When there was no beach to pull up on, we moored the kayak for the night with  a long rope

When there was no beach to pull up on, we moored the kayak for the night with a long rope

By now I am used to living outdoors.  This is the third long summer of sleeping on the ground nearly every night, cooking (or at least eating) outdoors, and limited access to the ‘stuff’ of a middle class life in America: my extensive wardrobe, a washing machine, the internet, the newspaper, a shower.  In 2010 Rick and I spent 4 1/2 months on the Pacific Crest Trail.  That was our first and longest wilderness trip and it necessarily set the tone.  That year, in our own country, we led a hermetic existence.  (I could argue a ‘hermitic’ existence as well, but we did not set out be hermits.)  We were away so long, and so removed from our usual lives that I never looked at my old life in the same way again.  On a simple level this can be about: what can I give up?  Hygeine?   Telephone calls to my children?  The newspaper?  Hot food?  It is possible to give up all these pleasant aspects of civilization, especially if one knows that the time without is limited.

Here it was difficult to carry the kayak  high enough on these rocks to keep the tide from floating the boat overnight.

Here it was difficult to carry the kayak high enough on these rocks to keep the tide from floating the boat overnight.

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Although Rick and I discussed the idea of a straight shot from Orleans to Scituate, Cohasset or even Gloucester, we deferred such a bold move for our return (not our first day!).  Our prudent choice was to hug the shore, going on the inside of Cape Cod Bay, past Plymouth, Boston, Cape Ann, and the New Hampshire coast, into Maine.  This began our tour of mansions.

Of course….why hadn’t I expected this?  Every home we passed was waterfront property.  The South Shore and the North Shore are within commuting distance of Boston.  Still, the size and grandeur of the homes we passed was shocking.  Look at that one!  It must be an inn, a bed and breakfast.  A conference center.  A museum?  They were just houses.  Private residences. Hundreds of them.  Many with 100 windows, to take advantage of the fabulous views.  How many bedrooms would that one have?  10?, 20?  Some were old, estates from the 19th century.  Granite construction, leaded glass, slate roofs.  These homes were often on points of land,  private, high above the water, protected by acres of property from their neighbors.  Plenty were new, built during the 80’s and 90’s, post-modern New England architecture with multiple gables and turrets, a plethora of round, oval and eyebrow windows.  It became a game to notice the good modern houses.  Here in New England there is very little modern residential architecture; owners of these homes were bucking a trend.

Before this trip, my journeys to Boston (the nearest city to home), had all been on the highway, by car.  Boston is 2 hours by car, too short a trip to get off the highway and look around.  In any case, I never did.  I’d missed all the mansions.

We camped in the rain on this tiny island off Cohasset.  The one house was boarded up.

We camped in the rain on this tiny island off Cohasset. The one house was boarded up.

 

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I am only exaggerating a little when I’d tell people that we saw ‘no one’ for hundreds of miles of the Maine Island Trail.

A few days into the trip, after we’ed pushed past the inhospitable-to-beach-campers states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, we arrived at our first Maine Island Trail Association island, named Cow.  Here we met a guided group of 6 or 8 teenagers from the DC suburbs.  They were on the kayaking leg of a weeks long outdoor adventure trip that included climbing Mount Washington.  These teenagers and their guides would be the last humans camping on the same island as we until our return to Casco Bay in southern Maine, 6 weeks hence.

Rick and I expected this solitude.  In 2011, for two and a half  weeks in July, we’d kayaked from Freeport Maine  (Casco Bay) to Friendship Maine (Muscongas Bay) and back.  That year we ran into a youth group one evening, then one other afternoon, a charming family (from the Catskills, inland!) on a home made sailboat.  Despite the Maine Island Trail Association handbook’s warnings of crowding and overuse and prohibitions regarding numbers of campers per night, we met no one else.  The handbook takes the form of one-page descriptions of each island, grouped by proximity.  Always, for islands where camping is allowed, numbers are limited.  For example, four individuals on the north end, 2 on the south.   6 or 8 would be the largest group size permitted.  The guidebook gives suggestions for alternate islands in case a campsite would be ‘taken’.  Rick and I read these descriptions and laughed.  Never did we have to find an alternate site.  (What if it was late, or raining?  We could share!  But there was no one out there.)

