The wilderness where we now paddle is called the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Along both sides of the river is a strip of two hundred meters of protected nature. The forests outside this zone are owned by logging companies. They don't care much about the wilderness and use a monoculture of fast-growing conifers. In the distance we hear the big trucks driving, loaded with tons of wood. All roads are private and there are no weight restrictions. The trucks are monsters and disturb the wilderness. At night we don't hear the truck, but the sound of planes. There are more than forty campsites throughout the wilderness, all with a picnic benches, a fire pit and a wooden toilet. In the summer, all campsites are occupied by summer camps with children. Now we are alone in the wilderness, but the civilized signals make the wilderness feel less wild. Hopefully it is still wild enough for the moose.
We paddle curve after curve through the wilderness, but no sign of moose. Brad refuses to paddle in front of us because he doesn't want to chase the moose away. For Brad, a moose is almost as normal as a cow for us.
"I'll feel very sorry if you don't see a moose".
We lose hope a bit ourselves. The Allagash is a downstream river, the sun is shining and we regularly float on the river. After the cold temperatures of recent days, this is very enjoyable. Occasionally there are small rapids, but there is usually enough water in the river to be able to paddle without bumping into rocks. We float over the light waves and paddle around the curve.
"Olivier! There," Zoë whispers as loudly as possible.
Olivier is in the back and has to steer. Zoë is in the front, scouts for rocks and has plenty of time to look around. Olivier also sees them standing, two moose in the water, a mother with a calf. They don't see us and the river brings us closer. Olivier tries to grab the camera as quickly as possible, which is not that easy in a rapid. The two moose see us and take off. With their long legs, they look a bit awkward. They want to cross the river and have to swim a bit. We enjoy the spectacle and are in the first row. With our arms in the air we cheer towards Brad. He enjoys it when he sees us so happy.
"I was almost affraight I had to rent a moose,” Brad jokes as he gets closer.
Half an hour later we paddle on a small lake when two otters are popping their heads above the water. Not once, not twice, but twenty times do they come up and inspect us. Even Brad is impressed this time. The canoe trip is complete, better than this is not possible. Or is it?
"They predict snow tonight," Brad tells us when he has downloaded the latest weather report on his satellite phone.
"Yes!" Zoë almost shouts. Brad can't believe we're happy with snow, but we would love to wake up with a white layer on the tent. Drops fall on the tent all night, but no snowflakes. At six o'clock we both have to go to the toilet. We always wait way too long because we do not want to get out of our sleeping bag, until we can’t hold the pressure on our bladder anymore. Olivier always leaves the tent first so that Zoë doesn't have to open zippers and can go out as quickly as possible. It is still dark, but it is clear that there is no snow. We quickly crawl back into the tent and into our sleeping bag.
"I hear something in the water" says Olivier when we are just back in the sleeping bag.
"Huh, what?" Zoë mumbles, still in sleep mode.
"I'm going to watch" and Olivier crawls out of the sleeping bag again.
Olivier throws the rain cape over his head and goes outside with bare feet. He scans the water and sees something vague on the other side of the river. There must be something, but it is too dark. Suddenly the shadow moves, it is big, would it be a moose?
"Zoë, there is a moose"
"Wait, I'm coming"
"Take the camera"
By the time Zoë is out of the tent, we see not one, but three moose. It is too dark to see if it is a bull. Olivier's feet are getting cold and he only has underpants under his rain cape. It is 1 degrees outside, but the excitement of the moose warms the cold. It is getting lighter and we now clearly see a bull and two cows. They walk from left to right and back again. We are silent and they don't see us. Olivier's feet are ice clogs, Zoë shakes from head to toe as Brad crawls out of his tent and looks at the scene in surprise. The moose may not be special to him, but our dedication to seeing them certainly is. The moose give us a one and a half hour show. We need more than half an hour to warm up a little in our sleeping bag.
Two days later we paddle out of the wilderness. A car drives on a dirt road next to us, houses reappear along the river. We immediately miss the wilderness that sometimes didn't seem wild enough, but still was. There remains one river to our final stop. Even though we don't paddle hard, the river pushes us to the end. We realize that these are the last meters in the canoe. When we arrived in southern Spain three years ago, we were in love with cycling. The bicycles would go on the sailboat, no doubt. Now we are in love with the canoeing, but the canoe goes back to Northstar. This is the end of the canoe for now and we can feel it. It feels like we have done something unique and maybe it is. Every year, barely fifty people start this trail, ten of them make it to the end. We do not know how many we are this year, but we are the last paddlers of this year to make it. Olivier is the first Belgian ever to complete the trail, Zoë the third Dutch. An English couple with a Dutch passport preceded her. The bridge of Fort Kent appears in the distance. A sense of pride dominates. More than seven months ago we left Cancun by bike. The canoe trip seemed endlessly far away and suddenly we are at the end. And we have no plans, just ideas, for our continuation.
“This is it Zoë" says Olivier
"Too bad hey"
"Jah, but this was not the last canoe trip".
"And certainly not the end of our adventure".