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Journal Entry: Planning for the Trip

By Matt Hopkinson

It was early winter, and I had the fever bad. I was already imagining what it would be like to sail across those remote lakes.


After several years of planning, starting with multiple switching of routes and rivers, I and Doug Doremus have settled on a route and a time frame. Henceforth, in this account, Doug will be referred to variously as Jumbo Shrimp, JS, or Scooter. The years of abstract planning gave way to the final winter season of gear selection, map buying, gear making and food preparation. Two days ago, I started the "weekend countdown", with all the chores to finish, places to go, and things to accomplish before I leave.

Our trip will start this June 1st, and last the month. We've arranged for a driver to take my 93 Caravan to a small town in Quebec, called Riviere-du-Loup. This town of 17,000 sits on the southern bank of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Our intention is to get our boats wet in the "Fleuve St. Laurent", paddle for a mile to the mouth of the River Loop, where we begin the first upstream leg of our journey.

But today, I sit amongst my gear and begin to pack. JS has chided me for not having done this sooner. He is right, of course. For in packing, one discovers all that is missing or broken. My first piece of gear is the Skitikuk Pack, a rectangular zipper-lidded bag made for carrying the bulk of my gear. It has shoulder straps, big meaty handles for hefting into and out of the boat. The pack was hand-sewn by Mike Krepner in his solar-powered shop, "Igas Isle", in Waldoboro, Maine. Mike is the founder of Native Trails, an organization dedicated to retracing ancient canoe routes of indigenous people.

Today is the day I finally get around to sealing the seams of the pack. I asked Mike for a tumpline, which he supplied for free. He says he never uses them. I wonder if it will prove to be properly sized. JS opted for a couple of Duluth Packs, which are traditional, made of leather and canvas, and have quite a few zippered pockets and compartments.

I first heard of Mike Krepner when Jumbo sent me a clipping from a newspaper from Lubec, Maine. The article was about the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, conceived by Mike and his partners. The 700 mile trail starts in Old Forge, NY, crosses Vermont and New Hampshire going up and down stream, and finally ends up in Fort Kent, Maine. We got pretty excited about this, as it would be easy to plan, and cheap, with no airfare.

As we got into the particulars, it became apparent that there wasn't enough time to cover the whole route, and it covered some pretty heart-breaking stretches. It was then we realized there was a whole universe of routes we could take if we were willing to go upstream and portage over land in addition to paddling. I met Mike in person at the Maine Festival of the Arts in Thomas Point, Maine. Strolling through the exhibits and craft booths, I spied a yert in the grass, set apart from the other displays, a canoe sitting beside it. I stepped inside, and there was long haired, bearded Mike.

It wasn't long before I had bought my Skitikuk Pack and paid my dues for a Native Trails membership. Mike was thrilled to have real canoe tripper stop in. He felt uneasy selling zippered map carriers and cell phone packs to the yuppy crowd.

Mike has proved to be a wealth of information, and he sent me info on the Maliseet Trail, from the St. John near Fredericton, over to the headwaters of the St. Croix and the Mattawamkeag. He sent me info on the "Wawenock Awangan", which is a coastal route from Penobscot Bay to Casco Bay, using portages across headlands to avoid the rough waters of the exposed seas. But most important, he supplied me with some 100 year old texts on routes between the St. John Watershed and the St. Lawrence.

Another terrific source of information was a book called "Above the Gravel Bar" by David S. Cook. Mr. Cook lives in Milo, Maine, and you have to call him up and order it. This book covers the Indian canoe routes of Maine, particular attention to the Penobscot River as a starting point. For flavor, I read "Arundel", by Kenneth Roberts, a story about Benedict Arnold's assault on Quebec City. His small army ascended the Kennebec, the Dead, over the "height o' land", and down the Chaudierre, in wooden boats. I also read "Penobscot Man" by Frank Speck, who lived summers with the tribe when he was a youth in the early 1900's. During this research, I came to review how land ownership had been transferred to the British. Early on, the Penobscot gave all their land east of the river to the Crown. Then, later, it was all the land west of it. But never did they hand over the islands and sandbars within the river proper.

This of course, presents an interesting situation for us, as we normally rely on assumed rights dating back to the Magna Carta. These are the rights of navigation. These rights allow any one to use navigable waterways for travel, without toll. These rights extend to all accessory uses to navigation, including using the land below the high water mark for camping, carrying around obstructions, and scouting. Our game plan relies on this for passage through unknown and built-up areas, for it would be impossible to secure campsites for the whole month, strung out over 400 miles, and us not even being sure of the route at that.

So I wrote to the Penobscot Nation, on Indian Island, next door to Old Town. I found that I needed to appear before their council to get permission to use their turf. We have a spot on their agenda for April 3. This will make a perfect opportunity to stop at the Bangor Public Library to further research the Canadian section, check out the museum at U Maine in Orono to see the prehistoric Indian exhibits. I heard of a diorama of Norway Bluff, where chert deposits were mined for the production of arrowheads and other tools. Then perhaps we'll kill some time at the Old Town Canoe factory before our meeting. I don't really know what to expect, I guess I'll throw together a short presentation for them.

Well, the seam sealer must be dry by now, so I guess I'll get back to packing.

[Day 1 of the trip]