By Adam Kibbe

“Ohmigod, chairs, cushiony foam pads, sand beaches? Don’t even think of going to Montana on your next trip, guys. They don’t want you!”

So commented Sir Rakkity, The Great Beartooth Adventurer, when, after weeks of dribbling out individual, archetypally landscapy images of our three-man trip to First Debsconeag (that’s DEB-skuh-nee), Michael finally posted to the blog some theretofore unacknowledged images of the cushy truth.  A trip so serene and benevolent it was hard even for us to believe it was October in Maine—sunny and still, and our destination a broad, picturesque, sandy beach (not that we knew that in choosing it).  Getting there was more the adventure (what little there was), crawling over moguled roads that were as rough as Mike’s truck could handle, then a meandering paddle up a slightly baffling complex of shallows and deadwaters, many places barely passable in the seasonal low water, and the final approach down an elusive channel-within-a-channel of the stream that leads out of the lake.  After that it was pure vacation; firewood readily available, stars most nights, the temperatures benign, and the only complaint the shallow waters, which forced Mike to wade way, way out for his ritual ablutions.

For folding nylon camp chairs and inflatable mattresses we make no apologies, having cheerfully endured the ground and stumps enough in our many years of camping in Maine.  The base camp model to which we have become accustomed makes it illogical not to bring such comforts—we curse ourselves when we forget.  And that we happened upon a sandy beach and did not turn our backs on it cannot be said to be weakness.  The dental records of our gift horses remain private information.

And so we spent a pleasant few days all but alone on this remote but easily reachable lake, the ease of access deliberate, as there was an off-chance that Schreib could join us later.  A man and his dog—the last remnants of a longtime group not unlike our own—put in beside us and spent one night fewer than we did on the far end of the lake, where we could see his fire twinkling across the waters; and two women made a bonfire down the beach from us one night before moving on.  Otherwise we loafed alone.  Our one big expedition took us back along our entrance route, across the open deadwaters into which we’d put in, and up a spur of the Penobscot River to the runout of Debsconeag Falls.  From our landing below the falls we hiked up to above them for lunch, which afforded Michael a dunking in the whirlpools before the falls (where we saw our one-and-only river otter!), one of the more exciting dips he’s taken in Maine’s bracing fall waters.  And our departure gave us a minor echo of the thrill of running rips as we ran with the currents through the boulder fields and back to the open deadwater.

We explored our little corner of the world, too, though it was mostly flatland, and Michael and Q went off without me one fine afternoon in search of some elevation.  I had hurt my back the first day wrestling a soon-to-be-firewood tree trunk into the canoe and wanted to relax, baby my back, and read a very good book I’d brought, but they were jonesing for some activity.  And so I waved their departing forms goodbye from the shores like a sailing widow watching her partner depart for unknown lands, then settled without regrets into a chaise lounge I’d built of sand, Thermarest pads and paddles, and read in blissful sunlight and solitude.  When they came home at dusk I had a fire roaring and appetizers on, and they regaled me with tales of their near demise on a bluff they’d found, and the sober realizations to which they’d come about each other’s characters in pondering the possibility of the other’s death or dire injury.  Possibly by the other’s hand …

But the most memorable adventure involved a cell phone call.

For unrelated reasons, neither Dan nor Schreiber could come this year, though there was a possibility of Schreib joining us mid-trip.  I’d like to say we considered not going without them, but I’m not much for social prevarication.  We did discuss bringing lifesize printout replicas of them to put in chairs (yes, those unseemly chairs) beside the fire for photographic hilarity, but we’ve enough trouble remembering to pack clothes and food, and also ran out of time (and besides, there’s always Photoshop … ).  But we did miss them at times, and we’d arranged to try calling Schreib on the off-chance he could make it, except that on the appointed night we found our cell phone’s battery dead …

Michael posited that we could paddle back to the truck to plug the cell into the charger and make the call, and Q was certainly up for the attempt.  I seemed to be the only one who gave any weight to the fact that they’d be paddling back in full night across those dicey shallows, and trying to find a channel hard enough to find in the daytime.  And all this without me, their navigator.  Cell reception was so iffy that I didn’t think Schreib would take our not calling as abandonment, just “technical difficulties”.  And he wouldn’t be coming without us touching base first, so it’s not like we’d be abandoning him in Maine anyway, just in Newton.

But the pair would not be deterred, and muttering something about serving as witness to record their epitaphs, I clambered into the stern.  And with the setting sun behind us, we paddled back for the put-in, racy extemporaneous limericks floating away on the wind as we entertained ourselves in a fashion plenty stupid enough for such a stupid endeavor.

Truth be told it was no sweat.  We had dusk on the way out and moon on the way back.  Yes, the channels were hard to discern, but with a nearly full moon for general light and a bazillion-candlepower flashlight to pick out hazards that could otherwise tip us in the darkness, we found our way.  With no gear, we floated higher, making the shallows easier, and there was something quite invigorating about the night paddling, especially the open crossing moon and hazy stars on our return.

Like many such willful adventures, though, whose risk is arguably more perceived than actual, it was also in vain – we failed to reach Schreib.  Just his wife, Ginger, who didn’t seem to be as surprised to hear from us as she perhaps should have been.  She noted that Mark had made no mention of any such attempt as he’d headed off for wherever he was at the moment, so we left word that we’d called and assumed the status quo.  And leaving the itty bitty link to brick and mortar resting on the truck seat charging, we headed back out onto the by then night waters.

Dark waters stretch farther when the shores at which they end themselves disappear into darker darkness.  Stars reflecting in the rippling waters float in another universe below you, and whatever else might by day be known to lurk below the surface seems to recede to yield to this new presence.  Our paddles dipped into that substance, both real and illusion, as we propelled ourselves campward, marveling at the familiar made new by this change in lighting and attitude.  It was a memorable paddle, no oxymoron in it being both serene and exciting, and the nearer we got to “home”, the more thrilled we felt with our “lark”.  As we pulled our canoe ashore at our sandy beach, we felt at one with the night, and slightly more at one with our distant comrades for having at least reached out to them.  We resuscitated our fire, pulled our chairs close around it and toasted our absent comrades.

Perhaps most memorable was that we made the attempt at all, which, while barely registering on the scale of risky things men do had at least a notable quotient of stupid to it, and did it not so much for self-serving adventure as to honor our friends.  Also notable was that there’d been so little discord in the discussion over whether to go or not, given that there were strong opinions both for and against.  All of these feelings wrapped around us like blankets as we sat before our fire.  It had been many years since but three had gone on one of these trips, and then it was in contrast to two and felt bounteous.  Accustomed to at least four—and occasionally more—for the last 15 years or so, three men seemed to barely muster critical mass as we gathered at Michael’s before leaving.  But that evening I’d say we felt larger than three, our crescent of physical presence seeming to wrap the fire’s circle of stones more completely, waxed into full by our adventure.