Well, I haven’t yet completed any new sections of the NFCT, and there are no solid plans yet for the next segment (although the Nulhegan River is a good bet), but I do have a story to share. You know, to read if it is cold outside, and the water is hard, and you need a canoe story fix. This story is about a co-worker of mine, and her daughter, and their first-ever canoe-camping trip.
Evidently Alisa’s daughter, Elisabeth, had signed on for a week-long backpacking trip with a summer camp, and was all excited about it. She got new gear, was learning about packing light, all of that. Well, it turns out she was the only one who signed up for it, so she was informed that the trip had been cancelled! Major disappointment. All the other kids were probably worried their I-pods and smot phones wouldn’t work in the wilderness.
So what to do? Alisa wanted to make it up to Elisabeth, but I suspect she was not too keen on strapping a heavy pack to her back and tromping up some vertical incline that the Forest Service laughingly refers to as trails. So she got the idea of a canoe-camping trip, and since I have a reputation in the office of doing all kinds of crazy canoe trips, she came to me for suggestions.
Well, that was a no brainer…West Branch Penobscot from Lobster Stream to Chesuncook Lake over two nights! And what a refreshing change! I mean, the internet is full of stories of guys going into the wilderness, or father-son teams braving bugs and dirt, or even whole families taking on a wilderness lake. But there aren’t too many stories of a mother-daughter team, who have never canoe-camped ever before, heading off on their own. So I gave her all the beta, and some maps, a lot of encouragement, and the contacts for Chesuncook Lake House for a life-saving shower at the end of the trip, and sent them on their way.
They got to the Lobster Stream put-in towards the later part of the afternoon, and after spending some time figuring out how to secure all their gear in the canoe, they set off downriver. It was a nice, mostly sunny day, water levels were fine, and before they knew it, around the corner from Hanibal’s Crossing, they came to their first camp at Thoreau Island.
They had plenty of time to set up tents and tarps, and to gather firewood. A cold front was coming through overnight, so they wanted a nice fire to warm up next to. A nice breeze kept the mosquitos down. Owls called as they went to sleep, mixed in with the occasional sounds of logging trucks in their natural habitat.
The next day dawned gray and a bit drizzly, but they were in good spirits. After a breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, they packed up and continued downstream.
It was a long cold day, but they found ways to enjoy their time, chatting together, marvelling in the solitude, and keeping a sharp eye out for moose. The Pelican box took a few trips in the river…Elisabeth would put the camera on video mode, place it in a clear Pelican box, and drop it in the river. The camera recorded a murky passage beside the canoe until it was picked up at the stern by Alisa. Also, at some point, Elisabeth decided to turn around in the bow and see if she could paddle back upstream against the paddle power of her mom in the stern.
They had an exciting time shooting the rapids by Big Island. I had repeatedly told Alisa not to worry too much about them, that if they aimed for the clearest channels, they would do fine. And they did. Alisa was real nervous at the top, but by the time they reached the end of the island, she was having as much fun as her daughter bashing the canoe through the waves.
I had recommended they camp the second night at Pine Stream, which they did. They absolutely loved this spot, which provides a wonderful vista up and down the river. They set up camp again, and without me even having to tell them how, they figured out how to use canoe paddles for a tent-tarp assist! I was impressed when I saw the photo.
They gathered more firewood and spent some time watching the wildlife atound them. Mostly birds and ducks, but also a moose! That night for supper, Alisa warmed up the pink vodka sauce from Venda Ravioli (if you’re not from RI you don’t get it) and put it over some elbow pasta for dinner. Perfect!
As the day waned down, the clouds that had been around most of the day dispersed, and left them with quite a show.
The following morning they were treated to one of those awesome North Woods fog-engulfed rivers. The silence was ethereal. They got an early start, because I had put the fear of a windy Chesuncook Lake in their heads, and they wanted to beat that.
Fortune was with them as they entered Chesuncook Lake…hardly any wind and minimal waves. They had a nice view of Katahdin framed between Gero Island and Graveyard Point.
From there, it was a quick paddle to the village, where they checked in with Luisa at the Chesuncook Lake House. There, they were pampered with fresh linen and hot showers and a home cooked meal. And probably the best root beer Elisabeth has ever had.
I think they both enjoyed themselves immensely. Elisabeth said the river was the quietest place she has ever been. Which isn’t really saying much, because she lives quite near the State airport. But we all know what she means. I suspect that they have been bitten by the canoe bug, and will probably try another trip again soon, maybe someplace more challenging. I know the NFCT has plenty to offer them.