Wrapping it up (not the canoe – the blog)

Northern Forest Canoe Trail Planning and Trip Considerations

The first consideration I can give is, every thru paddler should have an understanding of what they would like to achieve on the paddle. Such as: is it just a physical endurance goal? Or maybe a release from your standard life, free of electronics and machines? Or perhaps you’re looking to experience the rustic wilderness with all its majesty during your journey? Knowing what you want to achieve will vastly improve your trip planning. Part of the reason our journey was so successful was the clear belief by us both that we should be trying to relax and enjoy the trip as much as possible. That was what we wanted to achieve.

Knowing what we wanted, led to a realistic packing list that was moderate in weight. With two paddlers and certainly with the more people you have you can pamper yourself with nonessential gear. That kind of goes without saying but an example of what I am talking about is, we tossed a reflector oven that weighed ounces! Our thought at the time was, it would be too heavy! Looking back, it would have been great to have and definitely would have enhanced our meals! And with better meals, certainly we would have had a more relaxed trip. You can apply this thought process to all kinds of things but remember, more gear is more weight, which you will have to lug on those oh so fun portages.

A strong consideration after you have your goals in mind and your weight set is a bit more obvious. Your portage wheels! Our portage wheels were stout but not so tough. If it wasn’t for our continued preventative maintenance the wheels would never have made it the whole trip! Finding a good set of portage wheels is difficult, I have not heard of a set of wheels that has completed the NFCT without breaking yet. Our wheels did last quite a while, most of the way in fact! And we typically were moving the canoe loaded with all our gear except one pack which helps emphasize why a good set of wheels is important. Portages with lots of weight suck!

Any other recommendations kind of come down to user preference & comfort. I took a fold able stool, which was useful and light! WiseOwl decided to sit on the wet, cold ground even though another stool would have only been a few ounces. The Absolute BEST recommendation I can give is, take a set of felt bottom boots or felt river shoes! The slick rocks will lead to lots of slips, spills, and stumbles! Which is not pleasant no matter up or downstream. (note: Vermont has made the use of felt wading shoes illegal due to possible transmission of invasive species from waterbody to waterbody. Caution should be used in other states too, to clean, drain, dry the soles and your entire outfit where marked.)

Another huge must, depending on season you intend to journey, splash pants and jacket! I purchased mine and that was a smart investment! Bill chose to use a rain jacket and wind pants and suffered a bit even with our Indian summer. No other gear seemed to be a must, just remember, the whole trip depends on your commitment to your goal and adaptability! Gear, Food, Weather, Broken equipment, Water levels, you must be adaptable! We had a self made repair kit using epoxy and roofing mastic that came in real handy! In the North Maine woods this repair kit provided a little bit of a sense of security. Even with maps to assist a paddler you would have to navigate far out of their way to repair any serious damage, Thankfully we didn’t have any serious damage! Finally, I mentioned maps, we had the NFCT map set. These maps are great but don’t rely on them! I say that because we found ourselves misjudging or second guessing our distance and location several times. Take a GPS, and typically follow the most flow! We used a camera with GPS which worked great and helped conserve weight. GOOD LUCK!

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Day plus 1

The debauchery of the paddlers continues asI try to ride in the back of Matts canoe. If you notice, the thing is pretty close to sinking, and it was pretty unstable too.

Day plus 1

So after completing the trail you would think, certainly we wouldn’t want to paddle more. The thing is though, there isn’t much to do in Fort Kent, ME. Because of this, After Bill returns from the  laudrymat we have Norm Pelletier take us up the Fish river, which is actually the River that is right next to our campsite and seperates us from the Fort Kent Park where we finished the  day prior. 

He takes us 13 miles up river and we put in around noon & thank Norm one more time for all his assistance. Then the two boats head out. 

The Fish River is a nice paddle that is highlighted by the Fish river falls where Bill and I decided to carry over the one large ledge and then put in a pool that is next to a shoot of rapids. It is important to note we have an empty boat and can afford to hit some upper class 2 rapids with little consequence. This is where it gets interesting though. The moment I get into the  boat, we begin to swing around, which was anticipated, however neither one of us really gets much paddling in before we are shot down the shoot and plung the bow into some great waves.It was a fun time but goodness it was cold.

The rest of the fish river goes by with little consequence. Once back at the campsite we decide that the only way to have a fitting end of trail meal is to cook it ourselves. So, over to the Grociery store we go. Steak, Tuna, and roasted vegitables is what we settle on. Capping a great Adventure.

