Moosehead in all its moods

School’s begun, but the long weekend gave us the chance to head north to the NFCT once more before summer ends. It was the usual cast of characters for a stay at The Birches in Rockwood: my parents, aunt, uncle, and me, plus one canoe, two kayaks, and Dad’s motorized skiff. Name the weather and we had it. From bathing suits to the woodstove, it all felt good at some point.

Dad’s hand, which he broke back in July on Little Spencer Stream, is almost healed. At the tiller, he motored us up Tomhegan Creek a couple of mornings in search of wildlife. Moose, really, but they must have missed the memo. In place of moose, we got herons, kingfishers, and a bald eagle.

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Dad, Aunt Sue, and Uncle George on the lookout for wildlife
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Sue braved the chilly waters for a long swim

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Sunday was the day of wildest weather, winds, and whitecaps, but at dawn the lake still slept. Some confusion of dream woke me, ready for adventure even as my eyes opened. Two cups of quick-brewed coffee, some of Sue’s banana bread, a whisper of my plans to Mom, and I was gone. Mist still clung to the rocky shores as my canoe began the 8-mile journey around Farm Island.

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Rounding the north end of the island, I turned toward home and breakfast, warmth and bacon. The risen sun threw a path of wave-tossed sunlight straight to me. As I paddled south, it followed, for miles. I paused a moment and the canoe turned to face the sun. In the distance, a loon cruised through the shimmering light, and then moved on.

The morning solitude allowed my thoughts to flow freer than they had in many days.

Nature, I thought, embraces us. It’s unpredictable at times, perhaps, but never judging. Nature listens more than talks. Nature simply is, a continuity fading backward into the mists of time, and carrying the promise of a future long after we are gone.

What meaning there is in nature is for us to find, and maybe, each one of us finds what it is we need just then. That morning, I needed rest and found it. 

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Glamping, Northwoods style, on spectacular Fish Pond in Jackman

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Fellow adventurers Bill and Mary Bausch were among the group who camped together last week up near Jackman, Maine. Bill’s panoramic photo above captures the spirit of aptly-named Fish Pond, where we had a small campground all to ourselves, for five days and nights of campfires, swimming, berry picking, and more.

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The crew (from left) were Phil Blomquist, Mary Berger, Bill and Mary Bausch, Dad, Linda Blomquist, Kathy Buhl, plus me and Mom, who was staying in a cabin on Big Wood Pond

“40 degrees in the ME woods yesterday as we woke!” Mary Bausch wrote after arriving safely home. “The crackling fire Phil started @5 got us up out of our sleeping bags and into the hot coffee, chocolate and oatmeal (with fixins). Three hours from here to there doesn’t take into account the 30+ minutes it takes to get out from the campsite on 13 miles of a dusty dirt – dodging the huge trucks hauling – logging road! But well worth the hazardous road to get to this lovely campsite on Fish Pond, connected to Spencer Lake. We did two long paddles to fab lunch sites on the local lakes, enjoyed an actual fish fry one evening thanks to the avid fisher people with us! Our fare was clearly gourmet – “glampingly” so, since we had our cars near our tents, plenty of coolers. Finally ran out of ice and paper towels this morning. Not much of a hardship. And we saw TWO whole moose(s) across our Fish Pond. Altogether a successful adventure.”

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Up early to welcome the sun on our first morning
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Mary Berger wets a fly in the cove by our campsite
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This chair was one of many perks that would never come along on a river trip
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Almost ready to paddle island-studded, mountain-ringed Attean Pond
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Yoga? – No, Kathy trying to entice a gray jay closer to camp
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One morning, Phil discovered a stowaway in his kayak, peeking out from behind the foam in the bow. After being evicted, the tiny gray shrew swam valiantly (and safely) to shore.
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The “before” photo: Dad starting out on a solo adventure, a two-night trip down 14 miles of the NFCT, starting in this tiny inlet to Fish Pond and ending on Spencer Stream near Grand Falls

Continuing his quest to section-paddle the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Dad brought along portage wheels and a pole and set off to tackle both lakes, plus the rapids and rock gardens of Little Spencer and Spencer Streams. On his first morning, camped below Spencer Lake,  a party of fisherman came by just after dawn and included Dad in their stream-side bacon and egg breakfast. That may have been the high point of what turned out to be a challenging day of climbing endlessly in and out of the boat on slippery rocks. Dad made it, though, and was waiting as planned when I arrived to pick him up.

