Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Little Hen Island, Revisited

We’d just paddled across West Penobscot Bay from Stonington, our bows pointed to the tiny islet, and we were anticipating getting there: getting tents up, a snack, just absorbing the place. It was still early enough in the day that we could get out for another paddle, or perhaps just spend a few sunny hours exploring the island and its surroundings as the tide went out. We were also early enough that if someone else had beat us to the island – it was, after all, July 3rd– we’d be able to find a different spot. 

Just then, a short catamaran – a Hobie 16-footer – shot out from the north, driven by a tailwind, right for ‘our’ little island. We both paused our paddle strokes. The sailboat was moving fast and would certainly get there first. I began to mentally imagine the other campsites we could go to instead. But the boat kept going, right past the island, over the shallow sandbars that would soon be revealed. We didn’t hesitate; we hurried to our landing and quickly began unpacking gear from our boats.

It reminded me of when Rebecca and I arrived here two summers ago. We’d paddled from Ram Island around the southern end of Vinalhaven. We were tired, anticipating some relaxing time in the campsite, when another group of sea kayakers arrived in our peripheral vision, also headed for the island. In denial, I simply didn’t look toward them until I’d arrived first, and then realized they were friends, and I felt a little bad, and of course, invited them to share the island with us. There were four of them though, and they went-on to Hay Island instead. 

This time was oddly similar, since we noticed, as M put up her tent and I strung my hammock, that the catamaran had arrived on the sandbar, and the occupants were unloading gear onto Tiny Little Hen (Middle Little Hen?- both my names) another small islet a couple hundred feet to the north. We were camped in the MITA site, but I guessed that the other, unofficial site might work better for them, since they could beach the catamaran and easily access the island: our campsite stood atop steep granite bluffs over the sandbars – we’d landed on the other side. It did certainly change the nature of our stay there, looking from our cooking spot at others camped so near, but other people’s presence is simply one of the variables that makes our experiences out there unique each time.

M took her time, exploring with her camera. After a while, we took a spin in the kayaks up the bay to check out the schooner Victory Chimes,which was anchored near a tall bluff. We landed and looked in vain for a trail I’d once followed to the bluff-top. Then we paddled back to camp. There’s a story here about when high tide came – a new moon spring tide that arrived at midnight. My hammock set-up was not so ideal, and judging from the flurry of headlamp-lit activity on the other islet, their site was not quite high enough… but I’ll keep this short and save it for another time.

As Rebecca and I had done two years ago, we liked it so much on the island that we decided to use it as a base camp the next day. That gave M a lot more time to explore with her camera, and we took a day trip out to Brimstone Island. Also, since it was July 4thand a lot of people were out in boats, it took away our worry that we wouldn’t be stuck without a campsite. And we had it to ourselves the next night. All of this was part of a 4-day trip. On the 3rdday, M and I paddled north, letting some strong currents push us up the bay. As Brimstone had been, it was a day of visiting islands with hiking trails to gorgeous vistas. We spent our last night on Pond Island, off Cape Rosier, and finished our trip at Bridge End, in Eggemoggin Reach. 

This was the first multi-day trip I’ve guided for my new sea kayak guiding service, Upwest & Downeast, and it was a wonderful way to start, made possible by a client who knew just what she wanted- part of which was to relax a bit, since work had been lately stressful. 

I realize there are some significant gaps in my blog output; it’s due to too much happening, rather than not enough. Getting Upwest & Downeast off the ground has been a consuming endeavor, and I’ve continued to work for others – on-call guiding and teaching as well as the ten-day guide’s class I teach every spring in Bar Harbor. I started the guiding service simply as that- a bare-bones service for people wanting to hire a guide, but I've added day trips for people without their own gear as well, mostly available right now through Air BnB experiences. 

Over the winter I focused mostly on my book-length account of our trip two summers ago, as well as an article about it that came out last week in Small Boats MagazineIn addition to all that, we still tend to make much of our living from other work. I sometimes ask myself if I need to keep writing this blog that has followed my paddling progress almost from the start. I’m not sure who reads it or cares. But the fact that I just now enjoyed recounting a little of last week’s trip seems reason enough to keep at it. I hope you’ll check-out the article in Small Boats Magazine. And the book is getting there, at this point mostly waiting for more illustrations.

