I’m hunkering down for the night in a “resort campground”. It’s been raining so the weekend crowd won’t arrive until tomorrow.
I’m heading out at dawn-ish to bird Sapsucker Woods. I tried in March, but there weren’t enough hours in the day.

I cooked a quick dinner and am listening to the birds around me. It’s a slightly different cast of character than I’m used to, but they are why I’m doing this.

The no-see-ums are eating me alive. They will drive me nuts, but I’m reminded of Thoreau’s references to them in The Maine Woods and I’m feeling a bit nostalgic as I’ve not encountered a no-see-um in about 15 years.


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I finished packing for my Northern Forest Canoe Trail trip last night.  Today I’m spending the morning with my 4th grade students exploring the boat and my packs.  I’m really looking forward to their arrival!photo 2 (2)



Before I hit the water next week I wanted put a few plans and intentions on paper.  If you have any other questions about my journey feel free to ask. I’m also using this opportunity to become familiar with blogging from an iPad mini.

What is the Northern Forest Canoe Trail?

The NFCT extends for 740 miles across contiguous rivers, streams, and lakes, following Native American travel routes from Old Forge, New York, through Vermont, Québec, and New Hampshire, to Fort Kent, Maine. In addition to being a paddling route, the Trail celebrates the history of the Northern Forest. Paddlers will be able to explore both the natural beauty of the rivers and lakes as well as the communities through which the trail passes. http://www.northernforestcanoetrail.org

Are the portages or carries?

Yes, no matter what term you use or how it’s pronounce I will be moving the canoe and gear over land.  Carries are as short as a few yards and as long as 8.5 miles.  I will be carrying wheels for long portages on prepared surfaces.  This means that on rough carries I have to pack and carry those wheels.  There are over 50 miles of carries over the course of the trail.

It’s all downstream, right?

Nope.  After crossing Lake Champlain, the sixth largest lake in North America, I will begin the 74 mile up the Missisquoi River into Quebec.  To make progress upstream I will be tracking (pulling the canoe with long lines), poling (standing and pushing with a long pole), portaging/carrying and paddling.

Will you make it to the end?

I don’t know.  I’m considering myself a through paddler.  I’d like to paddle the 740 miles.  However, I’ve no idea what my ace will be on the trail.  I’m not sure how conditioned I am.  I’m out there to enjoy the landscape and birds.  I may paddle 30 miles and camp for five weeks.  I may paddle the 740 miles.  I suspect the answer is somewhere in between.

What are you doing with your truck?

My good friends Gordie and Donna Felt live and run a children’s camps near the beginning of the trail.  I will leave the truck with them and they will see me off at Old Forge on Sunday morning.
Later in the season my friends Sandy Sheets and Sonia Cassell will be vacationing in Maine.  On a designated day, to be decided tonight, they will meet me.  They will know where I am the same wat that you will using the tracking reports from the satellite device I am wearing.  (See the column, right, to see how you can track me, too.)
After they find me they will hand off some pre-packed clean clothes and transport the canoe and me back to Gordy and Donna’s home in the Adirondacks.

Where will you get food?

The trail passes through communities often.  I will shop in groceries and carry 3-4 days supply of food and eat in restaurants.

Where will you sleep?

Most nights will be spent in my very tiny tent.  There are many, many designated campsites along the route.  Most are free and first come first served.
Occasionally I may get a hotel room in order to rest, clean up and update this blog.

Why a canoe called Joe?

From the earliest planning stages I wanted the boat to reflect my obsession with birds.  The trip is about observing birds and adding to my life list.  In many ways crows are my favorite birds.  Many years ago I rescued a crow from the playground at the school where I taught.  It was tame and begged shiny objects from the students.  I brought him home and named him Joe (What else?).  He hung around a few days and went off to traumatize more children on playgrounds.  Since then I’ve called all crows Joe.  
My boat, a 15 foot 1958 Old Town Canoe, came to me named Naulakha, after Rudyard Kipling’s Vermont home.  Officially, out of a great deal of respect for its former owner, it maintains the name–but I call it Joe. A Canoe Called Joe.

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This is the device hat I will be wearing during my six week canoe trip through the Northeast. It serves several functions:

1) It lets folks know that I am alright and where I am (1-3 each day).

