Allagash Wilderness Waterway- Day 6/8

Mike and I awoke to below freezing temperatures. All of the gear that was left out was covered with frost.  I had ice in my Tiki-Man water bottle, so it got down to the mid-20’s.  The sky was dark when we exited the tent at 6 AM.
While I  began to cook breakfast of sausages and pancakes it started to rain, and cold rain can’t be ignored out here.
Mike and I quickly put up the rain tarp over the ridge pole, and I staked out the corners.

Croque Brook site under rain
Croque Brook site under rain

We needed to get some warm food into us, as it would be cold on the river, which had a version of sea smoke rising from the surface.
By 7:45 AM we had eaten, washed dishes, organized and pack up most of our gear.  I retreated into the tent to warm up in my down sleeping bag.  Out plan was to leave this  Croque Brook campsite and the cover 15 miles to Allagash Falls to stay  there for the night.   Mike had no dry shoes left so I showed him how to put plastic bags over his socks to help keep his feet warm.

Mike feet a-stylin'
Mike feet a-stylin'

There were more headwinds to content with again today.  On the way downstream, we stopped to fish an hour or so at the confluence of the Musquacook Stream and the Allagash. We didn’t have much luck, but I walked past a large painted turtle on the shore.

Later, we stopped at the Cuniff Depot campsite where Mike fished and I wandered in the woods until I found the remains of two rusting Lombard Log haulers, 10 to 30 ton machines that could haul 300 tons. Logs were hauled on sleds in trains of four to ten sleds, at speeds of 4 or 5 miles per hour and 20 miles per hour down hill.  Eighty- three Lombard steam log haulers were made, and  were mostly used in Maine and New Hampshire but three went to Russia.  Lombards  were phased out with the advent of the trucking industry in the 30’s.   I took two photos of them, but later learned that my Panasonic digital camera was internally fogged and that the photos were unacceptable.  I was able to successfully dry out the camera in three hours by keeping it in a shirt pocket.

We didn’t make it to Allagash Falls today.  The cold wind was just brutal in the afternoon.  The river was widening out at this point, and the flat light and wind was making it impossible to see into the water and we were hitting many stretches where the water was so shallow that we were fetching up on the bottom.  Our only action was to push and grind ourselves ahead by planting the tips of the paddles into the gravel and muscle ahead. We also learned that the water level on the river at this time of year was unusually low, due to a lack of snow cover up here this past winter.

We planned to take a break at Michaud farm campsite.  The ranger came out to greet and sign us out, as this was the official end of the AWW.  He mentioned that “ Your friend [Gus]  is here, and wanted me to tell you that it is OK for you to share his site tonight.”  We learned that Gus was actually guiding Beck’s first Allagash trip.  She was from Swanville, ME and had always wanted to do the Allagash.  It was fun to share the site with them with the talk all about canoes, past trips, and winter camping.
The temperature kept dropping all afternoon.  At one point I had three layers of Ibex wool under shirts, then a Pendleton wool dress shirt on under my Patagonia Puffball jacket. I had a wool hat and gloves on.   I put on my rain pants over my wool long johns and heavy long pants for extra warmth. Even so, I was fighting to maintain warmth.
After Mike and I had  warm supper of hot dogs, beans, cole slaw , brown bread, and freshly baked chocolate cookies everyone retreated to the tents early.

It’s freakin’ May 30th and it may snow tonight here!   We are truly in the North Country, with the Canadian border less than a full day’s paddling ahead.

Allagash Wilderness Waterway – Day 5/8

The Russians are history.
This morning we were approached by a Ranger in a motorboat headed south.  He was headed to the bridge at the end of Umsaskis to intercept the flotilla, which has been merrily violating a expanding list of rules that justified booting them off the AWW, including lying about their group size.  The limit for one group is 12 people. They had 23.  They had reassured the Ranger at the dam that they would keep the 12 person units apart, and would not camp together on the same site.  We learned that in addition to our complaints about the significant dent they made on our own wilderness experience, the Eastern mob also did not communicate back to the Ranger at Churchill Dam that they wrecked a canoe in Chase Rapids. They had left the two pieces in the water.  Another set of canoeists went back to the dam and reported the damaged Old Town Discovery canoe ( illegal again) . This caused much aggravation to the Rangers there who initiated a search of the river, as they did not know if they were facing a potential drowning. There appeared to be even more violations that the Ranger was keeping to himself.    [ Ed. Note:  Mike e-mailed Katahdin Outfitters (KO)  after he got home inquiring (and complaining) about the Russian horde.  They were the commercial service that was transporting the Russians to and from the river. Mike heard back from KO that Russians were picked up by their drivers at Michaud Farm, where the Ranger there would not let them continue.  They settled with KO about the wrecked canoe after a bit of haggling.  KO told Mike that they would not rent to the Eastern wave again, even foregoing income in excess of $1,000 on renting those 12 canoes, paddles and life jackets.  The owners thanked Mike for his report about them.]

