The final stretch-
With clean clothes in our bags and a warm egg omelette breakfast to fuel us we departed Judy’s to the put in at Festival Plaza in Auburn. After an interview with the local Sun Journal we said our bittersweet goodbyes to Judy and Deb who warmly sent us off bearing gifts from the Androscoggin Land Trust, scented ALT pillows and T-shirts from their annual river cleanup.
There was a change in the river below Auburn-Lewiston;a little more foam, a few more pieces of trash, some colored lines near shore. The river was levied at times but with more current, a few rapids and wind at our backs for the long straight sections it was still a refreshing change from the previous days slog.
Downriver we went to our 13th portage at Lisbon Falls. There was no signage from the river and no buoys above the dam. We pulled over and scouted at a small path only to realize we were locked behind a chain linked fence.
We spotted a dock and went back to our boards to check it out. Alas it was locked as well even though the sign indicated this was the correct place for the canoe portage. With no one to call we had no choice but to pass all our gear over the top and jump the fence.
We pushed on downstream to the Pejebscot dam but with 17.25 miles down and it nearing 5:30pm we decided to camp for the night in the secluded nearby forest. After a chilly night we awoke to claps of thunder and lightening at 5am. Hail pounded our tents. Getting out of one’s warm sleeping bag and stepping into the frigid morning air is one of our daily challenges, but with a big day ahead we mustered the strength, forced ourselves into the cold and finished the portage around the dam.
It was a magical misty morning- Matt paddled ahead and disappeared into the fog. I wanted to savor every last paddle stroke, every breath of cool air, every glance at the turning leaves. I could feel the beginning of the end and I didn’t want to let it go. I knew the river below our Brunswick portage would be tidal-still a river but a different one. And this river, our river, The Androscoggin, would soon flow into the Kennebec and then out to sea. Clinging to the last section of this waterway that we had called home for the last two weeks, I reluctantly paddled into our last portage of the trip.
We were met below Brunswick by Matt’s sister, brother-in-law and girlfriend who joined us the remaining 13 miles of the day down to Bath. It was refreshing to have a crew join us for what ended up being one of the most challenging days on the water. With tidal currents and windy conditions we paddled through Merrymeeting Bay-a bay that drains nearly 40%of Maine’s land area as well as the area from New Hampshire up around Errol and Lake Umbagog-the source of the Andoscoggin.
Through the chop and swell we paddled (with much time on our knees) and made it to Bath. With our final night being hosted in a warm home, we were able to drop our gear for the final push to the sea. Our 5am wake up was easier in a warm house but we only had a few hours before the tide would turn and the wind would pick up. Lucky for us our timing was just right. With a strong ebb and a little wind at our backs we made record time down to the ocean.
Where a river meets the sea is always a magical place. I am always amazed thinking about the drops of water that make it to the ocean. They have made it past dams, through pollution, and around towns. They may be a little more worn for wear, but infused with a touch of wisdom, knowing they can survive, rebound, and flourish if given the chance. A little like a mirror for our own personal journey from source to sea.