My husband Jared is a mountain man. He’s always been this way and has assumed the role of outdoor expert in our family. Which is amazing; he’s down for anything and always has brilliant ideas of adventures to do together. He has a lot of outdoor hobbies: from paragliding and mountaineering, to alpine touring skiing and rock climbing. Some of these involve the rest of the family and some are just personal hobbies. I’ve seen how important these personal outdoor hobbies are to him over the last decade we’ve been married. They’ve helped him deal with stress, and have kept his mind and body healthy and active. Being married to a mountain man has given me such a love and craving for outdoor adventures. We went on a month long series of backpacking trips out west one summer when we were newly married. Jackson Hole, Glacier National Park, Banff. It was amazing. I had never backpacked before that. It completely opened my eyes and gave me such a great love for the outdoors.
Since then we’ve made outdoor adventures a priority in our family. But this past January on a drive back from Tahoe I realized that although we had a lot of family outdoor hobbies, I didn’t have many to call my own. I decided to plan an outdoor trip with girlfriends this summer that was not on his list of hobbies. Nowhere that he had been or would have expert advice on. This brought us to Maine. He’s from the west and into mountains and deserts and I’m from the east. Maine was not on his list of trips, but it’s been on my list because although I’m from New York I’ve never been to Maine! So there we were. Somewhere in Maine. Women only. Something I could own that Jared wasn’t an expert in…
Eight years ago, on that same western backpacking tour, Jared and I took a kayak trip in Jackson, Wyoming through String lakes to Jenny Lake. It was one of my very favorites, but we haven’t done any river trips since and that isn’t on Jared’s list of outdoor skills. I decided that that was what I need to plan, a river trip. I texted my outdoorsy and down-for-anything friend in Boston, Mardi. She was immediately IN. I then emailed my other outdoorsy, down-for-anything friend from college, Devon, who was living in Lebanon doing refugee work but coming back to the states this summer and she was IN. We strategized a bit. Mardi was very well connected with adventures in New England. She had some friends who had done the Allagash Waterways in Northern Maine. The water was pretty calm (only class I and II), beautiful and remote.
So it was decided. The Allagash Waterways.
(from left to right: Becca, Devon, Jen, Mardi, Becky)
We added to our group my sister Becca whose starting a MA program in NYU this summer, Becky who had two boys and going back to school to be a nurse midwife. And a friend of Mardi’s, Jen, who lives in Vermont and is possibly more outdoorsy than Jared (if that’s possible).
(Becky, Becca, and Devon chilling on the hammock at a campsite)
(Mardi and I. We’ve been good friends since forever. Our families lived next door to each other in NY when we were babies)
(Me and my sister Becca. We’re exactly 10 years apart, almost to the day. She definitely wins for best bikinis in the bow 😉
Here’s a trip report of how it went down:
How we planned: I organized finding the outfitter in Maine to help shuttle. We met in Boston, shopped, loaded the car and then drove 8 hours north to the border of Canada. We left the car there, and then drove 3 hours down to the put in spot at Churchill Dam. They lent us the canoes and life vests and we stayed in a cabin on their property the night before. Because we were starting on the hardest rapids, Chase Rapids, the shuttle company dropped our gear below them so we could take empty canoes through in case we capsized. We planned on 4-5 nights. 65 miles on the Allagash Waterways from Churchill Dam to Allagash village.
Mardi organized gear. We had two google doc lists going: group gear and personal gear. People signed up for any group gear items like stoves, tents, coolers they had and we were all responsible for bringing our own personal gear like dry bags (so nothing gets wet!), sleeping bag, utensils, clothing and sunblock.
I organized the meals. More on what we ate in a bit.
On canoeing: I didn’t know how to canoe. Maybe this should have stressed me out more than it did. I went once with some friends a couple months ago but we had kids with us so I couldn’t really learn much. Before that, the last time I went was probably in camp when I was in high school. I have gone kayaking lately, but I was pretty clueless on canoeing. I had given Jared strict instructions to leave the planning of this trip to me, but it did make him nervous when he saw me watching ‘how to canoe 101’ youtube videos 4 days before leaving on the trip.
Three in our group of 6 did have experience canoeing. But the water was low which meant not a lot of current, but lots of rocks to look out for. And those canoes are tippy! I know because we started off in the hardest rapids of the trip and Becky and myself capsized within the first hour. We had been trying to push off a rock and overcompensated, tipping the canoe over.
Luckily, our gear was not in our canoes yet (as I mentioned above). However, we had a hard time turning the canoe over without getting water in it and ended up going down part of the rapids in the water holding onto the canoe overturned. I have a big bruise on my right upper thigh to show for it! We ended up with some cuts and bruises from the rocks and some wounded egos. This was within the first hour of the trip… It did take me the rest of the day to get my confidence back up.
Capsizing in the first hour made me hyper aware of the river and determined to get the technique down. There were a lot of rocks and when we switched canoes we had to learn how to communicate with a new partner and how that partner canoed. By the end I felt comfortable steering and enjoyed being in the stern over the bow (back to steer front for power). Most of the time we were on a moving river, but about 20% of the time we were on lakes. Lakes were easier because there weren’t rocks to avoid, and we could jump in for a swim or play music from our phones and sing. But not having a current also meant we had to work harder and it was slower going.
