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The canoe parcours

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Friday September 6th- Northwood Conservancy center


In addition to low water levels, portages and upstream obstacles, there are also many other obstacles that make the Northern Forest Canoe Trail one of the toughest trails. For us it’s all fun and surprises. Beaver dams, fallen trees, full-grown scrub, it is just like an obstacle course. On the third day we climbed over the first beaver dams. Those were just the little ones we learn now. We leave on time at the Northwood Conservancy center where we gave a presentation to the employees yesterday. We know that we have a tough day coming up, because our guide book warns us about a maze through the swamps. The waterways between the plants are moving and canals can lead to a dead end. The trick is to follow the main channel, which has slightly more current than the rest of the swamp. With all the low water in rivers, we have become very good at finding the main stream because it is often the only place where there is enough water to paddle. We are doing pretty well and with the use of the GPS we can see that we are staying in the "river" of the swamp, although it is not entirely accurate. Until we come across a junction and we don't know which side to take. We opt for left and soon get stuck in wild growth. The right channel would have been better, but when we get there, it will also dies. The GPS indicates that we are in the main channel in both ways, but in neither of them we can move on or see another opening in the distance. We have been searching for an hour and are just about to turn around and see if we have gone wrong earlier when we discover a hidden route somewhere between the two roads. "Phew" we can continue. Two turns further on we get stuck again.

It is a gigantic beaver dam that blocks us like a wall. We have to climb the beaver dam, since we are going upstream. That is impossible without grinding the wax layer of our canoe. We go into the water and start to open up a piece of the dam until a stream is created where we can push the canoe through. The whole process takes about 15 minutes, but we get back in the canoe, satisfied when the job is done. "That was fun" we say to each other. We haven't said the words yet and they are being followed with “Oh, nice! Another". We repeat the procedure and shake the dirt off. We can continue now. It doesn't take many turns before we begin to realize that this is no laughing matter. The beavers have built us a serious course. At the tenth beaver dam we are slowly starting to worry. We know that it will be dark and that there is no dry place in this swamp.

Further on is a village. We sail as fast as we can and hope not to see Beverdam when we get to the church tower. It is past dusk as our meandering water passes through the backyard of a vila. Zoë runs through the garden to come to the front of the house. She is ashamed to cross private land without asking permission. The old boss finds it no problem and so we end the day tired on the bank of the river. We count out the fourteen dams and decide that there were enough for the week. Unfortunately, the beavers are not done with us yet. After we have crossed one lake, traversed a beautiful pound, we wind a thousand turns and we go about 18 dams. As icing on the cake we have a long portage. We are exhausted when we finally set up our tent, again in the dark, in the rain, on a corner along the highway. It is not a party every day.

There is always a reward and for us it will come the next day. For the first time in a long time we are can paddle downstream on a river that has enough water. When we put the canoe in the water we immediately see that there are some small rapids. We can't wait and despite the rain we step into the canoe with a big smile. The power in the water drags us along and we paddle at a record speed of 12 kilometers per hour. It feels like flying compared to the past few days. The rapids keep on coming and with Olivier in the back and Zoë on the watch, we shout commands at each other. There are no dangerous big stones, but we still have to manoeuvre the canoe back and forth. There is enough water, but only if we stay on the right track.

Once we misread the water we are stuck to the bottom, but that does not happen. As a winners team, that's how we feel, we guide the canoe "through the posts". Zoë constantly shouts “left, left, yes right now” but suddenly she shouts “Look over there!” “What is that?” “A moose?” “No?” “A bear!”. We try to slow the canoe down but the current does not allow it and the bear already heard us, he runs off in the woods before we can shake his hand. This time we find our camping spot shortly after lunch and we have time to read a book and build a campfire. Just before the evening falls we hear rustling in the trees. We look around and Olivier is the first to spot them. Two raccoons are picking apples in a tree across the river. With our binoculars we can observe them for an hour.

