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I woke up in the morning full of piss and vinegar and ready to go home! It was going to be a long day, and it was going to start with a bang, with Big Rapids lurking a couple miles downstream of us.  If we made it through there without holding a yard sale, it was a mere 16 easy miles to Pelletier’s campground in St. Francis, where our vehicles all waited.

Breakdown of camp was a no nonsense affair, unless you count the nonsense of having to negotiate the muddy trail back to the river and our boats.  I debated tying anything down in the boat since losing camping gear on this last day really wasn’t a big deal, but I’m not made of money so I decided that a few straps on the packs would be cheap insurance.

The day started out sunny with some scattered clouds, and not too chilly at all.  The boat felt good in the water.  I sensed no bad omens. Which is unusual for me, because usually when I’m ready to tackle a rapid in a loaded boat I’m usually a bit tense. Not panicked. Concerned. But not today. It was time to bring it.

Before we knew it, we were passing what looked like a ranger station on river left, and making the big left turn to the head of Big Rapids. This was it!  This was…ummm…is this it?

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Keeping Kevin and Nick in sight as Big Rapid begins!

We entered Big Rapids and started looking for rapids…but it seemed to just be a lot of fast, swirly water with a few big rocks and a few small waves. We bounced though water like this for at least a half to three quarters of a mile.

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Kevin & Nick, and way in the lead…Mike probing the way.

Eventually, the water got a little bumpier, but there was little to be concerned about at this water level, which was probably a medium low level by now with the dropping water levels.  Way in the distance, I saw Mike turn around and heard him give what sounded like a heads up.  Then he seemed to drop about two feet very quickly. OK, here we go!

I could see the river start making a right turn, and I knew from previous accounts of boaters that had gone before us that this marked a point where the river got noticeably steeper and the wave bigger. At the very least, before we got there, the rapid had finally worked itself up to a respectable Class II, but the rocks were generally easily spotted and handily dodged. We started entering the curve, and then things got busy.

The river visibly started to slope steeply, and I seemed to be looking down a hill of rocks and froth. But so long as I kept track of where Nick and Kevin were going, who in turn were trying to match Mike’s moves, I found maneuvering from channel to channel to be more than manageable.  And then we were really in it, and I found that I could only vaguely keep track of where Kevin and Nick were headed as I spent most of my brainpower scanning the stretch of river within 20 to 30 feet of my bow. It was read and react…dodge the rock or eat the rock…jam back with the paddle on the right, turn right, draw right, switch sides, jam left, two strong forward strokes now! Woah, that was close…glance up quickly, where the hell is Kevin going? Oh crap, I missed that channel! Weave left, forward stroke, draw right, right, YOUR OTHER RIGHT! Merde! OK, bounce through the wave train between the boulders, draw left again to the next channel, take a breath…hey, things are slowing down, I think we made it! I see Kevin raise his paddle and shout, so I do the same. Whooee!

Oh crap, its not over, one more nasty stretch before the bottom, man this rapid won’t end! I see a line of rocks marching into the river from the left bank, so I start heading center, glance off a rock, slide over it in stride, dig, dig, dig, OK, I see the route to the bottom, just need to dodge a few dozen more rocks, no sweat!

After what seemed like 15 long minutes of dealing with whatever the river threw at me, I got spit out of the bottom and headed left into the eddy to join Mike, Kevin and Nick in celebrating our clean runs! Jim and Doug soon joined us, having also successfully run the gauntlet. Big Rapid was checked off in our books!

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Looking upstream from the eddy at the busy bottom of Big Rapid.

So that was it.  As far as I was concerned, the St. John trip was over.  From here, it was just a day trip to our take-out, and most of it I had already paddled.  It wasn’t long before we came into view of Dickey Bridge.

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Dickey Bridge comes into view.

It was above this bridge that we discovered that the rest of our day wasn’t going to be just a mere float trip.  Sand and gravel bars were starting to form, so we had to pay attention to where the flow was going in order to pick the right channel.

Past Dickey Bridge, we pulled over to another take out to see if we could walk up to the store.  Doug and I walked up, where we found the store was closed. Damn.

