The Waterlogged Journals: Page 12

July 26th

Woodstock NB to Start of Eel River Portage (9.5 River Miles)

Woodstock to John Tingley’s house.  Got in around noon.  Afternoon off, gorged on fresh raspberries, beer- great time.  Prepared for long portage.

All I can say is thanks to John for taking such good care of our team, and also for believing in my flying abilities enough to let me pilot his remote control drone.

July 27th

St. John to Molly’s Rock (2 River Miles, 6 Portage Miles)

Portage day.  6 miles each way, 2 people carrying small gear and one boat.  One boat loaded in cart.  Everyone else carrying personal gear.  6 hour portage.  Paddled to Molly’s rock to camp about 2 miles up the Eel.

A little backstory.  The Maliseet Trail begins on the St. John River near the town of Meductic and ends close to Old Town Maine thereby connecting the St. John River drainage to the Penobscot River and historically the Penobscot Tribes to the Maliseet, Passamaquaoddy and Mi’kmaq Tribes.  The trail jumps overland from the St. John to the town of Benton some 6 miles away avoiding dangerous and formidable rapids on the Eel River below Benton.  From Benton the trail pushes up the Eel close to 15 miles to First Eel Lake.  There is a 3 miles portage into North Lake where the Maliseet Trail crosses into Grand Lake then keeps heading west into the Penobscot drainage.  

This route has been central to life in this area for longer than we know but just like many ancient canoe routes is being lost to time.  While we chose to hike the paved road instead of retracing the original path, it was still a truly amazing experience to be a part  of the ancient human story in that part of the world.  I highly recommend checking out for the whole story.

We arrived at the homestead of John Tingley who I had met a few months earlier scouting out this portage section of the expedition.   We met John around noon at his landing on the St. John which he had marked with both Canadian and American flags.  This small gesture of welcoming and hospitality was repeated over the day we spent with John to the point that we as a team had to sit down and decide just how much assistance we wanted to accept for fear that out hard won trip would devolve into a vacation.  For example, John had offered to drive us and our gear over the portage in his van alleviating the 18 mile two- trip portage.  As a group we talked about this and voted to tackle the portage as we had planned from the get go.  It was a great offer but ultimately we didn’t want an asterisk next to this trip and also since we had been planning on this epic  portage from day one, to cut it out last second seemed anti-climactic.  

We enjoyed a much deserved day off after putting in 7 long mileage days and 3 portages totaling 10 miles (two trips each time).  John had a full fridge of food, beer and an appetite for cribbage which we obliged.  I can’t say enough for the generosity of John and his laid back willingness to help out however possible  We went to bed well fed and ready to get up at 4 to beat the sun and the projected 90 degree day.

Lounging at the House of Tingley

Not to undersell the portage, but we cruised through two trip portage completing the 18 miles in 6 hours with only a few sore feet and one bored trip member who drew short straw and had to guard the gear pile as the rest of us went back for the second load.  At the end of the portage  we snapped a pic in front of an old covered bridge with our nation’s flag presented to us by John.  It was a long haul but the much talked about portage turned into just another day for this group.  img_7264img_7270img_7274

 July 28th

Molly’s Rock to First Eel Lake (12 River Miles)

Had a pair of guests last night, couple who boated by earlier us brought us a case of beer and a big bag of meat-he was a local butcher- salt pork, beef heart, rib eye steaks, bear sausage

Did whole Eel River today.  Easy paddling to second bridge (Hartin Settlement Rd).  Low water made upper part of river tough, pushed and dragged all the way to earthen dam.  Got to Bear Point 5 minutes before big storm.

The upper half of the Eel was a section of this trip that I hadn’t been able to scout due to limited road access to the river.  I had read that at normal water level the upper Eel is a challenging section of whitewater requiring poling and lining, but at the low levels we faced it was more like dragging our boats up a wet sidewalk.  After a day of slogging upstream and then paddling the dead water before Eel lake we pulled our boats onto Bear Point just as the storms that had been building all day blew open on us with high winds, cold sheets of rain and lightning.  After some fruitless attempts at setting up a tarp and getting a fire going, the storm blew over and we settled in for the night knowing that the trip was all downhill to the ocean.  

Push, Pull, Drag, Pole, Paddle, Portage- Typical Day on the Eel


Our Welcome to Bear Point Storm

July 29th Bear Point to Grand Lake Blueberry Point Campsite (8.5 Miles, 3 Portage Miles)

Bear Point to Grand Lake camp.  Great open campsite, will spend a day off here.  Went through customs again.

I guess I don’t have much to say about this day.  It was an easy 3 mile portage along Highway 122 and a nice paddle across North Lake, down the river connecting Grand to North, through US and Canadian Customs (both super friendly to wayward paddlers) and then to Blueberry Point Camp on Grand Lake.  This day off was driven as much by the need for a day of rest as by the need to start putting the breaks on the group since we ate up miles on the St. John so fast, blew through the Benton Portage, completed the Eel in a day  and arrived at Grand Lake 3 days ahead of schedule.  I told the guys at one point that any guess I had at daily mileage and expected destinations at a given time were out the window due to the amazing ability of this group to grind out miles both on the water and on the portage trail.  It’s always a beautiful thing to see a group perform at the level you know they can!


July 30th

Day Off

-Loon attack?

