Monday, September 26, 2016

The Hometown Getdown

I established long ago that outdoor music gigs are fair game for this blog. Saturday I played my first gig with Magnolia Blue, at a small festival called The Hometown Getdown up in Clarksburg Maryland.

I got there at about 11:30 AM, at which time things were kind of slow. To tell you the truth, it looked kind of like a refugee camp for displaced Millenials. I wandered up to the camping area and found the band members who had been camping there. Katie's tent had been slashed. Another woman's tent had been rifled through. I've heard this kind of stuff happens at the big festivals. It's never happened to me - perhaps because I only go to old fogey festivals like Clearwater - and I'm surprised it happened in an intimate little festival like this. One more data point showing the Millenials are scum.


I was kind of wondering what I had gotten myself into and was wondering how strongly to wave off the friends I knew were coming.

But it wasn't all bad. It's nice to play at a venue big enough that there was a hospitality tent for the artists (albeit a pretty shabby one) and where there was a tech crew running sound and lights for real. And the overall vibe, once the music started, was very positive. And the bands were very good! There was Charm City Funk Brigade (a repertoire similar to ours), good bluegrass from The Dirty Grass Players, and great western swing from Mindy Miller and the Chrome Tears. I left during Lionize - they were good too but more hard rockin' then my usual taste. I do have to admire their dedication to old school gear: a full Hammond Porta B organ with Leslie speaker, walls of amps, just like the 70's!

Our set went well - got the crowd up and dancing. And I even picked up a Getdown t-shirt, which had our band name on it. A good first gig! And thanks to regular readers (and blog subjects) Tom, Suzanne (and Marilyn) for coming out!



Sunday, September 25, 2016

Morning Hike at Scotts Run

Lately some sort of seasonal asthma has been making it hard to exercise hard outdoors. I have aborted several runs, and even biking up hills is hard. Well, if all I can do is walk, then walk I will! This morning I drove out to Scotts Run Nature preserve and had a great hike on a pretty morning.


The falls

The Potomac
Strava track: https://www.strava.com/activities/724534059

Unexpected Sunsets

We've been having a lot of nice sunsets lately ...

Taking out the trash at home

On the Beltway, on the way home from the Adirondacks

Merging onto I66 West, on my way to band practice

ADK Paddling Part II: Lake George

Day 6 (9/15)

OK, where did I leave off in my last posting? Oh yes, we had just arrived back at Jen’s. Upon our arrival Jen set to work going through the arcane and lengthy process of feeding her cats while the rest of us showered (individually). Somewhere around step #257 of the process Jen took a break and got a shower in as well. We got some laundry started and otherwise just relaxed. After four nights of camping, a big meal, and a couple of drinks, it wasn’t long before each of us crawled off to bed. The rock/paper/scissors outcome from the first night held and I once again fell asleep in a real bed listening to the Darth Vader/ocean wave sounds of Rob’s CPAP and Tom was once again cruelly consigned to the uncomfy couch.

We knew that we didn’t have much paddling to do Thursday and so we took our time in the morning, exploding all of our gear across Jen’s house and lawn to sort it and dry it out. I am coming to the conclusion that life in the Adirondacks must be pretty lonely – why else would anyone put up with such ill-mannered house guests? And life in the Adirondacks is cold – the temperature was in the thirties when we woke up (highs in the mid-90’s back home!).
 
Sorting gear at Jen's
Eventually we got our act together and got all our gear packed and boats loaded. Jen switched to her plastic kayak for the second half of the trip, I assume because it would be gauche to be seen on two different lakes wearing the same boat. Actually, it was to a boat better suited for the swim event which was the genesis of this whole trip – more on that in a minute. We weren’t coming back this way (except for Jen, of course) and so we took all the cars.

We drove as a caravan to Bolton Landing, our launch point for the second part of our trip. Truth be told, we hadn’t scoped out the details of launching in Bolton Landing all that thoroughly. When we got there we discovered our two choices were Veterans Park, where we could launch for free but couldn’t leave our cars overnight (at least according to the signs), or the Norowal Marina, which had an expensive a la carte menu for their services: it was going to cost $11 per day to park each car plus a $12 launch fee per kayak. Fortunately the marina and the park were close by each other and so we wound up dropping our boats at the park where we launched for free, and had to pay only for parking at Norowal.
 
