The pirates of the Androscoggin




Mike bought an inflatable Kayak. An inflatable kayak. Let that sink in for a moment, if you will.

I mocked him mercilessly for being impetuous with random purchases, but to be honest I was amazed that he had found something that awesome and then had the foresight to actually acquire it.

When I first saw it on Friday, I was impressed first at how small it packed down, for a full Kayak, and secondly about how heavy the damn thing way… this isn’t some small air-mattress material, this Kayak was made out of some pretty stern stuff. Thirdly, I was impressed with how much stuff came with this Kayak… oars, a sail, inflatable seats, a pump, and a whole bag of extra goodies that you may or may not need someday, such as spare valves and rope and a patch kit. Anyways, we packed it all up into Mike’s tiny little Eclipse and headed up North to the Loj.

For the launch point of the Kayak’s maiden voyage (it was still unnamed at the time), we picked a small pull-off by a reservoir that was separated from the main Androscoggan river by a small set of train tracks. We figured that it’d be easier to launch and get used to the kayak itself in the calmer waters of the reservoir, instead of trying to navagate a river right off the bat. So we pulled out the pump and unrolled the kayak, filled up the seats and snapped the oars together. In all, I think it took us about half an hour to actually get the kayak from a “fully packed” state to a “totally sea-worthy” state… not bad, when you think about it.

And so we launched out into the clear water. At first our biggest challenge was learning how to paddle together, instead of simply smacking each others oars out of the air every time we tried to dig deep into the water. Once we had that figured out though, we went about getting used to the other unique things about an inflatable kayak – moving out seats around, re-adjusting the placement of our gear, and making sure that the camera we brought along wasn’t constantly towing behind us in the water (yes, it was waterproof).

Once we were finally settled in and used to the kayak, it was time to break out of the protected reservoir and start exploring the mighty river before us. Portaging the Kayak over the train tracks was actually quite easy, since it’s just filled with air, and so we were tearing down the main river in no time, Eastbound for the ocean. Except… we didn’t want to go to the ocean, and there was a huge dam set up across the river in front of us. Hmm. So after trying out the sail quickly (there wasn’t really enough wind to make it work), we stowed the mast away again, broke the paddles back out, and continued on our exploration of the river Westbound from where we had launched.

We paddled for a bit before noticing a pretty nice little portion of the bank that could work as a perfect boat launch, and decided to get out and stretch our legs a bit. We pulled the kayak up onto the bank, made sure it was far enough up and wouldn’t float away, and then hit the dusty trail. We didn’t hike too far, but it was a nice little excuse to work our legs instead of our arms, and there was some rather pretty scenery that we got to check out on the way around. But this is a kayaking adventure after all, and so before long we were back at the Kayak.

We ate a quick lunch of packed sandwich wraps, drank down some water, and relaxed in the sun for a little bit before pushing off the bank and back into the river. The exploration was getting a bit dull, until we noticed a little inlet off the starboard bow… either a stream or a little river feeding into the main river that we were on. Unfortunately, the first few stream-heads that we checked out didn’t go very far before either pettering out or becoming too choked up with branches and vines. But on our third attempt, we finally found one that appeared deep and wide enough to actually go a good ways in. And so, like all the great adventurers before us, we aimed the bow towards the stream and ventured inland.

We paddled and poled, using our oars to push ourselves along and to push submerged logs out of our way. We moved at a snails pace, but we did move… slowly but surely farther and farther into the bog that we found ourselves exploring. The stream kept alternating between open brackish waters and tightly claustrophobic sections enclosed by vines and fallen trees… but we pressed on until we finally came to the end, where the bog was fed by a few small mountain streams running in over the rocks. Here we moored the Kayak off a fallen tree, and disembarked to venture a bit farther on foot.

Our adventure inland didn’t go too far, but we did make it in far enough to find a few rather interesting cliffs, an inland marsh, and a whole ton of spent shotgun shells and a slew of destroyed pigeons (not the bird ones, but the clay things that you shoot with a shotgun). The area was connected to a small dirt road that some of the locals obviously use to come out, get drunk, and shoot stuff… and by the sounds of people yelling nearby, we had a feeling that Saturdays like today were their favorite time to come up and fill some random area’s with bird-shot. So, after maybe half an hour on land, we headed back to the kayak yet again, pushing off just as we saw a truckload of teenagers with shotguns rolling past above us.

By this time, the kayak had been officially named: “Bogmaster 3000”. Getting out of the bog proved to be much easier than getting in, probably because we had already poled away all of the main sunken logs, and smashed away the low-hanging dead branches that had blocked our path earlier. Before long we were back on the open waters, pushing westbound again.

We wanted to get as far west as we could before turning around, since the wind was heading east and we hoped to set the sail and let it take us back to where we had left the car. We still did a bit of exploring though, and had a few interesting run-ins along the way. First off, came my personal favorite quote of the weekend:

<upon seeing an inner-tube from a car tire washed up ashore>

“Avast Capt’n! If’n we commandeer that vessel, ye can be a Commodore instead of a Captain!”

Second off, we ran aground. Thankfully not completely, but we did run into shallow enough water that the current was too strong to keep us going, and the water wasn’t deep enough to really dig our paddles in… so we had to bail overboard and haul the kayak along. Yep.

After we finally brought ourselves out of the shallows we decided we’d come far enough, and so set the sail up and got ourselves ready to shred down the river. We were as ready as we thought we were, but when the first gust hit us, we didn’t know what to do. Mostly because that gust didn’t do anything. The sail billowed a bit, pulled on the ropes, and…. we barely moved. Actually, the Bogmaster spent more time spinning like a leaf down the river than tearing down like a sailboat. We never gave up on the sail completely, but to be honest we did spend move time steering the kayak back to straight than we spent having the wind pull us down the river… I think the current really did that.

But it was fun, and it was relaxing, and before too long we found ourselves back by our original launch point. We had hoped that coming back into the reservoir, without the current from the river, would let the wind carry us a bit better, but no such luck was to be had, and we ended up paddling our way back to our impromptu dock. We found some tree roots that formed perfect stairs, and so before long we had the Bogmaster 3000 all the way on the grass, ready for deflation and re-packing. A fun end to a rather stellar adventure-filled day.

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