Sunday, August 2, 2015

End of the Trip

Fifteen years ago a couple of guys planned a trip that would follow ancient canoe routes from the St. Lawrence Seaway through the heart of Maine to the ocean and then follow that crossing portage trails used for thousands of years.  Going by the monikers of Scooter and Hal we took to the task.  It took us three different attempts to paddle it all by canoe but we did it.  This July we did the final stretch.  Here's our story. 

July 24, 2015

It was finally happening.  The final push on our trip that we started fifteen years ago.  We met at Cousins Island and loaded up a car for the drive to the putin at the boat ramp in Brunswick, ME.  Our goal was to paddle back to Cousins following ancient canoe routes down the coast.  Our goal for the day was to paddle out to Merrymeeting Bay and camp on Bird Island.

Loading Boats

Hal's Ready

Still within sight of the ramp an osprey plunged into the water behind us and rose with a fish flying directly over our heads.  From out of no where a bald eagle came in for the steal and a quick clashing of wings between them found the fish falling back into the water.  It was an amazing sight and happened so quickly neither of us could take a picture.

Now part of our plan was to sail as much as possible and the wind shifted and we quickly set up sails and off we went.  I had spent a fair amount of time rigging up a rudder for the Disco and it had worked in a test run but with all of the weight I had the rudder was too narrow and couldn't handle it so I had to resort back to using my paddle.   Before we could set up sails though Hal had to modify his mast thwart, seemed to have shrunk or something.  Leatherman's are good for something I guess.

Grinding out the mast thwart
I've tried to add a movie of us sailing but the file is too big so here's a link to canoe sailing into Merrymeeting Bay:

We sailed out of the Androscoggin River into Merrymeeting Bay and starting looking for Bird Island.  It was a beautiful day and it was so relaxing to just be under wind power but unfortunately it was the only time we hoisted our sails.  We finally found the island but I wasn't all that impressed with it.

Just ahead was another island that offered a much better site, Brick Island so we sailed there and set up camp.  A beautiful place to be.  After camp was set up we got dinner ready and had a few cocktails and sat out on the rocks and watched the show, the sunset and it was magnificent.

July 25, 2015

Woke up to what else but rain!  Both Hal and I were a little groggy from our beverages but had a nice breakfast and coffee out of the Almighty Coffee Pot, a companion for many years now.  Something odd did happen though while it was perking, it wasn't.  I took the lid off and the stem where the water shoots up was clogged which was very odd as this had never happened before and I always wash it completely before storing it away.  I used a stick to clean it out and it wasn't long before we had a cup of hot joe.

We packed up and put in as the confluence of the Andro and the Kennebec was just around a point.  Holy Crap, the Kennebec was cranking out to sea but as we rounded the point the headwind was slamming us in the face.  A typical day for Scooter and Hal except this was a very strong headwind which against the out going tide made for some interesting waters.

We ran through the Chops, the Chops being a narrowing in the Kennebec where the waters can get crazy from what we've been told and read, with no problem but all of a sudden I was feeling a bit shaky.  I caught up with Hal and he looks at me and says he feels like he's going to hurl!  I said Puke!  Yeah, you stupid shit, whatta think it means!  I was starting to feel down right crappy.  At one point I looked over my shoulder to see where Hal was and thought I'd fall in!  Something just wasn't right.  With a lot of work we made it to a boat ramp just above Bath and took a break.  Hal was looking pretty bad and my legs were shaking and I felt like crap.  Remember that clogged coffee maker?  After some discussion we could only think something unhealthy got into it and was the culprit.

Hal relieved his stomach while I kept feeling worse and worse.  We stopped in Bath and got some water and Rolaids and kept going heading for the Winnigance Portage.  Below Bath Boat Works we veered river right to Winnegance and away from the Kennebec.  The stream leading in was low so we waited out the tide and slowly made our way in to it where we were suppose to cross under a bridge.   As we sat there twiddling our thumbs I looked over and said to Hal that it wasn't a bridge but a dam!  Oh man, if I could have gotten a picture of Hal's face it would have been priceless!

