At the end of Week 4 on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, I find myself in the beautiful state of Maine.
It was a brutal week of river lining, dragging and beaver dam hopping through Vermont and New Hampshire. I will rest easy as I enter the wide open Rangeley Lakes region.
After making my way back from Quebec, I entered Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, a region dominated and split by two separate watersheds and rivers. The section starts with the upstream paddle of the rocky, rapid-ridden and extremely low Clyde River. This is where I realized that I had it good on the Missisquoi River in days past.
Stronger currents and bigger rocks in a varying and winding path caused a lot of pain and slow moving. After a nice break on Island Pond, the source for both watersheds, it was time to head down the Nulhegan River.
Hoping to catch a break in the downstream flow, I was displeased to find there wasn’t much flow to be found at all. A swampy start led to a five-hour, 4-mile ordeal of snaking through a river as narrow and overgrown as a creek. On top of the seemingly endless beaver dams around every turn, I collected tons of spider webs along the way.
When the river dropped into a rapid-ridden gorge via the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, I opted for the road. Although I hate choosing portage over paddle, I do not think I would have found my way out of the Northern Forest before December had I not bypassed some sections of river at the end of Vermont.
Coming out of the state of Vermont meant paddling 20 miles down the beautiful Connecticut River, which, to my relief, was still full of water. I enjoyed its playful rips early on and the beaches and oxbows in its southern stretch. I was hesitant to leave the Connecticut after such a lovely break from the trials and hardships of eastern Vermont, but was forced to part ways for New Hampshire’s Upper Ammonussuc River, where the plague of low water continued.
I was optimistic, putting in two days of travel before a low, 7-mile day of walking the riverbed. I again opted (for my feet and boat’s sake) to portage.
The Androscoggin River was New Hampshire’s saving grace. Controlled by dams, the Androscoggin is kept at natural levels and often raised for recreational purposes. Although an upstream paddle filled with its own obstacles and rapids, I enjoyed plenty of water as I made my way through New Hampshire’s beautiful 13 Mile Woods.
When I entered Lake Umbagog from the Androscoggin, I was truly relieved. Open water seems so freeing after being banged around along the riverbed for days. I howled in excitement as I crossed the invisible state line, cutting through the shallow lake.
I look forward to quick and unobstructed miles as I head into the lovely Rangeley Lakes region and deeper into the wonderful state of Maine. We will call it the mental halfway point – 347 miles to go. The road has been rough, sometimes unclear and always unbelievable, but the wild waters still beckon me onward.
Editor’s note: Collin Blunk, a contributor to MaineToday Magazine, is on a month-long solo kayak trip on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The 740-mile trail starts in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, passes through northern New England and Canada and ends in Fort Kent. These are his dispatches from the wilderness.