Category Archives: trips

Trip Report: ONG BAK

This 2016 trip report was written by Alex S. (age 13). Illustrations by Daniel O. (age 9).

ONG BAK (Oarsmen Now Going Backwards Along the Kennebec) is a 4-day, 3-night rowing trip along the Kennebec River. It covers 40-50 miles and was an extremely exciting adventure.

Day 1

Our journey began with a 30-minute drive to a boat ramp. We drove through Waterville very slowly, for we had five row boats strapped to our trailer. Once we dropped our boats in the water, we had an easy five-mile row to our first campsite. It was a beautiful day, not a single cloud in the sky and the sun shimmering on the water. After we pulled in to our campsite, we hauled up our boats and brought all of our group gear to the campsite. Everyone took a rest hour, and eventually we had dinner, created a fire, and had a very relaxing evening.

Day 2

A second day started with a 7:00 wake-up to breakfast burritos cooked by “Master Chef Noah Brodsky and assistant Jacob Ronson.” We finished breakfast, got in our boats, and began rowing. After eight miles of easy rowing, we arrived at our grassy, “urban” campsite. It was only 11:30, so we had lunch, a dip, and a long rest hour. After the mellow afternoon, we had some fantastic spammies for dinner and entertainment provided by a band playing in the town of Hallowell right across the river. It was great weather and a very enjoyable day. We wound down the day in high spirits, played some Frisbee, and danced until sundown.

Day 3

Our third day was strenuous. It commenced with oatmeal overloaded with M&Ms and almonds. We started with a leisurely row. As the day went on, the wind started to pick up, and by mid-day there were whitecaps on the river.   The last four miles was the most difficult day of rowing I had ever had – until the next day! Though we hugged the shore, there was still a large headwind that was extremely hard to row through. We even had to cross the river multiple times and had to row as hard as we could through the waves and wind. Eventually, after hours of battling the wind, we arrived at our magnificent campsite called Swan Island. We stayed in lean-tos along the edge of a lawn. We played Frisbee and had gado-gado (peanut pasta) for dinner and prepared for our last day, the most challenging of all.

Day 4

We awoke at 5 a.m., for we had a long day ahead of us.   Our pickup was at 1:00, and we really wanted to make it on time. We loaded our boats and left camp at around 6:30. We rowed along Swan Island, and as we approached the end of the island, the river started to open up more and more and the wind started to pick up. The river continued for many miles of brutal wind. Getting closer to our pickup, we reached the Chops, a narrow strip of river surrounded by radio towers, with whirlpools in the water. The river continued around island and in curves along the land. As our glorious adventure came to a close, there was still one more arduous section of our journey to complete, the Bath Iron Works. There was one last mile of the biggest headwind and monstrous waves. The kept rowing through the tempestuous waves. Our blisters were bleeding, but we just had to keep going, for we had no choice. Everyone was screaming words of encouragement. Finally, after hours of rowing, we reached our destination. We put our boats on the trailer and were treated to lunch at Fat Boy’s, a famous drive-in in Brunswick. It was an awesome trip and and a fantastic experience.


Baldpate in Winter

A winter perspective on one of our hiking trips: Baldpate.  In the summer, this is a 3-day hike on the Appalachian Trail for beginner hikers.  One of our campers followed part of this trek last weekend and shared these incredible photos from Baldpate’s East Peak.  It’s a different world in the winter!

Summit sign on Baldpate’s East Peak. It’s 3812 feet (in case you can’t read the sign). Old Speck in the distance.

Caleb, looking towards West Peak and beyond to Old Speck. (Photo credit: fellow hiker Bill Brook.)

(photo credit: fellow hiker Tennyson Tappan)

Summer Photos and Stories

Pine Island’s 115th season was another great one! Our campers earned ranks in their favorite activities and built solid shelters in woodcraft, well-crafted projects in the workshop, and most importantly, a community in which each boy’s participation and energy was needed. They also logged an impressive number of miles on the trails and waterways of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Sixteen boys earned their 50-mile patch, 13 earned their 100-mile patch, 10 earned their 150- and 200-mile patches, 12 earned their 250-mile patch, and 11 boys passed their 250 career mile mark this summer. That’s a lot of miles! It was an incredible summer and we’re grateful to our campers, parents, staff and volunteers for making this season such a success.
For some more insight into our summer, you can view photos from camp and the trail and read the Mid-Summer Pine Needle, a terrific collection of camper articles, poetry, and art.   Enjoy!

O.N.G. B.A.K.: O.A.R. Navigators Going Backwards Along the Kennebec

The O.N.G. B.A.K. trip has become a favorite in recent years.  Here’s a look back at how it began: A 2010 Trip Report by Benjamin Schachner.

Arguably one of the most anticipated aspects of Pine Island Camp is the group of trips sent out each summer to Baxter State Park, the St. Croix River, Mt. Washington, and many other mountain, lake, and river destinations across Maine and New Hampshire. For roughly one hundred years PIC has not strayed far from these trips, considered to be staples of a true summer camp experience in Maine. With the coming of the 2010 season on Great Pond, however, a new and exotic trip challenged this postulate.

