Day 5 – Wednesday – 9/21/11 –9:47pm:
What a day today has been, I don’t know where to begin… I woke up early & popped my head out of my tent from the beach at The Jaws looking to see if the moose was in the cove across from me. It wasn’t there so I got up & started gathering some stuff together for the day. It was still early & I knew I only had a half hour paddle to the dam, which wouldn’t be manned by a ranger until 8am anyway, so I wasn’t too hurried. The sun started to come up so I decided to take some photos halfway through packing my gear.
I decided to walk down the rocks a bit, away from camp. While looking around I noticed a cow moose walking toward the other couple’s camp across the water. It went up into the woods & I kept watching to see if it had gone around their camp & was going to appear in the cove which I was lined up for taking a photo if it did. I wondered if the couple knew how close it had gotten to them. I had noticed paddling by their site last night it had looked like they may have had a dog with them & in talking with the ranger, he confirmed that they they did. I started thinking that I didn’t hear the dog barking so I was surprised about that.
While watching & wanting to see if the moose was going to make an appearance, all of a sudden a bull moose came walking out of the trees on the opposite shore instead & it proceeded to walk out onto the rocks. I got some photos while the moose swam across the thoroughfare & walked directly toward my camp. From what I could tell from the angle I was at, it looked as though it walked right by my tent & then continued into the woods. After it had started to cross to my side, I noticed the guy from across the thoroughfare, it looked like he was trying to get some photos of the moose also. We saw each other & gave a wave. I walked back to camp but the moose had cleared out like I thought.
I broke camp & made my way slowly toward Churchill Dam. On my way, after only a few minutes of paddling around the corner from where my camp was, I saw 3 more moose just grazing in the water. One of them was a young one that I watched enter the water. They didn’t mind me being there at all. I kept on paddling & then saw another moose along the western shore.
So, my morning had just begun & I had already seen 6 moose! I got to the dam & the ranger I saw last night was there. He would be the ranger portaging gear and/or canoes to the Bisonnette Bridge, 2 miles downriver for those in need of the service. He was talking to another gentleman who was in a group of 3. 2 of them were in a canoe & 1 in a kayak. They were going to be launching shortly.
They informed me of a beaten path down by an old boarding house which led to a view of a tough part of the rapids. I waited for a few minutes after getting down there & then I saw them. It looked like a lot of fun & they didn’t make it look that difficult. Come to find out, the guy in the back was more experienced & was in control of the boat. At that point, I got it in my mind that I wanted to do the rapids. I had told myself before coming here that I wanted to do the “entire” waterway, after all. Got back up to the dam & told the ranger I’d be doing the rapids. We noticed the other couple that slept across from me was showing up too. They must have broke camp right after me. Since they were right behind me I decided to let them launch first. The ranger had gone to drop the other group’s gear off at the bridge (the bridge is no longer there, just the remains) He mentioned that it’s about an hour’s paddled downriver to get to where the gear would be dropped off.
While he was gone, the other couple arrived & we got to talking about the moose in camp. They were both really friendly & were super cool & we got along well. They had a wolf-hybrid dog with them. He told me that he saw the bull walk into my camp & said “I was like, holy shit, I wonder if he’s in there. That moose must have been 6 inches from your tent.” He said their dog had started to growl but they were able to quickly control her to not spook the moose. He also mentioned that they had seen an even larger bull moose in their camp last night. We helped portage each other’s canoes to the other side of the dam. They both had done this trip once before, 2 years ago, so they told me I could follow them through the rapids to see what to do or what not to do in case they overturned. They portaged most of their gear with the ranger as did I, but they brought their dog with them. We started off slow & then before you know it we were in the rapids. I was so nervous & I realized that I probably shouldn’t have been introducing myself to whitewater canoeing with Class III rapids to begin with. Everything was going well but then they started to get snagged on a rock, then cleared it. Following closely, I wasn’t able to react fast enough to notice the next large rock down past them & I got my canoe pinned sideways against the 2nd rock, hitting it hard with the side of the boat. The canoe filled ¾ full instantly. I knew if it completely filled, it would be nearly impossible to move it. I gave it an instant shove & got it past the rock. The water was fast & I decided quickly to hold onto the back of the boat following it down to a slower section of the river. I banged up my left leg a bit on a rock, but swam down behind the boat so I could see where the rocks were by having the canoe in front of me & kept my feet up the rest of the way down. By guiding the boat from behind like that, I kept from banging my leg up anymore. I hadn’t planned on a swim today, but at least it was sunny & the water actually felt good. The water finally slowed a bit & I directed the canoe to the side of the river to empty the water. Noticing I was no longer behind them, the couple had stopped & helped me finish emptying the water. We continued down the rapids toward our gear. I held my left leg out of the canoe dragging it through the cool water along the slower sections of river which helped my leg feel better. I knew I didn’t have access to any ice so this was the closest I was going to get. Once we got to the old bridge I got out & assessed the damage to the boat. I saw that in a few places, there were cracks in the fiberglass that went almost all the way through. They were paper thin. I decided they should be fine to continue, I would just be watchful of them. After loading the canoe again, & taking a photo of them with their camera for them, I parted ways with the other couple. They had been in a used Old Town ’70s canoe that they had recently gotten a bargain on. The guy selling it to them had already repainted it & even added a skid plate to it. The boat was made of Royalex & it appeared to have a lot more give on the rocks, so it didn’t have the same kind of damage, but I felt like my 31 year old, 15 ft Mohawk canoe had survived the rapids because she was still floating.
