gone to the Post Office (note on the front door) but left the door unlocked. So I decided to push on instead. Lucky for me. As I walked back through the parking lot to the boat ramp I noticed two suspicious people in a truck casing my kayak. They seemed to speed away as soon as they saw me. Was I just paranoid? Hmmm?
I started out again to cross Flagstaff Lake. I had 20 miles to go if I could make it all the way to the dam today. However, there were strong north winds. Once I reached the northern shoreline below Jim Eaton Hill, I had some calmer waters as expected. But I knew what lay around the last point and the last 3 miles of lake.
Before I even reached the last set of rocks I could feel the wind and feel the chop. I decided to give it a shot. If it were too dangerous, I would just turn back and try to find a location to camp on the north shore. But once into the wind and surf it became apparent that turning back would risk being swamped! I was afraid to turn my broadside into the wind and waves. I had no choice now but to paddle two miles of open water into a 25 MPH headwind and 2 ½ foot waves and whitecaps. This was the scariest part of my trip to date. I was truly thinking I was going to drown today but the kayak was stable as long as I kept her heading directly into the wind and waves. The nose dove underwater way too often. The stern must have been awash constantly. However, I couldn’t turned around to look.
I finally reached the other side of the bay and its protected waters. Damn that was close. And as I cruised the shoreline looking for a suitable campsite, a beaver was either applauding my effort or trying to chase me away. Since I couldn’t find a suitable campsite, I decided it was the latter and decided to try to make it to the dam near where I knew I could locate a designated camping area. Although it was still choppy and windy around the bend, it wasn’t as bad since the dam was less than a mile ahead and the lake had less surface area to disturb.
I found a fine campsite by a stream for the night.
Day 24 – June 23, 2009
I debated whether to launch my kayak down Black Brook into the Dead River but decided against it and proceeded to the rocky put-in just below some nice looking rapids below Long Falls. There were plenty of fly-fisherman already in the water.
The Dead River is lazy upstream of the next set of falls - Grand Falls. The flow seemed normal and all was quiet until a flurry of activity in the middle of the river got my attention. By the time I refocused my eyes, something had already scurried into the forest river right but river left had a surprise still waiting. Standing up on the bank looking upstream at me stared the eyes of a coyote. Evidently, I had disturbed them as they were trying to swim across the river. You just never know. And then he turned and slipped back into the forest and all was quiet once again. Was it just a dream I thought?
Soon I was listening for the falls. I heard the din in the distance. I debated which portage to use and decided to be safe. The map describes an old dam and rapids. What was the point in going further downstream? As it turned out, I made a big mistake. Descriptions of the two carries do not go into any details. But as I would later discover, the second carry appeared to be a well worn path that I’m guessing would have been the smarter move. The first carry was very very difficult. I had to unload the kayak. I don’t remember how many times. Rocks, trees, logs, mud, bugs… It took me so much time to do the carry around the 30 foot drop called “Grand Falls” that I never even considered walking back to the ledge to view it from above. I wish now that I had but I was frustrated.
I met Sandy below the falls. She and Bob had driven the long road back in to get some classic shots. I put into the calm of the Dead below the falls and proceeded back upstream to get a close up view from below. Needless to say they were spectacular – so much so that I spent an hour paddling in and out of the flotsam and jetsam – daring to get close enough to get soaked by the spray and tempting the falls to suck me under. Bob got his shots and videos. However, I wish now we had some shots of me paddling from above.
Spencer Stream and Little Spencer Stream. I had dreaded this section for awhile. Although it appeared that there may be ways to carry around these two streams, I wasn’t too confident. At this point I was deep into the forest and needed to paddle upstream! I gave it a half-hearted try but quickly decided to take a shot at bypassing as much as possible by trying to follow some old logging roads on the map. The road died at Spencer Stream near it’s confluence with Little Spencer. There was no bridge to the other side. I decided the roads were too old to trust and surrendered to the water. I spent nearly 4 hours paddling, slipping, wading, lining, cursing my way upstream. I called it quits early since I found a great natural campsite and was concerned I may not find any better. Today was the first time I used my compass. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t take the wrong stream. You see, when you travel upstream, the river spreads into multiple fingers just like a tree’s branches multiply exponentially upward and outward. You must be extra careful to stay on course. I even used a picture on one of my maps to verify my position. Tomorrow will not be any easier I’m sure.