A couple of days later we arrive in Rangeley where we give a presentation for a "land trust", an NGO that conserves nature. In the midst of all production forests, they protect natural forest and open it up for recreation. We get a small room in the office, where people work during the day and we are left alone in the evening. We make use of the possibility and bake pancakes, French toast and Belgian fries. We let the employees enjoy our food festival. We jump on a fat bike for a day and see new possibilities for our next adventure on human power. After the break in Rangeley we start our longest portage of all time. The river from Rangeley to Stratton has enough water to paddle three days a year. It is quite an art to plan your trip around it, and we are certainly far from it. The river has dried out. There are possibility to call a shuttle, but that word doesn’t exist in our dictionary. We follow the road, 27 kilometers on foot, along the river. We feel just like on a bicycle, we are used to being the slow traffic on a major road. We join the queue for a road construction, wave at the workers and have a chat with a woman who smiles wisely at us "I know people who walk their dogs, but I have never seen people walking their canoes before". It says enough. We must be one of the few thru-paddlers ever to do this. Just as we are probably the only one to cross the 'Little Spencer stream' in the fall.


Zoë is not prepared for the toughest day of her canoe adventure and the energy drops to her toes when she sees the dry river in front of her.

The little Spencer stream is one of the obstacles on the trail. Although the guidebook doesn't make a big deal of it. "You will need to get out of your canoe every now and then". Zoë is not prepared for the toughest day of her canoe adventure and the energy drops to her toes when she sees the dry river in front of her. She doesn’t say much, hoping for better, but if that doesn't happen she starts to sulk. We learn that there is no main current in this river. Only now and then there are small pools where we can drag the canoe a few meters, but otherwise we have to carry the canoe and all our gear over the slippery stones. Once we have stumbled all our stuff 500 meters further on we are exhausted. We cannot keep our balance on the slippery stones and for the first time we have to portage our gear in two times. Zoë’s face explains everything.
"What's wrong" Olivier keeps asking.
"This is just annoying," she says sniffly.
"We are going through the forest" she decides by herself. We try to find a way through the wild forest but it is impossible to make the turns with the canoe. We return to the water and start to lift our things over the stones again and literally do not make any progress. It takes us an hour and a half to cover a single kilometer.

"How long did you say it was until the lake?" Zoë asks.
"8 miles" says Olivier.
"And that's how many kilometers?"
“12.5, approximately".
"We will never make it!"
"Come on Zoë, we have to work as a team, this way you’re not helping" Olivier says in vain.
She sits down on the tip of the canoe and takes her time. Irritation runs through her body, but she knows that this is not fair to Olivier. She shouldn’t be so angry and let it go. She cannot find the answer herself, but she is annoyed by Olivier's attempts to cheer her up. She breathes again and then says sniffly "Okay if you do not say anything about my mood, I will behave", as if it were Olivier's fault. Olivier looks at her in surprise with this crazy remark and starts to laugh. Then Zoë starts to laugh.
"We are crazy that we are doing this", says Zoë.

We are a team again and keep motivated, even when the river shows itself from its driest side. There is no hope, we will have to work hard to arrive at the lake before dark, because there won't be a place to pitch the tent sooner. We move forward meter by meter. We check on the GPS to see if we are getting close, but we almost don’t move. Until Olivier discovers a road on the GPS. "Probably a logging road" he says. A private forest road where we can at least walk on solid ground again. It gives us just enough energy to be convinced to find a place. We are close, another kilometer away. We stop for a pee break, now that we know there must be room to set up a tent. Zoë pulls up her pants and joins Olivier again when we hear a splash in the water. We look around and see a person appear. For a moment our brains stand still when we realize that it is another person, another canoeist pulling his canoe, another crazy person, another NFCT peddler.
"HEEE” Zoë shouts "What do you do here!" she shouts happily.
Brad looks up and sees us. "Hey you here too?" He says as he gets closer.
He walks over the stones with walking sticks and drags the canoe behind him with a rope around his waist.

"Hi I'am brad" he says, shaking hands with us. "I came to say hello from my wife. She has been following this cute couple on Facebook and told me to catch up with them".
The questions shoot back and forth. We are so relieved of his arrival. Not because we're not happy to see him, it's great, but because we never expected anyone else on the entire NFCT, and definitely not on the damn Little Spencer stream. Together we continue to look for the hidden forest road. Brad walks ahead of us and his canoe bounces behind him. It looks tempting, but it breaks our heart to ruin our canoe and we keep lifting the thing. We find the road, although the meter-high vegetation suggests otherwise, and it is again an obstacle course of fallen trees and hills, but it is better than the canoe trail. An hour later we pitch our tent in the middle of a forest road in better condition, eat in the dark and decide to continue together tomorrow and then all fall down on our sleeping mats. Extinguished. Without water, of course.

"Thank you for staying so positive," says Zoë as she falls asleep with her arms around Olivier.

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