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!

Fonts, blurbs, and dingbats: Putting the finishing touches on Upwards

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Like this porcupine, I’m scrambling to finish by the publisher’s deadline for the fall trade catalog

After returning home from Virginia (and waiting for the laptop that I left in my bedroom there to arrive by Fed Ex), it was time to accept or reject Dan’s edits. Dan Karker, my editor from Maine Authors Publishing, not only found mistakes, but added consistency to the style and formatting of the manuscript. And boy did I have a lot of commas to move around! I added scene breaks, cleaned up my bibliography, and even paid $90 for permission to use two opening quotes from Sigurd Olson that were dear to my heart.

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The owner of Ecopelagicon in Rangeley ordered 4 autographed copies, my first commercial sale

With the edits finished, photos chosen and captioned, and graphics in hand, it was time to go up to Maine Authors Publishing for the design meeting. From here on out, the book will be in the designer’s artistic hands. Decision by decision, the interior layout is coming together, as Wendy Higgins translates my ideas into PDF drafts. Next week I hope to receive the first full-length layout, and September 1 is the finish line, when the press proof must be done.

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What a delightful surprise and honor to have Gil Gilpatrick feature Upwards in his August column in the Northwoods Sporting Journal. Gil, the author of Allagash: A Journey Through Time on Maine’s Legendary Wilderness Waterway, has inspired both my paddling and writing journeys over the years.

Look for a trip report from our Jackman area NFCT trip in my next blog post!

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?

 

Upwards: Two months to go!

 

Megan at Humpback Rocks above the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we hiked on Saturday

Last Thanksgiving, my daughter Megan and I chose some photos as candidates for the book’s cover. She’s a graphic designer and had been working her magic on them, but hadn’t given me even a peek. So I was beyond excited to see the two versions she liked the best.

 

View of the log cabin from Jacob’s garden. Visiting for a week has given us lots of design time together.

Friday was the evening, and we sat in the darkening living room as the first cover appeared on the computer. My heart jumped. There was Upwards and my name and it looked like a book, a beautiful book. It was absolutely an amazing moment, and then I liked the second version, Megan’s favorite, even more. Yesterday, the afternoon drifted away while Megan fine-tuned the cover and I worked on photo layout for the inside.

Who would have dreamed that publishing a book would have so many steps? I’m frazzled. There’s still so much to finish up. My editor at Maine Authors Publishing has given me his corrections, and each has to be accepted or rejected. I’m digging out childhood photos, getting the last few stubborn permissions, and searching for quotes in the public domain, to replace a few from Dr. Suess and Winnie-the-Pooh that I’m scared to use.

Inspiration comes from every attractive book I see and there sure are a lot of pretty books out there!

 

Katina and Sam treated Megan and me to breakfast at the Iris Inn, where we congratulated her on finishing her AT thru-hike and talked map details.

 

On Wednesday, I’ll head back to Maine and the upcoming design meeting, where we’ll finalize the rest of the interior look. Until then, we have plans to celebrate July 4th with lots of fun family togetherness and wish the same for all of you!

Through it all, her way

Without a doubt, there is a mystique about the Appalachian Trail, a romance that calls disciples from all walks of life. It whispers a song of misty valleys, delicate wildflowers, rushing streams, and coal-black bear – and a narrow, winding footpath across 14 states.

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My son, Taylor, on a short AT hike near Bethel, Maine years ago

 

About the thru-hiker, too, there is a mystique. Why would a person pare life down to the essentials of bare bed, utilitarian calories, unchanging garments, and set out to walk-like-a-job for many months? Thru-journeys, be they on land or water, thrill the soul – during the planning months. Later, they test the depths of commitment, tenacity, self-content, and resourcefulness. Not everyone is cut out to finish.

McAfee Knob, the most photographed spot on the AT, is still special when your friend stands there, so close to the finish

Most of you know Katina Daanen well from the integral role that she played in my Northern Forest Canoe Trail thru-paddle. Caring friend, author of The Northern Forest Canoe Trail Through-Paddler’s Companion, and insightful reader of Upwards from the start, Katina has always been there for me.

Last summer, Katina gave me a taste of thru-hiker life for a few days near the Vermont-New Hanpshire border.

 

Today my good friend will become one of a handful of people who have completed both the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Hers has been a flip-flop hike, completed over two years. Avoiding the crowds, tempering the weather extremes, more and more thru-hikers are choosing to start in the middle of the trail, as she did in Shenandoah National Park.

Very special to me is the fact that I happened to be visiting Virginia when “Arachne” (her trail name) started in April 2016 and I’m here now, too! Tomorrow, Megan and I will breakfast with Katina and her husband Sam at their inn, and celebrate her accomplishment. We’ll also get to talk book details, as Katina is designing the book’s trail map. Tomorrow is sure to be a highlight of my week here in Virginia!

Upwards: The life of an author 3 months out

Three months out from what, you ask? Actually, many of you are deliberately NOT going to ask, as you’ve heard about little else from me for many months!

Just in case, though – three months out from holding Upwards in my hands. That shiny new cover, those color photos, my words in print. Actually, the cover won’t be shiny. One decision firmly made is to have a “Matte/Satin” cover. And color photos? That’s my hope and dream, but I’m waiting anxiously for cost estimates for a center section of photos.

No matter how thrilled I am about publishing, the whirlwind of life goes on. The end of the school year is upon us, bringing field trips and frenzy. This week, we visited the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine. Run by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, the park cares for and exhibits only animals that are unable to live in the wild.