Day 25 - June 24, 2009
I continued up Little Spencer Stream today - lots of lining and little paddling in the short intermittent pools. Progress was painfully slow but it was a beautiful sunny day. I kept thinking that maybe I had given up too soon on the logging roads. But then this section is a “right of passage”. To me it proved to be the most difficult section on the trail to date. But at the same time it was extremely beautiful. However, the remoteness made me worry, made me be extra careful. Getting hurt on Little Spencer stream could prove fatal.
Stream, rapid, current, slime, pool, pond, branches, shins. After 4 hours of clamoring I finally saw the dam (rebuilt). The setting from Upper Deadwater Pond is absolutely breathtaking. On the downside, the dam proved to be an almost impossible portage. I would have to unload my kayak again.
I scouted the area near a landing that looked promising and improbable at the same time. However, once I reached a view of Spencer Lake, I noticed a boat landing nearby on the left. There was a trail leading from the dam to the landing and also apparently back downstream. However, my eye caught a promising swale. I found a secret portage that would work. I then spotted what also looked like another rowboat off to the right in Upper Deadwater. However, for some reason, I decided not to check it out. I guess I wanted to use my secret portal instead. I guess I wanted to make amends for portaging around the first mile of Spencer Stream. I’m convinced now that there was an easy way around the dam. But the maps made no mention of it. I had become accustomed to that. Part of this adventure is exploring and dissecting on your own. What fun would it be if you knew all the answers. That’s why I didn’t want a GPS as well. The maps would be my only guide. I even avoided using Google Earth in my planning.
I finally put back in 1 ½ hours later after the very short and tough portage. Paddling again at last. I proceeded up Spencer Lake and before long reached the upper section where I spotted a campsite on the left. Fish Pond appears larger on the map than in reality. Then I spotted my first moose of the trip. I drifted closer. They appeared uninterested.
I had to look close to finally located the channel flowing through the reeds into Spencer Lake. In the process I spotted another nesting loon. She didn’t budge. The swampy channel closed in quickly around me. I was beginning to wonder whether I would be able to get through. Maybe I should have taken out at the campsite. I crossed 3 beaver dams as I paddled on.
Then a bend, a bridge, two fishermen. They gave me 2 sodas and I was on my way. I had decided to portage from here to Spencer Rips at the advice of Darrin once again. I suspect it was good advice.
From the bridge it ended up being a 5 mile carry – all of it uphill! All in the sun and humidity. Bugs everywhere. When I reached the Moose River, I was beat. I think it took me 15 hours to travel the 19 miles from Grand Falls to the Moose River - by far the toughest section on the NFCT to date.
TRESPASSED (Legal campsite next door)
Day 26 - June 25, 2009
I awoke to another sunny day. I was looking forward to the Moose River. It was all downstream interspersed with three huge ponds. The huge fir trees reflected in the smooth water like a mirror. Before long I found myself approaching Attean Falls. The falls are really two sets of rapids so don’t bother portaging. Just be careful to keep far enough to river right to avoid being swept into the sharp and jagged rocks at the trailing end of the lower set. The falls were little more than Class II and II+ rapids. Before long I passed fishermen boating just upstream as I entered Attean Pond.
Attean Pond by far turned out to be the most beautiful body of water that I encountered on the NFCT up to now. Stunning, just stunning. It was surreal. Islands, mountains, and huge puffy white clouds all reflecting in the pond in complete concert. Wow! Maybe it was the time of day – I don’t know. But I felt like I was in a fishbowl surrounded by mountains. Regretfully, all of my pictures and videos were “washed out” by the bright sunlight and its reflection.
I passed a half dozen canoeists on the way to Attean Landing where I once again spotted the team. I stopped on shore for a quick Mike’s Hard Lemonade and then quickly launched again for Big Wood Pond and Jackman. I was ready for a shower and needed desperately to do some laundry at Jackman Landing Campground. I had a huge steak dinner for lunch in town with my team.
