Interesting, Helpful, Memorable Folks You've Met on Canoe Trips

Glenn MacGrady

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No, I don't mean the folks you've taken your trips with. I mean strangers you've met along the way who are memorable for some reason, such as being just interesting, helpful, entertaining, needing your help, annoying or even obnoxious. They could be other paddlers, hikers, rangers, fishermen . . . whoever.

I'll just mention some folks I encountered on a six day trip in the Adirondacks a few years back, which included the famous 1.1 mile carry around Raquette Falls. This carry was the much anticipated Jeckyll-Hyde "highlight" of the trip for me because, given my age (69), not-so-great physical condition, and the almost 90° heat, I would have to triple carry. This carry starts with what has been likened to a climb up football stadium steps; its total rise being 187' and decline being 191'—5.5 miles for a triple carry.

So, to avoid a full triple, I decided to try to canoe cart most the carry even though some sources claimed it not to be wheelable. My collapsible canoe cart fit nicely in the deep bow of my Hemlock SRT as I began my trip at Blue Mountain Lake.

Boat loaded at Blue Mountain Lake.JPG

Around noon of the fifth day I entered the mouth of the Raquette River at the north end of Long Lake.

Entrance to Raquette River.JPG

A few miles down is the junction of the Raquette and Cold Rivers, the latter having been called "the wildest and most remote river in [New York] state" (Jamieson & Morris, p. 76).

Junction of Raquette and Cold Rivers.JPG

After exploring the Cold River and returning to the Raquette, I passed two massive guys in an aluminum tub engaged in "fishing", which is just a universal euphemism for drinking lots of beer. Being a non-fishing teetotaler, I regarded these louts with some disdain.

Forthwith, one comes upon a subtle hint that Mr. Hyde has arrived . . . Raquette Falls!

Raquette Falls Portage Sign.JPG

Dreading my triple carry up the football stadium to be followed by a possibly impossible wheeling experiment, I was further embarrassed by two guys and two gals, training for the 90 miler, who hoisted their GRB-Newman racing boats on their shoulders and sprinted up the hill.

"I coulda done that 40 years ago, you show offs!", I shouted in the caverns of my mind.

I was tired and hot, having paddled for nine hours since 6 am. The mid-afternoon sun was pushing 90°, and I plopped down amongst my boat and gear at the foot of the hill.

"Hello, sir, could we help you carry some of that stuff," said a voice from the water.

It was the aluminized, beer-swilling louts . . . now transformed into helpful gentlemen of the highest order of chivalry. Struggling with my ancient pride and self-reliance, I finally gave in and said, "yes". So, those two Samaritans carried my canoe up to the first part of carry trail that seemed arguably wheelable.

Raquette Falls portage helpers.JPG

I only had to double carry to that point, at which time I loaded the canoe with all my gear in an attempt to wheel that unknown-to-me mountain goat trail.

Raquette portage rest.JPG

I dumped most of my drinking water to save weight. I muscled and struggled and tugged and pushed and hauled and finessed my loaded gear on a canoe cart for about a mile. Over rocks, around rocks, around corners, up hills and down hills. Frequently, my 100 pounds of wheeled canoe and gear got very stuck in washed-out ditches that would have been easy to step over with a canoe on shoulders or for a tandem team of wheelers.

Raquette Falls portage difficulties.JPG

So I yanked and pulled and pushed and tugged. And sweated and sweated.

My heart was pounding against my chest so hard and so fast I knew -- just knew -- I was going to die. But I sort of accepted it. Die while canoeing. I'd thought about that for decades, and decided it would be my preferred way. Just to go out in my canoe . . . alone . . . and die. Leave no trace.

But I didn't die.

I completed the portage, out of water and out of energy.

The resident ranger at the base of Raquette Falls came over to me and expressed concern over my physical condition. He said I Iooked heat stressed and possibly dehydrated. He asked if I had water, and I told him no, I had dumped out all my reserves and would have to gravity filter some more. He told me to just sit in the pool at the base of the falls and cool off while he fetched something for me.

He came back with two cold bottles of apple juice, an apple, and a half gallon of fresh water. He gave me some packets of Gatorade to mix in the water for energy and electrolyte balance. And then asked if I needed any help reloading my canoe.

I probably looked worse than I really was, but this guy was a saint. I got the feeling he was equally solicitous to everyone who struggled out of that portage.

Evening was closing in, so he advised me where all the campsites and lean-to's were downstream. But every one of them was full and I was paddling like a bat out of hell to try to make the next one, and the next one, and it was getting dark, and . . . . Finally, I gave up and set up my tent on a small clearing next to the river that was not an approved campsite. This is against park rules, as you have to be 50 yards (or something) back from the water to wilderness camp. But I was too exhausted to bushwack into the forest.

