Lobster Lake canoe trip – Part 3/final

The sunrise this third day indicated a possibly clear day.

Sunrise from  Odgen Point
Sunrise from Odgen Point

By six am I had the first two of our six pots of coffee happily bubbling away.  Nearby a family of ducks were frantically nabbing what I assume were tiny fish that were hanging out near the edge the sand.
It wasn’t long before Pat was up and we had the three smudge pots in full force again, with bad mosquito mojo on the rapid rise.

Dave is a master at whipping up excellent breakfasts, and this pound of bacon was served up with a killer batch of pancakes , butter, and maple syrup.

Dave with the Big Pan
Dave with the Big Pan

After a few more coffees, we started talking about the history of the early settlers of this area. Catholic missionaries were the first to wedge a toehold with the natives, who eventually were “converted” and started the slow acculturation slip that eventually left them as lost souls with each foot in separate worlds.

While stoking the smudge pots, we bumbled our way to a huge, and even possibly accurate idea- that the Catholic Church’s early growth in the Great North Woods was not the result of any sort of religious awakening on the part of the natives, but might have been solely due to the missionaries’ ability to generate huge clouds of incense which repelled mosquitoes and black flies! We thought we were really on to something and were stunned that this concept was not included in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller “ The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”.
My quick online search revealed that both the Catholic, and now those Johnny-come-lately Wiccan, churches still use incense, which they both burn in a “thurible” or “censer.” The thurible holds burning charcoal (or wood) to ignite the incense and hangs on chains so that it may be swung by the priest when censing people, or mosquitoes. You just know they were swinging that censer to increase the oxygen flow to the charcoal , fire up the coals, supercharge that incense, and get that cloud up to size .
So, here’s my current Christmas wish item, available online from Invictus Alchemy.

Censer
Censer

“This brass hanging censer is 3″ diameter and over all 6″ high. Very effective. Comes with chain as well. Sized for cones and charcoal, available immediately at just $11.85 ! I wonder if I can get a titanium model to take backpacking? I am also going to field test some frankincense or maybe that old-school myrrh stuff.

We’re into it. Here’s a shot of Pat getting ready to head on over and cense the outhouse!

Ancient religious ritual in progress
Ancient religious ritual in progress

View down Lobster Lake
View down Lobster Lake
The circumnavigation of Big Island was the major excursion of our day. We fought the wind and the waves and headed south down the east side of the island, even exploring a beach where we picked up some dry firewood.
Around Big Island
Around Big Island
 We stopped to fish for a while in the coves at the south side but didn’t even get a nibble. Eventually we caught the wind at our backs, and spent the return back to our site with the two canoes lashed together as we drifted back on the tailwind.

Our hopes were high for the afternoon wind to be strong enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay, but we soon learned that a gale force blow would be needed for that to occur. Within minutes of settling in at the picnic table, a gust of wind tore the tent stakes out of the ground and the tarp battered the table, dashing pots, pans, and cups onto the sandy ground. But those pesky mosquitoes came right back.

Later, we all went swimming to clean up, wash off grime, and escape the bugs.

Clear swiming pool
Clear swiming pool

In the end, it’s all about food, shelter, clothing but mostly about food, which is what has appealed to me about this trip. At lunch today, a wonderful idea fell from my mind right onto the picnic table.
It started Hank was hacking a slice of Spam from a 12 oz. can. I. cringed when I realized he was actually placing an uncooked pinky-grey slab on a decent slice of multigrain boule.   I’m a proud fan of grilled spam and after Hank offered me use of the stuff, I rapidly engaged in yet another use of the new Bushcooker Lt 1 stove: the grilling option. I skewered a 1/2 inch thick slab with my Mora knife and was delighted to discover that the width of the slice allowed me to fit it between the pot mounts.

Tom grillin' Spam and boilin' up soup
Tom grillin' Spam and boilin' up soup
And then even greater satisfaction came my way when I was able to place my pot of soup on the stove to reheat, even as the Spam slice was grilling away to perfection. For me, “Opportunity is the mother of invention”.

We were out early the next day, as Hank had a musical engagement with his band, All That Jazz, at the Elm Street Grill in Camden at 6 PM. It was raining again as we departed, but the wind was mostly at our backs. There was enough wind to generate whitecaps, and we had to be careful to keep the canoes from being broadsided by the waves as we eventually found the inlet to Lobster Stream, and meandered back to the car, where we quickly loaded the gear. Once inside the car, we proceeded to deal with the hundreds of mosquitoes that found their way in.

