Last weekend I got to feeling bored and creative so I checked out the iMovie app that comes on my iPhone and my Mac computer. It’s not the super slickest video editing tool out there I’m sure. Still, with zero familiarity I played around with the basic functions and created this little video photo collage of a kayak trip I took down the Moose River back in late June of 2018.
Moose River was everything good and everything I needed. A challenge I could face alone in nature’s beauty. A chance to regroup, reground, and hopefully rebound.
This video was a lot of fun to make. That Moose River trip had been on my mind for quite some time and it was much more—meant much more—than that cute little video could ever convey. It came during a seismic shift in my life. I was still struggling with things only a few months removed from losing my Mother, and had burnt out in small publishing and was looking for something new. Outdoors is where I wanted to be working but I needed some more education so after leaving Encircle Publications I had signed up for a Nature Semester class studying Maine watersheds with Nancy Prentiss up at UMF. The class failed to get enough enrollment and was canceled so my June plans became upended and I instead decided to take some time off and get some healing-learning RiverDevin adventures in. In the early part of the month, I took a long camp trip up by the Dead River. And mid-month I took a seldom-used trail on an epic hike up Saddleback Mountain but something was still amiss. My personal troubles were piling up. While recovering a death and blowing up my career goals, things at home in the relationship with the woman I shared were getting very rocky and I could see it all coming to an end soon. Yes, another one. It seems I was just in a period of loss, disappointment, and transition and that was how it was just gonna be. It was a very difficult time for me. Things would get even worse over the growing summer months but for this moment in time, Moose River represented everything good that I needed. A challenge I could face alone in nature’s beauty. A chance to regroup, reground, and hopefully rebound.
Save for a few treacherous falls and mandatory portages the majority of this section of the river is slow and meandering with many twists and turns…
The Moose River paddle is a 34-mile round trip journey through a Northwestern section of Maine. Known as the “Bow Trip” it begins at the Eastern edge of Attean Pond in Jackman. From there you paddle the entire length of Attean to the western shore and make a mile and a half portage up and over to the extreme eastern edge of Holeb pond. From here you paddle Holeb pond’s length to the western edge where Holeb stream spills out. This stream meanders shortly for a mile or so before finally merging into the Moose River. On the river, you stay for 21 miles or so until it joins back up with Attean Pond. The trip can be done in as little as two days or can be stretched out longer for explorers and fishermen. Save for a few treacherous falls and mandatory portages the majority of this section of the river is slow and meandering with many twists and turns. The river is narrow and forested on some banks with tall beautiful stands of spruce but for the most part, it traverses a massive heath, which drains into and stains the river’s water’s a nutrient-rich teak-brown. Geologically speaking I believe this is what they consider a young river.
Intending to make this trip solo I decided to forgo the round trip that would require the mile and a half portage to Holeb pond with my kayak and gear. My plan instead was to take the back road into Holeb pond and put in there just a short distance from where the stream flows and meets the Moose River. This would shave about 9 miles off of the 34-mile journey. The only way this could work solo though would be to have someone follow me up so I could leave my vehicle and have it waiting for me at my take out point back on Attean. Thankfully my recently widowed Dad followed me up and then drove me and my gear into my put in up at Holeb. Dad got to watch me as I expertly packed my kayak with enough gear, food, and liquids, to get me through three days and nights, strategically placing a total of nine 16oz PBR cans deep in the rear well of the kayak behind the Styrofoam float block where they’d stay the coolest. Rationed correctly I’d be able to enjoy a healthy quaff of three pounders per night. I think Dad was a little impressed with how much I was able to fit in that kayak, but I’d already practiced this back at the house and knew just what I needed and just how it would all fit. Fully loaded off I went waving to Dad and then paddling for the outlet of Holeb pond. The day would remain warm and sunny but tomorrow’s forecast was for a dangerous dose of heavy thunder filled summer rains. I was certain I was ready. My gear stuffed deep in tight dry-bags, a full-body suit of rain gear handy.
When morning came I heard the first pit-pat of rain on my tent…
My paddle to the campsite at Barrett Brook where I took out for the first night was uneventful. The water was slow and the day warm. I took time to rest on sandy shores and sun myself. I lazily floated and fished snagging nothing but white chubs. I kept looking for moose in the swampy edges of oxbows seeing nothing but their signs—dozed-down shore-grass, huge hoof prints in the mud. It was quiet. No one on the river in front of me it seemed and despite my lazy crawl no one behind. I was all alone. The river, the night, my thoughts and a bruised wounded heart. I built a fire, listened to some music, drank my beers, cooked a supper of macaroni and cheese with summer sausage and fought with mosquitos, black flies, and noseeums until bed.