There was still plenty of daylight left so I repacked my kayak and headed off towards Long Pond. However, by the time I neared the pond, I finally started to notice some discomfort in my right hand. Other than banging up my shins back in New Hampshire, this was my only other injury. I had a decision to make. Head for comfort of Lost Campground across the upper stretch of the pond or continue to the Lower Narrows and a remote campsite. I opted for comfort and found the Taj Mahal. This campground had cabins!
I ended up taking a second shower and sleeping on a bed in a heated funky cabin. The site was very cool and quaint and run by good folks. I also met a mother and daughters from a neighboring town back home. I loaded up on $7 worth of penny candy as a treat and found out that Michael Jackson had died as well! It poured all night. I was lucky once again.
Day 27 - June 26, 2009
I thought I would make it to Rockwood today but that wasn’t going to be the case. The day started out fine although my right hand was still very painful. I evidently had compressed a nerve on the outside of my thumb after 4 weeks of non-stop paddling. I wrapped an elastic bandage around the shaft to cushion the grip and secured it with tape. I tried to ease the discomfort by periodically dipping my hand in the cool water, changing up my stroke, repositioning my hand, and by paddling left handed as much as possible. I tried changing gloves – even wearing two pair at once (I’ve worn out all 4 pairs of my gloves. They are either in shreds or splitting at the seams.) But my right hand continued to ache.
After some fun rapids on the re-emerging Moose River, I stopped to scout the more serious stuff below Demo Bridge. I could see the line and make out a possible line further downstream at what appeared to be ledges. The rock gauge read 1.0 feet. The book says that’s optimum for paddling. These rapids looked more like Class III+ to me. And there were chutes and big drops as well. They looked to be technical and continuous and I was in the middle of nowhere. As much as I didn’t want to drag my kayak up the steep embankment and do another carry, I decided to heed Darrin’s advice a second time. Besides, these should be the last rapids above Class II+ I should expect to encounter until the finish. This time I would carry. I didn’t want to blow my adventure after a month of hard work.
The notes on the map for the carry were explicit. They warned about not taking the first (false) trail. But once I reached the second brook (Demo Brook) I decided that somehow I had missed the correct trail. The map clearly showed it beforeDemo Brook. I backtracked, turned left, and followed sheepishly down the double track trail. I was uncomfortable with my decision but determined to flesh it out to make sure I didn’t miss the turn. The direction and curvature of the trail matched the map. Long Pond Mountain was exactly where it should be. Then suddenly the trail died in a swamp. I scouted in an arc to make sure there was no secret passage and then decided that the map had to be wrong again.
After wasting over an hour, I reached Demo Brook once again when suddenly a large trailer carrying a bulldozer appeared in the distance. I flagged down the driver and he informed me that he thought there was a trail around the bend. Ten minutes later I found a little yellow NFCT directional diamond on a post. Right trail – map wrong.
It was drizzling now but it didn’t matter as the trail had numerous puddles and I had already been in a swamp. Then before long there appeared another yellow diamond pointing me down a dark path into a dense fir forest. This was possibly the newest carry I encountered in a month. The trees looked more freshly cut. It was the short carry from hell. My wheels were useless once again. I had to unload half my kayak to lighten the load. I was wishing now I had run the Class III+ rapids.
I finally made it to Little Brassua Lake. The sky looked ominous but I still dreamt of making it to Rockwood. However, once I escaped the cove, I started hearing thunder. Next I saw lightening in the distance in multiple directions. This was a stupid move. But I was already committed. I was obviously stubborn and equally scared. I became more and more nervous the further I paddled out into the lake. I wondered what it would be like to be killed by lightening. I prayed. I prayed it would be swift. I prayed I wouldn’t be knocked over and drown while on fire.
It felt like an eternity paddling the two miles to the opposite point of land near the island at the narrows to Brassua Lake. That was it. I was quitting for the day. No more chances. And as luck would have it once again, I spotted an opening on the point large enough to fit my tent after leveling it off with some evergreen branches. There were moose droppings everywhere. I wonder where the moose are?
