Archive for June, 2010

By the time we left Doe we had beaten the path down pretty well.

Thin clouds gave way to mostly sunny skies as we awoke atop the bluff at Doe Campsite.  Mike, who was a regular energizer bunny yesterday, had hit the wall.  He was not feeling so well in the morning.  So, we took our time packing things up and humping all the gear down to the boats.  We all chipped in to make sure Mike only had to make this trip once.  From the looks of the water it looked like the river had dropped about 6 inches overnight, but still had plenty of flow.

 It was a breezy day, with occasional upstream gusts, carrying with them the scent of many cows.  We took our time to the breached Samsonville Dam, landing on river-left practically on top of the old dam remains.  After having seen the ledges upstream in Richford, I had arrived resolved to portage around this drop no matter what I saw.  But I was wrong.  While we were too far away to see for sure, the river-right side of the rapids looked pretty clean.  Big, but clean.  It didn’t matter, though.  Scouting along the river-left bank, we could see a route that went just right of a ledge and hole at the top, and then quickly moved left to hug the left bank the rest of the way.  A couple rocks required fairly minor moves to avoid them.  Mike and I probed the line, and Billy & Jim followed suit, with no problems to speak of.

 After the first main drop, the river goes around some islands and through a few easy rapids.  Owing to our left-side route, we stayed far left, boat scouting and running some easy Class I rapids.  After the islands, one can either stay far left and scratch a way through (or make a mid-way move to the center to go right of a big island, which requires a run through a slot in a big ledge); or one can move to the right and run The Meat.  We chose the carnivore route.  There is one small drop that we ran on the right, and we stayed generally to the

Jim & Billy running the last ledge below Samsonville

right through a small pool before the last big drop. Mike and I kept the probe position again, weaving our way through the ledges with a minimum of fuss, glancing off one rock.  Billy and Jim followed, but took a much more significant hit on the rock Mike and I brushed, sending Jim flying forward, hurting his knee.  They didn’t hang around for long, though, and joined Mike and I at the foot of the rapid, up on the mid-stream island, for a breather.

Photo: Jim Cole

Setting off from Lawyer's Landing

It was a fairly windy paddle into Lawyer’s Landing and the portage around Enosberg Falls.  Here we met the only other paddlers we had seen on the river since Canada, a couple kayakers, one of whom was clearly a novice at entering a kayak.  The steep embankment at the put-in didn’t help him at all, but eventually he was able to flop himself in without dumping, and able to make room for us to get the

Photo: Jim Cole

Rolling down St. Albans Street, Enosberg Falls

canoes and gear out.  We had already determined that we were not going to tangle with the ugly put-in on Duffy Hill Road, opting for the easy roll down St. Alban’s Street to the optional put in, which is near a nice grassy field with an easy put-in to the river.  After a trip across Rte 105 to a Mobil Mart to restock water and beer, it was good to lounge for a while on the grass and eat lunch.

Past this bridge, Abbey Rapids awaits

The breezy weather, and the farmland, stayed with us the next four miles to Abbey Rapids, but there was no rain.  As we passed the North Sheldon bridge, we hunkered down into kneeling positions to run the one mile of Class II Abbey Rapids.  This was very

Looking up at Lussier Campsite

easy to boat scout, and we all ran them mostly clean, with a minimum of emergency maneuvering.  At the foot of the rapids, we kept a sharp eye out for Lussier Campsite.  It was a good thing we had real sharp eyes, because it was easy to miss; the signage was mostly hidden behind sapling growth.  In fact, we saw the log-book box and picnic table before we saw the sign.  The saplings have since been trimmed to improve the view of the signs. 

Doesn't anyone ever mow the grass in Vermont?

We quickly set up camp, with most of us choosing to set tents up in the tall grass of the field behind the pines and hemlocks.  Billy and Mike promptly went to Napland.  Jim and I hung around, gathered firewood, drank, did some campsite maintenance, drank, updated our journals, set up a tarp, and drank.  As previous through and section paddlers have noted, the picnic table has a fallen white pine leaning over it.  This provided a ready supply of dry firewood.  Overall, this is a very nice campsite.

Photo: Jim Cole

Me, writing the precursor to this blog

About an hour after we arrived at the site, I noticed a group of paddlers headed upstream.  Three kayaks and a couple canoes.  Through Paddlers? Headed to this campsite?  Closer inspection as they approached revealed no camping gear, however.  And they continued on their way upstream, battling the Abbey Rapids.  Maybe it was the local masochist’s club. 