Happy Paddling!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

New Sea Kayak Guide Service in Maine

Rebecca and I have launched a new sea kayaking guide service. In February, with snow on the ground and ice in the harbor, “launched” seems an exaggeration. It hardly seems real, more of a concept expressed through a website and a few posts on social media, but it has been a long time coming. The idea for the service is a bit different than that of most outfitters; our goal is to provide clients with guidance and instruction just about anywhere on the Maine coast, and to keep both the overhead and cost of our services affordable. We’re aiming at a niche of paddlers who have their own equipment and could use our help to develop skills and safely expand their comfort zones, who want to learn by doing, by going somewhere. Or, simply, we’re guides for hire, and we know this coast well.

Lately, I’ve been revising the manuscript of Upwest & Downeast: Meandering the Maine Coast by Sea Kayak, an account of our 2017 summer-long paddle along the coast. The revising seems to be unending. I’ll get through the story only to begin again, removing vast sections and then, sensing something missing, write new sections afresh. It’s my second winter on this project, and Rebecca is working on a series of block print illustrations for the book. We’re quite obsessed, and it sometimes occurs to me that we’ve drawn-out our immersion simply because we like where it takes us, back to those long days, paddling from island to island, living that life. In some ways, I think that’s also why we’ve started the guiding service (which is also called Upwest & Downeast). It’s a selfish desire to spend more time out there. But like the book, it’s also a chance to share what we’ve experienced and help others discover it for themselves.

Rebecca and I have been guiding and teaching off and on since 2010. We were reluctant to plunge into the commercial side of the sport, not wanting to sacrifice the personal enjoyment it brought us, but it forced us to seek-out more training, to dial-in skills and take our paddling to a level we would probably not have otherwise attained. As a result, we get much more out of paddling. We’ve also experienced the usual ups and downs of the sea kayaking business, and realized that for us to stick with it, we’d like to cultivate those better experiences and minimize the ‘downs.’ So here’s a few ways we hope to do just that:

-       Each trip is private. We help you go on the trip you’d like to take. You don’t need to compromise with a stranger who might have different goals.
-       Every trip is a ‘go.’ We don’t put a trip on the schedule and wait for sign-ups. If you’d like more people for your trip, let us know and we’ll try to put you in touch with other like-minded paddlers.
-       Each trip is a full-day or more. There are enough barriers to just getting on the water that once there, we want to make the most of it, and we don’t want to rush. We can meander leisurely, or we can focus on putting-in some miles. We can explore islands on foot, lie in a hammock, play in the surf or take a time-out to improve our navigation. Or we can do awesome, big paddles.
-       We can go just about anywhere.  Take a look at our Destinations on the website to get an idea about our favorite places.
-       Guiding / instruction: it’s all the same to us. You choose what you’d like, but we’d rather do any instruction in the context of a journey: no ‘Quickstart’ crash courses. And if you simply want to paddle with no instruction, that’s fine too.
-       Our pricing is simple and fair: $300/day for up to two people. Beyond that, it’s $70 for each additional paddler.  If you get six people together, that’s less than $100 per person.
-       There’s no additional charge for overnights. For two people, a two-day/one-night trip is $600. Again, simple pricing. 

But here’s the catch. We don’t provide equipment or food. See paragraph #1: we’re guides for hire, not outfitters. Aside from helping to keep the price down, it encourages the sort of paddlers we once were ourselves: committed to the sport, seeking out new challenges and improving skills along the way to gradually build confidence. There are, of course, reasonable rental options in the area as well. Odds are we’ll eventually invest in some client equipment, but for now we’re going to keep it simple and see how it goes.

Warmer weather is only a few months away. Check-out our new website and get inspired!


Sunday, October 28, 2018

West Rattlesnake, Chocorua, The Sugarloaves

At the check-out line, the cashier, a woman probably a few years older than me scrutinized my face and asked me a question, and as usual, I needed to repeat it back to her to make sure I understood: “Am I… over fifty?”  

