Thursday, October 28, 2010

Assabet River - Russell's Bridge to Whitman's Crossing in Stow

 This afternoon's trash patrol on the Assabet River in Stow was a tad on the blustery side.  We finally got a taste of what other parts of the country have been experiencing this past week.  After launching at Russell's Bridge on the Maynard/Stow townline, I hugged the shore to find some refuge from the wind.  The closer one is to the shore, the more trash one will see.  I think Confucius said that.  The trash du jour was beer cans by the plenty.
It was nice to finally reach Whitman's Crossing, where after turning around, I had both the wind and current at my back.
On the trip downriver I encountered 2 mute swan couples and then this guy who was the 'odd man out'...
 I felt kinda sorry for him after seeing him driven away by the others.
Other wildlife seen today were cormorants, a blue heron, another northern harrier (I think), and then this mysterious hawk...
 I'm pretty sure he's not a red-tailed hawk, as he appeared to be just a little smaller and was missing the red tail.
As I approached Russell's Bridge and was exposed to more fetch for the wind to use, my boat and I were buffeted about enough that some paddle bracing was required.  It was all I could do to hold onto the paddle and not lose my hat.  On the downstream side of the bridge we all took shelter and everyone lined up for roll-call...
The recovered refugees numbered 60 and consisted of 48 recyclable containers (34 redeemable) and 12 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish such as an old traffic cone, some styrofoam chunks, and a few nip bottles.  My YTD total stands at 5621.  With such a high percentage of redeemable containers, I sense a trip seeking redemption in the not too distant future!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sudbury River - River Rd. to Heard Pond Outlet & Return

My calls for an encore were heard...summer returned and provided one beautiful day that will be savored for a while.  Of course, I am very fortunate to be able to get an early start on my workday and occasionally finish up by mid-morning.  Today, that allowed me to be out in my boat on the Sudbury River before 11 am.  Did I say it was warm?  Real warm!
After passing under Route 20 and the old Central Mass railroad trestle, I stopped to admire the very well built beaver lodge, seen at left.  The beaver that built this lodge is a master builder as evidenced by the very water tight dam he'd constructed nearby.
I paddled upriver enjoying the occasional refreshing breeze out of the southwest.    Past Wayland H.S. the river's current became noticeably stronger.  Pushing past Indian Point and the Heard Pond outlet, I soon found my upriver passage blocked by a blowdown.  I'll have to remember my hand-saw for the next trip.   After turning about and heading back downriver, I stopped in a shady, shallow stretch with a nice rocky bottom where, after some transloading, a little snack break was enjoyed.  Once back onboard I resumed my return trip and almost immediately came upon an automobile tire standing upright on the riverbank.  It looked like a big doughnut sitting up there so I decided to pull it down and secure it to my aft topdeck.
Several times today I saw a hawk with a pronounced white rump between tail and wings.  I kept trying to get a better look but wasn't able to.  Then, a little upstream of the Sandy Burr Country Club, I saw this guy perched in a tree...
 His call confirmed his identity as an osprey, but he was not the hawk I'd been seeing.  After the osprey took flight...
 I saw the other bird in the distance.  Later, downstream of Route 20, I would get a good look at the hawk with my binoculars and believe it was a northern harrier or marsh hawk.  It flew low over the marsh area and its underside was a copperish color indicating it may be an immature harrier.  Just a short while after that I found myself back at River Road and unloaded my day's catch...
The total was 93 pieces of trash.  Of these 46 were recyclable (15 redeemable) and 47 were miscellaneous rubbish such as plastic bags, styrofoam cups/bait tubs, 6 lead weights used in fishing, cardboard packaging, the auto tire, etc.  Fully 35 pieces were found alongside River Road, the most egregious being a bag left by someone who'd changed his oil and installed a set of new plugs and wires.  This person put all the used stuff in a plastic bag and left it alongside the river.  How thoughtful!     My YTD total stands at 5561.
Amazingly, no other boats were seen on this section of the river today.  A father and son were fishing from the shore at the River Road launch site.

After posting about my trip to the Dead River back in September, Chris Gill commented and recommended the book Arundel by Kenneth Roberts. I just finished it and found it to be a great read. I had not been aware that such a tough and long mission had been undertaken that first autumn after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.  Roberts wrote the book in 1930 and crafted quite an interesting story around the first-hand accounts of participants.  His understanding of, and portrayal of the Abenaki involvement was most interesting to me.  It reminded me of how well John Fennimore Cooper understood the Native Americans that lived in his area.  The book also shows how great a man Benedict Arnold was before he changed sides.
If anyone is looking for a good book to read this winter, this could be it.

Speaking of winter and the approaching year's end, have you given any thought to what kind of calendar will grace your wall next year?  I've recently put together my "Trashpaddling 2011" calendar and you can check it out by going to this link.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Assabet River - Egg Rock to Concord Jct. & Back

This afternoon's trash patrol of the Assabet River in Concord provided a preview of the kind of weather we can look forward to in November.
A passing cold front brought along some ominous looking clouds and a blustery wind.  The picture at left was taken on the trip downriver after the front had passed through.
Aside from two fishermen, the only other boater encountered today was Jeff, paddling his Czech built Zastera racing kayak.  His boat's colors compliment the fall foliage...   
There were quite a few Muscovy ducks on this stretch of the Assabet.  These 3 had claimed this fallen tree and had no intention of giving it up...
They could not be more different from the many skittish wood ducks that launched into flight as soon as I neared. 
Blue herons and a single belted kingfisher were also seen today.
At Concord Junction a tree has blown down between Nashoba Brook and the commuter rail bridge.  It reaches almost to the river's opposite shore.  I turned around behind Concord Park and started the trip back to Lowell Road.
I reached the takeout location just before sunset and unloaded my catch...
Today's total was 38 pieces of trash.  Of these 19 were recyclable containers (2 redeemable) and 19 were miscellaneous rubbish such as plastic bags, a block of styrofoam flotation, and an automotive wheel cover.  YTD total stands at 5468.
As I loaded up my car the Hunter's Moon rose in the eastern sky...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Concord River - Egg Rock to Buttricks Hill & Back

I awoke this morning to discover that my immune system had emerged victorious from battling some kind of bug that had plagued me for almost a week.  Not content with just having won the day, the immuno crew were having a full-fledged victory celebration, leaving me to feel like I could conquer the world, if I so desired.  As a result, I bounded out of my house before daybreak and handled all of my work related chores at 2 different clients with ease.  Soon, I was gliding down Rt. 128 as if it were no more than a country road and found myself launching my boat into the Concord River in the river's namesake town.  

