Paddling the Boundary Waters

Maine's St. Croix River
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The idea was to boldly go where no man....well you know the rest. We wanted to take a paddling trip in Maine while avoiding the madding crowd. Our first thought was the Allagash, the state's most famous waterway and the first Maine river most paddlers think of, a fact that virtually guarantees crowds. But after contacting Martin Brown, the proprietor of Sunrise County Canoe Expeditions in the far eastern part of the state, our destination was decided.

"I have a better river for you," said Martin."Give the St. Croix a try." Martin is the guru of northwoods canoeing and his advice is not lightly ignored. "The St. Croix has no crowds and the water and scenery are as good as the Allagash if not better."

So we find ourselves paddling through the dawn mist of Lake Spednik a long, thin finger of a lake that separates Maine and Canada watching a warming early June sun appear over the eastern tree line. We finally realize why Brown's company is called Sunrise County. We are probably the first Americans to witness this day's sunrise since Lake Spednik lies on the eastern boundary of the United States and flows south into the St. Croix River, its easternmost river. Brushing against New Brunswick on its left bank, it is hard to believe that this small lively river is a boundary between two major countries. The trees that are slowly revealing the orange sun are in Canada and we are but a few hundred yards from the international border, an invisible line cutting more or less through the middle of Spednik's cold water. We will cross this border dozens of times over the next week.

Martin recommended that we put in along the shores of the lake and spend a couple of days exploring its bays, fingers, and islands before heading downstream on the St. Croix. I questioned the wisdom of his advice as our shuttle driver Jim sped down a narrow dirt two-track to the lake. Jim was relating a story about a couple who whined and complained through the duration of a Rio Grande trip. All the while I watched the bow of my roof-racked canoe bash and scrape through the limbs and branches of the overhead tree canopy. Not wanting to join the rolls in Jim's pantheon of griping customers, I peered ahead for overhanging limbs and decided to shut my mouth unless an overhanging branch the size of a telephone pole made destruction appear imminent. I felt like the lookout on the Titanic.

I was staring intently through the rushing limbs ahead when Jim stood on the brakes and brought the van to a sliding halt in a spray of gravel. I looked up through the windshield expecting to see our canoe impaled on the limb of a maple.


Jim pointed to a huge female moose calmly eating her way through floating vegetation in a bog next to the road. We hadn't even hit the water yet and we'd already bagged a moose a good sign, especially to my son, Michael. One of his major goals on this trip is to see"mucho moose" and Lake Spednik already provided his first sighting.

Lake Spednik is typical of north country lakes. A few cabins are visible from the water but for the most part, signs of humans are absent. While not truly a wilderness area, evidence of civilization along the river and lake is sparse. The lake teems with landlocked salmon, lake trout, and smallmouth bass, and the surrounding forests are home to sizable numbers of moose, as we'd already learned. Maples, aspen, and birch trees crowd the water's edge, and the shore line is rocky and abrupt, leaving little choice of landing spots. Campsites are problematic but not absent.

We set up our tent at an abandoned fish camp in a small cove. Just back from the shoreline, an ancient cabin, cleaved dead center by a giant fallen spruce, lies forlorn and deserted. An experienced logger couldn't have felled the tree any more exactly, the massive trunk lying smack through the structure's middle. The log walls are all that remain standing, the roof smashed and splintered under the trunk. We imagine the surprise of the owners as they returned to find their outpost destroyed. The camp appears to have been abandoned in a fit of resigned defeat. An old table and chairs sit broken and rotting near the now flattened front door. and the guts of a fifties-vintage outboard motor lie under a blanket of pine needles.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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