 It was a good thing we set up the tarp, because we got hit with a fast moving thunderstorm a little after dinner and had about a half hour of heavy rain.  After that, it intermittently spit rain until the next morning.

 Total Mileage for the Day:  14.2 miles


The canoes await the next day

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The King of Outhouses

One of the nicer things about camping at Canoe & Co. is, of all things, their outhouse.  Not only does it have running water and a flush toilet; it has electric lighting too!  Luxury we were not used to while on the trail.

Good-Bye Canada!

We were up and packed pretty quickly, and at 9:00, after re-filling our water bottles, we bid adieu and au revoir to Frank and Rachel at around 9:00 under sunny skies.  Although it had not rained overnight (other than a brief sprinkle as we went to bed) the river was no lower than when we had arrived previously.  It still cranked along, muddy as ever, past a rather monotonous landscape of tree-fringed fields with occasional views of the mountains in the distance. 

It is a good idea to pull over here to avoid trouble with the border patrol

It seemed like no time at all before the pace of the river picked up and the bridge at the U.S. Border station came into view.  The landing on the bank on river left past the bridge is a bit tricky; the eddy is small, there was no beach (not that day, anyway) and there was a steep bank to climb to get up and out of the river.  From there, the path to the rear of the customs building and around to the front is obvious.  We turned the corner to find a border agent leaning a chair on the side of the building, reading Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”.  We gave him our passports along with our “we-just-came-down-the-river” story, but he didn’t seem to know what to do about it.  Probably a newbie.  His partner came out, took our passports, leafed through them, and promptly declared three of

Photo: Jim Cole

Chuck on the border

them invalid. Wha???  When we asked what was wrong, he handed one passport to Mike and said, “You tell me.”  Fortunately, Mike was able to quickly deduce that three of us had forgotten to sign them.  Doh!  The agent produced a pen, the three “illegals” signed their names, and we were finally welcomed home.  After about a half hour of paperwork check in, picture taking, and general bullshitting with the two border agents (during which no one else arrived to check back into the U.S.) we were finally on our way.

Graph showing the spike in river flows (source: USGS)

This is about when we became cognizant of just how much water there was in the river.  Based on our pre-trip scouting days before, we expected the rapid below the bridge, and the braided channels between there and Richford to be nearly dry, requiring some dragging.  We were happy for the rain, but didn’t expect it to make a significant difference.  Unbeknownst to us, I had received an e-mail back home from another section paddler who knew we were on the river that said “I’m sitting here at work, watching the Missisquoi River gauge go vertical.  Hope you guys are OK”.  In fact, over the previous 24 to 36 hours, flows in the river at the East Berkshire USGS gauge spiked from about 320 cfs to around 1950 cfs! Over six times the volume per second!

But again, we did not know this.  All we knew is that there were multiple routes through that first rapid, and the one we picked was smooth and sweet.  The power of the water was evident.  Shortly afterwards, the river obviously narrowed down, and we came upon the

Big Water at Stevens Mills

dancing standing waves of Stevens Mills rapids.  We hadn’t even scouted this rapid because none of us was the least bit concerned about it.  Well, both boats ended up meeting a couple hefty waves in this solid Class II drop and taking on quite a bit of water.  Wahoo!  We pulled over immediately so we could bail out the boats. 

River channels above Richford

Over the next two or three miles we enjoyed easy quickwater and Class I rapids, speculating as to what the ledges in Richford looked like now.  Mike was prepared to run it blind, figuring we’d take on some waves and be through it in no time by using the channel we scouted previously.  I anticipated it was probably runnable, and perhaps even easier, but said I wanted to scout it.  Jim was of the same thinking.  Billy just wanted to get a bite to eat in Town.  So, upon arriving at the take-out for what we expected to be an optional portage, Mike stayed with the boats, and the rest of us walked up into town.

When my eyes finally saw the ledges downstream of the bridge, my jaw dropped and my brain seized.  Now we all had a really good idea of how high the river had risen.  All of the ledges we had walked on, and all of the important rocks we knew we had to avoid, were gone. 