Tomorrow I’ll start my last week on the trail – much of which I think will be isolated and remote.
Day 28 - June 27, 2009
It rained very hard last night and I awoke
to a dense fog. I took the opportunity to catch up on some missing days in this journal. Amazing how I could remember everything without even referencing the maps and their notes. I guess this trail has truly left an impression on me. It’s still raining this morning in the fog. I slept in and massaged my right hand. My right thumb is in bad shape now. It’s becoming more painful and numb at the bottom of the 2nd joint. My hand feels very tingly. I will tough it out but no doubt this will slow me down considerably.
This morning a moose tried to enter my campsite from the lake. I hesitated. Should I try to take a picture first or scare him away? I didn’t waste any time making noise. Afterwards I wished I had been more patient. I’ll never get that close to a moose in the wild again.
My cell phone had a signal! I called Sandy and returned a picture and text messages to my daughter in Cincinnati. She was worried about me.
Fog on the lake makes any navigation difficult. You can’t see any shorelines. It’s 8:15 am now. I’ll probably try to paddle by 10:00 am regardless. I may break out my compass if necessary.
Once the skies cleared, I broke camp. The paddle to the dam was uneventful. The carry on the other hand was one of the nicest on the trail. I met the team at the Moose River Bridge general store a few hours later. I had a double cheeseburger and O-rings for lunch. Soooo good! I also replaced the elastic bandage with some foam pipe insulation I secured. I emptied my kayak and dried out all my wet gear in the sun and then repacked for the final push to the Allagash and finish. I’m figuring it will take only 5 more days.
Thunderstorms were gathering to the west as I departed at 3:30 pm. I decided to be smart and raced directly over to Mount Kineo and then hugged the coast. The skies got dark so I hugged Mt Kineo peninsula and paddled around to the shear eastern face. It is an eerie site in shadow. By the time I reached Deer Head Farm, the storm clouds had simply vanished. As it turned out, I ended up paddling probably twice as far as necessary.
I continued until reaching a point on Little Duck Cove where I found a superb campsite. I’m now only 150 miles to the end. I’ve learned how to locate likely campsites in areas where none are designated. I always secured permission when possible, however, most times I was in a very remote area. Map notes only seem to discourage – not forbid such camping. Hopefully, I was legal. But designated sites aren’t always located at logical locations along the trail. I’ve taken many chances paddling late in the day with the confidence that I’ll always find something before dark. June has long days that I counted on to stretch my daily mileage. Typically, I’ll stop and check out a point of land as it gets late in the day. Points of land typically are wind blown and usually there is a clear spot just big enough for a small tent. I make sure I leave it as I found it.
Day 29 - June 28, 2009
I paddled in light rain all day with a light wind. I met the tail end of a large canoe group at the Northeast Carry. I stopped at the General Store for 2 cheeseburgers and more candy as this would be the last civilization I would encounter for a few days.
I met the Forest Ranger at the store and paid some camping fees. Neither the ranger nor the store owner had any information for me about Gil Whitney. I still have hopes of catching him.
The Penobscot River was flowing about 2 MPH but it had no rapids. My right hand was feeling better since re-wrapping my paddle shaft. My hand still goes very numb at night and takes 2 hours to revive in the morning. But since my hand felt so good today I was able to pushed out 32 miles. I caught up to the large group ahead of me and finally passed them at Thoreau Island. I considered camping on the Penobscot or stopping at Chesuncook Village but I was too stoked and there were more campsites further along. When I reached Graveyard Point, I spotted more boaters in the distance. I thought it might be Gil and a buddy. I was thinking I might catch him now. What would I say? How would he feel? All eventually pulled into shore to camp. All were canoeists. It wasn’t Gil.
It was foggy and eerie on Chesuncook Lake. I decided to continue up to Umbazooksus Stream if I could make it and camp near the bridge for the night. I stopped at 7:45 pm. It was foggy and drizzling but I found some protection at a campsite in the fir trees.
I’ll attack Mud Pond Carry in the morning and the enter the Allagash watershed in the afternoon. I hope at least to reach Eagle Lake. Only 118 miles to go. I will definitely finish on Friday – or sooner!