After our brief night of about 4 hours of sleep, Mike and I made a quick oatmeal breakfast and were on the water by 6:30 AM.  The wind was up even at that hour, but was at our backs, which resulted in us moving ahead another 20 miles today,  as we cruised over Long Lake and Harvey Pond.
Mike and I stopped to fish for an hour or so at the remains of the Long Lake Dam, where we had another portage.

Lock Dam remains
Lock Dam remains

It was here that we spotted our first and only canoe, being ferried around the rapids by one familiar face.  There are just over 1,000,000 people in Maine, and what are the chances that I’d know one of these folks?  I spotted Gus Szabronski, of Searsport.

Beck and Gus
Beck and Gus

Gus and I go back to 1978 when he plumbed my house.  He is an outdoorsman, and we had even camped in neighboring tents together on the snow in Greenville on January 13, 2005, at the send off for Winterwalk for the Wild.  I’m even quoted in a Boston Globe article about the event.
While we had some hard knock whitewater lessons today, we did manage to keep the canoe afloat through it all.  Additional challenges on the river today were the the strong winds, which kept changing direction on the river, constant sub crosswinds, and at least three scary encounters with those guys in 20’ canoes with outboard motors.

Heading downstream
Heading downstream

Here is one scene: picture two men, each barely competent white water novices, are struggling to keep their 17 foot canoe pointed downstream.  Two sounds are prominent in the background:  loud wind whipping the tops of the evergreen trees back and forth on a frenzy, and the rushing roar of white water which is no doubt amplified in the narrow river corridor. Occasionally there are places in the river that are low enough for us to scrape the bottom of and even halt the progress of our craft.  The flat light and rippled surface  are combining forces to make it impossible to see into the water to estimate depth.  Add  the additional carom/video-game effect of trying to aim for a tongue of clean, safe water between two dangerous and exposed rocks. We’re factoring in the flow of the river pushing us around at the same time the winds are moving us side to side.  For the past couple of hours, Mike and I have done fairly well at learning to let the flow of the river move us through the best places, with minimal steering on my part in the stern.  That has all changes as the wind is blowing up a gale on this new section of rapids, and I’m terrified!  Instead of slipping into the right spots, we’re missing them, careening off rocks and twice getting dangerously caught up on them.  Twice we had to  just jump into the cold water, grab the bow and stern ropes,  and wrestle it out of harm’s way, as we were slipping and sliding over the slimy rocks on the bottom.  And as we rounded one turn there loomed  three of the 20 foot outboard blocking the main watercourse, with no apparent movement to at least slide aside to let us pass.  After we picked a spot that would permit us to  escape ramming two of them, we committed to a less favorable line, but just as we were already moving through that narrow opening,  the third canoe decided at that moment to cross right in front of us!
I yelled at them, “ Get out of the way!”
Thankfully we just missed them, but as we were told, “You will face innumerable challenges on this trip.”  We just didn’ t think this sort of nonsense would be included.

It is really exhausting to pull so hard on the paddles, move as quickly as you can, shout out directions and moves, and then repeat.  I think I’m going to call my canoeing partner Mike Marvel.  He’s unshakeable.

And easy to cook for.  Mike has what I’d term conservative  food preferences.  I didn’t need to pack any extra coffee.  Mike told me he tried a cup once in college, “ I didn’t like it.  It was bitter and tasted bad to me.  Why would I ever have another cup?”
I have all the hummus to myself.
The good news is that Mike packed Oreos and chocolate chip cookies.  He also brought along a bag of little Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, that he put in the cooler to keep firm. Bless him when he tore open the $2.95 bag of real day glow orange Chee-tos. Who thinks up these genius food concepts that endure generations?  I asked Mike to tie me up a new fly that looked just like a Chee-to to commemorate the trip.

For lunch, Mike cooked up a true-to-life version of the Boxcar Hash.

Mike hashing it up
Mike hashing it up

This time he used sausages and ham instead of bacon.  I even toasted a whole wheat bagel over my Uncle Tom model wood stove after I perked up another batch of Darkstar coffee.
We made camp early,  two miles downstream from Round Pond at the Croque Brook campsite after surviving the Round Pond Rips.  Here is a video of me in the process of drying out.  Mike and I were in good spirits after another day of adventures.

Allagash Wilderness Waterway- Day 4/8

The lake was like glass when we left this morning at 8 AM.  We arrived at Churchill Dam at 9:10, covering the 4 mile distance in short order.

