Tuesday, July 14, 2015

the Adirondacks

The Second Journey 

(twice as long as the first, therefore in two parts, each consisting of, as before, twelve short chapters)

Part 1 


After our sprint down Long Lake and the Raquette River (see previous post), we reenter civilization.

First stop: the Raquette River Outfitters. We're changing canoes. The Royalex will be cheaper and sturdier than the Kevlar we'd been using. We can pull the Royalex up on sand and not fret every time we go over a branch or near a rock. [On the downside, there will be short-ish portages and the Royalex is twice as heavy!]

And I want to retrieve my water bottle (left in the jeep that took us to the put in)! Sharing Ed's has been tough. He drinks like a whale so we have to purify with iodine. The river water has gunk in it and it just doesn't look refreshing, made worse by white bits of pill floating inside. With my own bottle, I make do with what we boil in the morning and at night.

Ann (co-owner of the Outfitters and an extraordinarily helpful soul) is surprised to see us. We were to do the First Journey in three to four days and we did it in two. Why the push? Why the impressive but somewhat manic paddle? 

I suppose to escape the mosquitoes. On the river, our choices are -- paddle, or sit in a zipped up tent. We hoped for fewer bugs by the wind battered lakes.

I write my (previous) post at the Well Dressed Food Cafe -- a newcomer to the village of Tupper Lake. It's an extremely friendly and likable spot and my smoothie is like a nosedive into the luxury of yogurt and fresh fruit.


For the Second Journey, we take the canoe to the put in point at Bog River, just above the damn. It's late. The Ocean update took time; Ed, as always, never hurried me or complained, but it is 3:21 when we push off and, too, it's Saturday. Finding a place to pitch a tent will be a challenge.

Let's concentrate on the beauty of the river at the point that we join it.

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Ah, but let's not limit the challenges to just finding a place to pitch a tent!

For the first time, we are paddling upstream and against a strong breeze.

Navigation is also a major challenge. On the Raquette River, we watched for the current: where it went, we went, ignoring the side inlets, streams and stillwaters. That's not so easy now and within thirty minutes I get us lost in a boggy, murky nothing.

Tick tock, tick tock...

You have the map: tell me the compass direction -- Ed says, with the patience that is his hallmark. Don't say left or right. West? How many degrees? 
Maybe 15 degrees to the south of west...
Call it what it is: 255 degrees. What's the magnetic adjustment? 

I'm learning!

Too, there are the black flies. They are not to be deterred. Every time we come near a bog, we pick up a few and they follow us until Ed swats them dead.

And of course, our portages are now tougher. Heavy canoe! Ed carries the boat, I become mule extraordinaire and carry all five dry bags on my shoulders.

And we have to push the canoe through a moving bog. Who knew bogs were mobile?!

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But we're okay!


I get nervous about finding a place to stay. It's getting late. There are so few spots to pitch a tent here! What if? What if?

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We pass a canoist retreating from the trip we're just starting.
Hey! I shout...
Great weather! -- he shouts back.
I see you're leaving. Where were you camping?
Over on 18 -- by the lake. (The numbering system is exquisite: it tells you where you can pull ashore and it assists you with navigation when you're more lost than you care to admit.) But someone took it already.
I groan.
We passed number 12 though. On the river. It's empty and gorgeous!
My heart soars.

An hour later we find it: it is empty and it is gorgeous!

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Ed mutters: a beautiful Saturday in the middle of July and no one is here.

I have to admit that it surprises me as well how underused these wilderness areas are. Every city person would do well (it seems to me) to sooth a frazzled soul here. Sure, it's nearly five hours from NYC, but I know many a Wisconsinite or Minnesotan who would regularly drive that distance for an escape up north.

Where is everyone?

Ed gets the burner ready for our dinner, I sit back and take it all in. The flies are gone, the mosquitoes -- almost nonexistent. I thought we got lucky yesterday with our camping. But this!

Yes, this.

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Waking up in this most beautiful spot along the Upper Bog River is like waking in a sanctuary. The Douglas Firs (I don't think I'm wrong with that label) tower above us. The carpet of dry needles is soft. On three sides we are handed water views. Misty morning water views.

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This moment is, of course, what we look for when we face the wilderness.

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The breeze is lively and refreshing. We "shower" again with our all purpose little pot. The water is cool, but the feeling of warmth after is sublime.

(A selfie moment!)

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We eat breakfast outside, of course. It feels like this is our highest point, in a whole string of high notes -- as if we've reached our experiential summit.

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Nothing grand comes freely. Really nothing.

As we paddle out, promptly at 9, I keep an eye on the sky. These are to be our days of storms, but I don't see it. We glide under a hazy blue sky.