I paddled downriver from Lowell Road passing some remaining fall-foliage at the Old North Bridge.  Trash was there for the picking and by the time I reached Flint's Bridge, I had 19 assorted plastic bottles, beer cans, and styrofoam bait tubs.
About a quarter mile past Buttricks Hill, I turned around and noticed that the cloudy skies were showing hints of a late-day clearing.  Heading back upriver, I watched a fox work his way down a grassy slope.   Blue herons, belted kingfishers, and a few wood ducks were also in attendance.  Upstream of Great Meadows Landing a mink raced along the river's edge just ahead of me.  Then the sun put on this brief show before retiring...

It was a fitting way to end such a day! 

Back at Lowell Road, my car's headlights provided illumination for the day's trash haul...

The total catch was 44 pieces of trash and it brokedown as follows:  27 recyclable containers (10 redeemable) and 17 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish such as plastic bags, styrofoam bait tubs, fishing bobbers, etc.  YTD total stands at 5430.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Assabet River - Hudson to Berlin & Back

For today's trash patrol I decided to paddle a stretch of the Assabet River that I'd never been on before.  It turned out to be a very nice section of river and also relatively trash free.  After launching behind the Fire Station/Public Library in Hudson I headed up river into a breeze that was getting busier as the day progressed.  Skies were sunny and mostly cloud free when I passed under the Riverside Park footbridge and turned around to take the photo at left. 
The other big feature of today was fall foliage such as this...
Before reaching Rt. 495 (near Rt. 290) I was confronted with some obstacles at Rimkus Rd.  There were 3 options for upriver passage.  The 2 on river left involved getting up over a beaver dam while the third required passing up through what appeared to be a manmade stone structure.  The manmade option was selected and my boat was pulled up through the narrow slot of fast moving water by a line attached to the bow.  On the return trip, my boat and I slid down this narrow opening in the beaver's handiwork...

Once past this point (going upriver) I was able to pass under Rt. 495 and enter Marlborough.  This is how the highway looks from the river (facing downstream)...

Proceeding further, I approached some power lines that crossed high above the river.  Oddly, there was a traffic-type barrel suspended in a tree just before the power lines and another barrel just after.  This photo shows the barrel downstream of the lines...
There must be a logical explanation, though, I can't imagine what it might be.
Reaching Bridge Road in Berlin (?), the river was getting very shallow so I turned around and began the trip back.  I believe the Solomon Pond Mall was just a little further upriver.  Pictured below is the bridge where I turned around...

Now, with an assist from both current and wind, it wasn't long before I found myself approaching my takeout site in downtown Hudson...
Today's trash haul was only 63 pieces of trash in a 3.5 mile stretch of river.  Those 63 took shelter from the wind behind my boat...
There were 33 recyclable containers (4 redeemable) and 30 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish such as plastic bags, styrofoam cups/flotation, and 2 left sneakers (found together).  Weird!  YTD total stands at 5386.
While I'm not sure how water levels are on this section of the Assabet, I did notice a gauge in Riverside Park that showed the water level being at 4.20 feet?   For my purposes, it was ideal. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sudbury River - Little Farms Rd. to Power Lines & Back

This mid-morning, while the sun was still shining, I launched my boat into the  Sudbury River at Little Farms Rd. in Framingham and headed downriver.   Before I reached the old stone bridge, the clouds had begun moving in and by the time I took the photo at left, the sky had darkened considerably.  It was a quick transition!
Trash was plentiful in the one-mile section of river I patrolled. A little ways past the Allen H. Morgan Avian Study area I turned around and while paddling upstream this osprey flew overhead...
A small group of wood ducks kept moving downstream each time I approached them.
By the time I returned to Little Farms Road, a good haul of trash had accumulated both topside and below deck...
Then the catch of 127 pieces was spread out alongside my boat...
This pile consisted of 67 recyclable containers (21 redeemable) and 60 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish such as 2 inflatable rafts, a boogie board, large block of styrofoam flotation, nip bottles, plastic bags, etc.  YTD total stands at 5323.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Assabet River - Pompositticut Deja Vu

Early this morning, I re-enacted a recent trash patrol on the Assabet River in Pompositticut in hopes of finding the same plethora of wildlife I encountered on 10/2.  I drove over the top of the same hill on the way and looking to the east saw a preview of a nearly identical sunrise. At Whitman's Crossing, I launched my boat in pre-dawn darkness and began paddling upriver.  Reaching the enchanted zone was much easier this time as there was clear passage where a raft of matted grass hindered passage last time.  The photo at left shows my arrival just as the sunlight began climbing down the trees.  A mute swan flew overhead with its loud wingbeating as I entered the area and shortly thereafter I approached this group of great egrets...
Looking around for the river otters, I finally saw one in the distance as it swam across the river. Upon reaching the shore he launched himself like a torpedo into the cattails and vanished.  After waiting awhile and seeing no further activity, I resumed patrolling upriver.  About a half-mile later, after rounding a sharp bend, my patrol came face to face with a small squadron of otters patrolling in the opposite direction...
A parley was called for and their leader approached so we could hammer out proper rules of engagement...

It was agreed that both patrols would not engage but rather both proceed in their intended directions post-haste, and that was safely accomplished.
Soon I was passing through this narrow throat in the river...
Don't know if this spot has a name, but I think of it as the 'fish spearing spot'.  I can easily imagine Native Americans standing on those rocks to the right with long spears poised for the throw at a salmon or shad.
Reaching Gleasondale, I found the mill's chimney sporting some new steel?-work at its top...

