The beginning of Week 5 brought beautiful scenery and easy miles as I paddled through the open expanses of the Rangeley Lakes.
I was blown away by the beauty of Lower and Upper Richardson Lakes and their inviting beach-lined shores. I was exhilarated by the magnificent mountain-ringed Mooselookmeguntic Lake, and I was tested by a stormy Rangeley Lake.
I was able to finally move efficiently once again and found myself covering mileage at an astounding pace relative to the previous few weeks.
After a quick resupply in the town of Rangeley, I hit the road for a required portage north to the South Branch of the Dead River. Here, I was unfortunately reunited with my untimely fate of low water. The South Branch is a flashy and very seasonal whitewater run that remains unnavigable for most of the year. I spent three-and-a-half hours one morning dragging my boat over two miles of rocks before deeming it impassible, portaging out to Route 16.
I carted my boat up the road until I reached the town of Stratton on Flagstaff Lake, where I spotted my first two moose of the trip. Flagstaff Lake is what I would consider to be my home court and, having made multiple trips to the area over the past years, I was very excited to get to spend some time along the pristine and beautiful Bigelow Range.
I opted for an evening hike up the four-mile trail to Avery Peak to catch a glimpse of where I’d been and where I’d be heading. Here, I crossed paths with a couple of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, which came as no surprise, since Flagstaff is the one and only place the two trails coincide. After covering the length of Flagstaff, I made my way around Long Falls, paddled some exciting but brief whitewater and continued up the much deeper North Branch Dead River.
The North Branch eventually brings paddlers to the magnificent and thunderous Grand Falls – a portage for sure! From here, I would again make my way upstream.
This time, it was up the rocky and arduous, Spencer Stream. I was warned about the difficulties Spencer would present me: rocky, consistently low and very remote. There is no existing route around this obstacle, so I was forced right into it. Six-and-a-half miles of dragging and navigating upstream through a rock garden was a nightmare. I had to just drop my head and dig in, walking and banging my way across an endless and slippery rock bottom.
That is where I find myself at the end of Week 5. The sun has given me all it has for today, and I have been forced to find a makeshift camp in the middle of the stream. My home for the night is a rock island, clear enough for a tent and uncomfortable enough for an early start tomorrow.
Although the day has been grim, I am happy with life and the ever-changing challenges it throws at us to become better people. If I can make it through this, I can make it through anything.
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.