Allagash Wilderness, Maine

Joe fishes at sunset

Will, Jon, Joe, Ted, and I arrived at Telos Landing with plans to run the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. As we prepared to embark, the park ranger appeared with a tape measure and told us our kayaks weren’t canoes.

Section 2.3 of the Allagash rules and regulations is quite clear: “A canoe is defined as a form of small watercraft long and narrow…. The width at the widest point shall not exceed 20% of the craft’s overall length.” Of our three kayaks and one canoe, only one met those regulations. The canoe, it turns out, was a cannot.

It’s worth knowing that I’ve been told stories about how Maine Game Wardens are among the most empowered law enforcement officials in the US. “They can shoot you if they want to,” an older, drunken friend said once. Ranger Rick in front of us didn’t appear to have a gun, but I didn’t see the tape measure until it was too late either. And the difference between a ranger and warden seemed a bit argumentative if the gun did come out.

And those thoughts are what helped me keep a straight face while the ranger repeated “yep, they’re not canoes, you can’t go on the river with ’em.”

Jon, however, was fearless.

“I’m not trying to argue, but these are kayaks.”

“They might be, but I can tell you they’re not canoes. And you can’t go beyond Lock Damn in ’em.”

Jon and Ranger Rick continued for a bit. We all wanted to know why. What did the width and length matter? Why?

Rick was able to point out the regulations, but couldn’t explain them. “Nope, it’s not for safety,” he was able to say, but couldn’t offer any other insights to what the rules were about or why. He was quite excited to help us contact an outfitter friend of his who could rent us some official canoes, and he warned us that other rangers at the various portages would each stop us if we tried to continue.

Choose your own adventure indeed.

We cancelled our plans to have our cars shuttled to the end of the river and consoled ourselves with kayaking in the, um, brown waters of Lake Chamberlain. We spent three nights on the lake, paddling a 20 mile loop (to sustain our pride, we usually add that it was against the wind each way), long enough to enjoy the lake fog and some wooded sunsets.

Will lit our campfires with a bow. Ted feared our doddling would attract aliens. Rain blew in on the last night, and Joe taught us all fantan. Huddled around the picnic table under a just too small tarp we played game after game.