Veterans Park is home to a lot of ducks
Veterans Park is paddler-friendly: the park even has a little buggy to make it easier to wheel boats to the water. Plus they have a soda machine, from which I got a Diet Pepsi, which I greatly enjoyed. There was a Stewart’s Shop on the walk in between Norowal and the park where I could have gotten Coke products, but I didn’t dare hold up the group by stopping there.
 
The park's kayak cart
Once again, all of our pre-launch machinations took time and it was pushing 3 PM by the time we launched. Another thing we hadn’t realized in advance was that we had to paddle to the park’s headquarters on Glen Island to check in before heading to our camp site. While the Saranacs were quiet wilderness with gently improved and very spread out camping areas, Lake George was more like a car camping campground made up of a series of islands. Glen Island in has the park office and a store. The campsites have wooden tent platforms, fire rings, and picnic tables, and they’re packed in like you’d find at a campground. The islands do have impressive bathrooms with composting toilets and separate men’s and ladies’ rooms (though no running water). Another thing we discovered is that the sites were developed with power boaters in mind. At many of the camp sites the only place to land was via docks that are designed for power boats - too high for kayakers and canoeists to use comfortably. Fortunately, our site had a big, flat rock area which was perfect for landing the kayaks.
 
Paddling Lake George

Checking in at Glen Island

Selfie on the water
On Lake George

We were bending the rules by having all of us on one site, not because of the number of people but because the rules mandate a maximum of two tents per site. As we explored our camp site we decided that we really wanted more room to spread out (and more buffer from noisy powerboat campers we feared might show up) and so we called the office (we had cell phone service!) and were able to expand to a second site. With five tents on two sites we were still a little over the line, but Jen’s tent is so small we decided it didn’t really count. The two sites faced different directions and having two sites gave us the added benefit of being able to choose where to hang out based on the weather. On Thursday night the wind was blowing from the north which meant that the boys’ site (where Rob and Tom were camped) was cold and windy while the girls’ site (where Suzanne, Jen and I were camped) was comfortable. The northerly wind was also a good sign for the upcoming swim.

We camped on Little Harbor Island
I haven’t said too much up until this point about the swim. This whole trip got its start because Rob was going to support a swimmer, Michelle, whom he’d supported for years at the Potomac Swim, as she attempted the insane Lake George Marathon Swim. Few people have completed this 32 mile swim. The record time is just under nineteen hours; some folks have taken over thirty hours to complete it. The event starts in the afternoon and involves swimming through the night into the next day, which at best is challenging not just for the swimmers, but also the support boats and kayakers. It’s a good idea to be able to switch off kayakers and so Rob, also taking into consideration his crazy and unpredictable travel schedule (this is a guy who tosses off lines like, “I might have a chance to post my pictures in between Senegal and Austria”), recruited Jen and Suzanne assist/back him up. Once the three of them had a core group and a reason to be in the Adirondacks in September, they decided to expand the scope of the trip to include camping. They also decided to increase the average height and coolness factor of the group, which is how Tom and I (respectively) became involved. The swim was a continuous undercurrent (ha!) throughout our trip, with calls to Michelle, consideration of when Rob, Jen and Suzanne would have to break off for the swim, discussion of whether the wind would lead the organizers to reverse the direction of the swim and if so, what that meant for our timing and logistics, and so on.
Rob in camp
 
Camp site on Little Harbor Island
The good news is that, other than the wind, the weather was perfect. As the sun set and a nearly full moon rose we were treated to Jen’s dinner of parmesan polenta with goat cheese, spinach, cranberries (or raisins?) and almonds, a dish clearly inspired by the classic Yiddish lullaby, Rozhinkes mit Mandelen (Raisins and Almonds).
 
In camp at night
Day 7 (9/16)
On Saturday Rob, Jen and Suzanne had to go check in for the swim, so after breakfast they paddled back to Norowal Marina where, surprisingly, they were allowed to land without paying a $12 landing fee and were allowed to leave their kayaks for a few hours without paying a short-term parking fee. They drove from there to wherever they had to go to do their swim business. In addition, Tom and I learned later, they went out for a lavish (i.e., not eaten sitting on the ground) lunch.
The setting moon at sunrise
 
The scene from our dock
Tom and I started our day’s paddle by going back to the park HQ at Glen Island to pay for the extra camp site, then we paddled further up-lake, checking out camp sites and scenery as we went. We took a lunch break at a camp site on Floating Battery Island. We didn’t find a single battery floating there, not even a AAA, but – lo and behold – we did find a stack of pre-split firewood left by a previous occupant. We hadn’t had a fire the whole trip, in part for lack of wood. It was our last night and The Lord will provide! Halleluiah!
 
