November 26, 2013

Week-long Canoe Trip | Moose, Sunrise, The Finale | Part 5

We're on the fifth day of our remote canoe trip. Plans have us reaching our destination tomorrow morning - a boat landing where one of our two vehicles is parked. Unfortunately, we're near the end of our trip and Gabrielle left the keys for that vehicle at our launching point, 40 miles North. A moment of panic sets in as those words leave her lips. We can't paddle back up river and we're nearly out of food. I know that 15 miles away, on Chesuncook Lake, is a small inn. It's been around forever and used to house loggers during the logging boom a century ago. It's our only real chance to get out of here.

We pack our gear into the canoe and begin paddling against the wind, hoping for a lucky break and a ride back to where we first launched (and to a vehicle we have keys to). Hours later we round a cove with a full view of the lake house and it's grassy banks. This small village is home to 13 residents, mostly seasonal. It used to be, a couple years back, that you could only get here by boat or seaplane. Now there is a very rough trail that can sneak 4-wheel drive trucks in - during the right time of year.

I knock on the open screen door and take a step inside. I'm taking in the smell of bacon, as a lady enters the room. I give her the abbreviated version of our canoeing misfortune. Tilting her head to the side, in a sense of understanding, she asks if we've had breakfast. "I don't want to inconvenience anyone here, and I appreciate that, but I'm just here to see if I could grab a ride back up to Lobster Lake, where I left my pickup. Keys to both our vehicles are inside and that's my only way to get outta here.", I explain.

"My husband will be back shortly and he'll be willing to take you...", she says. My feet nearly leave the floor. "Now won't you join us for breakfast?", she asks a second time. "Sure!", was my only answer.

Before long, I'm shaking hands and greeting David, her husband. When he hears our story, he asks if we'd like to simply stay the nite. Apparently he has to leave for town tomorrow anyhow. He explains that the Inn is vacant and there is plenty of pot roast for dinner tonight. The last part was the doozy - it would all be at no cost. I couldn't believe my ears. A beautiful canoe trip through the last remote wilderness in Maine that almost came to a poor ending actually ended up better than ever anticipated - a comfortable bed, ice cold beer and exquisite food. Refusing to accept any cash, I snuck back up to the bedroom before we drove away stuck a few folded bills under the pillow.

If you're looking for a vacation, get-a-way, or a back-to-basics trip in the wilderness - you need to look up the good folks at the Chesuncook Lake House. They treat you like family - and that's a rarity you have to appreciate this day in age. Cheers!

November 19, 2013

Week-long Canoe Trip | Stranded | Part 4

Coffee begins percolating over the propane flame around 4:45am. The evening had a chill that the sleeping bag simply couldn't cut. Luckily, this Coleman stove is slowly unthawing my finger tips at the picnic table. The darkness begins to clear from the sky and it's that perfect dusk where you can't quite make out the shapes in the distance. "Is that a stump in the middle of the river?", I ask Gab. Now I say river, but this is the widest section of the entire trip and I'd guesstimate it's 900 yards to the far shore.  "I know we passed one on the way to this campsite", she replies. We watch for a few more minutes as the stump keeps floating and then it's legs touch bottom it's full bull-moose height is revealed from above the water line. Gab, excited to realize that drift wood has sprung to life, yells, "That's a big moose!".

A golden sunrise begins to light our way around camp. I like to pack up everything not related to breakfast as soon as I wake up. There is nothing worse (to me) than tearing down camp. I love setting it up, but I always hate to work to leave. Plus, that leaves the best part for last - eggs, bacon and more steaming black coffee.

Today we'll leave the mouth of the Penobscot River and enter into Chesuncook Lake - the state's third largest. I've had bad experiences on this lake. Wind quickly and easily picks up into some very large whitecaps. Like most guys who have spent a lot of time on the water in small boats - it can get very choppy. At a few miles wide and 22 miles long, it's not a place you want to topple a canoe.

Three years ago I was out here with a buddy of mine - it was my first time on this waterway and we lost our way. We paddled 40 miles that day. It's a day I'll never forget. We spent a night in the wilderness without any way of communicating with the outside world and we didn't see a soul all day for directions. Lesson - buy, study and carry a good map.

 Today would hopefully be different. We stop at Chesuncook Village at the Store in the Woods. Not really a store - more of a home - with a porch - and a refrigerator, full of homemade root beer and fudge. I've been here three times and I think the root beer packs a punch that it probably shouldn't - but it tastes great. Any cold soda tastes great after drinking river water for four days I suppose. Nonetheless, I love this little place and the history behind the village.

