September 11, 2006
On the fifth anniversary of 9/11/2001, I woke up full of anticipation for the opportunity to take more than a week away from our "civilized" society. The early morning was clear and cold, and my windshield sported the first frost of the season- just a little warning about the winter in the not so distant future. My wife dropped me off at Marden's in Gray, where I sat down in my camp chair beside a shopping cart containing all of my worldly possessions for the next two weeks.
Flaggers and construction people started showing up around 8AM to work on the new Gray bypass. One of the flagger ladies kept looking at me sitting there in the morning sun, in my jacket with a wool military surplus helmet liner on, huddled beside a shopping cart with an Army duffel and a paddle sticking out. After awhile, she came over and asked if I wanted a Pepsi and if I was homeless.
I kept watching for my ride in the direction of the turnpike, but after a couple hours sitting there and waiting, I realized he might be coming via Route 202. Sure enough, at 10:15 or so, I saw a large white van with five canoes on a trailer behind it. I must have made a great first impression, since everyone in the van was laughing when I rolled my gear over in a shopping cart. There was Bill, who teaches English in Japan, Dawa, from California, Devin, from Vermont, Kevin and Oliver a father son team from Scotland , Paul and Jeanie, a young couple from Wisconsin . Last but not least, Tim Smith of Jack Mountain Bushcraft, was driver and the organizer of this River Guide Training trip to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
Jack Mountain Bushcraft offers a multitude of survival and lifestyle classes ranging from making mukluks and snowshoes to entire college accredited semester courses. This Allagash trip was a two week portion of Tim's Earth Skills Semester program. It turned out, Paul had taken Tim's semester class the previous year and was the assistant instructor this year. Dawa, Devin, and Oliver were Tim's semester students this year. The rest of us were along because of our interest in skills needed by a Maine Guide while leading an extended river trip.
Along the way we picked up Bud Farwell, a registered Maine Guide from Bangor, and Jeff Butler, a New Brunswick Guide. Jeff took Tim's guide course a few years ago, and offers wilderness survival training as well as guided trips in New Brunswick. Once our entire crew was assembled, we stopped at a store where they had a real birch bark canoe up on the wall so that Devin and Keith could buy fishing licenses.
Just outside Millinocket, on the Golden Road, we stopped at the North Maine Woods (NMW) gatehouse so Tim could pay around $800 for overnight use fees for 8 people for 10 nights. (Bud and Jeff took care of their own fees). We had great clear views of Mount Katahdin as we drove to the Chamberlain Thoroughfare Bridge. We divided up the group gear, put the Nova Craft Prospector 18 foot canoes in the water, and paddled North reaching Boy Scout campsite about 6 PM. We paired up and set up our Eureka Timberline Outfitter 4 tent (a super durable 4 person tent that sleeps 2 people and gear very comfortably- http://www.eurekatent.com/p-65-timberline-outfitter-4.aspx) while Tim cooked elbow macaroni and spaghetti sauce on the propane stove.
Most of the cooking on this trip was over a campfire but for situations like this first night in camp, Tim brought a 10lb propane cylinder. Since we didn't use propane for lighting, the midsize propane tank was a nice luxury to have in case of adverse conditions or a late night arrival at a campsite. After dinner, Tim discussed night time lighting and also night time courtesy. He recommended that everyone wear headlamps on their red setting around their neck to minimize night blindness in everyone. The red light provides just enough light so you can see what you are doing without causing your eyes to adjust. Unfortunately, I had only brought a white LED flashlight but I was careful not to shine it in anyone's face and it worked fine for the next 10 days.
As we would on many nights to come, Devin and I volunteered to do dishes. The campfire discussion this evening was about how Rafe Judkins from Survivor had taken a bushcraft class with Tim and Jeff before he was on Survivor. http://www.cbs.com/primetime/survivor/bio/rafe_11/bio.php?season=11 Neither Jeff nor Tim knew Rafe was going to be on Survivor. One night Jeff was watching TV, affectionately known on this trip as the box that giveth, when he realized he had been with this guy in class. He called up Tim to confirm, and sure enough, it was the same guy.
Once the dishes were done, Tim went over the trip plans with us. Each evening we would assign guide teams of two students who will determine meal and route planning for the next day. The next day, the guides will organize the group such that we get breakfast, eat lunch, arrive at the next campsite by 2PM, and get dinner cooked early enough to have dishes done before dark. Breakfast needs to soak overnight every night so it will cook faster in the morning. It sounds like a good plan to everyone.
On this first night, our tentative itinerary depending on weather was: 9/11 Boy Scout Campsite, 9/12 Donnelly Point/Lost Spring, 9/13 Lost Spring/Lock Dam, 9/14 Pillsbury Island, 9/15 Schofield Point, 9/16 Jaws, 9/17 Chisholm Brook, 9/18 Long Lake Dam, 9/19 Back Channel, 9/20 Five Finger, 9/21 Michaud Farm, 9/22 home
Dehydration is a major concern when one lives in the out of doors 24 hours per day. One is supposed to consume 3 quarts or so of water per day. On this first evening, I discovered a new ritual in which I needed to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag to urinate at 2AM and again at 4AM. This new ritual taught me to the need to always put on long johns before bed and to bring a pair of slip on moccasins with me on these trips. I was chilly and damp both times when I finally got back to the tent. (I confess as the trip went on I didn’t bother to venture very far from our tents.) It was a clear moonlit night and there was no need to use a headlamp, be it red or white. It is interesting to note we weren't too far from a road and I listened to distant logging trucks all night long.
Authors Note: I visited the variety store pictured above with the Schlitz sign in January 2008. The sign welcomed visitors for years but was destroyed in a windstorm in the Summer of 2007.