By Julia Bayly, Bangor Daily News Staff
FORT KENT, Maine — Six days into his 38-day, 740-mile canoe trip up the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Eric McIntyre, alone on a New York river, came close to calling it quits. But on Saturday, McIntyre paddled into the trail’s terminus at the Fort Kent boat landing where he celebrated the end of his epic journey, and, it turns out, his 21st birthday.
“Wow, I can’t believe it’s done,” he said, grinning ear to ear as he hugged his mother, Laurie McIntyre, and his father, Kim McIntyre, who had driven up from Flemington, New Jersey, to meet him. “It was worth it [and] I’d do it again, definitely.”
Missing from the reunion was his twin brother, Benjamin, who could not leave work in Nashville, and an older brother, Ian.
McIntyre’s trip began on May 14 when he took off from Old Forge, New York, in his 15-foot Daggar Legend canoe. From there he paddled, poled and portaged his way north and east through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, a small section of Canada and finally into Maine.
The trail, completed in 2006, passes through 22 rivers and streams, 56 lakes and ponds, 45 communities and three national wildlife refuges and includes 55 miles of portages over 62 carries.
According to its website, 62 people have “through paddled” the entire Northern Forest Canoe Trail, often referred to as the aquatic version of the Appalachian Trail, between 2006 and 2013.
“My original thought was to do this 40-day, solo trip,” he said. “But then I realized 40 days on my own was going to be sort of lonely.”
So McIntyre enlisted two friends — Laura Stasi from New Jersey and Kristen Gregory from Maryland — who spent three and 10 days, respectively, padding with him early in the adventure.
“For the other 24 days, I was alone,” McIntyre said, adding it was due in large part to Gregory he did not quit altogether hundreds of miles to the south.
“On Day Six I was on the Saranac River in New York and it was my third day alone and I started thinking, ‘What am I doing out here?’” he said. “So I pulled off and called Kristen and told her I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it.”
Gregory, who had just solo through-hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, was able to provide McIntyre with the advice that became the mantra for his trip.
“She told me, ‘Maine is impossible, but tomorrow isn’t,’” he said.
In other words, take it one step at a time and don’t look at the big picture.
“So that’s what I did,” McIntyre said. “I dealt with it one day at a time and if you do that, eventually you find yourself in Maine and then here you are in Fort Kent.”
Even with that, there were other times he questioned his decision embark on the trip.
“Yeah, there were times it was hard when you are wheeling the canoe up over rocks and rutted out trails that are muddy at 6 at night and you wish you did not have another 2 miles to go with the clouds of mosquitos around you,” he said. “But then you get to that next pond and look back and see the sun setting and you feel really successful.”
Early on, the route passes through towns and populated regions, McIntyre said, and he was able to purchase food and snacks to supplement the 30 pounds of food he had packed — much of it dehydrated meals prepared by his friend Gregory.
Meals included venison stew, clam chowder and a curry rice dish with sun-dried tomatoes.
“Eating on the river is not that hard if you do it right,” he said with a laugh.
In New Hampshire, friends Ray and Hildy Danforth met up with him with a box of cookies and invitation to shower at their house.
Once in northern Maine, McIntyre discovered two friends who were a week or so ahead of him on the canoe route had left a care package of beef jerky and gifts at the Churchill Dam ranger station.
“That is my only regret on this whole trip,” he said. “I was so excited to get that package I only realized a mile downriver I had not thanked the ranger named Josh at Churchill for hanging on to it for me.’”
His friends and parents were able to follow McIntyre’s adventures online thanks to a GPS tracking unit that sent out hourly updates on his location.
“That is how I have been surviving,” mother Laurie McIntyre said as she waited for her son on the banks of the St. John River on Saturday morning. “Every hour we knew where he was.”
Laurie McIntyre remembered initially thinking her son was “nuts” when he broached the idea of the canoe trek, but quickly realized it was a good choice.
“He definitely loves the wilderness and the simplicity of nature,” she said.
McIntyre received a great deal of financial and logistical support from St. Lawrence University, where he is a conservation biology major.
He received a grant through the school’s Tanner Fellowship, gear from the campus outing club and additional support from the school’s outing program.
This coming year he plans to write a book about the adventure as part of an independent study for publication.
But for the immediate future he was looking forward to an ice cream birthday cake with family and not having to ration his food.
“Hey look,” he said as he unpacked his canoe in Fort Kent. “I did not eat my emergency, everything-went-wrong hot cocoa, so now I can have it for lunch.”