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Published: November 24th 2007
Thursday, September 27th, 2007. Churchill Lake, Maine. Darrin left camp in daylight, but under cloudy skies. It started to rain just as he got on the water. He had left camp late the past couple of days because he was about to approach the Churchill Dam Portage. Water levels on the other side of the dam were dictated by dam releases, and 8 a.m. was the first release of the day. As he paddled across Churchill Lake toward the dam, he saw three moose in the distance, plus three otters bobbing next to his boat.
Darrin arrived at Churchill Dam to learn that water releases had ceased for the season in order to hold lake levels constant for lake trout spawning. The Allagash River, which flowed below the dam, was too low to paddle, so the wilderness rangers were offering free vehicle shuttles. A ranger drove Darrin four miles downriver and dropped him off below Chase Rapids. From that point on, Darrin was to paddle the Allagash River, a remote wilderness waterway of northern Maine. The only river he would paddle after the Allagash would be the St. John, which would bring him to the NFCT’s eastern terminus in Fort Kent, Maine.
Access to the Allagash Wilderness is carefully monitored by Rangers with the Maine Ranger Service. Darrin had signed in at the Churchill Dam Ranger Station, and the Rangers would continue to keep tabs on his whereabouts as he traveled through the Allagash. The Ranger Station provided a small interpretive display in an historic supply depot. Across the road was an original 1800’s boarding house for loggers.
Shortly after putting onto the Allagash below Chase Rapids, Darrin turned a corner to find a cow moose and twin calves on the gravel bar before him. He was far enough away to not startle them. Twin calves aren’t rare, but they aren’t common either, so this was a fairly lucky sighting.
Darrin paddled the River until it became the delta of Umsaskis Lake. As his view of the delta widened, Darrin saw another cow moose straight ahead of him. He turned his head to the left, and saw a calf and another cow grazing in the lake. Then behind him, also to the left, about 200 yards away, he heard a loud splash. Two bull moose, one larger than the other, were jousting. Clearly they were competing for the cow moose before them.
Darrin was far enough away to feel safe, so he paused and counted the moose he’s seen so far. Rutting season, plus the rainy weather, had brought moose out into the open to graze more than usual. When he included the moose he’d seen in the distance, he counted eleven. The average person, or even someone who does a fair amount of wilderness tripping, doesn’t typically see more than a handful of moose over the course of a decade, or even a lifetime, so eleven in a day was rather amazing.
Darrin paddled on and left the grazing and jousting moose behind. The rain continued, and he noticed that the foliage at the Lake’s edge looked to be at peak fall color. At a wide spot in the River, he noted its relatively steep downward gradient, the gradient that would ultimately propel him toward the St. John.
The rain continued, and Darrin pulled into camp early for the day. He set up camp in the rain. His tent and gear varied from damp to mostly wet. His sleeping bag, fortunately, stayed dry, and his clothes were only slightly wet. Once he was settled in camp, he figured the moose excitement would die down for the day. He was mistaken.
Just as he was ready to head to bed, two moose appeared in the water beside his campsite - this made 13 moose for the day. He was concerned; in the Maine Woods, moose are relatively acclimated to humans and show no qualms about meandering through campsites. These 1,000-plus pound animals have a reputation for trampling anything in their path, be it vegetation, or camper’s tents. They don’t intend harm; rather, there are few things they perceive as obstacles.
Needless to say, Darrin didn’t want to be trampled. He left his tent, picked up a couple of pots, and started clanging and banging. The moose showed no reaction. Next he got out the camera and triggered the flash over and over. Still no reaction. He alternated between pots and camera flashes for at least an hour or so, but the moose stayed put.
Eventually, Darrin went back to his tent for a break. He got back in and lied down. Moments later, a small creature scurried across his chest. It was a white-footed deer moose. Within seconds, it was scurrying wildly about the tent - up the sides, around the edges, over and over Darrin, across his arms, legs, and head. Darrin wasn’t sure if the mouse had entered through Ballsy’s chew hole, or if he’d accidentally left the fly unzipped as he was trying to scare the moose. Either way, Darrin was happy to help the furry rodent find it’s way out. After a few minutes of wild scuffling, the mouse was shuffled out.
Meanwhile, the moose were still in the water, about 75 yards away, and now Darrin could hear them splashing. He got up again and continued clanging and flashing, still with no luck. By about 1 a.m., he gave up, crawled back into his tent, and resorted to praying himself to sleep.
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