Onward and downward!  Skies had clouded up, but it was still warmish and pleasant to paddle.  A few miles further on, we passed the mouth of the Allagash and I was back into familiar territory, having passed this way almost 4 years earlier with Mike and Jim and some others.  For the most part, we remembered which channels would have enough water and which would not.

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Staying right while the river filters itself through shallows on the left.

Most of us bottomed out briefly at one point or another, but Doug really got himself grounded in one of the braids. As Norm L’Italien is fond of saying, “The river, she’s a mile wide and an inch deep!”

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Doug hikes the river.

The miles fell away under our hulls. Cross-Rock Rapid, Golden Rapid, Rankin Rapid…after Big Rapid, these weren’t much of an obstacle.  One more big bend to the right and we saw the orange barrels and log shelters of Pelletiers and pulled out on river-right.  As tradition dictated, Nick and Kevin took a plunge into the river to celebrate the end of another great father-son wilderness experience.

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Water fight!

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The Final Plunge!

All that was left was to pack and drive home.  It was a phenomenal trip, and one I hope to repeat someday.  A true Northern Forest Canoe adventure, traveling though both the wilderness and through history.

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L-R: Doug, Chuck (me), Nick, Kevin, Mike and Jim

 

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I was up at 6:00 to find everything socked in with Fog.  Doug was already up and getting a fire started.  I felt well rested. There’s nothing like sleeping next to a babbling brook to put me into dreamland.

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morning fog

The fog burned off pretty quickly while we were having breakfast to reveal clear skies and warm sun.  It was going to be a T-shirt kind of day!

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The fog starts lifting

We were packed and off the site by 9:15.  With the continued drop in water levels, I decided it was time to finally take out my canoe pole to get down Long Rapids.  Big fun! It was nice to be standing tall and weaving my way around rocks.  I ended up poling all of the named rapids we encountered that day except for Poplar Island Rapids.

There was no wind to speak of, even as the puffy clouds inevitably rolled in. A muckle was quickly declared soon after we got on the river.

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Doug is a professional muckler…don’t try this at home.

None of the named rapids was difficult.  The left side of Schoolhouse was very rocky, so of course I went left.  Big fun with the pole!

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Ouellette Farm shelter

We passed Castonia Farm without stopping, but stopped at Ouellette, which is a family name of mine going back to my great grandparents. This was a very nice, grassy site with a nice shelter, and tons of room for a huge group…but it was a bitch and a half to get up to from the river! We had to bash our way through tall marsh grass and shrubs on the exposed riverbed to get up to a steep scramble to get up a bank of loose gravel. It would have not been any fun with gear.

As we continued on and past Fox Brook, the ice damage along shore was very evident.

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Mike and Jim paddle past ice damaged shores

As we passed through Poplar Island Rapids, we started to look for the campsite, since this was our intended stop for the day after 15 miles. The next site, which we scouted when we first drove up to the river, would have required us to run Big Rapids, which we wanted to save for the last day. For some reason, I had two waypoints marked on my GPS as Poplar Island Campsite. The first was at the bottom of the rapids, but a scan of the shore revealed nothing. No clearing, trails, paths, not even a sign of places canoes had landed before.  So we continued on to the second waypoint.

Shortly after the first marked waypoint, we passed an old, collapsing shack. Beyond that was a long, high, sandy bluff that had a promising clearing on its top. This was the site of my second waypoint, but when Jim, Nick and I climbed up (with difficulty) we found nothing but a dirt road that led to the shack in one direction, and a dammed pond in the other. No campfire rings, no tables.

Meanwhile, Mike had progressed downstream. We floated down to him at the head of the next fast water, and he reported finding nothing. WTF? We must have passed it! We looked back at the map and decided it had to be near the rapid it was named for.  It was easiest for me since I could pole my way up through the fast water, but fortunately it was plenty deep enough for everyone else to paddle up.

Back at the collapsed shack, Kevin pulled over to let Nick out so that he could run upstream from the cabin in the hopes of finding the campsite.  Meanwhile, Mike and I creeped up the shore, scanning it with eagle eyes.  At the same moment I spotted an orange surveyor’s ribbon on the alders, Mike announced spotting the top of another picnic shelter, right where my waypoint said it should be! Just as we pulled onto shore, Nick appeared out of the dense shrubs to announce what we already knew.

