If it were possible to calculate an index of happiness, two numbers ought to be part of the formula – rivers explored, trails hiked.
I do not know exactly how many trail guides and river guides I own. Glance over my shoulder and I see seven shelves of them in my study. There are guides to rivers in Alaska, rivers in New England, guides to the lakes of the Boundary Waters in Minnesota and Ontario, hiking guides for the Rockies, the Appalachians, and Great Britain. (There are field guides to birds and wildflowers, mushrooms and sea creatures, too. I friend of mine claims to be astonished that not only do I own a guide to “The Weeds of the Northeast,” I also have a guide that tells me what these weeds look like in winter. Thank you Lauren Brown for “Weeds in Winter,” Houghton Mifflin. Boston, 1977).
These river and trail guides are mostly utilitarian books, with their just-the-facts prose. I love them. They are the raw material of dreams, and the essential first tool in making those dreams memories. Perhaps they should be counted in my happiness index as well.
So I welcome to my shelves “The Northern Forest Canoe Trail,” (The Mountainers Books, $24.95) the just-published guide to the comparatively new canoe trail that nicely ties together some of the most famous and historic rivers and lakes from New York’s Adirondacks through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, 740 miles in all, including a short, friendly incursion into Quebec province. With this new text – maps of the trail already are available – we now have what we need to get our feet wet, our psyches soothed.
The idea for the Northern Forest Canoe Trail was hatched in the late 1980s by three friends, Mike Krepner, Randy Mardres and Ron Canter, who first envisioned a trail through Maine utilizing Native American canoe trails. By the early 1990s, as big forest-products companies began selling off huge tracts of land in northern New England and upstate New York – opening them to development – the fate of what came to be known as the northern forest emerged as an issue. Krepner suggested the trail be extended from the Adirondacks through Maine, as a way to demonstrate the convergence of history and geography, to help draw attention to the value of the northern forest and its priceless waterways. Much or all of the route, which extends from Old Forge, N. Y. to Fort Kent in Maine, and includes all or parts of such famous waterways as the Allagash, Connecticut, Penobscot and Saranac rivers, as well as major water bodies like Lake Champlain and Rangeley Lake, was paddled by Native Americans.
In 2000, Kay Henry and Rob Center, former executives of the Mad River Canoe Co., formed the Northern Forest Canoe Trail organization to make the trail a reality. The organization, with a small staff and a large network of volunteers, has worked ever since developing primitive campsites, identifying access points, and promoting the trail as an ideal resource for sustainable, nature-based recreation and tourism.
You can, as a small number of people already have done, paddle the whole Northern Forest Canoe Trail in one big adventure. I tip my Tilley to these rugged people. I’ve done just enough long-distance paddling to know how hard it can be day after day, how grueling a long portage can be, no matter how soul-satisfying the overall expedition may be. I fall in with the father of the Appalachian Trail, Benton MacKaye, who never envisioned the AT as a speed hike or even something one might do in one grand adventure. The AT was to be a restorative place, he said, a place where you recovered from the stresses experienced in the commercial canyons. It was not a place to hurry; it was a place to see, hear and feel again, to be part of natural rhythms. That is how I feel about the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Whether you paddle the trail east to west or west to east, either involves paddling upstream at times, and involves some very difficult portages. Having spent considerable time in northern New York and New England over the past four decades, I’ve already done all or parts of many waterways that now are part of the trail. So I will paddle the rest of Northern Forest Canoe Trail in sections, in day trips or short camping trips of 2 or 3 days. I don’t want to rush, I want to savor each sunrise and sunset at water’s edge. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail guidebook in hand, I have identified the next water body to add to my happiness index: Flagstaff Lake, Maine.