Maine Island Trail Association does not promote point to point kayak touring using it’s member islands as camp spots.  ‘Trail’ is used loosely; MITA does not suggest an order in which to visit islands, nor group them in recommended one or two week loops. This is in contrast to the Pacific Crest Trail Association which facilitates trail use, both for through hikers and section hikers.  The PCTA publishes, online and in a monthly magazine, information about how to prepare for and undertake a long hike, and aggregates years worth of hiker blogs, thousands of pages of the extraordinarily valuable experience of other trail users.  The PCTA also coordinates necessary trail use and fire permits across state lines (California, Oregon and Washington).  In the hiking community, hiking the PCT is a goal, an event, a challenge.  As is hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and many other long footpaths.  The ‘event’, that is the yearly seasonal hiking of the trail by a loose cohort of hikers, creates the community which helps support the Pacific Crest Trail Association.  This community of trail users, which grows each year, is vital to the survival of the trail itself.  I wondered why the Maine Island Trail Association did not seem to encourage use of member islands.

How much use is too much?  How fine is the line between too little use and overuse?  Maine islands are a fragile ecosystem. MITA islands are undeveloped (on a few are private islands the owner has a dwelling).  All the campsites are undeveloped.  And ALL require access by (private) small boat.  The season is short and the waters are cold.  The currents can be treacherous.  Yet I think that if MITA does not make the presence of the trail known outside Maine, the risk is that there will not be a big enough community for the protection of the islands.  Too few people, I believe,  enjoy this place.

Alone, as usual

Alone, as usual

After this past summer, I can confirm what I have suspected all along: navigation by kayak is very much a seat-of-the pants process.  At least it is for me.  Ideally, one’s position on the water should be known at all times. This is particularly true when exploring new waterways and when visibility may be limited, sometimes in a matter of minutes, by conditions such as fog, heavy rain and nightfall. The quick and easy method of knowing one’s position is GPS. However, any number of ailments could disable your GPS, rendering it useless—and you not knowing where you are.

In addition to GPS, or even in place of GPS, one should always have printed charts at hand.  There is still no substitute for good old coastal piloting, using dead-reckoning, a watch, paper charts and most importantly, observation.  Julie and I each had a full set of charts literally right under our noses as we paddled. I downloaded nautical charts at no cost from NOAA and, to save paper, I formatted the charts to fit as efficiently as possible on a 9″ X 12″ sheet, which fit easily into a waterproof sleeve. The entire trip was comprised of 17 of these small charts, or 9 two-sides sheets. We had them printed on plastic tear-proof paper, much like Yupo paper, provided by my favorite local printer, Sir Speedy. I am pleased to report that each set lasted the entire trip, and they look about as good as new.

We rarely used our GPS, mostly turning it on during episodes of fog and rain. In most cases, we used line-of-site navigation. We were constantly dead reckoning our position as we passed headlands, harbor entrances, islands and other prominent land marks and aids to navigation. Even on the clearest of days, we would practice this exercise, as it helped us to compensate for the effects of wind, wave and current, and thereby avoiding a lot of extra miles. Each morning before departure, and often at the end of a break as we were about to re-launch, we would sit down and review the waterways ahead of us and discuss our approach. I must say that the GPS was a Godsend in the fog!  We easily made crossings that, in previous times, would have been much more hair-raising affairs than they were by the grace of the GPS!  While we knew exactly where we were, the question is, did they (other boats) know where we were? More on that in another posting!Chart_13

 

230Stealth camping, sometimes called ‘wild camping’,  ‘ninja camping’, or  ‘camping sauvage’ is camping without permission on public or private land.   One reason that Rick and I chose Maine for this kayak trip (second to being able to leave from home), was the availability of free and legal campsites.