When we eventually reached Millinocket, it was about 11 AM, and we hit the Appalachian Trail Cafe for lunch , where I spotted Paul “Old Man” Senechal, who I was familiar with from my travels on the Trail . Paul and I commiserated a bit about this year’s wet hiking season, but he was making good money with lots of AT shuttles, and told me he spent 11 hours shuttling hikers the day before.
He also said that this was reported to be the first year in recent memory that the mosquitoes were attacking full force in downtown Millinocket, a town hit so hard by the recent economic downturn that Main Street ‘s storefronts are now more empty than full.
Anyone who want to make some quick money up Millinocket way should seriously consider opening up a boreal division of Holy Smoke Supply Central. I definitely would have spent big stocking up on the good stuff for my next trip up these parts.

Bye!
Bye!

Lobster Lake canoe trip – Part 2

We awoke to rain and an initial tent exit strategy that required me to somehow clear out a hunkering carpet of hundreds of mosquitoes poised against the front screen who were intent on getting into our tent.
I was first up at around 6 AM, when I proceeded to fire up Hank’s Coleman gas stove and fill and cook up three percolators of coffee.

Espresso machine and eager clients
Espresso machine and eager clients

Nine pots later we felt we had enough. Here’s a brief video clip of Hank on mucho caffeine.
Eventually Dave and the other two rolled out their sleeping bags, and after multiple cups of coffee, with the overflow safely housed in Pat’s antique thermos, Dave prepared an excellent breakfast of orange juice, scrambled eggs and cheese, sausage, and tortillas.
We were faced with day two of incessant, unrelenting attacks of mosquitoes from everywhere we turned. Eventually we all retreated to the tents where my supposedly quick entry reduced me to screaming when I realized that close to three dozen drill-bit-mouthed visitors were the new tenants of our tent. It took about 15 minutes of Hank and I crushing them against the wall of the tent before we felt safe in there. Bloody mess for sure.
Then Pat and I spent two hours after breakfast carving spoons, while the master carver Hank mastered both a spoon and a knife in that same time.

Master carver Hank
Master carver Hank

We initially split slabs out of an old chunk of cedar.

Pat's production gets a critical eye
Pat's production gets a critical eye

Then we employed the axe to rough out spoon shapes, followed by thousands of tiny knife strokes, to slowly process our utensils.  Hank searched out several small abrasive rocks that we used as scrapers to smooth the surface. Two hours of this went by in a flash, with me all the while generating billows of mosquito -repellent smoke from the Lt 1 and the LT 2 titanium backpacking stoves. Pat was a master at firing his home made Bushcooker stove, and the little trio of smoke and fire machines made life around the picnic table bearable.
Hank discovered that the two pools of rainwater that were collecting in the low points of our tarp could be successfully retained by pressing a grommet on each edge of the fly, and collecting them in our canteens and cooking pots.

“There isn’t one part of me that hasn’t been bitten,” said Hank.
It was the truth. Hank exposed his arm in the tent when I counted 9 bites on just 1 square inch of his forearm, and he had been extra careful about covering himself up (Ed. Note> When Hank returned home two days later, he discovered that he also contracted a nasty rashes from poison ivy.). Multiply the 9 by his total skin surface area ( typically noted to be 3,000 square inches) , and I’d guess he was bitten close to 27,000 times. Seems about right for what I saw.

Later that afternoon we watched two large canoeing parties approach our site. I was really anxious that they would occupy the Ogden South site adjacent to us. The first group of four canoes was a convoy, which were leashed together and dragged down the lake via the assistance of a motor on the first canoe.

" Just keep on chugging by..., please  ???"
" Just keep on chugging by..., please ???"

They went right by .
The second group was a different story. It looked like Club Med was headed right for us, an armada of 5 cooler-laden canoes complete with babes in bikinis, bare shirted guys with party hats, and even one young man paddling leisurely as he reclined on a lawn chair that was propped up in his canoe. They drifted back and forth up the lake clueless, and headed straight for the campsite next door, and well within earshot of our tents.
Pat suggested we quickly erect up some signs along the flavor of “Life for Lifers” or “Felons Are Friends”. I agreed to intervene to attempt to move them down the lake to a more remote site. Our plan was for me to pay a friendly visit to the site and inform the group that I was supervising a trio of newly released violent prisoners from the Maine state prison
who were here in an effort to begin their adjustment period. Thankfully, they moved on without my intervention and we never saw them again.
Then Pat and I were going to canoe around Big Island, but my Highgear watch registered that the barometric pressure had dropped to 29.62 just it started to pour (The normal, average sea-level pressure is about 29.92 inches.).
By 4 PM, much harder rain began to fall, which I’d accurately term a deluge.
Soon Hank, Dave, and I retreated to the tents. Within minutes, Hank was sleeping by my side, and Dave was snoring away in his tent on the other end of the site. Pat was sawing real wood and cursing under his breath about some vexing event.
We dodged the rain and it was my turn to cook supper. I built a big fire and let it burn down to a bed of thick coals. Then on went two foil wrapped packets of sliced summer squash, onions, broccoli, and cauliflower. A little olive oil , salt, and pepper improved the taste. The main course was steak, marinated in oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and feta cheese.  The steaks were grilled over the coals and a paste of green and black olives, feta cheese, oil and vinegar was spread on the top. The feed was accompanied by fresh biscuits that were successfully baked in my reflector oven. Of course, I served up 8 mini Whoopie Pies for dessert.
All in all, it was a very satisfying rainy day here on Ogden Point. Our little competent group had no problems at all dealing with the rain or the repeated threats our quiet little world being over run by two phalanxes of noisy campers. I even had my very own wooden souvenirs ( Note it is a practical object) to bring home.

