Peter Macfarlane's 2013 Solo Through-Paddle of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail
in a Cedar-Strip Canoe by Otter Creek Smallcraft

NFCT's Map of Overall Route Peter & Sylva completing the NFCT

Day 13

34.5 miles

Friday 31st May

East Branch Nulhegan - Stark Bridge


Day 13 route on Google Earth imagery

Fortunately it did not rain in the night; my decision to forego the tarp did not come back to bite me. It was another cold night, though, under clear skies, and is still chilly at 5:00 am. I have a breakfast of trail-mix and water in the hammock before venturing out into the world of blackflies and mosquitoes. Apparently these do not realise that they're supposed to be less active when it's cold. I'm out of there by 6:00 am, wading down the East Branch until there's enough water to float. I pass the official campsite which looks much nicer. It's then a pleasant ride, route-finding through gentle class I rapids, to the confluence with the main branch and down to Bloomfield and the confluence with the Connecticut River. I sign the register at Bloomfield, and head out into the Connecticut.

East Branch Nulhegan River

Sunrise on the Nulhegan River

The flow is fast, and there are slight rapids that I do not recall from the last time I paddled here. It's also very misty, so the tall, undercut banks loom out of nowhere. After an hour or so the mist disperses and the sun breaks through. Apart from the frequent headwind, it's a pleasant trip down the Connecticut. The current helps to keep me moving and the good weather keeps my spirits high.

My initial goal is to reach Groveton where I hope to be able to phone Ray and Hildy, my support crew in New Hampshire, to arrange a pick-up.

Misty morning on the Connecticut River

Maine Central Railroad Trestle

I pass the Maine Central Railroad Trestle and inspect the campsite there. It looks as though it's been flooded recently; I would certainly not wish to camp there right now – it's all mud. At the Samuel Benton campsite, altogether more pleasant, I stop to sign the register and use the privy, before pushing on downstream. At about 11:00 am I reach the confluence with the Upper Ammonoosuc, and once more begin to push upstream. As yet I have no phone signal, so continue towards Groveton, working the eddies in the manner to which I have become so accustomed.


Groveton covered bridge

The current becomes stronger as I near Groveton. At the Weston Dam I take out too early and am faced with a steep climb over the railway embankment. I opt to put back in to paddle under the railway bridge to a more rocky take-out. The carry, however, is straightforward, and I continue under the covered bridge to the Wausau Paper Mills Dam, taking out on to Brooklyn Street. I carry to the end of the street above the dam and then lock up the canoe while I now prioritise contacting Ray and Hildy.

Wausau Paper Mill, Groveton

I still have no phone signal, so hike back down Brooklyn St to the filling station on the south-west of town. Sadly the payphone there doesn't work – it hasn't been serviced in months, I'm informed. But apparently there's another at the grocery store in town. I hike there, wishing I'd had the courage to leave my pack with the canoe; the day is now truly hot. There's no sign of any phone, and the cashier confirms that it was removed some time ago. I'm now stuck, unable to make any phone contact at all. The Police Station is nearby so I try there, but all is dark. Groveton is proving to be a black hole of telecommunications.

As I come out to weigh up my rather limited options, a police car pulls up. I explain my predicament, and the officer agrees for me to use the police phone, having checked that it's an in-state call. I phone Ray and Hildy. Ray encourages me to head for Stark. If I can reach there by 5:30 pm, it will fit their plans just fine. Judging by the distance, this should be no problem.

I return to the canoe and once more head upstream. The carry around Red Dam is awkward. And then the cobble beds and rapids start, with fast current and few eddies.

Upper Ammonoosuc River

Paddling becomes impossible as there's no depth in which to sink a blade. My ski poles come into play, double poling. Steering is difficult, but I'm making progress. I'm also tiring quickly and take to wading on the slippery cobbles. The effort of pushing against this current is draining me. Having set out again at 2:15 pm, by 4:00 I have made maybe two miles. This is not going to work for the rendez-vous, especially as I'm slowing.

At the first opportunity where North Side Road meets the river, I take out and start to carry. My feet are already bruised from wading on cobbles, and the weather is hot. Nevertheless I make good time, once more carrying in 20-minute sessions. I suspect this distance is going to be similar to the Grand Portage, somewhere between 5 and 6 miles. At one rest, I happen to be opposite a couple of guys hanging out, drinking beer from a cooler in the back of a truck. One immediately offers me a can. I'd prefer water, but he continues to hold out the can. While his friend fills my water bottle, I develop a whole new appreciation for Bud Light. Never has a beer snob been so glad of the cheap stuff! I decline a second can, though, as the lack of food and my state of dehydration have resulted in very rapid absorption, and I'm feeling the effects, weak though the beer is.

About two hours into my carry, I recognise Ray's car coming towards me. He offers a ride, but also tells me that I'm nearly at Stark Bridge, so I continue for the last few hundred yards.

Hildy is there with tea at the ready. Somehow she just knows what's needed. I feel totally wasted after the effort of poling, wading and carrying in the heat at the end of a 12-hour day, and after nearly two weeks of hard paddling in adverse conditions, together with long hours of exposure to cold and rain. Apparently it shows. We load the canoe on the car and drive to Lancaster, where Gerry provides dinner and gives me free run of the shower. Most of the evening I lie on the couch, before heading back to Ray & Hildy's, together with Viveka who has met us in Lancaster.

Arriving in Stark [photo: R&H Danforth]

Tomorrow is a rest day. My body desperately needs it. Now that I have achieved my goal for the first half of the trip, maybe I'm finally prepared to admit to myself (and everybody else who already knows it!) that my body does indeed have physical limitations, and I've been testing them.


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