The trail was pretty much invisible from the river. The take out was poor and rocky, although this was a function of the dropping water levels. From the shore, the first half of the trail was muddy, and then rose to the shelter, which was adorned with moose antlers and a deer skull.

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A muddy trail to the river

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Dryer land.

Of course, before lugging any gear through that mud, I set up a chair by the river and cracked open a beer. This is my favorite way to transition from paddling to camping, just sipping a fine beverage and contemplating the timeless persistence of a river.

But soon, we all had camp set up. It had plenty of room, and enough wood under a piece of plastic to last a week!

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Ready to spend our last night on the river.

After lunch and set-up, I wandered down the nearby road back to the shack to investigate it. It appeared to be an old hunting cabin, maybe a ski-mobile hut. It had gas lamps and a steel drum wood stove, eleven bunks, a couple moldering couches and chairs, a sink and some cupboards.  Old dishes, coat hangers, and flatware were still there. The ceiling was supported by massive timbers, but the timbers weren’t supported by anything except flimsy 2×4’s and thin plywood, which probably explained why it collapsed.

Back at the site, it was time to trade more stories, cook dinner, bake more muffinbread, build a blazing fire, and enjoy our last night out.  The Knob Creek was long gone.  There was not much Sailor Jerry left. We didn’t see any other paddlers this day, but from the site we did not have a good view of the river.

Well, we would be off 20+ miles downstream to St. Francis tomorrow, with the 2 mile-long Class III Big Rapids lurking only a couple miles downstream of our camp.  We all debated the best way to run the river based on whatever info we were able to read prior to the trip. Mike’s memories of his last trip were thoroughly probed.  It was agreed we would run it in the same order as we did Big Black, and there would be no sissy scouting.  We’d just read and react, taking it down the left side the whole way, and rely on our considerable whitewater skills to get us through. No problem. We were confident. Well, Mike was confident, and he was probe boat…we just had to follow him and hope he didn’t eat it.

It was a great campfire that night, and an even more impressive star show as the skies cleared.

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Well, we woke up to clear skies and warm sunshine! But within a half an hour, the clouds came in.

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The clouds came in from nowhere.

It was a slow break-down of camp, with a planned short day today.  It had rained some overnight, but not enough to prevent the river from dropping another 3-4 inches overnight.  After launching, we took a short paddle up Big Black River, just to say we had.

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Looking up Big Black River

We saw another young moose along the way but, despite that- and the lack of any development in sight along the river- it no longer felt like a wilderness trip to me.  Maybe it was the road that was now nearby that Jim and I walked up to.  Maybe it was the cabin that was located across the river from our camp last night that left a light on. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt like we had exited the wilderness, and we were re-entering the “real” world, even though we didn’t plan on getting to Dickey for another couple days.

At any rate, today was an easy day of riffles and a few rapids with no deadwater to speak of.

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Jim in his element.

We passed by a few other sites…Ferry Crossing and Seminary Brook…and at the sound of a babbling brook, we pulled into Long Rapids campsite at around 12:30. Our initial assessment was that the site was a little rough…there were a lot of rocks, making tent staking an iffy proposition.  But the site had 2 picnic tables, a shelter, a nice view and, of course, the brook.

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The brook

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A brook-side tent site.

We set up camp, ate, and I went for a walk to explore.  A gravel road evidently provided vehicle access to the site, so I followed it downriver to another campsite, where I found the beaten remains of someone else’s bad day.

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Half the canoe, twice the paddler?

From this site, the road turned up the hill, and a short ways up, I discovered that we wouldn’t be bothered by anyone trying to drive into our site.

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I crept by these trees, and many more that had dropped across the road, and finally came out on a fairly well-used road and a driveway that led up to a large, unoccupied, but well-equipped cabin. More neighbors! Definitely not feeling like wilderness anymore.

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Living well in the middle of nowhere.

Back at camp, we shot the shit for a while.  As we did, two more parties paddled past us; the first paddlers we had seen on the river since Mike woke up early the first morning and saw a solo paddler go by us. One party had a solo paddler and two pairs of tandem paddlers. We found out later that one group had to evacuate one of their members when she broke a leg. Likely the solo boater was her former tandem paddler.