The next morning a dangerous thunderstorm with high winds was predicted. Down river comes the same ranger in a motor boat, warning campers of the oncoming danger. He sees me breaking camp by the riverside. He says, "I didn't realize yesterday that all the campsites would be filled, and I bet you were in no shape to hike into the woods." I say, "You got that right." He says, "That was a smart and safe decision," and gives me a friendly good-bye salute.

I blasted through the storm that morning . . .

Raquette River rain.JPG

. . . took a whiz right behind those signs because they pissed me off . . .

Took a whiz.JPG

. . . and made it to the takeout under an Edgar Allan Poe sky.

Takeout poe weather.JPG

I'll never forget those fit young racers, the two beer-fishers-cum-gentlemen, and that most helpful park ranger.
 
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I rarely see anyone close enough to talk to, but if I too met a red headed ranger named Gary at the base of the Raquette Falls. I was with a couple inexperienced friends and my Dad, and it was pouring rain (probably beginning of October) and after a few minutes of talking, Ranger Gary left momentarily and came back with a large bundle of dry wood “slats” to help get the nights fire started.

on another trip Ranger Gary approached my lean to camp and asked if he could repair the fire ring. He brought up a bucket of water and cement and rebuilt it while we talked about his love of wood working and strip boat building….and the bear that raided that very campsite the night before without disturbing any of four coolers the group had left around the fire.
 
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I had a very memorable experience with two different ladies on Long Pond...

I paddled in to Long Pond solo on a midweek day, the goal was to have some alone time and secure a nice site for my buddy and his wife that would be coming the next day, and another buddy of mine with his current girlfriend.
As I poked around the shores, scouting for a site large enough for 6 of us, a lady's voice called out "hey, nice boat", I was paddling my stripped DY Special. She was reading a book, camped out on a prominent site along the main paddling route. I thanked her for the compliment and continued on.
About halfway up the pond I secured a nice spot, set up my tent, made lunch, yada, yada, yada. As the day grew longer, I went out for an evening paddle, to enjoy the sheet of glass water and the changing colors. As I'm dipping along, I hear another lady's voice calling out to me, sounding very nervous, asking "where is the carry and parking lot". She was solo in a Hornbeck, with but a daypack and a days worth of snackbag residue.
She was near panic, and explained to me that she had been quite proud of herself, loading her boat by herself, driving to the put in, making the carry and then paddling all of Long Pond and even carrying to Turtle and Slang. But, she explained through tears, that she attempted to return to her put in and nothing looked familiar along the carry...there was even another pond that she never saw on the way in. She had only a brochure from the outfitter as a guide.
So, I try to calm her, and ask a series of questions so that I can understand where she started from. After just a few questions it's clear to me that she started at the far end parking area, same as I did, and made the short .3 mile carry. It's also clear that she made the wrong carry on her attempted return to her car...she took the longer, beaver flooded carry from midway along Long Pond that leads to St Regis Canoe Outfitters, with a beaver pond in the middle.
She's still quite nervous and unsure, even after I show her my map. So I show her some images on my camera, with photos of the parking lot, asking her which car is hers. "Oh my God, that's my Subaru" she squealed. Ahh, I can see her body relax. Feeling pretty good about helping someone in distress, I offer to accompany her to the correct carry. So we paddle along, with her Hornbeck making all sorts of gurgles from a dragging painter in the bow. She thanks me profusely.
We part company near the carry, and I paddle not far from that solo lady's site, the one I spoke with on the way in. She starts yelling at me, because....wait for it....because my conversation with the lost soul was disturbing her "wilderness experience". OK, everyone has their pet peeves, I suppose. I explain the situation of the panic stricken, lost lady, to deaf ears. HER wilderness experience has been degraded because of ME.
OK, I've had enough of her sh!t at this point, and make it very clear that she was now disturbing MY "wilderness experience". Furthermore, I tell her if she wants an undisturbed experience, she should not camp in such a prominent site, and if she truly wanted a wilderness experience, she should not expect it on such popular water on a holiday weekend.
The next day, the rest of my group arrives, makes camp, has lunch, yada, yada. We decide to paddle to Pink and Ledge ponds. 6 of us, in 4 canoes head that way, carrying on casual conversations between boats. Of course, I've already told my friends about the "wilderness experience" lady.
And guess what? Here comes Ms. wilderness again, rushing to the shoreline to admonish us for ruining (here it comes again) HER wilderness experience. I'll just say that my fellow campers were not nearly as tactful as I was, they promptly told her where she should place her opinions.

So there it is, two ladies that left a lasting impression, for vastly different reasons.
 
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I usually don't meet anyone on river trips in the West.