Photo:Jim Cole

Looking at Richford Ledges from Main Street Bridge

In their place was a raging Class III rapid populated with big waves and hungry holes that stretched a good 300 feet.   We walked around the corner and sneaked through a yard to get onto the river-right bank to scout out a route.  We all agreed that with empty boats, the run would be fun and wet, but with loaded boats, many unpleasant things could happen.  Jim felt we could line the boats along the right hand bank, but the margin of error, in my opinion, was too small even for that.  A big neon sign was flashing in my mind: “PORTAGE”.

The return of the rain forced us to head back to find a lunch spot, and we found “The Hot Spot” diner right at the main intersection north of the bridge.  As soon as we sat down, it commenced to pour.  More encouragement to portage, in my mind.  Jim left ahead us to break the news to Mike that we were portaging, and by the time Billy and I made it back to the boats, some gear had made it up the bank.  We chain-ganged the packs up the slope, and hauled the canoes up what had to be one of the worst take-outs on the trail.  It was steep, slippery, obstructed and narrow, not user friendly in the least.  And the rain, which was still coming down pretty hard, didn’t help matters.

Putting back on the river below Richford

After a quick stop at the convenience store on the way to restock beer, the roll through town was easy and uneventful. At Davis Park we found a put-in that wasn’t much better than the one we just left, with a steep slope of broken concrete and poison ivy.  But we took out time, and watched our step, and made it back onto the river in one piece.  At any rate, the put-in and take-out points for the portage through the Town of Richford should definitely be the sites of some trail improvement parties.

At this point, I was feeling pretty down.  The rain and a bit of wind were negatively affecting my mood, and having to portage around Richford ledges due to the massive flow increase really threw me off balance.  I got quiet and simmered, preoccupied with thoughts of how the higher flows would affect the other rapids we had to contend with downstream.  Mike, on the other hand, was totally at the other end of the happiness meter, chattering away happily, singing, pointing out a bunch of shit I would normally have been rather interested in.  It was an interesting dynamic.  Ultimately, Mike’s good mood won out and pulled me from the brink.

We found Magoon Ledges, which were Class II and easily bypassed to river right.  Soon we were paddling along Route 105.  The so-called “Twin Bridges” puzzled us since they do not look anything alike.  A few

Approaching Doe Campsite (We gotta climb THAT?!)

lazy bends later, a huge eroded sand bank appeared dead ahead on river-left, and we knew we had reached Doe campsite.  Fortunately, one does not have to scale the sand cliff to get up to it.  Just past the bank, where the forest comes down again to the river, we found the arrows pointing to a long trail that winds itself through a floodplain wetland and up the spine of a long esker.  At the top of the hill we found a log book, a fire ring, and a picnic table.  And a lot of very tall vegetation!  Beautiful site, with fantastic views of the river, but it sure could stand a mowing.

Carving a camp amongst the weeds

The sun came out as we sherpa’d all our gear up to the campsite.  Cans of beer and a bottle of Sailor Jerry made an appearance.  Tents were slowly set up.  Mike and I clowned around trying to balance paddles on our chins. Then, about supper time, the rain reappeared.  We

Photo: Jim Cole

(cue the circus music)

scattered for the tents like cockroaches caught in the kitchen light.  Billy was almost instantly snoring as I updated my journal.  Mike, who’s good mood refused to quit, recruited Jim into figuring out a tarp set up for this essentially tree-less site.  At some point, the rain lulled me to sleep. 

Captain Tarp and the Camp Doe BoyZ

Mike, who understandably was not going to have his extra energy wasted on a bunch of lazy-ass tent lizards, roused Billy and I out of our tents at around 8:00.  The rain had subsided down to an occasional spitting, and my eyes gazed in wonder at the incredible tarp set up over the picnic table.  It consisted of a 10 x 20 tarp set over a cross-piece sapling that was lashed to and supported by two other saplings, all secured by corner ropes that were staked to the ground with short lengths of wood.  A true piece of woodsmanship! And a great place to cook our dinner, which we did, thanking Mike and Jim between mouthfuls of food.

Mike wasn’t done yet.  We got a cheery fire going in the fire pit, and sat around in our chairs (except Billy, who’s veteran folding stars-and-stripes chair gave up the ghost at the last campsite, leaving him to scavenge available buckets or other unguarded chairs) drinking beer and speculating about the trip to come.  Then the Mike B. fireworks show started.  The day ended with a succession of sparkling fountains and bottle rockets illuminating the ferns around the site. 

