My first trip on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway was so powerful that I can say without question that it changed the course of my life forever. I was 23 years old. Having grown up in a beach town in Southern California, I was athletic (a surfer), but certainly not skilled in canoeing, camping, or fly fishing. I was a novice, but I had a great teacher and I possessed an adventurous spirit.
My first trip down the Allagash started at Telos Landing and ended in the Town of Allagash. It was mid-May a little before the hatch. In all, the trip comprised 10 magnificent days of scenic beauty, quiet reflection, and a fair share of giggles and fun.
Because I was handy in the kitchen, I was tasked with packing all of the food. It’s a miracle to me today that I was able to manage this without failing entirely. I still remember the aroma of homemade granola wafting from our apartment, and the piles of zip-lock bags and menus.
Luckily there were only three of us on the trip: me, Andrew Weegar (my boyfriend at the time), and our springer spaniel Emily. Andrew was quite adept at foraging, so I recall that we foraged for fresh water clams, fiddleheads, cattails and trout to supplement my food packing shortcomings.
The memories of my experience are sharpened by the fact that Andrew is no longer with us here on earth (he died years later in a tragic accident on his farm in Fayette). So, recalling my trip with him on the Allagash (we paddled many more rivers after that one) is tinged with more than a little sadness over his untimely death.
Nevertheless, some of the memories are so powerful that they have stayed with me for life:
Looking back, I can see that travelling on the Allagash and other great Maine rivers, hiking its mountains, becoming a raft guide and taking on the big waters of the Kennebec and the Dead rivers, learning to winter camp…these were the skills that transformed me from a sun-tanned western girl into a woman who would never leave the state of Maine. Next year will mark 30 years since I arrived here in Maine. I have never regretted my decision to live here and my attempts to be a contributing member of the state. The Allagash River and Maine’s abundant natural wonders are my case for staying.
If you ever have the chance to paddle the Allagash, do it. There is no better place to be on earth.
Betta Stothart is a writer and editor living in Falmouth, Maine. She is also on the board of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.