Just below the Route 62 bridge I turned around and allowed the current to help me return downriver to Whitman's Crossing.  Along the way, I saw an osprey and a red-tailed hawk.  Passing the Honey Pot Hill Orchards I saw and heard wagonloads of happy apple pickers being towed by tractors towards the fruit laden trees. 
Approaching my takeout location the only other boats of the day were encountered.  Both were small power boats being used by fishermen heading slowly upriver.  Both reported excellent bass fishing. 
It was one of those mornings that was just about perfect for anything!  Throw in some music by the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Jimmy Buffet, Enya, Mark Knopfler, Pat Metheny, Fred Neil, and the Academy of St. Martin in the Field and it just can't get any better than that, at least for me!
At Whitman's my trash haul spilled forth...
Today's catch consisted of 39 pieces of trash: 19 recyclable containers (7 redeemable) and 20 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish such as the tire inner tube, plastic bags, and a styrofoam bait tub.  YTD total stands at 5196.
In keeping with this being a deja vu experience, Mrs. Trashpaddler and I re-enacted our pedalling of the Nashua River Rail Trail and scooped up these 10 plastic/aluminum containers along the trail between Ayer and East Pepperell...

They were split evenly with 5 redeemable and 5 not.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Assabet River - Egg Rock to Nashoba Brook & Back

The same heavy rains that made yesterday's drive to work on Rt. 128 such a tortuous affair, today, allowed my boat and I to stay afloat on the Assabet River between Egg Rock and Nashoba Brook.  It has been several months since I could do so on this stretch of river.
The weather kept struggling to improve during the course of my trash patrol.  The photo at left was taken on the return trip downriver as I approached the Rt. 2 overpass.  Finally some big patches of blue sky!
Trash started off good and stayed that way the whole trip. 
Up past the reformatory, the wandering dumpster was seen on the shore, waiting for a fair tide.  When the river rises a little higher it may be floated downriver a few thousand feet to a point where it can make a dignified landfall and, once again, stand on its own four wheels...
Wildlife seen today were several blue herons, numerous Moscovy ducks, a large hawk (not a red-tail). painted turtles, and a small snake that swam under my boat's bow as it crossed the river.
Once back at the Lowell Rd. launch site, the day's catch posed in the afternoon sunshine...
The total trash count for the day was 101.  There were 51 recyclable containers (14 redeemable) and 50 pieces of miscellaneous rubbish such as plastic bags, bait tubs, fishing paraphernalia, an old milk crate, what looks like the back of a small television set, and a large block of styrofoam floatation.  YTD total stands at 5157.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Assabet River - Whitman's Crossing to Rt. 62 and Back

This morning's early trash patrol covered a truly wild and scenic stretch of the Assabet River where it flows through the region once known by Native Americans as Pompocitticut.  Today the area is known as Stow, and is not officially part of the Assabet River designated as Wild and Scenic.
After a daybreak launching at the Sudbury Road bridge I paddled upstream and soon was confronted with the thick mat of floating grass and reeds pictured at left.  Passage to points further upriver would require a determined effort to push through and I did so, not knowing at the time a reward awaited me.
Further upriver, I reached a particularly enchanted spot...
Within the area pictured were 2 great egrets, 1 mute swan, 2 great blue herons, and approximately 50 ducks.  Most flew off upon my approach.  Quite a few of the ducks were wood ducks such as these...

The early rays of sun were just reaching down to the water's surface when I saw what, at first, appeared to be a large snake...
As I quietly watched the shiny black undulating movements through the grass, I realized I was looking at a group of river otters.  The otter on the right is sneaking a peek at me...
There were 4 of them and they worked as a team pushing their way through the clumps of reeds and grass.  Occasionally, one would pop up with a small fish and I could hear the crunching as breakfast was enjoyed.  I followed them a short distance to where they went ashore, and got these last photos before my camera's batteries died.  There are 2 otters up on the riverbank...

Unfortunately the pictures are on the dark side since the otters were in a shaded spot.
With my camera rendered useless, I found myself surrounded by these guys and one kept surfacing and looking at me while making a single whistle sound.  I decided to leave them to their endeavors and continued my patrol upriver to the Rt. 62 bridge in Gleasondale.
Trash today was on the light side and in a 2.5 miles stretch of river only 54 pieces of trash were recovered.
Yesterday's rainstorm had the Assabet flowing nicely once again.
Back at Whitman's Crossing, my day's catch of trash is pictured...
Today's haul consisted of 14 recyclable containers (4 redeemable) and 40 pieces of rubbish such as styrofoam cups/bait tubs/flotation, plastic bags, a 1-gallon specimen container, nip bottles,  and cardboard packaging.  YTD total stands at 5056.

Last year, I returned from a September trip to the wilds of Maine and in October encountered a young moose on the Assabet River in West Concord, MA.  This year, I returned from a September trip to the wilds of Maine and in October encountered river otters on the Assabet River in Stow, MA.  My own backyard's getting wilder all the time!

Later in the afternoon. Mrs. Trashpaddler and I pedalled the Nashua River Rail Trail from Ayer to East Pepperell and gathered up this baker's dozen of manufactured plastic trash (aka single-use containers)...
Only one of the 13 has a monetary value assigned to it per our outdated Bottle Bill.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My NFCT Travels/Travails East of Saranac Lake

This is a continuation of the previous post and covers some of my forays on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail following the Adirondack Canoe Classic. This account, when added to  blog posts covering the Lake Champlain stretch, Allagash Lakes Region,  Rangeley Lakes Region, and the recent Flagstaff  Lake region, completes my NFCT travels to date.  I'm almost halfway there, but running out of flatwater stretches!
Again, this is a slightly modified version of an article that appeared in Atlantic Coastal Kayaker in 5/08 and was titled in that publication "On and Off the Northern Forest Canoe Trail".  It shows my learning, the hard way, that striking out alone (with no gear shuttle) was much tougher than I had anticipated .

Nibbling on the NFCT

By Al Peirce

My kayak and I slide into the water at the confluence of Lobster Stream and the West Branch of the Penobscot River on an idyllic Indian Summer day in early October 2007. My first few paddle strokes guide my boat around a small hummock island, into the flow of the Penobscot and down a stretch of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail I have never seen before. Everything I will need for the next 3 days is either in or on my boat. I do not know where the end of the day will find me setting up my tent, but the map attached to my deckbag provides a list of possibilities. My job, worries and cares were left with my car, back at the Lobster Trip boat launch. As the river unfolds before me, through my earbuds I hear Gordon Lightfoot singing: “There was a time in this fair land when the railroads did not run…When the wild majestic mountains stood alone before the sun…Long before the white man and long before the wheel…When the green dark forest was too silent to be real.” Yes indeed, I am in my happy place! There is nothing on this planet that I want for at this moment!

