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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?

Our final morning dawns with a cloud-coated sunrise and crystal-clear, barely moving water. The Rapid has quieted from the recent release and the transition zone to Umbagog proper is eerily still. We retrace our path from two days before and are back on the lake itself in an hour, recrossing it to the west—this time toward the Androscoggin, just south of where we exited the Magalloway. “Do you know where we’re going?” Dad asks me when we enter the bigger water.

I pull a wide C-stroke, moving the bow of the canoe until it’s facing a bluff-topped mountain straight ahead. “See that?” I say to Dad. “That’s our goal.”

We paddle together expertly. Whenever it’s time for a change I say, “switch,” and we both arc our paddles momentarily skyward. Our maps don’t do the rolling, rock and tree-topped peaks around here justice, so I don’t have answers when Dad asks for their names. “I’d like to come back and hike some of those,” he says. “We should find out their names.”

We leave the wide, glassy lake another hour later, crossing an acre-wide section of lily pads to enter the 30-foot-wide Androscoggin. For the next two hours, we glide in silence past reed groves and giant submerged deadwood, making fast time in the moderate current. It’s just noon when we pull into the boat ramp, 6 miles from last night’s camp. We unload the canoe and fill my van, leaving the boat for the outfitter to pick up later. As Dad shuts the back after the final load, he pauses and looks at my Colorado license plate. “Shouldn’t this say Live Free or Die?”

Majka Burhardt (majkaburhardt.com) beat the mold, married Peter, and still favors climbing over engineering. Ptarmigan has yet to become a swimmer.

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