She smiled. She probably saw my hesitation, as if I still didn’t quite accept that I’d begun to slide into old age, that I might prefer to not admit it, and I didn’t exactly want to be reminded. Was I getting carded? I looked at our groceries and there wasn’t any alcohol, besides, she’d said fifty, and not whatever the drinking age was. Hutch and Shari were ahead of me in line; we were all together, our faces all still red and flushed from an afternoon hiking up a mountain after the first snow. She hadn’t asked them. They looked on curiously. She’d singled me-out; it was that obvious.  I shrugged. “Yes,” I said.

“You’re in luck.” She turned to the register. “You get a discount on Thursdays.”

We took our first walk on Wednesday afternoon, the day after Hutch and Shari had arrived. It was a pretty typical walk to take first-time guests on: West Rattlesnake, a small mountain that overlooks the lake. It’s a bargain hike: a relatively short and easy walk with the reward of a massive view at the top. Aside from being a good warm-up hike, we get a good look at the neighborhood from up above. The lake spreads below us, islands recognizable as if from a vividly colored map, with an autumnal red and yellow arboreal border. Rebecca and I like to take our friends up here and just stand for a bit and not say anything, not point anything out, just watch our visitors take it in and try to remember what that was like. But then we’ll point things out, just to get oriented: that lake over there to the left is Winnipesaukee. That mountain off in the distance to the west? That’s Moosilauke. We sat for awhile as others came and went, just taking it in until finally it occurred to us that maybe we should head back down.

On Thursday Hutch and Shari and I headed up Mount Chocorua, which quickly became ‘Chocula’ instead – it’s only a few letters off, and the name of the vampire-themed cereal is much easier to pronounce. The hike began in autumn, beneath a canopy of vivid green and yellow foliage, but progressed into freshly-fallen snow that became ankle-deep by the time we stopped at the Jim Liberty Cabin for lunch.

The cabin is there for overnight stays, first-come, first-served, with nine wooden bunks and decades of graffiti scored into its woodwork. Heavy chains secure it to the ledge, and there’s a hint of a view between the spruce trees encircling the small meadow around it. It all lay beneath a heavy, wet layer of snow, which still clung to the spruce boughs like sugar frosting on a gingerbread house. I remembered a visit from many years ago in which my friends and I spent a night there. Tents were pitched in the ‘yard’ and the cabin was crowded, dominated by the loudest occupants, drunk and boisterous, and it reminded me why I tend to avoid such places. But we had it to ourselves and we ate our sandwiches on the porch steps, admiring the fresh snow.

We progressed up the trail, and within minutes paused to turn around. We all gasped involuntarily when we saw the view. Whatever our expectations, they were surpassed. The nearby trees lay beneath heavy snow, while down below the white frosting tapered, blending with bright reds and yellows and greens, a study in contrasts. It had been snowing intermittently still, but sunbeams bore through the grey layer of clouds, lighting startling patches of color. 

This alone was worth whatever effort the hike had taken, which was good, since not much farther up the trail we decided to head down without reaching the summit. Had the snow been deeper, we might have been able to find traction along the path, but the unstable single layer of snow tended to simply slide away below us on the steeper parts – with consequential drops beneath them. Microspikes wouldn’t have been effective, but it hardly mattered; that revelatory glimpse buoyed us as we walked down, and later it carried us through the grocery aisles so that even the cashier’s reminder of my advanced age only further elevated the mood.

The next day, after a late morning, we were in the mood for another bargain hike in a different neighborhood, so we drove up to the north side of the White Mountains to a pair of smaller mountains called the Sugarloaves. Again, we began in autumn and gradually ascended to snow-covered ground, although not nearly as deep as the previous day’s. It was still chilly, below freezing, but the wind had died and the sun shone with hardly a cloud in the sky. 

This is another true bargain hike, and the snow made it even more so, since the surrounding peaks, including the Mount Washington massif, were sparkly white, frosted like a heavily-sugared breakfast cereal. And you get not one, but two stunning mountaintop views, from both North and Middle Sugarloaves. We looked up at considerably higher peaks I’d been too fairly recently, like North Twin and Mount Hale, where the views are not nearly as overwhelming.

