Through paddlers hit the Northern Forest Canoe Trail

The spring paddling season is in full swing, and people have been taking advantage of the opportunity to get out on the water.

Among those are at least eight people in six boats who are attempting to paddle the entire 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The canoe route starts in Old Forge and ends in Fort Kent, Maine, passing through Saranac Lake after about the 90-mile mark. Each of these paddlers will have interesting stories to tell once they return, but here’s what I’ve learned about them so far.

The first of those to leave this season were Emma Carson of Maine and Emily Rooney of Vermont, who departed Old Forge in late April. Their goal is to complete the trail in 40 days, which is about average.

According to a news release by the Northern Forest Canoe Trail organization, the women are taking time during their journey to communicate with elementary students at the Town of Webb Union Free School District in Old Forge and a second-grade class at the W.G. Mallett School in Farmington, Maine, taught by Carlson’s mother. They hope to educate the students about the people they meet and places they visit along the way. Travellng by canoe, the paddlers are determined to keep the trip technology free by avoiding the use of cell phones and computers, choosing instead to communicate with postcards in the mail.

Carlson’s and Rooney’s connection to the Adirondacks runs deep as they first met in 2007 while on an Adirondack Semester with St. Lawrence University.

The next pair of through paddlers to come through here were Lauren Plummer and Taylor Steeves of Maine, who passed through Saranac Lake several weeks ago. I actually ran into them while they were on the Saranac River near Bloomingdale. I talked to them briefly as they wheeled their boat around Permanent Rapids.

The pair were enjoying their journey at that point but did run into some difficulties later on in their trip. They had about $2,000 worth of gear (everything in their dry bags) stolen during another carry on the Nulhegan River in northern Vermont. After a brief delay, they replaced their gear and got back on the water.

A television news report last weekend also stated that Plummer had to be hospitalized after falling sick in the Rangeley, Maine, area. She likely became run down fighting through the cold and wet weather that the Northeast has experienced recently. I haven’t heard if they got back on the trail, but I’m assuming they did. They appeared to be resilient, a key trait for anyone attempting the difficult journey.

The four other paddlers I know of who are attempting the trail are Peter MacFarlane of Vermont, Sven Heaps of Britain, Tom Hall of Canada and a guy named Tim. I’m not sure of Tim’s last name. I just heard he signed into the trail register in Old Forge as a through paddler.

I met MacFarlane as he passed through Saranac Lake and interviewed him prior to his journey. He’s an interesting guy who plans to finish the journey in 30 days or less in a one of his handcrafted cedar-strip canoes. He off to a good start despite the swollen rivers and cold and wet weather. As of Wednesday, he’d already made his way to Newport, Vt. A blog tracking his status can be found via a link on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s website.

Of the other three paddlers, the only one that I’ve heard much about is Heaps. I tried to reach him as he came through Saranac Lake but our schedules didn’t match up.

According to the NFCT, he’s 40-year-old veteran of the British Army who is scheduled to retire in August. He plans to complete the trip in seven weeks.

Apparently, he’s done a lot of solo paddling and began researching long distance trips in Canada during his deployment in Afghanistan last year. He subsequently found the NFCT website and decided to the 740-mile trip was just was he was looking for.