Sitting in Winnegance Stream waiting for the tide

The damned bridge
Hal looking for an opening on the Winnegance
Our only alternative was a unplanned and short portage!  Hal was rallying some but I was feeling worse and worse.  We had to off load all of our gear, haul it up a short but steep slope, cross the road, dump it and go back for more and then our boats.  Suckfest!  It took us over an hour!  With that finally done we pushed my canoe into the rather nasty put in, cattail and tall weeds.  Hal pushed my canoe and damn, the whole thing moved!  It was floating island!  I've heard of these but never seen them.  Pushing with a pole I was able to widen the gap enough to get out in to the main body of water.

Pushing out.  The whole shoreline was floating bog stuff
I wish I had a picture of Hal poling out of that mess but I barely broke my camera out all day.  We paddled up to the end of this stretch expecting to find the channel to the portage but all we found was more and more and more of the cattail floating bog mess and it was across the entire stretch of land.  We kept searching for an opening but could not find any.  It was getting towards dark and we needed to find a campsite which we did but it was a party spot for kids we found out later but made due.

July  26, 2015

We started to break camp and load up and decided our alternatives were to go back to the dam and do a portage there or look for an opening in this mess.  We spent a fair amount of time poking here and there following leads that were dead ends.  We'd push a cattail island to make headway only to have it block right where we came from!  It was amazing but frustrating.

In the end we fought through the floaters onto land where a couple of locals were watching us.  They told us these things float around with the wind and often block this narrow section.  Sometimes they'll hook into them with their john boats with motors and drag them out, sometimes use ice cutting saws to cut them up and move them around.  It was clear we weren't going to make it which was crazy because from this gentleman's house we could see clear water not to far off.

So instead of the ancient trail we had to resort to a portage cart/road portage, about two miles worth.  I will honest it was bear for me pushing my boat and gear up hill and needed help a couple of times.  I'm getting old and am not in the best of shape but we made it.  We found Indian Carry Rd and stopped there as across the road was the exit for the Winnegance Portage.

Part of the Winnegance Portage
 During Hal's research he found it would cut across someone's land which can be dicey.  As it turned out the gentleman who lived there happened to pull in and we were shy of water.  Hal walked over and asked if we could get a fill up.  In our exchange he said he didn't care who was on that trail as it wasn't on his land and if we could have gotten there would have been happy to let us wander up his lawn to cross over.  Irony!  Hal and I had been worried about this since we planned the trip.  Since it was across the road we walked it just to be on a piece of history.  When we got the bottom of the trail I could understand why this trail was so important.  It felt good to stand where who knows how many others had passed over the years.  More important to Hal but being there was being a special place.

Our next chore was to finish the portage down to New Meadows River.  One more hill and then we were there but it was low tide.  We opted to carry our gear to a sandy section and lowered our canoes down a set of stairs.  We were now on the New Meadows River in Winnegance Cove and had to make our way out to the main course.  Of course there was a headwind but once we got out into the mainstream it would be either a quartering wind or tailwind plus the tide was in our favor.  We tucked into an eddie and Hal looked over his Maine Island Book and we decided to head for Merritt Island instead of  Doughty Point.  We needed a dry out afternoon.  We ended up basically paddling as little as possible and let the wind and the current take us up to the island.  The sun was up and hot, the weather gods were with us for the moment, cause ya know this is Scooter and Hal and they constantly seem to frown on us and we just enjoyed the moment.

Hal heading out to the main channel

Damn, a nice day!

Hal making headway on the New Meadows River

July 27, 2015

We wanted an early start to catch the tides right and get through Gurnet Straight Bridge without fighting the current.  It was an absolutely beautiful morning with little or no breeze.  Going through Gurnet was no problem but we did miss a turn and paddled down a dead end which was another sweet place and was kind of a bonus. No camps or houses, only solitude.  It was well worth the extra time and miles spent.

 We were now in Harpswell Sound and we had a portage ahead of us at Clark's Cove.  To be honest it was a perfect day to paddle.  We had the current with a mild headwind but that just cooled one and wasn't a chore.   We passed a lot of beautiful and interesting scenery.

Unique Place

Hole in the wall

At Clark's Cove we loaded up the boats on the carts and began our last portage.  Of course the first thing was a damn hill!  Oh man, it was hot one and I was sweating like a stuck pig but we finally got up to the main road, Rt 123.  Across the road was a Boy Scout meeting hall and we planted our boats there in the shade.  Across the road was a business establishment and a man was busy cleaning crabs.  We wandered over and asked if we could fill our water containers as we were running low and asked how close the nearest store was.  He did offer us a ride but we said we'd walked instead of stinking up his car from four days of sweating and not bathing.  That was just plain stupid on our part.