But we surely have the wind in our face. And the current. We're working hard to move forward.

And it gets tougher as we paddle out onto Low's Lake. The breeze gains in stature. I would now call it a wind and it whips the water around us, so that the crossing feels more like a ride in a water park than a gentle paddle.


The goal is to find a place to pitch our tent -- for one night, maybe two, if the weather deteriorates. Yes, there are clearings that stand empty, but after a night in a temple, I'm not going to be satisfied with a buggy, stuffy, murky landing.

And yet, there is this: when I look up and down the long lake, it's nearly always empty. It's because these wilderness areas aren't accessible by power boats and right now, I do believe America has a love affair with speed on water -- big boats, small boats, but with power! Surely they outnumber canoes and kayaks 1000 to 1! (In Poland, those numbers would be reversed.)  Surely we'll find some place to hunker down!

Ah, but we're up against pros. People here paddle smart. They have maps. They know to avoid sites near bogs, dark woodsy spaces, still waters and murky shores. 

The lake is long and wide. Ann had identified two spots as places of great camping beauty, but both are taken.

We paddle to the end of the lake. We portage over a short isthmus. We hit bogs. Black flies buzz around our canoe. We enter a still bay. There are spaces here for camping. I hate them all.

We've gone too far.  Everything at this end feels remote. I want the wind from the lake, not this graveyard of fallen timbers!

Are we able to pull off another bit of magic?



At least -- not on our own. As we retreat back up this most beautiful lake..

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... we run into her:

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She's a forest ranger and she paddles the remote lakes and rivers to check on sites and the people who come through here. She tells us -- I just came from landing number 27. It's empty and it's lovely.

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And it is.

No, it offers no pillars to the heavens above, but it has a lovely clearing, it's gusty with the lakeside breezes and is virtually bug free and best of all -- it has a strip of sandy beach that gently slopes into the lake.

We throw down our gear and plunge into the water.

And then Ed dives under and loses his glasses in the deeper part of the lake.

I sweep my feet across the bottom, barely touching the murky sand and come across something thin. Could be glasses. No, a branch.

Try again.

Luck, sheer luck directs my feet to where they are. [To Ed's credit, he does travel with a spare set, but you can bet anything that he'd be diving there still, if he knew one rested on the bottom of the lake.]


The weather stays good. Our tent is up. We're refreshed. Both Ann and the ranger suggested a hike up the mountain that juts out behind us. The ranger, a woman nearly our age, is blunt about it: you'll do some weed whacking and rock climbing to get up there, but it's worth it. Take some food or a couple of drinks up with you. It's fantastic!

I smile at the idea of Ed and I, scaling cliffs, aperitifs in hand!

We keep it light. Just water and a camera.


You have to paddle to a boggy, murky, buggy spot to find your way up the mountain. But we wouldn't have done the climb if it wasn't for the fact that a couple from Albany was there before us. They made all the mistakes and took all the wrong turns before us, so that by the time we showed up, they spared us a repeat of their errors.

So, a wonderful climb, right?

Wrong. As we reach the rocky upper section, I'm thinking: isn't it ironic that I just sent emails to daughters (curiously, our campsite is the only place along the entire lake where I am able to pick up cell service) that the dangers are all behind me? Wouldn't it be so terribly pitiful for them to then receive a call with the message that "your mom is sprawled at the bottom of the cliffs overlooking Low's Lake?"

There is no trail, though some good hearted soul tied a piece of orange plastic to trees and if you followed these, you'll at least be in a good position to scale the boulders.

Wait a minute: scale the boulders, with drop offs where one slip puts you in touch with the grim reaper? 

That's so not me.

But Ed (in his $9.99 Walmart water shoes, no less) finds the possible landing spots along the cliffs and slowly, patiently, he guides me to them.

And yes, the view is grand.


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See the thin strip of light brown to the right? That's a floating bog. It's tomorrow's challenge. Among others. Because believe it or not, the best and worst are yet to come.

Summit selfie:

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The retreat is easier. We get down on our asses (Ed's terminology) and slowly slide our way to safety.


Dinner today is superb. Hungry as anything, Ed devours his pouch of dated pasta (but dated by only five years, as opposed to the beef stroganoff, which had an expiration date of 2003) and I do great justice to my pouch of mushroom risotto. What I leave behind, he finishes in the middle of the night. When I ask -- how was it?  He tells me -- better when it was warm.

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Part 2, to be continued, tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. I am in awe of the beauty and your spirits. Those are to-be-treasured portraits of you two in this wilderness where, as you note, few go. I am sitting on the edge of my chair--well, figuratively--waiting for the next chapter.


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