Or … How Every Island Can Be on Your Top Ten List
By Michael Daugherty, Maine Registered Guide and co-owner, Sea Kayak Stonington
During a summer spent paddling along the Maine coast, living out of our kayaks and camping on islands, my wife Rebecca and I fell in love with a few places, while a few others, well, we loved them less. It would be easy to come up with a top ten list, but I’m not sure that those favorite places need any more publicity. In fact, I’m ready to start rumors that they are all mosquito-infested and best avoided. But here’s the thing: I’ve avoided a few islands due to a rumor of fierce insects, and those islands later became favorites. I would tell you about them, but the mosquitoes are awful. Really. Well, they were awful at least once.
Aside from coveting my own favorite islands, I’m not sure that I trust my own judgement anymore. Over the years I would have put the same islands into the “best” category one year and the “less-best” another year. I’ve avoided places that didn’t do much for me on the first visit, and a few years later had an entirely different experience and wished that I’d kept an open mind.
This disparity is probably situational and has little to do with the place. I could have been, once again, trying to cut down on coffee, or maybe Rebecca and I were in the midst of another “what are we going to do when we grow up” conversation. In other words: it was all my fault. My mood colored everything and the island didn’t fare well.
Sometimes my mood was fine, but I was influenced by something else, like trash washed up on the beach or left in a fire ring. It gets a little tougher when those distractions are environmental: a soaking rain and the beginning stages of hypothermia, incessant mosquitoes or a spring tide bringing middle-of-the-night surprises. In some cases, we’ve had all three of those at the same campsite, and, sorry to say, but it wouldn’t make the top ten list. With a little perspective though, I realize I could go to that same island again and discover one of my new favorite places.
I try to avoid ranking these spots because we owe it to ourselves to approach them with an open mind. Our experience is usually improved by learning about a place before we paddle there, but then maybe we should try to land with no expectations, good or bad, and just experience the place. I suppose this is probably the goal of Zen masters and for most of us is about as attainable as levitation, but the effort is worthwhile.
How Every Island Can Be on Your Top Ten List
- Arrive early. Plan on arriving early enough that you could change your plans, and then have a backup plan if your campsite is full. Include some time to explore or just hang-out.
- Spend 2 nights. It’s no coincidence that our favorite islands have been the ones where we spent more time, often unplanned, due to bad weather. When an island becomes home for a day, we slow down and feel its varied moods, its different tides. We find the comfortable rock or shelter from the wind where we watch sunrise or the sunset… sometimes even both. But no more than 2 nights; give other people a chance to enjoy it as well.
- Travel in small groups. The larger the group, the more difficult it is to experience the place. It becomes all about the group, and no one wants to camp near a large group.
- Be prepared. We sometimes share the islands with mosquitoes or raccoons. Sometimes it rains, and yes, spring tides shrink the islands. It’s not the island’s fault if you don’t have bug spray, a tarp or if you leave your boat in the intertidal zone.
- There are idyllic, magical places everywhere. One season I made a point of eating lunch on ledges where I’d never stopped before. Most of these ledges don’t even have names and we’re unlikely to find them on social media or anyone’s lists of favorites, but for one day anyway, they topped my list.
- Explore with a sketchbook, notebook, journal or a guidebook. Take the time to check out tidepools. Slow down.
- Take pictures as a way to slow down and see things, not just to save it for later.