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The “after” photo: A broken bone in Dad’s right hand and a new story to tell around the campfire

How quickly life can change! Instead of an August trip down the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Dad and I will be finding lots to keep us entertained at home. Right now we are in the midst of a grand family reunion, with cousins, aunts and uncle, kids, and dogs. There’s nothing as sweet as gathering with loved ones in the glorious Maine summer!

Going back…to some of the NFCT’s treasured corners of Maine

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Paul Heintz (third from right) was on the thru-paddlers panel at NFCT’s 2015 Freshet Fest.

Last summer, I kayaked in Honduras, Norway, and the Netherlands, but not anywhere on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Surprising indeed, since every other summer since moving to Maine in 2003, I have. I think I first heard about the trail in 2008, at the Lobster Stream boat launch, where Mom, Dad, and I met thru-paddler Paul Heintz. Paul was a cheerful guy, tall and bearded, with a canoe full of an impressive amount of gear.

In those early years, I paddled the NFCT many times, without knowing it. For sure, I was on Mooselookmeguntic, the Richardsons, the Allagash, Flagstaff, the West Branch of the Penobscot, Moosehead, and Chesuncook, all without benefit of NFCT’s great maps. This year, I promise to do better. In fact, I already have one NFCT sojourn in the books.

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Paul and Janie Hartman welcomed me to their Mooselookmeguntic cabin, Cup o’ Tea, for a couple of days of kayaking, restful reading, chilly swimming, and, of course, their amazing and warm outdoor shower. Janie has the perfect apron for the hostess of Cup o’ Tea.

The Hartmans’ cabin was my home for one night during Paddle for Hope in 2011 and two during my 2015 thru-paddle. A week or two ago, I returned for a more relaxing visit. Paul and Janie have owned their place for almost fifty years and have a lifetime of natural discoveries to share with visitors. This year we hiked to Angel Falls, off nearby Bemis Road, not far from where the AT crosses the road.

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Paul and Janie rock hopping at one of several stream crossings on the way to Angel Falls
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Angel Falls, with a 90-foot drop, is among the top three highest waterfalls in Maine. Janie says that it used to be called Angel Wing Falls, until a stone “wing” cracked off decades ago. Some online sources say that the shape of an angel’s wing can still be seen in the moving cascade.
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Most of the crew for the next planned NFCT adventure, up in the Jackman area. Phil, Dad, Mary, Bill, Linda, and I (taking the photo) warmed up with a paddle on the Pemaquid River last week. Don’t you love the color palette?

 

A letter from camp: The 2017 Maine Canoe Symposium

Mom and Dad’s home was four tents down, where we sat one evening sharing smoked salmon that Dad had brought back from his workshop on smoking fish with Shawn Burke.

Wouldn’t you like to be a boy, away at summer camp in Maine?

Enjoying late-night loon calls, ice cream heaped with strawberries, summer breezes, and the pull of the paddle?

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Gathering for the morning Parade of Canoes

This letter from camp has taken a few days to arrive, but this past weekend, I christened another summer of possibility in the company of friends, old and new, famous or not-so-much, at the annual Maine Canoe Symposium. Somehow this event manages to be old-fashioned and far-reaching, restful and yet challenging everyone to try new skills.

“Dear friends,” I might have written from Camp Winona, on the shores of Moose Pond in Bridgton, Maine…

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Today I tried poling under the tutelage of Harry Rock, well-known at MCS for leading us all in a chorus of huzzahs from time to time. “Your boat might be a little tender,” he told me, by which he meant I might end up tipping into the chilly water. It felt very strange leaving shore without a paddle! “Huzzah!” I stayed upright. It was all about leverage and angle, as we stood up and propelled ourselves around with just a 12-foot aluminum pole.