I was on my way once again. I can’t begin to describe the river portion of this trip, it’s brilliant! I’ve been so looking forward to the river section after all that lake paddling & now it’s here. It’s not like other rivers I’ve been on, the strong scent of spruce & pine were filling my lungs. I was engrossed in the beauty of traveling down the river. I started seeing some more color starting to change in the leaves of the trees. Paddling the big lakes was nice but having paddled the entire waterway, if I were to come back up I’d consider putting in at Churchill Dam & just paddling the river for a few days. I continued paddling my way toward Umsaskis Lake.
I kept thinking of what Nolan would say, “Ah, this is the life.” Moments later, I would think of how my 8 year old son Gavin would often say “This is the bestest day in my life.” I truly felt alive & it felt so good. The river was as beautiful in all ways that it could be at that moment. I paddled across Umsaskis Lake & onto Long Lake.
My intended destination for the day would be either Sam’s or Jalbert. Sam’s would be on the Western side of the lake that I was traveling on & I could see the group of 3 in the distance so I figured they were headed for Sam’s possibly, so I decided to cross Long Lake & to settle in at Jalbert. It would put me at the site about 4pm, so I could set up in the sunlight. Halfway across Long Lake the canoe started leaking a lot of water through the cracks from earlier. I paddled harder to get to the other side. I was half expecting to see the couple from earlier show up later at Jalbert because they had mentioned this also as one of their possible endpoints for the day. I got to camp, checked for cell signal & found none. I set up camp & checked the boat. Luckily, I had brought a ding stick with me (marine epoxy putty), so I broke off half a wooden clothespin to use to apply the putty to the cracks. If it works my mantra tomorrow will be “she ain’t pretty, but she floats.”
As soon as I arrived at camp, I had noticed right away that there was a ton of animal scat in the tree line so I knew it could be active with wildlife. I started taking some photos & lost track of time since it’s getting dark earlier now, sun sets at 6pm & it’s dark by 7pm. I never ate supper tonight but I finished off the peanuts I brought upon arriving at camp, and after the sun had set. I gathered the stuff for my tent & I noticed some really loud animal sounds close by. The noises seemed to get louder & closer, the darker it got. There had been a woodpecker keeping busy in camp until now, but this was a large animal that I couldn’t spot. I was stopped in my tracks trying to figure out what it was before getting in my tent. Then it snorted loudly in my direction & not being sure, I thought it had to be a bear, so I got prepared in case it was. I made some noise standing at the edge of the trees with a can of mace & a knife trying to get a fix on what was making the noise. After several moments & several more snorts in my direction, it was just about dark now & a large cow moose & her young stealthily walked out of the tree line coming from the nearby brook disregarding me completely & walked right on past me & my canoe staring at me as they went. I tried taking a photo but even with a flash, it didn’t really come out because it was so dark then. I was relieved that it wasn’t a bear. I wouldn’t have been able to climb into my tent for the night without knowing what was out there.
So, today I’ve run Chase Rapids, bruised my left leg pretty good, cracked my boat in multiple places, got a leak, repaired the boat & saw 8 moose! What a day!!! Tomorrow there’s a 70% chance of showers, I had heard the ranger mention earlier, so tomorrow may suck, but I plan on getting as far as I can as long as it’s not stormy. I’ll be sad if it rains all day long though, because it would be nice to be able to enjoy nice weather on the river part of the trip with the incredible scenery. I still have ½ of Long Lake to paddle & then I’ll portage Long Lake Dam to avoid the timber spikes that could damage the canoe even more. Tonight is very cold, I can’t seem to warm up at all.
-Good Night from Jalbert, Long Lake, The Allagash, ME
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