-Wilderness trip existing so close to people

-a lot of noise and traffic on lake

-bear meat

This pretty much sums up any duff day on trail: lots of food, contemplation of the wilderness/humanity/civilization situation, and some shenanigans involving the locals.  We took a much needed and well deserved day off at Blueberry Point, our first full day off of the trip.  Days off are necessary in order to repair gear, give your muscles a chance to rest, heal any ongoing medical problems ( in this case an infection from a leech bite) and also to take a chance to reflect on the trip and prepare for the next leg of the journey.  We enjoyed a breakfast of rib eye steaks and bear sausage that sent everyone back to bed to digest the overwhelming goodness of the gifted food.  When you’ve been eating a diet of trail food for a length of time any diversity is more than welcome.  

Day Off Planning

So yes, one of our guys was savagely attacked by a look while he sat in his canoe dangling his feet in the water.  Well, that’s what it sounded like and to be fair I did see most of the even happen, although I do admit to only catching the act after the alleged assault took place.  It was surely one of the strangest animals moments I’ve seen on tail.  Who knows why loons do what they do, but all I know is for the rest of the trip we saw an unusual amount of loons who all seemed to be eyeing us up.

Day Off Cooking


I chose this route because I wanted to produce a long canoe trip that encountered both wilderness and non-wilderness water.  I think I is important because it not only forces you to confront the environmental impact of modern civilization of water ways but it also gives you the chance to meet folks along the way.  I wrote more about this a few months back:




The Waterlogged Journals: Page 11

July 25th

Florence To Woodstock New Brunswick(26 river miles)

25 mile day. Camped on island offshore of Woodstock. Been hot and sunny all week

High 85- Low 55

Weather has been great, no wind and easy paddling. We haven’t been drinking the water but is seems o.k. for swimming.

We have the 6 miles portage ahead of us which we should reach in 2 days. The plan is to  get to the take out early tomorrow in order to have some rest for the carry.

—Self sufficiency on trail- what you left with should be all you get. To get supplies along the way or not.

Another long hot day put is in the town of Woodstock N.B. which provided our first real chance at getting supplies that we didn’t bring, mostly beer and cigarettes. We had talked about it around Ft. Fairfield but I decided that we were an expedition and should act as such, meaning that once you start buying supplies along the way you are undermining the hard work you put in planning and preparing. While I stand by this ethic and will continue to hold to that belief, I am also a proponent of making good memories on trail and some times that means letting one member of your group wander through a river town looking (fruitlessly) for a convenience store to buy a few beers. We did “re-stock” later on the trip in St. Croix at the duty free liquor store, but that was a planned celebration. I think any time a long trip takes you close to civilization long thought should be given to whether or not to take advantage of those modern amenities.

What we didn’t know at the time was that the island we camped on off shore of Woodstock was an old (and now submerged) amusement park that was drowned about 50 years ago when the St. John was dammed downriver. I love these back stories of the places a trip takes you. Of course those stories exist in the back country but are often void of living history. On this trip we met many people who shared their story and the stories of the landscape and waterscape we were traveling through, stories that were both entertaining and enriching and also useful to the logistics of the trip.  

One such insight involved the levels of pollution in the St. John.  Before we had left for this trip we were advised not to drink (and even swim in) the St. John even after boiling and/or filtering due to industrial pollution.  At one lunch stop we met a lady whose husband works at the McCain potato factory near Florenceville New Brunswick.  She said one day on a tour of the factory her husband pointed out the outflow pipe, the waste liquids that were drained directly into the St. John and she noted how gross the water looked.  He then showed her the pool of sludge that wasn’t supposed to get released into the river but that did occasionally at high water and she described it as a pool of “green goo.”  I’m not citing McCain as the sole polluter of the St. John, but it does go a ways towards justifying our caution in finding drinking water and hesitancy to swim in the St.John for the 4 days we paddled the river.   

The First Dark Clouds Over the St. John

This camp was the first time the wind blew strong from the south and caused us to circle up and decide whether to cut camp on the island or keep going. There is a list of questions you should ask yourself when deciding if your group should stop for the day (sometimes earlier than you’d like) or keep pushing on. Primarily I want to make sure my trip mates are safe, healthy and happy. If you keep pushing you are risking over-exertion if the day is long, exposure if the weather is tough, and a poor night’s sleep if the trail proves unfit for camping. Stopping early on the other hand can disrupt the flow of a trip, give your team too much down time, and can throw off the timing of a long expedition. Depending on my understanding of the risk of the moment and the performance of the group I will oscillate between telling and selling to participating (More on situational leadership).  Flexible leadership is the name of the game; invisible yet powerful.  

The Waterlogged Journals: Page 10

July 21st

Beaver Brook camp to 2 miles south of Caribou (24 River Miles)

Hot and uneventful day of paddling. 7:30- 3

Moose Day. 2 young cows met us on the river.

—–Agreed to wake up at 5:30 and be on the water by 7:30

It’s a funny thing looking back at this entry, at the way what the uncommon becomes routine on trail, at the quickness a certain level of tunnel vision sets in on a long trip. Even though this was only day 2 of the paddle, the sight of two adolescent cow moose who not only posed for a great pic but who waded out into the river and started following us like a pair of golden retrievers received only a passing mention. 


