Peter Macfarlane's 2018 Solo East-West 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

Peter's 2018 NFCT Through-Paddle: East-West


In the spring of 2013 I successfully completed a through-paddle of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, using a cedar-strip canoe of my own design and construction. The journey of over 750 miles took me 28 days, largely in quite hostile weather. The story of that trek can be found here. Since then I have been looking for an excuse to get back on the Trail, but not merely repeating the same trip (as if the weather could possibly repeat what it threw at me that year!)

At the time of writing, early 2018, all through-paddlers have opted to progress from west to east, starting in Old Forge NY and finishing at Fort Kent ME. There's a reason, a very good reason, that this is the default direction of through-paddle: the ratio of downstream to upstream miles. In seeking a challenge greater than the already considerable challenge of a through-paddle, I have decided to attempt to buck the trend, to defy the odds, and to become the first through-paddler to go the other way. I believe I have the set of skills required for this journey (otherwise setting out would be pointless). I have experience of successful upstream travel, all the paddling skills needed for the diversity of waters, the self-reliance, and, probably as important as any this time, the determination.

Once again I shall be paddling in the spring, starting mid-May, and planning to take the same 28 days as last time (I enjoy aspects of symmetry!) I shall not, however, be aiming to take any side excursions which add to the mileage. Nevertheless I shall have to average nearly 27 miles per day (allowing for 1 rest day) in order to stick to this schedule.

Of course, even with the best preparation, there is no guarantee that I shall succeed. It may be that I'm biting off more than I can chew. But there's only one way to find out.

About this site

Eventually this site will be much like the journal of my 2013 trip. In fact I'm effectively cloning those pages here and altering content. Currently there may be links that do not work because those pages do not yet exist. Please have patience: if the trip is successful, all the links will eventually lead to viable destinations.

What is the Northern Forest Canoe Trail?

The NFCT is a series of traditional waterways which span the northern forests of the north-eastern USA. Long before highways existed, these waterways were the main thoroughfares, and the canoe has long been the primary craft of choice upon them. The trail stretches some 740 miles, crossing several different watershed divides as it wends its way from Old Forge in the south-western Adirondacks of New York State, across the Adirondacks, across Lake Champlain, through northern Vermont, with a loop into the province of Québec and back, across northern New Hampshire, and way up into northern Maine, finishing at Fort Kent on the St John River. It includes upstream and down, small and large rivers, placid and white-water, small ponds and large lakes. More information about the trail can be found at the NFCT's website.
This description refers to the conventional direction. Now trace it in reverse.


Whilst I enjoy travel by canoe, and can still enjoy beautiful surroundings while maintaining high mileage, this journey is very much about the challenge. Will I be able to travel upstream against rapids? Will I be able to sustain the will-power to keep going when being constantly beaten back by current? There will be much self-discovery going on. Of course, it's not upstream all the way, but, compared with a conventional through-paddle, there will be much more upstream.

The other aspect of this trip is to carve a little place for myself in history, to be the first to through-paddle going the “wrong way”. Only one person can be the first. I was too late to be the first to through-paddle west to east, too late to be the first to repeat a through-paddle, but am not yet too late to plant my flag on this little patch of ego-turf!


I plan to start on 14th May, with the aim of finishing in 4 weeks. Once again, paddling in the spring gives me the greatest chance of enough water. That may sound perverse, since more water flowing against me will make it tougher, but I hope to remain in the river beds as much as possible, rather than carrying, and having enough depth of water makes paddling much more feasible. I have often maintained that I much prefer to paddle a canoe than to take it for a walk!

Choice of canoe

I shall of course be using the same canoe as last time, “the little canoe that could … and did!”. This is my 14' Sylva solo with asymmetric hull. We became joined at the hip 5 years ago, and I cannot contemplate using any other craft for this quest.

For more information on the boat, as well as the rest of my canoe-building business, please visit Otter Creek Smallcraft.

Tracking my progress

I shall be carrying a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger, and shall use it to send messages to my support team, complete with latitude and longitude at the time of sending. You can follow my waypoints here. If they say anything other than "OK", you don't need to take action. My support team will know what to do.

Website design © Peter Macfarlane

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