When morning came I heard the first pit-pat of rain on my tent. I wasted no time and was out of it fast, dropping the poles and rolling it up before it could even have a chance at getting wet. The mosquitos were fierce but I worked fast to get into a full-body suit of rain gear and don a head-net. Once the tent and gear were packed into dry-bags I loaded it all into the kayak except for my little cook stove and coffee pot so I could have a little breakfast before shoving off for the day. As I drank my coffee on the shore I waved at two men who paddled by in their canoes. The only people I’d see this whole trip. “It’s gonna get wet today!” I called out “Oh yes!” they cried back.
Day two was a lot of paddling. The rain was slow and misty throughout most of the morning and the river nothing but a never-ending series of lazy switchbacks and oxbows. I had to leave the head net on most of the day because the bugs were rough and this was very annoying. I fished here, there, and everywhere. It was completely unfruitful with nothing but chub. Even the camel rips were lame and uneventful. The bigger Holeb falls which are a must portage section of the river is where things took a turn. The portage was a difficult trail of rain-slicked rock and roots through a stretch of woods and down a steep and dangerous hill. With all my gear I’d have to walk some of it through this portage twice. On the second trip I had to drag the kayak along as best I cold. As it banged along on the hard roots and rocks the PBRs deep in its stern banged along as well, eventually bursting and spraying their contents into the bottom of my kayak. When I reached the bottom of the falls on my second trip I was catching whiffs of what smelled like a bottle redemption center. I pulled them all out and found only one still intact. Despite the rain, I had stayed dry in my full suit up until this point. But by the time I’d finished my portage my rain pants had ripped open at the seat and down the inner leg seams. I had to open up my rain jacket because I was soaking wet with perspiration from the portage. The rain had abated by this point so I actually thought I’d have a chance to dry out some back in the river. That was until I decided to run the Mosquito rips. How bad could they be? The camels were nothing but a teeny section of faster flow but mosquito did look a little more significant with a bit of a fall to it. I decided I could run it swiftly and went for it. Unfortunately, the fall was more significant than it looked and I really nose plowed down it. My bow briefly went under and when it popped back up it brought a massive wave of cold river water directly into my face and lap! So much for staying dry on this trip! I was now soaked through to my skin all over. Three inches of beer-tea river-water sloshed the kayak bottom. The rain started back up. I laughed maniacally at the skies and started bailing myself out as I lazily floated away downstream.
Once safely in my tent I ate my supper and slowly savored my last warm beer as the rains came down harder…
I had no dry wood, I was soaked to the bone, and I had only one beer left. This had not been a good day. This was not looking to be a good night. I wasn’t sure how I’d get dried out but I kept paddling hoping the campsites at Spencer Rips would offer something. And offer they did. A set of unoccupied yet sturdy functional hunting cabins sat on a bluff below the falls here. They both had flat sturdy covered dry porches. A perfect place to shelter away from the rain, a perfect place for comfort and dryness after the day I’d had. Once safely in my tent I ate my supper and slowly savored my last warm beer as the rains came down harder and harder, the Mallet Brothers Band played softly on my Bluetooth speaker. Darkness fell. The rain pattered all night on the river. And I slept peacefully.
By dawn a brilliant summer morning sun was burning off the night’s rains. A blanket of puffy white fog, punctured by the pointed black-green spires of tall spruce lifted slowly off the river like a plush white blanket. I hung my gear on the porch rafters and dried it out in the sun while enjoying my coffee and reeling in my umpteenth chub. The day’s paddle would be long hot and slow. It was starting to get boring until the afternoon when I finally arrived at the beautiful section of river that makes up the upper and lower Attean falls. This is near the journey’s end and I could have easily paddled the rest of the way out the river and across Attean Pond to my car but I camped out one more night just above the falls enjoying the sunset and some last sips of blueberry moonshine from the emergency flask I had on hand (smart thinking!). In the morning all I’d have to do is sneak past a family of Canadian geese whose mother was being fairly intimidating and aggressive toward me and out onto the glassy loon call echoed waters of Attean pond and something was accomplished. Something was healed. Something was learned. I’d need these things. I’d have some more struggles ahead of me in the near future—more loss to deal with, more change and uncertainty. I owe much to adventures like my Moose River trip. I think these self imposed challenges against the awesome beauty and power of nature can do well to prepare me for those hell storms—both expected and unexpected— that life sometimes throws my way. It’s a big reason why I do these things.
You can learn more about the Moose River trip at Maine Trail Finder here: https://www.mainetrailfinder.com/trails/trail/moose-river-bow-trip