I first heard about the Northern Forest Canoe Trail while participating in the Adirondack Canoe Classic in 2005. The course of the Canoe Classic roughly covers the first 90 miles of the 740 mile NFCT from its beginning in Old Forge, NY to Saranac Lake, NY. The NFCT continues from there to Fort Kent, ME. I remember thinking, “Well, the first 90 miles will be under my belt, so I’ll only have 650 miles to go.” Then, at some point, I saw the 1991 movie “Black Robe”, the story of a Jesuit Missionary’s 1,500 mile canoe journey with an Algonquin tribe from Three Rivers, Quebec to the Georgian Bay area of Lake Huron. Thoughts of my own spiritual journey traversing the NFCT began to take shape.

Soon, I was ordering and studying maps, a favorite winter pastime, and a paddling trip on the NFCT was in the making. Because I had completed the Adirondack Canoe Classic several times, I was fairly confident in my abilities to cover long distances and difficult portages (forgetting, of course, that all the portaging done in the Canoe Classic was done with a nearly empty boat). I was, however, less confident in paddling whitewater sections, electing to portage around anything more than Class 1. In fact, I had ordered a plastic kayak for the trip, but it did not arrive in time. Therefore, my Surge sea kayak would have to ‘rough it’.

The trip that finally materialized would pick up the trail where the Adirondack Canoe Classic ends in Saranac Lake, NY and continue heading North on the Saranac River towards Plattsburgh, NY, then North on Lake Champlain to Missisiquoi Bay, and into the Missisiquoi River to Enosburg Falls, VT. The distance would be 120 miles.

In May of 2006, I had lined up a shuttle from Enosburg Falls back to my car at Saranac Lake, had everything packed, and headed out to Saranac Lake in a driving rain. Dropped boat and gear off at the launch site, drove back to the hotel where my car would be left for the week, and then walked about a mile to the launch site. I was wearing my portage shoes and noticed that when I arrived at the launch site, my foot was bleeding at a point where the shoe rubbed against the side of my ankle. I had forgotten to put on thin socks to prevent such chafing. I scolded myself for hurrying, told myself to slow down, and not make anymore mistakes from being anxious. Definitely an omen, though.

Shortly, without ceremony, I launched into a swift flowing Saranac and the trip was underway. Soon the current slowed and the scenery and weather began to improve. There were even a few patches of blue sky. Saw 2 bald eagles cavorting near Moose Pond. The first portage, 1.2 miles around Permanent Rapids, went great! I encountered a grandfather and grandson with a fresh catch of brown trout, and launched into Franklin Falls Pond in wind and rain. At the end of the pond, I portaged a short distance around a dam, and entered Union Falls Pond. Paddled past a loud cascade of water entering the pond at Woodruff Bay, looked back to see the highest peak in the region, Whiteface Mt., and reached my first campsite at Bear Pt. after covering 17 miles for the day. Shortly, I was enjoying a new kind of meal: “self-heating” beef stew, perfect for a wet , tired paddler. I crawled into my tent and slept well.

Awoke the next morning to a few peaks of sunshine, so broke camp and got underway. Paddled the short distance to Union Falls Dam and here is where things began to deteriorate. I had decided to portage 8 miles around some Class 2 to Class 4 waters between the Dam and Clayburg. Now, for some reason, while sitting in my kitchen back in March, I pictured this portage as being mostly level or if anything, perhaps slightly downhill. I was mistaken. The first 3.5 miles were dirt roads that steadily climbed. My boat and related gear weighed about 100 lbs. I had a set of portage wheels under the stern of the boat and was using a wooden handle at the bow to pull the boat along behind me. About halfway to Clayburg, I found I could not pull that much load, so I put most of the heavy gear into a duffel bag and tried pulling with that arrangement. Soon, I was reduced to pulling the boat 100 yards, then going back for the bag which I would then carry 100 yards past the boat, then repeat the process. Several cars stopped to let me know that I had dropped my bag. However, none offered a ride. Were they crazy? Or was I? Finally, at 5:30 pm, I arrived in what I expected to be Clayburg only to find a sign saying “Things to do in Black Brook”. My heart dropped and I approached the sign to see a “You are here” arrow pointing to Au Sable Forks on a map. Had I made a wrong turn? Could I possibly have left one watershed and entered another? I was devastated. Then a fellow drove up and asked if I needed directions. I told him to please tell me I was not in Au Sable Forks and he told me I was in Clayburg. I asked why the sign had an arrow saying “You are in Au Sable Forks”. He wasn’t sure. At any rate, the rain was now getting steady, my feet were killing me, and I was faced with getting my boat and gear down a steep bank and into a stretch of rocky quickwater. As I got into my fully loaded boat, I knew I was in trouble and most likely would not make it to my planned destination of Picketts Corners, 6 miles and 2 portages downriver. Didn’t have much time to dwell on that, as I was soon focused on avoiding as many rocks as I could, and scraping over those I couldn’t. Approaching 2 Class 3 rapids called the Separator Rapids, I could not find the take-out for the portage. Darkness was looming, rain was steady and cold, and my feet were in agony, so I turned against the current and paddled back to several small islets that were once used to separate log drives. One was just big enough for my boat and tent. Highway Rt. 3 ran alongside the river here, and I thought of being seen and having the police tell me to move along. If they did, they would have to come out and get me. I was prepared to say it was an emergency. Tied bowline of boat to shrub, set up tent in rain, crawled in and removed socks to find soles of both feet badly blistered. Applied ointment from first aid kit and tried to sleep. I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of sirens. Was this a signal of a dam release? Knowing that I was only about 8 “ above the river’s water level, thoughts of being washed into the river and the roaring rapids 50 yards downstream ran through my cranium for what seemed like an eternity.