The Maine Island Trail Association is an organization that has arranged for public use of it’s 300 plus member islands.  Not all allow free camping, but many do.  (The  MITA islands that do not allow camping, are ‘day use’ or picnic islands.  MITA maintains that camping is a ‘hard sell’ when convincing island owners to join the organization.  While I appreciated that some of these owners might have sold islands to developers, picnic islands are of limited practical use to through kayakers.)  Rick and I made an effort to, if it was at all possible, camp at MITA designated sites.  Sometimes, though, there were just too many miles to accomplish in a day; then we camped in places where camping was not permitted.

Rick and I anticipated that from Cape Cod to southern Maine (and that same stretch of coast on our return) would be the most difficult place to find stealth camping spots.  I was familiar with nighttime beach sweeps on National Seashore beaches near home.  Where would we stay near Boston, or the south and north shore, where mansions lined the coast?  Before we left home we searched for possible hosts on two internet sites that, fall, winter and spring, we host travelers from.  These are Couchsurfing .org and Warmshowers.org. (The last is specific to bicycle tourists, but we figured the kayak wasn’t too far a reach.)  Our kayak was 22 feet long and weighed over 100 lbs; our gear another 100-200 lbs.  I wasn’t interested in a precise weight.  Our gear was reduced to near the minimum that would support life,  and still I could not pick up one end of the boat when loaded.  Unloaded, I could stagger a few feet.  Or, given a slippery surface, slide it a few feet, always with Rick providing 80% of the effort required.  On Warmshowers we limited our search to people who lived on or very near the water.  Of the two sites, only Warmshowers has a map feature that pinpoints a member’s address.  (Couchsurfing, with far more members, gives the town name only.)  We were able to find one very wonderful woman to stay with in Beverly.  One host bowed out at the last moment.  It would seem that few waterfront residents participate.  Rick and were unable, or unwilling, to commit to overnights in particular locations a week or more into our trip.  There is a liberating serendipity to being able to, at the end of the day, say ‘let’s quit here’, although the reality is less easy.

This is why we stealth camped.

Stealth camping encourages long days.  It encouraged many miles each day to minimize the number of overnights necessary till we reached Maine, and discouraged stopping early while there is daylight to avoid detection.  The first night we reached an area just before the canal.   It was a misty cool night early in the season.  We could see the lights in vacation houses just across a tidal creek.  No one seemed to care.

The first answer to the question “what shall we do in the summer of 2013”, was that we would tour by kayak and do so in Maine.  There are, however, great logistical problems surrounding taking a kayak somewhere to begin a trip.

Most of the Maine coast was, for us, unexplored, and, as we live on Cape Cod, not too far away.  Renting a good enough boat, or buying one from an outfitter in Maine were expensive options.  We thought to bring our own.  In the autumn, Rick and I had bought a tandem kayak from craigslist for this trip.  It was a Valley Aleut Sea II, a sturdy, stable, expedition kayak.  We chose a tandem so I could keep up, not become separated, and so we would, at least in theory, have the power and efficiency of two paddlers for only one hull.  Valley’s website claims this boat’s weight is 106 lbs.  But when it arrived, driven down to Hyannis from Portland by it’s seller, it was clear that this boat was a giant and heavy beast.   Rick has a small car with a basic flat rack.  This boat, dating from the 90’s,  came with a marvelously useful homemade wooden cradle.  We could transport it at slow speeds on back roads, only.  I had an idea:  we would start paddling  from home.

So on June 30, we slid the packed kayak down the concrete boat ramp at Rock Harbor in Orleans.  It was a damp and foggy 6:00 AM departure.   Our plan was to make, roughly, 15 miles a day.  That first day, energized, we made 25 miles, bypassing the not-friendly- to- tent- campers Sandy Neck Wildlife Refuge in Barnstable to camp near the Cape Cod Canal.

the jetty at Rock Harbor

the jetty at Rock Harbor

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As this summer draws to a close and we are safely back home, comfortably sleeping at my mother’s house as we wait for the end of the summer rental season and to be able to occupy our own house,  I can reflect on a kayak trip longer than any I’d ever imagined I’d take.