The next day, Sunday the 13th. Bill Sr arrives, loads us all up and we drive about 80 miles where we drop off Matt with his significant other. Then we drove back to Vermont where I will part ways on Wednesday.

Our Last day

Well, about two weeks earlier we had looked at the maps and found that we would be completing the NFCT on the 11th or 12th  of October. Which was kind of a must, given our need to wait for our ride out of Fort Kent with Bill sr. 

So the morning at Norm Pelletier’s was kind of slow. I cooked up some of the left overs we had from the night before. However, Bill & Matt were none too interested. I ate my fair share then had to throw out the rest. It was hard to do, their are people on the planet that would kill for what I threw out! After my guilt had passed we were busy trying to dry out the tents. It was a soaking dew! Norm has informed us that the next bit of the river to Fort Kent will take five hours. Knowing this the three of us didn’t exactly rush to hop on the river. Its better to wait for that Indian summer sun.

Well finally we start loading the boat & say goodbye to Norm. It takes us a while to finish loading the boat. Then Bill and I become engrossed in a rock skipping contest, Matt jumps in, and who knows how much time goes by. Eventually, Matt gets into his boat and is gone before we have even finished our tie down routine. 

It doesn’t take us too long to secure our gear and catch up to Matt. We linger for a bit talking across the river and looking at the scene around us, before accelerating past our new fellow paddler. It’s hard to keep the ole penobscot reined in with two people paddling. Down the river we went, passing and upsetting the largest flock of geese yet! Passed a few rips which gave a last bit of river splash. Then along w/ the river we went. Making it to Fort Kent in 3 hours. 

I took the last warmth of the day as a good excuse to jump in the river one more time. So I have swam in Canada(the river splits the border) in October.

Next we took the boat out of the water, gathered the gear and started looking for the recommended camping location which is at the Fort Kent Historical site. We have to wheel the Canoe over to this site. Then find we could have just crossed a stream that enters the St John next to the park. While beginning our camp prep we see Matt & wave him over.

Once we are all set at camp, we head out on the town for some kind of dinner, turns out to be China buffet. Then it’s back to  the campsite. End of trail. 

Crap, we have to get jobs now is the overall feeling from Bill and i.Image

Ole Norm

Norm Pelletier loads us up for a side trip the day after we had finished the NFCT. We had met Norm the previous day at his campground.

Saint Francis

The morning we wake up in Allagash Village Darlene’s rooster is a crowing. Knowing that the restaurant opens at 7am Bill & I use this alarm clock to spring to life at the thought of a non-campfire breakfast.
We get up & make our way into the Kelly family restaurant. Later on Darlene comes by & speaks with us, then after a great breakfast we go back outside to start packing up. After a very lengthy time, we are finally ready to start moving. As I take my first bag down to the water I notice that there is a red canoe in the water already. I fail to connect the dots here, thinking, Bill & I own this Canoe trail. Well, as I come back up the riverbank & make my way across the road & go behind the restaurant, Darlene pipes up, “there they are” and comes out and informs me that another through paddler has arrived. I get Bill’s attention & go inside.
Upon entering Darlene points me over to the other thru paddler. After introductions Bill & I begin sharing stories with Matt about different trail experiences. Very AT-ish. And as it turns out, Matt has also hiked the AT! After a good while, Bill & I decide we had better get moving,say good by to the Kelly family & head down to the river, load boat, & cast off just as Matt is hopping into his boat.
Before we set out, we tell Matt, we are stopping at Pelletier’s camp ground 13 miles down the Saint John river in St Francis. This section of Paddling goes pretty well. Only scratching a few sand bars. The St John is a big river & even has some drops & rapids.
About 2 & a half hours later we pull up to what we believe is Pelletier’s. While Bill is referencing the Map, I paddle the boat out to the middle of the river, where it is fairly deep. When Bill looks up & gets his paddle in his hands I jump out. Now, it is almost winter here in the northland & the moment I was in the river I knew it! When we make it to shore, Bill heads up to check that we are indeed at the campground. As he returns to the river shore, I have unloaded most of the gear & we only have to secure the boat for the evening. After walking up to the camping area, we set up camp & begin some of the camp routine. At one point I go up for water where i meet Norm, the owner operator of the camp ground. About an hour later, I return to the campsite with the water after having become engrossed speaking with Norm. When I get down, I notice Matt has arrived.

The rest of our afternoon is consumed reading, cooking dinner, & talking around the campfire.