Follow Your Bliss – Part 2

What a great summer it has been!

Several months ago I posted the article Follow Your Bliss, sharing background and an update on my becoming a Registered Maine Guide. More specifically, earning my Recreational Guide license.

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The purpose of this post is to share an update on what has been going on since then, as well as a related accomplishment, recently achieved.

In summary, I am pleased to report, I had the opportunity to be “on the water” almost every day this summer. At a high-level, this summer’s activities included:

Note: You may click on the links above to learn more about any of these activities.

While the above was going on I was, in parallel, preparing for an upcoming test to earn my Fishing Guide License.

It is here, I’ll preface the update: in the spirit of full disclosure…

That is, my “original” Fishing Guide test took place in June, on the Monday after we had returned from our Allagash adventure. Unfortunately, I did NOT sufficiently prepare for one area covered in the test. And, I failed…

Zowy, that was humbling…

You see, when you test for a guide license, there are “at least” two major segments, based on the nature of the license being pursued. First, a written test, which I passed with flying colors. Second, an oral test, in which the applicant meets with a panel consisting of Game Wardens and Master Registered Maine Guides.

During the oral exam you are literally hammered with questions and scenarios covering fishing laws and techniques (hook and worm, lures, fly fishing, trolling and ice fishing) as well as the safe and efficient operation of watercraft and related regulations, the identification of species of flora (trees and plants: edible and otherwise) and fauna (birds, mammals and fish), and finally, handling situations you may encounter with clients (illness, injury and/or behavior).

What makes this part of the exam most interesting is that the panel of interviewers are quite coy, in true Mainer fashion 🙂

As an example, one of the questions asked was: “How do you adjust the freeboard on your canoe?” Here, the interviewers are determining if you understand the anatomy of a canoe, and if you don’t will you try to B.S. your way through it. Fortunately, I “do” know the anatomy of a canoe, so I responded with “Well, I suppose that would be based upon how much you put in the canoe.” You see, the freeboard is the amount of a canoe’s side which is above the waterline. The more you put in the canoe, the less the freeboard.

At the end of the test the scrupulous interviewers indicated I had demonstrated significant knowledge in the area being tested, but I had missed on an important item. I wasn’t able to identify a sufficient number of flies. And, since Maine is well known for its fly fishing, they felt this was an important area to demonstrate significant competency. 

Damn! Especially, since I used to tie flies as a kid. And, I am quite good at fly fishing. I simply didn’t take the time to refresh my memory banks and prepare for the identification of a sufficient number of flies.

Upon humbly, yet wholeheartedly, agreeing with their decision, I graciously thanked them for their time and promptly put in my request for a re-test.

It is here I went into cram mode, which included preparing flashcards covering a number of flies. I studied these at least weekly, awaiting my retest, increasing to multiple times daily, leading up to test day.

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Example flashcards prepared for fly identification

Well, re-test day was yesterday, and I am happy to report that I passed. I am now a Registered Maine Guide with Specialized licenses in both Recreation and Fishing!

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A Togue caught while trolling Sebago with my neighbor, Tom Roth, also a Registered Maine Guide and owner of Sebago Lake Guide Services.

What is next?

Later this month I’ll be guiding a group (upwards of 10) on a hiking / camping expedition on Mt. Katahdin. More on that soon!

In addition, I’ll be updating the website for my guide business (Maine Adventures) to include Fishing Guide services.

And, finally, now that summer is over I’m entertaining a Project Management gig, with one of my long-standing clients. We’ll just need to make sure it wraps before next summer’s adventure season 🙂

In closing, never give up on your goals and dreams. And, when (not if) you have a setback, get up, dust yourself off and give it another go.

All the best and more to come!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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24″ 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.

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Allagash Falls, accessible only by canoeing the Allagash Wilderness Waterway

To learn more visit: www.MaineAdventuresLLC.com.