Serenity Vs. Storm-Shattered: Adventures on a Maine Lake

Left to right, Steve Fagin, Mary Lou Lowrie and Nat Steele on Rangeley Lake in Rangeley, Maine on June 3.

A rising sun burned through the mist as I paddled on glass-smooth Rangeley Lake in western Maine the other morning, slipping silently past a pair of loons that dived below the surface in a flash.

About 4 miles ahead Doctors Island emerged from the fog, along with a more distant ridge dominated by 4,121-foot Saddleback Mountain and its lesser neighbors, Saddleback Junior, The Horn and Potato Nubble.

With both the Appalachian Trail and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail passing through, Rangeley is an outdoor Mecca, and thanks to a family cabin I’ve been kayaking and hiking there for years.

Mountain winds can kick up chop and 3-foot seas on the lake in mid-afternoon, but most mornings are calm enough that I feel comfortable paddling alone in my sleek, fast but slightly tippy 19-foot Kevlar boat. The biggest risk would be the wake from a powerboat, but this early in the season – the last vestige of ice melted only a couple weeks ago – I had the lake to myself.

The warm sun was ample reward for having endured such a harsh winter and relentlessly frigid spring. As much as I enjoy winter camping, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, I also savor getting out in a kayak wearing shorts, a T-shirt and sandals.

Of course, spring in Maine also is black fly season, and a biblical plague of the wretched insects, along with mosquitoes and no-see-ums – a trifecta of biting bugs –

swarmed the shoreline and followed me for several hundred yards before I finally outsprinted them. Once safe on the open water I settled into a comfortable pace and glided past Hunter Cove and the north shore.

Solo kayaking on such a delightful morning is the best way to clear your mind of all petty aggravations.

But no trip to Rangeley would be complete without sharing an adventure or two with longtime friends Mary Lou Lowrie and Nat Steele, who divide their time between a home in New Gloucester, Maine near Portland and a cabin on Cupsuptic Lake just north of Rangeley, so the next day I made plans for a rendezvous.

Mary Lou, Nat and I all share a too-much-is-never-enough approach to outdoor recreation and often plan a daylong schedule that depending on the season includes running, kayaking, hiking, bicycling and swimming. Nat is an accomplished triathlete and cross-country ski racer; I have dabbled in a variety of outdoor activities, but Mary Lou is the one with serious credentials, including a world championship in her age group for the Ironman 70.3 competition, also known as a Half Ironman, which consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run. In addition she twice has been the top overall woman in the grueling distance Sea to Summit Triathlon; has been a bronze medalist at the Masters World Cup Nordic Ski Championships in Rovaniemi, Finland and has been the Maine Bicycle Time Trial Series overall female winner.

We began our day with a 9-plus-mile run around Bald Mountain, followed by a brisk plunge into the lake, where the water temperature barely topped 50 degrees. That felt particularly refreshing considering a sweltering heat wave had driven the air temperature to 90.

Next would be the kayak leg and after a quick snack we carried our boats down to the water.

As if on cue, though, the skies darkened and thunder rumbled.

We looked at each other and simultaneously mouthed, “Uh-oh.”

“Maybe we should give it a few minutes to pass,” I suggested.

So we retreated indoors just as rain began falling.

Half and hour later, with no sign of a letup, Nat and Mary Lou decided to drive back to Cupsuptic Lake and return later, assuming the weather improved.

After a few hours passed clouds lifted, the rain stopped and the sun emerged.

“Looking pretty good,” I said over the phone.

“We’ll be right over,” Mary Lou said.

As soon as I hung up, though, the storm blew back with a vengeance.

Lightning flashed, wind howled, trees swayed, rain pelted in sheets.

Crash! Boom!

The lights went off in the cabin.

Some time later, the phone rang. It was Nat.

“Hey, we’re at the top of your road. But we can’t drive down. A big tree fell on the wires. It’s a real mess.”

Trapped!