We were on a portage in the BWCA in 1985. I ran into a guy from Ontario that started asking questions about my cow dog Snuffy. He asked me where I get the dog. "I ween her in a pokeer game." "Did you win or lose?"
 
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Glenn, the Raquette Falls carry is legendary, as you have discovered. On last count, I have made more than 35 such passages through. Gary V. lives most of the summer there in the ranger cabin, and it is common to see him being as helpful with anyone who seems to need assistance as he was with you. There are three uphill pitches to climb before you reach anything like height of land where you can then use wheels, not without difficulty in may places on the back side way down. Not far from the end is another uphill climb that makes you say "why is this here?"

During the Adirondack 90 mile race, most race paddlers do not bother with wheels at all, unless they have a heavy voyageur. Even guide boat padders tend to carry their boats overhead. The super light race boats with 20-something paddlers litterly run full tilt with boat hanging on one shoulder at a very high rate of speed. Walkers have to get out of the way fast to let them pass. Last year I had two 30-ish young brothers as part of my C4 team and they shouldered each end of our 23' kevlar canoe upright with gear inside and ran the whole way while my 70 yr old high school classmate friend and I had a hard time keeping anywhere close.

Most times when I am tripping I go to places and at times where and when there are few others, so I have few encounters with strangers. The exception would be on Lows Lake when I would seek out to visit AFR Dawn Andrews who patrolled the lake in her green kayak and unmistakable yellow blade paddle.

One of the most memorable encounters on the Yukon would have to be during the first 1000 mile race in 2009 on the Yukon Flats paddling our big voyageur canoe when we came upon a couple of First Nation guys tending their fish wheel as it collected salmon. One guy hopped in his boat and motored over toward us, holding up his arms about 3 feet apart and offered us two fresh king salmon. Of course we had to reluctantly turn him down, as during the race we had no way to process or prepare such a gift. We later learned that word had traveled through the villages of the first 1000 mile race with a big boat being paddled.

Later, near the 1000 mile finish, other FN residents came out, motoring a few mielsupstream from the fiinish in their unique flat bottom cabin boats to welcome us. One in particular, a self proclaimedd "bushman" with a .44 magnum and a full bullet gun belt slung over his shoulder was excited to help us pull the boat out of the water after the finish at the bridge. He first met my wife (pit crew) the previous night at dinner in the local truck stop restaurant. My wife had made friends with his wife, Dorothy, earler. Dorothy had a tent shop setup with home made bushcraft items for sale in the parking lot. I did not race in the 1000 the next year, 2010, but did the year after, 2011. Dorothy was still there, but we were sad to learn that her husband had since died, though he looked for us (the big boat) during the 2010 race year with photos to give us that he had taken of us the first year. He watched and waited a couple of days as all other boats came into the finish, and Dorothy said he was heartbroken that we were not there.
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Funny that Glenn should begin this thread off with a story from Raquette Falls. Over the years I've traveled through that carry numerous times both personally & professionally. On one of my trips with SUNY Cortland, we got to the upstream side of the trail pretty early in the afternoon.
Consequently, we pulled our canoes off to the side and portaged our gear over to set up camp, relax, take a swim and enjoy dinner. Being early June, we decided to take advantage of the late light and get our canoes after our meal when it would be cooler. Eventually we made it to dinner time and as we were cooking, a "gentleman" trudged into our circle and began setting up his large North Face tent. He was clearly exhausted and looked closed to death; seriously. His face was covered in a heavy white sunscreen and he was mumbling to himself. The students took one look at him and realized this guy wasn't in the best of shape. I asked him if I could help him in any way but he just looked at me and proceeded to unpack his gear, erect the tent and mumble to himself. From there he pulled out his stove and lit it without paying any attention to the breeze that was blowing. A large whoosh was quickly followed by a ball of flame that blew directly towards his tent. I suggested he might prefer another site since he was in the middle of our cooking area. He was obviously making my students very uncomfortable and it was just as obvious that he didn't care. When he stated he wasn't moving and if we didn't like it, we should move...we did.

After dinner we hiked back over the portage trail to get our canoes. When we arrived we found lots of gear lying on the steps that come up from the beach. There was stuff strewn all over the place, clearly blocking the stairs and approach to the carry. I instructed the students to carefully move everything into one pile off the trail so we didn't step on anything while going up the stairs with our canoes.

As we were moving the gear off trail, down comes our visitor from earlier and he instantly started screaming, "It's like the Lord of the Flies...the Lord of the Flies." I tried explaining to him that all we were doing was moving his gear to the side of the trail where no one could step on it and break anything. I didn't even bother to try and mention to him that maybe, just maybe, he shouldn't have left his stuff where he did but I could tell that would be fruitless so I didn't bother. Eventually we got out of there with him still yelling at us as we ambled up the hill and out of his sight.

