Northern Forest Canoe Trail

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Paddling Home:  A Journey Along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail
by Donnie Mullen

The following is an excerpt from Donnie Mullen's book-in-progress,
Paddling Home:
Crossing the Northeast by Canoe,
based on his 740 mile canoe adventure on the historic
waterways tracing the Northern Forest Canoe Trail which begins in Old Forge, NY, and
ends in Fort Kent, Maine.  Donnie paddled the route in the spring of 2000 in a wood and
canvas canoe that he built for the trip. He finessed his canoe, "Tintin," up river and down,
all the while holding to his goal of completing the trail with muscle power alone, even across
the 65 miles of portages. The undertaking took 50 days, nearly half of which was done solo.
The following chapter is about the last leg of his trip, when he reaches his home state of Maine.

June 2
– My eyes opened at five with the earliest glimmer of the day. Worried
about getting caught in a windy crossing, I dressed hurriedly.

“Whoopiee!” I hollered as I dug out one of my last pieces of unsoiled clothing, a
blue and white surfer shirt - Maine meets Hawaii. My clean clothes stuff sack held
a pair of socks, underwear and the collared shirt I had carried for the touted day of
return to Maine. I buried my nose in the bright cloth and sucked in a long breath,
half expecting a wafting fragrance from the floral pattern. Marveling at the delicate
smell, I buttoned up the fresh garment, overcoming the hesitation to keep it
separated from my unbathed body. Shower or not, I was determined to don the
shirt uninterrupted for my remaining adventure.

I needed my windbreaker to ward
off the morning chill.  Peering over
the brush, I glimpsed the crimson sunrise.  
Hoping to reach Maine by the time
the sun popped above the hills, I dashed
to pack my belongings. I postponed
my breakfast, deciding the day could
not begin until I crossed the liquid border.

The dimness lifted as Tintin cut through the glint of new light.  The only visible
riffles grew from my passage.  For the first time in weeks, I left the maps stowed. I
would treat myself to ponder a place I knew so well. Repeated visits left many
bored, but for me the Rangeley Lakes could never disappoint. The lakes’ persona
felt infinite like the rocky and circuitous coastal landscape of my childhood. Each
return left me wondrous anew.

Exuberant, I passed above Pine Point, the first piece of Maine soil to meet my
approach. Ahead, the northern reaches of the lake stretched to the east en route to
the cove that sheltered the mouth of the Rapid River. I contentedly hugged the
shore, at peace with my long trek.  My preoccupation with the weeks to come was
temporarily lifted and I felt rejuvenated to simply paddle in Maine. Crossing into
my home state, the last such boundary, was a genuine hallmark of my paddle
campaign. I was beyond the halfway mark and suddenly became aware of my
ability to finish, which had remained a dubious notion since my departure. Of all
the uncertainties I had faced, the mental hurdle held front stage. How many times
had I mumbled, “If I can just get to Maine…all will be well”? To realize that my
refrain had been achieved left me bemused.  The worst had past, I promised
myself. A weight was lifted and my nagging alter-ego squelched. My
accomplishment cheered me on.

My senses became enhanced. Light filtered through the clear water illuminating a
silty amber bottom. Spring growth funneled to the needle tips before my eyes. The
sky was lapis blue and a nearby mountain felt touchable. The few cabins were
sanctuaries where nothing more pleasant than a stopover could be imagined.
Ducks rocketed by with arrow-like precision, momentarily filling my ears with
their nasal
squaack! I could smell the seasonal change as though the final vestige of
moistness from the winter had risen from the soil to tingle my nose hairs. My
memory jogged back to the moment in childhood when I first became aware of the
distinctive fleeting odor and declared merrily to my father, “Have you ever
smelled such a spring. It’s life in the air!” The Maine that I had been waiting for
was on display.

I passed into the narrow opening of the cove. As the trees hovered above, I
lingered for a celebratory granola breakfast. A small cabin on stilts was tucked
behind large pines and built into the forested hill. The porch was high enough to
be out of reach even during the highest water. Mature deer antlers were nailed to
the apex of the roof and a sign above the door read ‘Credence’. I envisioned the
space inside to be as cozy as the wee inlet. Like Tintin, little could be afforded but
the essentials. The regal surroundings took precedence.

The sun pressed against my cheeks.  I shed my outer layer and my eyes closed.  I
felt as though I’d come upon a comforting portal.

About the author:

Donnie Mullen was raised and lives in mid-coast Maine.  He enjoys paddling in Maine and
places farther north.  Donnie is currently writing a book about his experiences along the
Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

See Also:
Where to Stay and Eat Along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail

For more information this historic canoe trail, contact:

Northern Forest Canoe Trail  
PO Box 565
Waitsfield, VT 05673  
Photo by Andy Chakoumakos
Photo by Andy Chakoumakos
Photo by Andy Chakoumakos
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
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...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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