My cedar spoon
My cedar spoon

Lobster Lake canoe trip – Part 1

Four brave men explore the depths of the Maine’s Great North Woods, or at least a small mosquito-infested clump of it.
Who needs weekends?  It has taken me almost 7 years of retirement to realize that I can schedule excursions and adventures during the week.  This past Tuesday at 5:40 AM,  my mates Pat, Dave and Hank hefted a couple of handmade cedar and canvas canoes to the top of my Voyager and departed Lincolnville for points due north.
On hour later our first stop was superb, at Dysart’s truck stop , where “Breakfast is served 24 hours a day with your choice of 4 kinds of homemade bread toast!” I chose Daisy’s Baked Beans instead of home fries with my 3 egg Greek omelet.

Maine breakfast at its best
Maine breakfast at its best

Then it was motoring straight up I-95 to the Medway exit, through the almost defunct East Millinocket, then the equally delaminating Millinocket and onto the Golden Road, a private pathway that extends from Millinocket all the way to the Canadian border.  Our rich experience there was limited to poking along no faster than 35 mph while we dodged  massive ruts, axle busting craters, and sealed up the windows to avoid the 30 miles of choking dust at the end.
Eventually had to pause at the Caribou Checkpoint, register,  and cough up $82 for toll use of the road ( it’s private) and camping fees for the group.
After unloading at the Lobster Trip Boat Launch lot , we put in at 11:00 am, where we hit the real world of the Maine backwoods where we were greeted by choking clouds of buzzing, ravenous mosquitoes, who would be our constant companions for the next 4 days of outdoor life.

The two canoes swallowed up the loads of gear easily, and we meandered along the 1 mile of Lobster Stream, entered the Lake itself and headed across Shallow Bay to Ogden Point, where we snagged a superb campsite along a sand spit that jutted out into the breezes. View Larger Map

We unloaded the canoes, set up two tents, and immediately proceeded to engage in our main campsite activity for the next three days, which was tending fires, which was to be our only hope for dealing with the biting swarming, mosquitoes.

Our campsite
Our campsite

We were continually stoking the fire ring with grasses, wet conifer needles, and leaves, and entered the world of the permanent smudge fires. 
Later we resorted to swimming to relieve sliminess, and also to escape the bugs. Ah, the pure enchantment of the aftermath that comes from conquering the dread of cold water on your bare skin.  What can compare than bathing off the grime and sweat of a humid warm day, in the surroundings of clear lake water in a giant bathtub surrounded by black mountains?
Pat prepared a supper of grilled chicken legs, and assorted garden vegetables.

Dave cutting wood, Pat's supper grillin'
Dave cutting wood, Pat's supper grillin'

For dessert he roasted fresh apples, raisins, and spices.  Hank contributed part of an aerosol can of whipped cream.
Pat shared a dramatic rendering concerning the apparent the lack of  engagement of many “outdoor enthusiasts” in actually setting foot in the outdoors. Pat and his 5 man band of outlaw brothers hail from New Jersey, which explains why he is fully capable of immediately stepping in for the wildly successful, but unfortunately dead, shopping channel pitch man Billy Mays.

Maybe part of the low numbers here had something to do with the cloying humidity and rain?  
Hank was instrumental in purchasing and improvising a rain tarp that we successfully deployed over out picnic table.

The boys tried some fishing off the point, but it was really just an excuse for them to get out into the wind and escape the biting flies.

Where's the fish?
Where's the fish?

The fishing remained unproductive for the extent of the trip.

The background noise for the whole weekend was the incessant high pitched whine of mosquitoes.

Our first day at camp was truly an exercise in carrying out skills associated with and the appreciation of unstructured hours of hanging out in the wilderness.

