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.
Kevin Slater (center), a Master Maine Guide, directs paddlers around a gravel bar in the rips below the Mattaseunk Dam on Penobscot River Thursday.  Slater was the lead guide of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour that started on Moosehead Lake in Greenville and is following the route Henry David Thoreau took with his guide Joe Polis in 1857.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Kevin Slater (center), a Master Maine Guide, directs paddlers around a gravel bar in the rips below the Mattaseunk Dam on Penobscot River Thursday. Slater was the lead guide of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour that started on Moosehead Lake in Greenville and is following the route Henry David Thoreau took with his guide Joe Polis in 1857. Buy Photo
Paddlers make their way south on the Penobscot River Thursday, the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Paddlers make their way south on the Penobscot River Thursday, the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour. Buy Photo
Mike Wilson carries a wannigan containing supplies while portaging around the Mattaseunk Dam on Penobscot River Thursday on the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Mike Wilson carries a wannigan containing supplies while portaging around the Mattaseunk Dam on Penobscot River Thursday on the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour. Buy Photo
Maine Guides Matthew Polstein (left) and Glen Horne prepare dinner for members of the expedition on Brown Island Friday.
Maine Guides Matthew Polstein (left) and Glen Horne prepare dinner for members of the expedition on Brown Island Friday. Buy Photo
Paddlers search for suitable landing spot on Brown Island in the Penobscot River Thursday on the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Paddlers search for suitable landing spot on Brown Island in the Penobscot River Thursday on the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour. Buy Photo
Yeshe Parks carries a canoe while portaging around the Mattaseunk Dam on Penobscot River Thursday on the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Yeshe Parks carries a canoe while portaging around the Mattaseunk Dam on Penobscot River Thursday on the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour. Buy Photo
Kevin Slater holds his coffee cup early in the morning on Brown Island.  Slater, a Master Maine Guide, was the lead guide of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Kevin Slater holds his coffee cup early in the morning on Brown Island. Slater, a Master Maine Guide, was the lead guide of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour. Buy Photo
Maine Guides Kevin Slater (left) and Glen Horne (right) prepare breakfast for members of the expedition on Brown Island Friday.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Maine Guides Kevin Slater (left) and Glen Horne (right) prepare breakfast for members of the expedition on Brown Island Friday. Buy Photo
Kevin Slater (left) and Yeshe Parks paddle on Penobscot River Thursday.  Slater was the lead guide of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour that started on Moosehead Lake in Greenville and is following the route Henry David Thoreau took with his guide Joe Polis in 1857.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Kevin Slater (left) and Yeshe Parks paddle on Penobscot River Thursday. Slater was the lead guide of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour that started on Moosehead Lake in Greenville and is following the route Henry David Thoreau took with his guide Joe Polis in 1857. Buy Photo
The paddlers of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour camped on Brown Island in the Penobscot river Thursday, on the 13th day of the expedition.
Gabor Degre | BDN
The paddlers of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour camped on Brown Island in the Penobscot river Thursday, on the 13th day of the expedition. Buy Photo
Mike Wilson, senior program director with the Northern Forest Center came up with the idea of the the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour. He spearheaded the expedition that retraced the steps of Henry David Thoreau and his guide Joe Polis in 1857.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Mike Wilson, senior program director with the Northern Forest Center came up with the idea of the the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour. He spearheaded the expedition that retraced the steps of Henry David Thoreau and his guide Joe Polis in 1857. Buy Photo
Jason Pardilla gathers firewood on Brown Island in the Penobscot river Thursday, on the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour.  Pardilla a member of the Penobscot Nation, was one of the eight people who paddled the entire trip.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Jason Pardilla gathers firewood on Brown Island in the Penobscot river Thursday, on the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour. Pardilla a member of the Penobscot Nation, was one of the eight people who paddled the entire trip. Buy Photo
Stan Tag was invited to join the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour because of his extensive knowledge and research on people who climbed Mount Katahdin in the 1800s.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Stan Tag was invited to join the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour because of his extensive knowledge and research on people who climbed Mount Katahdin in the 1800s. Buy Photo
Shorly after leaving Medway, paddlers get a glimpse of Mount Katahdin as they make their way south on Penobscot River Thursday, on the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Shorly after leaving Medway, paddlers get a glimpse of Mount Katahdin as they make their way south on Penobscot River Thursday, on the 13th day of the Thoreau-Wabanaki 150th Anniversary Tour. Buy Photo

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.

 

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