It is 26 degrees at 5:30 AM. Water that was left out was frozen, with white frost riming our gear that was out.
Today we traveled with Gus and Beck. We somehow, without speaking directly, coordinated our departures so that both canoes pushed off from the shore together at 7:30 AM. Made sense, actually, as we’d help each other today.
Parts of the trip this early morning allowed us to lazily drift the river, gliding past huge elm trees that are so isolated here that they have managed to escape the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease.
Even not paddling moved us forward, as the current now is stronger. The air was cool, with the wind still dormant. At one point while the sun was shining down on us, Gus reminded us, “ It doesn’t even get any better than this, guys.”
The river is moving faster now, after it has gathered increased water from the many streams that have been feeding into the main channel for the past several miles.
By 10 AM, we had completed the third of a mile portage around the majestic Allagash Falls after traveling just three miles on the river. Mike and I followed Gus’s canoe today, studying his every move in our attempt to improve our whitewater skills. Gus’s main advice if we get ourselves stuck in a bad place in the rapids was, “ Count to ten and say the Lord’s Prayer.” Gus added that most of the time, you don’t have to do much of anything to move a canoe off a rock. Unless the canoe’s exact mid point is fully engaged, some principle of physics eventually releases the canoe.
For the whole trip , I had been nervous about this final stretch, as it lists two sets of Class II rapids.
Gus is the real whitewater deal. Gus has told us he had been certified as a whitewater instructor with the American Canoe Association, was the instructor for the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society, and works part time in the summers running rubber rafts loaded with paying clients for one of the rafting companies up in the Forks, which runs trips on the Kebnnebec and Dead Rivers. It was uncanny how Gus appeared out of nowhere to assist us. Just his quiet, steady presence was enough to improve my confidence.
We were fighting wind and pushing through shallow waters again today. As we approached the roaring Allagash Falls, a warning sign appeared on our right.
We eventually beached the canoes, when Gus told us that it might be possible to move the canoes even further downstream, cutting the portage distance. Gus took all of us up the hill where we eventually found the path down to the shore. What I saw looked scary as hell. Gus explained that, “You have to get the canoe right in here, because just a bit downstream is the falls. You have to hit this.” He explained that he was confident he could get a fully loaded canoe through the rapids, multitude of boulders, and weave across the river in time to avoid a trip over the falls. He had done it before.
So Mike and I watched Beck and Gus push their canoe off upstream and confidently maneuver their craft right over to our feet. There was no way that Mike and I could pull off what Gus just accomplished, so Gus offered to stern our canoe with either Mike or I in the bow. I graciously relinquished the front seat to Mike, and watched him and Gus smoothly execute the serpentine watercourse.
Mike told me that when approaching an obstacle Gus told him instructions like, “ Give me two strokes and a draw.”
We four carried each of the two canoes over the portage trail, which was much easier on the shoulders than with just two people carrying the one canoe. It took no time to move everything to the put-in site below the Falls.
Down the trail on the portage we encountered a party of 8 men who were struggling to portage their gear, which included numerous coolers and four outboard motors, which appear to associate themselves with many additional gasoline jugs. There are no marinas here that sell gas, mainly because there is no service of any kind on the whole 92 miles of the AWW.
We fished , or lounged a bit beneath the forty foot Falls. Here is quick video on the action.
We could reach the cars today and head home if we wanted to, as the vehicles were only 13 miles away in Allagash village, and we had the whole afternoon to get there. Both groups decided to stay on the river another night; Gus and Beck because they planned it that way, and Mike and I because it just made more sense to stop this afternoon. We still had to drive home after we loaded our vehicles. Incredibly, home was five or six more hours south.
We stopped at the Big Brook North campsite. It was early enough that I made up a pot of Darkstar.
Tonight I made a super pasta meal, rehydrating a pint of tasty tomato sauce with meat, cooking up the ziti, adding parmesan and cheddar cheeses, and finishing it all off with a half a Whoopie pie.
Tomorrow would be our last day in these woods.