Rob, Jen and Suzanne returning to camp
Tom and I got back to the camp site while Rob, Jen and Suzanne were still off doing their pre-swim thing. He retreated to his side of the island, while I got out some essential camping gear (my iPad) and began drafting my blog entry for the first part of the trip. I learn a lot from my fellow paddlers on each trip – on this trip it was the value of tapered dry bags and that Happy Tot baby food vegetables make excellent camping food. From me my fellow travelers could have learned that an iPad fits perfectly against the front bulkhead inside the hatch (at least in my Tempest 170 kayak). Eventually the three swim supporters hove into view, meaning it was time for the ritual of the impromptu pot luck. Let me say here that readers who are squeamish about food spoilage may want to skip the next little bit …
A scenery shot from Rob
This is the prettiest picture I have ever seen of stinky kayak gear hung up to dry (courtesy of Rob)
No one ever really runs out of food on a camping trip and on the last night it’s common to throw together whatever’s left into a group pot luck. The centerpiece of ours was a paddlers’ stone soup. Tom had a dehydrated soup mix (corn chowder? I forget) which required milk, which I was able to provide since I had a conetainer shelf stable milk with me. And we kept adding. Remember Rob’s spicy mango curry from Day 4? The one which had, except for the night at Jen’s, been aging gracefully in his boat all week? Well, we mixed the rice and lentils and some dabs of the curry into the soup. And vegetables! I had some carrots which had stayed almost completely untouched by lake water, and some of the other folks added veggies too. There was probably other stuff that went in as well; my memory is a bit foggy from the ptomaine. And we had plenty appetizers and sides! I contributed pita bread (from our stop at IGA on Wednesday) and the last of my aged-in-the-hatch cheddar cheese. And there was pepperoni, and cold cuts, and soy nuts, and all sorts of other delicious, mismatched and only somewhat spoiled food. And, of course, Rob’s daily distribution of Werther’s candies as a dessert. A veritable feast! And we didn’t even have to go through our whole dish washing ritual, since we knew we were on our way out. We did notice that the wind had turned around and was coming from the south. This was going to be bad for the swim, which at that point was locked into running north to south. As the old sailor’s saying goes, “Winds from the North, Swimmers go Forth. Winds from the South, Oh Crap.”
 
The main course
Putting out all the food

Around the table
After dinner we had a nice campfire, burning pizza boxes and construction materials left behind by previous occupants of the site as well as our found wood. Then everyone turned in. The swim supporters needed to get an early start and, while Tom and I had no hard deadline, we decided we’d endeavor to launch at the same time.
 
By the fire
Day 8 (9/17)
It was up and at ‘em early, with a goal of launching by 0800. I skipped my usual grits/PB breakfast, just downing a granola bar with my coffee (you didn’t think we were going to skip the coffee, did you???). Bags were packed, tents were folded, boats were loaded and all five of us hit the water at 8 AM.
 
Launching for the paddle home
Suzanne



Have you noticed yet that wind is a recurring theme in this blog? As we came out of the shelter of our landing area we again faced strong winds, driving the roughest conditions we’d faced yet. We were once again paddling into the wind (as the old sailor’s saying goes, “Paddlers should intuit: whatever the direction of the wind, you’ll be paddling into it.”). What should have been a sixty minute paddle instead took ninety. This put the swim supporters a little behind schedule and they hurried through loading up then headed out. Tom and I were able to take a little more time loading. As we loaded all of us chatted with some other paddlers who were there to launch their recreational kayaks. We advised them not to venture out beyond the island that was providing some shelter from the wind around the launch area. The wife of the couple started looking nervous … Tom and I said goodbye to each other and headed out.

After loading up Tom and I both headed back to Norowal where we had previously noted that there were showers. It’s a nice luxury to be able to drive home without gagging from your own stench and so we availed ourselves of the showers (separately). As noted earlier, Norowal nickels and dimes you on everything and we discovered that even the showers cost money – they were coin operated. Seventy five cents well spent! Having cleaned up, Tom and I said goodbye to each other and headed out.

We bumped into each other again at the Lake George Kayak company (one can never pass up a kayak shop), where I replaced my emergency whistle, which had somehow gotten lost on the trip and Tom found a good end of season deal on some paddling shoes. When we were done shopping Tom and I said goodbye to each other once again and headed out.

