St. John Valley

Canoer attempting to be first to paddle from Fort Kent to Old Forge, N.Y.

Vermont resident Peter Macfarlane is attempting his second Northern Forest Canoe Trail thru-paddle this spring. Except this time, he’s doing it from east to west.

Peter first paddled the entire trail in 28 days in 2013, using a cedar strip canoe that he designed through his business, Otter Creek Smallcraft.

If he completes the journey from Fort Kent, Maine, to Old Forge, New York, he will become the first known NFCT thru-paddler to do it that direction.

People have traditionally thru-paddled the trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent because the trail has more downstream rivers in that direction. Paddling from Fort Kent requires going up the St John, Allagash, West Branch of the Penobscot, Moose, South Branch Dead, Connecticut, Nulhegan, Saranac, and Raquette rivers.

Peter left in mid-May and hopes to finish in mid-June. Below is a short question-and-answer session with Peter. We’ll have more details about his trip when it is complete.

Why are you thru-paddling from east to west?

Peter: 1. I love travelling by canoe, especially along a linear or circular path (much more than pottering about or a “there-and-back” trip). My previous experience of the Trail told me that I wanted to see it again, but trying just to repeat the same experience is often a disappointment, so there had to be something different about it this time.

  1. I relish a challenge, whether physical or mental or, in this case, both. I find it interesting to see where I can push my limits. Clearly, for a chance of success, it’s necessary to be confident in one’s abilities in order to rise to the challenge, and I believe I have the skill-set required for this trip.
  2. This is the reason I’m least proud of, but still not ashamed to admit: ego. I don’t have a big ego, but being the first to achieve this thru-paddle, and therefore carving a little niche in Trail lore, successfully massages what little ego I have.

Why solo?

Peter: I love to set my own agenda, which involves setting a pace that many would find somewhere between impossible and exhausting. I’m quite happy cruising at speed, still enjoying the surroundings, and doing so for many hours each day with few breaks.

Why now?

Peter: I’m 55 and getting no younger, so something as physically demanding as this should not wait too long. Besides, if I want to be the first, it makes sense not to wait. Someone’s going to do this sooner or later, and there are many paddlers out there who are capable.

To learn more about Peter’s trips, visit his website, Otter Creek Smallcraft.

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