Churchill Dam
Churchill Dam

Here we had to portage left around the dam and the put in on the Allagash River itself, and begin the river portion of the AWW.
There was a ranger here, a young man, who met us and outlined our options.  For just $10 , he could transport all our gear to a spot 4 miles down the river, below Chase Rapids, a Class II section that was reported to be the most challenging section of the River.
We decided not to decide what to do yet, and really enjoyed a tour of the Chamberlain Museum, complete with bateaus, other old boats, railroad paraphenalia, old photos from “ the day”, and archaic native artifacts.

Native artifacts from AWW
Native artifacts from AWW

Eventually, Mike and I went down the river a bit to observe the beginning of the rapids. Here is a video of the first of what would be many sets.   Mike and I realized that we would instantly be over our heads in these conditions. Just a month ago we entered a set of rapids on the St. George River on a shakedown cruise and ended up capsizing the canoe and suffered in the 37 degree water.  This looked just like that, and we were in no condition to endure 4 miles of rapids, on a 50 degree day, with ice-out only two weeks ago. The ranger confirmed that it really was chancy running the rapids anytime before Memorial Day, and related a story of two men drowning in Chamberlain Lake two years ago on Memorial Day  .
Mike and I rode off into the woods in  the truck with our canoe and gear and considered that we had each wisely spent $5.

Canoe/human/gear transport system
Canoe/human/gear transport system

We also agreed that we would get schooled in whitewater canoeing to gain more skills.
The ranger dropped us off at the Bisonette site, where there used to be a bridge.
Mike and I fished a bit  before we moved on, but had no luck.
Soon we encountered many whitewater challenges:  dodging boulders, rocks, submerged ledges, strainers ( trees in the water), and started communicating about how we would work together to maneuver the canoe.
At 3 PM we had a few cookies, a drink, a little more fishing and then pushed on to our final destination for the day, the Jalbert campsite, on the east side of Long Lake.
“I haven’t missed anything, not one damn thing.  So far this whole trip has been like a dream”, said Mike.

P1040865We finally reached the empty Jalbert site in late afternoon and whipped up a meal of biscuits, grilled chicken, and no bake cheesecake.

Supper with my traveling sidekick Tiki-Man
Supper with my traveling sidekick Tiki-Man

Just as we were settling in for a quiet couple of hours before bed, Mike said, “ We’ve got company coming”.
At 6:35 the flotilla landed.  Eleven canoes containing 23 young native Russian urbanites from New York City and Washington, D.C. beached ashore.

The Russians Are Coming !
The Russians Are Coming !

They were mostly speaking Russian to each other, but all were competent in English as well.  They were very apologetic about ruining our wilderness experience, and some of them assured us that they were so tired that it would be an early evening for them as well. Mike and I had a blaze going, and one slight young woman who was obviously still soaked from running the rapids earlier in the day, was quietly crying as she huddled against our warm fire.  She asked Mike and I whether there would be any more rapids.  ”We fell into the water many times!” , and told us that “One of those canoes we rented broke in half on a big rock!”.
One of the spokesmen, Maxim, came over and schmoozed us down.  “We are organized into three teams who cook gourmet outdoor meals.  You will see!  You should come over and eat with us.  We have Russian vodka, some whiskey,  maybe some smoke even ?”
Maxim told us they had just three days to make the remaining 60 miles of the trip, when they have to rendezvous with Katahdin Outfitters.
“ We have to do 25 miles tomorrow, because we only did 15 today!  It will be no problems for us!”
Mike works at Maine Sport Outfitters, where two staff members strongly advised Mike to wear a wet suit on this trip. At least one woman here was exercising a less restrictive clothing option.  In amazement, we observed a proportionately-fleshed woman exit her canoe, and strut up to the shore in a bikini bottom that might have been crafted from a cut down bandana, where she plunked down in the dirt, surrounded by black flies, and proceeded to smoke a cigarette oblivious to any discomfort that she might have been experiencing.

Later a couple of the men were fishing on lures and caught a couple of tiny chubs that were not even 6 “ long. “ This one is six inches.  We can eat it!”   And they later did, bones and all.

I took an awesome sunset photo.P1040879

The story we were told was that these individuals are in the habit of having outdoor experiences, and generally take to the Adirondacks for a similar trip every summer.   Later, it was mentioned that the one thing they all have in common is that they attend Burning Man in Nevada where one can “ enjoy Irrational Geographic, relax at Bianca’s Smut Shack, find your love and understand each other as you walk slowly under a parasol. You’re here to celebrate. On Saturday night, we’ll burn the Man. As the procession starts, the circle forms, and the man ignites, you experience something personal, something new to yourself, something you’ve never felt before. It’s an epiphany, it’s primal, it’s newborn. “
Well, on this particular Saturday night, it would be noisy, and impossible for us to sleep.

