Peter Macfarlane's 2013 Solo Through-Paddle of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail
in a Cedar-Strip Canoe by Otter Creek Smallcraft

NFCT's Map of Overall Route Peter & Sylva completing the NFCT
Yesterday

Day 28

28.9 miles

Saturday 15th June

Allagash Village - Fort Kent


Day 28 route on Google Earth imagery

Although the night started warmer, it became chilly in the wee small hours. I was disturbed at one point by a screeching of tyres and a thundering of hooves through undergrowth, followed by some indignant snorting, the tell-tale sounds of a near collision between a vehicle and a moose. I was reminded once more of how easily this trip could yet fail to reach a successful conclusion. A frightened moose would not be deterred by a simple hammock between trees, nor yet by the hapless occupant.

I'm up before 6:00 am to a clear dawn, having snapped a few shots of the sunrise from my hammock. I pack without eating – breakfast will be at the diner – and then leave canoe and pack by the river. On a number of occasions I have left this gear unattended, always with a certain trepidation, but relying on the goodness of people. Each time, I have left a sign attached which reads: “This canoe and equipment are currently being used for a solo through-paddle of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Please – do nothing to impede this once-in-a-lifetime venture. Thank you.” Whether this has deterred any would-be thieves or vandals, I shall never know. Maybe there were none. Each time I found all as I left it.


Sunrise on the final day

It's a short walk up the road to the diner, and I'm there by the proclaimed opening time of 7:00 am. It seems, however, that opening time is a relaxed concept, and several people are waiting by the time the door is eventually opened. Clearly this is a common occurrence as the regulars immediately set about making the coffee themselves. Breakfast is just what I need: pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausages, home fries – a good mix of calories and protein. Only the tea is a disappointment – it's green and made with water that's certainly not boiling. Had I known, I would have taken one of my remaining tea bags. Furthermore, there's no automatic refill for tea drinkers, unlike coffee, a clear case of discrimination!

I leave the diner at 8:00 am, the time I had hoped to be underway. A quick visit to Deborah, my host, is a chance to offer my thanks once more and to assure her that the seven empty Bud Light bottles near where I camped are not mine. Normally I carry out others' rubbish from a camp-site, but I have nowhere to take it. After a quick photo shoot of the canoe beside the Allagash River, I set off for the final time.

The current sweeps me past islands out into the St John River. The flow and a brisk, indeed strong, north-west wind propel me downstream at probably 6-7 mph without any effort. At this rate I'll reach Fort Kent before the agreed 3:00 pm arrival time, the time when my support crew guarantees to be there.


Beach-ball and seat repair going strong


Shoulder cups have seen much use


Proudly displaying the NFCT decal

The sky is bright blue, the sun is out, and yet, when I try to strip down to a T-shirt, the strong wind dictates otherwise. At one point the river swings to the north-north-west, and I suddenly realise just how strong the wind is, about 20-25 mph, and gusting much higher. It's now a headwind for a few miles, and, even with the current, I have to work hard to make progress downstream. Sometimes I have to duck down and grip the paddle tightly in order to maintain control. The wind, which has so frequently been cold and in my face on this trip, is having its final fling. It just can't let me enjoy my moment of triumph without having the last word.


Riffles on the St John River


In the lee of the Canadian shore

Even when I turn more to the east again, the wind on my left shoulder makes steering difficult. I continue through occasional riffles, noting that the river in places is quite shallow. At lower water levels, I imagine this might be a long, uncomfortable wade over cobbles. Past the St Francis River confluence I find St John, but, apart from a parked truck, there is no sign of a boat launch or any other place to take out. I find a place a little downstream to pull into the bank out of the wind for a lunch break, the last bit of trail-mix, the last of the chocolate supply from the Allagash General Store, and the last of the banana chips. It's not that I need food, but I need to kill a little time so as not to be early. It feels a bit artificial, but I really don't want to arrive to an empty landing. Soon after setting off again, the sky darkens and a squall blasts through (“no chance of rain ….” was the forecast), with intense rain and violent wind for about 20 minutes. The rain gear is yet again brought out. It seems that the rain, as well as the wind, wants to have a last word.


