Category Archives: Travel and Adventure

Allagash Adventure Experience

As published in The Windham Eagle…

On Sunday, June 2, 2019, The Windham Eagle Reporter and Registered Maine Guide, Craig Bailey, his sons Ian, Aaron, Ethan and Evan, and longtime friend, Patrick Bogan, left Raymond on the 6-hour drive north, to begin the ultimate Maine-based adventure, on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW).

The destination was Pelletier’s Campground, in St. Francis, near the Canadian border, to meet its proprietor, Norm L’Italien. In addition to serving as an outstanding host, L’Italien provides the shuttle service to transport adventurers to the various starting points (put-ins) along the AWW. L’Italien’s down-to-earth, jovial personality and Canadian-French accent, epitomizes the northern Mainer.

After transferring gear and provisions to L’Italien’s passenger van, on Monday, the group was shuttled 85 miles over rough, dirt, logging roads to the put-in, at the north end of Umsaskis Lake. L’Italien made the 3-hour journey enjoyable with tales of adventurers escorted and the related mishaps he’s dealt with. All the while, the group was hoping their journey would not become fodder for one of his stories.

Along the way a bear was spotted foraging in the woods. L’Italien shared advice on dealing with bears encountered along the waterway, explaining they seem to respond better to commands in French, vs. English. Since the group didn’t speak much French, L’Italien offered the universal command one can shout to move bears along: “GIT!”

Once the van was unloaded and L’Italien drove away, a surreal mood ensued, as the group acknowledged they were now completely on their own, off the grid, left only with gear, provisions and their adventurous spirit, fully immersed in nature.

The sun was shining and a few flies were buzzing about, enough to warrant the first application of sunblock and insect repellent.

After loading the canoes and enjoying a wholesome lunch on the shore of Umsaskis Lake, the group launched their canoes and began paddling towards the Long Lake Dam campsite, approximately 8 miles away.

The map indicated nothing but smooth water ahead. Campsites were clearly marked along the river, serving as primary landmarks to track progress against the map. After a few hours of paddling the sound of rushing water could be heard, at which time the group realized they had arrived at the targeted campsite: Long Lake Dam.

Long Lake Dam

View from Long Lake Dam campsite

At this point, the dam is a remnant of what it was during the logging industry’s primitive past, requiring the group to portage (unload canoes and carry gear) around the obstacle.

Once camp was setup and firewood gathered, Evan commenced to fishing. He had a good-sized trout on the line, but upon lifting it out of the water it fell back into the river. After this excitement, others began fishing. Ian caught two small trout, but no keepers.

Dinner consisted of teriyaki steak tips, potatoes and onions cooked over an open fire. After much conversation, reflecting on how long the group had been planning for the trip, it was time for bed. 

Until experienced, one cannot imagine the rest achieved after a long day of paddling, with the peaceful sound of rushing water heard throughout the night. Ah, the way life should be.

Mornings on the waterway began at daybreak, with the continued sound of rushing water, birds chirping, bright sunlight reflecting off the tents and fresh, crisp air. As one glances at the outstanding views of nature an overwhelming peace is experienced, realizing there likely isn’t another person around for miles, many, many miles. This, along with the complete absence of mobile phone notifications vying for attention.

After tending to nature’s call, the first duty was to get water from the river, boiling for coffee, on the coleman stove. In parallel, a fire was stoked for warmth and to keep flies away. 

The crew knew to get up at first light, the sound of the whistling kettle or else receive a less peaceful greeting, in the form of a jostle from the guide, ensuring the entire group was involved in maintaining forward progress on the journey.

Once coffee was ready, a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes was prepared and promptly consumed by the crew.

Final duties before departing were then performed, including washing dishes, breaking down camp, dousing the fire, loading the canoes and ensuring the group “left no trace.” The approach the guide learned as a young lad, from his father, was to walk the campsite and pick up anything larger than a cigarette butt.

The group then began their second day on the waterway, with sights on the next campsite, Cunliffe Depot, approximately 25 miles away. The map indicated this leg of the trip would be more exciting, with several spans of class II rapids. 

The map didn’t fail the group. A mishap occurred as the guide’s canoe became thoroughly hung up on a rock, which was just below the surface. At this point, all one thinks about is “we don’t want to capsize as our gear will be strewn all about the waterway!”

