An New Acquaintance with Pipe & Tobacco
While kayaking the Maine Islands
By Horace Harker

September 2006


In the February Newsletter I wrote about my trip to Maine and the difficulty I had finding a decent tobacco shop anywhere let along a place to smoke my pipe. I love visiting Maine but this trip was discouraging and I went home with a bad taste in my mouth. Well, this past September I spent a week kayaking camping with five friends on two of the many Maine islands off the coast of Stonington. It was probably one of the best experiences I've had in my life so far and while I was there I was able to replace that lingering bad taste with one I think most of you would appreciate. Not only was smoking permitted everywhere I went I was even fortunate enough to have the opportunity to share my love of pipe and tobacco with a few of my friends. Here's how it went....

Six of us had made plans to do a weeks worth of kayak camping on the east Coast of Nova Scotia in late September. At the last minute the plans changed for logistical reasons and we decided to spend the week paddling Maine instead. Other than our guide Doug, none of us had ever paddled the islands of Maine before so we were all still pretty excited about this new adventure. It was just one new experience after another from bald eagles fly less than 100 feet above us and paddling along side a small group of feeding porpoise, to having pirate-like tall ships cross our path and being buzzed by a Coast Guard helicopter. It all started with our least favorite new experience... having to pack six sea kayaks with enough food for six days along with all of our gear, water, fuel and kitchen items. It wasn't easy and took over an hour and a half of resituating, cramming (and a little pounding and swearing) to make it all fit and much to all of our surprise.

Through the early morning fog that is so characteristic of the Maine coast, we made our way towards Hell's Half Acre, which would be the first base camp of our trip. The plan was to spend three nights on this small island just about a little over a mile and a half from our starting point at Webb Cove and explore the many islands that surround it during our time there. From Hell's we would move further South to the more remote Wheat Island for three more days of paddling plans to visit Isle au Haut and hike to it's highest point. Our guide Doug was a NOLS instructor and an experienced outdoor chef. Needless to say we ate like kings... as far as wilderness camping goes that is. Breakfast and dinner were always hot and we never ate the same meal twice. Who needs a Holiday Inn when you can live like this? I know, I know, when does this turn into a pipe related story. Be patient I'm getting there.

The name Hell's Half Acre doesn't necessarily leave one with pleasant thoughts but I assure you this island was anything but unpleasant. The tall pine trees created a cozy canopy over our camp as we pitched out tents on soft beds of pine needles. The North side of the island was a huge granite shelf that provided us with a nice place to watch some beautiful sunsets. The South side consisted primarily of large boulders and a few small beaches of pulverized shells and offered us a warm place to enjoy breakfast. Evenings at Hell's Half Acre were spent mainly under the dining canopy before a glowing lantern (unfortunately you needed a permit to have a fire which we didn't have). There'd be lots of discussion about the day's events before the light from the lantern would catch your gaze and begin to mesmerize you and silence would fill the air. I've only camped from my kayak twice but always made a point to bring my pipe along to enjoy in the quiet of the evening.... after all, what's a camping trip without your best friend (no offense to my other companions). I also brought with me a few corncobs to see if I could pique the interest of the others that were now probably deep in thought of tales and adventures of the sea.

I got up out of my comfortable Thermarest chair, switched on my headlamp and followed its beam to my tent where I located the dry bag that contained the pipes and an amply supply of Anniversary Flake tobacco, all of which I had double wrapped in zip lock bags as an extra measure or safety. I returned to the quiet canopy and asked if anyone was interested in joining me for a smoke?" Three of the five accepted the offer and I packed each pipe before giving it to them. For most it was a novelty, exploring an age old tradition with a brand new experience. Doug gave up after about ten minutes but looked quite smart firing up his pipe in our dimly lit surroundings. Steve and John carried on a while longer giving it the old college try. Here's what was said about the experience in the trip report that was written upon the return from our adventure:

"After a dinner of Curried Mango Chicken, Nelson broke out a pouch of Anniversary Kake tobacco and some corncob pipes. John, Doug, and Steven bravely accepted the offering, which was smooth going down, but seemed a lot of work to keep lighted to the uninitiated. Steven was rumored to have woken in the middle of the night with the desire to step in front of a fire hose with his mouth wide open."