Wind riffles on the St John


"No chance of rain ..." Yeah, right!

As the rain dies, I take the opportunity to tidy up the canoe, eject any stray vegetation, pack away anything that's loose, adjust my pack for optimum trim. It's a matter of pride that everything be ship-shape for arrival. Then, suddenly realising that I'm not as far downstream as I thought, the brakes are released, I open up to a full paddling stroke, and, with tears rolling down my face, set about bringing the trip home in style. Every few minutes, as I consider what I have achieved, a lump rises in my throat, but it's not just for me. Every time I think of how my canoe has performed – how it has carried me down the white-water of the Saranac, over the swell of Lake Champlain, up the eddies of the flooded Missisquoi, through the swamps of the Clyde River, across the expanses of Richardson, Mooselookmeguntic, Rangeley, Flagstaff and Moosehead Lakes and more, how it has been eased over rocks on upstream white-water, how it has been my shelter from rain on long carries – all of this causes surges of powerful emotion. I have an emotional attachment to this canoe - “The Little Canoe That Could …. And Did”. I spare a thought, too, for my paddle, how it has served me over many years, how it has relished the deep water of the lakes and the Androscoggin River and more, and now, how it is propelling me towards the culmination of an achievement that will live with me forever.


Paddling with freedom

Mindful of recording this moment to share with others, I set up the camera on the self-timer and take a few shots of myself paddling, and even record a little video, which is brought to an unceremonious end as the camera falls into the bottom of the canoe. And then it's just paddling, paddling, paddling until the Fort Kent – St Clair bridge comes into view. I'm paddling strongly now, definitely coming home in style, tears still blurring my vision at times. I snap a picture of the Fort Kent Customs Building, pass under the bridge. Only half a mile to go now. I have no idea what I'm looking for, but am confident that I will recognise it when I get there.


Ray on watch [photo: R&H Danforth]


My first glimpse of Fort Kent


Fort Kent - St Clair bridge


US Customs at Fort Kent


First sighting [photo: R&H Danforth]


Coming home [photo: R&H Danforth]

And then, at an innocuous little clearing on the right bank I see two figures – there's no mistaking Viveka and Ray. Hildy eludes me for the time-being. I make a bee-line for them, still paddling strongly but easing off just a little. It's 3:10 pm as I step out of the canoe for the last time on this trip and into a long-awaited hug from Viveka. Hildy and Ray are next, Hildy pausing her camera duty for just long enough. This is the support team that has had my back throughout, and, even though I have not had to call on them for rescue or repair, the knowledge that they were there and willing to do whatever was necessary has been a comfort through the miles.


"an innocuous little clearing"


Nearly there [photo: R&H Danforth]


"long-awaited hug" [photo: R&H Danforth]


The final carry [photo: R&H Danforth]

During this reunion I have been feeling a little callous: my canoe is sitting there by the river, ignored. Four weeks of dedicated service, and now I merely step away from it into the arms of others. I return to it once more. There is one last carry that we have to make together. My paddle secured in the stern, my pack on my back, and being understood when I decline the offers of help, I hoist the little canoe once more to walk, this time with Viveka by my side, up to the kiosk, the official end of the Trail.

There follow the ceremonial pictures, sending the final SPOT, quick-fire answers to the so many questions that come my way, signing the register, discussing equipment successes and failures.


A very proud moment [photo: R&H Danforth]


Signed off from the Trail


Emotional reflection [photo: R&H Danforth]

In the middle of this I sit down by the canoe, cradling my paddle and have a quiet, emotional moment with the equipment that has carried me far and has brought me safely home. It is a moment that I have known for a long time would happen, but only now do I realise the intensity of the emotion that accompanies the disbanding of this close-knit team. Yes, we'll paddle together again, but maybe never again will we share the trials and tribulations, the delight and despair, the hard work and the easy cruising, the hundreds of solitary miles of the last four weeks.


The team: Hildy, Peter, Viveka, Ray and the little canoe that made it [photo: R&H Danforth]

The traveller in full flow, paddling happy

Yesterday

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