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June 8

Saint Francis and Fort Kent

"We fairly flew down the St. John"


I got up at 4:20 AM, left by five and paddled down through the early morning fog. At the mouth of the river, I paddled through a maze of islands in the fog, no idea where the channel was. I hit the St. John, still in a dense fog, looking for St. Francis Town. The river guide mentioned a nice take-out a short distance upstream.

Since I had inadvertently left behind my telephone credit card and Nancy's phone number at work, I was trying to get to a phone before she left for work. The current and the fog conspired against me. I mistakenly entered the St. John at the lowest point below the islands, making the take-out about a mile upstream. I couldn't tell this because of the fog. I fought the current for a little while, but gave up after making scant progress. I drifted back down to a couple of camp trailers on the bank. I pulled out and walked through the dew-laden fields, past the cows who came out to greet me and into someone's backyard.

Standing in the middle of the road, I looked left. I looked right. Both directions revealed a straight road disappearing over the horizon. I turned and started back to the boat when a nice old woman called out through the window to ask me what I was doing. I explained and she let me in to use the phone. In the house, they spoke English to me and French to each other. I took my wet shoes off and stood in the doorway to the kitchen as she served up pancakes to her grandchildren. The kids were all geeked out by the stranger making a phone call. As I figured out the procedures for a collect call, the toilet gurgled and out came Grandpaw holding the newspaper. I was feeling a mixture of awkwardness at being in a stranger's home and a comfortable homey-ness at being in the middle of the morning hustle and bustle of preparing for school and work.

Hoo-boy. I got through and everything seemed fine except seven year old Robin was missing me terrible. She got on the phone, croaked out "Hi Daddy" and began to cry. I tried to console her, but it was tough when I was only one-fourth of the way through the trip. Made me want to leave my boat on the bank and take the next plane home and give her a big hug.

Now I'm sitting in the chilly sun drinking cowboy coffee and waiting for Jumbo. It's beautiful out now and the sun burns off the fog, revealing the green hills beyond. It's beautiful, but I feel kind of empty, wistful and guilty. I guess you just can't live in two worlds at once. Somehow, I think I'll have to fit more 2-hour trips in and do less camping trips. I do miss my little family an awful lot.

After the call home, I met up with JS who had landed the exact spot we ended the Allagash Trip, in St. Francis. We rigged sails and flew like demons down the St. John. Never before have I sailed in six inches of swift current, effortlessly dodging through rapids by merely ruddering. Apart from the visibility problems with a sail, ruddering was an extremely effective means of avoiding the rocks and holes of the rapids. We covered 18 miles in two and a half hours, including a short stop for lunch.

We parked under the international bridge and walked up the bank to the Customs House. This time it was more like a Spanish Inquisition. The officer seemed to suspect we were illegal aliens or something, tried to stare us down. Failing that, he half-heartedly came down to shore and looked at our boats. We said good-bye and floated down to Fort Kent Blockhouse where the Boy Scouts keep a campsite for canoeists.

We shared the Fort Kent campsite with a group of four Quebecois who paddled the St. John from St. Pamphile. We traded stories and I picked up the very useful phrase: "Le Christe moesh noir!" which translates to "Christly blackflies!"