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Learning to identify edible woodland plants with Ray Reitze, who also shared the effectiveness of Japanese knotweed in fighting Lyme disease, a surprise to me!

The two evening speakers lived up to MCS tradition. This year, we heard from Winchell Delano about the Rediscovering North America expedition, 5,200 miles by canoe with five friends, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. They redefined perseverance and conquered unforeseen challenges like raging forest fires in their 8-month odyssey.

Did you know that the 2020 Toyko Olympics will be the first to include women’s canoe sprint, as well as kayak events? This victory owes much to the fight of our other evening speaker, Pam Boteler, the first woman to participate in canoe sprint (against men) in the 2000 U.S. National Championships. She brought home two medals, a gold and a bronze, and the dream of breaking down the barriers at the Olympic level.

Sunday morning, I had a chance to try the high-kneel stroke, first on the dock and then on a paddle board. With Pam teaching me! I can testify to the power and physical demands of this racing stroke, which I experienced once or twice, before taking a swim.

So, it’s never too early to put dates on the calendar. Next year’s MCS will be June 8-10, 2018, and I’d love to have you join me. This year, I tent camped with friends, ate all six meals in the dining hall, and experienced all the above and more for just $153. Hope to see you at Camp Winona on the shores of Moose Pond under the towering pines.

Kayaking Lago de Yohoa


In past years, the only option for renting a kayak here was a double sit-on-top style, which Megan and I used two years ago. Bobby is constantly upgrading, though, and today I rented a 10-foot single kayak for $10 for the day, including delivery of boat and paddler to the water.

The photo uploading is not cooperating tonight, so you will have to use your imagination to picture the artsy shots of rustic wooden boats and distant glimpses of the vast and plentiful array of birds.

I will try to paint a picture with words instead. From the village, a canal leads to the lake, passing clusters of boats in a palette of sun-faded colors. Today all the fisherman were throwing hand lines, but three years ago a spear fisherman bubbled up with startling suddenness from the depths, emerging right next to our rowboat. That was my first time on the lake, when I took the official birding tour.

Speaking of birds, they are everywhere. Some are as familiar as home, similar or identical species. Egrets, kingfishers, phoebes, grackles, grebes, and herons. The green heron, in particular, is such an elegant bird and quite common here. I saw at least a dozen this morning alone.

Then there are the unique birds. The snail kite is a large hawk that feeds primarily on the lake’s large snails. It actually goes as far north as southern Florida, but never further. I watched one for a while, its regal bearing unruffled as I lingered nearby. It never moved, but behind the perfectly focused bird in my binoculars, an ever-changing panorama of mountains unfolded as the wind slowly turned my boat.

Northern jacanas are incredibly numerous, exotic and interesting. Their bills and foreheads are yellow, but that is nothing compared to their opened wings, which are a bright yellow in contrast to their dark glossy black and brown bodies. Altogether a weird and fascinating bird, which can even run along on top of the lake’s massive lily pads.

After my fill of birds, I stopped to swim. The bottom was a bit squishy but the water felt clean and I had swum there before. For me, the perspective of any lake seems different, more impressive, when you are in it. Always I pause and just look, absorbing the reality that I am actually there. Last summer, and again today, I swam, I reflected, and I remembered that every day is indeed a gift.

Messing Around in Boats

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats.

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

If there’s a special young person in your life, between the ages of 10 and 14, please consider the NFCT’s Nothern Forest Explorers Program for them this summer. Five days of wilderness paddling under the expert care of a registered guide and accompanied by an environmental educator interning with the NFCT. The cost is fair at $500 for 5 days; some scholarships are also available. No paddling experience is necessary.

Click the Northern Forest Explorers link for additional information and to apply. Down below the photo are quick descriptions of the trips.

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Wilderness paddling gets in your soul and brings you back to the river, creating memories like this day on the Allagash with my father and my son Taylor, who took his first wilderness trip at age 7.