Day 30 - June 29, 2009
It rained again last night. I expect it will rain all day today. Yesterday I heard that tomorrow promises to be better, then rain again on Wednesday and Thursday. Boo! I proceeded up Umbazooksus Stream and under the bridge. I paddled and walked the small stream outlet below the dam. The gate was open so I paddled into Umbazooksus Lake. It was sunny as I reached Mud Pond Carry.
At some point on the carry I attempted to change the battery in my camera and was shocked to realize I had forgotten to recharge the second battery back at the Moose River Bridge general store! Damn! I screwed up! Thank God I still have my cell phone. It will have to do until I reach Allagash Village.
In retrospect, I wonder why I hadn’t looked a little closer at the map. I wonder now if I could have carried to Dottle Brook and worked my way to Mud Pond from there. Chamberlain Bridge was another consideration but it would have required a long portage and extra miles of paddling. I definitely could have saved some time by portaging down the road 1 mile from the bridge to the lake. I also could have carried along the fire road. However, Darrin had convinced me when we spoke back in May that Mud Pond Carry was a “right of passage”. I just never gave it a second thought to take a shortcut.
I did it “the proper way.” The portage was a combination of stream and hiking trail. The trail was only 2 feet wide and 1 foot deep. It reminded me of wet hiking trails in the White Mountains. Because of all the rain we have had, there was probably more water than usual on the trail which made the portage relatively easier since my kayak was floating some of the time. Regardless, since the trail was so skinny, my kayak continually got wedged-in. There were many downed trees. I cleared as many as I could.
The entire portage had to be done in two stages since my fully loaded kayak was too heavy to drag – even in water. I unloaded the front and carried my tent, pad, 2 bags of miscellaneous gear and my food using my paddles as tools and then doubled back to drag my kayak. I used this same technique to carry Raquette Falls. The first carry also acted as a scouting mission. I proceeded using this process the entire carry. It turned out to be a nice day weather-wise. I actually enjoyed the carry when it was all over because it was so different. I even broke down and laughed a few times. It was so different and actually a pretty trail. I’m glad I did it. I don’t need to do it again. The total time to portage the 1.8 miles was 3 ½ hours – not counting prep time at the beginning and end of the portage.
Mud Pond came next. It was shallow and knee deep in mud below the surface. However, I fear you would sink up to your neck in mud if you ever tried to get out of your boat. I took a picture of Mt Katahdin and its sister peaks across Mud Pond to the south.
At the other side of the pond I located what appeared to be a portage. However, Mud Brook was very beautiful so I decided to paddle and push my way down its twisty/rocky channel. I didn’t want to do any more portaging.
I entered the Allagash watershed around 4:30 pm and made my way up to the cut into Chamberlain Lake. The weather turned cloudy as I entered the lake.
Chamberlain Lake presented strong eastern winds as soon as I passed Mud Brook Campsite. In fact, it was so windy and the water so rough that I feared an attempt to cross over to the northeastern shoreline. So I paddled up the southwestern shore to the northern end of the lake and eventually crossed over to the northeast side after reaching the mouth of Allagash Stream.
The entire paddle on Chamberlain Lake was very scary. Once again I had to battle swells of 2 feet or more and surf with whitecaps. I had to zigzag up the coast to keep from being swamped. I also had to stay away from the shoreline as there were many hidden boulders just under the surface (I hit one and almost flipped). However, I made good time as the wind and water tended to slide me in a northwesterly direction.
It was already late in the day when I started looking for the Tramway Carry. I was starting to panic as I meandered along the shoreline. Where the hell was it? I was cold and restless. Surely it had to be there on my right. Near that sign or those tall branchless trees that look like part of a “tramway”. I paddled back and forth along the shoreline two times over the course of ½ an hour. I checked the shoreline for a trail. I lined up the northern shoreline with the map. Where the hell was it?
