July 15-19th was our first big camping trip of the year! My parents are veteran backwoods canoers and campers, and they invited my dear Aunt Barbara and myself (both novice canoers) to join them for an easy four-day trip on Seboeis Lake, way up in Piscatiquis County, in remote Northern Maine. We stopped at the big LL Bean store in Freeport on the way up, to lay in a few extra camping supplies, and then from Freeport we had a four-hour drive to the lake, on I-95 to Newport, Maine and then on country roads through beautiful Penobscot and Piscatiquis counties. We had to stop the car when a gangly young lady moose wandered out of the woods and walked about in the road for a bit, indecisive, into one lane and then into the other and then back into the woods again.
We turned onto dirt roads for the last few miles and then put in the canoes at the landing on the north end of Seboeis Lake. It’s a bit of a process packing four people, four days worth of camping and eating supplies, and two dogs into two canoes and setting off.
We had a beautiful 25-minute paddle across peaceful waters, through lily pads and rushes, out to our campsite at the end of a long narrow, piney peninsula sticking out into the lake. It was the site of an old loggers’ camp, now converted to two public campsites, accessible only by boat. The soft pine needles were perfect for pitching a tent on, the breeze kept the mosquitoes and deerflies at bay, and we had views out to Mt. Katahdin, and across two pretty little bays, one on each side of our peninsula.
We had our first of several spectacularly delicious dinners. My mother does gourmet campfire cooking with gusto, carrying the standard supply of tinfoil and propane camp stove, plus a cast-iron dutch oven for roasting food in the hot coals, and a homemade convection oven for baking cakes and pies on the campfire, as well as a bottle of wine for every night, stores of flour and sugar, butter, eggs, baskets of fresh fruits and veggies, and a snack for every occasion.
Our original plan was to camp one night on the peninsula, then paddle out across the widest part of the lake to Hammer Island, a small island with a few campsites and nice views of the mountains, and stay there for the next two nights. But by the morning a real wind had come up, and there were whitecaps on the lake, which we are told makes for unsafe canoeing conditions. So we relaxed under the pines with our novels and our knitting projects, watching the whitecaps churn out on the lake and waves crash on the rocky shore. By and by afternoon we were feeling restless and adventurous so we packed all four humans AND two dogs into the larger canoe and set off across the bay to a tantalizing strip of white sandy beach on the far shore. As soon as we left shore, the winds came up stronger and we realized our weight was poorly balanced in the boat, the dogs were nervous and wouldn’t lie down, they kept jumping and lurching around, everything was tippy and unsteady, the whitecaps were lapping over the gunnels and with too much weight in the front of the canoe, Richard had a challenge trying to steer and keep us on course. It was only a ten-minute paddle but I pretty much spent the whole ten minutes telling myself “we’re going to tip over but it’s OK, I know how to swim, the water’s warm, it’ll be fine.” And it was. We made it across the cove without tipping over, put in at the sandy beach and had a marvelous swim in the lake. The water was unbelievably warm and the sand was improbably white and it made me feel like we’d somehow paddled over to Brazil for a few minutes.
For the trip back we were a bit more careful with seating ourselves into the boat and we zipped right back across the cove very neatly and quickly. It was a nice lesson in how important it is to pack the canoe carefully and distribute weight evenly, especially in a stiff wind. After this exciting expedition we were content to just sit back at our campsite and enjoy the view, waiting until the wind died down enough to paddle out onto the lake. As it turned out, it never really did. There were stiff winds and whitecaps all day every day, from dawn til dusk, so we stayed put in our lovely campsite with our vacation books and our knitting and our tasty cooking.
We did lots of blueberry picking, and tons of swimming, as the lake was very warm, and took a few short outings into the quieter, shallower, smaller cove on the lee side of our peninsula. Judy gave me some canoeing lessons in the shallow water, trying to teach me how to man the stern and steer. It’s hard! On the last morning the lake was finally calm enough for us to go out and paddle about. We had a lovely turn around the lake and enjoyed the quiet early morning, still water, dragonflies and nice views of katahdin before heading back to break camp.