The second group was a party barge with four tandem boats muckled together and floating through Long Rapids.

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I guess we aren’t the only ones who muckle!

The weather stayed mostly cloudy all afternoon, with the sun poking out every once in a while. We finally saw some blackflies…like 2 or 3 of them.  They would be the only ones I saw all trip.  Moose tracks were everywhere, and spring peepers were making a racket from across the river.  After dinner  Kevin baked up some double-berry muffin bread and we sat around watching the skies change on the river as the sun went down.

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Dusk on Long Rapids.

The clouds yesterday didn’t lie…we had a change in weather.  The rain started at around 5:30. It never got heavy, but it was light and steady and had the feel of an all-day event as we gathered under the tarp for breakfast. Everything was packed up in the rain and staged at the edge of the cliff to be shuttled down to the waiting boats.

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No one was as organized as Nick and Kevin. Sickening.

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The boats are secured for the loading.

Fortunately, the rain stopped as we left the site, and never really got started up again, but it remained mostly cloudy all day, with the sun poking out only a couple times.  We wound our way down random channels through the Seven Islands area, finding many geese and red-winged blackbirds.  Below the islands, after a couple small rapids, we came up on Malbec Bridge and stopped for Jim to pick up another geocache.

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The gang heads through Seven Islands.

After the bridge, we slogged our way through the Priestly Deadwater.  On the outside of one prominent curve, we found the only block of ice we would see left over from ice out a month before.  Mike recalled that it was at about the same place that he saw ice on his previous trip.

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Jim paddles towards the ice block.

Priestly Rapids was nothing to write home about.  In fact none of the small

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Simmons Farm.

rapids were.  Easy rock dodging for the most part, although the wind was learning a new trick and blowing from our rear now. We arrived at Simmons Farm around 11:30.  It was a huge, beautiful grassy site with good boat access, but no picnic tables…unless you wanted to hike way up the hill to a beautiful Pine-tree-bordered site with all the amenities…shelter, ridge pole, benches. But we didn’t want to haul our gear all that way, so we decided to move on.

Three miles and a couple bends in the river later, we found the former Basford Rips campsite.  It had a beautiful view and a nice beach, but nothing else but a fire ring, a bench, and space for maybe two tents. So, we called it our lunch spot.  After lunch, we all spent time securing our gear better in the boats, since the next campsite was below Big Black Rapids, rated Class III.

Basford Rips presented no challenge, and neither did the small rips past that.  Above Big Black, we crept along the left bank and pulled in above to scout it.  We did not know what to expect.  When we started out the previous Thursday, the river was running close to 10,000 cfs by the Dickey gauge, but it had been dropping steadily since then. Most sites say you need a minimum of 3000 cfs for a smooth run. We had visions of big waves, huge holes, and canoe-eating boulders. A later check of the gauge records showed it was running close to 5000 cfs now. So our reaction to our first view of the top of Big Black was one pretty much of relief…THIS is Class III?? Of course, we all were very experienced whitewater boaters, and I am willing to bet that a lot of people would have seen what we saw and started getting the knee shakes. It was certainly much bigger than anything we had yet encountered. But what we saw was multiple routes and clear sailing. We decided to stay far left at the top, move center, and then left into a big eddy. this would take us through the first half.  Our pre-determined order was Mike as probe, followed by Kevin and Nick, me, Jim and then Doug as sweep.

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The very top of Big Black from the left bank.

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Left of the pourover, right of the jutting rock to get center, and then head left.

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Doug in the last drop before the big eddy halfway down.

We didn’t bother to get out to scout the second half…we just followed Mike, who initially went all the way across to the right, but then decided that he liked what he saw to the left. He took us through some minor boulders, and through a couple waves to head left into another eddy.  Big Black was done! Other than the wind blowing Jim onto a rock on the last half, which he was quickly able to slide off, no one so much as scratched a paddle through all of Big Black. Whew! Big fun!

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Mike decides to head left.

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Jim styles the last drop of Big Black.