2) It sends a custom message to my family.

3) It requests non-emergency support on the trail (Thanks Gordie Felt, Sandy Sheets and Sonia Cassell).

4) It brings in the big boys with the helicopters (and includes the insurance premium to make sure it happens.) It will also give real time positions at regular increments–but I don’t want to carry another 5 lbs of batteries.

Today I’ve begun running a public test. I will be transmit my position periodically during the day. You may check to see how things are working by clicking the Northern Forest Canoe Trail banner (right) or click this photo.

I had an afternoon obligation on Saturday, but was bound and determined to get some time on the water and an opportunity to set-up and break camp — an equipment shake-down.


I arrived at Deer’s Mill on Sugar Creek at about 5:00.  The local canoe livery, Clement’s, allowed me to park the truck on their adjacent lot for the night.  I’d emailed and arranged to pay to park, but the person on duty wouldn’t take my money.


I unloaded the truck and loaded the canoe.  I took my time — developing, practicing and establishing routines. In spite of this I hurried onto to the river.  I wanted to make the three miles to camp and gets things set up.


Sugar Creek is known for being a quick stream — as Indiana streams go — and a rocky stream.  In my rush to get moving I never took a few minutes to scout a line  through the first rock garden below the covered bridge.


In those first few minutes my years of practice and reading were thrown out the window.  I found a good tongue, but after that much was lost.  I couldn’t see rocks in the late afternoon glare. I thumped and bumped much more than I care to admit.  I kept out and began to walk, but immediately filled my knee high boots.


Looking back It was clear I should have spent some time on the bridge above the stream scouting a clean line through the mess.  I should have been ready — and wearing the right forward — to jump in and walk the boat through the sloppy parts.  I was so intent on getting to the campsite I failed to do a few simple things.


After a few rough runs the stream widened and slowed down.  Most of the paddle to camp was much less eventful.


The canoe camp at Shades State Park contains a circle of picnic tables and fire rings around a slightly grassy central area.  It sits on a floodplain about 25 feet above and well back from the creek.  It is serviced by a road and park employees visit every evening to drop of wood ($6 a bundle) and collect the campsite fee ($14).  Unfortunately they arrive after 8:00.  That can make camp cooking difficult.


I fired up my Folding Firebox and made a stew.  It worked well and was easy to keep going with sticks scrounged from the area.


I slept, for the first time on my L.L. Bean air mattress.  It was amazing!  It’s light, folds small and is outstandingly comfortable.


The purpose in these trips is to observe birds.  I had no time to focus on birding but several barred and screech owls kept me entertained much of the night.


I awoke to overcast skies and wind howling through the treetops.  This was not what I was expecting.  I switched on my weather radio and found that it received no signal. Bummer.


After a breakfast of bacon, oatmeal and coffee — cooked over the alcohol burner in my Folding Firebox — I loaded up the boat and began the 3 mile trip upstream to my truck.

The winds were worrisome. They were blowing, roughly, straight up the river.  Loading requirements to pole upstream and to pole into this strong headwind were at odds.  I would pole a bit and a gust would swing me around.  I’d adjust my load and try again.  This time the wind didn’t cause problems but I couldn’t keep the boats. Nose pointing upstream.


I finally settled on the arrangement shown above.  When the wind slacked a bit I could take a step aft.  When a gust came speeding overt he water I could step forward.  For the most part this system worked out well.


There were still times that I has to line the boat up through the boulders.  By adjusting a long bow and stern line I could steer the boat around obstacles.  Without my weigh onboard and with my clear vantage point ahead of the canoe I could avoid almost obstacle.


Important Lessons-

- Stop and scout your route.

- Be ready for all options all of the time.

- Wear gloves when campfire cooking or you will have soot everywhere and on everything.

- Falling asleep beside a campfire is pretty awesome.

- Frying bacon may not be worth the greasy mess.

- Don’t be afraid to get very wet.

- My Sawyer water filter rocks!  I cannot imagine that i may never have to worry about the availability of potable water again.

- Chuck Taylor All-Stars are great water shoes




The Movies

For my Indiegogo crowd sourcing campaign I made a couple simple movies.  The first is about my upcoming canoe expedition on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.  The second tells a bit about the materials I choose for my work. 


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