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.
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
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.