The Saco: “Interesting” Sums it Up

2013-07-20_12-45-04_805This past weekend I finally had the opportunity to do the Saco River of Maine with a group of friends. Now, I’m unsure if I’ve just spent the entire duration of my life living under a rock – but let’s just say that not one single part of the trip was what I expected. So if you’re looking for a rainbows, sunshine, and a pretty nature review – this ain’t it.

So to start, you first must understand what the Saco is. It is (in it’s most basic element) the Jersey Shore of the North from June to August every summer. Thousands and thousands of remarkable (sarcastic) people descend upon this once lovely river with an abnormal amount of beer, pool toys, dilapidated floating things, and absolutely no common sense. For any half-sane outdoorsy person, it’s somewhere between “People of Wal-Mart” and a full out horror movie. Or better yet… a car accident. You just have to stare and wonder what went wrong. Oh, and it’s 20.5 miles of kayaking, canoeing, floating, or whatever you pick.

To start off the trip, we put in our river worthy vessels (no really – no duct tape, band-aids, or inflatable bananas were needed for this group) at Swans Fall Dam. You can almost instantly tell that you’re going to be in for some type of adventure if you simply spend 15 minutes at the launch. In that short time I saw inflatable versions of the following: banana, alligator, swan, killer whale, and a few unidentifiable pool creatures. Also was ever so lucky to see 6 people cram into a 5′ long row boat with 3-4 coolers (they had a mere 2″ of water clearance), an odd pink wooden raft, and a floating keg. Yeah, Saco!

One of the many rope swings at Fiddlehead.

One of the many rope swings at Fiddlehead.

After about 45 minutes of people watching and wondering if Snooki was going to show up, we finally pushed off. My group, being ever so ready was somehow prepared to make breakfast sandwiches on the water. For a brief moment, it seemed like we might be in for a peaceful fun trip. And then the margarita blender started smoking wildly.

Not to long after we finally made it to Fiddlehead. I’m not really sure how to sum this place up, but if you have children and decide to do the Saco during the summer – it might be worth blind folding them and putting ear muffs on them while you pass through this part. It was just something. Hundreds and hundreds of drunks with barely setup tents (some abandoned altogether) throwing beer cans into the water, because logically that is the trash can – right? And it’s not like I’m talking about a huge area here – it’s simply a beach a few hundred feet long.

Shortly after Fiddlehead is where our fun for the day started. When venturing into the great outdoors, it’s always important to have a communication plan. Like really important. We of course didn’t (well, Rob and I did at least). Somehow between a shortcut, poor visibility, and who knows what else… we lost 1/3 of our group just a few mere miles into the trip. Soon enough, we were paddling up river, down river, up again – all with no luck. After a few hours and a few more miles of searching, we finally picked a spot on the river to camp far away from all the other crazies (key plot point here). Soon after it started pouring… and our tent got soaked. Lame.

At least engineers make great fires...

At least engineers make great fires…

A few hours later in the pitch black, we started hearing some noise down on the river and shined a light down to see two distraught soaked people in a canoe… without a light. They told us they had flipped their canoe, one of them couldn’t swim, and everyone was turning them away from camping on the banks. We told them there was plenty of room on the other side of our area, so go ahead. Just two soaked people? No biggie.

Next thing we know – we had 15 soaked drunks noisily setting up camp 20 feet away from us (I definitely had a made of point of pointing out an area like 60 feet away). Soon they were all at our site asking to borrow lighters, use our fire to cook hot dogs, and taking coals. All while yapping up a storm about beer, steroids, everything but Caucasian people, and jerking off. We repeatedly kindly asked them to keep it down and head out as we wanted sleep. Finally, we let them take our fire (drunk people are good at picking up flaming sticks) and went to bed.

At 1:07am, Rob and I awoke thinking there was a large animal in our site. Something was crashing into containers, moaning… and swearing? Guess bears don’t do that. Rob boldly jumped out of the tent with a flashlight to find the drunkest, loudest, angriest guy (the one who kept telling everyone how he didn’t want to be here and instead at home jerking off three times) from the other group standing in front of our tent. Damn. After quite the verbal show down with me wondering where my knife was, we determined that he thought he was lost, didn’t know what river he was on, and was probably high as a kite. We finally got him to go back to his site, but not without a lovely ‘Go to bed f***kers!” from him first. Seriously, who can sleep after that?

Pancakes and sausages... in a canoe.

Pancakes and sausages… in a canoe.

Morning came, and the search for our lost friends returned. This part of the river was fantastically loaded with downed trees and other random debris, so it made coasting along downright impossible. And the once rather open beaches rapidly disappeared to muddy, insanely bug infested banks. Regardless, we paddled on – while making pancakes and sausages in a canoe.

Finally, we hit the takeout point and were told our friends had arrived a mere 10 minutes before us. Figures. In the end, it turns out they had killed about 20 minutes waiting for us to come back up the shortcut and we didn’t, so they followed us. By that time we were headed back up the longer way thinking they had gone down that. Our friends thought we took off without them, so they paddled like crazed maniacs until they had to call it quits… about a mile ahead of us.

So, take aways from the trip:

  • Communication is key. Don’t depend on cell phones and always come up with a meeting spot or quitting spot for the day.
  • Our new kayaks were awesome. We paddled about 25 miles in total with 30-40lbs of cargo each and could have carried even more. Hoping to do a review soon.
  • Future Saco-ers: Dry bags are your friend. While you may have never flipped a canoe or kayak, rain, tree branches, or drunks will catch up with you one of these days.
  • Leave No Trace: A concept not familiar to a lot of people. Disgusting.

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About Jillian Bejtlich

Hey! I'm Jillian Bejtlich. I’m a lifelong New Englander with a serious love of the outdoors, adventure, and a pretty serious inability to sit still. I’m plagued by the travel bug, and it seems I’ll try any relatively sane and safe thing once. My big goal in life: Get people outside!