My trip to T3 Indian Purchase

Posted on May 30, 2007 by Chris Lumens in rafting.

This past weekend, I went on a whitewater rafting trip in deepest, darkest Maine with Lon and a bunch of other people. We went down the Penobscot River way up near Baxter State Park. This was my first whitewater rafting trip, so it was pretty exciting.

We left from Nashua early on Saturday with all our food, tents, gear, and so forth. We weren’t concerned at all about weight or any of that because it was just going to be car camping. On the way, we stopped over in Freeport, Maine to buy some last minute gear (like a saw, sandals, and so forth) and to look at all the outdoors stores. It was a pretty crazy town as far as outdoors shopping is concerned. I barely made it out of the North Face store without a new parka or a tent or something because of the huge discounts they had. Anyway, we eventually made it out of there and kept driving north. Along the way, I noticed that we had entered the non-towns of T2 R7 and T2 R8. These are some of the rare unincorporated areas of New England. Finally after about five hours of driving, we got off the interstate. The campground had a Millinocket address but I noticed we left that town and entered T3 Indian Purchase before stopping.

About two seconds after getting out of the car, I had to start spraying myself with DEET and keep it going for the whole weekend. That’s just how Maine is in the spring. I quickly got my tent set up and assisted Lon with setting up the tarp over the picnic table. Then after some brief hanging out, it was time to start dinner. He was thoroughly sick of the usual hot dogs and burgers camp food, so we had marinated steak tips and garlic mashed potatoes instead. It was a pretty great dinner. I went and hung out with all the other people for a little while and then decided to get an early start on sleep. I knew I’d wake up shortly after the sun rose (5:something at this time of year), and that we had to be ready to go at 7:30am anyway. So off I went to my tent to try to remember how to sleep in a sleeping bag. I got four hours of sleep that night.

Sunday was the day for the big adventure. Before big adventure, I had to shoehorn myself into a full wet suit. Since the river was supposed to be really cold, I wore a long sleeve shirt and fleece tights that I use for winter hiking under the wet suit. Unfortunately, the tights didn’t stay put when I put the wet suit on and ended up getting all bunched up behind my knees. I knew the thing was going to be uncomfortable, but exactly how uncomfortable was quite a surprise. I found that my legs when lifted would spring back to the ground, and it was impossible to scratch any itch due to the thick layers of neoprene. Then we all put on life preservers, grabbed paddles, and sat on a bus for half an hour while they drove us up the river. When we got out, it was time to divide up into rafts and go over some basic maneuvers. I ended up in a raft with mostly girls.

We carried our raft down to the water, put in, climbed in, and practiced paddling around in circles with instruction from our guide. After ten or fifteen minutes of learning how we’re not supposed to think, we were heading down the river. However, the Penobscot isn’t a very friendly river. Almost immediately, it throws two class V rapids at you. That means it’s really hard. I was getting pretty nervous as we approached the first class V, as I had no idea what was going to happen or what was expected of me. Was having my foot jammed up under part of the raft really going to hold me in when we hit those big holes? Somehow, it did and we made it through the first rapid unscathed.

The second rapid - the infamous cribworks - is where we ran into trouble. Somewhere in the middle of all that mess, we didn’t paddle hard enough or correctly enough and ended up getting stuck sideways on a big rock. The front of the boat was up in the air, and the back (where I was) was very quickly filling with water. Our guide tried to get us to paddle our way off, but that didn’t work. His next plan was to get everyone to move to the back of the boat. Unfortunately, it took a while to get that message shouted up to the front. Meanwhile, I was sliding my way out the back while sitting in chest-deep water with my paddle stuck in the river, the girl behind me was almost out of the boat, and the girl in front of me was making my leg go numb. It was tough there for a minute, but eventually everyone got to the back and the boat came free of the rock. Then we all hurried back to our regular positions and paddled like mad to get through the rest of the rapids. Everyone in all the other boats cheered as we got to the bottom, and I hear the people on the shore watching had horrified looks on their faces.

After that, the river couldn’t do anything to intimidate us. One girl got thrown out of the boat while we were playing around in this smaller rapid, but she was quickly picked up by another boat without ever being in any real danger. That was the only time anyone was thrown out all day. We made it down a fair sized waterfall and several other decent sized rapids later on but nothing compared to the feeling from being stuck on that rock earlier. Another highlight from the river were the views of Katahdin that rose up as the only real mountain around. The guide spun us around once or twice in calm parts of the river to get a better view. Anyway after several more hours of paddling, we were lifting the raft up above our heads and getting back on the boat - this time really wet in addition to being uncomfortable from the wet suit.

Then it was time to change out of all that crud, layer on lots more DEET, and eat a big meal. I don’t really remember what I did right after the meal because I was pretty exhausted from the paddling. I tried to be social and hang out with everyone but that was a losing proposition. Instead I took a quick nap in the car and then walked back and forth trying to wake up enough to be interesting. It never happened, and by 9:30pm I was in my tent. That night, I think I got even less sleep despite all the trying. At least I was awake long enough to hear all the rain overnight (it’s a camping trip, it always rains). I woke up on Monday possibly more exhausted than when I went to sleep and also very angry with myself for forgetting how to sleep in tents.

Luckily, it was time to head back to civilization. There’s not really much to say about that except that we quickly packed up our gear and drove home. We somehow missed all the Memorial Day traffic and I was home by 2pm. While I was still awake, I got all my stuff unpacked and hung up and took my rental tent back. Then I started to watch a movie but decided a better plan was bed. I got a good 11 hours of sleep in that night.

In all, it was a really awesome trip. I had a blast on the river despite lots of initial nervousness and the discomfort from the wet suit. The biggest problem was my inability to sleep. I think I’d go on another whitewater trip but not more than once or twice a year. It’s a fairly expensive trip and is a huge time commitment. But it was lots of fun, so I will probably go next year. I think in the meantime, I will get used to tents again and will try to do some flat water trips as well.