One of the first specifics we nailed down prior to leaving camp was our morning schedule. Even before we talked food, gear, or route details we as a team agreed on the time we’d be waking up and the time we’d shove off each morning. This is very important for me as a guide as I have simmered in the frustration in the past when there is no set morning schedule. I find this is a decision best made through group consensus instead of solely by the trip leader because it is a personal issue that takes personal commitment to follow. For a short trip it is alright to be the alarm clock for a group but on a long trip not only would that role become burdensome but could also become resented and I think ultimately you would end up with time entropy, each day getting a later and later start. It is good practice for an outdoor leader to be able to understand and utilize the theory of situational leadership, group investment, and to some degree the idea of the full value contract. The more you can allow a group to self govern and self regulate, the more you raise the functionality potential of that group.

July 22nd

Camp south of Caribou to camp south of Fort Fairfield (18 River Miles)

Padded today through Caribou, past the dam to a bluff camp ½ mile past Ft. Fairfield. Cart is amazing, but how durable is it?

Portaging, or carrying as it is called out east, is the ancient practice of moving all your gear and boats around an obstacle (think beaver dam, land separating two bodies of water) and is one of the core skills any wilderness paddler should master along with up and downstream poling, paddling and reading whitewater, lining a canoe up and down river, rescuing an overturned canoe, and the fundamental wilderness camp crafts like fire, water, shelter, navigation and cooking.

To be efficient in portaging is the name of the game. Too often I have seen groups approach a portage trail without a plan which usually results in a garage sale of boats, paddles, and gear not only strewn about the landing (bad in case another group lands and also bad because it is easy to leave gear behind, not that that happened to one of my fly rods back in the day) but that requires too many trips back and forth along the portage trail. Ideally a boat of two paddlers should be able to make the trip once depending on how much food is on board. One paddler takes the boat, paddles, and a small pack while the second paddler carries the main load of packs. This is of course the ideal, when in reality two tripping a portage is more common and unless the trail is extremely long (a mile or more) is more enjoyable.

We had along on this trip a two- wheeled canoe cart, that  I was skeptical of since I had never used a portaging cart before and honestly the whole idea didn’t sit well with my background of wilderness canoe tripping. I was mostly suspicious of the construction, fearing under the weight a weld would crack, but even with a full food box, paddles, PFD’s and some other small odds and ends the cart rolled the loaded canoe effortlessly around the Caribou Dam, which was only a quarter mile but it was our first portage of the trip so it was good practice for the long portages to come.

We had a set date to meet Canadian Customs officials at the border just downstream of us for the 23rd of July, which was an amazingly generous offer from the Perth- Andover Customs Office that saved us 4 miles of portaging down a busy highway. All along out route we met incredibly helpful and kind individuals who added to the continuity and relative ease of what could have been a long and complicated trip. I approached the Customs office earlier this spring just to give them the heads up that I’d be coming through in July with a group of dudes carrying canoes through the border check point . After the meeting I received an email from Officer Dirk Bishop who not only proposed a remote crossing but who championed our cause and made this idea happen despite some (understandable) push back from other officials outside of the Perth office. It took a couple months of cooperation by ultimately the idea was green lighted and we waited on the banks of the Aroostook River south of Ft .Fairfield wondering just what legal scene we were about to run into..

July 23rd

Camp south of Ft. Fairfield to 1924 camp south of Perth (15 River miles, 2.5 Portage miles)

Passed through customs at 9am.  Paddled the rips from the put- in below the (Tinker) dam past the 2 bridges.  Upper rapids were easy, big ledge, run river left, the drop past the bridge required some maneuvering.  Found a great campsite 2 miles past Perth.  River right, small beach.  Portage around dam (2.5 miles) took 2.5 hours.

Remote Border Checkpoint

I had a meeting with Canadian Customs a few days before we left to coordinate the border crossing.  In this very tactical meeting I was shown maps detailing the meeting site, the various access roads and the portage route we were supposed to take in order to portage around the Tinker Dam on the Aroostook.  As we paddled away from camp that morning I told the guys to go slow so as not to incite an international situation and also to be on the lookout for the flashing blue and red light I was told would be waiting for us.  Sure enough, as we rounded a slight bend there on the right bank were two border vehicles with lights flashing and a few border guards ready to process us.  One by one we presented passports and carried all of our gear up to a running mobile x-ray truck .  I loved the scene of a black ash pack basket getting sent through this monstrosity of technology.  I have portaged many miles over the last 15 years but this one will hold high rank as the most unique and memorable carry of my life.  After all the boats, gear and dudes were given the ‘all clear’ we shook hands with the border guards ( who were probably happy for a morning out of the office), snapped a pic or two and prepared for our first long carry of the expedition.  

Mobile X-Ray Portage

From the border checkpoint to the area the dam operators said we could access the river down stream of the dam was around 2.5 miles of rolling country road.  We took two trips to get all gear and the 4 boats over the portage but it went very smooth with the portage cart really coming in clutch.  After a quick riverside lunch we scouted the class II rapid directly across the Aroostook from us and loaded up for some white water fun.  The first rapid was fast and deep but easy enough which was good for our group since we were all paddling at different white water ability levels.  Downstream from the ledge rapid is short set of class II+ rapids that we poled and paddled through without a lot of issues, although I made the mistake of following the 16 foot canoe through a gap between two rocks that was clearly only 16 feet wide as my 18 foot canoe banged a tad trying to shoehorn through a tight spot.  Just downriver is the confluence of the Aroostook and the St. John River which we’d be paddling for the next four or five days.  


