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YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel

Solo Paddling River Trails

Laurie Chandler Kayaks the Northern Forest Canoe Trail

It is my pleasure and honor to introduce Laurie Chandler as my guest blogger. In the summer of 2015, Laurie Chandler became the first woman to solo paddle the entire 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail, at the age of 53.

Laurie Chandler Paddling

She holds degrees in Biology and Forest Productivity from Albright College and Duke University and worked for many years in the field of forest genetics. A lifelong learner, Laurie returned to Kutztown University in 2001 to study elementary education and is now pursuing a second career in special education at her local K-8 public school. After moving to Maine in 2003, she began exploring the lakes and rivers there in her first kayak and discovered a new passion, wilderness paddling. Embracing a simpler life, Laurie now lives in her parents' log home in Bremen, Maine, within four miles of five lovely lakes. She has two grown and freshly-independent children living in Virginia, a daughter who is a graphic designer and a son who is a firefighter. Life is good and every day is a gift.
Would you say that wilderness paddling is your major passion?

All my life I've also felt a call to write. Sadly, the busy years have come and gone, without much to show for it on the written page. There are my travel journals and two children's chapter books started somewhere, buried amid boxes of childhood doll clothes and old postcards. As far as published works, I wrote two historical articles in middle school and a number of forest research reports in the 1980's. This decade, I've promised myself, my priorities will change. I'm now an adventure travel writer, and a blogger, and I will start publishing some of my work.

Ducklings on the NFCT

So, how's that going?

The first of a series of two articles on the NFCT will be published this fall in Paddler Ezine, with the second coming out in early 2017. And the story of my 2015 NFCT thru-paddle, a full-length book with the working title of Upwards, is roughly halfway done. My blog can be found at and I'd love to have all of you as a follower. There you will also find a tab to the blog from my first grand wilderness adventure, in 2011, which I called Paddle for Hope. That was a 30-day solo journey across Maine's portion of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (the second half of the trail). With generous contributions from family, friends, and strangers, we raised $10,600 for the Maine Children's Cancer Program, money which went entirely to that outpatient treatment facility, for equipment, medications, and counseling services.

What motivated you to choose a second career in special education?

Something bigger and wiser than myself led me into my work with the students who make my days interesting, challenging and incredibly rewarding. Substitute teaching when I first moved to Maine, I was often assigned to special needs classrooms and the children and I were a good fit. This year, I am part of the team initiating a new Life Skills classroom at our school.

Have you always been an avid outdoors adventurer?

Yes and no. On my desk downstairs is a faded photo. I'm in a hoodie sweatshirt, perhaps a faded pink. In the background is a windswept Maine beach. I was 7 months old in that photo, grinning, safe on my father's shoulders. Growing up, we were a family who spent our weekends together, often camping somewhere in a tent, or later a pop-up camper. It wasn't the wilderness, but it was nature and birds, salamanders and campfires, whittling and playing cribbage, with my younger brother and two other families with kids our age. By the time my kids came along, we were camping often in Shenandoah National Park and even trying backpacking. 

Laurie Chandler with Chris and Megan

What motivated you to attempt the Northern Forest Canoe Trail?

Many of the first trips I took after moving to Maine lay along the NFCT. My honeymoon, in 2005, included canoeing part of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway with my second husband Chris. I explored Moosehead Lake, the Rangeley Lakes, Flagstaff Lake and the Bigelow Range, and the West Branch of the Penobscot, sometimes with Chris or my parents or my children. After I was widowed, my first solo trip, in 2010, was the Moose River Bow Trip near Jackman. So when I dreamed up Paddle for Hope, it was natural to choose the NFCT for my route.

What were your most rewarding experiences on the trail?

Moose on the Northen Forest Canoe Trail

The people I met, almost universally good and generous, still buoy my spirits when I've spent too much time listening to today's news. Lingering with the wildlife, like moose and herons, otters and beaver, feeling a sense of companionship and leaving them still peacefully feeding. And, of course, surviving, and later seeing my name appear on the official NFCT list of thru-paddlers, with the two little asterisks that denote the "Self-Propelled" category. Seriously, I was never certain that I would be able to achieve this dream that had been growing in both urgency and achievability in my mind, ever since I finished Paddle for Hope. The first half of the NFCT stretches from Old Forge, in New York's Adirondack Park, through Vermont and a bit of Quebec, then back through Vermont and northern New Hampshire. That first half holds most of the serious challenges. To be "Self-Propelled," one must go the entire 740 miles taking no shuttles or other assistance along the trail itself.

Naorthen Forest Canoe Trail1

You mentioned challenges. What were they?

Every thru-paddler must traverse 162 miles of upstream rivers, through a combination of paddling, walking or poling in the water, pulling your boat on a kayak cart, and carrying your boat and gear on non-wheelable portages. According to my GPS, I walked 127 miles, of which about 10 miles was non-wheelable. Then there was running Class II whitewater downstream, wind and rain on Lake Champlain and other large lakes, and the adrenalin rush of escaped convicts lingering somewhere in the remote loneliness of New York just as I passed through, alone. 

Tell us about your work in Honduras.

Ah yes, another important part of my life. Our church, the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ, has had a partnership with a sister denomination there since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. In 2008, my daughter Megan and I were part of a mission team that built 2 homes in a mountain village in the Central Highlands, near Santa Barbara. I've been back three times, with Chris, alone, and again with Megan. In recent years, my trips to Honduras have also included visits with Fredy, a 16-year-old boy whom I sponsor through a wonderful organization called Unbound.

Laura in Hondorus

What new adventures do you see on the horizon?

Well, I'm sure I'll return to Honduras, including many more days at my favorite lodge, brewery and adventure travel destination, D&D, near Honduras' largest lake, Lago Yojoa. Then, my new friend Claire Datnow has planted the seed for exploring the Alabama Scenic River Trail, which will join camping in Alaska and walking Spain's Camino de Santiago on my bucket list. But first, my next adventure, in 2017, will be a trip with Unbound to Costa Rica to meet Dixie, an 11-year-old girl who I sponsor there. Did I mention that life is good and every day is a gift?

Thank you for a fascinating glimpse into your adventures, Laurie. We look forward to hearing all about them. Wishing you many more safe, exciting, and rewarding experiences. Please visit Claire and Boris Datnow's enhanced ebooks, The Passionate Traveler, for more travel adventures.

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