It turns out the storm packing 60 mph winds had knocked down countless trees throughout the region, smashing cars, crushing buildings and knocking out power for 5,000 people.

“Maybe it’s just as well we weren’t out on the water,” I said.

But the next morning – still no power, and the tree still blocking the road – Mary Lou and Nat returned, bushwhacked around the downed wires and appeared at the cabin. Bright sun and a blustery breeze had replaced storm clouds.

“Let’s go!”

Off we went, on a glorious paddle of nearly 10 miles, including a 2-mile detour to the village of Oquossoc so they could retrieve their kayaks without having to drive past the fallen tree.

“Worth waiting for,” I said.

I’m hoping to return to western Maine a few times this summer, and am sure Mary Lou, Nat and I will have more fun times on the water and in the mountains, but to tell you the truth I could do without the meteorological drama.

 

 

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Surf’s Up! Hanging Ten In A Kayak

All right, technically my buddy Spyros "Spy" Barres and I weren’t hanging 10 toes off the end off boards while riding waves at Westerly’s Fenway Beach on Thursday, but we were surfing.

I'm Always Chasing Rainbows

All of us who have ventured atop mountains, out to sea, or simply into a nearby park have occasionally faced Mother Nature’s wrath – a sudden thunderstorm, pounding blizzard, gale-force winds, locusts …

Loading Your Backpack: Less Is (Usually) More

Some years ago, preparing to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness – the final stretch of the fabled Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, I stuffed my backpack with what I initially considered to be the absolute bare minimum for a week in...

Sun, Sun, Sun Here It Comes (Enough Already!)

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was one of the year’s high holy days, right up there with Halloween and the last day of school, because that was when my parents took my sister and me to the beach for the annual fireworks...

How To Build An Adirondack Chair Out Of Skis In 14,387 Easy Steps

Many people I know share my passion for outdoor recreation but I also have a little secret: Between rounds of kayaking, hiking, gardening, wood-splitting and other activities I also savor the simple act of lounging quietly on a sunny day in a...

A Comedy – And Nearly A Tragedy – Of Errors On Maine's Saddleback Mountain: In The Age Of Cellphones, A Failure To Communicate

A refreshing breeze cooled me despite a blazing late-afternoon sun as I scrambled up the final rocky slope to the 4,121-foot summit of Maine’s Saddleback Mountain earlier this week, but I paused for only a moment to gaze at the glorious,...

Gardening Is Simple! Just Stick Stuff In The Ground And Voila! A Cornucopia Of Fresh Veggies! (Right)

Anyone who has ever attempted to grow vegetables soon realizes it is a true labor of love, with particular emphasis on the labor.

An Explorer’s Guide To The Great Indoors: Hotels Designed For ‘Adventurers’

During decades of traipsing through the wilderness I’ve slept, or attempted to sleep, in every conceivable indoor and outdoor quarters: in freshly dug snow caves; alongside bug-infested swamps; during thunderstorms with no tent; in the...

Alligators, Gorillas, Bears, Snakes, Even Cows: Danger Lurks Where You Least Expect It

The awful story this week about a 2-year-old boy who witnesses said was pulled by an alligator into a lagoon near a Walt Disney World hotel in Orlando, Florida and later found dead serves as a reminder that danger lurks even in "The...

This Bud’s For You: The Unofficial King Of Beer Litter

While kayaking the other morning I spotted a small, dark object poking above the lake surface 100 yards or so ahead, and I was pretty sure it was the head of a turtle until I drew closer and realized the sad truth: just another beer...

Chaotic Fun At The Essex River Race

Shortly before the start of the late-great Rose Arts Road Race several years ago, a 10.47-mile running competition over the hills of Norwich considered one of New England’s toughest courses, my friend Bob and I decided to jog a couple miles...

Tom And Steve’s Excellent Adventures In The Northwest Part III: Kayaking Off The Oregon Coast And Columbia River Gorge; Hiking On Mount Saint Helens

Propelled by the sound of crashing surf, my son Tom and I scrambled over a low dune and then gazed in awe.