It was a bit of an anticlimax to float our way down to Big Black campsite, but it had been another 20 mile day and we were happy to find it unoccupied.  The beach was a bit muddy, and in a moment I now regret, I decided to straddle the gunnels of my boat to walk my way to firmer ground…only to have the inner gunnel tear and split at a couple screws…Dammit! Oh well, something to worry about later, after a beer.

The wind was whipping downriver and the site didn’t have much protection, so securing my tarp was an adventure.  We all got camp set up, and Nick split up a whole bunch of logs someone had left for firewood.

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Big Black campsite, looking upriver

There was the matter of my canoe. I was able to get a couple zip cable-ties from Mike.  Using the awl on my multi-tool, I drilled a couple holes through the Royalex below my gunnels.  The cable-ties were fed through the holes and over the gunnels, which I pressed together, using the cable ties to lock them together.  It worked! Problem solved.

Later, Jim and I took a walk up a trail that led to a nearby road that was bridged over Big Black Brook, which merged with the St. John right at our camp.  Back at camp, on the banks of Big Black Brook, I found a nice patch of wildflowers, including a patch of trout lilies and a few purple trilliums.

There were a few sprinkles as the campfire was lit, but they didn’t last long. No stars, though.  The Sailor Jerry made its rounds, as did the last of the Knob Creek. It had been a fine day. Tomorrow it had been agreed that we would keep it short, perhaps only going as far as Long Rapids.  We could sleep in! So it was a late night around the campfire, trading jokes, stories, and trying badly to sing popular songs.  Nick was impressed than an old guy like me knew bands like Slipknot and System of a Down. Win! Speaking of songs, I haven’t mentioned…Mike had downloaded a bunch of songs into his tablet and would play one for us every afternoon after supper. I can’t remember the play list, but I think tonight’s was Riders on the Storm.

Well, so far, the Storm had treated us all well.

After two long days in a row, we decided to do a short day today, aiming to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApaddle the 9 miles down to the campsite at Seven Islands.  We woke up to blue skies and sunshine, but it had been pretty damn cold that night. I am never the first dude up in the morning but somehow I managed to be this morning. I made me some coffee and wandered down to the river, where I found confirmation as to how cold it got…frost on the boats!

We took our time breaking down and loading up.  Breakfast was an extended affair, and word got around in the local Gray Jay population that there may be some free crumbs to sample. We had a small group of four flying between the trees and the river-side shrubs.

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Gray Jay

It was already about 10:00 by the time we finally left Nine Mile Bridge.  Right around the corner we floated through a snappy little rapid.

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Nothing like some quickwater to start the day off right!

But after that, we had some slow water and it seemed like a good opportunity

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Doug and Mike

to convene our first muckle of the trip.  The Sailor Jerry made the rounds, because rum makes you a pirate, not a morning drinker. There may also have been a round of some Knob Creek…I don’t recall.  That bourbon almost had a tragic end…after the bumpy ride into Baker Lake on our first day, Kevin discovered that the top of the bottle had broken in his cooler! Some of the bourbon was spilled, but he was able to decant most into another bottle to serve as emergency rations. Well, whether we had some of it or not, it was a fine muckle, lasting until the next rifle where we had to break it up.

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Smooth Sailing ahead

Water levels had been dropping 3-4 inches every day that we had been on the river, and today we finally started seeing some gravel beds that forced some decisions on channels to paddle.

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Mike goes left, Jim goes right

It was a pretty easy-going paddle.  We pretty much let the river do the work, like true Menacing Duckheads.  There was an occasional headwind, but

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A steep welcome mat and parking area

nowhere near as bad as that fucking wind yesterday. We floated past Connors Farm, but didn’t stop.  Plenty of birds were chattering along the river, and I heard another drumming grouse. We didn’t see any moose.  Despite our best efforts at not making progress, we eventually floated into sight of Seven Islands and pulled over, grimly looking at the steep gravel bank. It was going to be a steep climb! It brought back memories of the No Country for Old Men Canoe Tour on the Saranac!

But once we got up the bank, we were welcomed by a huge, expansive, flat campsite with a nice picnic table shelter.  One could have fit a minor jamboree of boy scouts up there! And perhaps that is exactly what happens here a lot, because the shitter was almost completely full.  At any rate, we all had room to spread out.

