Allagash in Retrospect

Intern and former thru-paddler Nicole Grohoski reflects on her memorable experience in northern Maine

I can hardly believe that it’s been over a month since I left the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and made my way to Vermont to finish my internship with the NFCT.  Back in the boomtown of Burlington, our cozy cabin on Chamberlain Lake and the trials and tribulations of the Tramway Trail feel worlds away (see Walter’s 8/9/11 blog post for more details on our work).  But, I know that the Allagash is very much in our world; I recently heard that rain from Hurricane Irene caused high water levels that required the closure of the lower section of the river to paddlers.  But, this same torrential rain was no match for the work that fellow-intern Pete, myself, the rangers, and many volunteers did on the Tramway Trail!

Home Sweet HomeWhen I look back on my summer, a few things come to mind.  Mud, bugs, swampy feet, out-running wind and rain on the lake.  “Lock Dam Sourdough” baked in the reflector oven, real bean hole beans, fresh trout, moose (to look at, not eat), amazing sunsets and starry nights, great paddling.  But really, none of these things would be as memorable without the people that I shared them with.

A muddy process ideed!There was Pete, with his cowboy coffee to start the day.  On the trail, he’d set up his battery-powered radio with a five-foot makeshift wire antenna tuned to classic rock; when it didn’t work, Pete would just sing an original tune.  He’d sing to the mud, the bugs, the motorized wheelbarrow, the rangers, me.  And boy did he love to swing the cutter mattock!  He could tear up a stretch of vegetation, rotting lumber, and rocks almost before I could start rolling the fabric out to line the base of the trail.  By the end of the summer, he was so in tune with the wheelbarrow that when it jumped its track, he must have felt like he himself was injured (by harris). Pete and I cheered each other up when the going was tough, sat down and grumbled together when we needed a break, harmonized to the motor of our canoe on the 10-mile trip to the ranger station, slapped the bugs of each other’s backs, surfed the waves in Chase Rapids…

Pete laying out the fabric.
Minor setback.

And then there was the Chamberlain Family: Rangers Chris and Rick, and Rick’s wife Deb.  Deb served up many delicious meals and she and Rick shuttled us a few hours to Allagash Lake for a weekend outing.  When our propane refrigerator broke, Rick was there with a wrench.  That same wrench was no where to be found when Rick came to fix the wheelbarrow, but with the rock bar and some elbow grease, it was back on track.  Chris shuttled us around the lake when the canoe seemed a little too slow, showed us some of his favorite local spots, and put in some good hours on the trail.  He and Pete somehow managed to find the largest rock that two people could move and coaxed it onto the wheelbarrow before placing it in the ground for a culvert.  Way to go guys!  And when we left Chamberlain to build some steps at sites on Umsaskis Lake, Ranger Steve and his wife Cindy would not stop feeding us whenever we weren’t working.  Chowder and fresh biscuits for lunch, anyone?  I could barely fit into Steve’s truck when it was time to leave!

intern in Allagash Wilderness Waterway
Now that’s a rock!

And finally, there were our enthusiastic volunteers.  We were lucky to have two Waterway Work Trip weekends and a total of seven volunteers (plus Walter!) who helped us complete some large sections of trail.  It’s amazing how quickly a motivated crew of seven can build a causeway!  We were grateful for the help and good company; we learned about road engineering, the weather service, baking bread, butterflies, local geology, labor regulations, alcohol stoves… what a knowledgeable crew!  Pete and I were more than happy to treat our new friends to plenty of good cooking and even some original guitar tunes.  We hope to meet you all again on the water!

Supper time in the waterway.
Backwoods gourmet.

Because of all of the great folks that I shared my summer with, my memories of the harder times have already started to fade.  I’m not even sure that I can think of what a horsefly looks like now.  But, I do remember the look on Pete’s face when he netted my first brook trout for me, our volunteers hungrily eating up “Mama O’s Apple Fritters” as fast as Walter could cook them, and the sound of a Boston Whaler cruising toward our cabin promising good company.  For me now, the Allagash is more than just a beautiful, remote area where I love to paddle – it’s a home filled with thoughts of a job well done and a community of people who helped make that possible.