Currently, there are openings on all five of the Maine trips, including the 34-mile Moose River Bow Trip near Jackman, which was my first solo wilderness paddling adventure back in 2010. Here are all five options, the third and fourth only open to Maine residents:

July 5-8 – The Moose River Bow Loop Trip led by Adventure Bound

July 18–22 – Western Maine’s Mountains, based on Flagstaff Lake and led by Adventure Bound

August 1–5 – Thoreau’s Maine, led by The Maine Winter Sports Center, paddling the waters of Thoreau’s journeys in The Maine Woods. 

August 8–12 – Maine’s Wild Allagash, led by The Maine Winter Sports Center, paddling the Allagash Wilderness Waterway from Umsaskis Lake to Twin Brook.

August 8–12 – Richardson Lake Explorers, led by ELC Outdoors and expanded to include an adventure ropes course and whitewater rafting, based on the Richardson Lakes.

If I was 10 to 14, there’s nothing I’d rather do this summer!

Tradition Meets Innovation at the Maine Canoe Symposium

For weeks I’ve been feeling the pull to return to blogging. Writing has been consuming my creative energy as I continue to work on the book about my NFCT thru-paddle, but I miss blogging. So hello!

 

Setting up camp in a circle of friends

My summer adventures began at last weekend’s Maine Canoe Symposium, reconnecting with friends, sharing NFCT news, and pushing my comfort zone.

It was equally challenging to learn paddleboarding from Moe Auger on windy Moose Pond and to build a reflector oven under Nicole Grohoski’s encouraging tutelage. After journeying so many miles last summer, Geoff Burke’s workshop on double-bladed paddling added new insights and fired my desire to switch to a longer 8′ 3″ handcrafted Geoff Burke paddle someday!

There’s a problem with the MCS workshops, though. One weekend just isn’t long enough to attend all the tantalizing choices. I missed the chat with Gil Gilpatrick and hearing about paddling Ontario. Oh well, there’s always next year and I did get to talk with Gil about book publishing, which is close to my heart right now. More on that soon.

Beth and Kathy built reflector ovens with me, as did the Flint family. Someone said we should have a bakeoff next year!

 

A new dragonfly meets the world

 

 

The devil is in the details

Holding the finished portaging yoke and sporting my “canoe cut,” as Katina would say, ready for the river.

Did you know that the architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, often used the phrase “God is in the details,” before the devil became involved at all?  Somehow that has a more positive spin, so let’s go with that.  And, God, you are most welcome to jump right in and help make sure that I don’t forget to do anything before my upcoming departure date.

The details that go into the preparations for a 2-month canoe trip are almost infinite, and yet they must all be finished very, very soon.  And if not finished, then abandoned.

When we were camping in Vermont, Katina Daanen kindly brought me the materials to make a cozy for my cute little .6 liter Optimus cook pot.  After watching a video or two showing how it was done, I gave it a try, with the results shown below.  The pot cozy weighs just under 1 ounce and I was delighted to discover that it could fit in the drawstring mesh bag, along with the cook pot, lid, stove, and fuel.

Constructed from Reflectix pipe insulation and metallic tape, this custom pot cozy will allow meals to sit and cook after boiling water is added, saving on fuel.
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Thought I’d share just one more detail:  the all-important first washing of the Ex Officio underwear.  (In case you are wondering, the most commented-upon topic on my blog so far has been my new underwear.).  And now it is time to fine tune the packing and tying in of all of the gear.  Our boats came home this evening to stay until we leave, with much gratitude to Ed and Carol Knapp for sharing their lakeside yard and dock on McCurdy Pond as home base for our canoes and paddling for the past month.

Energized and enlightened at the Maine Canoe Symposium

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Inspired by the many hand-crafted canoes and paddles at the Maine Canoe Symposium, I came home feeling creative. Last evening, I glued, sanded, and stained my new canoe yoke.

One month…two paddling events…I could get used to this.  After enjoying the NFCT Freshet Fest so much, I had high expectations for the Maine Canoe Symposium.  From the first scrumptious meal to the last informative workshop, we enjoyed the community, stories, advice, and especially the warm welcome and encouragement from everyone at Camp Winona in Bridgton, Maine.