Before bed, Mike and I went over and shared our remaining cheesecake , which was devoured in 30 seconds.  We were pressed to try their gourmet dinner, which turned out to be boiled buckwheat with some ketchup in it.  “ Put much salt on.  It will be better for you!”
One of their group came over and talked to us for a long time.  He was an organic chemist who was in year three of what he felt would be a lifelong job working at the US Patent Office in D.C. Where he analyzed potential pharmaceuticals that were seeking patents.  “It’s a great job. You know sick days?  We get those, but my boss even lets me take a sick-of-working-here-day once in a while when I have a bad hangover and he lets me write ‘Man problems”’on the form.  Next year I will be making $140,000 !  Nobody who is there four years ever works on a Friday even!”

Mike and I tried to sleep, but the Muscovites were getting  louder and louder singing in arousing Russian timbre to the accompaniment of a guitar and later a loud drum that sounded like sticks intermittently whacking a sheetrock bucket. And there was some screaming.
At 10:30 PM I had had it, when a boom box started accompanying the guitar, yellings and carousings.  I walked over and asked them to shut the boom box off, that we were unable to sleep. Much apologies, and off went the electronic music.
Even without the techno background music , these folks were still going strong at 1:30 in the morning when now Mike had reached his boiling point and exited our tent to effect his principal thing, somehow finding something to say to them to end it all.
As I finally drifted off to sleep I told Mike that they were not going to camp with us again, even if I had to throw rocks and their canoes to drive them off.  If I would appear to be a crazed man it would be no act.
We took our turn with these characters.

Allagash Wilderness Waterway- Day 3/8

Our only hope to get off this Island was to start early, and try and cross back to  the western side of Eagle lake and move ahead.  We packed everything we could the night before, grabbed a bar and a swig of water, and pushed off into the water at 5:15 AM.  Mike and I were really hoping to move ahead at least a few miles, as the wind was also supposed to pick up today.  Our crossing was quick and the wind , although present, was manageable.  We chugged along the shore at about a 2 MPH pace until we started to home in on our next landing site, known as the Tramway Carry.  We were hoping to locate the remains of two steam locomotives that hauled logs here from 1927-1933. This article provides a brief history of the most ambitious and unique venture.
The only signs here on the Waterway were the initial entrance sign, and the small triangular brown wooden signs that discreetly mark each campsite. There was no sign for the path that leads to the engines, but we were summoned to the correct place by the loud splash of a beaver whacking its tail on the water just in front of a beaver lodge that marked the entrance to a little cove. Tramway Cove We expected to push through overgrown thickets to find the trains, but after a brief uphill rise, an opening in the forest revealed these gigantic locomotives, each over 60 feet long.

Sixty foot long steam locomotive
Sixty foot long steam locomotive

The wheels were 5 feet high. We were floored to see them here, so far into the deep woods.

Two Engines
Two Engines

Mike and I explored them a bit, snapped some shots and then were on the water again.
The wind kept coming at us, and we continued to hug the western side of Eagle Lake, and eventually made the 1 mile crossing of Russell Cove.

Waves are building
Waves are building

Next, we skirted the two mile long shoreline of a big peninsula where we passed three campsites.  The only watercraft we saw on those sites were the usual 20 foot square ended boats  fitted with 10 horepower outboard motors.
Next, we planned to stop at the Eagle Lake Ranger Station, mainly to cook up our belated breakfast. There was nobody home, and after using the outhouse, we were getting ready to unload the cooking gear when the white powerboat from yesterday came right at us.  It was the same ranger who checked on us yesterday.  We learned his name was Kevin, and we thanked him for his advice to head back to Pillsbury Island and wait out the wind.
Kevin laughed and told us, “ Only 10 per cent of the people I talk to ever listen to me.”
We listened even more carefully when he looked at his watch and told us “ I’d get off this beach as soon as I can.  It is almost 10 AM and that is when the wind really picks up”.
I asked him if we had time to whip up a quick breakfast, and he said, “ If it was me, I’d eat later.”
We said good bye and he headed off.
Mike and I really struggled to get off the beach, which by this time was getting clobbered by high rolling waves, which were big enough that if you went broadside, would swamp the canoe. By pushing directly into the waves, and paddling like heck, we managed to get off the beach, but furious paddling into the waves was now causing us to go out into a two mile wide mini-ocean, which was not good.  If we swamped out there, we’d be goners.  Shouting back and forth, we agreed to surf back into shore again and somehow move the canoe left along the shoreline. Adrenaline was copiously entering my bloodstream.   We tried to paddle along the shore but couldn’t do it.   Mike spotted a quieter pond of water behind a natural retaining spit and we jumped out the the canoe into the water and haulded it back over the rocks and were able to paddle along the shore in this more protected channel for a few hundred feet.  Eventually the pond ended and we pulled the canoe back over the wall again and really had to dig deep to make forward progress.  We inched two miles up the shore paddling into whitecaps, and our full strength strokes were not even giving us 2 MPH.  This was the final solution until we reached the protection of the Fred King campsite in the most northeast corner of Eagle Lake.