It was getting very late now, it was cold, cloudy, windy, drizzling. In retrospect, I should have quit at Upper Crow’s Nest Campsite. I wasn’t chancing paddling back – and McCarren Campsite was too far south this late in the day. I needed shelter now. Luckily, I was able to located a suitable bare spot in the trees on the point at the mouth of the cove. I’ll rest now and in the morning I’ll have time and a clear head to figure out where the portage trail is located. I have an idea where I went wrong. I’ll let you know in my next journal entry.
Day 31 - June 30, 2009
It rained again last night. I awoke to a hazy dawn. I’m sure my SPOT tracks will show I was meandering up and down the northeastern shoreline. It was late last night when I finally quit and the paddle on Chamberlain Lake made me very nervous. I was cold, wet and tired and was not concentrating properly trying to match up the map to the terrain. Sure enough. After pulling out my compass for only the second time on this trip, I realized that the carry had to be further into the cove even though it all looked very shallow and full of weeds. I mistook the major point of land (where I camped) for the point of land on the map that was next to the carry. Why I continued to look southeast for the portage I don’t know. Those telephone pole looking trees and that old sign made me very confused. It’s amazing how you can screw up when you’re tired. Looking at the map now it should have been obvious.
It was one of those “Eureka” moments when I saw the old dock. The carry was very muddy at the start and I had to drag my kayak past the remains of steam engines used to pull cables attached to logs over an iron tramway. It’s hard to describe a tramway. Hopefully the pictures will show the setup much better.
Most of the carry was wheelable but still muddy in spots - better than previous carries. Right before reaching Eagle Lake there are two huge rusting steam engine locomotives that used to operate on a small railway built by the lumber company. There are still remnants of a railroad with rails and train trucks scattered about. Trees have sprouted up in the rail bed now.
I spotted fairly fresh footprints at the put-in. I thought they might be Gil’s. I saw boaters way in the distance again. Could it be him? I got excited that I may be on verge of catching Gil a second time. The paddlers faded into the distance and I never saw them again.
I entered The Allagash Wilderness Waterway today at John’s Bridge. I also encountered another moose near Round Pond or Schofield Cove. I don’t quite remember. I took some pictures and videos with my cell phone. Before long I reached Churchill Dam. I wandered around for ½ an hour but found no one. Then, as I was about to put back in, I met two Forest Rangers. I paid my camping fee for the previous night – even though I didn’t camp at a designated site. Due to the circumstances, they didn’t fine me. I also paid for two additional nights of camping for this evening and tomorrow. Since the water was high, the flood gates were left open. I got lucky once again. Usually, paddlers portage the dam between 8:00 am and noon (the flood gates are usually only open for those 4 hours).
The rapids were fantastic! The river was beautiful! I was so damn mad that my Panasonic camera was dead! The sunlight in mid afternoon sparkled off the water like diamonds once again. I wished it would never end. But alas, I finished the day paddling two lakes to an early evening campsite since a big storm was brewing to my southwest. It was the first time in days that I actually camped in a designated campsite since putting in on the Moose River!
Gil Whitney’s name was on the register at Churchill Dam. It was signed June 24th. I’m impressed! Today is June 30th. My attempt to catch him had failed. However, I think he was a big inspiration that drove me up until now. The Forest Rangers at Churchill Dam had given him a shuttle around the rapids. What an opportunity he missed. I wonder how many shuttles he used on the entire trip? I assume he has already made it to Ft Kent and is probably already back home. Well, I gave it a hell of a shot! I gave him a 30 day head start and will probably finish 4 or 5 days behind him. If only I would have, could have, left a week sooner! I should have the speed record though. I need to recheck all the Blogs again. Also, I may be the only person to paddle, line and portage the entire NFCT without the aide of a single shuttle – doing so by following the trail from start to end in proper sequence and always from southwest to northeast.
The impending stormy weather seemed to subside so I tried drying out some gear in the breeze. But I had to pull it all inside shortly afterwards as the sky darkened once again. It’s pouring outside right now! I have some water inside my tent.
Day 32 - July 1, 2009
I’m in no rush to get started this morning. I tried to dry out some wet stuff. The Allagash was moving fast and I made good time. I paddled about 37 miles today miles today – the most I have covered in a single day to date. I passed many people on the river. Most seemed to be scouts. I even saw what I believed were Girl Scouts. Many of the campsites were taken.
