BREMEN — Laurie Chandler’s journal from her 53-day trip along the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail includes a lot of numbers.

But the 67 portages across 127 miles that she carried her canoe while traversing 21 rivers and streams and 57 lakes and ponds paint a vivid portrait of a wilderness trip few have completed in the 15 years this water trail has existed.

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail organization was incorporated in 2000 to develop a long-distance water route from New York to Maine, following the waterways first used by Native Americans. The group developed the trail with maps and eventually kiosks and some campsites, and paddlers took to it immediately. But in the past 15 years, it’s been explored mostly by section paddlers who have traveled parts of the trail that extend from New York to Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire and Maine.

In the past 14 years, just 71 paddlers have completed the entire trail, according to the trail group. When Chandler’s journal of her 53-day journey is approved by the trail group, she will be one of several thru-paddlers this year who are expected to raise that tally to around 80.

Still, Chandler and those at the trail group think the Northern Forest Canoe Trail may soon catch the interest of more paddlers, especially at a time when long-distance wilderness trips are trendy. Last year, the movie “Wild” about the Pacific Crest Trail was released, and this year another much-anticipated film on the Appalachian Trail starring Robert Redford is due out.

“When you look up after 15 years, we’ve had a lot of support from canoeists and kayakers sharing their stories. We have a bigger online presence (through blogs), and social media has really helped us expand,” said Sandy Tarburton the canoe trail’s communication director in Waitsfield, Vermont.

“And more and more people who live on the trail are aware of the thru-paddlers. They are called trail angels. The NFCT angels are great for lending a ride, or allowing a paddler to camp on their land during what could be a dark moment on the trail in regard to weather. There are so many more people who know what it’s about and are open to it.”

Chandler first paddled the trail in 2011, completing the Maine section for a fundraiser, in which she raised $10,600 for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program.

She decided she would one day do the whole trail.

After doing so, Chandler said there is more awareness of the trail, but it’s still little-known.

“There were lots of people on bikes stopping to ask me if I was doing the trail,” Chandler said. “But then there were other examples: A woman in Rangeley who literally started cheering when I paddled away from her yard. I said I had done 425 miles. She thought I was joking. She was amazed.”

Tarburton said Chandler’s journey, when reviewed and approved, would prove the most difficult level of thru-paddling, in which the paddler is “self-propelled” and completes the journey without the use of a shuttle service.

“If Laurie Chandler’s report is approved she will be the first female solo kayak self-propelled paddler on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s list,” Tarburton said.

Chandler, 53, an education technology special education teacher at the Great Salt Bay Community School, said during her two-month journey she met or heard of only three other people attempting to finish the trail. Yet she described the trip as “the most meaningful life event I’ll be remembered for.” And she hopes others attempt it.

“There is a real interest right now in people completing big goals like this,” Chandler said. “I have committed to writing a book about it. And I hope it’s inspiring. I was right at the limit of my capabilities and physical limits for someone my age.”

A slight woman who stands 5-foot-5, Chandler trained the winter before by snowshoeing around her home in Bremen and paddling on the Pemaquid River as soon as the water opened up in April. But even with 10-mile paddles, she wasn’t certain she’d be strong enough to carry her canoe and gear over the miles of low water that were unnavigable on the trail.

Chandler used a 32-pound Kevlar canoe, which made the portages a bit easier. She also added a yoke to put the boat on her shoulders when it was flipped over, and handles to carry it, but that brought the boat’s weight to 38 pounds.

After more than 500 miles, it wasn’t until the last section in Maine beside the rugged and low water at Little Spencer Stream that Chandler knew she would finish. When she stopped to enjoy a rare cookie treat provided that morning from the lodge where she stayed, Chandler knew this adventure was one for the books.

“It was there I saw the first moose of the trip. I usually see moose in Rangeley, but that was the first moose. And she stayed there looking at me,” Chandler said.

It was like an ambassador of the Maine woods giving her a nod from nature, Chandler said.

“After that I grew more and more confident knowing whatever the next day would look like, I could handle whatever came my way,” Chandler said.

 

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.