Mid-day respite
Mid-day respite

For a brief moment in time, we entered camping la-la-land: a sunny, sheltered spot; fresh clean water bubbling past us from a visible stream; and a rest, preparing us for the afternoon’s adventures.
Mike prepared huge servings of “caboose hash”, a family recipe handed down to him through his grandfather, who was connected with the railroad: bacon, eggs, cheddar cheese, onions, with white and sweet potatoes.  I perked up another pot of DarkStar.
The Waterway narrowed down as we moved through Round Pond, went under John’s Bridge, and evenually reached Churchill Lake, where we ended our day at what has to be one of Uncle Tom’s Top Ten campistes of all time : Scofield Point.  All and all , we moved close to 20 miles today.
In the spirit of “ a picure uquals 10,000 words”, here’s a two minute walk-through of this most spectacular site, which was all ours for the next 18 hours. 
Mike was fishing off the point this afternoon, where encountered a nesting pair of Canada Geese.  He had first noticed their empty downy nest, and on his second trip out there spotted 5 freshly laid goose eggs.
Mike and I seem well suited for this work together.  Both of us might be described by some as mostly focused in our energy, and both of us are taking a cautious approach to the challenges we’ve faced so far.
Kevin visited us again this afternoon.  He gave us some tips about the best campsites for the next few days, mentioned some preferred fishing holes, and offered us a strategy for dealing with the wind on the upcoming Umaskis Lake.
Mike and I beamed like two proud children when Kevin told us, “You two are good canoeists.  You are going to do all right from here. I knew you guys could get up this far today”
Later, as I sat on my sheetrock bucket writing these notes, a big gust of wind came up,  and I instinctively started rocking my hips, as if I was in the canoe again.
At 7 PM, Mike is fishing again, “ I almost brought in a 12 inch Brookie ( trout).  Now I know they are out there. Don’t wait up for me.  I may be here into the dark.”

