campfire tales Nanook's Campfire Tales
No-see-um, but darn-well-feel-um

I had some pretty naive romantic notions when I first took up the paddle. They didn't last too long after a few choice trips in the Northwoods.

On my first-ever canoe trip, I paddled on the Saint John river in mid-summer. I remember camping out under the stars in the shadow of the Mactaquac Dam. The night was warm, starrry and most important, dry and bug-free.

So I was hoping the next summer to do the same on the Allagash, a popular stream in the state of Maine, actually only a few hours away from my house. We launched our boats at the Chamberlain dam, same as thousands of other folks do each spring and summer.

We didn't get far. Our boat flipped in the curl around the first rock of Chase Rapids, and we were tossed out and drifted on our backs down to the pool below. Our boat, a flimsy craft meant for leisurely lake paddling with hulls the firmness of egg-shells, was torn to shreds and became one with the river.

So we gathered what gear we didn't lose, and the ranger drove us back to the dam site. The ranger also kindly phoned the border crossing point at Houlton, and left a message for our driver to turn around and pick us up again and drive us back home.

Since we didn't expect him back until after midnight, we decided to set up our camp there at the dam. One crew set up a small two-man tent, and my bow-man erected a one-man pup tent where he could crawl in snug as a bug in a rug. I laid out my sleeping bag, which I had managed to save in its waterproof garbage bag, by the fire, grabbed a tarp, and went to sleep.

I remember waking around two a.m. or so and hearing a soft dripping noise. No, it wasn't rain, but a heavy dew, and I could hear the water dripping off the leaves. I wasn't getting wet, so I didn't worry.

But before I managed to drift back to sleep, I came under attack. The dew prompted a hatch of no-see-ums, tiny nasty biters the size of grains of pepper that can carpet you in a moment's notice. I felt my skin was on fire, as the little rotters went for every exposed inch of my flesh.

I went over to the smoldering campfire, and poked it back to life, adding the last of our fuel. Within minutes I was safe sitting in the smudge, as the flies couldn't take the smoke. I had to breathe it myself, but the sacrifice was worth it.

Even the tent was no salvation. A couple of minutes later, I saw a flashlight come on inside my buddys' tent, and they started dancing a lively jig and singing sweet curses as the no-see-ums found their way in through the mesh and began their feast.

I sat by the fire the rest of the night. Thankfully, dawn soon arrived, and our driver too, and we left the Maine woods to the bugs. I'll never sleep under the stars again.

campfire tales    I always wanted to do a solo overnight trip. I finally went on the Nashwaak.
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