I crawled out of tent at 5:30 am to find it still raining. Folded up wet tent, loaded boat and paddled to river’s right bank where I hauled boat up onto steep bank and then hiked along river’s bank until finding the sign marking the start of the portage. Take out was just upstream from the start of rapids. Now knowing the location of the take-out, I hiked back to my boat, re-launched, paddled down to the take-out and began the toughest portage I have ever done. There were trees across the trail, and the terrain was so rough, wheels could not be used. I carried first the boat, then all my gear to the road portion where I then was able to use wheels. My only goal now was to somehow make it the 6 miles to Picketts Corners. I did the 1.4 mile portage at High Falls Dam and limped into Picketts Corners and the Baker’s Acres campground. My trip was over. All I wanted to do was to get dry, warm and rested. The owner had a little trailer I could rent that, though it had no heat, was at least dry. It was like the Ritz compared to setting up a wet tent. As I walked to the nearest payphone, I became aware that my gait was not normal and that I had pulled a hamstring, probably when I pulled the loaded boat up onto the riverbank or when I carried the boat over downed trees. I called for my shuttle and the next morning, thanks to Steve of Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters, I was on my way back to Saranac Lake. On the subsequent long drive home to Massachusetts, I tried to regroup and decide if I was up to doing this trail or not. I had tried to take a big bite out of this trail and had been humbled in the process. Perhaps smaller bites would get it done. I would have to find a better way to deal with the sections of riffles and whitewater that are numerous on the trail. Yes, it was going to take longer but what’s the rush? I have the whole rest of my life! It isn’t a race!

Soon it was summer 06, I was back at work, and hoping for another shot at the trail before the onset of winter. This time, October 06, my plans were more modest. I would drive to Lake Umbagog, car camp there and paddle the lake and the short section of the trail across it. Campground was nearly empty, foliage was beautiful, and I was treated to encounters with otters, ospreys and eagles. Next, I drove the roadways that ran closest to the trail across New Hampshire and northern Vermont until I reached Swanton, VT. There, I checked into a motel and walked to the Abenaki museum which I had read about beforehand. It was late afternoon and the door to the museum was locked, but the door to the adjacent Tribal Center was open and there were several women inside playing cards under a cloud of cigarette smoke. One of the women agreed to open the museum for me. The exhibit that was most fascinating to me was a map of Wobanakik. It depicted the world as the Abenaki saw it and used only waterways and mountains as reference points. No political boundaries whatsoever. The map looked east from the Saint Lawrence River towards the Atlantic Ocean off of Maine and New Hampshire and showed the locations of villages. The perspective of the map made perfect sense considering their name means Dawn Land People. I guess I spent more time there than they expected and had been a little too quiet, for after hearing what I thought was someone preparing to open the door, I heard a car start and realized the door had just been locked by one of the card players. Despite my attempts at getting her attention, she drove off completely unaware that she had locked me in. While I liked the museum and found the exhibits very interesting, it really was not where I wanted to spend the night. Fortunately, there was a telephone in the small office and I had the phone number for the nearby motel in my wallet. After a phone call to an amused motel manager, a less amused tribal member came down to let the nutty guy from Massachusetts out.

The next morning, after scraping the first ice of the season off of my car’s windshield, I drove to Louie’s Landing on the Missisiquoi River and paddled down the last 4 miles to where the river empties into Lake Champlain’s Missisiquoi Bay. Sitting in my kayak, in the very shallow waters off of Shad Island, I looked across the bay to the shoreline of another country, Canada. In fact, the actual international border ran across the water about a half mile from where my boat sat bobbing. Returning to the river, I paddled upstream to a point about 2 miles past Louie’s Landing at the confluence of Dead Creek and the Missisquoi. There, up on a bluff, stood a totem pole and stone monument. The totem pole is definitely worth the short hike. There are 6 animals carved into the wood. From bottom to top are the turtle, otter, wolf, beaver, bear, and eagle. I will always remember the sight of it as I looked up from the water. My drive home was much better than my last, and I now knew that I would be able to continue paddling the trail, but in smaller sections and remembering to stay within my comfort zone.

June 07 found 2 friends and I paddling our composite kayaks down the 20 mile stretch of the trail that follows the Connecticut River, from Bloomfield, VT to Groveton, NH. One friend, Pete, did not receive a copy of the email message that mentioned the first mile being very rocky, and was paddling a brand new composite kayak. He grimaced and wailed at the sounds continuously emanating from beneath his hull. No amount of saying “they’re badges of honor, Pete” would assuage his pain. However, once we were past that section, we were treated to a night under the stars and the haunting sounds of a middle of the night freight train on the Saint Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad. The next day was one of the hottest of the summer, and found 3 over-55 year old guys taking a midday swim like boys while a farmer worked his fields in a tractor nearby. Yeah! It’s a boy’s life!

Reaching the confluence of the Ammonoosuc River, I tried to picture the surviving members of Roger’s Rangers who stopped here during a desperate retreat, following their attack on an Abenaki village at Saint Francis in Canada. Today, these guys are credited with being the model for the military’s ‘Special Forces’. After reading about their exploits at Saint Francis, I’m not sure they were as heroic as some may think.

The more I travel on the trail, the more I realize the significant role that confluences played in the trail’s history. These locations would have been logical spots for rendezvous’ to take place. Travelers could camp here while awaiting the arrival of others. Of course, scheduling such a rendezvous would have been different than using modern day watches and calendars. Native Americans might have used the cycles of the moon in place of our calendar. Like the 13 sections on a turtle’s shell, they divided the year into 13 moons, each with a name. Using such a system would not be very exact, but why would it need to be. A day or two’s difference would not impact their lives the way it would wreak havoc with our rigidly scheduled lives. I have sometimes heard of ‘Indian Time’ as being “we will get there when we get there” and I envy anyone that could live a life that way. Today’s people aspire to live like that only while on their vacations. Imagine living your whole life as one long camping trip!

