Back row (l to r): Sean Cullen, Elliott Murphy, Erin Gates, Marshall Murphy, Mackey Cromwell, Henry Chance, Jim Chance, and Dan Bliss
Front row (l to r): Rosie Palmer Ford, Mike Westcott and Courts Bliss
Allagash 2017 Trip Notes by Dan Bliss
Sunday August 20th to Friday August 24th
Sunday August 20
Courts and Elliott, our fearless leaders and current K/W counselors, spent the afternoon in the Buck Building making sure that the diverse group of adventurers would have the equipment and food they would require over the next five days. Tents, life jackets, cooking supplies and lots of bacon made its way into the coolers, wanigans, and various piles in preparation for early departure on Monday morning. Marsh and Dan, the fathers of the leaders and Kieve alums, offered to help get the van and load canoes. I am not sure they would have made that offer if they had known what this seemingly simple task entailed. However, they were able to wrangle a van, a canoe trailer and six canoes.
Following these preparations the trippers began to gather in at KLC for dinner and their last night of civilized comfort. Kieve Alum, Mackey C. was the first to arrive and he spent the afternoon and early evening reconnecting with old friends and gathering the gear he needed for the trip. Most everyone else was there by cocktail hour and were ready to eat by the time Diane presented the lobster feast. We were a group of 11 and included Kieve alums, Henry Chance and his dad Jim, Mike Westcott and Sean Cullen. We were also joined by Wavus counselor and alum Rosie Ford and her former cabin mate Erin.
Monday August 21
We had a quick breakfast and then gathered at Buck to pack the trailer and gather last minute supplies. Courtney and Elliott fitted everyone with life jackets and paddles, the canoes were tied on the trailer, tents loaded into the van, and everyone made the last minute scramble for whatever they thought they would need. Reid helped to set our course for the drive and with Courts at the wheel we left camp at about 9:15. We made a stop in Augusta for perishables and booze and then were on the road headed north for Ashland. One more stop in Newport for the steaks that were forgotten in Augusta and then north on 95 to Sherman Mills. We stopped for gas, the bathroom and lunch. It also gave us a chance to see the beginning of the awesome eclipse. We were not in the area where we could see totality, but as the afternoon wore on we had the opportunity to see it reach almost 50% coverage. Sean had brought a few pairs of glasses as well as a pinhole box for viewing.
After lunch we headed north on Rt 11 toward Ashland. The drive on this road is spectacular and it was made even more interesting by the fact that we were experiencing the eclipse. The world seemed to be under a strange shade and we stopped a few times (once in the middle of a busy logging road!!) to watch the amazing spectacle. There was one moment when the sun was partially hidden by clouds, but they parted just enough that we were able to see the distinct shadow of the moon on the sun. It was incredible and made even more memorable by the fact that at that moment a huge chip truck came barreling down the hills as we all were staring awestruck at the sky! Finally we made it to Ashland, fueled up and got ready to tackle the logging roads into Churchill Dam. We estimated that it would take about 1 ½ hours and chose to ignore the dire prediction of 3+ hours from the lady at the gas station. Another beautiful drive ensued and despite huge trucks moving quickly we arrived at our destination at about 5:00 pm.
We scouted our campsite, met the ranger, set up our itinerary for the next day and then settled into a delicious burger dinner. Elliott was on Bacon and Courts was on Onions and between the two of them, some very tasty burgers were prepared and enjoyed. It was a beautiful evening and most of the group walked over to the dam to gaze at Churchill lake and to look at the rapids we would do the next day. Sean made a great fire and assumed the mantle of “fire guy”, a title he definitely maintained throughout the trip! The drinks flowed, some stories were told and then it was time for bed. The snorers warned the rest of us and Macky promised that he would be out of the tent many times to go to the bathroom. All in all a very pleasant finish to a long day.
Tuesday August 22
We were all up early in anticipation of our run of Chases Rips. We fell into the easy routine of camping; taking care of personal needs, helping with group tasks, eating, and chit chatting as we prepared for the day. Courts and Eliot had bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches for us. There was also fresh fruit and coffee. In addition to being the “fire guy” Sean was also the “coffee guy” and he was up early to make sure that the gang was well caffeinated for the day.
Soon the group gear was back to the parking lot and loaded into the ranger’s pickup truck. Dan drove the van and trailer around to the put in spot and everyone off loaded the boats. The van and trailer were returned to the parking lot for Norm from Peltiers to transport to Michaud Farm. Courts used her extensive “white water rescue” experience and training to set us up for the rapids. We joined up in our canoe pairs and got ready to head off down the river. These groups stayed consistent through the trip. (Marsh and Mackey; Sean and Mike; Rosie and Erin; Courts and Dan; Henry and Jim; and lastly Elliott who bravely paddled by himself)
The fast water was such a thrill, and the paddling skills and whitewater knowledge came flooding back, even to our more mature members. Courts and Dan had trouble with left and right, Sean and Mike enjoyed the fun and took many pictures, Henry and Jim had an encounter with a nasty rock, but Eliot and Courts got them squared away and heading back down the river. Erin and Rosie looked like they had been down the river together last week not years before, Marsh and Mackey navigated the obstacles with precision and profanity, and Elliott charmed his way down river, smiling all the way! Despite the low water levels everyone had fun and before we knew it we were at the old washed out bridge where we retrieved the gear that the rangers had dropped off for us. We took advantage of dry land to empty water out of canoes, hit the bathroom, and grab a snack. Snickers, Milky Ways, and apples reenergized us for the next push down the river.
