NORTHERN FOREST CANOE TRAIL || CHAPTER 4

October 08, 2019

Maine

This summer Brian Ross completed a self supported 740 mile thru-paddle along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail in just 31 days. Follow with Eastward as we release his journal in segments over the next few weeks to recap his journey through remote NY, VT, Canada, NH, & ME.

- Know The Way -

Old Wise Man

I paddled for perhaps a mile before portaging into Rangeley Lake. The signs of other people were increasing with haste as I entered Oquossoc which was portrayed as a hamlet on my map but presented a market, marina and brewery/tap room. I had rationed to resupply in Rangeley so I continued on my way. On Rangeley Lake I enjoyed a stiff tailwind and drifted most of the way across while I placed my feet up in front of the cockpit until I started to pitch from being turned sideways in the swell. It was early afternoon when I reached the Maine Forestry Museum with the “Half-way Hilton” a beautiful leanto set back in the woods on the museum’s property which would be my resting place that night.

The museum was disappointedly closed so I began to trek toward town. I saw an elderly fellow hauling logs to his car from a tree he had just cut up. I offered to give him a hand in the lifting. This would set off a set of very fortuitous events. This man who’s name I have so unfortunately forgotten to write down is 81 years old and one of the museums curator’s. He also did the lettering and trail maintenance around the leanto. I loaded his car with logs and he offered to let me in to the museum to look around the ancient chain saws and artwork depicting logging and forestry in the North Maine Woods. From there he called his wife to tell her that he’d be a minute since we were going on a tour. He drove me to the local grocery store and gave me a tour of Rangeley. I learned about log jams and demolition which is what he did when he worked the log drive as a teenager. By the time we said goodbye I was more learned in how lumber has evolved and had permission to use the facilities at the museum. The folks at Ecopeligicon told me the dead river was dead and impassible and I steeled myself for an 18 mile walk to Stratton over a burger and beer overlooking the lake.


Pizza? Yes, Please

Amy Poehler’s “yes, please” audiobook filled my ears and trepidation about logging trucks filled my mind as I trudged along Rte 16 toward Stratton and Flagstaff Lake. Many-ton trucks roared past me while I waved and enjoyed their breeze from the shoulder of the highway. In front of where I walked I caught sight of the south branch dead river which was little more than a trickle of water through a field of sun bleached boulders. A kind DOT employee gave me a cold liter of water along the way and I found $5 so you could say it was a pretty great day.

I stayed on Flagstaff Lake in one of the nicest campsites I have yet enjoyed on this trip. There was a sandy beach where I landed my boat and a rocky outcrop where I could prepare food under the supervision of the Appalachian trail running over the Bigelow range.

When I reACHED STRATTON I ORDERED A PIZZA. THIS WAS THE THIRD FULL-SIZED PEPPERONI PIZZA THAT I WOULD TAKE ON DURING THIS TRIP. OTHER PIZZAS WERE INGESTED IN NEWPORT, VT AND GROVETON, NH and are ranked as follows:

1. STRATTON, ME - SMALL ARTISAN PEPPERONIS ON A CRISPY CRUST WITH THE RIGHT AMOUNT OFCRUNCH - 8.2/10

2. NEWPORT, VT - THICK YET FLAKEY DOUGH WITH A HEALTH AMOUNT OF CHEESE - 7.4/10

3. GROVETON, NH - RICH SAUCE BUT CHEWY DOUGH - 5.7/10

 

The Dead River is Gorge-ous

" Allie messaged me on the GPS to warn of impending thunderstorms. It was about time the rain made an appearance."

7/10 – There was very much a “calm before the storm” sensation that filled me as I paddle across an impossibly flat Flagstaff Lake under darkening skies. The rain never came much to my joy. I was prepared for the worst in a raincoat that retained rather than repelled moisture in the 90% humidity. The loons and I chatted back and forth and the few motorboats on the lake could be heard across the stillness but never seen.

The dam before the Dead River was situated in steep rocky terrain that housed an appealing whitewater feature below the falls with apparent minimal risk. I carefully portaged my boat alongside the gorge moving as close to the water as I could. The bank of the river rose steeply and I was still about six feet off the water when I could not longer safely climb the rocks under the load of the boat. Fully loaded on my shoulders the boat was about ten feet from the water when I launched it. Ducking under the yoke in one movement I sent the boat over my head on a trajectory where it rotated 180 degrees in the air and came splashing down in the eddy I was standing high above. Perfect execution if I may be so bold. Hurriedly I climbed down the remaining slope to the water and grabbed ahold before the recirculating current pulled the boat from the eddy and sent it downstream without me.

The remainder of the Dead River was slow and steady aside from a few areas of quick water and a rapid below the gorge.

At the stream I began 6.25 miles of upstream travel in shallow water that rarely fully supported the boat. I don’t know if this is where I put a small hole in the stern or if it was later. I didn’t notice for several days and was confused as to why the stern hatch was filled with an inch of water at the end of some days. The guide books pegged this as an all-day ascent toward Spencer Lake. My ego was somewhat culled by my experience on the Clyde River and I headed the book’s suggestion. Many falls, hours of wet feet and 6 miles later I reached the dam. The sky, like the day before, was matte and dark. Allie messaged me on the GPS to warn of impending thunderstorms. It was about time the rain made an appearance.

7/12 – It rained last night and this morning. This would be my second “zero mileage” day. The humidity refused to break and the rain showers were intermittent with moments of sunshine and wind. I napped most of the day and took advantage of the moments before the rain squalls when the wind picked up and carried off the many mosquitos and black flies that waited to snack on my sweaty uncovered arms and legs to prepared food and take water. Despite how short the portage over the Spencer Lake dam was it required full sleeves, pants and a headset to keep the bugs at bay.

Five miles turns into Seven

7/13 – Spencer Lake is beautiful! Unlike many of the other slim lakes I paddled over, Spencer Lake is surrounded by steep topography. Mountains rose up seemingly at my shoulders and formed a corridor due north the Fish Pond when I would begin my second longest portage. Fish Pond on my maps appears to following a winding deadwater north to a road crossing where I would portage into the Moose River. What I did not realize was that the headwater was blanketed in grasses that rose up over my head and water plants that formed a thick carpet on the surface making for a maze of dead ends and shallow channels. Giving up on the northward progress I backtracked to Fish pond which added two miles to an already five and a half mile haul along unmarked logging roads. The Moose River was populated. Two girls who were out for the weekend provided beta on the condition of the Moose River having paddled the section many times and expected that the few rapids would be shallow but runnable class I’s. They were absolutely correct. There was a youth camp with high energy counselors talking about scouting rapids and whitewater features with their charges. This section required no portages and I was able to move quickly to Jackman where I completed my final resupply. Since there were no campsites around Jackman I continued down the Moose River to Long Pond. The sun had set but it got no darker than dusk thanks to a nearly full moon shining off the lake’s placid surface. The night was so still I debated leaving off my rainfly. When I awoke an hour later to the sound of driving rain and whipping winds I was glad I had opted for the safety net.

"the The night was so still I debated leaving off my rainfly. When I awoke an hour later to the sound of driving rain and whipping winds I was glad I had opted for the safety net.


About

 

This summer Brian Ross completed a self supported 740 mile thru-paddle along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail in just 31 days. Follow with Eastward as we release his journal in segments over the next few weeks to recap his journey through remote NY, VT, Canada, NH, & ME.

- Know The Way -


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