Meeting Gil Gilpatrick, author of our “family Bible” on the Allagash, and his wife Dot was awesome and we took a good luck picture together after hearing about his latest Allagash trip at age 80.  Dad and I also had a personal workshop (no one else had signed up) with Reinhard and Nancy Zollitsch on the most applicable topic of packing for a solo expedition.  Reinhard is a sea canoe adventurer who has done many amazing unassisted solo trips along New England and the Canadian Maritimes.

Then there was Emily Turner’s valuable workshop on planning for an extended paddling trip.  I have discovered a kindred spirit in Emily and we certainly share a love of planning with spreadsheets.  I’ve already created an Emily-inspired spreadsheet for Leg 1 (Maps 1 and 2 of the NFCT), where Dad and I will paddle through the Adirondacks from Old Forge to Saranac Lake, NY.

Emily is really the reason we discovered the Maine Canoe Symposium.  Dad met Emily last summer near Big Island on the West Branch of the Penobscot, as she came poling upriver.  They shared Dad’s steak and her fresh vegetables and we have heard a lot about her ever since.

Geoff Burke (in a traditional solo boat above) taught double-bladed paddling in the first workshop that Dad and I attended.  Who did I sit down next to but Beth Whelan, who through-paddled the NFCT last year (self-propelled) with her husband Paul?  They were kind enough to stay Sunday to peruse my maps and answer a million questions before we all headed home.  It was a nice respite from the preparations, which I resumed with vigor yesterday…making spreadsheets and granola, calling and emailing about logistics, and working on my yoke.

New friend Kathy Buhl, 2014 NFCT Through-Paddler Beth Whelan, instructor Geoff Burke, and Dad during our double-bladed paddling workshop. That’s Dad’s new Wenonah Wilderness Kevlar canoe in the background

 

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Mom’s favorite composition from her photography workshop
Encouragement from folks like Gil and Dot Gilpatrick give me confidence for the journey ahead

 

A family affair…and Happy Birthday, Mom!

 

After creating beautiful quilts, piecing together my groundcloth was a breeze
The materials for the yoke that Dad is building for portaging my canoe

Today is my Mom’s birthday…wishing her a happy, sunny day filled with fun and a healthy, blessed year to come!  My parents are my support team, not just for this latest adventure, but for life…and my love of nature was surely nurtured by all those camping trips and family forays into the great outdoors as my brother and I were growing up.

As we are nearing crunch time in being ready for my departure, it is all hands on deck at home.  Last weekend (in addition to our awesome intergenerational worship at church), we were busy.

There is no footprint (groundcloth) available for my tent because it has a special reinforced floor.  But I wanted one, to keep the bottom of the tent cleaner and drier.  It is much easier to contain the dirt and dampness of a groundcloth in your dry bag, than an entire tent.  So at the LL Bean outlet, I found a Hubba Hubba footprint for less than 14 dollars and Mom altered it to fit my tent (weight 6.7 oz).

Dad is building canoe yokes for both of us, using birch plywood left over from our new bathroom construction.  Mine has a Mad River Canoe self-adhesive foam yoke pad that I purchased at Maine Sport Outfitters, which will be taped to the wooden base once we finish custom fitting it to my boat and shoulders this afternoon.

A couple of brief news items follow.  My May training totals, given days under the weather, were 38 miles walking and 42 miles paddling.  Mack Truax, who is through-paddling right now, made it from Old Forge, NY to Errol, NH in 14 days and only has Maine left.  My computer is currently not allowing me to add links to posts, but you can find his blog link on the NFCT website under Paddlers/Paddler Blogs.  Last night I slept through the night, eight hours, for the first time in 3 weeks.  Only the fuzzy vision in my right eye remains…may the healing continue.

I’ll close with a few of my favorite photo memories of Mom and Dad…

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One of Dad’s finer moments on his 200-mile NFCT paddle last summer
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Last summer, showing Mom my 2011 campsite on Fish Pond
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Photos abound of Dad as camp cook…this one is from the evening we first met the fireplace birds at Lock Dam on the Allagash