16-day canoe trip retraces Thoreau’s 1857 trek, celebrates 150th anniversary of ‘The Maine Woods’

Posted June 01, 2014, at 6:08 a.m.

Sixteen people in eight canoes made their way down the Penobscot River a few miles south of Medway on Thursday, with some paddlers looking weary, trying to find a comfortable position in their boats. It was the 13th day of a 16-day commemorative trek, retracing the 1857 trip taken by Henry David Thoreau with his guide Joe Polis. The final four miles of the journey, from Costigan to Indian Island, will be completed Sunday.

Mike Wilson, the senior program director at the Northern Forest Center, said the idea first came up during the summer of 2013 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the publishing of Thoreau’s book “The Maine Woods.” He thought it would be an excellent opportunity to promote the remarkably unchanged sites and travel conditions, more than 150 years after Thoreau traveled in the Maine woods.

Kevin Slater, a Maine Master Guide with Mahoosuc Guide Service, took on the role of group leader and was helped by several other guides to spread out the workload. They battled heavy rain, wind and 4-foot-high waves on Moosehead Lake and later negotiated white water on the rivers and streams. Most people agreed that the hardest part of the trip was the portages, where the boats and gear must be carried between bodies of water. The longest of these was Mud Pond Carry, a more than 2-mile portage that tested the strength and endurance of the team.

About 45 people participated in sections of the expedition, and eight core members completed the entire journey. They followed the original stagecoach route by car to Greenville and paddled roughly 300 miles on several waterways that took them north of Mount Katahdin and then back to Indian Island. They traveled more than 20 miles on some days. Among the paddlers were scholars and members of the Penobscot Nation, who provided historical and cultural information about Thoreau’s original journey, as well as the lands and waterways they passed.

The extensive logistical support required to shuttle people and supplies to different points was provided by the New England Outdoor Center and the Appalachian Mountain Club.

For more information about the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour, visit www.mainewoodsdiscovery.com.