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.
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 http://www.maliseettrail.com/ 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.
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.
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.
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!
-Wilderness trip existing so close to people
-a lot of noise and traffic on lake
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.
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.
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: https://paulsveum.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/adventure-evangelism/