July 07 found me hot on the trail of another fellow from Massachusetts. One hundred and fifty years earlier Henry David Thoreau and a friend from Concord, MA began a canoe journey with their Penobscot Indian guide, Joe Polis. They traveled the length of Moosehead Lake from Greenville to Northeast carry where they left the Kennebec River watershed and entered the West Branch of the Penobscot River, ultimately riding the East Branch all the way down to Bangor. I picked up their trail where it joined the NFCT at Rockwood, ME and paddled past their first night’s camp at Kineo. Because of how much the upper section of Moosehead can be affected by summer’s prevalent southwest winds, my goal was to make it up to the upper section of the lake and camp within striking distance of Northeast Carry. This goal was achieved after paddling approx. 14 miles to Seboomook Point where an excellent campground was fortunately vacant. This left me a little under 3 miles from the carry. The next morning I awoke to a building wind from the SW. Because the campground here had a spectacular view, was on a prominent point elevated 10 ‘ above the water and a breeze was almost a certainty, I decided to leave my tent and most gear here and plan to return before nightfall. I launched into the lake and rode the wind’s fetch till it washed me up on the beach at Northeast Carry. Sat on a log and switched footwear for the 1.9 mile portage to the Penobscot. This carry is one of the most continuously used portages in the Northeast. Walking along while my boat trailed on its little wheels I thought of how many feet had trod this trail carrying birchbark canoes. The gradient is not too severe and the highest point is reached at the halfway point where it then begins the gradual descent to the Penobscot. The last half mile is less straight and less evenly graded. A beaver dam flooded about 25 yards of the trail near the end of the portage. After slogging through the standing water, I got my first glimpse of the Penobscot River and Penobscot Farm perched on the opposite bank. The river was beautiful. Flatwater, uniform width, and both banks lined with pine spires. I had only paddled about a mile downriver when I encountered a bald eagle sitting in a tree. I began seeing small middens of freshwater clamshells every 1/2 mile or so; probably the residue from raccoons feasting during the nights. Arriving at the river’s confluence with Lobster Stream, I decided to paddle the 4 miles up to Lobster Lake, have lunch, and then retrace my steps back to Seboomook Point. Both the stream and lake are beautiful and I felt privileged to eat my peanut butter and jelly bagel on a sandy shore bearing numerous moose footprints. Paddling back to the Penobscot, I promised myself that I would return here asap to follow the West Branch further.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long before a 3 day mid-week period of time off from work, and a spectacular early October 07 weather forecast had me driving 300 paved road miles to Kokadjo, ME and then 21 miles of dirt roads to the Caribou Checkpoint operated by the North Maine Woods organization. They control $8/day access to the logging roads that penetrate the north Maine woods and collect $5/night fees for using State maintained campsites on the Penobscot River Corridor. Now, permits in hand, I drive another 13 dirt miles on what is called the Golden Road. Because of the very dry conditions, each oncoming logging truck totally envelops my car in a dust cloud leaving me with zero visibility and no choice but to pull over and wait for the dust to settle. Finally, 8 hours after leaving home, I arrive at the Lobster Trip boat launch. Everything looks much the way it had looked 2 months earlier, except there are black flies, in October? I remember looking at my headnet as I packed and saying “there won’t be any bugs at this time of year”. These must be the bugs that were supposed to hatch next spring? Sort of a bonus, I guess! Whatever, I am back on the NFCT and also following Thoreau’s route again. Soon after paddling beneath the Golden Road, I see the little island where Thoreau and company camped. The island is appropriately named Thoreau Island. Today, there is a State maintained campsite on the island. I push on and pass several other State maintained campsites before reaching Big Island where I negotiate my first quickwater stretch for a little over half a mile. As the river gets shallower and the channels narrower the current increases substantially. Going downstream as I am, it’s a lot of fun, even though I feel a few rocks run the length of my hull. The only aspect that isn’t fun, is that I know that I will have to find a way to get my boat back upriver in order to get back to my car. The upriver paddling I do on the Assabet River in West Concord doesn’t come close to the current I find here on the Penobscot. I try not to dwell on the issue and start thinking about finding a place to camp for the night. Another mile downriver I find the ‘Little Ragmuff ‘ campsite and it provides all I need. All of the campsites I pass are vacant except for the South end of Big Island where some canoeists are staying. My site is located at the junction of Little Ragmuff stream and the river. A little supper and cup of tea and I am sawing wood and scaring away raccoons until nature calls me out of my tent in the middle of the night. The sky is filled with bright stars right down to and behind the spire-like Larch trees. A blue heron is standing sentinel on a large rock jutting out of the river near the opposite bank. A few more hours of sleep until a splashing and diving group of mergansers working their way methodically upriver, wake me for the day. After breaking camp, I decide to continue downriver to Chesuncook Lake if possible, but know I should turn around at 11:00 am regardless, and start working my way back to Lobster Trip. The river made the decision earlier for me, due to lack of sufficient water depth at Rocky Rips. Knowing that I will have to work my way back through quickwater near Big Island, I see no point in adding too much additional work. My turn around point affords me my first glimpse of Katahdin though and that is enough to whet my appetite for the next section. Working back upriver through the quickwater section is a chore and requires lining my boat through some of the narrowest sections. I am very relieved to paddle up to the south end of Big Island for a well deserved lunch break and, while taking a rest, am treated to a bald eagle flying overhead. The afternoon is spent paddling steadily upriver until I reach Thoreau Island which is vacant and available. I don’t usually have a campfire but do so this evening to drive away the bumper crop of black flies. Oddly enough, there isn’t one black fly the next morning, when a State of Maine Ranger pulls her motorized canoe up to my campsite. She checks for appropriate permits and then is on her way downriver to her section limit at Little Ragmuff. She is able to get her motorized canoe through the quickwater sections near Big Island by knowing every shallow area and rock to avoid and by leaning the canoe to keep the motor’s prop close to the surface. She runs that route of river until the end of October. Not a bad job!

A few hours later, I am loading my car back at Lobster Trip and beginning the journey back to my job, chores, worries, etc. Driving down the very dry and dusty dirt road, I have to stop to let a couple of moose cross in front of me. They are going from the west side of the Golden Road to the east side. I remember the Ranger telling me that the moose hunting season for the east side is over and hunting on the west side will begin on Monday. Who says moose are dumb?

