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Although we hadn’t intended to return to canoe camp on Little Tupper this year, there we were. Déjà vu all over again.
Brother-in-Law Scott and family – Jeanne and daughters Laura, Shar and Krista – planned to borrow our trailer and some boats for an experimental (hopefully inaugural) family canoe camper, and the lure of joining them was too hard to resist. So Saturday evening found us packing gear and racking seven boats for a multi-family trip to Little Tupper Lake.
The drive up was uneventful, though a bit longer than our usual 8-hour trek from the Mason-Dixon line to the Adirondacks. Towing the trailer accounted for some portion of this additional time, but having raised only male children I failed to appreciate the frequency of bathroom breaks and the importance of a well-maintained rest room to a traveling party composed of four women (and one long-outnumbered man).
This drive up was a modern remake of the Goldilocks story; this time entitled Goldilocks and the Three Toilets. This one was too dirty. This one was too smelly. And of course when four women seeking micturitation facilities walk into a cinderblock tavern where the daily lunch special is a beer and a lap dance the chances of forthcoming bladder relief are dimmer than the lighting.
Nine hours and many rest stops later we arrive at the Little Tupper put in to find Joe Lilydipper and the lovely Mrs. Lilydipper waiting to greet us. As Joe noted elsewhere we had “nine in the party, with gear for 12 and food for 15”. I should clarify; while Diane, the boys and I are famous for toting along creature comforts – two tents, four chairs, an inflatable raft, a parawing and poles, a roll-a-table – Diane is a masterful food planner, counting and calculating slices of bread and calculating quantities of oatmeal, slices of luncheon meat, soups and noodle packs. Rarely do we come out with more than an insurance odds & ends meal remaining, and usually an odd odds & ends meal at that.
The Gilbert/Hollingsworth (H/G) clan however believes in eating well. Heartily. And often. They had everything but a live suckling pig…although they did have a stuffed Miss Piggy doll which I took to be some kind of indicative camp mascot. Fruit was packed in pecks like pickled peppers. Fortunately consuming all that fruit keeps them on the run, and all that running keeps them skinny.
Take for example Tuesday’s breakfast at two different sites. The boys had oatmeal and juice, Diane and I grits and coffee. Meanwhile over at the Bistro H/G the menu consisted of assorted fruit, a dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, an entire loaf of bread with jelly, a cantaloupe, juice, tea and coffee. (H/G – breakfast at your place next time?)
And these people are slender I tell you. It’s a mystery.
As the Lilydipper departed we finished hauling our gear and provender down to the launch and Bruce Coons, the Little Tupper Ranger, strolled over for the usual pre-launch interrogatory. Bruce was carrying a loon egg he had found submerged in the lake and Scott mentioned that he had never heard a loon. As if on cue a loon call resounded from the lake behind him. A good omen, and of course the first of many loons seen and heard throughout the trip, not to mention eagles, osprey and an otter at play in the cove behind our camp at Rocky Point (site #6, a fine site that loses points only for a lack of landing ease and boat storage area).
A word about site selection: Our intention was to find two “Grade B” or better sites within easy paddling range of each other, so that the H/G contingent was within easy visiting distance and visa versa. Our best choices for this arrangement would be sites 3 and 6, 6 and 7, and 10-12. We could hardly have done better than the sites we selected, H/G on “Osprey View” (site #3) and our camp at Rocky Point.
Something new at Little Tupper; site #3 now has a thunderbox, as do island sites 18 and 22. Tyler, in a moment of like-father, like-son deviosity had tried to convince the H/G clan to select the Chimney Point site (#7), since “it has an outhouse”, neglecting to mention that the outhouse is a remnant of the Whitney family days and is filled to a depth of several feet with 30 years worth of porcupine scat. T’any rate the H/G clan had at last found a bathroom to their liking, complete with scenic view and fresh pine scent.
Early to bed (we had arisen before sunrise) and early to rise, Monday dawned fair and calm, the placid lake beckoning an exploratory day paddle. We dawdled in camp a bit, the boys started a morning fire while Diane and I savored a second cup of coffee (one thing we splurge on while camping is coffee; at home the usual drek of Maxwell House or Folgers will suffice, but camping calls for something better than the daily grind).
Watching my sons go through the familiar routine of camplife I came across this line in Calvin Rutstrum’s The Wilderness Life: “Wilderness as a way of life assumed early is obviously the best means to a desired end”. Right on Calvin. I’m reminded of Peter Jay’s sentiment “Spend as much time as possible on mountains, in small boats, or otherwise out in the weather; if you never get wet, cold, exhausted or scared, you won’t properly appreciate being dry, warm, rested and safe”. Right on Jay.
Post dawdle and java we canoed over to Osprey View to join the H/G’s in a day paddle up the lake, stopping on the sandy beach at Picnic Point to swim, practice T-rescue capsize recoveries and swap boats so that everyone had an opportunity to paddle solo. Continuing on from Picnic Point we stopped at sites 10, 11 and 12 (Bocce Greens, Little Haven and Big Haven), three more of the best sites on the lake, amazingly all empty, before turning about.
Back at camp the lengthy swim-fest and raft abuse sessions resumed (the trip record was five people straddling the tubes of a 2-person raft) while Jeanne, Laura and Krista returned to Osprey View (perhaps to use the pine-scented commode). We soon espied them swimming from a rocky point on their island opposite our site. Saw them and then heard them, as riotous laughter erupted from their site. A joyous noise, we thought, not knowing this to be their hysterical response to Krista finding a leech attached to her toe.