Firecracker Ferns

Total Mileage for the day: 17.2 miles.

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Strung out along La Portage Grande

Temporary refuge from rain while packing gear

I hardly slept all night, thanks to the din of the downpours on my tent and the wind in the trees.  I waited for the rain to calm down to a drizzle before exiting the tent, and found Mike and Jim already wandering about, making coffee, and putting off packing.  I made myself a cup of Joe, and wandered over to the harbormaster’s shack to get out of the rain a bit, and made my acquaintance with Richard, who was very interested in our story, having met quite a few other NFCT paddlers already.  I traded stories with him until there was a lull in the rain, and then took the opportunity to pack up my tent and gear. 

Photo: Jim Cole

Waiting for the shuttle at the Perkins Landing Harbormaster's shack

Everything got stacked and organized under the tarp.  Every once in a while, the four of us would cram under it with the gear if it started raining particularly hard.  Soon, everything got transferred to the shack to await the pickup by Frank of Canoe and Co., with whom I had made arrangements to shuttle out gear to his place on the Missisquoi River.  While waiting, we also readied the boats on the portage carts for our long morning walk along the Grand Portage, a 5.7 mile walk along gravel roads over a height-of-land to get to the Missisquoi. 

Prepping the boats for road work

Frank showed up on time with his car and even a canoe trailer, just on the off-chance that we had changed our minds about walking.  We hadn’t.  Besides, after loading his car with our gear, there would be no room for any of us!  He was surprised at how much stuff we had.  I suppose he is used to through paddlers, who understandably economize on their gear.  Us short-section paddlers can afford a little luxury and weight.

Canoe Parking at Jewett's Country Store

After Frank left, we didn’t waste any time getting on with our trudge up the hill.  We stopped, of course, at the Jewett Country Store for a break and to pick up some items for the road.  Jane (Jewett?) recognized Billy from an earlier scouting visit, and we all enjoyed talking with her.  I was amazed how quickly and fluidly she would switch from English to French as other customers came by.  It definitely had the feel of a different country.

Near the high point of the Grand Portage

Different or not, it was all wet.  We headed north, and then took a left on the gravel Chemin Peabody, climbing all the way, putting my raingear to good use.  It was hot and sweaty work and we were all very glad we had unloaded much of our extra equipment on Frank.  Happily, the slope started going downhill a lot sooner than I had expected.  In fact, it turns out that, if one is headed west, 3.4

"I don't need no steenking rain gear"

miles of the 5.7 mile Grand Portage is downhill! Also, the rain stopped at about the time we started our descent.  Sweet!  My respect for through paddlers, who have to head in the other direction, increased quite a bit.  Well, at least those of them that walked it.  I wouldn’t want to be walking that in the other direction on a hot day, no way Jose.  We were offered a ride at one point, but we had nearly completed the whole thing by then, so on we walked. 

photo: Jim Cole

"Keep on keeping on, Billy!"

I guess we all have our ways of dealing with long portages.  For me, I end up having some song run over and over in my head, and I’ll merely walk to the beat of the music.  Irritatingly, it is often some silly childhood song that I can’t get out of my head. Mike, it turns out, had used Google Earth to split the walk into nine “segments”.  As we passed the “divider” between each segment (usually a road intersection), he’d announce it.  “Four down, five to go”.  I’m not sure what Jim or Billy do…I’ll have to ask them. 

Back in the saddle again...how sweet it is. Like milk chocolate. Er...

We reached the North Branch Missisquoi (aka “Missisquoi Nord”) a little over two and a half hours after we started, which wasn’t half bad!  The put-in at this bridge, though, is a bit of a trick.  The easiest access, on the northeast corner, is very clearly posted against trespassing, even for those of us who can’t read a lick of French.  Forget about the northwest corner…ugly as a hyena after being run over with a Land Rover and chewed on by vultures.  The southwest corner could have been done, but would have involved a lot of brush busting.  So we went with the southeast corner.  This required a lift over a guardrail down onto the steep roadbank, where you had to be careful not to slide down into the barbed wire fence inconveniently located less than a boat-width downhill.  The boats were then shuffled along the fence, down the bank and under the bridge for a muddy launch into one of the muddiest rivers I have ever been on.  Mud or no, it was sure good to be back on water!