Canoe camping with a new woodburing backpacking stove

I was supposed to be up to Lobster Lake today, starting a three day canoe trip, but it got postponed. We’ve moved it to next week. We could not deal with this record rain, it has not stopped. Should be a good trip, food and coffee will be featured, plus I hope to be testing a new titanium wood backpacking stove, the Bushcooker Lite, which was just released by Don Kivilus, of Four Dog Stoves, out of Minnesota.   Here is a shot of the stove:

Bushcooker Light 2
Bushcooker Light 2.

This stove is only 4 inches in diameter and 5 inches high and weighs 3.5 ounces.  Don has engineered it so that it burns alcohol, solid fuel tabs, charcoal, wood, or any available biomass. I’ll have videos and a full report after next week.

Allagash Wilderness Waterway – Final day/8

I woke up with a startle after I remembered that it was my 37th wedding anniversary and that I had just spent the night in a tent with Mike Gundel instead of my wife Marcia.  Or was it tomorrow?
We had our last breakfast together.

Gus the cook
Gus the cook

Gus and Beck had eggs, and Mike and I each had another  wagon wheel pancake with bacon.

Mike and the wagon wheels
Mike and the wagon wheels

The river this last day was holding maximum water, with many more audible feeds streams swelling the flow rate.  It broadened out as well.
Mike and I had many chances on whitewater today, as we successfully dealt with two major sections of Class II rapids in the 12 miles of river this morning.  In the end, we only had two really close brushes with swamping our canoe, along with the usual numerous near mishaps. Both times Mike and I abandoned the canoe, jumping out into the rushing waters.  We eventually pushed,  pulled,  and leaned the craft over enough to slide off the partially submerged ledges. A few times, we  careened off serious boulders that we did not have the time, experience, or both to avoid.
We’ve finished the trip in 8 days.

Uncle Tom and Captain Mike complete the trip
Uncle Tom and Captain Mike complete the trip

Canada is in sight.  The takeout is right before the bridge in the village of Allagash on the Canadian border, within sight of the confluence of the Allagash and mighty Saint John rivers. After we hauled the canoes up to shore, we walked up a hill.   The first house west of the river is Evelyn McBride’s place. Even though it was approaching noon it was cold out.

Cold morning
Cold morning

We knocked on her door as instructed by the shuttle service. The local outfitters park their customer’s cars on Mrs. Mc Bride’s property so that the cars will be near the landing when customers finish their trips.  Evelyn charges $2 per day for parking and $1 for landing.  Mrs. McBride lives alone.

Evelyn McBride
Evelyn McBride

She told us that her husband died 30 years ago, had been in the lumber business, and that she was 92 years old. She was a Pelletier, and the Pellitiers had owned this river frontage for several generations and formerly operated the ferry across the river where there is now a bridge and the canoe landing.    Mrs. Mc Bride appears to be to be related to most everyone in town.
After we placed the canoe on the rack of Mke’s car, he reviewed some visual history from our trip on the river.

“Damn, I lost the crown of my tooth!”  exclaimed Mike, just as he was enjoying the the cheeseburger special and fries at Rock’s diner in Fort Kent.

Crowning moment at lunch
Crowning moment at lunch

We were eating an early lunch.
Mike and I had been reviewing the partial list of challenges that we have faced over the course of the week:  the remote location, lack of personnel to rescue us if we encountered an emergency, black flies and mosquitos, below freezing temperatures, incessant wind on the big waters, rain, wet feet ( daily), cuts on my hands, hot temperatures and humidity, a sleep deprivation experiment involving a wild mob of 23 Russians, black and blue hip from slipping and falling on the rocks ( Mike only), bare miss of hitting a canoe broadside that had crossed out path at the last minute while we were exiting a rapid, reversed waves on the river due to high winds, at least one day of steady 30 MPH winds that halted our forward progress at 10 AM.
The Allagash trip would pose most, or all,  of these challenges to anyone. Note that the list above does not even include our lack of technical skills needed in the rapids.  Mike and I  worked very well as a team, and Mike revealed that after taking in Gus’ s advice he sometimes was reciting the Lord’s prayer after only counting to three.
We both feel that we’ve received much more from being in the outdoors than we expected.  Up here, Mike and I  strengthened an already deep bond that began way back on that rope belay on Hurricane Island when Mike held me from the end of the rope on the ground, and I swallowed hard, leaned forward , gave it all up, and flew into the sky.

Allagash Wilderness Waterway – Day 7/8

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.

Drifting on the deadwater
Drifting on the deadwater

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.

Danger ahead!
Danger ahead!

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 and Gus make good.
Mike and Gus make good.

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.

Perkin' up.
Perkin' up.

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.

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 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