Since somewhere around the age of 10 up until a few years ago, my Dad and I have canoed down and camped on the Saco River every year. The last few years have been tough with him moving a bunch and me suddenly having much busier summers. We went 2 years ago in October, and even though that meant no swimming and freezing sleeping, it was still wonderful. We always went on weekdays or at least a Sunday night into Monday to avoid, as my Dad calls them, the "Yay-hoos." The Saco River has, for as long as I've known it, been a beacon to drunk frat boys- they flock to it like the river itself was made of Bud Light. It was always a weird place to have a nice father and son weekend, but we usually (save for the few times we had to go on a Saturday night or the time some drunks ended up on our sandbar at 2 in the morning, then continued down the river in the dark) avoid them.
Last summer, I did the trip with a bunch of drunks and even camped on the worst sandbar on the whole river (we deemed it "Slut Island") for Jake's bachelor party. It was a fun weekend full of broken ribs, jumping off bridges nearly into boats, canoe tipping from strangers, late night sandbar party wandering, motorboats from strangers, and general good times. But it kind of sucked being in the heart of the beast- I saw what a beautiful river looks like when it is swarmed by the drunken scum of society.
I've always wanted to do the trip with the group of friends I now live with, so I decided what better summer to do it, sent out some e-mails to gauge interest, and put the thing together. Of the 10 invited, 5 joined me, and we had a fantastic time. I figured that we would land somewhere between drunken frat boys and father and son relaxation, and I'd say that's a fair description of how we ended up.
It was in the low 60s when we started, and it looked like it would hit 35 that night, so when I walked into Saco Bound and said "we're the idiots that want to camp in this," it was pretty easy for them to figure out who we were. And other than the day group of kids and day group of drunks who set off at the same time as us, we really only saw one other big group. The water was FREEZING though (I think the Saco Bound guys said 54 degrees), and we started the trip off right, with Jesse dropping his bag in the water and watching it float away, followed by Al nearly falling down the absurdly steep stairs to the launching point. Really Saco Bound? You couldn't get a float, so it's always level with the river? You never thought of that?
worst put-in section ever
Rich and I partnered up and were not only the fat canoe, but were also the canoe with the guys who packed too much and had 2 coolers. We had about 6 inches of dry canoe, even after we stopped to re-adjust everything and learned that apparently on this trip, the whole river was made of quicksand.
But we were off, and after some adjustments and mild freakouts that we were going to tip, we got used to the balance, and began our travels.
Things were ugly right away though- apparently Jesse has never been in a canoe before, and he was in the back, where the experienced person should be. He and Josh zig-zagged all over the river, and hit us twice with enough speed to scare the shit out of us. Yelling ensued within like 20 minutes. All we were trying to say was- if you aren't entirely confident in what you're doing, SLOW DOWN- that way when you hit your friends, it's at a slow pace. Jesse's way of fixing everything was to go as fast as he possibly could. It probably didn't help that he was also sucking down nips of various booze (and playing nip roullete) as he was "figuring out how to canoe" either. I'm sure Josh loved this.
Josh and Jesse, doing the whole river sideways
This was only the beginning of the yelling. Rich and I fought a lot too- he was pretty new at trying to steer in the back, and somehow, when he would paddle really hard on one side to try and go to the other, we would just go stronger to the side we didn't want to go on. I kept trying to tell him to take a rest and let the river fix us, or that I had noticed that if he paddled a bunch then stopped for a minute and I paddled like twice on my side, we'd straighten out. But it all came out as just fighting. Good times.
It was beautiful though. Clouds dissolved and gave us some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
To quote what my Dad says to pretty much every stranger on the river: "Hell of a day to be on the river. Couldn't ask for much more."
Yes, that's a pound puppy on the front of my canoe. Since our first trip at age 10 or whatever I was, Poundy has always gone on the trip with me, and he works as our hood ornament. It's cute, I know- but I'll say this: I forgot him 1 year, and it poured the entire time and we had worse mosquitoes than I've ever seen in my life. I stayed in the tent for like 16 hours. We ate fluffernutters inside the tent for breakfast because we didn't want to go outside. So from there on out, I don't do the trip if Poundy doesn't come.
The river always has a lot of debris and fallen trees everywhere, and the fun thing is that it changes every year. This year, it was pretty evident that Irene had demolished the place- both from the amount of trees clumped up and the height of the water (definitely the highest I've seen it, even 2 weeks after the storm).
3 miles in, we had to take our canoes out of the river and carry them a football field past a dam. My dad and I always avoided this, but we couldn't remember the name of the place we worked through. I WILL be finding this out if we ever do this again, as taking the canoes out is a horrible, horrible experience. Rich did some climbing though.
