From what I’d heard from those who had done the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Maine is the pinnacle of the expedition. The majority of the river paddling is downstream, the lakes are scenic and there’s an abundance of wildlife to view. And, as I would find out, the people in the small towns of northern Maine are extremely generous and friendly.
As I paddled across Umbagog, my experience in Maine lived up to the high expectations. The water was shimmering gray and nearly perfectly still. The sunset was as dramatic as any we’d seen on the trip. A bright reddish-orange light peaked through a collection of clouds hanging on the horizon.
In addition to the sunset, we also saw a mature bald eagle dramatically perched atop a 40-foot snag at the edge of the lake.
While Maine was the start of a new part of the journey for me, it also meant the end of the journey for Jacob was near. The plan was for Jacob to paddle from Saranac Lake to Rangeley, Maine. From there, my fiancee Ariel would join me for the final 300 miles.
From Umbagog Lake, it took us a little less than two days of paddling on windy lakes to get to Rangeley, a tourist and logging town of about 2,000 people.
For the most part, this stretch was uneventful for us. The paddling was challenging at times because we faced some large swells and headwinds. Other times, it was extremely easy, with calm waters one night on Mooselookmeguntic Lake. The final day we cruised down Rangeley Lake with a strong tailwind.
The swells and winds made the paddling challenging at times, but we didn’t have any mishaps or misfortune as a result of it. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be said about another group that was on Lower Richardson Lake the same afternoon as us. As it turned out, two young men drowned while swimming on Lower Richardson that day.
I found out the next morning while we were at a store in Oquossoc, located between Mooselookmeguntic and Rangeley lakes. Newspaper accounts of the drowning reported that the men were swimming and drinking alcohol. One account reported that, “Wardens using boats reported 3-foot-swells as they searched the lake.”
In fact, when we arrived at the boat launch in Rangeley Lake, the day after the accident, the drownings were the first thing that a boat steward asked us about. The tragic incident was a reminder of how dangerous the lakes could be in certain situations. It was sobering to think about after having been on the water for a month.
Regardless of the tragedy, we couldn’t get too caught up in the drama of it. So we moved on with our own trip.
After leaving the boat launch, we wheeled the boat down the main street to the historic Rangeley Inn, which dates back more than 125 years. After a month on the trip, that night was my first in a hotel.
As Jacob and I were standing across the street from the inn, we met Bruce, a middle-aged man who was sitting on his front steps. Bruce lived in the house with his wife Claudia and their son, who he said has aspirations to do the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
After a few minutes of talking to Bruce and Claudia, we told them we were planning to stay in the inn but didn’t have anywhere to put our canoe. They immediately offered to store it for us for the duration of our stay. It wound up staying under their house in a storage area for two nights.
Bruce, a trucker who hauled stone from a local quarry, and his wife did me several favors during my stay in Rangeley. They let me use their home computer and Bruce also took me on a driving tour of local roads to see if we could spot some moose.
Bruce seemed to be interested in the people coming through Rangeley. He said there were a few paddlers that came through but he also saw plenty of hikers from the Appalachian Trail. The hikers use Rangeley and nearby Stratton to resupply on their trip. Bruce talked about starting a hostel above his garage for them.
Bruce and Claudia were among numerous people in Maine that I met who would go out their way to help me out.
One of the best things Bruce did for me was drive me out to the Rangeley Lakes Logging Museum, which I had learned about while planning my trip.
It was there that I met one of the most interesting people on my trip. His name was Rodney Richards, a renowned woodcarver. This old-timer had “Mad Whittler” scrawled across his hat and plenty of stories about the logging days in Maine.
I talked to Richards for about an hour, and surprisingly he was familiar with the Tri-Lakes Region after visiting the area a few times. At one point, he stopped talking and turned around to point to one of his larger carvings. It was called Chain Saw Man, which he said was created for the Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s Days in 1991.
As I would soon learn, people in the logging community had heard of Tupper Lake because they were both traditionally logging towns. In fact, the logging museum was currently preparing for its own celebration of logging, which was scheduled for the following weekend.
The logging link between Tupper Lake and Rangeley was one of several similarities I would notice between the Adirondacks and Northern Maine. In Northern Maine, like I have in the Adirondacks, I also heard stories about people having to work more than one job to make a living, of small towns suffering from declining and aging populations, and of schools closing down.
In the Rangeley region, I was a few hundred miles from home but definitely in very familiar territory.
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
Woodcarver Rodney Richards relaxes in the Rangeley Lakes Region Logging Museum in Rangeley, Maine in late July.
Fact BoxIntent on Fort Kent
This is the eighth in a series of columns by Lake Placid News outdoors writer Mike Lynch about paddling the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. His articles will appear on the Ad’k Expeditions page every week until the end of the journey.