The Great Outdoors

We got to the lodge at Northern Outdoors, in The Forks, Maine, just in time for last call. Which would have been good news, except that it was now almost midnight and my husband, Skip, and I had to be up at 3:30 a.m. to meet our guide, Carl, for a flyfishing trip down the Kennebec Gorge. But, hey, it was the beginning of our second annual [OL outing](http://www.outdoorlife.com/outdoor/photogallery/article/0,20036,1540009,00.h tml) so we ordered a couple of pints of the local Kennebec River Brewery beer from Nicole (above) and took a seat at the bar.Outdoor Life Online Editor
No hitting the snooze button the next morning, as we rose in our cabin in the dark and fumbled for our gear. Whose idea was this, anyway? We made it over to the lodge parking lot by about 4:15, and there was Carl, just as he had promised, but not in much better shape, having gotten only two hours of sleep himself. We piled in his truck and set out for Harris Dam, about 40 minutes away, most of it along a gravel road that once held a train track. The sun was just beginning to rise, and a layer of fog still blurred the ground.Outdoor Life Online Editor
When we got to the dam, Carl brought out a box of flies that had been made especially for us by Selene Dumaine, a renowned local angler and fly tier (selenedumaine.com). We started to put our rods together and Carl asked us where the reels were: "In the gray bag," I said as I searched inside the truck.
"Where's the gray bag?" Skip asked.
"I don't know," I said. "I thought you had it."
"No," he replied (rather calmly, I thought). "I assumed you had it."
"But I told you it was your responsibility..."
"No you didn't, it was your responsibility..."
Outdoor Life Online Editor
The ride back to the lodge was a lot quicker. Carl, who is one of the gentlest guys I've ever met, put the pedal to the metal and made it in less than 25 minutes, surprising even himself. The gray bag was right where we'd left it, in the cabin, so we grabbed it, got back in the truck and started out again. We made equally good time returning to the dam, but still, we had lost about an hour. An hour I could have spent SLEEPING. But okay, I'm not going to dwell on it...Outdoor Life Online Editor
It's hard to be in a bad mood when you're surrounded by views like this one of Indian Pond, the body of water above the dam, veiled in what was left of the morning fog. The reason for the early departure was to take advantage of a new, unpressured fishing opportunity. Few people fish the Kennebec Gorge, since its high granite walls make access from the road daunting, and the trip from the dam, even before the 10 a.m. release, is extremely difficult to maneuver. You need an experienced guide and a special type of raft to get around the boulders exposed by the low water, and until Carl started offering trips on his Cataraft this summer, there was no one guiding the route. (For more information, contact Northern Outdoors and ask for Carl Staples.)Outdoor Life Online Editor
My motto is, if I can get into the fashion, I can get into the sport. Even though I only flyfish about once a year, I naturally had to update my look. These are my new White River Fly Shop Breathable waders from Bass Pro Shops. They were extremely comfortable and perfect for the weather and water temperature. I'm also wearing a new Ex Officio shirt from Orvis and an Orvis rainjacket, which came in handy the next day and also during some of the monsoon-like weather we had in New York this summer.Outdoor Life Online Editor
To get to the put-in below the dam, you descend this twisting, 163-step staircase, built in 2002 to allow rafters access to the river without giving them access to the dam (a post-9/11 security concern). In the center you can see the rails that are used to slide the rafts down to the water. Harris Dam is the largest generating dam in Maine. It releases about 5,000 cfs (cubic feet per second) daily, providing consistent Class III and Class IV rapids""among them the notorious Magic Falls""and making the Upper Kennebec one of the most popular whitewater-rafting destinations on the East Coast. Northern Outdoors is the original and still one of the premier outfitters for rafting on the Kennebec, as well as on the nearby Dead River. (The Forks is named for the confluence of the two.)Outdoor Life Online Editor
Here's a look at the Cataraft. It's built on two PVC pontoons that are virtually indestructible and it's narrow enough to get through the obstacle course that is the river before the release. Carl promised right off the bat that we would get hung up on a number of rocks during our trip, but that he'd be able to spin or rock us off them. He was right on both counts.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Okay, here we go. Nice weather, pretty scenery, we're ready to catch some fish. The Kennebec River is home to smallmouth bass, landlocked salmon (averaging about 12 inches), brook trout (averaging 12""14 inches) and some rainbow trout. We were there in mid-July, but June is the best time to go.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Carl (above, with Skip) handled the river deftly, easily getting us around or, if necessary, off the rocks. He'd just jump in the water and start to push. (I really prayed each time that he'd get back on the raft before we took off without him!) At one point, when he was particularly exerting himself to free us of a boulder that didn't want to let go, I said, "Are you having fun, Carl?" and he flashed a huge grin and said, "Yeah, I love this." Carl is a local boy, from nearby Skowhegan, and he spends a good part of the year living in a tent, including during deer hunting season. He doesn't even own a cellphone!Outdoor Life Online Editor