Mike in action
Mike in action

Allagash Wilderness Waterway – Day 2 of 8

Right now Mike and I are wind bound at Pillsbury Island on Eagle Lake and it is only 10 AM.  We’re not going anywhere from here today.  The wind is up to a steady 30 MPH out of the Northwest and that is where we were hoping to go.  [ Ed. Note- checking the Bangor Daily News for this date upon return home saw the following headline:  “High Winds cause outages in several counties” ].
We had started paddling at 8:30 AM  on a small stream leaving the dam that connected to Martin Cove on Eagle Lake.  It required us to do a short portange, and put in at a churning pool, where a 3 foot metal culvert was dumping a huge torrent of water from Chamberlain Lake into the stream.  The 1 mile channel posed immediate whitewater challenges for us.  First, we got hung up on a rock at the bottom of a rapid. As we dislodged from the rock we spun around, lost control of the canoe and nearly tipped it over with all our gear in it. We both had to jump out of the canoe and manhandle it in thingh deep water, all of this in our first 5 minutes of paddling.  Then we had to deal with the water rushing through a breach in a beaver dam that had several large rocks smack below the middle of the spout.  We decided to stay wet, play it safe and lined the canoe through the iffy section.  My LLBean boots filled with water, and it wasn’t icey cold, just regular wet cold.  More twists and turns and we were into Martin Cove and began experiencing the difficulty of navigating from the low position in a canoe. You just can’t easily see the watercourse.
Mike and I planned to keep to the west side here as well, but encountered  a number of coves, islands, mini-islands, and land points that challenge our perception, even with me consulting my ancient Garmin GPS II for guidance.  After minimal backtracking, we verified out exact location, but at the same time verifird that the wind was building as the sun increased its angle in the sky.  At times we were not even able to move in any semblance of a straight line in point to point travel. on the west shore.  It was now impossible to move sideways in the cove, as the waves were now high enough that they would have broadsided the canoe and spilled water inside.  Our arms were really working as we iunched our way along the shore, with all focus on heading straight into the waves.  Soon, we recognized Pillsbury island on our right, a place where HD Thoreau sat out a severe thunderstorm in his  northernmost advance on his 1857 journey, turning back to Chamberlain Lake.
From the moment we exited Martin Cove, and turned northwest, we continued to battle severe headwinds. My GPS told me we were making 1 MPH along the shore at this point, digging deep with the paddles. Soon a high powered Boston Whaler left Pillsbury Island and approached. It was the Ranger checking on us. He asked us how e were holding up and advised us to reconsider our advancement, even if we could make it to a point just ahead.  He told it it was blowing even harder there, as the waves were accumulating additional force after traveling some 9 miles down the open lake.
“ Be careful, check it out. It all depends on how hard you guys want to work today.  There is just one tent site left at Thoreau campsite, and you have to decide at the point  if you want to turn back.  Right now, you can still probably turn around and ride the waves it.”
Mike and I rested our canoe against the shore and had a pow -wow.  Even so, we were reluctant to end our day for several reasons: First, it was not even 10 AM.  Second,  the day was supposed to reach the 80’s which meant the black flies would be fierce on land right and would be biting and drawing our blood all day long, or keep us both in the little tent. At least in the wind, they were history.  Third, there were already whitecaps between us and Pillsbury Island, and for at least part of the return, we, have to turn the canoe across the waves and chance taking on water. Things were looking grim. We advanced to the point to see what it was like up there, and immediately saw that as bad as it had been so far, it was doubly challenging with even more wind after crossing the point. We tried moving forward, now needing to angle the canoe sideways a bit to reconcile our travel angle with the way the waves. I realized that my right shoulder would be ground to a pulp, and my hands would form permanent claws if we had to work this hard for hours to reach the next campsite, and we both knew that there was no quesiton.  We had to turn back.  The very quick ride to the island  was really scary.  Granted, we were rolling with  the wind at our backs, but some of the crests of the waves were now three feet high. We were fast approaching a situation where if we faltered  in the troughs and didn’t get far enough up the face of the backside of the wave that just passed us before the next oncoming wave crested, we’d take on water.  Our canoe was sort of caroming object , plus we were mentally compensating for the sideways movement of the canoe in the water.  We were actually aiming a considerable distance upshore of the campsite.  I was basically in the stern, using my paddle deep in the water as a rudder, and Mike was hanging on, making minor corrections himself.
However it happend I don’t know , but it was right  here, at this moment that my mind recalled a bit of reading that I was doing just before the trip.  Out of Cody Lundin’s “ 98.6: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive, or How to Survive Fear, Panic, and the Biggest Outdoor Killers“” returned the following concept:  rational insanity.  Lundin advises to detach and retain some level of rational thought in survival episodes. I found myself shouting to Mike, “Party On!”  right in the middle of this crossing  of the turbulent waters.  Lundin characterizes those words as forming the most optimistic phrase in the world, and the phrase is to be used when you need a boost of courage or focus.  I may not go so far as tattooing the statement on my forehead, backwards, so that I can read it in the mirror as a reminder, but the infusion of positive energy from  shouting a positive orientation into me being  did much to help me quell my fear and maintain the skills necessary to bring the canoe into the campsite without destroying it on the rocks, or ramming the two canoes that were partially exposed in the take-out ahead.
After beaching the canoe, Mike and I hugged and I drained my boots of water, and put on dry clothes.  I fired up the Uncle Tom wood stove and perked up two big cups of Rock City Dark Star coffee.  Adjacent to us was a huge multi-person encampment with three cabin sized tents, numerous outboard motors, gas cans, a bloody fish cleaning site, a shower stall , and smoky fire.  It actually looked like they had been encamped there for a month, but it had been just 4 days.

Here is a YouTube video clip taken from the Thoreau campsite: 
The wind dried out my wet clothes in just two hours, and was still going strong at 2 PM.  Mike was keeping us occupied with readings from Gil Gilpatrick’s “The Canoe Guides Handbook”, a book I should have studied before the trip!  Mike assured me that so far, we were doing all the right things, including sitting out a day to wait for the wind to stop, specifically on the shoreline of Eagle Lake.
A woman from the next site told us she had been camping on this site for many years, but that this wind was exceptional. She assured us that her and her friends had worked their way up to using the biggest boat and motor allowed on the AWW, a deep 21 footer with a 10 horsepower outboard.  The ranger had told her today was also a “Red Flag Day”, meaning no fires,  as an errant spark could immolate the whole island in no time.
At 4 PM the wind was still blowing like stink.
It was at this point that I had a turnaround in my attitude.  What on the surface seems like a block in our path and a screw up of our intentions for the day is not that at all.  It is a vehicle for laying in the sun, for reading interesting ideas, for napping, for dreaming of one’s own place in the universe, and except for the very minor inconvenience of an ant on one’s arm or a insect flying near one’s face, is now an altogether stunning few hours of beautiful warming May sunshine, spent on a piece of land surrounded by shimmering light refracing off these deep,  deep waters.