Where we camped:
Originally we had planned on getting up much earlier because the books we read suggested that campsites would be tricky to secure if you waited beyond 2 or 3pm. But it was a pretty low-traffic week for whatever reason. Maybe the rain, maybe because it was shortly after the fourth of July holiday. Either way, we pretty much had our choice of any campsite we wanted. One afternoon, after a beautiful but long day canoeing across lakes we had to search around a bit to find an available campsite. But it only set us back about 30 minutes.
All the campsites on the Allagash have picnic tables, a post and beam above the table to hang a tarp in the case of rain, and an outhouse which was a couple minute walk away through The North Maine Woods. Doesn’t that name sounds so spooky and dramatic? I love it. I always whispered it to myself as I was walking in it.
Here’s what the walk to and the outhouse looked like:
THE NORTH MAINE WOODS
What we ate:
It was my job to plan our meals which was a lot of fun. Things we had to consider:
1. We aren’t carrying anything so we could bring and make heavy stuff- actual food and a cooler, not backpacking meals which REALLY appeals to me about canoeing vs kayaking. There’s no room for a cooler on a kayak!
2. The cooler was only going to really keep things cool for about 2 days since we couldn’t re-stock on ice.
3. Food tastes SO good when you’re camping so it was super important to make sure it was awesome
Here was our menu:
Breakfasts we alternated between eggs/cheese/bacon on english muffins, and pancakes and bacon (yup, bacon everyday on the Allagash!). We also had a frenchpress device for coffee and hot chocolate mixes. As back up we had oatmeal packets. We brought a gas camp stove that had a burner and a grill. We also brought a pot and utensils.
Lunch was tricky since bread would just got squished. We had snack lunches: wheat thin crackers, baby bell cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, pepperoni, beef jerky, peanut butter, tuna packs, trail mix, apples, granola bars.
For dinner we had:
Day 1: Lemon rosemary chicken we had marinated and froze in a ziplock the day before we left so it was a solid block. We cut them so they were thin and sauteed them up with veggies and rice. We found rice packets that you just insert in boiling water for 5 minutes to cook which was perfect!
Day 2: Turkey meatballs with gravy, rice and broccoli. The turkey meatballs were fully cooked and the gravy we mixed up before and then added in the beef broth and butter before throwing the meatballs in. Broccoli we steamed in the water that we cooked the rice packets in.
That night we also made donuts! It was a torrential downpour so it was the perfect night to huddle up under the tarp for a special dessert. We took a can of biscuit dough and plopped each biscuit into 2 inches of oil until brown. Then we threw them in a ziplock with cinnamon and sugar. SO GOOD.
Day 3: Turkey chili with cornbread cakes and shredded cheese. We made the chili before and froze it so it was a solid block as well (you need less ice too). The cornbread we put in a ziplock and just mixed up with egg and milk. We cooked them as you would mini pancakes:
Day 4: Whole wheat pasta with pesto + marinara mixed, and mozzarella cheese.
Day 5: Homemade mac and cheese (didn’t need this meal but was planning on using my easy 10 min homemade mac and cheese recipe)
Emergency meal: hot dogs with canned beans
PS here’s how we packed our eggs for breakfast:
Our daily schedule:
We’d get up around 8am. Make breakfast, and then pack up. Usually it took us about 2 hours to do this. So we often would start canoeing around 10am.
Every day we tried to switch up the canoes so everyone had a chance to canoe with everyone else. The first two days we kept our three experienced canoeists in the stern so they could steer: Becky, Jen and Mardi. Two of the days we had portages (where you need to carry your gear and canoe on the land around a waterfall) around mid day so we’d stop and eat there. We usually found a campsite and just ate lunch on the picnic bench at the site.
Depending on where we wanted to camp, we usually canoed through until about 4pm, some days earlier, some days later. Then we’d relax, swim, read (Becky brought a hammock) and cook dinner around 6pm. We planned out our course the next day on the map. It rained every night so we needed to set up tarps over the cooking area and make sure tents have their rain flys on as well. We made a fire with a quick start log (great if the logs are all wet) and sat around telling stories about our first kisses until around 9 or 10pm.
For water, we filtered the lake water. One day we found a pretty wild flower path to a spring and filtered fresh water there.
A couple nights I played the ukulele and we sang around the campfire or down at the water:
Swimming and lunch at Allagash falls on day 4:
(Ranger Chip was looking out for the ladies only group)
Seeing four moose (one a day):
Being with all women!! Late night chat and skinny dipping!
How relaxing and peaceful the river was.
Truly living in the moment. Having goals and plans that were completely different than goals and plans at home. And realizing by day 5 that I hadn’t thought much about home or work or anything beyond the river.
How beautiful The North Maine Woods was.
After our trip, we camped in Camden Maine for a one night and then we stayed at a friend of Becca’s at York Beach in ACTUAL BEDS. That night felt so good! I loved seeing these coastal Maine towns and eating my weight in lobster rolls.
Of course we got a trip shirt (Jen had already left for Vermont but we bought one to mail up to her). Love these gals! Already planning another trip next summer!