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Back in the bad old logging days, Seven Islands was the site of a huge farm, where food was grown for both men and horses that worked in the nearby logging camps.  The farm is gone, but there are plenty of old artifacts hanging around.

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We had plenty of time to be industrious, so of course we wasted most of it sitting around napping, drinking, smoking, and snacking.  At some point, wood was gathered and split…mostly by Nick, who had plenty of extra youth at his disposal, and also since he was too young to drink.  We noticed that the sky was full of high cirrus clouds, meaning a change in the weather was coming.  More showers? Probably, so we set up a tarp off the side of the picnic shelter to give us a bit more room in the morning if needed.

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Kevin and his cuppa Knob Creek

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Jim admires the extra tarpage,

After supper, we looked at the maps and debated were to stop next.  The consensus was to check out Simmons Farm, but we preferred Basford Rips.  We had high hopes for Basford, but the NMW took it off of the list of campsites in the updated brochure and we didn’t know why. If neither site worked, we would have to paddle through Big Black Rapids and camp at the confluence of Big Black Brook…a 20+ mile day.

The night was not expected to be as cold as last night…high 40’s, low 50’s…positively balmy! Dessert tonight was chocolate chip cake, thanks to the magic reflector oven.

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The crew awaits baked goodies!

 

Bloggers Note: This Post is rated “P” for “profanity”. Heh.

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Clear skies and cold water!

We woke up to clear skies around 6:30, which was a nice change from waking up in the rain, but it didn’t take long for the fucking wind to kick up again.  We were off by around 9:00 and immediately started battling the headwind. We had it in our face only when we were headed north or northeast, but that was most of the day.

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Inside the riverside castle.

We stopped a few miles downriver at Ledge Rapids cabin.  The cabin was in pretty rough shape, but there was a big pile of lumber under a tarp nearby, so maybe North Maine Woods is planning on some renovations.  Last year a huge pine tree almost “renovated” the roof…it got blown over while someone was camped there, and just clipped the very edge of the overhang…taking out a chair that the guy had been sitting in only an hour earlier. It had been cut out of the way and the stump converted to a new seat. The site itself is quite nice, and for the time being there is plenty of firewood!

Ledge Rapids had two main drops and both were pretty rocky.  No one had problems with the first half, but the fucking wind decided to get in on the fun and blew us a bit off course for the second half.  Doug, Mike and I all had close calls with rocks as we tried to steer into the wind.

We stopped at Moody campsite at the location of an old bridge that had been removed in 2008. The abutments were still there.  Jim went up to grab a geocache while we took a break.

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Looking up at the former bridge from Moody

Continuing our tour of old archaeological sites along the river, we stopped on river right at the Red Pine campsite to check out an old airfield. Jim, Kevin, Nick and I walked up the narrow road to get up to it. It was pretty surreal standing in the middle of an airstrip in the middle of nowhere.  Evidently it is closed to use now, but it looks to me like a halfway decent pilot could easily land a small plane here.

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Looking down the runway…with a taxiway to the right.

There are campsites along the runway here that are road accessible from the logging company roads, and we found two brand new shelters with picnic tables! A bit of a hike from the river to camp, but these sites are pretty sweet.

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Brandy-new shelters!

After leaving Red Pine, we got to the work of fighting our way downriver, through many rapids and into a lot of fucking wind. Mike and Doug had frequent issues with their bows being blown around, and had to do several trim adjustments, but there is only so much one can do paddling a tandem boat from the bow seat. Nevertheless, onward we paddled.

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And paddled. The river was really widening out.

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Finally, after navigating a half-mile-long, but easy, Class II rapid, we arrived at Nine Mile Bridge at around 2:30.  Of course, there is no bridge here…that got swept downstream by ice-out in 1972. Now there is only a small cable trolley.

We stopped on river-left just below the cable to check out the campsite, and found it to our liking.  But after all that fucking wind, I announced that I was going to get my fucking chair, sit my fucking ass down for a minute and have a fucking beer.  Doug joined me. We had traveled almost 16 and a half miles…not as long as the 20 miles from the day before, but the wind wasn’t as bad the day before.  Only after that incredibly delicious beer did I start setting up camp.