To dislodge the canoe the guide jumped into the frigid water, reducing weight in the stern (back) of the canoe, hanging on all the while. After precariously drifting downstream in the deep, rushing water, the guide was able to coax the canoe to shore. The entire crew was laughing at the spectacle. As full disclosure, this was a near repeat of an experience had on the very same rock, six years earlier.

Later, a moose was observed feeding in the waterway. Pausing to take pictures, some in the group were able to get close, prompting the guide to remind them that moose will charge! After a few minutes the moose became disinterested and trotted gracefully off into the wilderness.

Moose

A moose feeding in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway

Other wildlife, serving as constant companions during the day’s journey, included pairs of mergansers. These are waterfowl in the duck family, distinguished from their brethren by the mohawks they sport and their behavior: constantly diving (like loons) searching for fish.

After several hours of travel, the targeted campsite was spotted, from several hundred yards away. To the groups slight dismay, it was occupied. Upon glimpsing at the map the weary group agreed on another site, which was fortunately, just across the river.

The chosen site proved to be more than adequate, although the flies were a bit fierce. Out came the headnets, minus the guide, who refused to wear one for the duration, representing native Mainers, who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing such a thing.

After another great night of camping the group prepared for the shortest leg of the trip, to the climax, Allagash Falls, only 6 miles away. This served as a well-deserved respite after the prior day’s lengthy journey.

On approaching Allagash Falls one experiences a bit of anxiety, resulting from the thunderous sound of the forty foot falls and the fact that you don’t want to miss the take-out for fear of certain death.

While the day’s journey by canoe was the shortest of all, the portage was the longest: about a third of a mile.

Upon setting up the campsite it was bathtime. This consisted of each member of the group jumping into the raging river, just below Allagash Falls, with life vest on. Each had their own style of entering the rushing water, the guide doing his ritualistic back flip, others front-flipping or diving.

bathtime

Bathtime at Allagash Falls

After cleaning up, the group napped on large slate rocks along the river, warmed by the mid-day’s sun.

Shortly thereafter, fishing commenced. Evan landed a 24-inch musky, which was had for dinner, with beans and hot dogs.

Musky for Dinner

Musky prepared for dinner

The final leg of the journey was to Allagash Village, about 13 miles away. Several spans of rapids along with many picturesque views made for another rewarding day.

On approaching Allagash Village it became important to not overshoot the take-out point, or the group would end up on the St. John River, not part of the plan.

Finally, White Birch Landing, a privately owned access-point near the end of the Allagash River, was in view. Once landed, a short walk to the owner’s home was necessary, to pay a small landing fee and use their phone to call for transport services.

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At the Allagash Village take-out (Ian, Aaron, Patrick, Ethan & Evan)

Within 30 minutes L’Italien showed up to load the gear and adventurers, dog-tired yet completely fulfilled at the completion of their journey, into his van for the short ride back to Pelletier’s Campground.

The evening’s dinner of pizza was enjoyed at the Forget Me Not Diner, a quaint establishment whose primary cook and server was a sweet little old lady. As the only diner in town, locals, most of whom admittedly never paddled the Allagash, frequently stopped by the table to ask about the waterway experience, being the primary reason strangers frequent the area.

After a good night’s sleep the group acknowledged that the last leg, of an absolutely outstanding adventure, was at hand: the drive home. The group may have stopped at the Woodsman’s Museum, in Patton, but were pressed for time as Aaron’s girlfriend had tickets to a concert in Boston that night. Back to reality…

Craig Bailey is a Registered Maine Guide and owner of Maine Adventures, LLC. To learn more visit: www.MaineAdventuresLLC.com.

About the Allagash Wilderness Waterway

On June 2, this group headed out for an amazing adventure on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, in Northern Maine.

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Ian Bailey, Aaron Bailey, Evan Bailey, Patrick Bogan, Craig Bailey & Ethan Bailey

The adventure is chronicled in a 3 part series published in The Windham Eagle.

  • About the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (click here to read).
  • Preparing for an adventure on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (available soon).
  • The Allagash Wilderness Waterway Experience (available soon).
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Allagash Falls, accessible only by canoeing the Allagash Wilderness Waterway

To learn more visit: www.MaineAdventuresLLC.com.

