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.

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