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My compact lodging for the night

There are two private cabins located nearby, one on each side of the former road leading to the cable car crossing. The one closest to us belongs to “Nine Mile Mike”, who wasn’t home.  We left him a message on his board.

The only wildlife of note for the day was a drumming ruffed grouse…and one very sick-looking mangy moose that came down and temporary collapsed across the river from us.  We suspect it may have been suffering from tick-generated anemia, but it was tough to tell for sure. It stayed around for about a half hour, not moving much.

Firewood was easier to come by at this site, and we had no trouble getting a good blaze going.  Kevin baked some blueberry muffins to end off another day on the St. John. We all made it to 9:00, but not too late.  It was a good site for stars.

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Leave a message for Nine Mile Mike.

 

There were no thunderstorms overnight, but we did get one good 10-minute downpour, and the wind picked up again.  We woke up to intermittent sprinkles and a small rainbow upriver.

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Rainbow Morning

Mike was up early enough to see one solo boater pass our campsite…he must have been camped somewhere upriver of us.  That was the last boater we would see for a while.

Despite a promise that this trip would be characterized by “no hurry” mornings, we were all fed, packed and off by 8:00.  Headwinds and occasional driving rain showers would be the order of the day.  I frequently apologized to

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A mossy Morrison picnic table

everyone…I have a reputation for conjuring biblical rainfall either right before or during our canoe trips. The 80-degree temperatures were history…we were back to a seasonal mid-60’s, and we were all dressed up for it.  After our first 5 miles paddling into the wind we took a break at Morrison Depot. It looked like no one had camped there in years! There didn’t seem to be any good tent sites, and the picnic table had a moss terrarium growing on it. I almost stepped on a woodcock before it flew off, startling the crap out of me.

We passed the Southwest Branch without stopping, and immediately afterwards Mike spotted a moose on river right. I was in the lead, and tried to approach quietly while giving her some room. Things got a bit busy as I simultaneously reached for my camera while trying to avoid the rocks in the small rapid I entered . Doug managed a great shot of my encounter.

Moose encounter

Paddle? Avoid rocks? Take a picture? Decisions…

So if you look real close in the preceding photo, you will see her calf just to the right of her.  I did not even know it was there until I was almost next to it and it started calling out to momma.  I got a shot while it climbed up the riverbank.

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Someone’s bad day

Knowles Brook was definitely a better campsite than Morrison Depot, and we could have made it work, but it still seemed to be a lousy place to camp. Steep riverbank, and not many decent tent sites.  It also came equipped with a wrecked canoe.  With our early start we still had plenty of daylight, so we decided to continue fighting the headwinds and rain another 5 miles to Northwest Branch campsite.

We were there about two hours later, and found it to be a decent site. And when the sun came out an hour later we decided it was a great site! Campsites always look better in the sun. Hell, maybe Morrison Depot, Doucie Brook, or Knowles Brook would have looked better if it hadn’t been so drizzerable.

We gathered up and split up a mess of firewood, and Doug demonstrated his technique for igniting damp firewood: Roadside flares! We had a fire going in no time!  But there was still a lot of daylight left to enjoy watching the skies clear.

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Clearing Skies at Northwest Branch

After supper, Kevin broke out his reflector oven and baked up a righteous batch of banana nut bread! Wow, that hit the spot! Kevin’s technique was to use a large base log against which he can lean some nice dry splits near the oven to maximize the heat.  It worked very well.

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The Magic Reflector Oven!

From then on, all we had to do was sit fat and happy around the campfire as the stars came out.  Doug entertained with some canoe stories, especially his story of being stranded camped on an island on the Pemigewasset River during its flood of record in the 1980’s; he and his buddy ended up spending the night in the trees with all the local mice! It was a story Jim, Kevin and Nick had not yet heard.

At some point, someone noticed that sparks from the fire had lodged in a rotting crevice of the picnic table and lit it on fire, which entertained us for another ten minutes trying to put it out while laughing so hard. It had been agreed the previous night that we all had to stay up until at least 9:00 in order to avoid being called pussies. We all managed tonight to hang in there until 10:00, with the temps headed into the 30’s.  Certainly a far cry from the 80’s we had the day before! New England…if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.

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