After spending the past 4-weeks on the water running the Wilderness Canoe Expedition Semester, I’m back at the field school and have tales to tell.
We spent the first week training everyone and doing expedition planning. It was a deep dive into everything canoeing, including paddling and poling, as well as cooking on the fire, using an axe, knots, meal planning, etc. We assumed people were starting from scratch and taught them what they needed to know for the expedition. We are fortunate to have some great local water to train on, from the gentle Aroostook river in Masardis to the fast and challenging Starch Factory Rips on the Big Machias river.
At the beginning of week 2 we put in on the Allagash at Chamberlain Bridge. It is the most southerly put in, and allows for the longest trip. We spent just shy of two weeks working our way north to Allagash Village, enjoying the unusually high water for this time of year. The only issue we had was on our final morning, just above Allagash falls. While we were loading boats in the morning, one of our instructors tweaked his back. He spend the rest of the day reclined in the bow of my canoe, except for hobbling around the falls on the carry trail. It got better after a few days, but because our second trip was on the East Branch of the Penobscot, with it’s four big carries, he didn’t join us for the second trip.
We put in on the East Branch on Monday of week 4 at Mattagammon Wilderness Campground, right near the dam Grand Lake Mattagammon. On our second day, one of the students, a US Marine Corps veteran, hurt an old injury and figured he broke his foot. We stopped him from carrying anything and made him take it as easy as possible. Thankfully another member of the crew was a nurse, so he was in good hands. The East Branch trip is characterized by four big carries around waterfalls. It challenging without having an injured person. This added to our challenge, but the team pulled together and made it work. We took out at Whetstone Falls on Friday at noon.
As has been the case with all of the 4-week canoe expedition programs we have run, the group formed into a team early on, and we faced all the challenges of the trips together. There are a lot of trite slogans about teamwork and coming together for a shared goal (“teamwork makes the dream work!”), but it is an amazingly powerful force. I love running our expedition programs. I love being there when people are working hard, achieving goals, and crushing obstacles, both real and perceived. The only part I don’t like is shaking hands and saying goodbye at the end.
Next year I’m moving the Wilderness Canoe Expedition Semester back to May, where it was a decade ago. I’m excited for the higher water, fewer bugs, and the ability to spend a month out on the river again. If you are interested in becoming a canoe guide, it is a great way to develop your skills, learn the routes, and get a few hundred miles under your belt.
Now I’ve got a few days to recover before the fall Wilderness Bushcraft Semester begins. We’ve got a full crew coming, and I’m excited for the apples to be ripe and cooler weather that’s around the corner.