It was great to see the end of the Aroostook for me since I have paddled every river mile upstream to its source.  Turning onto the St. John we were instantly in big water susceptible to big wind and big waves.  The day was hot and calm as we paddled among raging thunderstorms that built all around us but seemed to part ahead of our group giving us calm water and outstanding scenery in the towering clouds and lightening.  Past Perth we found our first “hobo” camp of the trip.  Pulling off the St. John on a small beach we crested small ridge and found a hobo’s paradise in the form of a clearing on the woods bisected by a little creek shaded by cedars and birch.  Sure it was technically someone’s backyard-ish area but for us it was a great little campsite dubbed “1924 Camp” in reference to an ancient culvert overgrown now but that had 1924 stamped in the old cement arch.  General consensus was that it was a time portal to 1924.  

July 24th

South of Perth to Florence (20 River miles, 1.5 Portage Miles) 

21 miles paddled.  Hot and still weather, making great mileage.  Portage around Beechwood Dam, mile or so of easy portage along paved sidewalk then down rough boulder bank to river.  Camped on island north of Florence.  Great campsite, looks like others have camped here recently.

Well Marked Portage Trail?
Looking Upriver Towards the Beechwood Dam

Two thoughts on this day, nope, three.  

1. Always bring sunscreen.  Even if you are the “I brown and don’t burn” type sitting in a canoe for 6 hours will roast the tops of your shoulders, tops of your knees and tops of your feet.  It was hot, clear and still on this stretch of the trip which was a boon for making miles on the St. John which can erupt in 3 foot waves in a south wind but that left us feeling pretty cooked by mid afternoon.  Long sleeve hooded shirts are great for escaping the sun as are full brimmed hats and sunglasses.  We escaped sun burns for the most part although we all felt a bit crispy after a week under a blaring sun.

2.  It is amazing how many times campsites, which you have picked seemingly out of the need to stop hiking/paddling have already been used as camps by other hikers/paddlers.  We camped on an island that from the river looked unused by people but that was perfect for us: private, wooded, and without the high banks that line most of the St. John.  We pulled around the head of the island to an easier landing site with gentle grass banks and a good gravel beach for holding the boats.  I jumped into the woods directly up from where we landed and found a fire pit and some detritus from other campers.  I guess it’s cool in a way that multiple groups of canoeists saw the island as a great campsite and were drawn to this specific part of the 2-3 acre island.  Historically campsites were chosen where there was an abundant resource i.e animals, plants or medicine, where multiple waterways/trails came together or that was just a comfortable place to spend a night that gave shelter from weather, bugs or other humans.  

3.  Make hay while the sun shines on a long trip.  I wasn’t expecting such perfect paddling weather on the St. John and had planned accordingly.  When you are putting  a trip together for longer than a few days it is good practice to build in a few days to accommodate rough weather, injury, or for general R&R.  What I realized after two days on the St. John was that this group was able cover miles that were beyond my expectation that when combined with glass calm water would be putting ahead of schedule by a few days if we were able to keep getting so lucky weather and water-wise and also if we were able physically to keep putting in 20 miles paddling days.  I was hesitant to expect the same pace throughout the trip, especially in light of the fact that we had a 6 mile portage waiting for us at the end of our time on the St. John which would mark the beginning of our time following a part of the Ancient Maliseet Trail








The Waterlogged Journals: Page 9

July 20th 2016

Day 1

Jack Mountain Field School → Beaver Brook Campsite on the Aroostook River – 19 miles

We left the Jack Mountain camp this morning at 8 am to clear skies and a stiff north west wind. The Aroostook was choppy with waves coming upstream/ in our face. Thanks to some recent rain the water level is up allowing us to make good time despite the wind. All the planning over the past few months is finally paying off.

With any long back country trip, there is a feeling of great relief that comes when the bags are packed and the hours planning logistics are over. There is something to be said for “winging it” and there is indeed great joy that comes with haphazardly putting yourself out there in the world without a plan or agenda, but then again there is beauty in the precision of planning. Anyone who has spent long periods of time on trail knows that no matter how much you plan there are always the demons of chaos lurking just over the next contour line so the idea of planing a trip out shouldn’t be a deterrence to those who fear control. To organize is hedge your bets that you’ll have a sporting chance at getting to a destination safely and with a great story to tell, which when you’re guiding a 24 day canoe expedition is a good thing.

On a side note, wind has a defiant way of following a river so that you can be paddling into a head wind all day no matter which direction the river turns. The Aroostook has that capacity and on our first day we had to push into the wind for most of the day. We paddled 3 18′ Prospector-style Nova Craft canoes for our tandem boats and one 16′ Nova Craft solo for this trip. Due to the total miles we had to cover (350-ish) and the size of some of the water we’d be on that could get pretty mean if we caught a stretch of south wind I chose to fill both seats and paddle all tandem canoes. A couple days before we left one participant had to drop out leaving us with one solo boat (see, no matter how well you plan something usually pops up that challenges the idea that you have any idea what’s gonna happen).  This was not a problem in the end and gave everyone some much needed quiet time when it was their turn to paddle solo.