My Introduction to the NFCT

Last week I returned from Maine after taking another nibble out of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT).  Over the last few years I've learned to avoid trying to bite off more of this trail than I can chew.  It was a lesson I learned the hard way, a recurring theme in my life.
Before I started this blog and before the NFCT officially opened, I participated in an event called the Adirondack Canoe Classic.  The year was 2003 and an account of my experience appeared in the May 2004 issue of Atlantic Coastal Kayaker (
A slightly modified version of that article appears below:

An Adirondack Migration

by Al Peirce

On Thursday, September 4, 2003, the small Adirondack village of Old Forge was once again, for the 21st year, the site of a growing assemblage of paddlers and their boats. The numbers would continue to swell until reaching 257 boats and in excess of 450 paddlers by early Friday morning. Paddlers from locations as far off as Maine and Texas had heeded the instinctual call to this locale. The weather was typical early autumn-like. Partly cloudy skies and cool temperatures left no doubt that the seasons were in transition.

At 7:30 am, paddlers massed near the water’s edge at Old Forge Pond, to hear some final instructions from the organizers. Many of them, myself included, were still drowsy after having been awakened from their tents several times during the night by food foraging black bears. Then, ready or not, boats were launched, gear checked, and paddles raised high in the air when each boat’s number was called. Upon hearing the command “Go”, the first wave was off heading east to 1st lake in the Fulton Lakes chain. Wave after wave would follow until it seemed the water’s surface was covered by canoes, kayaks, and Adirondack guideboats. This was the beginning of a tribal migration of sorts that would require paddlers to travel 90 miles from Old Forge to Saranac Lake village over the ensuing three days. Yes, three days of nothing but paddling and camping in the heart of the Adirondacks. This paddler’s idea of heaven!

Day one would require that 35 miles be completed with 4 portages comprising 3.5 miles of that distance. The route would be through the Fulton Chain Lakes 1 to 5, portage to 6th lake, paddle 6th lake to 7th lake, portage to 8th lake, cross 8th lake, portage to Brown’s Tract, follow narrow & winding Brown’s Tract into Raquette Lake, cross Raquette to St. Huberts Lake leading into the Marion River, follow the river to a short portage into Utowana lake, down Utowana to Eagle Lake and finally to the first day finish line on the beach at Blue Mountain Lake.

I was in wave 5 which included touring and recreational kayaks. The waves behind us would include huge numbers of canoes, and the Unlimited Kayak class. The vast majority of boats were canoes; more types of canoes then I previously knew existed: stock canoes, recreational canoes, war canoes, 4-man, 2-man, 1-man. It was from the multi-man canoes, that I would hear the rhythmic calling out of “Hut” about every 20 seconds or so. I would come to dread hearing this sound behind me anytime I approached a take-out at a portage. The very first portage would pretty much set the tone for all of those that followed. Approximately 8 boats approached a take-out area that only had room for 4 boats. As I tried to exit my kayak in 2 feet of water and mud while maintaining some semblance of dignity, the water all around me was soon total chaos as the 2-man canoes wedged their way in, canoe paddlers jumped out, one shouting directions to the other “left”, “now right”, “quick, lets go”. This scene was repeated several times before I could get my boat up on my shoulder, then carry it past the gathered spectators, and find a spot off to the side where I could lay it down and hook up my portaging wheels. Shortly, I was under way again and breathing pretty hard as I pulled my boat up a hill. It was here, I realized I hadn’t practiced enough uphill portaging. Images of running an Iroquois gauntlet raced through my mind. Fortunately, the folks lining the sides of the trail offered only water and fruit rather than clubs and tomahawks. Reaching the end of the portage, I viewed another chaotic scene at the put-in as, once again, there were more boats than available spots for launching. As I tried to claim a spot and make my transition back to paddling, it was quickly apparent that being reserved and polite was not going to cut it. It was every man or team for themselves and one had to be assertive. By the way, had I mentioned that this migration is a race? Witnessing the action at the beginnings and endings of the portages, one might have thought there was prize money involved, but that was not the case. Some of these folks were just crazed! Now, if the United States Military ever decides to develop a rapid strike canoe force, they need look no further!

Aside from my difficulties with the 1st and 3rd portages, the rest of Day 1 was beautiful. There was fantastic scenery, partly sunny skies, and widely varying paddling environments. These ranged from narrow, winding, shallow areas such as Brown’s Tract which required sliding down a few beaver dams, to the wide and wind exposed expanses of several good sized lakes.

A now cloudy and breezy Friday afternoon saw hundreds of weary souls landing on a small beach in Blue Mountain Lake. The first order of business was to get some dry and warm clothes on, then help place my kayak on a trailer that I trusted would take it to the next day’s start location. This done, I boarded a shuttle bus, and off we went to the Lake Eaton Campground. Arriving there, I found the trailer containing everyone’s gear, located my stuff and began carrying it in search of an unoccupied campsite. It required a half mile walk to find one. Carrying my camping gear would have been much easier had I used a backpack rather than a duffel bag. I quickly set up my tent and then went in search of a hot shower. So did about 30 other guys and the line was about an hour long. Never did a hot shower feel so good! Then it was back to my campsite where I prepared some supper just as darkness descended. Before retiring to my tent, I made sure to hang my food bag in a tree, just in case Yogi and his friends might be in the vicinity. Shortly thereafter, the Ben-Gay was lathered on and I dozed off with no problem.

The next morning was pretty foggy. After a quick breakfast, I folded up a wet tent, found the gear trailer, stowed my stuff and caught the next shuttle to the start line. Arriving at the Day 2 start line, I found a sea of paddlers, their pit crews, and 257 boats spread out in a field. Like one of those penguin parents looking for their offspring amidst a sea of other penguins, I wished my boat could call out to me. Just when I began to get worried, I found my faithful friend wedged between 2 canoes. Soon we were again on the water and looking at the 10 mile long appropriately named “Long Lake”. The fog had delayed the start by 1 hour and once finally under way, we chased the lifting fog northward up the lake. As the fog lifted and receded, the surrounding mountains came into view. This was one of the more scenic moments of the event. Canoes and kayaks stretched out ahead and behind me as far as I could see. The tribe was underway and looking good! As the fog lifted further, float planes began to appear flying low over the field of racers. The view from the planes must have been something to see. Talking to a fellow kayaker, I was more than a little disappointed to hear him say that today was going to be the hardest day. I had convinced myself that the hardest was 35 mile Day One and that it was happily behind us. “No”, he told me, “today in addition to paddling 33 miles we will do the portage from hell and you won’t be able to use your wheels for the first 1/3 which is climbing rock steps up a steep hill.” Now the dread set in. I tried to convince myself, unsuccessfully, that while this upcoming portage might be bad, possibly even horrific, I would be relieved once it was behind me.