Allagash Wildernesss Waterway Trip- Day 1 of 8

For more than 100 years,  “the Allagash” has been praised and enjoyed as a spectacular outdoor paradise.  Even Henry David Thoreau enjoyed its beauty.  The Allagash Wilderness Waterway ( AWW) was established by the Maine Legislature in 1966 to preserve, protect, and enhance the natural beauty, character, and habitat of a unique area.  It is a magnificent, 92 mile long ribbon of lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams winding through the heart of northern Maine’s vast commercial forests.  Protection of the waterway was further enhanced in 1970 when it was named the first state-administered component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.  There are no permanent human residents on the corridor.
Signing on with a guiding service to do this 7-10 day trip would cost close to $1,000 per person.   Doing the trip ourselves allowed me to save about $700 of that price.  It helps to know how to do things on your own, but this trip has its own unique sets of challenges.
Last fall, I received a call from Mike Gundel, who had just retired from 19 years as Principal of Rockland (Maine) District high School. Mike asked me if I would be in the bow of his canoe for this trip.  Mike and I had not camped together since somewhere around 1996, when we belayed each other on a high ropes course on Hurricane Island, where we were taking an Outward Bound Team building course.  I had always wanted to do this trip, had begged many acquaintances to join them if they went again, and jumped at the chance to do the trip with Mike.
Mike picked me up early mid-week. We left my house at 5:10 AM, arriving at the Irving gas station/ convenience store in Medway, off  I-95 at 7:10, a record time.  Then a 17 mile drive to Millinocket, and onto the private Golden Road where we eventually turned north and hit an even rougher gravel road that brought us up through a checkpoint where we paid $71 in entrance and camping fees and arrived at out put-in at Chamberlain Bridge.  AWW Entry SignNo one greeted us, as the ranger was away, and the three men we did see in the parking lot were repairing a hole in a powerboat that had encountered a very hard object in the lake, likely a sharp boulder.  It was 45 degrees out when we exited our car, and the wind was already starting to blow. Spring was still way behind here, with many trees still in the stage of budding out.  Yikes!

This trip has two major parts: the first half of the trip will be spent paddling across the three Allagash headwater bodies of water,  Chamberlain, Eagle and Churchill Lake.  After carrying around Churchill Dam, we’ll have the option to run the famous Chase Rapids, the most taxing section of whitewater on the Allagash River.
On the second half of the trip we’ll paddle the lower portion of the Allagash, which is mostly river, with several sections of white water and plenty of challenging  quick water.
Dock at Chamberlain BridgeAfter signing the Ranger station clipboard, we took the first of what eventually added up to many ten-thousands of canoe strokes, as we hugged the eastern ( west) shore of Chamberlain Lake.  It was not easy paddling, as we were often fighting some degree of headwind, a factor that would stop us dead in our tracks in the not too distant future. At some point, we needed to paddle 1 mile across the Lake.  Later in the afternoon , the wind calmed down a bit, and Mike and I chanced it, aiming for a point on the far shore that ended up being the former Chamberlain Farm site.  It was unsettling to me to be alone in a tiny 17 foot craft moving over the big water, but this is the deal here.   The Farm site dated to 1846, and served as a base of lumber operations for then next 80 years.  Rusted tow-boat on shore of Farm We wandered about and saw traces of the former farmhouse, storehouses, outbuildings, and even  the rusting remains of a log-boom towboat on the shore.
Four more miles of paddling on the eastern side of Churchill brought us to our destination for the night at the Lock Dam , some 10 miles from our starting point, not a bad day from two guys who got up at 4 AM.  We had the pick of the 4 tent sites, and were alone here,  as we were for most of the trip. Lock Dam campsite As I was settling in, Mike started fly fishing off the remains of the dam, and caught over a dozen brook trout in a 45 minute period.

Mike's First of Many
Mike's First of Many

I caught one fish, but lost it just as I was about to land it.  It was really hard for me to cast effectively into the wind, which posed no problem for Mike.  Mike ties his own flies and here is a photo of the array he brought for us to use.  Mike's hand-tied flies (note Bic lighter for scale)!
We ate really well on this trip, bringing a cooler with frozen 1 gallon jug of water and real food, like hamburgers, chicken, ham, bacon , hot dogs, and salads.  Our supper was pico de gallo with chips, grilled steak, salad, fried potatoes with onions, and a half a Wicked Whoopie Pie each.
My right shoulder was killing me, so I downed 4 ibuprofen as we moved toward bed time.   I decided to bring along a single person sleeping tarp as an experiment.

