BAR HARBOR, Maine — It didn’t take an accident earlier this year to convince Bar Harbor native Naomi McIsaac to paddle the Maine Island Trail.
But it helped.
“I got hit by a car while I was on my bike, and I broke my wrist,” McIsaac, 29, a seventh- and eighth-grade math and science teacher in Tucson, Ariz., said recently. “I missed a few months of school and I started thinking about things I always wanted to do.”
The Maine Island Trail was right at the top of the list.
“I think the Maine Island Trail is one of the most unique things we have here in Maine,” she said. “To be able to paddle up the entire coast and have a place to stay on your own private island. That’s what it was like. Each campsite was better than the last.”
The Maine Island Trail stretches 375 miles from the New Hampshire border to Machias Bay. It includes more than 180 islands and mainland sites, some publicly owned by towns, the state or federal government, others privately owned and open only to members of the Maine Island Trail Association. Relying on volunteer boaters and island users, MITA monitors the conditions of the trail, maintains the wilderness nature of the sites and also tracks recreational use along the trail.
McIsaac and her paddling partner Jordan Smith, 26, of Brooklin put in on June 30 at the Webhannet River near Wells. The two hadn’t seen each other in several years, but had worked together as kayak guides in the Bar Harbor-Down East area for three years. They knew each other well, were comfortable paddling together and trusted each others’ kayaking judgment.
That first day was an easy paddle, about 5 miles to Trott Island just off Kennebunkport.
“I hadn’t been kayaking much lately,” she said. “Jordan is strong and motivated. He was definitely the taskmaster — or slave driver — on this trip.”
The second day, she said, was their longest paddling day. They had planned to stop at Old Orchard Beach, but the seas were calm and they were making very good time. They were in Old Orchard Beach by 9:30 a.m., so they decided to keep going.
“That was the most challenging day,” she said. “It was our longest paddle and we had every type of weather. It was dead calm and sunny. Then we saw storm clouds coming in and it rained.”
The trek, which took 10 days, was challenging, McIsaac said, but it included special moments along the way, such as the sighting of a pilot whale, the seal pup that circled their kayaks and then tried to climb onto her boat and the great mussel dinner at the campsite on Little Thoroughfare Island off North Haven, looking down from a cliff onto the water.
One of the most memorable days of the trip for McIsaac was near the end. She ended the journey at Bar Harbor in order to meet some friends who were arriving for a visit. Smith, however, continued on Down East, planning to paddle to Machias.
“Our last two days, from North Haven to MDI were in dense fog. When we were crossing from Tinker Island to Seal Cove, I was wishing that I could see the mountains of MDI, but the fog was too thick,” she said. “During the last hour of my paddle the fog lifted and the sun broke though to expose the western mountains. It was a ridiculously awesome moment.”
The weather was good throughout their journey along the coast, although there were a few days when there was enough wind to use the makeshift sail that Smith had devised. McIsaac would latch onto the front end of Smith’s 22-foot tandem kayak and she would navigate while he controlled the sails.
Despite the good weather and the fact that they did not need all their safety equipment, McIsaac stressed the need to be prepared when out on the water.
“The coast of Maine is a dangerous place,” she said. “I love it. I play in it all the time. But you need to be respectful of it.”
In addition to key safety equipment, a must for anyone planning to paddle the Maine Island Trail is to join MITA, she said. The charts they provide to members are “invaluable,” offering locations of campsites and information on the best times in the tide cycle to approach the islands.
The ocean trek was a challenge, but it confirmed McIsaac’s love for the coast of Maine, even though she’s living in a desert thousands of miles away.
“I have lived all over the world and paddled in some amazing places like New Zealand, Ecuador, Italy and the Baja Peninsula,” she said. “After finishing my trip I realized that the coast of Maine truly is the most spectacular place I’ve ever seen. I am incredibly lucky that I grew up here and I hope I never take it for granted.
For information about the Maine Island Trail Association, visit www.mita.org.