Ted Bennett lives in Scarborough.
As a native Mainer who has always loved a good adventure, I have a unique ability to sometimes bite off more than I can chew. It’s driven by a deep yearning to experience freedom, independence, self-reliance, meeting a challenge head-on, perhaps it’s mostly the need to prove myself to myself, to feel truly alive. Can you relate?
During the spring of 2020 I embarked on a trip consisting of a 34-mile canoe loop in Western Maine called the Moose River Bow. The trip is rated as moderately difficult and generally expected to take the average paddler three days and two nights to complete. The intent of this reconnaissance effort was to become familiar with the route so that I could take a group of interested like-minded adventure-seeking friends from church on a memorable trip. In leading trips like this in the past, I’ve learned that having a first-hand knowledge of the terrain can be invaluable.
I had invited a few highly capable friends to do the reconnaissance trip with me, but for various reasons they all bailed out at the last minute. Suffering from an acute case of stubborn-itis, I opted to carry on with my plans alone.
Departing from my home in Scarborough around 4 o’clock on a Friday morning, I made good time on the road with a single-person Old Town canoe strapped onto the homemade wooden rack in my small pick-up truck. Arriving at the flooded launch site, Attean Landing on Attean Pond, I interacted with a local guide who directed me to an alternate launch point about a mile downstream from the pond located in the outlet stream. It was cold and my breath was fogging my glasses as I labored to drag my canoe and gear down to the river bank. It wasn’t long before the canoe was loaded, and I shoved off after saying a quick prayer for safety and provision.
Paddling against the current for the better part of a mile was strenuous work. Once on the pond the surrounding view was remarkable, the wind was gentle, the sky was clear, and there wasn’t another soul to be seen in any direction. Absolute solitude. After paddling for another 30 minutes I beached the canoe and stretched my legs for a break.
The weather forecast had indicated a mixture of sun and clouds with wind gusting up to 10 mph. Upon forcing my cramping legs back into the canoe and shoving off into the water, the wind was noticeably stronger that it had been just a few minutes before. Trusting the forecast, I pressed on paddling as close to the shoreline as possible since the open water was starting to get quite choppy. It was slow going and the wind wasn’t letting up.
My goal was to cram this three-day trip into two days. I was already significantly behind my projected schedule, getting farther and farther behind with every wind battered paddle stroke. Surely the wind would let up soon. Approaching the west end of Attean Pond, I paddled to the right around the last bend for the final leg of this body of water and was slammed with an ungodly gale that had given rise to two-foot-tall breakers, and I was paddling directly against the wind in the direction of the far shoreline. Progress was unbelievably slow. A quick estimate of forward movement brought a sense of panic as my energy reserves were quickly depleting and the shoreline wasn’t getting noticeably closer. Cold biting wind in my face, waves crashing over the bow and into the canoe, the sky darkened, and a steady rain had begun.
I was nearly at the end of myself. Unable to go forward more than a couple inches for every stroke, and too afraid to change the direction of the canoe without getting swamped, I redoubled my paddling efforts. Thoughts of my wife’s words of wisdom urging me to not go it alone unavoidably came to mind.
Wind speed was still increasing, and a tremendous gust slammed into me and turned the canoe around on a dime. I was done for. Exhausted, soaked and frozen. My canoe was being propelled on top of the nearly three-foot waves, kind of like surfing. I was traveling in the wrong direction and terror had begun to take hold as I realized my plans had been scuttled. Kneeling in the center of the canoe and gripping the gunwales, I focused on keeping the canoe upright as I was riding the waves in what I later learned were created from 40 mph gusts of wind.
Desperation turned to fervent prayer. Prayer eventually turned to hymns of praise, with waves crashing into the vessel and a cold hard pelting rain ensuing. Yes, I was literally singing every hymn I could think of, clinging to the hope that God might spare me to do something worthwhile with my life. What might it be? I wept as I wanted to tell my wife and kids that I loved them just one more time. I yearned to reconcile with an estranged daughter and to let her know that she’s always been deeply loved despite the circumstances. Regrets of not having done more with my life started to haunt me. As the canoe was forced toward the middle of the large pond being tossed in a southeasterly direction, I discarded all hope of making it to shore if the vessel capsized. This was a storm the likes of which no sane person would ever dare to venture out in.
After what felt like hours, the wind began to lessen, and the approaching shoreline seemed like it might be within reach. Remaining on my knees in the center of the canoe, I bailed water and started to paddle toward the shore, not having any control over direction. The wind eventually pushed me into one of many small marshy coves which provided some protection from the waves. Upon reaching the shore I looked up and couldn’t believe my eyes. Almost immediately in front of me stood a derelict shack with a rusty tin roof.
Pulling the canoe onto the overgrown shore I quickly approached the shack. Realizing this was not a typical residential location and not wanting to get shot, I called out to anyone who might be inside. “Hello the shack! Hellooo!” No answer. Darkness was setting in, so I grabbed my headlamp and walked up a slight incline to a rotten, decrepit-looking front porch that had once been screened in. Opening the door after knocking I found paradise. Despite the rotten floor that had to be carefully navigated, and a couple holes in the walls, I found a cot and an old oil lamp with oil still in it. There was even an ancient woodstove in the center of the cabin which I opened to discover was filled with rust colored water.
Racing down to the canoe, I grabbed my gear and brought everything into the shack for the night. Miraculously, there was a badly leaning woodshed behind the shack, with dry wood that had been cut and split many years before. Feeling the clumsy effects of hypothermia setting in, I quickly bailed out the woodstove and got a fire going. This was exactly what I needed to survive the night. The rain had picked up again and was pelting the rusted tin roof, which leaked in several areas. After warming up and eating a hot meal, I beat the dust off the cot, laid out my sleeping bag and settled in for the night. This entire area was void of any cell phone signal. There was no calling for help.
Waking at the crack of dawn I gave thanks, packed the canoe, and paddled for an hour until finally verifying my location. After several more hours of paddling I was back at my launch site, packing my truck and pondering the odds of being blown into the only little cove with an abandoned shack in this population-free region. There’s no way that could have been a coincidence or written off as luck. That remote area is far too vast for something like that to happen by chance. Weeks later, I conducted a satellite search of the area for structures and think I located the shack. It is the only structure I could find on the entire body of water.
2020 has been a year of many unspeakable hardships for many if not all of us. My journey described above has helped me to recognize that despite the circumstances we are currently facing, there is still much to be thankful for in this great and beautiful land we have been provided with. Family, friends, shelter, food, clothing, apple pie and ice cream just to name a few.
Whatever it might be, I hope this tale has helped you to identify something or someone to be thankful for. May the God of peace bring blessings to us all as we ring in a new year. Happy Thanksgiving.