After loading the canoes we were off towards Umsaskis. We had a few more small rapids, and then gradually entered the marsh that led to the lake. The Wind Gods were looking out for us and we had tail winds. Everyone on the trip had their own memories of the struggle of hitting Umsaskis and facing stiff headwinds, so we were all very happy. We headed for Ledges campsite and since only one other group was in front of us we were pretty sure that it would be open. That thinking was wrong and it was occupied. The decision was made to push on towards Sandy Point. The friendly winds pushed us right to the site and except for the muddy and mucky entrance it turned out to be very nice.
We unloaded the canoes, moved group gear into the kitchen area, and then set up our tents. The site was big and flat and given snoring of the night before, we spread out a bit. After camp was set up, some rested and read, while others sought out a swimming spot. The water was a bit cool, but very refreshing. The lake had an uneven and rocky bottom, but the swimming was very enjoyable. Marsh, Dan and Sean decided to float with the current and ended up under the bridge of the American Reality Road. A few big trucks went by as we were climbing up the bank, and we wondered what the truckers must have been thinking. Dinner of steak and “veggie pockets” was next. Once again our leaders/chefs did an awesome job. Sean had another a great fire going and they cooked the dinner “old school style” over the hot coals. The veggie pockets were especially tasty and devoured by everyone. Mackey’s loved this site for the simple fact that the area where the outhouses were located was a “beautiful wonderland of moss and magical trees”. All who visited the outhouses agreed! After dinner, it started to rain lightly and Eliot, with the help of others, put up the tarp. The rain increased in intensity and we all ran off to our nice dry tents. The timing of the rain was just one more example of the good fortune with the weather that we enjoyed on the trip.
Wednesday August 23
We awoke to somewhat overcast skies, but it was dry. Breakfast that morning was sausage and delicious blueberry pancakes. As we were taking down tents, we discovered a number of very large and ominous piles of scat right between the Bliss and Murphy/Cromwell tents. Everyone who had an opinion thought it must have been a bear, and this fact made everyone a bit anxious as it had been left after the heavy rain of the night before. Many of us thought what would have happened if they had met this bear during a night time bathroom run.
After the tasty breakfast we headed for Long Lake. The wind was still at our back and so we enjoyed some easy paddling. At one point in the middle of the lake we joined up and attempted to sail. The tarp was put to use once again and we tried to take advantage of the gusts pushing us along. It worked for awhile, but despite hard work from many, especially Marsh who was trying hard to keep us heading down the lake, we abandoned the attempt after about 20 minutes, broke apart and paddled off down the lake. Our destination was Long Lake Dam, but we stopped first for a bathroom/snack break. We pulled up on a spit of land and relaxed, peed and ate the cookies thrown from boat to boat. Not sure if Eliot got enough snack, but I am sure he made up for it later at dinner!
We got to the dam and found our traveling companions who has snagged Ledges the night before. They were eating lunch at the campsite. We decided to push through and hoped to take the best campsite between there and Round Pond. We completed the short portage in quick order. Everyone just kept moving stuff across the trail and we were ready to go minutes after putting ashore. We scouted the site at Cunliffe Islands, but decided to continue down river and head to Sweeney Brook. It was a great decision as we ended up on a nice bank campsite with good swimming and as it turned out great wood. Thank you again Sean!
The evening was beautiful and the drinks were flowing. Even Mike joined in and our resident bartender, Marsh, kept everyone happy. Dinner was Burrito Bowls and again Courts and Eliot created a delicious and filling meal. S’mores followed and everyone enjoyed the warm fire and the yummy treats. The stars were out and the group kept moving back and forth between the shore with it’s view of the stars and the fire and it’s warmth and access to S’mores! It was a grand night to be on the river, and one that will be remembered fondly by everyone. It was the kind of night that makes these trips worth it; good food and drink, many laughs and stories, beautiful nature all around, and most importantly our newly bonded group just enjoying being together.
Thursday August 23rd
We awoke to another great day! It was cool and there was mist on the river, but as the sun came over the trees we knew that it would be warm and sunny later. Breakfast was a creation by Courts. She called it “Sausage and Biscuits”. We all just called it delicious! We took down camp and were loading canoes when the group we had been shadowing all trip paddled by. We all exchanged cheery greetings and then we pushed off and headed towards Round Pond. We had a little fast water, but most of the paddle to the pond was dead water and not that exciting. The wind is light and variable and while it is sometimes in our face, most of the time it is not an issue. We stopped at Maibec Road bridge and had a snack and everyone wandered a bit to pee and stretch. A few trucks roared by, and we commented on how strange it was to be in the “wilderness” but have these trucks so common as they cross the river. As we got back in the canoes, Rosie decided to do a bit of acrobatics/yoga. Somehow, she balanced in a headstand pose on bow of her canoe! It is quite impressive to say the least. We all wondered if Erin had any thoughts of rocking that boat to see what would happen?