Wind, waves through the river grass, poison ivy quietly waits, my legs burn from the sun. We all move and are influenced by those who move around us. I move fast like smoke in the wind, here and there 40 miles away on the breeze.

We made it to Beaver Brook Camp by 1:30 today, good time indeed! Beautiful little camp at the confluence of the Aroostook and Beaver Brook. Good hammock sites but as expected there is poison ivy everywhere.  Caught a couple little brook trout holding in the confluence on a small hopper fly, nothing for the fry pan but a nice way to end the day.

-Dynamics of first campsite- can be clunky until everyone learns the systems

The first campsite on a long trip is usually a cluster ‘f’ of gear, people, and food. We camped on a rocky beach this first night which brought out a complication to this trip that I hadn’t really thought about since we usually occupy established campsites on canoe trips which offer both flat ground for tents and trees for hammocks. Most of this trip we “hobo camped” as we called it meaning at the end of the day we paddled until we found a promising stretch of riverbank that was usually someone’s backyard and that forced us to hack out a campsite that worked well (flat ground) for the 3 ground dwellers and that also had good tree cover to give the 4 “aerial campers” room to stretch out our hammocks. It never turned out to cause a problem but there were a few nights where us lofty ones were forced to slum it and sleep on the ground…

High functioning group performance on trail usually takes a few days to develop but once everyone knows the score, knows what needs to happen when and knows where everything lives efficiency prevails and daily chores that once might have taken an hour are whittled down to minutes.  I love watching groups develop from individuals taking care of individual needs to solidifying as a group taking care of group needs and each other without the need for direction.  For the first half of the trip we split up camp chores into 4 groups: the solo paddler had no chores since they were having to work harder all day to keep up, two people were responsible for cooking, two for getting the fire going and collecting and cutting up firewood and two for camp clean up.

The Waterlogged Journals: Pages 4-8

Food Planning for an Expedition

There is a philosophy and science to preparing a menu for a long back country trip. My personal foodie philosophy says eat simple, eat well, eat healthy. To me as a guide cooking on trail is a chance to do more than just fuel up, it’s a time to unwind, relive the days events, share stories and tell tall tales. Of course some meals on trail are simply about replacing calories, but too many meals that way can start to sink morale, deplete your health and turn meal time into a chore instead of a time of the day to look forward to.  Here are a few thoughts on food prep from my experience leading extended back country expeditions for the last 10 years:

Eat well on trail, no one likes gruel. I have been known to say that as long as the food is warm I could care less what it is, and to a certain extent that’s true, sometimes, but when you’re planning food for a group what you select should be better than just what you’d tolerate, it should be instead be a planned positive part of the experience that your trail mates will talk about when the trip is over.  It can be a challenge to plan a menu everyone will enjoy, especially these days where there seems to be a new dietary preference/restriction every day, but as long as meals are simple, nourishing and healthy chances are meal time will be a hit. Or you can follow the mantra of an old Maine guide who once said you should take the food you like so you’ll be guaranteed to have at least one happy eater at the table.

Food is medicine for the spirit on trail and while I don’t advocate breaking the bank buying gourmet food, a little love goes a long way towards making meal time a welcome part of the day instead of a mere filling of the tank. This summer we had one group member that was adamantly, and vocally opposed to having oats for breakfast every day due to an overdose on quick oats this past spring (I don’t know who mistakenly bought quick oats…). To appease his legit concerns we started by getting good steel cut oats and added fruit and nuts to the pot to add nutrition, variety and substance to an otherwise gluey breakfast.  In this case just a little creativity and flexibility headed off what could have been 22 grumpy breakfasts.

While we strive for quality and diversity in our trail food, we also live in the real world with a budget and we travel with finite space so the food we took along was a mix of all three needs:


Spend a little extra on nutrition. Little decisions when you’re shopping for your expedition’s food I believe can make a difference over the long haul. Buying whole grain pasta, brown or wild rice, multi-grain hot cereals, and maple syrup or honey are all upgrades in nutrition compared to the cheaper options in the form of white flour and cane sugar. A diet of cheap sugar and carbs may be fine for a short time but when your body is cranking and you are pushing it day after day I believe that you should feed the furnace the best you can. Again, this isn’t meant to be taken as eating expensive or luxury foods, just simple, healthy whole foods that you should probably be eating all the time anyway.  A general rule of thumb for a food budget is $4-$6 per person/ per day for basic food and $7-$15 per person/ per day if you want a more diverse diet with more diverse foods.  Above $15 per person/ per day and you are either glamping or you’re buying the expensive pre-packaged camping food which is usually terribly salty, often oddly portioned (too much or too little) and are a huge waste of packaging.

-Cook, Don’t just heat up. Anyone can pop a top off a can of spam or tear open a pre-made meal in a bag but a real outdoors person worth their salt should be able to cook over a camp stove or open fire at the same level as one does at home. Cooking to me means you didn’t just boil noodles and dump in a can of red sauce. It means maybe you fried some veggies first, grilled meat or spiced up the sauce.  One of the participants on the trip this summer related a story of being stationed on base in Germany and how some of the mess cooks would add to each dish something to make an otherwise boring meal good and how much that was appreciated by the other service guys.  That brought up the notion of adding a little love to each meal which after brought out the complain “where’s the love?” if we were served a stock meal.

