Already the river has become a blur. The lakes and ponds I remember, the expanse of Chamberlain, the blue distances of Eagle, the choppy waters of Churchill. Then the sexy hills of Umsaksis, Long Lake’s peace and longness. The delta area of Round Pond, and the sense there, of the end of the river coming at you. But the river, all the miles of it are as one mile. The fir clad shore, the relentless rain, the current under the canoe. Paddling it, it’s almost like I don’t want the river to get ahead of me. I seldom stop and get out, even to take a leak, I pull to the side of the river and stand up in the canoe. There’s so much water most of the time the shore isn’t accessible anyway, solid ground somewhere beyond the puckerbrush and overhanging branches. So I go too fast, unable to slow down for whatever reason. Already thinking about how the next time I’ll be prepared to go slow.
Allagash Falls in The Rain
A couple of miles above Allagash Falls the river changes. It slows, and islands built up of silt grow elm trees and weirdly, blooming rugosa roses flourish on the banks – their pink petals incongruous in the forest. A maze of channels bisect the islands and you wonder if you’re following the right one, but it appears there isn’t a wrong one, especially with the water this high.
Finally, after a day of paddling, after a day of steady rain, I hear the falls. You don’t see them from above, just a sign telling you to get off the river here, absolutely. People have gone over of course, and some have lived and some have died. Actually there are two takeouts. The upper one, risk free, is a good hundred yards above the lower one, which it turns out is also quite safe, only much closer to the point of no return.
The two couples make landing a few minutes after I do. They’re soaked. ” My rain pants let the water in,” says one.
“They always do. I don’t know what the answer is.”
“The answer is when it rains you’re going to be wet and miserable.” says one of guys, who I’ve noticed carries a flask in one the pockets of his safari style vest. Probably as good a reason to wear one of those things as I can imagine. One of the women is shivering, and they talk about needing to get something hot into her. All the campsites are flooded, and after looking things over they decide to keep going. Four more hours in the rain to Allagash village. That’s not for me. I’d rather set up my tarp in the rain, eat something hot myself, and crawl into my tent early – especially if I can keep it damp.
The water going over the falls makes the ground tremble. I feel it all night long, like a gentle, continuous earthquake. In the morning it’s still raining. I fill my water bottle under a dip in tarp where the water collects – the rain is handy around some things – make coffee and mix a little granola with water. I’m feeling pretty good after a night’s sleep, and have my last dry clothes on. During a lull in the rain, I start to carry stuff down to the put in below the falls. On the second trip, the skies open up again. I’ve left the jacket, for what it’s worth, up at the camp, and in a few seconds am soaked through. It hardly matters now anyway.