I (Julie) have not (yet, always YET), learned to type on Rick’s Smartphone, and a blog entry is a more considered thing when written from the distance of weeks.  Months, by the time I will be done.  When Rick and I met people who lived or vacationed in the places we stopped, an oft-repeated statement was : “you should write a book!”  Despite the near universal belief that ‘everybody has a story’,  and the increasingly easy access to ‘publishing’ (self, of course), I have no book to write.  I will, however, add to the blogosphere in the interest of making it easier for those might want to take a similar trip in Maine, or to tour anywhere by kayak.  Rick and I planned this trip during the winter of 2012-2013 and did not find very much to read on the web about Maine Islands, kayak touring or stealth camping.  And, for those who know me, especially my children, this blog can, I hope, add detail to the summer just past and stand in for all the our phone conversations that were curt or absent.

It has been one of our primary objectives on this trip to reach Canada before turning around for our return. It has also been our goal to have fun and enjoy the people and sights we encounter along the way. The latter goal is being largely met. However, in the name of good judgment, we have decided that Canada will not be in the cards for us on this trip. Upon reaching Jonesport, Maine, we consulted tide charts and considered weather patterns and decided that the final push through Maine’s famous “Bold Coast”, 30 or so miles of rugged coastline, with its 20′ tides, strong currents and frequent fog. Julie and I were 6 days off the required tide cycle and had enjoyed quite a bit of excitement rounding Petit Manan, so prudence convinced us that our best move would be to come-about and point our bow toward Cape cod. While it is somewhat of a let down to not make it the entire way to Canada, the greater thrill has without a doubt been in seeing so much of this beautiful coast and in meeting new friends along the way. We are now headed west, covering much of the same ground we passed on our way east, yet seeing it all anew, as we approach it from a different direction, physically as well as emotionally!

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As we find ourselves with enough electricity to take the luxury to post, I figure it timely to blog about our electric woes during this trip. Posting here has been curtailed lately, as what limited power we have had has been reserved for essentials such as touching base with family and getting weather reports.
Sea kayaking has proven to be very hard on electronics, to put it lightly. On the fourth day of our trip, a very kind park Ranger at Fort warren allowed us to charge up at his desk while we toured the island. Upon our return, we found the phone unplugged and scorched. It seems that very fine particles of salt had found their way into my Phone’s charging pins and shorted things out. Within the first week of our trip, our PowerFilm 7watt flexible solar panel died. as salt water had corroded the O-ring protected terminals. West Marine in Portland promptly replaced the panel, and with a good dose of liquid electric tape covering the terminals, we set out with high hopes. Several days later, we noticed cells in the new panel beginning to corrode–at a rapid rate. West Marine in Southport was helpful in replacing this panel as well, but it took three days for a new one to arrive. That was two weeks ago, and the panel seems to be performing fine, but new questions are surfacing with regard to charging my iPhone when the power is below 50%. …and the. there are the days, many days actually, when the fog is as thick as peanut butter and nothing charges at all 🙂 With lots of liquid electric tape and always keeping all charging wires in a minimum of three plastic bags, I believe we shall make it through this trip. And, we might even take the luxury of posting every now and again!

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Julie and I covered well over 20 miles on Monday, with Monhegan Island beckoning us to visit throughout the day as we passed by. So, on Tuesday morning we paddled in to Port Clyde and took the mail boat over to the island for a day of exploring. Monhegan lies 10 miles off the coast of Maine and has no beaches where one can land a kayak, so we thought it best to leave the driving to the pros. We enjoyed some great hiking along the high cliffs and lush forests, including a walk through cathedral woods, where we came upon many faerie houses, and we finished our visit with a tour of the many galleries which the island is most famous for. Monhegan Island has been the summer home of many great painters for well over 100 years. The captain of our boat gave us some helpful advice for where we might camp that night, and we wrapped the day up with a very pleasant 10 mile sunset paddle to a quiet little island off of Tenets Harbor.

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