It’s super easy to take bulk trail food like spaghetti and make it just a little better.  Adding some fresh veggies or meat, hot sauce, cheese, spices or whatever you have rolling around the food box does take a certain amount of culinary confidence/ experience, so if you don’t know how to ad hoc a meal, learn at home before you hit the trail, your expedition crew will appreciate, it I guarantee it. Take your skills one step further by learning how to bake bread, cake and cookies over a stove or campfire. Think your friends will like your new pasta and sauce? Imagine how much more they’ll like it if you can give them a piece of warm bread to go with it. Camp cooking is an art that many haven’t taken the time to learn but it is just as important, in my opinion as any other wilderness camping skill.

Vitamin Supplements. A few years ago I lead a workshop on menu planning for an extended winter expedition at a winter camping symposium. At the Q & A session a guy asked about taking vitamin supplements on trail, which at the time I answered that I though it couldn’t hurt but the food you take should represent a complete diet. While I have never taken supplements on trail outside of some vitamin C, I bet there is good evidence to show that, even if we are eating a good diet on trail there are micro nutrients and vitamins we are exhausting without replacing. Now, unless you are going to be on trail for months and months on end, this probably isn’t a concern, but I guess a few multi-vitamins don’t take up a lot of space so why not?

Half the food ready be packed by our trip intern and lackey Duke


Page 4-8
July 17-19

Food, meals and amounts for 7 people for 24 days


(18) Oats- ¾ cup per person per day

(6) Breakfast Eggs & Bacon- 18 eggs per day, 1 lb of bacon

*Eggs and bacon/ breakfast sausage travel well and will last a while if kept cool. We kept them in a small cooler filled with river water at night.  They were fresh for the 6 days and while the bacon was getting close to being ready to feed to the snapping turtles the eggs would have been fine for a lot longer.  Another way we could have kept the bacon (or any meat) fresh longer would have been to fill the small cooler with meat and water and frozen the whole cooler solid.


(12) Peanut Butter and Jelly- 1 ½ lb peanut butter, 20 oz jelly, 16 tortillas per day

(12) Meat and Cheese- 4 oz dried meat per person, 1 lb cheese, 2 packages of Wasa crackers per day

Apples and carrots

* For meat we dried and smoked 35 pounds of pork loin which was used for lunches and dinners.


(8) Pasta and Red Sauce- 6 oz. Pasta per person. 1 45 oz sauce jar. Leftover cheese and meat from lunch.

*For the first week we had some random veggies- onions, green peppers, garlic

(6) Burritos with Rice and Beans- ¼ c rice per person, ¼ c dry beans, 4 oz dried meat per person, spice mix, 2 tortillas per person, 8 oz cheese, two cans diced green chilies

(6) Chili- ¼ c rice per person, 1/4/ beans, 3 6 oz cans of tomato paste, 2 14 oz cans diced tomatoes, 2 chili spice pack, hot sauce, 8 oz cheese

(4) Tuna Mac- 6 oz pasta per person, 4 5 oz cans of tuna, 1 12 oz jar Mayonnaise, 2 can of corn, 1 can of peas, 2 cans of green chilies




Powdered Milk

Spices/ seasoning packets



Gorp Mix- 1 C. per person per day.  This we bought pre-mixed which would have been cheaper to buy in bulk and mix ourselves but the grocery didn’t have the bulk foods we wanted.

To have a little fun at the grocery buying all this food and also to give everyone a little more ownership in the food we were bringing, I charged everyone with picking out 2 luxury items less than $5 a piece to add to the food boxes. My thinking was that this would not only make for some funny moments when the mystery items were unearthed but it would also allow every meal a little something special for not a lot of extra money. Items included 2 boxes of pancake mix, a jar of Ovaltine, tahini, lemons, drink mix, cake mix, cookies, pesto, garlic paste and a few random spices and hot sauces.  All in all the food filled four York Boxes (waterproof cases with around 4 cubic feet of interior volume) two for the first 14 days and two for the last 10.

The Waterlogged Journals: Pages 1-3

2016 Jack Mountain Wilderness Canoe Expedition

Ashland Maine to Eastport Maine 7.20-8.10


A Translation of a Water Logged Notebook

It’s been a few months since we wrapped up this summers canoe expedition here in Northern Maine; the canoes are decorated with red and yellow leaves as they adorn the canoe rack like holiday ornaments.  The distance required to see a rippled reflection in water is equally proportional to the size of the object casting the image.  In this case, I needed a few months of distance to reflect on what we were able to experience and accomplish this summer and now the pages are open, or at least torn apart as I was aghast to find my red spiral bound notebook glued together with coffee, rain water and ink. Thanks to a hot towel  I was able to unbind most of the pages and I present here a recount of our 22 day canoe trip from our camp on the Aroostook River in The County to Eastport  Maine on Passmaquaddy Bay via the St.John, Eel, and St. Croix Rivers.

What follows is a day by day and page by page account of our trip starting 5 days before we put our paddles to water all the way to the debacle at the Sun Rise campground 22 days and about 300 river miles later, cribbed straight from my red spiral bound notebook that was my auxiliary brain in the days leading up to the trip and a depository for ideas, sketches and other notes from our time on the water. The regular text represents as close as I can cut what appears in the notebook. What follows in italics is my attempt at figuring just what the hell I was getting at.