Warning: Going further may result in a broken canoe and frustrated arm-waving

The river presented easy paddling by fields, woods and the occasional house.  We quickly reached the dock access at Secteur Nautique, where the caution signs quite graphically illustrated what could happen downstream to your boat.  Up on the carts went the boats again, and up the hill we pushed, emerging in the village of Mansonville.  In

On the road again in MAnsonville, looking for Charlie.

deference to Billy, who was still a bit upset that we had not started our last two mornings with a proper breakfast, we went in search of a lunch spot, and found the Cantina Memphre on the Chemin de Vale Perkins, where we discovered “poutine”, an original Quebec dish consisting of french fries covered in beef gravy and mozzarella cheese.  We also found out that hot dogs on toasted rolls are called “toasties”.  It was all good.  I love new cultures!

Our hunger sated, we continued along Route 243 to what appears to be a recently constructed and improved access back to the river, complete with interpretive signs and parking.  Quite nice!  The river was moving along quite well…it had the look of having risen quite rapidly

Entering the main branch of the mighty, muddy, Missisquoi River

with the overnight rains, choked with silt and with lots of floating debris.  We chased a few families of mergansers down the river, and even spotted a mink.  Shortly after we passed under a bridge, we met the main branch Missisquoi River, and then floated past the “Camping Carrefour” sites on river-right.  Note to downstream paddlers: go past the first few docks to the one that is marked for camping check-in’s. 

Arriving at Canoe & Co.

Soon enough, we found the entrance to Canoe & Co. on river-left, with a beautiful stone access from the river.  We were greeted by a nice set of chairs and a chicken which, believe it or not, turned out to be a “Rhode Island Red”.  Odd coincidence!  Frank came down from his house-on-stilts, showed us around, pointed out where he stacked our gear, and sat with us to trade stories.  We met his wife (or wife-to-be, I wasn’t too clear on that) Rachel, who was also very personable, and interested in our stories. 

Photo: Jim Cole

Camping at Canoe & Co.

Frank told us that the night before, two customers of his did not show up as scheduled.  The next morning, as he was preparing to leave to meet us in Perkins Landing, they showed up.  They had evidently gotten lost and deciding to camp on a sandbar that turned out to be not too far upriver.  Early the next morning, the rain that pounded us also filled the river which found its way into their tent!  Good morning!  Fortunately no one was hurt.  As we talked, the river continued to rise a few inches.

Photo: Jim Cole

Polly want a cracked corn?

A little later, after we had set up the tents and eaten, Frank’s dog Maggie started to chase his chicken. The chicken must have sensed that Mike knew a thing or two about chickens, because before we knew it, it was on his lap!  As Maggie continued to show interest, it proceeded to his shoulder and then his head!  Good times.  Fortunately there were no chicken manure episodes.

Jim was pretty tired by the time we all went to bed.  In fact, we woke him up at the campfire when a very large, loud, bright freight train came rumbling by right past Frank’s house, a mere 150 feet away; he did not remember this the next day.  He did hear the one that rumbled by at 5:30 the following morning, though.

Total Mileage for the Day: 16.0 (including 6.5 miles of portaging)

Photo: Jim Cole

Call Frank Turcotte at this number for all your NFCT/Canada needs

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Ready to depart Newport

Since my Subaru could not fit the four of us and the gear, we had to take two trips to the city dock, where we unloaded at the ramp.  I went to find a place to park; one lot allowed overnight parking only on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; the other allowed it only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and (you guessed it) Saturdays.  So I went to the police station (Newport has one).  The lights were on but nobody was home.  I called it quits after ringing the bell four times and shouting the obligatory “Hello?! Anyone here?!!”, parked in one of the lots, crossed my fingers and left the car to its fate.

Paddling northward

Back at the ramp, we quickly loaded up, and Mike hoisted both the U.S. Flag and the Provincial Flag of Quebec.  We got our aquatic nuisance stickers despite the fact that the boat washing station was out of commission, possibly for weeks.  As we paddled north, skies were partly cloudy with a light wind from the southwest…perfect!  And there were very few boats on the water…we saw maybe 4 boats on the U.S. side of the lake.  We saw no one in their yards or on their docks except for a young woman playing with her children on a small beach.

"We're right here!!"