There I am, trying my best. Carl said I had "good form," and I think he meant my casting. I told him I owed it all to my teacher, OL Fishing Editor Jerry Gibbs. But despite my good form and our best efforts, we didn't catch many fish. Three to be exact""a smallmouth and two chub""and none worthy of a photo. I know, a fishing story without any fish. Sorry! Some day I'd love to take a flyfishing trip where the scenery is really crummy and the fishing is fantastic. We did encounter two other anglers in the lower part of the gorge, and both complained about having caught only a few or no fish that morning, so we didn't feel so bad.Outdoor Life Online Editor
No, that's not a Rorschach ink blot test, it's the reflection of the riverbank in a pool. (You figured that out, didn't you.) I really love this photo""I have about 20 more just like it, if you're interested.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Here's Carl on the rocky beach we pulled up at for lunch. We were feeling a little tired and somewhat disappointed about the fishing, but enjoying the sun and the quiet and solitude when...Outdoor Life Online Editor
The white-water rafters arrived en masse. This flotilla was just the beginning. It was like the invasion of Normandy. There were another 10 or so rafts, maybe 150 people in all. One group was apparently there for a bachelor party of sorts""strapped to the front of one of their rafts was a blow-up doll in a bikini. (Well, at least if she fell overboard, she'd float...) Carl had been telling me all along that after lunch, with the high water having caught up to us, we'd have to go through a few rapids, but they'd be small""only one was a Class III""and he could take the conservative route around it. Well, for a first-time rafter and big-time chicken, that didn't sound so good. We went around a bend, and there it was-white water! Seated in the back of the raft, I braced myself and held on tight as we faced the rush. Up and down we went, back and forth, a full 30 seconds or so of white-knuckle adventure. And then it was over, and Carl asked me what I thought. Doing my best Katharine Hepburn impression, I said, "Oh, Mr. Allnut, I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so exhilarating..." Carl is 26, and I don't think he got the reference, but I giggled myself silly over that one.Outdoor Life Online Editor
When we got back to Northern Outdoors, it was time for a serious nap. We were in one of the "Cozy Cabins," named the Cant Dog, which I found out later is a tool used by lumbermen (good cocktail-party trivia!). Northern Outdoors has accommodations for about 250 guests in various-sized cabins and "Logdominiums" and another 100 in camps and tents. Our cabin was very comfortable, with a queen bed and a pull-out couch, a nice-size bathroom and a kitchenette. But no closets or drawers... I know I have a tendency to overpack, but that's ridiculous!Outdoor Life Online Editor
The lodge is where it's happening at night, with a restaurant, bar, dance floor, pool table, hot tub, platform tennis court and live music. This is a pretty remote place (when I called Northern Outdoors before our trip to ask if they had Blackberry service, all I heard on the other end of the line was laughter), and guests and guides naturally gravitate to the lodge for a good time. The moose above the fireplace kind of says it all. We had dinner with the lodge's founder and former co-owner, Wayne Hockmeyer, who single-handedly introduced white-water rafting to Maine. Wayne came to The Forks in 1975, hoping to guide anglers on the Kennebec, but when he discovered the amazing white water, he started a rafting company instead. The lodge grew out of that business.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Wayne offered to take us bass fishing on Sunday, that being his preferred recreational activity these days. Actually, that's putting it mildly""he's basically a bass-fishing fanatic. Wayne is the inventor of the Banjo Minnow lure (yes, the one you see on television all the time), and here he is on his bass boat at Indian Pond, preparing to take us out to CATCH SOME FISH!Outdoor Life Online Editor
Before we started, Wayne gave me some lessons in casting at the dock. I hate to admit it, but it was the first time I'd had a spin-casting rod in my hand. It was fun, and I liked jerking the lure sporadically to make it look like a wounded baitfish. But remember what I said about the raingear coming in handy? Five minutes after this photo was taken, it started to pour. We took cover for almost an hour; then, as soon as there was a break in the rain, we got in the boat and headed a mile out. We had just taken our first few casts when the skies opened up again and we had to high-tail it back to shore. So much for my first attempt at bass fishing. And so much for CATCHING FISH!Outdoor Life Online Editor
That evening, we drove back to Portland so we could be near the airport for an early-morning flight back to New York. (We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is so close to the airport you can practically walk to your gate.) We had a delightful dinner with Jerry Gibbs and his wife, Judy (above, with me and Skip), at the Old Port Sea Grill, on Commercial Street, right across from the harbor. Not that there was much of a view, since it was still raining. The martinis and the oysters were excellent, though, and we decided it had been a great weekend, fish or no fish.Outdoor Life Online Editor
That evening, we drove back to Portland so we could be near the airport for an early-morning flight back to New York. (We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is so close to the airport you can practically walk to your gate.) We had a delightful dinner with Jerry Gibbs and his wife, Judy (above, with me and Skip), at the Old Port Sea Grill, on Commercial Street, right across from the harbor. Not that there was much of a view, since it was still raining. The martinis and the oysters were excellent, though, and we decided it had been a great weekend, fish or no fish.Outdoor Life Online Editor

Outdoor Life's Camille Rankin went on her second annual fishing trip and lived to tell the tale. So did the fish.