Seventeen days. Three canoes. More than 200 miles of lakes, rivers, and portages. Adventure. Excitement. Beauty. Unexpected challenges. Five strong women conquering their fears and living dreams they didn’t realize they had. An epic adventure in summer 2013 from Lobster Stream to Allagash Village, never to be forgotten.
The first seven days presented multiple challenges, including getting my sister and co-leader, Brooke, and me to think on our feet right from the get-go as trip leaders and as surrogate mothers and big sisters for our girls. As soon as we left Girls Camp at Fourth Debsconeag Lake, rain poured down in sheets and continued through our first paddle strokes well into our second day on the water. We had no dry wood to make a fire for cooking, our clothes and bodies were soaking wet, and we bailed rainwater out of our boats constantly as we paddled.
Waking up to pouring rain on Day 2 was tough, but our girls came out of their tents with smiles and adventurous spirits. We paddled most of the day before arriving at our second campsite and were elated to see a bit of sun finally breaking through. As we prepared dinner, however, I looked to the sky once more and knew we were in for it as huge thunderclouds blew our way. Within minutes, we were in our tents braving booming thunder and lightening strikes for nearly two hours.
Day 3 seemed more promising—until our paddling brought us to an old dam not shown on our maps. With creativity and skill, Brooke and I figured out how to get our boats, gear, and campers safely past it and en route to our next campsite. Because water levels were significantly higher than normal, the trail to the campsite was now a quarter-mile wide through shallow water. But what a beautiful spot when we got there! Pines, hemlocks, and birches towered above us, and a bed of pine needles covered the ground. Just when we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, we noticed a small clearing up ahead—a campsite that was used by Henry David Thoreau.
The following morning I woke early to scout the 1.5-mile portage trail we were scheduled to hike. What I thought would be a peaceful walk turned into something I knew I couldn’t put our group through. The recent rain had left the trail flooded with anywhere from 6 inches to 4 feet of water. Large trees had fallen across the way, and I sank into water and mud up to my waist and in some places higher. Starting to break down from this unexpected roadblock, I knew we had to figure out a new itinerary. Within an hour, with the help of assistant director Naomi Heindel back at camp on the satellite phone, we created a new route. We hoped we could still make it to Allagash Village by Day 17, but we were not sure it would be possible.
And so on Day 4 we found ourselves backpaddling 16 miles. Fortunately, what we thought would be an arduous day turned into efficient paddling on water that was as still as glass and that gave us a new appreciation for the elegance of canoeing.
The following day presented yet another challenge. Unable to go against the current of Caucomgomoc Stream as planned, we instead had to bushwhack in search of a logging road we could use to portage our gear to our next campsite. Ten hours later, physically and mentally exhausted and extremely hungry, we found our campsite. I’ll never forget how slaphappy we all were that night, baking biscuits over the campfire, watching a burning red sunset, and feeling so proud of what we’d achieved.
I could continue to outline every day of the trip, for each one had plenty of adventure. One of our most exciting experiences happened around Day 13, when Brooke rigged a sail for our canoes from our kitchen tarp and with the aid of a phenomenal tailwind we sailed two entire lakes, covering two days of travel—21 miles—in only hours! We had a feeling at that point that, despite all our setbacks and obstacles, we could make up enough miles to arrive at Allagash Village on time rather than having to end the trip without finishing the river. We gained a new vision and energy we hadn’t known we had.
And, on Day 17, we did make it to Allagash Village. It was a feat no one expected us to accomplish and one we were so proud of as a group. Though the fun and happy memories will bond our group forever, the hard times brought us even closer and taught us so much. One of the greatest things I took home from this trip is that regardless of the limits I set for myself physically or mentally, I can always go further than I think I can. Just when I believed I was at my limit, I was shown that I could pull from my reserves and do things I never imagined possible.
That is a lesson not only for wilderness tripping but for everyday life.
Bio: Abby Lukensmeyer was a yurt and trip leader at Girls Camp for two summers. She holds a BA from Central College in Pella, Iowa, in psychology and Spanish and loves to spend time hiking, canoeing, taking pictures, and writing.
Read more stories in, Chewonki: 100 Years of Learning Outdoors available on our website.