We reached the wharf at the Canadian border and, as expected, no one was there.  In fact, it looked like no one had been there in decades.  So Mike lifted the yellow phone and whaddaya know! Someone answered!  But whoever it was could not figure out where we were.  We tried everything.  “Lake Memphremagog”; “The Canada/Vermont Border”; “North of Newport”.  We even took the radical step of actually reading the big sign identifying the station as “Leadville Wharf”.  It wasn’t in his computer!  So he checked us in at Highwater and called it good.  We then answered a lot of questions (No the boat doesn’t have a name.  It doesn’t have a registration number either.  Yes, we have a lot of booze) and were on our way with our verification numbers.  So if you plan on smuggling anything into Canada, it is still evident why Lake Memphremagog has been such a popular route over the years.

Jim and Bill headed under Owl's Head

Over the line, it was a different world.  Half the province of Quebec appeared to be out in their boats.  The other half were lounging on their docks or hanging out in their yards.  We proceeded steadily north into the shadow of Owl’s Head Mountain, keeping one eye out for rogue boats and the other eye out for Memphre the Lake Monster.  Neither troubled us. 

"We claim this beach in the name of the U.S.! And, uh, Quebec!"

Around 1:15 in the afternoon we arrived at Perkins Landing to no fanfare at all.  There is a nice stream that flows between the boat ramp and the beach, providing a perfect place to land the canoes.  We laid claim to a table in the picnic area and spent the rest of the afternoon lurking around, eating lunch, drinking some beers and waiting for our campsite to clear out. 

His name isn't "Dry Willy"

Perkins Landing was packed with boat trailers, and several families were enjoying the swimming beach.  Wet Willy, who is not named after the boxes we’d be seeing later in our trip, went for a swim.  He and Jim later took a walk up to the store, and came back reporting a steep climb for the canoes.  Mike walked up later, and reported that it wasn’t really that bad.  I was satisfied to wait until the next day to see it for myself.

Guerilla Camping at Perkins Landing picnic area

The beach closed at 5:00, and by 6:15 nearly everyone was gone, including all the boat trailers.  We had supper cooked and camp set up by 7:30.  There was a little rain forecast for the night, so I set a tarp up.  There was a moment of panic when Mike couldn’t find the pack that had the coffee, sugar and his Jetboil stove, but he found it 20 minutes later packed inside another pack.  He’s not used to such efficiency.

We were later visited by (just a best guess here) Marcel Gilbeault.  He didn’t like Narragansett Lager or Sailor Jerry, but he drank them anyways.  His reaction to his first swig of the Sailor was perfect: he took a couple swallows, his eyebrows shot up under his “Golf Owl’s Head” ballcap, his eyes bugged out, and he let out a wheezy “Ffffuuuuuuuuck!”.  He had travelled all over the country, but had never been to the U.S.  When asked if he had seen Memphre, he shook his head in disgust.  “I don’t believe that fucking shit” he claimed in his heavily accented English.  He stated several times that “I don’t come down here every day” in a manner that suggested he was down here almost every day.  We liked him, but once we took the Sailor away he lost interest in us and headed home, checking the garbage bins for returnable cans.

Now, there are no campfire pits in the picnic area, but Mike “The Fire Master” came prepared with a fire pan he had made out of a GMC pick-up hubcap.  We found plenty of twigs and sticks lying around the beach and blazed up a small fire.  That was one of the nicest, most well-behaved campfires I’ve ever had the privilege of hanging around.  We reviewed the days ahead in excruciating detail.  At around 11:00, we turned in for the night.  Fifteen minutes later, the rain started.  It poured all night.

Total mileage for the day: 11.6 miles

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I arrived at Mikes around 7:30 in the morning to find the troops already assembled and waiting.  Greetings were exchanged and, after a quick tour of the chicken coop, we loaded Mike’s boat and his gear into my Subaru and were on the road right after 8:00.

The trip was pretty much all highway.  If you ever head into Vermont via Route 91 north from Massachusetts, their new rest area/welcome center is a must-stop.  They’ve really done it up with nice gardens, picnic areas, displays, exhibits and, most importantly for us, clean restrooms with no waiting line.

