FORT KENT, Maine — For many who answer the call of the wild in search of adventure over unknown terrain it’s all about pretrip planning, organization and training.
Then there’s Brian and Whitny Hart who earlier this week completed the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge, N.Y., to Fort Kent.
The St. George, Utah, couple are fit, hardy and at home in the wilderness, but neither one had any canoeing experience before setting out from Old Forge on May 14.
“I don’t think I had ever even been in a canoe before this,” said Whitny Hart, 24. “In fact, I don’t think we even know anybody who owns a canoe.”
That lack of experience was not about to stop the Harts from taking on the challenge of navigating the major watersheds across the Adirondacks through New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire and Maine.
Along the way the trail, completed in 2006, passes through 22 rivers and streams, 56 lakes and ponds, 45 communities and three national wildlife refuges and includes 55 miles of portages over 62 carries.
“We work as hiking guides in Utah so we thought of doing a major hike this summer,” said Brian Hart, 29. “But the more we thought about it, we wanted something more adventurous and outside of our comfort zone.”
The couple, camped for the week near the Fort Kent Blockhouse at the confluence of the St. John and Fish rivers, said they had heard of the canoe route two years ago, and the notion of a through paddle had stuck in their minds.
“So we flew out to New York and bought a canoe and related gear,” Whitny Hart said. “We gave ourselves two months to complete it.”
Many was the time, Whitny Hart said, that “What was I thinking?” crossed her mind over those 740 miles.
“But it was really fun and a great challenge,” she said, in spite of some tense moments in a set of Class 2 rapids.
“We came pretty close to tipping over, but we never tipped once,” Whitny Hart said. “I think it was the fear of tipping that kept us upright.”
Her husband noted their experience hiking the trails in Utah did not go a long way when it came to the waterways.
“With hiking anyone can get on a trail and walk,” Brian Hart said. “But with water, every corner brings something different and on a lake you can get a big gust of wind that blows up some big waves [and] we really had no technical water skills.”
But together they learned.
“It was a lot of teamwork,” Brian Hart said. “And yeah, maybe some talking through clenched teeth.”
The two completed their trip in The Pequod, the name given to the 17-foot Wenona Canoe they purchased in New York.
“The whole trip had a ‘Moby Dick’ theme,” Whitny Hart said. “I finished reading the book on the trip, so we decided to give the canoe that name.”
Along the way the Harts had some close encounters with moose, deer, ducks, hawks and bald eagles and met many friendly people.
“The people we met along the way must have thought we looked starving,” Whitny Hart said. “They kept giving us food.”
Those acts of kindness, Brian Hart said, will stick with him for a long time.
“When people we met found out what we were doing they all wanted to be part of our journey,” he said. “Some gave us food, some cooked us breakfast, and it was all simple things [and] that’s what I want to take home with me — the idea that it’s really easy to help people just by doing small things.”
The canoe trip is part of what the Harts are calling their “summer of fun” before heading to Salt Lake City and continuing their university studies.
In a few days, after they sell The Pequod in Fort Kent, they will return to Utah and five days later hike the 220-mile John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
“After this canoe trip,” Whitny Hart said, “that’s going to seem easy.”
Also on tap are a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon and a return trip to Maine for Brian Hart for an Outward Bound sailing trip.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do something,” Whitny Hart said. “Look at me, I’d never paddled a canoe before, and now we’ve just finished a 740-mile trip.”
Of course, the two did want to leave some kind of mark for posterity.
“Everyone wants to be ‘the first’ to do something on this route so we thought we could be the first couple from Utah to have done it, but that was not epic enough,” Brian Hart said. “Then one day Whitny thought of it: We are the first people to do it who had no idea in hell what we were doing.”
Information about the Northern Forest Canoe Trail is available at www.northernforestcanoetrail.org.