Saturday, August 4, 2012

Into the Great North Woods

Allagash River.  The Wilderness Waterway.  We go through the Maine Woods check point and onto the dirt logging roads.  We're not far from the Canadian border.  It feels like we're leaving civilization.

When we round the last bend in the rutted road, the river stretches before us like a shimmering ribbon of silver and blue.  I suggest that we may be the first people ever to attempt to paddle this remote stretch of water. Ben rolls his eyes.

Our rental canoe and kayak are waiting at our starting point along with several others.

It's tranquil, peaceful on the river.  The gurgling sound of the canoe bow splitting the water and paddles dipping rhythmically mingle with cricket and bird calls.  Pine and Cedar trees predominate the shore. Suburban life melts away.

We settle into new routines. Paddling, swimming, setting up camp, gathering firewood, smore's after dinner.

The three of us sprawl on a grassy knoll of our campsite, watching the sun set over the river and talk about life, love, and the shape of clouds.

This is as good as it gets! For me anyway. Sharing this beautiful wilderness with the chipmunks, 3 moose, one Rambo rabbit, and 2 of the people that I love most. I don't need any more than this. I feel moments of deep contentment.

I enjoy a challenge. This trip has it. Paddling hard for 4 or 5 hours a day takes good technique or a tolerance for burning muscles.  We dodge rocks and gravel bars in the low water and test our skill at reading the riffles and mini rapids. Below Allagash Falls the rocks become an intricate maze to pick our way through. I love it.

The whole trip takes teamwork, setting up camp, cooking, everyone pitching in. There's lots of give and take but we're all on board. It seems to bring us closer together. I'm astonished by the lack of conflict and complaints. Am I dreaming?

Almost rolling a loaded canoe in a rapid creates some excitement. Oops. It tests our closeness in the moment but gives us something to kinda laugh about later. It happens more than once.

At Taylor's Landing we hear a moose visitor clomping through the river at night when we're half asleep. It sounds so loud and close! I get out of the tent and sit for a long time waiting for the full moon to come out from behind the clouds so I can see it.  No luck. The moose is still there in the morning, posing for us in the distance while we eat our breakfast.

Our last day starts great but gets tiring at the very end. Allagash Falls is a high point and the paddling below the falls is particularly fun, more current, more rocks. But we have the portage, 15 miles of paddling, and unloading at the take out. This is the only time when weariness seems to set in, even though we arrive early in the afternoon.

Everyone is ecstatic to take a real shower in the hotel room! It seems crazy to have so much water for lathering and rinsing. I feel guilty about using a clean, dry, unshared towel.

I go for a walk from the hotel at sunset. We're right near the border checkpoint in Fort Kent. I sit on a grassy bank of the St John river watching the lights from the Canadian side turning on. I'm feeling nostalgic.

I think about family vacations from the past when our kids were little and everything was hectic and messy.  Already Josh is off on his own. Ben will be in college in a few years.

This could be one of our last family vacations. Time slips through our fingers like water over the falls.

Details- in case we wait another 20 years before we do this trip again. 

July 29 to Aug 3 2012, 62 miles
Sunday-  drive up, camp at Churchill Dam.
Monday- paddle to Sams campsite, 13 miles.
Tuesday- paddle to Turk Island campsite, 15 miles.
Wednesday- paddle to Taylor Landing campsite, 18 miles.
Thursday- paddle to Allagash Falls, portage, paddle to Allagash Bridge, 16 miles.
Friday- drive home.

Water depth at start upper 400's CFM, at finish lower 400's.

Driving on logging roads- because it was Sunday we didn't have to worry about making way for logging trucks, good planning. The CRV was perfect for this drive.

Crowds were pretty good.  On the first day there were groups in front and behind us but we never saw them. On most other days we saw a group or two and occasionally had to pass up a campsite that was already taken but we mostly stayed at the sites we wanted and never had to share a campsite.