Wiscasset High School

Colleen Hendricks canoes the Maine wilderness with Chewonki

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 12:00pm

After three weeks in the Maine wilderness, canoeing between 5 and 17 miles a day, portaging across rough trails and trying to sleep in tents when the rain poured, what was Colleen Hendricks most looking forward to once she got home?

“A shower,” she said. “Nothing to make you appreciate a hot shower like three weeks without one.”

Despite no showers (and no music on her phone), Hendricks said the Chewonki Maine North Woods Canoe trip was “the experience of a lifetime.”

Hendricks, along with nine other girls, paddled 160 miles up the west branch of the Penobscot River to St. Francis on the border of Canada. They left at the end of June in the summer of 2014.

The youngest girl on the trip was in eighth grade, and Hendricks, now a junior at Wiscasset High School, was the oldest. Two counselors accompanied them on the trip. There were two girls to a canoe, and one solo canoe, which was rotated among paddlers so they could all experience what it was like to row alone.

“It was a lot harder to paddle on your own,” Hendricks said. “I'm better in the front of a boat anyways, and when you're on your own you need to keep switching sides and it's much more tiring.”

The girls paddled every day, whether the sun was shining or rain was falling.

“I had rain pants and a thermal raincoat, but they didn't make much of a difference. I still got soaked, everything was wet, but we all dealt with it,” Hendricks said.

It wasn't all rain and exhaustion, though. Hendricks favorite part was when the canoes went through big waves in the class II rapids.

“You had to gauge whether the wave was caused by the current or by a rock in the middle of the river,” Hendricks said. “If you misjudged and it was a rock, you could push off but it was jarring.” Amazingly, during the entire trip, no canoe ever tipped.

A day usually began around 6 a.m. (though sometimes as early as 4 a.m.) with packing up the campsite and setting off. When the group reached the next site, they would first set up the tents then break into crews for gathering water, preparing food and cleanup.

“Some of the girls would stay up and talk, but I was so physically drained, I became known for going to sleep really fast,” Hendricks said. “I was in the tent and would pretty much pass out.”

One night she wasn't able to sleep so well — July 4th — when a huge rainstorm passed through. It canceled fireworks for much of New England and the east coast.

“The wind was crazy and the lighting and thunder were everywhere,” Hendricks said. “My tent mate and I were focused on staying on our bags because if lighting strikes a nearby tree the sleeping bag would act as an insulator and protect you.”

Even with everything, Hendricks enjoyed the experience immensely.

“I didn't know any of these girls at first,” she said. “There was even one from the Dominican Republic.

“But it's something about Maine, being able to form instant connections with people. It was a wonderful experience branching outside my normal group of friends. I'm very lucky to have had this opportunity.”