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June 18

Last Day on the Aroostook

JS after "summitting" the Aroostook River


We figured we were somewhere above Shepherd's Rips and below Pine Island. Another early start to avoid the wind and we were having a good time. Soon, the river became deeper and slower and we were able to paddle for a stretch. About the time we came to the Oxbow, I spied a moose feeding at the edge. Having camera at the ready, I was able to get a couple of good shots (I think). We skipped the oxbow in the river that went past Oxbow Flats, but saw some houses up on the hillside.

Soon we came to Junkins Island. "You take the left and I'll take the right," I said to JS. The right side was a twisty little channel with good current. A couple of bends up, I heard a clunk or two and at first glance, thought I saw JS coming around. No, it was an old man, square-jawed white beard under a cap with a red bandana to keep off the bugs and sun. He had a short wooden pole that looked like a well-worn closet rod, a brown Grumman and an old white paddle that looked home made. Beyond that, he had a fly rod and a stained knapsack. A thin man, not too tall, and dressed in a workshirt and pants like every one else we met in Aroostook County.

Rudy: Old Wise Man of the Maine Woods.
"Rudy Michalka is my name. I'm eighty three years old and hope to see ninety." Rudy was a retired Maine Guide, like every one else, and owned about a half a square mile of land, the last before the Forest Gatehouse. Well, I pestered poor Rudy about all sorts of info. His news was as grim as every one else's: "Years ago, you could go up La Pomkeag Stream to Carry Brook, then on past Archie Junkin's place to the deadwater at the top of Grand Lake Seboeis. Archie used to have a camp up in there, and kept the trail clear. Not any more though. After the Spruce Budworm got in there, they cut the whole area. Nothing but brush and alders the whole way. And o'course, after they did that, there was nothing to hold the water back. Carry Brook is all dried up and La Pomkeag is only a trickle. No, you can't get through there," he laughed, "unless you really want to rough it. You'll be dragging your boat through ten miles of alders with nothing but mud sucking at your feet!" He tilted his head back and gave another hearty guffaw, just thinking of it.

"I took my tractor once, with a boat and motor on a trailer up through there, but I'd get in trouble helping you, as that's what guides are supposed to do. No sir, you can't get there."

I wanted desperately to take his picture, just backed into an eddy, standing there in his old boat, arm draped over his pole. He was as relaxed as if he were leaning on a fence post. Alas, I had the wrong lens on my camera and he seemed itchin' to go. I bid him good day and headed on up, as he headed on down.

Well, his dire news was consistent with every one else's. It was also obvious that the Aroostook was dropping fast; there was scarcely a chance that the side streams would have any water. So things were looking pretty bleak for ascending La Pomkeag. I talked to enough locals and heard them all agree, and realized it would be foolish to even try.


When we got to the forest gatehouse we met Lester Junkins. Lester looked to be a school mate of Rudy's and turned out to be Archie Junkin's nephew. We sat in rocking chairs by the woodstove and told him of our plight. Well, Lester sat there and pondered. As a matter of fact, we all sat there pondering for a while. After a spell, some folks came through and had a cell phone. Lester asked them if we could use it, and then he suggested we call a Maine Guide by the name of Donny Whipple.

Don Whipple! He was the guy is Masardis three days ago. So we did and Don agreed to take us the sixteen miles to Grand Lake Seboeis. He covered the ground from Masardis in fifteen minutes. He drove us through a maze of logging roads into Wadleigh Deadwater. We never would have found this place on foot. We would have spent days and days wandering around.

For the rest of my life, I'll never forget my grueling pilgrimage up the Aroostook, the white-bearded wise man at the top, and his timeless Maine wisdom: "You can't get there from here."