Page 1

July 15

We all have a perfect image in our minds of how our lives are supposed to be. Every time I fly these days I picture a day [fishing] on the Boulder River. What I see ahead is one of those damn near perfect moments.

One of the great joys of fly fishing, or probably most any other activity in life I assume can be broken down into a series of moments like particles of light in a beam of life. I think it is a mistake to focus on the beam because we do not live in a thousand moments at once, we live in one and that one is pretty darn awesome when you’re standing in a river feeling a trout on your line, a river such as the Boulder in Montana. Flying for me has always been a duality of childlike exhilaration and adult trepidation based on my understanding of Newtonian physics that says what goes up must come down. It’s those moments in life we need to hold tight to, those perfect moments, in order to have the power to bridge us over tense moments, say like when the 100 foot long tube of steel you are buckled into is hurtling at 150 miles per hour down the tarmac. Meditate on the beautiful.

-For Canoe Trip-

  • Food List- GORP, cups per person/per day
  • Customs- Email about schedule of our arrival at Canada border
  • Tinker Dam- Use of access road
  • Food Drop
  • Road access out of First Eel Lake to North Lake

Any long expedition grows like a tree, or perhaps is like an iceberg, take your pick. Either way there is always way more beneath the surface that you can’t see in order for these types of trips to be possible and/or to run safely and smoothly. One of the most challenging logistical issues for this years canoe trip was negotiating US/ Canadian Customs at the 4 border checkpoints we either passed by or through as well as navigating the imaginary, but highly litigious political international boundary lines that bisected a few of the larger lakes we paddled.

A reoccurring theme of this trip was the invaluable kindness and assistance we received along the way starting with the cooperation and creativity of the Canadian Customs Office in Perth, New Brunswick who not only offered advice to shorten a 4 mile portage that would be necessary in order to check into Canada and then return to the Aroostook River downstream of the border but eventually concocted a plan to meet us on the river at the border with officers to process us, an X-ray machine to scan our gear and a good sense of humor to make the whole event, well, an event.  Even though we were kinda into the idea of carrying our canoes through a customs gate, we didn’t mind shaving a few miles off of our trip which already had enough miles of carries to technically make it a hybrid canoe/hiking expedition.       

 As with any long expedition food planning, packing and preparation is as equally fun as it is important. I love spending hours pouring over menus of trips we’ve done in the past and coming up with new meals. For this trip we packed half our food to be dropped off for us en route so our boats would be a little lighter for the 3 portages totaling 17 miles in the first 14 days of the trip.  There will be more on the food planning and packing later.
Page 2 & 3

July 16

The American Lone Wolf Archetype

What happens to the cultural icon, the lone wolf when the exploration is done, when the frontier is closed, when the last bison is gone and when the last bastion of safety from the now hostile world- the wild to the wild ones is shrinking, flattening and has slowly become a plastic version of real/true/authentic Nature? They are still out there, leaving paw prints in the red clay and nose smudges on glass doors reminding us that we have not run out of time yet.  They are part and parcel, red in tooth and claw, howling and hunting.

They say the roulette wheel has no memory and on one occasion in life I felt the need to test that notion in practice. At a cost of a few thousand dollars I can attest to the fact that no matter what mental gymnastics one can attempt or how much one can manipulate statistics of probability every time that big wheel spins there are only 2 possible outcomes- red or black (and yes, there are 2 greens but they are benign in my experience). Rivers too have no memory and are in fact constantly doing their best to remove and sweep away any present moment, depositing mud, silt, dreams, love letters and lost fly rods in the great deltas of the world. I can imagine wading around these soupy places, up to me knees in the out wash of civilization and nature.

I don’t know why this was rattling around in there a day or so before we left.  Maybe I see wild expeditions are a return to and escape to a more primal life, a life attuned to Nature, where so much of your day is in the flux of good and bad depending on the weather and the water.  While this trip was by no means pushing out into the unknown wilds, anytime you live for weeks on end outdoors the facade of civilization does begin to get a tad opaque.  

In the Fish and Now

“The fly fishing quarry we long-timers truly seek is not fish the creature, it’s just fishing the verb. The verb is preferable to any fish noun we catch because verbs partake of eternity, nouns are fleeting. Catch and kill a fish noun, it vanishes the instant you eat it.”

David James Duncan from the documentary “Trout Grass”

The sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no talking.

The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,

Creating, yet not possessing

Working, yet not taking credit.

Work is done, then forgotten.

Therefore it lasts forever.

Ch. 2 of the Tao Te Ching

Quietly we go about really doing nothing more than partaking in a child’s dream; spending the day chasing bugs and fish in the summer fields and lonely mountains with little more in our possession than a sack lunch and some bits of fur and feather. We watch water flow. We watch the way the current plays with emerging mayflies and bubbles and foam. Our eye follows the little eddies that spawn around a rock. We notice the roll of a pebble around our boot. The days bring the flight of ducks and the evaporation of clouds. We are the wind talkers of the water world, reading the messages of the river and air in order to fool a fish with the brain the size of a pencil eraser. Ecosemiotics is the reading of the sings of Nature the same way we read the signs in a city telling us to walk, not to walk, to eat at this restaurant or that one, how fast we can drive and which political candidate to care enough about to vote into office. All hunters should be expert readers of Nature. So too should all humans.

