Vermont man recounts paddling adventure

A 25-year-old Vermont man has penned the first known book about paddling the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

Sam Brakeley of Norwich, Vt., and his friend Andy Rougeot paddled the 740-mile canoe trail that stretches from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine, in 39 days during the summer of 2009. Brakeley later wrote an account of his trip during a creative writing class at Colby College in the spring of 2010. This winter, he self-published the account as a 141-page book. It is called “Paddling the Northern Forest Canoe Trail: a journey through New England history.”

The book is based on the journal Brakeley kept during the trip and is broken down into daily accounts.

“One of the reasons that I wrote the book is that I wanted to share with people just how much fun I had out in the woods and out paddling and being outdoors,” Brakeley told the Enterprise in a phone interview.

The writing not only conveys Brakeley’s love of the outdoors, it tells the stories of the waterways and towns he goes through. Brakeley said he is an avid reader and has an affinity for history, and this comes through in the book.

“There’s just so much history to every piece of that trail, especially the rivers, which were sort of the first waterways and first travel routes through New England,” Brakeley said. “I tried to find out about as much of that history as possible and then put it into the book because to me that is interesting, to be able to canoe down a river and be able to know who else has canoed down that river, what else that river is used for. All that stuff that has happened in the past on these canoe routes, that’s a really neat part of the trail. It’s not an untouched wilderness, it’s a very much touched wilderness, and there’s a lot that’s gone on before, and there’s a lot that’s gone on afterwards.”

In the Adirondack section of the book, Brakeley delves into local history several times, including when he was writing about the section between Seventh Lake and Forked Lake in the southwestern Adirondacks, which he visited on June 6, day two of his trip.

“Perhaps the most interesting character of this area was Alvah Dunning, a well-known hermit-guide, who haunted this neighborhood including Eighth Lake, Brown’s Tract Inlet, and Raquette Lake,” Brakeley writes. “He hunted and trapped on these waters throughout much of the 19th Century, alternately impressing and infuriating visitors. Known for his stubbornness and eccentricity, he refused to abide by many of the laws and hunted, fished, and camped where he pleased.”

The book is not Brakeley’s only project related to the trail. After completing the trip in 2009, Brakeley signed up to be on the 2010 trail crew for the nonprofit Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which performs maintenance projects along the various waterways.

In addition, this past fall he worked as a special projects coordinator for the organization and headed two stewardship projects. One of them was in the village of Saranac Lake, where he led a group of volunteers in building two access points on Lake Flower, including a significant stone staircase on the water near the village offices.

More recently, Brakeley was promoted to the position of NFCT’s regional trail coordinator, meaning he will be a field leader for projects in New Hampshire and Maine. These involvements also played a role in him writing the book.

“When I became more and more involved with the canoe trail, I guess I sort of wanted to write about it and knew that nobody else had written about their through paddle,” he said. “I thought that that would be a pretty neat opportunity to be the first.”

The book is available on