Monday, June 4, 2007


Here I am, eating fresh fruit, yogurt, and a warm blueberry muffin, all while planted snugly in front of the television. The Luis Vuitton Cup is actually being televised, you see. The winner goes on to challenege Alinghi (Switzerland) for the America's Cup this summer. I am dry, clean, fed, and warm, and I am watching giant carbon-fiber racing yachts thousands of miles away on a glowing rectangular box. The transitions of this lifestyle are breaktaking sometimes.

Anyway, after enjoying the delights of Jackman, Ben and I packed up and entered the Moose River. We reached Long Pond shortly, and began looking for one of the three campsites marked on our map. The sun had already begun to sink below the trees, but the pond was calm and we were in no rush. We came to the narrows, and found that the two campsites marked there on our map either did not exist or were underwater. We pushed on to the third site, only to find that it too did not exist (we latter learned that this third site is in fact a half mile or so up a side stream, so we could not have seen it). With few other options, we paddled ashore and asked some folks at a pondside camp if we could pitch our tents in their driveway.

Thankfully, they allowed us to do so and we quickly got some pasta boiling for dinner. What vagrants we must have seemed to them, washing ashore at dusk and imposing our selfs on their land. Still, as we talked with the couple who owned the camp they came to realize we were not bearded weirds with ill intent, and they eventually invited us in for hot showers, good beer, interesting conversation, and an offer of dinner. I still marvel had how often we got lucky, just by the skin of our teeth, and how kind and hospitable the people we met were.

The O'Neil's, who showed us such kindness, were from away. They had come up from New York earlier in the weekend to open the camp for the summer, and by all accounts were enjoying themselves immensely in their small and very comfortable rustic cabin. Paddling the next day, I got to thinking about all the people from away that every year come to settle in Maine or to buy second homes, and how it is decried every few years as the end of Maine-ness. The refugees from suburbia drive up property costs on the coast so much that loberstermen have to live a half hour drive from their harbor and territory, and welders at Bath Iron Works have to live in Lewiston or Augusta. So too it is upstate, as we saw on Spencer Lake. Still, in conversations of this sort I always bring up the fact that the state with the largest number of people that own second homes in Maine is not Massechusetts but Maine itself. Who is right and who is wrong? I am not the one to say; I live in Maine, but I am from away. If I am really lucky, my grandchildren might be Mainers.

Mr. O'Neil told me a great story about this dynamic. He was trying to get a gate built for his camp, a small wood affair I think. He went to a carpenter in town and asked him if he would come out and do the job. The carpenter, a gruff old-timer replied "What do you want a gate for?", his voice full of suspicion. Mr. O'Neil responded quickly, "To keep those damn New Yorkers out!" He carpenter acquiesed and built the gate.

We enjoy their company late into the night, as well as that of their close friend and neighbor. Her grown son is, apparently, the Canadian version of Emeril. Go figure. We slept soundly that night, and were on the water before anyone awoke the next morning.

We had a verocious portage the next day around a big section of rapids on the Moose River, as the unmarked logging roads led us terribly astray. We ended up bushwacking over a mile along the river and then returning on a side road for the boat. It took us all morning to fight through, but once found, the road carried us along and back to the Moose.

Brassua Lake followed. It was after lunch by the time we got there, and a stiff wind had blown the clouds off. We tacked our way across Little Brassua, fighting a beam wind with gusts stronger than any we faced on the entire trip. When we passed the narrows and entered big Brassua, the fetch was several times larger with chop to match. The wave period was fairly large and the waves themselves possessed a height around three to four feet. Not really good canoeing conditions , especially when the wind gusts would lift the crests off and spray across our faces.

When I have children out on canoe trips, if the conditions get to the point where the weakest paddler in the crew might get into trouble, we get off the water. With Ben and I in one boat, I exeperienced something completely new: a competent bowman with a strong arm, and more importantly, no other boats to worry about. We stayed as close to shore as we could and turned about to take advantage of the now following wind. As we rounded the last point before the shore straightened out for a few miles, we immediately got waves from astern and from our port side. We had a solid quartering tack at that point so we would not get caught too deep in any wave trough, but as the waves came in from the side with the same strength as from astern, we found ourselves at a forty-five degree angle split between two rather large wave sets at nintey-degree angles to each other. We braced a bit, and then as the largest in the set came, we dug in and caught the two conflicting waves at once and took off like a shot from a cannon. As we were so close to shore we could see how fast we were going; it felt like surf kayaking, except our craft was almost half a ton with gear. Needless to say, we were quite relieved to round the head successfully and start downwind.

We ran south all the way to the foot of the lake and there orchestrated a very dicey landing to start our portage. With roads so plentiful, portaging around a lake actually made sense. On our portage a Subaru with Vermont plates and a canoe on it rack stopped and a man and a woman in their 80's got out. I noticed NFCT maps on their dashboard, and was very curious as to their story. As it turned out, it was Clyde Smith and his wife Lizzie. I had heard Mr. Smith's name before, but could not immediately place it; as it turns out, he is a famous long-time photographer from Vermont, and he was on that road near Moosehead Lake driving about to gather material for a book he was putting together about the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

We chatted for a long while, and he ended up giving us a lift around that part of the lake and back to the Moose River. He took alot of photos of us, and taking at length in his soft and gravelly voice about the wonder of the trail. He summed up alot of our feelings when he said "It is good for everyone... you can find quiet places just the same as you can find busy places..." He motioned north to Kineo when he said quiet, and motioned to the Moose River Country Store when he said busy. His wife has had several synthetic bone replacements, and Clyde joked that as they paddled about he hoped she would not fall overboard as she would probably sink. I hope when I reach my eighties that I can possess their humor, and more importantly, that I will still be paddling about as they are.

We said goodbye to our new friends, and prepared to spend a bit of time in the store and the deck behind as we waited for Moosehead Lake to calm down a bit. We could not see the lake, but we knew the seas were up that day, if Brassua was any indication. The Smiths drove off, later to come to the bridge on the Golden Road that passes over the West Branch and there tack a note for us.

We each eat a trully phenomenal amount of pizza at the store, and then pushed off to see what the waves were like on Moosehead. They seemed calm enough and we started our crossing to Kineo and Hardscrabble Point. About half way across the sun set, and we paddled in the gathering twilight to reach our open and beautiful campite. We were poised then to begin covering distance significantly faster than we ever had before. The downhill run had really begun.

In other news, the muffin was delicious and Emirates Team New Zealand won the Vuitton and is now the offical challenger for the America's Cup. Nice.


Carlos said...

I'd like to hear more detailed information regarding the Wood Pond to Moosehead Lake trip.I'm planning on taking this trip in mid July.

Carlos said...

Is it possible to have a clearer description of the section past Long Pond and into little Brassua Lake? I understand that there are class 3and 4 rapids. I'm looking to take that trip from Wood Pond to Moosehead in mid July.

Zand B Martin said...

Hi Carlos- E-mail me at and I'll fill you in on that section.