We returned to the trailhead not long before sunset and grabbed coffee at a gas station for the drive home, which took us through Franconia Notch at dusk, listening to nostalgic oldies on the radio – songs from the eighties and nineties that had been popular, it seemed, not so long ago, soundtracks to fleeting episodes from our pasts.

We got to know Hutch and Shari over the summer when they worked with us at Old Quarry. They’ve spent most of the last six years living in a tiny ‘canned ham’ travel trailer, traveling all over and documenting their adventures on their blog, Freedom in a Can.

Info on these hikes can be found both in the AMC White Mountain Guide and in AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains by Robert N. Buchsbaum.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Autumn Leaves on Mount Avalon

I’d been walking a short time, gazing down at my feet stepping through a golden-yellow layer of recently-dropped birch and aspen leaves, when it occurred to me that my pace was falling in step with the rhythm of a tune moving through my mind: Autumn Leaves. Aside from the obvious reference to my surroundings, the tune set a comfortable, relaxed pace, a good way to start a hike, and I didn’t mind. I seem especially prone to getting these ‘earworm’ tunes stuck in my head, following me for miles while I paddle or hike, and they’re not always so unobtrusive. Sometimes it’s the last tune on the radio en route to my adventure, but it may also be a recurring theme, like the instrumental disco anthem that followed me for much of the Maine coast on our Upwest & Downeast paddle last year. More and more it seems my earworm tunes lack lyrics, which I find agreeable enough, especially when this figment of my imagination drives the constant, multi-pitched ring of tinnitus, another made-up sound in my head, into submission.

I was headed up the Avalon Trail in Crawford Notch, which is a bit of a bargain hike to get to a view of the valley. But I was lured by the proximity of a couple of taller mountains, Mt Tom (4051’) and Mt Field (4340’) upon whose flanks Mt Avalon (3442’) is situated. Though I wasn’t expecting huge views from the taller summits, I was in the mood to walk, and it was a warm sunny day, probably the balmiest we’d see in October.

The tune cycled through my head, mostly drawing from the version I’d heard the most, from Cannonball Adderly and Miles Davis. I’d never known the song’s lyrics, but somehow the instrumental versions convey the bittersweet sense of longing and wistfulness at least as well as any words could. I don’t know how that works – that a simple tune seems to embody ideas and feelings without the help of spoken language, but it does. And since a melody is more universal than lyrics, it seems to apply itself to your surroundings more readily. The warm day made me more aware of its passing, wistful for all the summer days now past, and the leaves were probably as bright as they would be before the next storm knocked them down and the season rounded the corner toward winter.

I’d been in New Hampshire for about a week and I’d gone for a couple of other hikes as well. The first was not well-chosen for my first hike after a summer of paddling and little hiking. I headed up North Twin Mountain (4761’) with aims of getting over to South Twin (4902’) but I never quite got into it. It felt like a lot of work. My leg muscles burned with the uphill effort and I ended up with a headache (perhaps a bit dehydrated?) that took away from my enjoyment when I got to the summit of North Twin, which was socked-in by dense clouds. I finally remembered the ibuprofen in my first aid kit, which helped, but I had to admit I wasn’t really enjoying it, and headed down after a snack on North Twin.

For my next hike, I lowered my ambitions considerably, and had a gorgeous warm day. It was the Friday before Columbus Day weekend though, and the Kancamagus Highway was busy enough that I felt annoyed by the time I parked at the trailhead for Hedgehog Mountain (2532’). 

Despite the tailgating traffic that jammed all the scenic turn-offs, there were only six cars in the lot. I’d been to the trailhead before, and had one of those uncertain moments, unsure if I’d taken this hike before, but if I had, I’d forgotten it well enough, and it all seemed new and wonderful. You don’t have to go far before you step atop open ledges for expansive views of the 4000-foot mountains surrounding this little peak. I only ran into a few other people, but the trailhead lot was full when I returned, and I resolved to forego hiking until the weekend was over.