After a couple of hours of paddling, we came to the end of Long Lake and entered the fairly narrow Raquette River, where we began the 5 mile stretch of river to the much dreaded 1 ¼ mile portage at Raquette Falls. As I approached the landing, I could see upside down canoes crawling up the steep and rugged path. It reminded me of ants carrying large leafs. I knew that this was going to hurt! With the cockpit of my boat resting on my already sore right shoulder, I joined the procession and hoped that I could keep up with the others until reaching the point where my wheels could be of use. It was at this time that I could hear my wife’s voice reminding me that I wasn’t going to be happy until I had given myself a heart attack. After a while I reached what seemed to be the crest only to dip down and then begin climbing again. Major disappointment! Stopping for a breather, I watched about 10 boats zip by me. A little farther along and I turned my boat over onto its wheels and began the descent determined to pull those wheels over boulders if I had to. And I did! I could only hope that my boat would be able to forgive me for what I was subjecting it to. Finally, back in the water, I realized that it was going to take a while to recover my strength. For the next half hour, I paddled very slowly and deliberately while working on replenishing my body with water and protein. Then, recovered, I began trying my best to catch and pass all the boats that had passed me on the portage. After all, there was still 12 miles of paddling to get to the Day 2 finish line. Making the finish line was great! Now, I realized that the worst was over and in spite of my travails, I felt pretty good. Again, I left my boat with all the others and caught another shuttle to yet another campground. This time it was the Fish Creek campground and this was to be the best campground of them all. I managed to get a site right on the lake almost in line with where the Day 3 start would be. Rather than wait for a hot shower, I decided to save time and bathe in the lake. This made me presentable for that evening’s supper which was served up by caterers and was much superior to my freeze dried stuff. The moon was nearly full and there was a little nip in the air, so I made myself some hot cocoa for dessert, then walked about a mile and a half to find a pay phone in order to let my wife know that I was still alive. The walk back to my campsite was great. I was totally relaxed and you could sense that everyone else was too. It was easy to doze off with the sound of laughing loons in the distance.

Day 3 soon arrived and some quacking ducks served as an alarm clock. After a catered a la carte breakfast, we all gathered once again at the start line and began the final 22 miles to Saranac Lake. By this time, we were getting fairly familiar with each other and I saw all the other paddlers as worthy adversaries. They had all earned my respect and I hoped I was worthy of theirs. Yes, today would be a nice day, and maybe those 2-man canoes would show a little patience at the last 3 portages. We paddled out of Fish Creek Ponds into the winding Fish Creek which brought us into Upper Saranac Lake, then crossed the lake to our first portage of the day, Bartlett Carry. This was another uphill job. Wheeling towards the top of the grade, I heard the sound of bag pipes and soon encountered a piper in full regalia providing musical accompaniment for the passing procession. We had left reality behind and entered the surreal world of a Monty Python movie!

Next, we headed across Middle Saranac Lake and did a short portage around the Upper Locks and entered the Saranac River. Heading downriver, I came upon one of the most beautiful stretches of water I’ve ever had the privilege to paddle. The river winds past a looming rock promontory called the Devil’s Pulpit while off to the left are several 4,000’ plus mountains. This area had a sacred feel. The river brought us into Lower Saranac Lake, then through First Pond and Second Pond to the last portage of the event.

Still intact, and now tasting the finish line, I began the last stretch through Oseetah Lake to the event’s end at Lake Flower in the village of Saranac Lake. Paddling the last half mile, I found myself relieved that the pain would soon be over, yet at the same time, I didn’t want the experience to end. On one hand, I’m telling folks I’ll never do it again, while on the other hand, I’m already thinking how I can be better prepared for the portages next year: bigger and pneumatic tires for my portage wheels, padding for shoulders, hand-friendly grab loop for the front of my boat, and more fitness training for uphill portaging.

Meanwhile, on shore, it’s party time with barbecued chicken, music, commemorative pins, pictures that can be purchased and newly found friends to celebrate or commiserate with. After that, I can look forward to joining good friends from the NY paddling community for supper at the ‘Tail of the Pup’, then a long hot shower, followed by ample amounts of Tiger Balm and a good night’s sleep at a nearby motel.

The Adirondack Canoe Classic, aka “The Ninety Miler”, is a huge undertaking for the organizers and its more than 100 volunteers. The logistics are mind boggling. My boat and gear were always waiting for me at every stop. The shuttle vans and buses were seemingly there just when you needed them. Race organizers and volunteers were always friendly and helpful. The campgrounds were all clean and to my surprise, the tents didn’t need to be on top of each other. How they got that black bear to visit all the newbie sites on the event’s eve, I’ll never know. Many of the paddlers I encountered have been doing this for several years and after doing it myself, I can understand the event’s draw or pull to return. Some have actually done it all 21 years!

Driving home the next day, I recalled a sentence from the literature race organizers sent me. “It is not a hard race, those who are in shape for 30 miles of paddling a day should not have a problem.” I would suggest adding to that “and also in shape for miles of uphill portaging.”

The overall fastest time for the 90 miles was posted by Paul Olney of Westernville, NY in the Unlimited Kayak Men’s Masters class. His cumulative time for the three days was 12 hours, 39 minutes and 3 seconds. The class I was in, Touring Kayak Men’s Masters, was won by Roger Gocking of Ossing, NY in a time of 15:24:51. I finished 10th out of 13 with a time of 17:57:21. There were ample numbers of 2-man canoes in the 13 to 19 hour range.

The Open Touring Class, while offering no trophies, may in fact be a better class for less serious racers, such as myself. This class starts first each day and, therefore, may encounter less traffic at the portages.

2010 Note: I subsequently did the 2004 and 2005 Adirondack Canoe Classics in the Open Class and would recommend it to all but the most serious of racers. The gear shuttles are no longer available thus requiring participants to handle those logistics themselves.  Having a pit crew is the best strategy.