The more natural habitat areas were fascinating, while I struggled to watch two black bears panhandling for treats beneath a machine being fed by an endless stream of quarters, the huge glass window above obscured by a wall of captivated children.

After taking the above photo, I decided that I would learn about the Canada lynx. (That’s Canada lynx, not Canadian lynx, just like the goose). The bobcat, also found in Maine, is a different critter. Similar in size and appearance, there are differences between the two species: Bobcat = shorter legs, smaller ear tufts, smaller paws, more likely to look spotted or striped and Lynx = the opposite. The tip of a lynx’s tail is solid black, the bobcat’s black on top and white below. Plus, in the deep snows of the north woods, a sighting will probably be a lynx, well-adapted for life there.

Somewhat of a picky eater, the lynx dines on snowshoe hares at least 75% of the time, eating 1 to 2 per day. Historically, lynx populations have cycled up and down in rhythm with hare populations. In Maine, however, both have been booming for years, as young spruce-fir forests grow back following devastating waves of spruce budworm mortality. The young-growth timber provides ideal cover for the lynx’s favored prey.

I can’t recall having seen a water snake in Maine, until my visit to the wildlife park. Research seems to indicate they live only in the southern half of the state, so my best chance will be during my excursions close to home.

Out on the pond this week, it was cool and my sightings were all avian. It’s too early in the season to take the leaves for granted and the maples were particularly striking. Vivid red clumps of maple keys jumped out among the shoreline greens and pinks, and I tried to draw in calm as I paddled and let go of some of the excitement that is keeping ME keyed up!

One afternoon, swallows had overtaken the water and swooped in acrobatic dance, surely happy to find many squadrons of mosquitoes on patrol. They can also drink mid-flight, quickly scooping up water from the surface. On shore, a solitary spotted sandpiper winged from stone to log ahead of me, the first time I’d observed this species on McCurdy Pond. Now, today, a quiet Saturday, I rose with the dawn again and hope to squeeze in another paddle among the expense-filing, permission-requesting, photo-choosing tasks of a busy soon-to-be-published author.

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Upwards: Going Public with Publishing

What a long-awaited post this is! The time has come at last to officially share my plans for Upwards, the story of my 2015 NFCT thru-paddle. Some 81,000 words over which I’ve struggled, rejoiced, and labored for many months. The book manuscript will arrive at the publisher for editing on June 1.  

Every author should have a cat to sit near the keyboard purring, at least for a delightful interlude. I’ve had Maggie Jane and her riverside home to enjoy while I put the finishing touches on what the editor calls my “inspirational adventure memoir.” We had a surprise visitor right outside our windowsill on Sunday (or two if you look behind the flower).
  

My feet felt fabulous on a couple of weekend forays out on McCurdy Pond in the spring sunshine.  There were breezes to keep the bugs at bay, blueberries in bloom, an osprey, a heron, and the first kingfisher of the year.   

Publishing a book certainly qualifies as one of Laurie’s Adventures, so expect to hear from me often this summer. And always remember…Every day is a gift!

Thank goodness it wasn’t the Whites

en-dur-ance (noun) the power to withstand pain or hardships; the ability or strength to continue despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions

I have survived. Had I ended up on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, our story might have ended differently. Yes, there were many ups and downs in my 29 miles, but the EKG line (as Katina calls it) of elevation changes looked like nothing compared to what she and my new thru-hiking friends will be facing very soon.

In such a short time, I sampled a lot of trail life – a hostel, shelter camping, lovely trail towns, fields and forests. Elm St. in Norwich, VT is well-known for its generous trail angels, who put coolers out along the road. This kind family offered cold sliced watermelon and homemade banana bread with a special flair.

Katina and I traveled well together, sometimes chatting away and sometimes (on the uphills?) lost in our own thoughts and the beauty of the trail. She kindly slowed down a bit and was always patiently cheerful about another water or photo break. A surprising amount of our second day’s hiking was on roads in the baking mid-afternoon sun.

I never knew sitting under a shady tree in the breeze, with the weight off my feet, could be so incredibly blissful. Dark oak leaves dancing against the blue and white above and the promise of a free cruller and icy cold iced tea ahead at Lou’s Restaurant in Hanover, NH.

Shortly after I hauled myself up from under that tree, we crossed the Connecticut River and Arachne entered her tenth AT state, New Hampshire. Sharing this milestone with her was especially fun because the Connecticut River farther north is part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT), which we have both thru-paddled.


As we walked, a popular topic of conversation was comparing the two trails. There is far less company along the NFCT and only a handful of thru-paddlers on it at any given time. In fact, less than 100 people have been recognized by the NFCT as having completed the 740 miles of rivers, lakes, and portages in its 16 years of existence. That will change, we both agree, when we see the excitement in the eyes of all the people with whom we have been sharing the story of the NFCT. Katina, in fact, just wrote an article comparing the two trails for the online publication Appalachian Trials that is generating a lot of interest. And while I am having fun inserting links, here is the first entry from our trip on Arachne’s online trail journal.

So as I say farewell to Soft G and Just Janelle, Snail and Walking Mink, Oompah and Tuna Roll, they will linger in my thoughts as I wake to a warm shower every morning. I think being dirty was the hardest part for me. That and the fact that every morning seemed to start with an uphill struggle that left me literally dripping with sweat and pulling out my inhaler. To Katina, grateful thanks for including me in your journey, sharing your Desitin, and helping me lose a pound that I can gain back on the cruise!

 

Walk well, Katina…and next time, let’s PADDLE together!

 

 

 

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!