Annie on the Allagash. It has a nice ring to it. If John Steinbeck could write Travels with Charlie about traveling cross country and camping with a poodle, surely there is a story about Annie, a hearty, water-loving chocolate Lab, on a river in the Maine wilderness. Well, there is a story all right … just not quite the one we had in mind. Perhaps we should have brought a poodle.
It all started when my husband Steve and I joined a group put together by his high-school friend Ken to canoe the Allagash River over a period of eight days in August, camping along the way. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is a magnificent, 92-mile-long ribbon of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams winding through the heart of northern Maine’s vast commercial forests.
The group consisted of 12 people and four dogs. We were to meet in Kittery, Maine, at 9 a.m. on Aug. 1. It didn’t begin well—we didn’t leave Kittery until 1 p.m. Time was critical because we needed to be on Chamberlain Lake first thing in the morning. The lake can be as rough as an ocean if tackled in the afternoon, with high waves and the current running against you. With a very late start, we couldn’t make it to our staging spot. Instead, we were one hour short of it in a private campground. Before we could pitch a tent, the heavens opened—not an auspicious beginning.
The next morning, by the time we started to paddle, it was already time to set up the night’s camp. We had spent no small amount of time cajoling our courageous, allegedly water-loving Annie into the canoe. Annie seemed to think this was a fine plan for anybody but her. Finally, we resorted to picking her up, placing her in the canoe and pushing on into the brutal afternoon wind and waves. After a couple of exhausting hours of paddling, we traveled only 1.5 miles rather than the 6.6 we had planned. We ended up walking and pulling the canoe the last half-mile to make better time. It rained again.
The next morning dawned beautifully. Annie remained a reluctant river warrior at best. It was, however, a great paddling day. Our third morning, we paddled an hour or so to see the site of a former logging railroad with abandoned steam engines and equipment. Annie seriously ripped the pad of her right front paw on who knows what kind of rusty old gear. She bled profusely. We made an emergency repair and paddled off. We knew we had to get her to a vet, keep the wound dry and get her on antibiotics. But we were deep in the wilderness with no way out but to paddle ahead. This was beginning to look like the plot of a bad made-for-TV movie.
We suffered through severe thunderstorms that afternoon and evening, complete with funnel-clouds sightings. At one point, we paddled to shore to set up an emergency camp to ride out the lightning. Holding paddles to keep the tarp up and with our wet butts on wet boats and feet on wet packs to keep them out of the water, we anxiously waited for the storm to blow by. We would have made a perfect ground circuit for any lightning bolt that struck the water.
Finally, the storm passed. We quickly got back to paddling and beat the next storm cell to camp. During a brief lull, we set up our tent and Annie couldn’t wait to get inside. Wet dog—now wet tent. We finally had a chance to clean out her wound and re-bandage it with gauze, a plastic turkey-jerky bag and duct tape. Right—using a jerky bag is a sure way to keep her from chewing on the bandage. This was really going well.
On Saturday morning, we paddled a couple of hours to arrive at Churchill Dam for a ranger-assisted portage. This was the start of the rapids. It was also another put-in place and the last opportunity to leave the waterway by road rather than float plane. We decided to leave the group there, hitching a ride with a wonderful couple and their own chocolate Lab. These total strangers drove us two and a half hours to get to our car.
After yet another hourlong drive, we finally got Annie to an emergency veterinary clinic, where she was anesthetized, stitched and bandaged. We already had experienced the generosity of the couple who drove us to our car. Now, the folks at the clinic insisted that we check into a hotel, clean up, go out for dinner (lobster, of course), and leave Annie with them until we were refreshed and fed.
We agonized over what to do from there. We had the option of getting airlifted back to rejoin the group, but Annie needed to keep her wound dry for three weeks. No way to do that on the waterway—so we cut the trip short and made the 12-hour trek home. Annie, who remains firmly committed to the idea that a river’s only use is for a drink of water, finally was content.