Leading a canoe trip

Pulling off a multiday canoe trip while keeping everyone happy, safe and comfortable is what you hire a guide for, but it is not that hard to do for an experienced canoeist. I became a registered Maine Guide last spring and guided a nonpaying trip on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) last fall with an experienced guide (Mark Deroche) as my mentor and adviser on the trip. We had an absolutely awesome time and I learned a few things along the way.

The trip itinerary is a very important part of the planning process. We spent five days on the waterway, which included travel to and from the river. This is something people often overlook when planning their own trip. Travel time to and from the waterway is significant, so you should plan accordingly.

Another important aspect is the purpose of your adventure. If one of the primary purposes is to fish, you might not want to travel as far and pick campsites near likely good fishing spots. A lot of groups today are traveling at a more leisurely pace and not trying to canoe the entire Allagash in six days. Layover days are a great thing to build into your trip itinerary.

I knew the area well, so I didn’t need to spend much time poring over maps and checking things out on the internet. But if you are heading to unfamiliar territory, you should definitely spend a significant amount of time researching the area.

One of the most important things I learned was how to pack food for our trip. We had dry boxes for our excursion, but we still repacked everything that needed to stay dry in re-sealable plastic bags. We cut out the recipe on the box and put it in with the dry goods.

I also learned how to shop for the trip — because my wife does almost all the shopping at home. This was a real eye opener for me. I purchased easy-to-use items, like jelly in squeeze bottles and single-serving hot drinks. Also, all the meats were sealed in plastic bags and frozen ahead of time, except for the first evening meal. This helped keep the cooler cold over the entire five days and kept it from becoming contaminated.

Dry gear is of the utmost importance on a canoe trip; who wants to spend the night in a wet sleeping bag? Everyone in our group repacked their clothes and sleeping bag in dry bags. My advice is to buy the best and largest dry bags you can afford. The only downside to the dry bags is that it is hard to find the stuff in the bottom of the bag, so make note of the location of items that you will use on a regular basis.

A large tarp, preferably green or brown, is very important. The campsites on the AWW are all set up with poles over the picnic tables for putting up a tarp. This keeps everything in your cooking and kitchen area dry. Even if it doesn’t rain, dew falls in the evening.

The first morning of our trip, I woke up early, sore and stiff from sleeping on a thin Therm-a-Rest pad on the ground. The next night I borrowed another pad and placed that on top of my Therm-a Rest; what a difference that made. I had a great night’s sleep and woke up without any aches and pains — at least, no more than usual.  

Keep lists of your menu and the equipment, so you can refine those lists as you take more outdoor adventures. “The Allagash Guide” by Gil Gilpatrick is invaluable for sample menus and recommended equipment.

If you don’t have the time or experience to plan and lead a trip into the wilds of the Allagash, you should consider engaging the services of a Registered Maine Guide.

Matthew LaRoche is superintendent of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The waterway is managed by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Bureau of Parks and Lands.  For information go to: www.maine.gov/allagash or call (207) 941-4014 for an information packet.

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