Self-Propelled Journal: August 2 – Canoe the Saco – Bike to West Bethel

Departing Walker Falls

August 2

Awoke early after a long, solid sleep on the beach at Walker Falls. Vitamin I (ibuprofen) seemed to have cured the ache in my shoulders from yesterday’s long miles. I took time for breakfast and a chat with the only other campers at the campground before getting on the water around 8:00 AM.

Neighbor Campers

I had traveled only a couple miles upriver when I began to hear the sound of trucks crossing the Route 302 bridge. If the noise of high-speed traffic hitting the expansion joints on a concrete and steel bridge isn’t the classic sound of modern American civilization — it will do until another comes along.

Route 302

The Saco’s current above the bridge increases dramatically. It required poling almost exclusively. Often the water was too shallow for effective paddling. Which is no big deal if you are floating comfortably downstream with the current. I encountered plenty of people enjoying the Saco this way. It’s fair to say they are not the most serious canoeists in the State of Maine. It’s also fair to say that I am way too serious about my own canoeing.

These folks were out in force after 10:00 AM. None of them could say how far it was to Canal Bridge. Most of them were not entirely sure where they started from this morning or what time they got on the river. All of them asked why I was going the wrong way.

These questions had taken on some urgency because I had managed to break one end of my canoe pole in the soft sand. This made for a tougher session of poling in hot, humid weather across seemingly endless sand flats. The GPS had also burned through my last set of spare batteries — so I was flying blind as to my position — and I was scheduled to meet my wife at Canal Bridge (Route 5) by noon.

It was after 1:00 Pm when I could finally see the bridge in the distance. By the time we had completed the gear change for bicycling, and had lunch at Leo’s Restaurant in Fryeburg — it was mid-afternoon.

My wife had brought Grace, my daughter, to do the bike portion along Route 113 through Evan’s Notch with me. The late start didn’t stop us from pulling the bikes over at the Stow Country Store for ice cream prior to tackling Evan’s Notch.

The bike ride along Route 113, on the approach to the notch, speaks volumes about the faded beauty of small farms in Maine and the communities that depended on them.  The mid-summer quiet of places like North Fryeburg and Stow , and the beauty of the looming mountains in the background, gives this part of the state an incredible sense of dignity.

The steepest part of Route 113 in the notch is closed to winter maintenance. The road is paved but it’s narrow and winding. The approach from the south is gently rolling until the final mile and one-half before the summit.

I will be eternally grateful that Grace suggested we walk our bikes up the steepest section. The weather was more muggy as evening approached. After two long days of canoe poling (which takes a toll on the legs as well as the shoulders) my appetite for being a biking tough guy was at a low ebb.

The long ride downhill into the Androscoggin watershed was glorious on the mostly deserted roadway. We reached Route 2 and Gilead in short order. And even Route 2 was quiet for a Thursday evening. We had biked to Pleasant River Campground in West Bethel by 7:30 PM.

Dave Fisher rescued us from dinner duty by showing up with hot pizza and cold beverages just as we arrived. A swim in the pool and a hot shower capped the day for us.


This entry was posted in Kittery to Fort Kent, Maine Rivers, Maine Roads by jimandrews. Bookmark the permalink.

About jimandrews

Jim Andrews is an attorney, Registered Maine Guide, writer, husband, dad and sixth-generation Mainer who grew up in the hills of Oxford County and now lives in Farmington. He is a monthly columnist for the The Maine Sportsman magazine where he focuses on muscle-powered travel in the outdoors and specific applications to fishing and hunting in Maine. Late in the fall of 2010 Jim suffered a mid-life crisis and decided that the cure would be a self-propelled trip from Kittery to Fort Kent in the summer of 2012. The preparation, planning and execution of that trip will be covered here -- as well as his own ongoing attempts to reintroduce physical effort back into the increasingly-motorized world of fishing and hunting in Maine. Find Self-propelled on Facebook: