I was up at 6:30 am, for breakfast, somewhat later than had become my norm, and dressed immediately in paddling clothes, despite their rather dodgy aroma. Breakfast was cereals, toast and tea, a change from my breakfast bars, which were not as good this time as last, and so had lost some of their appeal. Just before 8:00 am I was demonstrating my portage technique to Tom and Laurie to return to the river, and was soon heading downstream. Once more the sky was heavily clouded; the pattern of weather seemed to have settled.
Demonstrating portage technique (Photo: T Meredith)
Departing Milan (Photo: T Meredith)
The early paddling benefitted from very little current, but I still reached the Milan Mill in about an hour and the 12th Street bridge in Berlin an hour after that. The river had been dotted with boom piers, anchor points from the log driving era which allowed separation of groups of logs. And the Nansen ski jump had adorned the horizon for a while. A group of three male mergansers had fluttered across the water surface about 200 - 300 yards ahead of me for much of this distance, even though I could not have been perceived as a threat at that range. Where they disappeared to eventually I never knew. Just below the bridge I found the take-out near the ball park, the start of a 3.3-mile carry around 5 dams in Berlin.
Boom pier from log drive days
Boom piers & the Nansen ski jump
My pack was light and the carrying was easy on roads. As I took a break, a truck driver pulled up. He had doubled back to offer me a ride. I was grateful for the offer, but was about to leave the streets for a rail trail, so declined. Around a few bends I found the old railway station building, and leading south from this was the old railway bed, now a multi-use trail. The surface made for easy walking. At one point I passed a bunch of discarded small backpacks, which was suspicious, so I made a mental note to call the Berlin City Police to report these. Nearing the end of the carry, maybe after an hour or so, I tried to close the distance between myself and the water, but merely succeeded in reaching where I had been originally aiming for under the power lines but by a rougher route. Now I was at the top of a 30-foot bank or higher, leading down to a flat plain before the final small drop to the river. Carrying down such a steep slope while top heavy seemed like a recipe for a twisted ankle, and my left ankle, heavily sprained in early April, was still giving me some problems. So I improvised. The vegetation was soft, so I slid he canoe down ahead of me, controlling it by the stern deck thwart. The level portion was easy going and the put-in rather rocky, awkward but manageable.
Last part of the carry around the dams in Berlin
Put-in below the last dam in Berlin
Ahead of me lay three more short portages, two around dams in Gorham and one around the dam in Shelburne. The Androscoggin has a long history of wood processing, the logs arriving by water and the mills being driven by water. Nowadays the dams are largely sources of hydro-electric power. I nosed downstream. Now the rapids started, upper class I and lower class II, in which route-finding was necessary but with plenty depth if I chose the right channels. What was needed was sustained focus, one of my strengths. With a few intervening flat spots, these rapids continued all the way to the first dam in Gorham.
Approaching Gorham (Photo R&H Danforth)
Approaching Gorham in the rain (Video R&H Danforth)
Ray and Hildy were there to welcome me and to take a few pictures, but no tea this time. Hildy had to leave for a musical gathering, but Ray continued to meet me at the remaining carries. This first dam was by-passed on the road, leading to a rocky put-in at an old ford. Here I fashioned a way into the deepest water, and then sped under the old rail bridge where Ray was wielding the camera. I was now confident of the depth of water, so not trying to control my speed in the rapids. Consequently I was making swift progress.
Putting in below the upper dam in Gorham (Photo R Danforth)
Below the old railway bridge in Gorham (Photo R Danforth)
The next carry was well signed around the lower Gorham dam. The put-in, however, could do with some work. On a narrow peninsula between the Androscoggin and Peabody Rivers, a steep drop to my left led to rocks in the water which defied my attempts to stand on them, depositing me unceremoniously in the water to at least knee depth. The immediate rapids here had some haystack waves that would probably classify as class III, although their extent was very limited. This was enough, however, to persuade me to don my lifejacket.
Androscoggin valley in Gorham
Take-out at lower dam in Gorham – raining again (Photo R Danforth)
The rapids subsided as the river spread out into the Reflection Pond, a large flooded plain which serves well for flood control. Towards the far end, just above the Shelburne dam I found Ray again, and he guided me on a route through the woods, not yet a portage path, but he has ambitions to make it so. The put-in, just across the road, was straightforward, leaving me just 3.2 miles to reach the Meadow Road bridge. This was splendid paddling, fast current and gentle rapids threading between islands, and the remaining distance took me only about half an hour without paddling hard at all.
Put-in below Shelburne Dam (Photo R Danforth)
Launching below Shelburne Dam (Photo R Danforth)
Approaching Meadow Rd bridge, Shelburne (Photo R Danforth)
Concluding strokes (Video R Danforth)
It was 2:45 pm as, with a flippent suggestion to Ray that I now start lap 2, I pulled into the eddy under the Meadow Road bridge in Shelburne, exactly where I had started this journey 18 days previously. The circuit was complete, the adventure over, the concept of the loop proven. The survivor photo this time, taken by Ray, included only me and my trusty canoe. The Little Canoe that Could … and Did, with me at the helm, had survived another adventure that had taken us to waters new, as well as some more crazy rock-climbing exploits. Once again the canoe had not disappointed, had lived up to expectation. We have tales to tell, and live to journey in the future, destinations unknown, but ideas are taking shape.