I did, however, drive to southern New Hampshire to buy a used canoe, and since I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d take a hike up Monadnock, a small mountain I’d climbed many times in my youth, when I lived in that area. As I approached the road into the state park though, I saw that it was closed off by the police – no room for more cars. They were doing me a favor, since such crowds would drive me nuts. Besides, I wanted to try the new canoe. In between hikes, I’d been out for a few short paddles, in kayak and canoe. They’ve been nice, but when I’m in New Hampshire I tend to think more about hiking.

The highlight of the Mt Avalon Hike was Mt Avalon, even if it doesn’t feel like much of a summit. There were also some enticing waterfalls, not far in from the trailhead. Mounts Tom and Field were fine, but you know you’re at the summits mostly due to the piles of rocks marking them, with limited views nearby. The top of Mt Avalon feels more like an open ledge on the side of Mt Field, but has by far the best vantage. A few other hikers came and went while I sat there, eating my sandwich, watching the cloud shadows pass over the brilliant patchwork colors in the notch. I could see our red car parked beside Route 302 down below, and not far away, the bright red roof of the Mount Washington Hotel. The summit of Mount Washington was shrouded in clouds, never revealing itself.

I overheard a couple counting the 4000-footer mountains they’d been up, and I suppose that personal challenge (much like the MITA 30-In-30 Challenge I’d embarked upon over the summer) brings a lot of hikers to these and other peaks that, while they offer some nice hiking, have underwhelming views for the effort involved. I joked with the couple that there was nothing wrong with the views; after all Mt Tom had a nice spruce tree with some lovely mosses surrounding its base, as cultivated as a terrarium. And of course there were those piles of rocks. Mt Field had a view of Mt Washington from a small opening in the trees.

When hiking to mountaintops I often remind myself that Thoreau wrote in his journal “… It is remarkable what haste the visitors make to get to the top of the mountain and then look away from it." It’s just a reminder that there’s more to a mountain than the view away from it, but it can also be a bit of a rationalization when you’ve just sweated to a mountaintop and there’s not a lot there that makes you want to linger. But Mt Avalon’s views were good enough to make me linger, and for just a little while forget the tune in my head.

In addition to AMC’s White Mountain Guide, I’ve been using AMC’s Best Day Hikes in the White Mountains by Robert N. Buchsbaum. The book helps winnow the nearly endless hiking options in the White Mountains down to a few of the more attractive ones. In addition to the nuts and bolts info in the White Mountain Guide, there’s a bit of the author’s take on what it’s like to hike in these spots, why one would want to go up one trail instead of another, as well as historic background and natural history.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Last Five

Parked beside the road at Reach Beach, I took my kayak down from the car, and placed it on the sand, just a dozen or so feet away, where the water lapped at the bow. It was nearly high tide on a placid mid-afternoon, the last day of September, with three or four hours before dark, and I had a goal: to land on the five Maine Island Trail islands at the east end of Eggemoggin Reach. To get to them I’d need to paddle a loop of about ten miles and not dilly-dally too much along the way. I loaded my boat and headed out.

It had been at least a week since I’d last paddled, and I could tell; it felt like work. Maybe it was that I was so focused, paddling faster than usual, thinking about how I barely had enough time to cover the route before sunset, but how I really wanted to get to these islands. These would be the final five islands I needed to land on to meet the Maine Island Trail Association’s 30 in 30 Challenge. The deadline was still a week away, but we would be heading to New Hampshire for a bit, so if I wanted to meet the challenge, this was my chance. 

Campbell Island, #27
If you’re just tuning-in, the 30 in 30 challenge is MITA’s way to celebrate the Trail’s 30th year, offering a rare, special edition piece of headwear for those who land on 30 islands before Columbus Day. All you have to do was set foot on the island and then document it. Man, I really wanted that hat. (Of course, what they’ve failed to mention is that the hat is what some would call a lampshade with the number “30” scrawled on it with Magic Marker). It was rare for me to have such a goal. Most of my personal, non-work paddling this year had been fairly leisurely, mostly to get away from it all, in pursuit of hammock time as much as exercise. I’d become a bit of a slacker.

