Seven-year MITA member George Grzyb submitted this classic Casco Bay trip report to our 2017 Tales of the Trail contest. Thanks George – sounds like a weekend to remember!
We both found ourselves near the Casco Bay area for different reasons – Erika Weinbacher was visiting her parents vacationing in Maine and I was nearby in New Hampshire for work related meetings. Our overnight paddle camping trip began with a delicious burrito lunch and a requisite beer at Rising Tide Brewing Company. Of course, I bought a 4-pack of the Maine Island Trail Ale! Well-fortified, we headed to Portland Paddle to take receipt of our tandem kayak rental. This would be Erika’s real first time paddling in the open water of the Atlantic Ocean – what an adventure and treat!
Having gotten a late start on the paddling, we decided against the further islands of Bangs, Crow, or Jewell. Additionally, the weather was a bit unsettled and we did not want to get caught up in it.
Factoring experience, time, and weather, we decided to camp for the night on Little Chebeague. We had a great time paddling along the coastline of Great Diamond and Long Island, despite a short drizzle which precipitated from a system we observed slowly approaching from the west. Landing upon Little Chebeague, we were surprised to be sharing the shoreline with quite a large local group which was camping and cooking on the beach! The apparent lack of solitude wasn’t going to wreck the adventure, so despite the negative connotation of those from the NY Metro area, we decided to be friendly, especially when we saw a fire was already burning!
After introducing ourselves and chatting a bit with the local family from Maine, we went back to our selected campsite and worked on setting up the tent over a well-deserved beer. The views were marvelous and we snapped a few photos in the fleeting daylight before settling down for dinner. Afterward, donning headlamps, we ventured back to enjoy the campfire on the beach with our new friends. At one point, Erika had lived in Maine, and I myself have often ventured to the various islands along the trail with others, so we definitely had quite a few adventures to share. Conversation also ranged from hiking Baxter State Park and Bigelow Mountain to skiing Sugarloaf and Sunday River! While we had eaten a simple quick meal earlier, our new friends were cooking Maine lobster right on the beach by steaming seaweed over the campfire – how fancy! To our chagrin and dismay, one of our friends was not very fond of lobster tail and shared her meal with us – wow, delicious! Not sure the lobster rolls we would have the next day even came close to the freshness of this local catch. At this point, we were quite spent from the day’s driving and paddling, deciding it was a good time to retire to our tent for the evening.
The next day dawned a bit more blustery and windy, so we took our time in the morning hoping for the sun to at least warm things up a bit. After a lazy breakfast, we explored the rusting iron ruins of the nearby training structure used by the Navy Firefighting School. Mustering enough courage, we even climbed the rung ladder to the top to scope out the view. We eventually broke down camp and decided to paddle off, rounding Long Island to investigate the choppiness of Luckse Sound. The conditions weren’t too bad, however, we decided against paddling to Jewell. Instead, we paddled along the eastern shore of Long Island and then around the northern end of Peaks Island. Along the way, we spotted a seal treading water and looking at us, which was really neat. It is always a treat to spot aquatic wildlife on a paddling trip! Finally, rounding Little Diamond, Fort Gorges came into view, which surprised us as we didn’t know about this structure on Casco Bay so close to Portland. On the Hudson River in New York, we locally have Bannerman Castle situated on Pollepel Island, but it is illegal to land and explore the castle. So we definitely took the advantage of landing and exploring Fort Gorges! The fort was really neat and we enjoyed exploring some of the nooks and crannies and taking in the views from the upper tiers. Hope the city of Portland finishes the rehabilitation project to allow the public continued access well into the future. Our kayaking adventure was now approaching an end as Erika had family obligations to attend, so we returned the rented tandem kayak to Portland Paddle. However, no good adventure is ‘great’ without a proper celebratory meal and drink! We ended up sampling a few beers at the local Portland breweries and sharing two lobster rolls from Bite into Maine.
Our paddle backpacking trip to Little Chebeague will be an adventure we will surely not soon forget on the island trail. We are already looking forward to returning for our next paddling and camping adventure so as to enjoy the benefit of accessing these islands stewarded by the Maine Island Trail Association.
Red Track – 2017-09-09, Blue Track – 2017-09-10