The next morning I spoke with Ben, who was the ranger at the falls before Gary, and he told me this guy was a NYC lawyer who came up each year after Memorial Day to do a trip. Ben explained as nicely as possible how socially challenged this guy really was. The best example of that was Ben's story about how his dog, who was sick at the time, was having difficulty keeping up with him on the trail. Apparently Mr. NYC Lawyer saw the dog and inquired about it. When Ben told him the dog was aging and currently sick, the man's reply was, "I'd shoot him." With that he walked away.

What can you say to that?!?

Over the next couple of days this guy followed us but we never had another face-to-face encounter with him. Eventually we lost him at Stony Creek ponds when he took the old carry trail to Upper Saranac Lake while we took the new, shorter one. I knew he was going the wrong way but at that point, I decided it wasn't worth trying to share that information with him. I was just glad to see him paddle left out of the ponds as we went straight into the bay with the new carry trail. After that, we never did see him again and that was fine by me.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...be well.

snapper
 
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I have only met people on trips a couple of times. I met Cliff Jacobson and his crew once on the Steel River around the year 2000. I had a crew of about 20 teenagers with me, lol.

On a two week trip with some buddies, the first five days were complete misery, rain and muck the whole way. An American from an outfitter camp stopped in to see us after we had set up camp in a miserable bug infested hell hole. I was griping because I was out of booze and smokes. We talked for a while, then he returned to the lodge, way over the other side of a big lake. About two hours later he showed up with several packs of Camel lights, my favorite smokes, but hard to get in G Town, and a large canvas bag full of beer.

It was a good night, never did remember his name though.
 
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In 1995, Kathleen and I, with one other couple, were paddling the Coppermine River in the Northwest Territories, when we came across this cluster of buildings on the shore of Red Rock Lake. We had no idea that any buildings existed here. Suddenly, a power boat approached, and we were invited for hot coffee and showers. I was initially hesitant. We still needed to find a campsite. Even though this was our day 16 since landing at Winter Lake, I did not want to unpack and then repack just to have a shower.




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I have copied this story from my Coppermine River TR, so I hope it came across ok.


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The rest of the group was more excited about the invitation, and we soon found ourselves at the summer home of Max Ward, founder of Ward Air. Max and his wife Marjorie were entertaining a group of family and friends for the week, in their personal retreat called Rock Haven.


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We were then invited to spend the night in this large tent, and to use their washing machines. After our shower, they said Happy Hour is at 6:00, followed by dinner at 7:00. After showering, I stepped on the scales, and was surprised to see that I had lost 12 pounds since leaving Winter Lake. I looked forward to stuffing myself.



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Chairs were a real treat. As we sat looking out at the wind, though, it was difficult to connect to the world that we had lived in for the last two weeks. Kathleen looks a bit weather beaten. Do not tell I said that, though. Max was entertaining business associates, primarily from Toronto. There were multiple tables seating six. And the four of us were seated separately at a table to regale his guests with our adventures. Max regularly looks for paddlers to invite in as entertainment.

We enjoyed a gourmet dinner served on china. As I sat with Max at dinner, I asked him why he chose to build his summer retreat here. He told me that he especially remembered Redrock Lake from the days when he flew bush planes. He often invited his friends from Boeing to join him for fishing holidays.

Max recently passed away, in his nineties, so you probably should not paddle the Coppermine just to hope for an invitation to visit Rock Haven.
 
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Dorothy Molder was still around in 1985 in the BWCA. She was the root beer lady. We came near her house but did not stop in. One of my canoeing regrets.
 
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On my 2017 47 day Albany River trip at the last campsite of the trip I was surprised by an approaching canoe. It was the first person I had seen since Osnaburgh Lake 37 days earlier.

Turned out to be Jesse Terry the son of Thomas Terry the co-author with Jonathan Berger of the Canoe Atlas of the Little North.

I invited him into my shelter for a cup of tea, he had smoked his last cigarette the day before and was very happy when I handed him a full pack. We chatted for a long time, turned out that he was doing an advance trip to clear portages (one truly horrible one in particular) so that Mr Berger would have an easier time a few weeks later.

Of course during the chat session I offered cigarette "alternatives" which were gleefully accepted! We parted ways with the comment that maybe someday we should consider doing a trip together.

The next day I meet him at the Fort Albany airport, we both launched into a short follow up discussion and agreed that while it might be fun we were actually totally incompatible in many ways!

In what way you ask? Well because it had taken me 36 days to cover the route Jesse had done in 14 days and that included a full day of chainsaw work on that portage. Add to that the fact that when he arrived at my camp while I was just thinking about breakfast he had been on the water for 6 hours and planned to make it to the finish by mid-afternoon. No way I could compete with that!!!!


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