Sunday, May 29, 2016

Planning for the NFCT

Taken as a whole, the two guides, the 13 maps, and some help
from Google Earth, and the tools on the NFCT site, and you are
all set.

Planning for such a trip takes some time, so don’t be in a rush.  First, get acquainted with the NFCT by checking out their official site at  You will find a wealth of information here from a description of the trail, an interactive map that will enable you to follow the trail on the screen while seeing all of the points of interest and resources available for the entire trail, or any point along the way.  You can read the blogs of previous Through-Paddlers, and their insight will prove valuable as you read the guides and begin to comprehend the obstacles being encountered.  Read the questions and answers section for a good overview.  Then, become a member.  Membership helps to support the work on the trail, and also offers discounts on the guides and maps you will need to purchase; a win-win.
To really appreciate the trail, you have to comprehend the amount of work contributed by an army of volunteers along the length of the trail.  They build steps in wood and stone to help paddlers ascend steep banks for portages and campsites, clear and create new campsites, build lean-to’s, picnic tables, fire pits, privies, sign-in boxes and kiosks, and follow-up with ongoing maintenance.  There won’t be a day go by that you won’t reap the benefits of hundreds of helping hands.  

The Official Guide

There are two guides for the paddler planning to tackle the trail.  “The Northern Forest Canoe Trail: The Official Guidebook” is a 302-page detailed breakdown on every twist and turn from Old Forge, NY, to Fort Kent, ME.  The second guide is “The Northern Forest Canoe Trail Through-Paddler’s Companion,” by Katina Daanen.  Katina is herself a Through-Paddler, and writes to address the specific needs of the paddler on the trail.  This is 240 pages plus index.  So, wouldn’t you expect them to be pretty much the same?  Well, No!

Most trails follow a specific route, and that trail’s official guide carries the paddler along that route, and in a prescribed direction.  The Florida Saltwater Circumnavigation Paddling Trail goes counter-clockwise around the coast of Florida, and the other trails, like the Georgia Trail, the Intracoastal Waterway, all follow the counter-clockwise movement around the Eastern United States.  The rivers, Missouri and Mississippi, go in one direction from source to sea.  All references, all mileage counts, all shore identifications, all navigational markers assume you are following the prescribed route.  If you are not, the consistency of downstream and source-to-sea makes it easy to realize that all references will be reversed.  No problem.  The NFCT guide, however, assumes you are a section paddler picking rivers you can float, or rapids you can run.  This approach is undoubtedly used because they feel the bulk of their visitors will be sectional paddlers.  For the Through-Paddler, however, it becomes confusing at times.  This is not to take away from the trove of valuable information the guide provides, just the mental gymnastics needed to be going in one direction yourself while the guide is going forward, back, forward, back, etc. to follow the current flow of every stream you encounter.

The Through-Paddler's Companion

Katina Daanen puts all the confusion to rest with her “Northern Forest Canoe Trail Through-Paddler’s Companion.”  Every section of trail includes all the information needed to progress steadily with all the  portages, types of portages, the map to use for each section, the distances involved, types of waterways or challenges to be encountered, the services available, points of interest, and lodging/camping options, and a narrative to tie everything together.  Additional information is added on poisonous plants, pests, wildlife, and how to handle them, route planning, skills needed, boats and carts to use, safety and awareness, camping, water and food, and much, much more.  She helps you pronounce all of the unusual names, and lists every applicable service available in every town along the way with address, phone number, and, using the NFCT kiosk near the landing as the reference point, the distance needed to walk to get to each one.

The bottom line is this.  They are both outstanding guides.  If you are a sectional paddler/vacationer, get the official guide.  If you are a Through-Paddler, then the Through-Paddler’s Companion is a must.  If you suffer from a touch of OCD, like myself, by all means get them both.  I bought the official guide with the maps on line after becoming a NFCT member, and then got Katina’s ‘companion’ from her (autographed) at Canoecopia.  In either case, the guides accompany the essential maps.

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