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Backpacker Magazine – July/August 2013

Testing the Waters

Four days on New England's idyllic waterways. Is it enough to win a father's blessing for his daughter's new life?

by: Majka Burhardt

Paddle Therapy on Umbagog Lake (Bob Rossi)
Paddle Therapy on Umbagog Lake (Bob Rossi)
Paddling in sync on day two. (Rob Bossi)
Paddling in sync on day two. (Rob Bossi)
Photo by Majka Burhardt
Photo by Majka Burhardt
The trail to Diamond Peaks (Majka Burhardt)
The trail to Diamond Peaks (Majka Burhardt)
Breakfast on the last day (Rob Bossi)
Breakfast on the last day (Rob Bossi)

Day two is a multisport day: We’re going hiking. The 2,000-foot Diamond Peaks we’re aiming for poke out of the dense forest like giant Chia Pets. We have a short paddle to get to them—or at least that’s what the map says. Though we can’t see the peaks from our camp, they were hard to miss on yesterday’s paddle, their distinct shape both augmented and softened with full evergreen vegetation. We leave our tent standing and set off in the canoe with daypacks and the poodle, backtracking 10 minutes on the lazy Magalloway to the Diamond River junction. An hour later, we’ve forded three low spots (a move consisting of Ptarmigan standing regally in the canoe while Dad and I seek footing on slippery rocks and try not to let go of the boat) and reversed from two dead-ends. Dad patiently allows me to spin him around each time I reset our course and then offers to take over in the stern while I mutter about needing a better map. I resist the urge to assure him I know what I’m doing—that would make me look even less sure of where we’re going. We reach the trailhead shortly thereafter.

Within an hour of hiking on the Diamond Peak Trail, the loamy peat footing and hemlock canopies turn to a granite ridge. We pop out on Alice’s Ledge, with a view of 2,818-foot Mt. Dustan crowning a range of purple-mountains-majesty to the south. Dad whistles in appreciation.

“You do have nice mountains here,” he admits.

I smile and feel proud of my adopted landscape. “Yes, we do.”

Dad puts his arm around me for a sideways hug. I realize these mountains—ones I think of as small compared to the Rockies, my local range until recently—might manage to have a big impact.

We stand together and admire the peaks in silence, and then are soon admiring the thunderhead growing to the west. We still have 8 miles to paddle to our next camp, so we forgo the summit and head back to the canoe we’ve tucked in the weeds at the trailhead, 2 miles away. It’s our third time into the boat and this time we fall into an easy rhythm. Well, mostly. Dad tosses in the occasional rudder by flattening his paddle against the canoe’s side, and I gently suggest that this method of steering doesn’t work in the front. He lets me teach him how to draw (pulling the paddle perpendicularly in toward the canoe), but, I tell him, the move is usually used only for rapids and quick maneuvers. He nods and says he knows it’s best to just have even strokes when you’re in the front. “Besides,” he adds, setting down his paddle, “the bow is actually nice—I’ve never before not had to worry about where I am going.”

I smile and keep paddling as he watches for ducks. This lazy ease of paddling and togetherness is
exactly what I wanted. Then my dad sighs. “Now, Majka…” 

I pause my stroke. It’s a bad sign when he starts this way.

“Have you really considered all of your options?” He goes on without my input. “Portland [Maine] seems like a great city.” I don’t point out that he’s only been to the airport there; a few months ago he was on a campaign for my new fiancé, Peter, and me to live in Boston. Though he’s still focused on metropolitan areas, I consider it an improvement that at least he’s moved geographically closer to where we’re actually buying a house. “And there’s Boulder,” he continues. “Are you 100 percent certain you should leave Colorado?”

In fact, I’m not. Is anyone ever 100 percent sure of getting married, moving to a new state, and buying a house—all at once? Last month, I left a stash in Boulder, including my guitar, a climbing rack, and a coffee table. I weigh the items and my own doubts and arrive at 93 percent confidence that I’ve made the right choice.

With others, I can hide that troubling seven percent. I’m sure my dad senses my uncertainty. But I prefer to leave it unspoken—to both of us. It’s the way I can move forward. I just wish he wouldn’t see right through it. I’m reminded again of how parents can make a grown-up feel like a little kid.





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