We arrived in Newport at around 1:15 or so and checked into Pepin’s Motel which was about as basic as basic gets, but it was clean (mostly) and we needed someplace to stay that night.  After dropping off some gear in the rooms we piled back into the cars and I followed Jim and his GPS-guided van across the northern half of Vermont to Louie’s Landing near Swanton, VT.  The gate to Mac’s Bend was closed, so we picked a spot to park Jim’s van at Louie’s Landing, transferred his boat to my car, and the four of us piled in for the ride back to Newport.  We tried to find someone in Swanton (either National Park Service or the local police) to let them know his van would be there for a few nights but had no luck. NPS not home, and there is evidently no police department in Swanton; only a regional sheriff. 

A quick note on Swanton:  In the Town Common by Town Hall there are two Swans enclosed in a smallish pool with wrought iron fencing.  Now, I’m no fan of mute swans, but I wouldn’t have jammed them in there for life.  That can only piss them off, and a pissed-off swan is no treat, cuz.

On the way back to Newport, we took the time to scout key sections of the river, stopping first at East Highgate (very low, but do-able), Enosberg below the dam (extremely low, with a put-in so ugly that the local cats would bury it if they could), Abbey Rapids (looked low from a distance, but nothing we could do but paddle it anyways when we came to it), Samsonville Dam (looked nasty from a distance, a definite scout when we arrived a few days later) and finally the ledges in Richford.  While in Enosberg Falls, we tracked down a sheriff at the gas station and gave him the low-down on Jim’s van parked at Louie’s Landing.  Here’s a shout-out to the Sheriff…a real nice guy and real helpful. 

We could tell at Richford how low the river really was.  Most of the ledge under the bridge were exposed, and downstream we could see two very large exposed ledges framing a narrow, frothy slot of whitewater with a big boulder lurking just under the surface at the top.  Feeling ambitious, we sauntered by Mac’s Store, found a faint path through the ivy and weeds, and scrambled our way down a lot of broken concrete to reach the riverbank, making our way eventually to the ledge right at the rapid on river-left.  We spent a lot of time here debating the finer points of boat control, identifying important rocks to avoid, debating the merits of paddling versus lining it, and agreeing that it was something we could all run since none of us had canoes made of aluminum (aka Rock Velcro).

Having scouted all we could, we set our course back to Newport.  Billy, evidently believing we had not yet driven enough that day, gave us a short tour of a couple Clyde River access points along a segment he had paddled last spring with our friend Tommy. We then headed to Lo’s Pub for some beers and some pub grub, decided to christen this segment the “Lo’s to Louie’s Loop” and called it a night.  We all went to sleep hoping for a flat lake and a light southerly wind the next morning.

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Despite my very best efforts to follow my usual course of leaving packing to the last minute, I am now 99% packed with a day left to go before we head north!  There are always a few last minute items that don’t make sense to “pack” ahead of time, like the car keys, and my sunglasses, a travel mug, etc.  But to be sure I didn’t forget any of these last items, I made myself a “last minute checklist” of such items to go through the morning I leave.

The only real major item not adequately addressed is food and other sundry items, since I have not done my last-minute shopping yet.  I have a list for that too!  I used to hate lists, but man, they have really come in handy lately.

Over the last week e-mails have been flying between the four of us like cream pies in a Woody Allen Western.  Who is bringing what goodies? What do we have to do at customs? Who has the bailer?  Does the boat need more decoration? Who’s idea was all this anyway?  Jim, in his most recent e-mail, sent out an itinerary float plan spreadsheet that he prepared, and I am leaving it for my wife to review and contemplate its true meaning.

I find the days before a trip like this to be both exciting and exhausting.  The excitement comes from visiting a part of the country (two countries, in this case) that I’ve never been before.  And it is exhausting because so much energy has been put into planning it that, once the day is here, I am ready to just drop and shut down.

Half a day of work, half a day of shopping, half a night’s sleep (maybe) and I’ll be driving north with my three buds on the next NFCT segment.  Finally.

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Before every trip, I always plan to start packing well ahead of time.  Tents, sleeping gear, other camping gear, paddling gear, even a lot of the clothing I’ll be wearing, could all be packed, or at least organized to pack, weeks ahead of time.  It never works out that way, even if I have nothing else to do.  One of the guys that is coming on the pending trip has coined a phrase to describe why this happens:  “Pre-Trip Paralysis”. 