Although I had described the longitudinal flick technique for leech removal the H/G clan decided to amuse themselves first by tormenting the poor creature, first poking it, then prodding it, then covering it with soap and shaving it with a safety razor. No doubt refreshed and reinvigorated from this spa treatment the leech at last relinquished its grip, just before the girls moved on to the little known leech removal technique of applying rejuvenating cucumber slices to the proboscis.
For the record Krista and Tyler ended up tied for the leech record with two apiece. Next trip is the tie breaker.
As dusk approached we joined together for a group dinner and evening of games. Laura and Cooper staged a miraculous come from behind victory in all-terrain bocce and the H/G ladies team proved to be an utter failure at charades, not to mention Christian upbringing, as they were stumped by a three word book title after narrowing it down to “The ____ Testament”, shouting out guesses of “The First Testament”, “The Final Testament”, The Last Testament”, “The Second Testament” and “The Best Testament”. Little wonder Scott couldn’t get elected to the school board, raising that pack of heathen children.
Our paddle back to Rocky Point was made in full dark, under overcast skies, the first time my entire family has been out for a night paddle. All in solo boats, and solo canoes at that. On our various trips back and forth between campsites we found that our hull speeds were closely matched and that we could easily paddle four abreast, the charge of the open boat brigade. The H/G clan remarked that watching us approach was reminiscent of the paddling scene in the Lord of the Rings film. Perhaps it was my furry Hobbit toes, but it kinda felt that way to me too.
Thursday came, as the previous day’s skywatching anticipated, rainy and drizzly, meaning breakfast was an even more leisurely affair, sipping coffee, more coffee, reading and writing under the parawing before paddling over to the H/G site to stir interest in a damp day paddle.
Scott and Jeanne elected to paddle up the outlet stream from Otter Pond, while Diane and the kids went for a swim, leeches and rain be damned. One of many favorable things about camping with the H/G’s - their spirits are not diminished by rain, or leeches, or wet tents or raingear that consists of thin plastic ponchos from the Maid of the Mist tour boat. Or, more accurately, from the trash receptacles at the Maid of the Mist dock.
What they lack in high tech gear they make up for in heart and spirit, and I’ll take that over good gear and a bad attitude any day. They’re game.
Our day paddle up Otter Stream was another learning experience, as Scott and I allowed Jeanne to take the lead and so attract the larger quantity of deer flies, as she alternately paddled a few strokes and then paused to flail both hands about her head. Unfortunately, once this lesson has been learned it is time to find another unsuspecting victim, er, lead boater for fly-infested small stream work. Not to indulge in any sadistic tendencies you understand, but just in the interest of imparting lessons in wilderness travel technique. Jeanne – would you take the lead again through deer fly hell? See, a valuable and memorable lesson learned. Thank me later.
Our route out of Otter Stream took us to investigate site #5 (Mal Lodgement), possibly the most poorly situated site on the lake, although it does offer a nice raspberry crop, or did before the Fruitarian H/G progenitors descended. Site 5 does offer easy road access to the Red Trail (fire road) for folks who want to stretch some non-paddling muscles.
Departing Mal Lodgement we found a canoe beached on the no-access osprey nesting island. Not just any canoe, but Cooper’s Tupelo (my bad for having removed the painters when tying it to the trailer). Cooper, next shop day we’ll outfit your Tupelo with proper bow and stern painters and bungies.
We returned to our campsite just as the rain relented for the evening, permitting us to enjoy supper around an evening fire at Rocky Point. And the rain continued to cooperatively postpone on paddle-out day the following morning, allowing us to pack up and canoe out on a calm, rain-free lake. Just as we finished packing and launching our loaded boats from Rocky Point we espied the H/G crew doing the same from Osprey View. Good folks, good companions, good timing.
Much like the fortuitous weather we enjoyed during the brother-in-laws trip to Assateague, where the wind was always at our backs, I fear the four days of calm water may have imparted a misconception to the H/G clan about the not-always benign nature of Little Tupper. I don’t believe we have ever camped Little Tupper without at least one day of whitecaps. If Scott is the common denominator in fair-wind paddling I think our next trip should include a traverse of Chesuncook at the end of a W. Branch Penobscot trip. Lets talk about it.
Back at the launch we were packed and racked in short order; with nine folks carrying gear and a portage cart handy the load out was quick and easy. And of course the load had been reduced by several grocery cart’s worth of H/G consumables.
Our return trips from Little Tupper feature the now-traditional meeting with Mad Mike at Gilligans Island for ice cream and canoe kibitz. We gave Mike a call and he was waiting for us at Gilligans to talk boats and paddling and trailers and, generous fellow, bestow upon me a few choice pieces of northern ash and African mahogany. And so we began and ended our Little Tupper trip meeting with paddler friends from afar. Mike – next time we’ll have to stop at the shop. And/or, someday at least, meet on the water.
The ride south again took nine hours, this time featuring a hundred miles of torrential downpour, numerous restroom inspections (some as little as 10 miles apart), and a stop near home to pick up five pizzas, figuring that the H/G’s must be running on empty by now. I can only imagine the length of that trip if there were fruit stands along the route. I’m hoping that another companionable family has been turned on to canoe camping; the H/G clan are naturals. And I’m looking forward to reading their trip report.
Pull-Up Strap Handle Kit
YakCatcher Rod Holder