I’m home. Briefly. The trip began perfectly and if I’ve got the time in the next few days to describe the first bit with Marc and Liesl and our casual and cavalier approach to the Adirondacks I will, but first, why I’m home. The rains of the past few days had little Liesl and I trapped just outside Enosburg Falls, Vermont at the foot of some rapids. I was on the upstream section of the NFCT and had just completed a 28-mile day when I made camp at around 7:30 PM.
The day started well. I was feeling good about the progress I had made, I was on track to having done 205 miles (330 kms) in about eight days, that was with two slow days on Lake Champlain hindered by wind and fog and excluded the 10 mile detour Marc and I took in the Adirondacks, which is another story. L and I had a nice paddle through the Missisquoi delta and then up river. The first portage went well enough but as the rain began to fall the sluice channels on the dams opened up, drastically increasing the current and therefore the length and size of many rapids.
In one case in particular I was trapped by a swift foaming jumble of confused current cutting sideways into the river as a dam’s sluice channel was opened. The portage option was cut-off, impossible to get to. L and I were soaked and she was getting cold and had begun to shiver uncontrollably. The only options were to camp there, at the foot of dam, or risk a ferry between some messy big waves and try to make a portage route through the woods on the opposite bank. We risked the ferry. I aimed the boat essentially straight up river with only a slight turn to the opposite bank, which ensures a stable and usually dry crossing. I paddled as hard as I had since my racing days so as to not slip backwards into the rapids behind me. The currents were so erratic that waves would appear and disappear at random, slamming into the side of the boat and dumping water in. But we made the shore. Arriving at the opposite bank we were greeted by a dead beaver. An ominous symbol that L found particularly interesting. An hour and a bit later, we had bushwhacked a portage around the dam. By this point I had already lost my wheels at a previous portage and was stuck carrying the boat and pack and dog. Thankfully the boat was light and the yoke comfortable.
Arriving at the site for that night at the foot of a set of rapids I made camp. It was at the edge of a field gone fallow. It appeared to be beautiful spot with the river to one side, a meadow on the other, and a wood behind. A wood I didn’t know was a knot of four-wheeler trails until the next night. With the tent set up, I dried L off and we both crawled into the sleeping bag and passed out. The next morning we awoke to still pouring rain, rapids that had suddenly grown much larger, and a boat that was precariously close to the water, which had risen over night. Moving the boat up the bank, I decided to stay put for the day hoping the rain would cease as it had on previous days at around 3 PM. With the rain gone, or at least not pouring, I would paddle upstream to Enosburg Falls to resupply and hopefully dry out. The crux of the day would be the rapids, which weren’t long at about a mile, but which had no viable portage route, and with the water having risen so dramatically the banks were lined with strainers (branches or trees hanging into the water which can be extremely dangerous if you get pinned against them). My hope was that on the following morning, after an afternoon and night of no rain, maybe things would have settled a bit and I could track (essentially pull the boat up stream with a rope) the rapids.
But it rained, and the river rose. I made camp a little more comfortable with a tarp to extend my tent fly, but the temperature was hovering at around 8 degrees and as everything got more and more damp, L and I got more and more cold. We lazed in the small tent. I read by the yellow light coming through the fly and L slept in the crook of my knees. I wrote a little in my journal and questioned what the best move would be. Push on and hope to dry out? Sit tight until the rain stopped? Or turn downstream, find a house, knock on the door and call home to dry off and get re-organized? Alone I would have made the first choice. The dog however was a different story. She was miserable. She was cold and couldn’t get dry. At 14 lbs this wasn’t her idea of fun and I was beginning to worry about her.
That night we had a cold, wet, and fitful sleep. There is a certain vulnerability experienced in a tent. One feels both closer to whatever it is around him, but also more exposed to it. That’s why I camp, to get close to whatever it is I’m interested in. Ultimately that ‘it’ is nature, but ‘it’ can take different forms, from mountains, to rivers, to woods, to meadows, or, like the site I was in, a swollen river, a fallow field and rednecks shooting guns from four-wheeler’s in the middle of the night in a storm that had lasted almost 36 hours and would wind up washing out roads and flooding fields and houses. Visions of being discovered next to the no trespassing sign, which I had set my tent up adjacent to thinking no one would come out here in this weather, haunted me for the rest of the night. I had grown blissfully accustomed to the vulnerability of a tent, but Deliverance wasn’t the kind of exposure I was looking for and the echoes of gunshots in the not so distant woods were definitely not what I had planned on.
I scribbled in my journal at around 1 AM, home tomorrow. screw upstream sections. Get to Maine. Leave L at home. get a gun. Eventually I feel asleep to the sound of two-stoke engines fading into the distance. We awoke again to more rain, and when L peeped out of the tent and then looked back at me, the only thought behind her beautiful though generally vacant stare was, ‘get me the hell outta here.’ I broke camp by 6:30 and floated downstream 2 miles with L tucked under my jacket. The water had risen even more and I essentially floated on to the tidiest riverside lawn I could find.
My plan had been to wait until about 8 AM before knocking on the best painted, least likely to house a four-wheeler driver looking door. Instead I found Devyn’s Creemee stand, which opens at 6 AM and serves a wicked good breakfast. When I arrived it was full of the kindest Vermonters I had ever met. Ok the only Vermonters I had ever really met. Regardless, they took L and I in, lent me a phone charger and allowed me to join them at breakfast as they discussed the goings-on of the surrounding community. Later that morning there was talk of someone, a name I didn’t catch, having a time the night before and shooting his guns. I didn’t say anything. About five hours after my call, my slow moving evacuation team had made the 90-minute drive from Montreal.
I’m home, washed, and dry. L has never been happier. And I’ll be returning to the trail shortly–definitely not soon enough–to finish it off. It wasn’t an easy choice to leave, but I have no doubt it was the right one. I’ll be back out in the next few days. Updates pending.