I have been tying a lot of flies recently getting ready for fall fishing out west this year. I think your fly box say a good deal about you as person instead of just what style of fishing you prefer. For instance, my fly boxes are a hot mess now. I have seen more order in rush hour traffic during a December blizzard and it seems just as I try to wrangle some sense of organization around them I go on a fishing bender and come back with 10 boxes full of chaos. My problem is that I am a tier with either a bad case of ADD or hyper creativity, which in either case prevents me from tying 3 of the same fly in a row resulting in fly boxes with so much diversity as to render any attempt at logical organization mute. The only place I’ve found this colorful chaos works is with my double-sided nymph box that always rides along in my sling because I feel that nymphs more adhere to the ‘any given fly on any given day’ stratagem of fly selection. They all fall into general themes but the execution of those themes is more centered on amusing myself at the fly bench with patters I’ll find pretty riverside instead of on tried and true old standbys. Think of my nymph box as a rave instead of ballroom dancing.

Where this gets me in trouble is during dry fly season. I have enough dry flies to have ‘the right one’ the majority of time I’m on the water but my thrifty Scandinavian sense precludes my from taking that many flies with me on any given day which often means the fly I really need is safely at home in the stacks. Instead of confronting my problem head on I bought two more fly boxes today with the hope that maybe they’ll take control of the situation, which I know is a slim proposition but it sure seemed like an easier fix than the inevitable paradigm shift I’m headed for.

One solution I have come up with is to tie for friends and so thereby not compounding my volume problem but allowing me to keep tying. This week I cranked out a series of spring creek midges and other size 22-26 nymphs for a friend in Montana in preparation for a trip this fall to catch the eager rainbows who follow the spawning browns up spring creeks picking off eggs and hatching midges. Since the box I was sending out west looked awfully scarce with just a few dozen tiny nymphs I decided to throw in a dozen flies that have become known as a ‘sparkle tits.’ I won’t go into great detail of the fly’s design as it is nothing more than a foam body madame x essentially, but I do feel the need to explain that the name was actually the result of fishing with my mom for a few days. That’s why I love fishing with family, after knowing each other for what is literally my whole life you never really know what is gonna be said next but chances are everyone will laugh.

The conclusion I came to is that not only does the state of your fly box speak to your personality but also does the flies that fill them. So, I know that it is not wise to generalize so I’ll speak for myself: when I am dry fly fishing I am in a totally different mindset than when I am tossing streamers or dragging nymphs. Throwing dries I feel much closer to the quotes above, as though I am involved at a very elemental level in the inner workings of the universe. Hours will go by between times I blink my eyes or look up from the water. I feel like a hunter. My goal is not to rip lips or to pad the day’s numbers, it is to get the cast, the perfect drift and the take. Of course I do want to have that take come from a slabber but honestly I am usually just happy with a fish in the net and a sip of single malt scotch.

Nymphing is more like the ‘crowd you see at bar time in a college town’ mentality. You have a few other preferences (flies, company, beverages) but as the good ones go home early you’re left buying a drink for whoever is still haunting the bar. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy nymphing probably more than the next guy because I work as a wilderness instructor through the best fishing months and end up fishing more in the winter than I do all summer (this I am in the process of correcting). I prefer, like the majority of fly fisherman to catch a fish on a dry but when it comes down to it I’ll tie up a dirty rig if it means I can get my waders wet and get a little slime in my net.

Fishing dries is aesthetic and maybe the way we’d all prefer life to be if we had our way. Chucking streamers is competitive, the aggressive side of fly fishing. Nymphing is the blue collar ‘getting it done when it has to get done’ kinda fishing, There is no right or wrong, just varying levels of how much time you need to spend in the water. However we chose to do it, our work is done when the fly is taken, then it is forgotten. I have been thinking a lot about this last statement lately, how elusive is that moment and how easily it is forgotten. I often use this idea to point out the inherent lunacy of our passion: we spend all our energy and money just to experience a moment that lasts a few fleeting seconds. The Tao helps me here, it’s through life’s immediate entropy that the beauty is created. Short and sweet, fleeting and gone. For me all this leads to, or from, the idea that nothing is permanent and only in those rare moments do we experience perfection.

I like this idea that perfection, or heaven, is rooted in time and not in place. It is a moment we seek, not a destination. Jonathan Livingston Seagull learned this in the water and I too am learning in the water that it should not be some future place or time that I strive for but instead it is about making the present moment the ideal, the holy, the rare. The holy moment. That fraction of a second when a fish takes and pulls. That vision of mountains, elk and water. Seeing your mom catch a fish on a fly (way to go ma!). The nosy rise. Bison fording the river above you, the sun setting below you. The perfect drift. The way the river grass moves in the current. Seeing you buddy with rod bent. The wind dying just as you cast. Realizing you have more coffee/beer in you pack. Knowing tomorrow will be like today. Fishing with pretty women. Getting out fished by pretty women. Getting your heart broke by those women but knowing that tomorrow you’ll be alive to try again. Getting you heart broke by those fish and knowing that tomorrow you’ll be alive to try again. Do not seek the treasure. Do not seek the goal. Seek the moment. Seek the now.