 I know that I have to pack, but I just can’t seem to get past step #1, which is thinking of all the things I have to pack.  It goes like this usually:  I spend about a minute thinking of the individual items I need to pack (sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp shoes, three pairs of pants, etc.) and then it is like a switch trips in my brain that starts categorizing the items (camping gear, clothes, sleeping gear, paddling gear, food), which occupies the next 10 seconds or so.  I then think, Hell, that’s only five things I gotta worry about, I have plenty of time! I might as well (mow the lawn, check my e-mail, look at some maps, fix the door) instead.

 A week later, it happens all over again.  Paralysis.  And here I am, eight days before we depart to Newport, VT for our next segment of the NFCT and I haven’t done squat! But I know what I have to do, I have plenty of time!

 In the meantime, I have to prep the yard for a new septic system being installed; take time off to help my wife out with some doctor appointments; wrap up a few projects at work; attend a couple parties; mow the lawn; go out to dinner with friends; watch the BoSox put the hurt on Manny when he returns to Fenway; shop for last minute items so I have them to pack the night before we leave, etc.  Plenty of time, right?

 I’ll hold off on hitting the panic button until next Thursday night.

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So the next NFCT trip has been planned, and logistically speaking this segment has been one of the more difficult to plan.  But that is really part of the fun, and I enjoy the planning and behind-the-scenes e-mail chains that are part of any group undertaking.  This year, our group will consist of four paddlers and two canoes, and we’ll start in Newport Vermont, traversing most of the way to Lake Champlain. 

Vehicle Shuttles:  This was the first major component to figure out, and due uncertainties involving who was going, how many cars we were taking, who in Vermont we knew that could help with a shuttle, and even the mechanical condition of the vehicles involved, this was the most difficult component to nail down.  We finally settled on driving two vehicles from RI to Newport, VT where we will drop off all of the gear at a local hotel.  The drivers will then drive to the take out at Louie’s Landing near Swanton and leave the largest vehicle (a van capable of carrying all of us and our gear, and both canoes).  We then drive back to Newport, scouting the river if time and daylight allows.  The next morning, it will probably take two trips to get everything and everyone to the put-in, and we will be set to go.  On the last day, we drive back to Newport to retrieve the second vehicle and we’ll be on our way home.

 The Grand Portage:  This has been the subject of a lot of e-mails!  Some of us were all for paying for a shuttle to carry us all over the mountain to either the river put-in, or even to our planned second-night’s campsite.  Others (mostly me) were adamant about taking on the challenge of carrying it all and walking the portage.  A compromise was reached:  We made arrangements with Frank of Canoe & Co. (450-538-4052) to meet us at Perkins Landing in the morning, where we will load him up with all the camping gear and other unnecessary items.  We would then put our canoes up on wheels, unburdened of a lot of weight, and do the walk ourselves.  If we are offered a ride on the way, we have the option of taking it, especially if it is stormy out, or hot & muggy/buggy, or if we just can’t take it anymore. Meanwhile, Frank will drive all of our gear to his place down on the river, where we will plan on ending our day’s travel to camp in his backyard.

 Camping:  The route we are taking is not blessed with a lot of public land to camp on.  None, really, in fact.  Fortunately, there are a many private landowners who have set up campsites for use, as well as little Town parks that allow camping.  We’ve been able to break the days up into (hopefully) manageable chunks of 12 to 17 miles between camps.  The first day will be the toughest, starting from Newport and headed up Memphremagog.  Since we plan on doing the Grand Portage when we are fresh in the morning, we ideally will need to camp at or near Perkins Landing.  The rumor is that we can camp in the picnic area at Perkins Landing so long as we wait until after it closes and keep our footprint light.  There is also the possibility that some kindhearted soul in the village could allow us to throw up a couple tents in their backyard.  So, we will basically rely upon the kindheartedness of our Canadian hosts that first night.  The second night will be spent at Canoe & Co., and all the other sites will be chosen en-route at designated either NFCT sites or town parks.

 Water:  Much has been made of the poor water quality of the Missiquoi River.  One guy has planned to bring a filter so good it can get drinking water out of sewage effluent, but I’m not sure I want to put my trust in that.  Fortunately, there appear to be enough towns with stores along the way that resupplying should not be too difficult.

 Passports:  This will be the first experience for many of us in paddling over an international border.  My passport was to expire before the trip, so I had to renew mine.  Everyone else is also all set, and the passports have been hidden so that the wives cannot get a hold of them…should they get any funny ideas.

 The waiting is the worst.  We all want to get out there and back on the trail!

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