NORTHERN FOREST CANOE TRAIL || CHAPTER 5

November 15, 2019

The Final Miles

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 -

Waterway or Highway: Campsite Competition

Waking up to the crisp and cool morning was exceptionally pleasant. I laid there toasty warm in my sleeping bag as a stiff breeze rustled the fly and sang through the trees. The humidity had finally broken, the sky was blue and the air was fresh. I was surprised to see it so windy at only 6 a.m. Whitecaps had formed on the water thanks to the extended fetch of Long Lake. Luckily for me this was a tailwind. Boy was that some tailwind! I covered the 10 miles remaining on the Lake in just over an hour while practically surfing my boat from one bump to the next. Gleefully I would watch my bow start to pearl as the wave lifted the stern of my boat. A few paddle strokes and I would fly over the next hundred or so feet effortlessly within the body of the wave.

Again I entered the Moose River. This time the waterway featured more quick-water rapids instead of the slow moving upstream body. The tailwind served me well for the remainder of the day across Brassua and Little Brassua Lakes. Making my way to Moosehead Lake was made more difficult since the same wind was then across my direction of travel to Hardscrabble Point.

For the first time in many days I was able to lay out all of my clothing, open my hatches and dry every last piece of equipment. Before the sun got low I set out to reach the fire tower atop Mt Kineo. The view was astonishing. Aside from a few aspirational pine trees I was the tallest thing around and was privy to a 360 degree view bathed in the peachy tones of the setting sun.

Wind still out of the West but I needed to go North. Despite being on the water by 5:45 a.m. there were still waves and whitecaps that were large enough to break over my deck. Reprieve was found by hugging the western shoreline as a windbreak. While doing so I enjoyed the early morning sun and how it scattered across the roiling unprotected water. I also enjoyed the camps along the shoreline. Unlike the new construction that I saw in the Adirondacks, the camps along Moosehead Lake looked as if they’d been there a while. Never in a run down sense but in an older well-respected homey way that spoke to the nature of their owners who truly care about the property and its condition.

The Northeast Carry from Moosehead into the West Branch of the Penobscot was straight and flat. Along the road there was a spring with such delicious cold water that I drank until my teeth hurt.

I began looking for a campsite around 4 p.m. I had intended to go to Big Island. The sites were full. I tried the next site downstream. Also full. I paddled another few miles to Pine Stream which was fortuitous since I was welcomed by a beautiful sunset and in the morning, a moose.

"Along the roAd there was a spring with such delicious cold water that i drank until my teeth hurt."  


Mud Pond Carry

Of all the moose that I saw along the way the cows seemed nonchalant and unbothered by my presence whereas the bulls ran into the woods whenever they caught my scent. The one that greeted me this morning was a cow in the cove directly across from my campsite. She posed for photos and acknowledged my existence with a snort as if to say, “I’m bigger than you, don’t come any closer”. I respected her wishes.

On the shore of Umbazooksus Lake I spent twenty minutes finding the balance point for my yoke and was resolved to complete the portage in one trip. I set off with gusto only to find a tree blown down across my path. I hadn’t made it 100 yards before I had to place the boat down, slide it under the tree and begin again. I would repeat this process another 20 or so times for all of the trees that crossed my path that I could not step over or crouch under..

The Mud Pond Carry lives up to its name. Much of the portage was through ankle to thigh-deep mud and water that caused some precarious footing. I survived after averaging just under one mile-per-hour. Once I reached Chamberlain Lake on the other side I swan dove into the water fully clothed to remove what caked dirt and mud that I could. I should have waited because the rain began shortly after while I was still paddling toward my proposed campsite for the night called McCarren.

"Once I reached Chamberlain Lake on the other side I swan dove into the water fully clothed to remove what caked dirt and mud that I could."

The Allagash

"I would see about a dozen other moose while covering 47 miles on this day."

This may just be me but when I’m outside for a while I become acutely aware of the weather, its smell and what direction its coming from. On this particular morning the wind smells wet and warm and is still coming out of the south. It’s not raining…yet. The tramway portage between Chamberlain and Eagle Lakes is my last “long” portage of the trip at .75 miles. I’m familiar with this area having paddled here many times and set off for the day.

