February is planning month for spring outings. Blocking out the time for long trips and weekend adventures now is essential — otherwise those critical dates in May and June can be lost forever to something like an invitation to attend your ex-brother-in-law’s wedding.
I am not a long-term planner by nature and I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Certain phrases are worth memorizing and the words; “I have had my Allagash trip planned for that weekend since February,” are the perfect response to many of life’s persistent questions.
Planning now also helps relieve the symptoms of spring fever that bright February days can induce. The only true cure for the fever may be the feel of moving water under the keel of a loaded canoe – but temporary relief can be found in a dim basement workshop – poring over trip lists and repairing or replacing equipment.
Choosing the actual dates for a trip to the great north woods can be a tricky proposition. For canoe trips on the upper St. John, there is a narrow window of opportunity sometime between ice-out and black-fly season where the water level is perfect. The window can shift from year to year depending upon numerous factors including depth of the winter snow-pack, amount of spring rain vs spring snow and temperature trends in late April.
The Allagash with its many headwater lakes, and the control afforded by Churchill Dam, is more forgiving when it comes to water level. But the vagaries of spring weather can still create issues. The two photos below demonstrate the extremes of early spring weather on the big rivers.
In photo #1 the Commander, Kevin Regan, scouts Round Pond Rips on the Allagash from the stern of his big 21′ Old Town Tripper XL. Note the insulated deer hunting boots, heavy clothing and wool toque to cover the ears. This photo was taken on May 17, 2007 and was one of those trips where you start with 5 pounds of ice in the cooler and end the trip with 8 pounds. I remember my gear bag being almost empty because I was wearing most of my clothing most of the time. Big chunks of winter ice lined the banks of river in some spots.
The next photo was taken on May 20, 2010 at Long Lake Dam on the Allagash. The water temperature was perfect for a dip after the hot sun and black-flies had their way with us on the flat water section above the old dam site. This entire trip featured incredibly warm weather for mid-May. The grass on the riverbank was already knee-high in some spots, the black flies were out in full force and we swam nearly everyday to cool off.
The moral of the story is that there is %100 chance of weather on any trip — predict the type of weather at your own peril. But come prepared for temperatures in the 80’s and temperatures in the 30’s. And never postpone planning your trip until the weather picture is clear.
You will want a ready answer when you get that invitation to your nephew’s T-ball tournament next May.