The mountains of Mount Desert Island rose to the east, beyond Blue Hill Bay, their peaks cloaked in a low layer of cumulus, but here it was absolutely clear and sunny, a crisp autumn day with a mild breeze. A couple of small sailboats crisscrossed Greenlaw Cove. I weaved among near-shore rocks below the houses on Oak Point. I realized I was still thinking of the goal more than enjoying the moment, maybe not enjoying it as much as I could, but whatever – I had places to be. Ahead, at the mouth of Fish Creek lay Apple Island, and I thought ‘that will be number 26.’ I looked over at Campbell Island, off to my left and thought ’27.’ I looked at my watch. 

Sheep -Stinson Neck #28
But then, up ahead, a seal popped its head above the surface and looked at me. The water near it roiled with movement, and I steered toward it, arriving amid a school of densely swarming foot-long fish. They swam beneath and turned, as if of one mind, like a cloud moving through the water, catching silvery flashes of sunlight. The cloud moved to the surface, breaking through with fins and tails, a mob of fish, and circled around. This was unusual. If I saw fish around here, which didn’t happen often, they were usually finger-sized, corralled into shallow coves by terns. These were big, fat fish, thousands of them, and I sat floating for a while, watching. I thought vaguely of my schedule, my need to get to five islands before dark. And I lingered a bit longer – so what if I came back in the dark? If need be, I had lights. 

Sellers Island, #29
I continued toward Apple Island, perhaps a bit slower-paced than before. But I felt more ‘there.’ Maybe then I felt some of the stress of the last week begin to slip away. As our season at Old Quarry wound-down, we got the news that we needed to move out of the space in Stonington where most of our belongings were stored, and Rebecca would need to find a new studio. We’ve been transient for nearly four years now since we moved out of our gallery and apartment in downtown Stonington, and we’ve lived either in outfitter housing or in house-sits, but this approach was only possible because we’ve lived with a tiny fraction of our belongings, the furniture and most other household items stored away. So for more than a week we’d been moving from one storage unit to another – an exercise in futility if there ever was one – and to a new studio space for Rebecca.

I arrived at Apple Island and walked around, looking for a photo to document my brief visit. It can be tough to find something interesting when you only hop out of your boat for a few minutes. I felt hungry, but I didn’t have any snacks – I usually paddled with granola bars stashed away in various pockets, but this time I had none. But there were apples on the trees. The lowest had been eaten by deer, but I found a stick and knocked one from a higher branch, and it tasted perfect: sweet, crisp, as fresh as it gets. So I knocked down a few more and stashed them in my day hatch.

Apple Island, #26

I went on to Campbell Island (27) and Sheep Island - Stinson Neck (28) and then headed across the Reach, where I landed on Sellers (29) and finally Little Hog (30). Somewhere in there I found my rhythm and the paddle strokes came more naturally, with less effort. Then, with the current against me, I stayed on the Brooklin side of the Reach, skirting the edges of Babson and Little Babson Island to where I could paddle against a little less of the flow to cross back to Deer Isle. The sun was sinking in the west – right over Grays Cove. I pointed my bow below it and headed back.

Little Hog Island, #30

There’s still a few days to take part in MITA’s 30-in-30 Challenge. You too could wear one of these hats.

In mid-September, I paddled a tandem with Joseph Rosendo, host of the PBS series Joseph Rosendo’s Travelscope. We were followed by a film crew in the NIGH DUCK who recorded our conversations, including a stop on Hells Half Acre, where I had a lot to say about the merits of the Maine Island Trail. The episode will air sometime later next year.

This wasn't our year for doing big kayak trips, but we were able to enjoy the trips of others vicariously, and sometimes offer a little assistance. Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson, who together travel the world teaching, mostly Greenland skills, under the auspices of Kayakways, came through Stonington on their way downeast on a long coastal trip, and we just saw them a few days ago while they were driving home. I saw bits and pieces about their trip on Facebook, and hope someday to hear more about it.

In addition to moving stuff between storage units and studios, we've moved from Old Quarry into a an apartment we'll be sitting until next summer. It overlooks Stonington Harbor and is a short distance from the launch there.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Whitmore Neck

For the second day in a row I had a no-show for a scheduled trip. When you wonder why they haven’t arrived and you look for the paperwork so you can call them, and then realize that there’s no paperwork to be found, it seems a safe bet that you’ve been waiting in vain after planning your day around this non-existent trip. And then, while you’re standing there in the office in your gear, your packed boat waiting down by the shore, your employer does his usual ‘who’s on the clock?’ mantra (I wasn’t, though I should have been). 

This is all business as usual at Old Quarry, except that it occurred while a thunderstorm was passing through and the office was suddenly packed with more idle employees than usual. I didn’t really mind the ghost clients’ tardiness – the trip would have been delayed anyway – but after the storm was gone I was ready to paddle, so I headed out.

Before I launched though, I got a curry started; we were having an employee ‘we survived the season’ potluck that evening. So by the time I was on the water I had about three hours ahead of me to paddle. I spent a minute just floating, wondering where to go. It was an hour after low tide, so the current was coming in, and I began imagining a route: islands I hadn’t been to for awhile which were also, conveniently, MITA islands that I could add to my #mita30in30 Challenge list. I would head around Whitmore Neck.

The first part of the paddle was perhaps a little too familiar. I’d already guided a morning trip out to Little Sheep Island, and this stretch went past like a commute in which you arrive with little recollection of getting there. Maybe it wasn’t the fault of the scenery. I had a lot on my mind, mostly involving our plans for the immediate future. The season at Old Quarry was coming to an end. I was weary of how tenuous our way of life sometimes feels. The storm had passed, but grey clouds still streaked the sky, slipping eastward. It wasn’t a great day to lie in a hammock – a little cool and breezy still, and besides, I just felt like paddling, focusing those frustrations into the physical mantra of the clean and efficient forward stroke I seldom have opportunity to engage while guiding. I passed the bulbous granite humps of Whaleback Ledges and turned into Southeast Harbor, catching the inland current.

There’s two MITA Islands up this way, and I stopped on both of them. Polypod Island, owned by Island Heritage Trust, lies just offshore from a few homes on the peninsula leading out to the Tennis Preserve. Like all IHT preserves, camping isn’t allowed, so it’s strictly a day-use spot. I usually get up to this area when it’s stormy or foggy and I’m looking for a more sheltered trip, but now, with the clouds skidding away eastward, the sun shone through, lighting the island’s oaks and birches, the ground littered with acorns.

Inner Harbor Island lies, of course, in Inner Harbor. This stretch of water, nearly surrounded by sheltering fingers of land, was a busy shipping hub in the 1800s until a devastating fire tore through the South Deer Isle port. Given its shallow depths, the harbor would seem a challenging destination for a fleet of granite and lumber schooners. As I sat on a rock at the height of the island, I tried to imagine what it looked like, busy with canvas sails. I also read MITA’s trail log, mostly signed by day visitors, like this one:

That made me smile. I was thinking of writing that it was my 25th island for the #mita30in30 Challenge until I read the last entry stating it was the author’s 57th. So instead I wrote that I liked how the challenge had brought me to this peaceful place when I might not have otherwise gone there.

There’s a rickety tent platform on the island, leftover from pre-MITA island days. Replacing the platform would be a good volunteer project for someone one of these days. Another logbook entry stated that the island had been known as Lard Island.

I paddled past one of my many fantasy cabins, a dream house with lots of potential. I've observed it every now and then over the years, gradually rotting. 

I’d taken my time to ensure that the incoming tide would fill Hatch Cove, enabling me to get through, and by now the evening sun lit the cove’s numerous smooth granite ledges, and the current bore me gently past them. 

This is another very sheltered stretch of water, and though the banks are mostly privately owned, most of the homes are tucked into the woods, out of sight, and it feels wild and quiet. I drifted for a bit, in no hurry to return to Old Quarry, but, oh yeah, I had that potluck to get to.

Despite whatever mixed feelings I had for this place where I’ve worked off and on for the last eight years, I wanted to spend time with my co-workers and maybe have a laugh or two about the various ups and downs the summer had brought us. We would concur that overwhelmingly, the people we’d taken on our trips really had been great, especially once we got them on the water. So I headed back, once again, toward Webb Cove.

Mita's 30 in 30 Challenge is open until Columbus Day. There's still time to get to document your visits to 30 islands to celebrate the Maine Island Trail's 30th year - and you may win fabulous prizes!