A few hours of paddling and we make our way about 15 miles down the lake to a small sandy beach camping spot. The view here of Katahdin is like none other. It's complete solitude and a literal heaven. If the world ended, you'd find me camped out here. We toss the tent up and get an early dinner started.

 As I toss out the sleeping bags, I realize I only see one set of keys and a stray thought enters my mind. You see, we brought two vehicles out here. Gab left the pick-up vehicle at the finish point. She'll drive us back up river (40+ miles) to my truck at the launching ramp. The plan was to drive out together and back home.

"Gab - where are your car keys?" Silence filled the air as she thought - never a good sign. "WHERE are your car keys?". "Your truck", she says. Stranded .... Stay tuned....

November 12, 2013

Week-long Canoe Trip | Whitetail Deer & Wild Blueberries | Part 3

Part III, continued...

Deer, Canadian geese, troves of wild blueberries and hammock relaxation greet us on day three of our canoe trip down the West Branch of the Penobscot River outside of Baxter Park. It's been over 80 hours since we last saw another human being. There are few places in this world that one can still say that. Even with a cabin in the woods, you often see a truck drive by. Complete relaxation and campfire cooking are good for the soul and right now my soul is doing great.

We get a decent start on the day once we feast on a big sausage/egg breakfast after reigniting the coals from last night's fire. Grey early morning clouds clear from the sky revealing what looks to be a beautiful day. After an hour of paddling, we round a bend in the river - which has had low water levels, we've gotten out twice to pull the canoe over rocks - to see a whitetail deer feeding on tall marsh grass.  We're really close. He stares our way momentarily and decides to ignore our presence. It's astonishing the comfortableness that wildlife in these parts have with people.  We watch him for a few minutes and say our goodbyes.

At noon we reach our next camping spot, posed high on a rocky bluff overlooking a large span of river. We setup camp and wander around the landscape a bit in search of signs of the logging past. We find old tote roads literally filled with blueberry bushes in their peak. We fill a medium-sized bowl in fifteen minutes of plump, juicy berries for morning pancakes. With today's work done (and as it's vacation and never really too early to drink) I grab a bottle of Jack from the cooler, hang a hammock between two sturdy pines and let the view take my mind and run.

With our trip nearly half way over, we still have no idea the turn of events that is to come. For now, tonight, we'll spark a campfire and share stories around the flickering flames and enjoy the silence and solitude that Maine is providing on this canoe trip. Stay tuned and enjoy the photos...

November 5, 2013

Week-long Canoe Trip | Bald Eagles & Moose | Part 2

Part II, continued...

  The West Branch of the Penobscot is famous for its wildlife and our first day on the water proved that fact. An hour into our paddle, we were passing the flask around a corner as a moose spotted us from the muddy waterside bank. With inquisition and a hint of tameness - he stood in place - rubbernecking as our canoe made way down river. That's something to raise a toast to.


 The river was extraordinarily calm all afternoon. We setup camp the first night at Thoreau's Island - his journeys document his staying on the same island. New to canoe camping, we try to make organized work of unloading the canoe - essentials first like the tent, sleeping bags and food. Then we move on to the wood and other gear. The site, equipped with a fire ring sits on a tall, grassy hill overlooking the river. A beautiful view - not a person within a 10 mile radius and only a handful of loggers beyond there.


Pulling the waxed tab off the Maker's Mark - we relax by the campfire as our first real camp meal begins cooking. Tonight we'll enjoy a beef stew with everything in it but the kitchen sink. At camp or on the river - you need meals that stick to your ribs. You usually only have the time for a good meal twice a day. Crackers and cheese isn't going to do this man any good.


4:30 AM comes early. Through the darkness cracking twigs ring out near our tent. Startled, Gab hits me in the side, harder than I wish she could. Flashlight in hand, boxers and Bean Boots - I crawl from the tent to investigate. The cracking moves further from the tent, towards the far end of the island. I think it's a moose, but I don't see him. I slowly make my way through the thicket to the other end of the island, down the bank to the water and spot a bull moose swimming across the river. I ask him politely to stay in place while I grab my camera. He listened, but when I returned I had forgotten my longer lens. The moose in thick fog would have made a great photo.


I jogged back to our tent, grabbed the camera and paddled around the island to hope for a better shot - he was gone. A big sausage and egg breakfast set the tone for day two. The sun is shining bright today and it's not long back on the river before we spot two bald eagles. They follow us down the river for miles, landing in the tree tops, watching as we float by then flying further down river to keep us in sight. It's been an action-packed two days. I can't wait for the rest of the week. Stay Tuned...