We came into picturesque Round Pond and stopped at the Inlet campsite. It was beautiful; flat and with a great view across the pond to the mountains beyond. We rested there and observed quite a large snake, who was hanging out in the grass wondering when we were going to leave. We finally did leave, and paddled into a very brief, but strong rain shower. It was over and the sun was back out before we left the pond. The next stretch of river was really quite beautiful; some fast water, a few stretches of dead water, and many osprey, kingfishers and eagles. Despite seeing these beautiful birds we all wanted to see a mammal.
Many of us got our wish when Courts and Sean spied a moose feeding along the bank up ahead on the river. It is always a thrill to see such a magnificent and ungainly creature. They also never cease to amaze with their grace as they move off into the alders by the side of the river. We pulled into camp soon after and were very pleased with the layout and views of the Five Finger Brook South campsite. It was perched on a high bank overlooking a quick set of rapids, which looked perfect for swimming. The canoes at the rear of the troop finally arrived and we greeted them with questions about whether they had seen the moose or not. However they answered back with questions about whether we had seen “it” too? What had they seen we asked? A Canadian Lynx, Marsh exclaimed! Marsh had seen some movement in the woods by the river and then the Lynx had stepped out into view. It had a short tail, heavy body and pointed ears. He confirmed it when we got back to camp by looking at a picture. What a thrill to see these two magnificent creatures of the north country in such a short time frame.
Soon the camp was set up, tents spread out around the site and Sean with his hammock between two trees near the river. Many swam in the rapids, but Rosie earned the prize of longest time on the water and most enjoyment from the experience. Cards were also played that afternoon and despite never having played President, Jim was the most consistent winner. Even though we were running low on beer and ice, Marsh was able to keep everyone satisfied with drinks as we enjoyed our last evening on the river. Dinner was chili and cornbread. Once again, Sean made an awesome fire with wood the gang collected and Mike respectfully and methodically split. It was another special evening along the river. The good food cooked on a hot fire, the animal sightings, the camaraderie of the group; all contributed to make it another memorable one. We headed to bed a bit early as we had to be up and on the water by 7:00 in order to get to Michaud Farm and then on the road home at at a reasonable time.
Friday August 24
We all planned to be up at 6:00 to get going, but we are up even earlier because there is a moose feeding in the river right across from our camp. It was cold, and with mist coming off the water it was the perfect picture! The moose finally wandered off into the woods and we broke camp, ate some granola bars and hit the river. The sun was not fully up and on the shaded side of the river it was very cold. The river was again magical and that feeling was only enhanced by the fact that we saw four more moose during our trip to Michaud Farm. The river was low and we needed to drag a few times, but we were at our take out spot by 9:30. It was certainly bittersweet as we all navigated (some better than others) the last rapid as we pulled into the farm.
We tracked down the van and trailer and then set to loading up. Sean put his expertise to work once again and fixed the wires for the trailer lights that had been severed. We met up with four young guys (two from Colby, one Bates and one Dartmouth) who had finished their trip early and needed a ride to St Francis. They took our picture and we drove them out of the woods. It is a small world as it turns out that one of them knew Wavus alum Emma Murphy from Colby and Kieve counselors John Devine (Colby) and Lexi Kemp (Bates). We loaded into the van and left the river. A quick stop in St Francis at Pelletier’s to drop off our new friends and then on towards Fort Kent.
We got an awesome lunch at Al’s Tastee Freeze, filled up with gas and hit the road. Rt 11 was beautiful as always, another entertaining stop in Ashland and then on to Nobleboro. As we arrived in camp we stopped and put the canoes away in the field and then went to the Buck building to unpack and clean our gear. That was accomplished in short order and then it was off to the KLC for cocktails and a nice steak dinner, thanks again Diane. Henry put together a great slide show and after dinner we all watched as the images of our adventure flowed past. Then it was time to say good bye. Marsh and Elliott were off to Cushing, Mike was headed home to his wife in Damariscotta, Sean had to hit the road back to Vermont and the rest of us went to bed with hopes of a good night sleep before being on the road early the next morning. I can’t speak for everyone, but I did not sleep well. It was too comfortable. I missed the tent, the fire, the fun, and especially the people.
Special thanks are in order:
To Courts and Elloitt for leading, cooking and keeping their dads in line
To Sean for being the “coffee guy”, the “fire guy”, the “eclipse guy”, the “fix the wire guy”, the “wood guy”, the “picture guy”. (He really must have learned a lot from his former Allagash HBC)
To Marsh for bartending, keeping us laughing, and taking care of his boys; Elloitt and Mackey
To Rosie and Erin for reminding us of how fun it is to be with old friends in a place you both love
To Mike for being the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time) in all ways, he was simply “the man”
To Mackey for being himself and keeping us all laughing
To Henry and Jim for living a true and heartfelt “father-son” relationship.
To Dan for driving the van, keeping Marsh entertained, and being a good follower.
Lastly we would all like to thank HRK and the whole KW family for making this trip possible. It just goes to show that you can go back!