Our canoe was sooo heavy.
After a brief break to eat fluffernutters and chips, and watch some stupid kids stir up some poop stink mud, we were back on the river. I already hurt a lot. My butt was numb, and my upper thighs and hamstrings were numb and feeling strained. Not to mention my shoulders- ouch. I began to engineer us doing the smaller trip (our options were to do a 17 mile trip and get off the river at 1, or a 22 mile trip and get off at 3). When I asked the gung-ho-for-22 people how far they thought we had gone, and most of them said 5-6 miles, I had the happy moment of saying "yea. 3. 3 miles." And people started to see where I was coming from. We kept working at it though, and despite the pain and the random yelling outbursts, the fun continued.
It was nice to see other groups yelling at each other and not be a part of it for once.
Even though we were going at a much faster pace than I'm used to (re: sitting and floating), the river was peaceful and beautiful like I wanted it to be. Finally, Rich and I begged everyone to slow down a little to let us catch up (being the heavy canoe really made quite a difference, AND we somehow always left sandbars last, putting us even further behind). We went through the whole Fiddlehead campground (where Slut Island is) at a relaxed pace. Matt knew of a sandbar he had camped at before that we would most likely get away with camping at for free, and he was determined to make it there, no matter how tired we were. Thank god this section of the river is much faster and the river's current helps out a lot, otherwise my arms would have fallen off entirely.
The turn of the river my Dad and I always referred to as "The Current:" we camped here several years in a row before we realized how much better sand was at other places. It used to have the fastest current on the river, and we awoke one year to cows walking all over our sandbar (one of which looked like it was going to charge us), setting in play a tradition of us giving each other cows for christmas that continues to this day. The current had more water than I've ever seen before.
What a nice place.
We finally reached the sandbar, and we all went into autopilot, unloading, setting up tents, seeking out more firewood, starting fires, etc. The mosquitoes that had just started showing up had apparently all ganged together with every mosquito in the town and headed to our sandbar. It was bad. We bathed in bug spray and Matt started a smoke fire to try and get rid of them. It all helped a decent amount, but we'd really have to wait for the cold to actually get rid of them.
Matt cooking steak on a 2 dollar grill, which just ended up being in the fire because it didn't work.
Once my tent was all set up, I got to work cooking the Alexander world famous Saco River Spaghetti. My Dad started this tradition the first time we went, and he had apparently been cooking spaghetti on camping trips since he was a boy scout, since it really was just something kind of special- a nice alternative to the usual burgers and hot dogs. It's really just canned spaghetti though, with tons of added burger, american cheese, and the secret weapon, vidalia onion. Sounds simple, but it's easy to screw up (like I did last year by letting ASH fall into it), and there's a certain level of deliciousness you get from it that only people who eat it in the cold unforgiving wilderness can understand.
Josh is PSYCHED.
It tastes much better than it looks, I promise.
Josh was pretty psyched.
We then set off the last of Matt's fireworks, presumably left over from Yamstein. One was a fun sparkler thing, and one sounded like an atom bomb. We decided to not set off the others so we wouldn't get charged for camping by annoying the landowners.
Everyone worked on the fire at times to keep it going. Jesse was my favorite though, as his idea was to just burn all of our trash at 11 at night, and start a sweet chemical fire of green flames.
Al, trying to set himself on fire
It started getting cold though, and too much food mixed with barely any sleep from the night before and an incredibly long day of paddling (and nips in Jesse's case) started taking its toll on people.
Rich, for ONCE, not being asleep before everyone, catching Matt
I stayed awake longer than everyone though, and was very thankful that I had set my tent up far enough away that the different tones of snores were more of a distant buzzing than the chainsaw in my ear sounds of camping with Dad. It was cold when we went to bed (48) and apparently Al got up at like 4 in the morning and saw that it had hit 36. I woke up several times, but only really felt uncomfortably cold toward the morning, when my brain finally put together that I was half out of my sleeping bag. I'll make fun of people for falling asleep around the fire, but I was wearing lined wind pants, a hooded sweatshirt and longsleeve shirt and everyone but Al and I were still in shorts and barefoot. Bunch of crazies.
We had heard the usual sounds of the Saco while sitting around the campfire- the random objects falling into the water that made our eyes pop out of our head, the distant howling of dogs or coyotes (certainly sounded like coyotes), and the random tiny woods noises that make you certain an ax murderer is standing behind you. But as soon as we all settled, the sandbar became the familiar chorus of snores and farts, and we all slept fairly well considering, and made it through the night to face another day.
Good first day, with a lot of miles covered.
currently listening to: Mae- (E)vening