I located the small groves of Elm trees near Round Pond. I also took a great picture of a single elegant tree with my cell phone. I hope it comes out good. I also got close to two more moose near some islands before entering Round Pond. Musquacook Deadwater was a drag.
I finally reached the Ranger Station and stopped in to check out of the Waterway. I just missed the ranger and watched as his truck disappeared. I was also disappointed that I didn’t see the team. I had thought Bob might be waiting for me on the shoreline. Bob really wanted to photograph Allagash Falls so I was somewhat expecting to see them there. I scouted out the entire location to make sure no one else was around. I found an open door and then the log book so I signed out and designated that I was going to camp at Allagash Falls. There are some nice privies here.
I launched again and made my way between the islands until I came upon the takeout above the falls. I met a scout getting water and located a nice campsite. I scouted the carry and met a lot more of the troop and their leaders. I told them about my adventure and they offered to help me carry my gear. I naturally declined. However, I did take their advice and paddled down the rapids on river right to another takeout to shorten my portage. One of the scout leaders came back shortly afterwards and brought me some great deserts that they could spare. It was a treat for the next two days.
I rigged my boat for the put-in and then went back up to view the falls and take some last minute pictures. Shortly thereafter, as I was back at my kayak getting ready to launch, some fellow came around the corner with a red kayak. It was Bob! Evidently, he had missed me at the Ranger Station but had been wise enough to spot the log book. So he knew I was up ahead. I don’t think I recorded the time but once the ranger returned, they were able to piece together that I could only be about a half hour ahead. So Bob flew downstream and hurried through the carry hoping to catch me – which he obviously did. He was a pleasant site. We hugged and shook hands and then both went back up to the falls for some additional photos. We got some great pictures! We then hurried back to our kayaks since it was getting late. We still needed to secure a campsite further downstream.
We set up our tents and then Bob surprised me with dinner! Two double cheeseburgers from McDonalds! Oh God were they good – even cold and dry. As I mentioned earlier, I ended up traveling more miles today than on any previous day on my adventure. The Allagash River current moves deceptively quick. Tomorrow I plan to break this record and paddle even further!
Day 33 - July 2, 2009 - The Last Day on the Trail
We awoke to a nice day. It was hard to believe that my adventure would finally come to an end. In the beginning it seemed like it would take forever. By the end, I was in shock that I was able to paddle over 700 miles in little over a month! It was great to have Bob back on the trail with me after all this time. We had only paddled three days together during the entire trip so this was special to me. And then, before we knew it, we had reached the village of Allagash.
Sandy was waiting to greet us at the shoreline upstream from the bridge. Bob took out here. I still had almost 28 miles to go to reach the official end of the NFCT in Ft Kent. So after a short rest I was on my way again and immediately reached the confluence with the St John River. This water is big and deep. It moves very fast but you can’t really tell because you don’t see bottom like you do elsewhere on rivers on the trail. But make no mistake, the St. John flows 3 or 4 MPH. Rapids are short and there are no hidden boulders but the wave trains are huge and totally different than anywhere else on the NFCT – so be careful.
It was fascinating to me when I finally spotted the ridge of New Brunswick beyond Grew Island and the confluence with the St Francis River. You could see a physical difference between the two landscape of Maine and Canada – a physical difference in the shape of the farmer’s fields and houses as well. And then the St John became a friendly flowing river.
Marie called by chance about the time I reached the rocky islands near Wheelock. I spoke with her. My waterproof cell phone lay on my skirt while I paddled away the last hour. It was fitting. I was ready for my adventure to end and get back home to her. I was saddened that my trip was now almost a past memory. All vacations, adventures, expeditions are like that. You plan and plan and then in a blink of an eye it’s in the past. If only it could last forever.
The bridge came into view and I stopped paddling. One last time to soak it all in solo. I’m under the bridge. I spot some people on the shoreline. My entourage of 5 people (Bob and Sandy and three kids they bribed to greet me) await. I want to start it all over again but my hands are sore. I think I need to rest and recover. I don’t want this to end…32 days, 3 hours, 56 minutes…I can finally stop paddling.
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