One of the locals checking us out

There's more then one way to move a canoe!

We made the two mile round trip and just as we got back rumbles of thunder began.  It looked like we would be hanging out a while to avoid being on the water with thunderstorms rolling through.  Now here began an interesting twist to this tale.  A gentleman showed up, Ed Webster.  I never saw him walk up the porch but all of a sudden he was there.  Apparently we had passed him on the portage while he was mowing his lawn.  He just had to ask what the hell we were up to and so for the next hour we exchanged stories.  We shared our tale and then he told us he was a three time Mt. Everest climber the last route the took was a new one and one that left him minus parts of his fingers and toes to frost bite.  Holding up his hands to show the lack of parts of fingers absolutely blew me away.  In our conversation I never noticed.  Four days on the retreat were without food.  Ed was an absolutely fascinating man and was such a pleasure to meet him.  We ended up each buying his book, "Snow In the Kingdom, My Storm Years on Everest".

Ed Webster

He has collected quite a collection of rare photos from the Perry Expedition and others as well over the years.  The beauty of this long venture of ours has truly been the people we have met along the way.  I do not think there has been one person who hasn't reached out and offered help in one way or another during our six hundred mile jaunt. Ed was just another character whose unique background made this part of the trip worth the paddle.

With the thunderstorm gone we finished our portage and put in for a crossing on Middle Bay to the Gosling Islands where we'd spend our last night on the trip.  I think I surprised Hal when I said lets just paddle from point A to point B which was in big open water, something that scares the hell out of me.

OK, I just liked this!

Hal the Portage Boy

Almost there!

Hal Paddles Away From Our Last Portage
 It turned out to be a gorgeous evening on the way out.  The moon was rising, the waves were gentle and the tide was with us.  Ahead of us was the Goslings Islands which is where we ended up.

We made camp as the sun was setting and enjoyed the views.  Within eyesight was Cousins Island.  I sat on a rock for a while just thinking about this whole journey.  The years it took, the struggles we had, the people we met, remembering the good and bad parts, being pissed at Hal, Hal pissed at me, the long hauls, the short ones, laughing like hell and almost crying.  Although our plan was to do the entire trip in a month I don't regret spending all of these years getting to the end.  In our conversations on this trail Hal and I have agreed the early days of our travels certainly grew us some backbone and built our characters.  Without this I think we would be much different people.  I have to smile a bit when I think about this journey. 

Sunset On the Goslings

Cousins Island, the Final Destination and the End of the Trail

July 28, 2015

Our final day on this journey found us up fairly early as we had a big crossing and wanted to beat any winds.  I believe it was about five or six miles we had to do.  Our day began with a sunrise that was almost inspirational.

We loaded up for the final time and pushed off into gentle waves, a warm breeze and a beautifully warm day.  It's almost as if the weather gods knew we were finishing this trip and decided to have some mercy on us for after all this is Scooter and Hal.  We seemed to just hang close and paddled slowly as if we didn't want it to really end.  Soon enough the camp was in sight and pulling into shore was the closing of the final chapter to this story!

An Observer


Hal's final paddle strokes to the finale.  Quite the journey for a couple of dubs who knew next to nothing when the started.

Hal's Final Approach

A final note.

When we talked about this final push I insisted on using the boats we started in and did but I never heard the end of that for these are heavy boats.  Well, Hal's ol' Hand Basket that he started with was worn down over the years but he did finish in an Explorer.  I finished in my Disco, the Hogged Backed Saint and it nearly killed me.  I have gotten older, weaker and she is still a hefty eighty pounds or so despite my efforts to drag as much off her as I could over the years.  The Saint has been my tripping boat for more years and miles then I can count but after this trip I've decided to retire her.  She was almost pristine when I bought her but now has more scars then a couple of hospitals combined.  My last chore was to do the final off load and heave ho up the shore.  She'll still see some waters but nothing like this ever again.  I tip one to you my dear old friend!


The Adventures of Scooter and Hal.  Fifteen years in the making following ancient canoe routes from the St. Lawrence Seaway to the coast of Maine by canoe. 

Hal de Gullboise

Scooter and Hal, photo by Robin Hopkinson
The End