I let each of them keep their corn cob with the hope that another night they might ask if there was any tobacco left for another bowl. This unfortunately never happened but they still have the pipe and maybe someday they'll decide to give it another try. I'm happy to at least have had the opportunity to share one of my favorite pastimes with them and I appreciate their willingness to play along.

As planned we did move to our next base camp at Wheat Island but not before going through much of the same packing ritual that we went through back at Webb Cove. With a little less food, and a little more experience, packing was somewhat easier but still by no means a pleasant experience. Loaded down again we headed for Wheat, this time there was no fog but we were paddling into strong wind with plenty of waves and none of us were dry when we reached our destination.

Wheat Island was different from Hell's Half Acre. It was more remote and more exposed to the elements. On Hell's we were all able to camp under the same grove of pines but on Wheat our tents were spread out throughout the island. Three of us set up in different alcoves that were found here and there among the trees while the other three, myself included, pitched out tents out on what I called the "back veranda". This was an open grassy area with great views of the islands and the sunrises but also very exposed to wind and rain. It was a very beautiful spot to camp.

On Wheat we never ate under the dining canopy, we were always out on the rocks in the sun and it was much more enjoyable. At night the stars would fill the sky while the Big Dipper hung quietly over our resting-place. I hadn't seen stars like this since my days aboard an aircraft carrier on the Indian Ocean; it's a site that's hard to forget. I brought a small radio with me and although the choices of stations were few we managed to find a great classic rock station to set the mood for the evening consisting of light conversation, a few beers, a little whiskey and for me a bowl of tobacco. I've found that a pipe always tastes better while camping so there wasn't much else that could get me feeling better than I did during those times. This was definitely one of the better parts of each day.

The following day we paddled to the general store on Isle au Haut for more beer and other sundries and found that it was only open for two hours a day so we had to wait a half-hour for them to open up. After our grocery run we continued around the coast to Goose Harbor and got buzzed twice by a Coast Guard helicopter apparently on one of it's daily missions. Talk about a rush, we could feel it in our chest... it was awesome! Goose Harbor is actually part of Acadia National Park and here we hiked to the top of Goose Harbor Mountain. It was a nice change of pace to give our legs a little exercise for a while. That night we dined on pepperoni pizza made from scratch (including the pizza dough) which was cooked over a small backpacking stove. You'd be surprised how good it tasted and I was barely able to finish it.... but I did.

Friday morning we awoke to the sound of rain against our tents and since the weather report didn't show much improvement we decided to head back a day early. With practically all the food gone and most of the water you'd think it would be easier to pack the boats. Guess again. Our return trip was in the fog and rain and by the time we made it back to Webb Cove we were thoroughly soaked from head to toe. All that was on our minds was a hot shower and some dry clothes. Surprisingly, the rain stopped and the sun appeared for a while as we headed into Stonington for dinner at the Harbor Cafe. Most of us had burgers and beer and spent a long time reliving the trip. Back at camp the rain stayed away long enough for us enjoy a nice fire before turning in.

On our final morning the sound of Snicker Bar pancakes being prepared beckoned us from our cozy sleeping bags and we all waited eagerly for ours to be made and promptly devoured them. But soon it was time to break camp for the last time and before long we had everything packed up and were headed back to the life we left behind.

Like your first love, this was a trip that I will never forget and one I highly recommend everyone try at least once in their lives whether it by boat or on foot. Experiencing our beautiful country on more primitive terms rewards you with a sense of freedom and peace that you'll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. Its experiences like this that help me to understand the deeper meaning behind the words "the home of the free". If you enjoyed this story and would like to read the complete trip report with links to over 300 pictures and 14 short videos, it can be found at Get-Outside.com . And if you do decided to take a camping trip with friends in the future, make sure you don't forget to bring your pipe and maybe even one for your friends as well.

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