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Maine Flat Water

M Williams

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Third and Fourth Machias Lakes in Downeast Maine are wonderful remote lakes with limited access and few visitors. In need of some rest and relaxation, I was able to spring myself from work for a four day solo trip to these lakes last week. Once you drive the hours to reach the area, the final route into the launch is a fifteen mile trip over fairly well maintained logging roads. The biggest problem is to find the right driving speed. You need to go fast enough so that you only hit the tops of the wash board ripples in the dirt surface, but slow enough to stop before you hit the large potholes and washouts.

The only adventure on the trip came on the drive in. After descending a rough hill, I arrived at a beaver dam spanning a 100 foot plus section of the road. The clever (other words also apply) animals had used the road as the base of the dam and added their handiwork on top resulting in most of the road under 12 to18 inches of water. The road was also narrowed by the dam construction. After probing the entire submerged section for depth and measuring the results alongside the car’s engine for clearance, I gingerly drove through the section with one set of tires on the beaver dam and the other in the water. I made it, didn’t do a lot of damage, but I probably can’t say I managed to “Leave No Trace”. I’m sure the beavers made repairs after I left them in peace.

The launch site marks the start of the well-known Machias River route. I paddled in the other direction out onto Third Lake. This beautiful lake is seven or eight miles long and roughly a mile wide and is filled with coves, arms, marshes all meriting exploration. I saw deer, eagles, ducks of many kinds, and the wonderful loons. Semi-official campsites dot the lake and use is on a first come basis. Three miles out, I selected a wide sand beach and protected pine grove for my stay. I was the only person camping on the lake during the weekdays. A few fisherman and cottage residents arrived for the weekend as I left on Saturday. On average, I saw one fishing power boat each day in part because the lake is remote and in part because it is filled with rocks of all sizes. A loud “thunk” marked one power boater’s inevitable interaction one of these rocks at I paddled merrily along.

Camp sites have a fire ring and some form of table – otherwise they are primitive. Open fire permits are required. Campers – mostly fishermen – tend to use the sites to keep the impact on the environment to a minimum. I managed to try a number of the cooking techniques that Jonathan and Suzanne shared with club members a few weeks ago and enjoyed excellent camp meals. Black fly season was over and the mosquitoes minimal although I was careful to pick the camp site with the smallest insect population. I am told that West Nile and Lymne disease have not reached these northern reaches of New England yet, but I’m not sure I trust that rumor.

Paddling each day consisted of roughly ten miles of exploration combined with beach rest and some exploration of woods trails and roads. I had hoped to reach Fourth Lake this trip by working my way upstream on the Machias River between the two lakes. I did manage to make it about three fourths of the way up the two mile stretch often lining the boat up sections of rocky rapids now bony with the lower summer water flow and over a number of beaver dams (I have begun to develop a thing about these dams). I came prepared with the old plastic boat for this abuse. Rounding a bend, a long section of hauling the boat over rocks lay before me. I decided that returning to Third Lake and my beach had more appeal, and headed back down the river. Fourth Lake will have to wait for another trip. The exposed rocks are well marked with a wide variety of red and green paints from all the canoes that venture to run down the river in the spring. I have never met anyone who has done the stretch in both directions although my Dad remembers some Maine guide friends poling a canoe upstream here many decades ago.

As the weekend arrived with thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon, I gather the gear and headed out. Arriving at the launch, I found a group camped there for the weekend. They all had these four wheel ATV machines, which seem to me to be invading the deep woods. Part of me appreciates the fact these folks are getting out into these more remote areas, but part of me regrets the use of these machines in the same way I worry about jet skis and snowmobiles. I left them to their loud vehicles and found a way out which avoided a repeat visit to my favorite beaver dam.

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The beaver dam went across the road?! too funny. My grandparents spent many summer canoeing this area and I'd love to go there -- would love to hear more specifics on where you put in, etc.

You remind me of a time I was up in Northern Maine toward the Allagash and was following someone's directions to a trail by a lake. I had rented an SUV and was okay on the logging roads, but then I got to a dead end at a river. Some anglers were behind me in a pickup truck and I got out and asked them if they knew the road I needed and they looked at me like I was an idiot and pointed foward -- I was to drive through the river, and the road continued on the other side, of course. heh, I sure felt like dumb cityfolk suddenly.

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Happy to share launch details. The general directions are in the AMC Maine flat water book for Third Lake. I can show you the detour I made to that route to avoid the beavers. I can also give you an update on camp sites. The folks in the area have added some. Feel free to e-mail at michaelewilliams@verizon.net for details and/or my home phone number.

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