The tramway is as astonishing as ever. Two enormous locomotives that were used to haul lumber at the turn of the 20th century now sit idle, abandoned to nature in a clearing where tall meadow rue, queen Anne’s lace, asters and tufted vetch wildflowers all flourish. In August there are raspberry bushes that bear fruit on the Chamberlain side of the carry.

Lakes and ponds continue north or the portage until Churchill Dam where I met Bob the ranger and settled my camping fees. They’d been releasing water at the dam 24/7 for the past two weeks and the Allagash was running above 1000 CFS. This made for an enjoyable trip down the Class I-II Chase Rapids with plenty of water to run clean lines around and over submerged rocks. I ended the day at Sam’s, a site on Long Lake. Whenever I would run the Allagash as a guide I would aim to stay at Sam’s. I’ve had good weather every time I’ve been to that sandy beach that catches the first rays of dawn from the west shore of Long Lake and this time did not disappoint either.

Dawn came and the sun rose off the horizon line into the sky before I put my boat in the water. It was hot and the sky was an endless vibrant blue. The moose agreed that something had to be done about the temperature. I was navigating down some quick water when I noticed a brown rock smack dab in the middle of the river. It retained all of the same water features as the other rocks with eddy lines running on either side of it except for the fact that this one was furry and moved. The cow was facing downstream in water that I could not have stood in because of the depth and current. She was unfazed by either. Nor was she fazed by my presence and continued on chewing grass as I zipped by in the current alongside her profile. I would see about a dozen other moose while covering 47 miles on this day.

Allagash Falls is a beautiful display of the power of water. The canyon on either side is worn smooth and the shoreline as one approaches the head of the falls shows where the water levels, when raised by the snowmelt in spring, carry giant trees and erode the earth.

"This may just be me but when I’m outside for a while I become acutely aware of the weather, its smell and what direction its coming from. On this particular morning the wind smells wet and warm and is still coming out of the south. It’s not raining…yet."

I’m a Thru-Paddler

"Today is my last day. I know this but I haven’t made sense of it yet. Even now as I write this from my laptop indoors instead of from my tent I have not come to understand that I have reached the end of this particular journey."

"After returning the truck we loaded up her car with all of my smelly gear and headed home concluding my adventure on the northern forest canoe trail."

Today is my last day. I know this but I haven’t made sense of it yet. Even now as I write this from my laptop indoors instead of from my tent I have not come to understand that I have reached the end of this particular journey. The Two Rivers Diner in Allagash is my stop to coordinate my trip home and drink coffee for the first time in weeks. They have wifi, great coffee, and even better hospitality. The food’s good too. I ate fresh eggs and toast which were far superior to the pop tarts and granola that I’ve been eating for the last few weeks. While I was inside a rain shower came and went. The timing was serendipitous.

Water in the St John River was low but not impassible and I enjoyed the sporadic whitewater. Unlike some of my previous days I paddled with purpose. I wasn’t rushed or making an effort to be done. I think it was more so to meet the eastern terminus of the trail with the same enthusiasm with which I started.

I met a group of five canoes with a similar pace and we kept each other company for a few miles but they were only going so far as St Francis. The river continued to flow past homes and roads. Canada was to my left, the US on my right. Eagles flew overhead and deer hightailed it when they heard me coming.

At 5:13 p.m. on 5/19 I beached my boat in Fort Kent at Riverside Park just past where the Fish River spills into the St John. After 31 days, 11 hours and 8 minutes I had finished paddling. Poaching a spot in the park I set up my tent, ate dinner, reserved a U-Haul and talked to my loved ones before falling asleep still close enough to the river to hear the movement of water above the ambient noise.

The next morning I carted my boat through Fort Kent to Twin’s Service Station where I picked up my U-Haul. I hit the road with my boat firmly strapped down in the back of a 22’ truck on its way to Bangor, ME. I am in debt to my mother who offered to meet me in Bangor. After retuning the truck we loaded up her car with all of my smelly gear and headed home concluding my adventure on the Northern Forest Canoe trail.


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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