Follow Your Bliss

It has been a VERY long time since last I posted (July of 2017).

As a catch-up, I had been more than totally consumed leading a client’s program to launch their medical device company in 11 European countries (simultaneously) on July 1, 2018. I’m pleased to say that we (the client’s outstanding team, their external business partners and I) completed this extremely complex initiative on time! A good thing, as failure was simply NOT an option 🙂

To ensure success I decided it would be necessary for me to live in London (the client’s EU headquarters) from April through July of 2018. Without going into the nauseating details, I can simply say that this was the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life (both professionally and personally).

While in London, in the heat of the project, I decided that once this one was complete I would go on sabbatical and do something TOTALLY different.

Quick background: When I was but a young lad I wanted to be a Forest Ranger, so that I could work in the woods of Maine. On getting older I forgot about this ambition and pursued a career in technology. That said, during a high percentage of my nights, weekends and vacations I would find myself on adventures in the woods: mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, fishing and camping with family and friends.

During the summer of 2013 I hired a Registered Maine Guide to take 2 of my boys and I on a trip on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (an absolutely outstanding northwoods adventure). It was at this time that a seed was planted: wouldn’t it be cool to be a Registered Maine Guide.

Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.

~ Joseph Campbell

My decision in London was to become a Registered Maine Guide. This being something I could do “in addition to” continuing to operate my consulting business.

As stated on the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s website:

Registered Maine Guides are outdoor professionals who are licensed and permitted to accept any form of remuneration for their services in accompanying or assisting any person in the fields, forests or on the waters or ice within the jurisdiction of the State while hunting, fishing, trapping, boating, snowmobiling, using an all-terrain vehicle or camping at a primitive camping area.

For many years, a Maine Guide was not required to submit to any standardized testing. Interested parties simply had to pass muster with the local game warden. If the game warden considered them qualified and fit to guide in the outdoors, they were licensed as a Registered Maine Guide. In 1975, a standardized test and procedure was established for licensing.

I’m happy to report that as of January 29, 2019 I passed the test and have received my Specialized Recreational guide license. This means I’ve met the qualifications to guide watercraft, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiling and camping activities in the State of Maine.

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After receiving my license and guide patch (above) I learned that 60% of applicants fail. Wow!

Fortunately, to prepare for testing I felt it was important to hone my skills and fill in any gaps by attending training with Captain John Rogers of Maine’s Outdoor Learning Center. Based on the outcome of the test I’d suggest this training is highly recommended for anyone considering becoming a Registered Maine Guide.

As stated on Capt. John’s website:

The process of becoming a Licensed Registered Maine Guide is the most difficult in the country, which is why Maine Guides are held in such high regard.

Testing involved a 100 question written test and oral exam including topics such as: first-aid, survival, dealing with clients, wildlife identification, ethics, boating laws, lost person / catastrophic scenario, as well as demonstrating proficiency with map and compass. The latter few items are a pass or fail. That is, if you cannot effectively use a map and compass (with extreme accuracy) or deal with a lost person / catastrophic situation, deep in the woods of Maine, they don’t want you taking people out there for fear you won’t get them back again…

Now that a major goal of my sabbatical is complete I am putting my businessman’s hat back on to prepare to launch a guide business. Building on that, I’m currently planning an Allagash Wilderness Waterway adventure as an inaugural trip for the business, early in June. I’m happy to say that all (canoe) seats are taken for this initial trip 🙂

And, to confirm, if the right opportunity comes up “perhaps” I’ll take on a consulting gig or 2 between now and this year’s prime adventure season…

In closing, I’ve spent many years guiding my business clients to the successful completion of their mission critical projects. Now, I’ll “also” be guiding my adventurous clientele into the woods and waters of Maine. This is especially important, given an article I recently read in the Bangor Daily News, where it was mentioned:

As people spend more time in front of screens and children grow up with what author Richard Louv calls “nature deficit disorder,” the role of the Registered Maine Guide may be more important than ever.

If you’d like to experience a guided adventure into the woods or waters of Maine, please let me know. I’d be happy to discuss this with you and put together a trip to match your ambitions.

Hope to see you out there! And, stay tuned…