Aroostook River Dash – Maine Canoe Expedition

The Aroostook River is running high and fast.  We have a fair chance of paddling the 35 miles back to base today. If we succeed, today will be the last day on the Aroostook before we head off on the next leg of our canoe expedition in the Maine North Woods.

We’re camped at Munsungan Branch campsite at the confluence of Munsungan Stream and Millinocket Stream. Here they join together as the Aroostook river. The river then winds east and northeast through Aroostook County before it joins the Saint John River in Aroostook, New Brunswick, 2 miles after crossing the Canadian border.

Today marks a milestone in the group. We are actually set to leave at the time we agreed. Every morning so far we’ve been held up by individual’s issues with their timekeeping and organisation. Today is different. It almost seems like a miracle!

Canoe Poling On Munsungan Stream Maine

A simple life on the river

By this point in the trip I’m in a solid routine of early mornings and early bed times:


  • Rise soon after 5am.
  • Change into damp day clothes.
  • Sort some personal hygiene.
  • Pack everything except sleeping bag and tent which are given some time to air.
  • Coffee.
  • Breakfast.
  • Pack tent and sleeping bag.
  • Last tidy up.
  • Load up.
  • Ship out.


  • Canoes and gear stowed.
  • Tent up.
  • Personal gear sorted.
  • Dinner.
  • Postprandial coffee and chit chat.
  • Retire to tent.
  • More personal hygiene.
  • Tidy kit away.
  • Journal writing.
  • Sleep.

Add in some paddling, eating, coffee drinking and chatting and you have a whole day taken care of in short order. This routine seems so simple compared to the needless complexity we add into everyday life. The early start makes a 9pm bedtime easy. Something that would be unheard of in my usual home routine. Out here it just flows with the daylight and my activity. I guess this is how life should be.

Back to the canoe

But I digress. We are in the water and loaded soon after 7am. It’s somewhere around 35 miles back to base near Masardis from here. With the river flowing this fast it should be possible in a day with stops kept short and to a minimum. This is the kind of day that demands discipline. It’s all to easy to take your foot off the gas. To get some serious river miles under our belt there’s no time for anything other than what’s absolutely necessary.

Today is the first time I haven’t soloed the canoe since day one. I’m in the driving seat though. Just as well. I’ve always been a nervous passenger.

For the first six miles or so the Aroostok runs fast, narrow and winding. I’m kept alert in the stern seat by fallen trees and debris that are washed into the outside of bends. The river runs fastest on the outside of bends so the debris ends up there. The safest place to be is on the inside of a bend where the water is slower. Getting caught up in a big fallen tree is dangerous at any time. In water this fast the tree might bee the last thing you ever see.

After an hour or two of twists and turns, the Aroostook widens. It’s still flowing at quite a pace but it seems slower because of the width. A glance at the bank steadily rolling past confirms we’re still making quick progress. We make a brief lunch stop in the drizzle that’s come and gone throughout the morning. No boil up. No sitting. Just the essentials. Being English, summer sausage was new on me but by this stage I can’t get enough of the stuff  (for non-North American readers, this is summer sausage). I recommend it spread with peanut butter. PB & J is still a step too far for my refined English palate 😉

Paddle strokes and pins and needles

Whisky Jack holding Maine's biggest dandelion at Masardis Trading PostFrom this point on, the day is a blur of paddle strokes and pins and needles from hours in the canoe seat – there are only so many ways you can change position. Nine hours after we left Munsungan Branch we stagger stiffly up the slipway in Masardis for a food and coffee stop at the Masardis Trading Post. After more than a week on the river its like a nirvana built from Whoopie pies, beer and fancy goods. Suitably refreshed and recaffeinated we return to the canoes. The rain has gone and it’s a pleasant evening for the final four mile paddle back to Jack Mountain’s base camp.

After unloading and stowing canoes and gear it’s back into the usual routine: Tent up, sort kit, journal and bed. Oh, and perhaps sample some of the Aroostook ankle breaker apple wine we left brewing while we were gone.

It’s been a long, long day but one that confirms just how far you can come when the current’s flowing your way.


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