As I remember, there had been some rumors floating through the ranks of the counselors that there was, in fact, a new rowing trip. The gossip first struck me as rather silly, for where else would our substantial Pine Island Skiffs go other than Great Pond?


It was Harry Swan who finally revealed to me the details of this new trip: our skiffs would actually be venturing from Waterville, Maine down to Bath via the Kennebec River. I was astonished, flabbergasted, and wholly convinced that Harry was playing some sort of joke on me. PIC had been my outdoor classroom since I was nine, and I had learned a great deal from my time both on the island and on the trail, so I assumed it was common knowledge that rowboats simply did not go down rivers. And frankly, the idea had never occurred to me. After some arguing, the matter was settled, yet not without one more surprise: Harry and I would be leading the trip now called, O.N.G. B.A.K. (O.A.R. Navigators Going Backwards Along the Kennebec), a reference that I immediately understood as being derived from the Thai movie, Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior. (Duh.)

PIC had never before sent a rowing trip down the Kennebec River and there was much emphasis on the expeditionary nature of our journey; our guide was the Maine Road Atlas. On departure, the echo of “Good luck, boys” from the ever-reassuring Ben Swan rang in my ears as we pushed off from the western bank of the Kennebec just below Waterville and headed south towards our final, but by no means certain, destination of Bath.

As we rounded the first bend in the river, losing sight of our drop-off point, we heard the universally recognizable sound of rapids ahead of us. The dull sound set the hairs on the back of my neck on end as it finally registered that Harry, eight campers and I were actually attempting to navigate rapids in rowboats. Yet, in synchronized movement we all turned our boats 180° and faced the oncoming rips looking over the sterns of our skiffs. We made it through our first batch of swift water in one piece and continued down the river feeling relieved.

Our second day began brilliantly, and we fell into a rhythm, now more comfortable in this new territory. After a few sets of rapids we began enjoying the challenge of slipping and sliding through the rushing waters. Some of us, Quinn and Cole specifcally, experimented with an adapted Venetian gondolier technique.

As we cruised under bridges and through Augusta, the state capitol, we encountered a few bald eagles perched somewhat ominously above a playground. Further along, in Hallowell, we had a coincidental rendezvous with Pine Islanders on the Kennesasabacscot war yacht trip, who greeted us from the shore on their way to their own put-in in South Gardiner. In Gardiner we sat down to a lunch of tomato, mozzarella, and pesto on artisan bread.

Below Gardiner things became interesting. Feeling rested and ready to tackle the second leg of the day, we were greeted with a headwind and a disagreeable current. As we hugged the shoreline and maintained a single-file order we looked for the bridge crossing the river just before Richmond, a sign that we were near the campsite on Swan Island that we would be sharing that night with our Kennesasabacscot compatriots. As the sun dipped lower and lower and the clouds began to gather, we forced ourselves to keep rowing, each upcoming bend in the river filling us with hope that the hazy outline of the bridge would appear. The turns in the river turned into false peaks, and it was nearly five in the afternoon when we spotted the bridge. Soon after we passed under it, the rain began to fall.

It was an epic arrival on Swan Island: we were drenched, blistered, and ex-hausted after a nearly thirty-mile row, and possessed by a crazy, desperate need for red meat. Harry and I, and the Kennesasabacscot counselors Forest Brown and Nicky Isles, immediately began cooking hamburgers under sagging tarps as our campers mingled in the lean-tos and the rain poured down. We had covered twice the number of miles that we had (unaccountably) estimated for that day and we had completed what should have been three days of travel in two.

Day three rolled around, and with a hearty breakfast of bacon and overdone pancakes we set off for Bath, with visions of massive battleships and destroyers. Exiting the slim passage between Big Swan and Little Swan we encountered, yet again, a river that maintained sentiments deeply opposed to ours. The waves tumbled over the sides of the boats, the wind was fierce, and for one of the first times in my life, I actually thought that the Pine Island Skiffs could have been built a little bigger. With the War Yacht in valiant pursuit of us for the first half of the morning, we finally lost site of the billowing white sail as we bore west where the river split into two, heading west towards Bath. With a sigh of relief we were then swept along by a quiet, yet strong current that carried us swiftly towards our final destination.

As we passed under the massive bridge that carries Route 1 across the Kennebec at Bath and caught site of the behemoth ships under construction at Bath Iron Works, our spirits soared (and Robby surreptitiously snapped some photos of navy ships under construction). We had covered 50 grueling miles in three days. We had battled the wind and rain and the river, and we had succeeded in a splendid fashion. I feel certain an affinity for the story of Odysseus blossomed in some of the boys, but what made our momentous landing at the loading dock just past the Maine Maritime Museum so special was our trailblazing and the frontier attitude which we had assumed and maintained throughout the trip. We had claimed the Kennebec for future oarsmen of Pine Island and established a fantastic new trip. We returned joyfully and triumphantly to Great Pond, having earned the joy and the triumph because of what we had experienced, endured, and enjoyed.

It was because of the trail valiantly blazed by the following boys that O.N.G.B.A.K. will continue to be sent out by Pine Island: Will C., Cole G., Noah N., Quinn L., Phil G., Bobby S., Robby L., and Ethan P.

Kennebec River