Sleeping tarp
Sleeping tarp

I thought I was settled in when I realized that the tarp didn’t allow me space to store any of the clothing I removed,  so I was up again and got a dry bag and stuffed my pants, jacket, and shirt in there.  As I settled in,  I heard a mosquito buzzing around, and soon realized that  my reading headlamp was drawing in flying insects.  Done reading or writing.  Then I felt something creeping up my wrist and turned on the lamp again and brushed off an ant, and also saw a large spider climbing up the inner wall of the tarp.  After about 15 minutes of increasing aggravation with several mosquitoes , I abandoned the tarp and shared half of Mike’s two-person LLBean tent.  The tarp idea became history out here in the Maine woods.  We both slept well, my 20 degree down bag was not too warm up here, with my supple sweetheart cushy Big Agnes insulated air core mattress nursing my shoulder through the night.

WiFi on every mountain top, or in the car, or ( mostly) everywhere?

I  used a Pocketmail device to type up a daily report on my 2007 AT Thru hike. Whenever I got to a land line phone, I sent an e-mail via the Pocketmail to my transcriber, who then posted it to I may just ditch the Pocketmail, as  I am very intrigued by the release of the MiFi today ( May 17, 2009)  by Verizon.  It would be a drop in weight ( MiFi = 2 oz.) , and mega step increase in utility.  It appears that communication maybe be much simpler now for those of us who like to post trip writeups for others who closely follow our adventures. With the MiFi device, I could just carry my iPod Touch, and my Solio solar charger for both. You should be able to fire up the MiFi whereever there is a Verizon signal, and have an instant personal ( wireless) WiFi umbrella where ever you are. I’m going to check this out. The cost is not that bad if I can live with the $40 monthly charge for limited data transmission, which works out to $1.33 a day. You can have up to 5 people on it at one time. Maybe I can make friends easier out there if hikers  know they can get a free WiFi hotspot if they hang around with me ( at least within a 25 foot range of my presence).   Check out the following David Pogue NY Times article.

May 16, 2008 – Things are bustin’ out

Spend much of my spare time in the last two weeks tilling the garden and planting vegetable seedlings and seeds.  There is not much to show so far, but in a couple of weeks,  things should be bustin’ out.  Here is a photo that shows some onion, leeks and lettuce in the foreground and cole crops, such as brussels sprouts, cabbages, and broccoli at the far end.

Uncle Tom's garden
Uncle Tom's garden

Tonight the dehydrator is humming, with beans and spaghetti sauce slimmin’ down.

I have a trip going out in three days, when my friend and former co-worker, Mike,  picks me up at 5 AM on Wednesday morning and we drive 4 hours north to pack his canoe full of food and gear for a 7 to 10 day  canoeing excursion on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. We will be putting in above Mt. Katahdin, looking at  from the North.   We will cover just about 100 miles through inihabited wilderness, but with our zig zag style, could be a bit more than that.

There are some clear differences from backpacking in the prep for this trip.  For one, you can’t dial in the days like you can walking on land.  For instance, the first few days are on some big interconnected lakes, where the wind, when  it picks up , can cause whitecaps and waves high enough to swamp your canoe.  So we will likely have at least one day when we can’t move across a lake, and have to wait out the wind.  The last time I was up there it was a harrowing experience, where we had to come in from the waves, and then spend an unexpected night and wake up first after morning light to make the 1 mile crossing of the lake, and even then, the wind really picked up 3/4 of the way across. Here is a good shot of my friend Hank, improvising a sail that got us up to 9 mph as we whipped across Chesuncook Lake. I was really hoping that Hank and my friend Dave would accompany us in a second cedar and canvas canoe that Dave rebuilt, but it didn’t work out.

Hank creating a sail
Hank creating a sail

The other big difference is that,  although there are some space limitations, and consideration aboutnot packing too much gear to portage around bad rapids or dams, you can take a crapload of things.  Like a cooler, that we are packing with eggs, and  frozen steaks, hams, bacon, chicken, cheese, and of course Whoopie Pies.

Got to go pack some gear.  I’ll keep you posted.

Profile: Mary Chambers- World-class hiker

Sunday, May 3, 2009
Last summer Mary “Scrambler” Chambers, 15, hiked 120 miles on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT) through Washington. That constitutes a warm-up hike for Chambers, who lives in Sunol. When she was 10 she walked the entire PCT, 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. That trip is detailed in “Zero Days,” written by her mother, Barbara Egbert, and published in 2007 by Wilderness Press of Berkeley

On the load: We would average about 16 miles a day, which was pretty relaxed for us unless the weather was really bad. We carried all of our own food, our tents, our stove, our water. My pack weighed 15 to 25 pounds. I weighed about 70 pounds. Full Text Article Here