I stopped in at Stewarts and got coffee and a buttered roll, which made me smile. Not the coffee. Well, yes, the coffee – coffee always makes me smile. In this case I mean the buttered roll, a New York staple, apparently even upstate, that’s unheard of in Virginia. I mean, it’s not that we don’t have butter or rolls in Virginia, but my local 7-11 in Arlington does not have a stack of pre-made buttered rolls ready to go as breakfast food the way Stewart’s did.

Anyway, amply supplied with caffeine and food I turned the car south to head for home. I had an hour’s worth of songs to learn for a gig with a new band the next weekend and so, as I had done on the way up, I  started the playlist of songs on Spotify on repeat and listened to them again and again, all the way home.

Postscript:

I later learned that weather conditions only intensified as the day went on, causing the swim to end early. The swim started in the afternoon as planned but was called off at around midnight after some choppy hours in the dark which had been harrowing for swimmers, boaters and kayakers alike.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

ADK Paddling Part I: Saranac Lakes

I recently went on a kayak camping trip through the Adirondacks with four friends. The trip had two parts:
a)      Traverse the three lakes in the Saranac chain of lakes (Upper, Middle and Lower), and
b)      Paddle Lake George

This entry is about Saranac Lakes portion of the trip. A map showing our route can be found here.

9/8 through 9/10 (Trip Days -1, 0 and 1)

The saga of the trip begins the day before the trip when, due to a pharmacy mix-up at the Seven Corners Target and my arriving 3 minutes after the pharmacy closed at the Merrifield Target (who knew they closed two hours earlier than Seven Corners?!), I was unable to pick up a new prescription. I was left with two choices: swing by Target at 9 AM the day of my departure, or skip the prescription. Well, it was for an inhaler which is only for exercise and on a nine day kayaking/hiking/camping trip, what are the chances that I'd be exercising? Plus, knowing to group with whom I'd be traveling, I figured they'd all be on the road before sunrise and I didn't want to be dragging in to our meeting place hours after everyone else, so I decided to forego picking up the inhaler.

I got on the road at about 8 AM. When we go to the Adirondacks we usually take a route through Harrisburg, PA and Binghamton, NY. Google says a route up I95 and the NY State Thruway is 45 minutes shorter but Google’s algorithms have never actually had to drive on the Jersey Turnpike (not yet, anyway) and so they don’t take into account much higher stress the Jersey Turnpike route is. Still, the chance to save 45 minutes sounded pretty good and so I decided to try it, and it actually worked out well. 

As I approached Philadelphia texts from the rest of the crew began to come in. It turned out that I was actually the first to have gotten on the road and was about two hours ahead of the others. In retrospect, I should have just continued on and spent whatever extra time I had at the Adirondack Museum or at the rustic fair (I missed my chance to buy any number of taxidermy moose heads!); however, I am a man of action. Immediately upon realizing that I was hours ahead of everyone else I exited the highway and detoured into Philadelphia for a stop at Liberty Bellows accordion shop, primarily to check out a Roland V-Accordion. Oh, how good it felt to hold it close to my chest, running my fingers over its hard, glistening buttons, hearing it whisper in response to my most gentle squeeze.

But I’m digressing.

Sadly, I left the accordion shop empty-handed. It was lunch time and so I went around the corner to Lorenzo's Pizza. Lorenzo's makes a pretty decent NY-style slice, with the distinguishing characteristic that their pies are enormous, like upwards of 30 inches in diameter. Each slice fills two paper plates. Accordions and giant pizza - the trip was off to a good start.

Fast-forward through many hours of driving - including evening rush hour in Albany (go figure!). With my detour I was actually the last to arrive at Jen's, but only by a little bit. The group with whom I was traveling, inxluding Tall Tom, Rob, Jen and Suzanne, is usually pretty Type-A about organizing, but this time around everyone was in the mood to just relax and unwind. Instead of meticulously planning the next day's logistics we spent the evening catching up with each other and drinking Rob's Buffala Negras, a cocktail made with bourbon, balsamic vinegar, and a significant amount of dark magic. 

Excessive Buffala Negra consumption in the evening does not make for an early start the following morning. In fact, by the time we consolidated five kayaks onto two cars, organized our stuff, packed the gear, stopped by Raquette Lake Outfitters (a tiny store packed to the gills with cool gear), set the shuttle (one car at each end of our route), checked in with the camping potentates, loaded the boats and launched, it was mid-afternoon. Rob and I were pretty relaxed at the time we launched since we had had the job of minding the boats (a.k.a. napping by the lake) while Jen, Tom and Suzanne did the more stressful jobs of arranging cars and check-in.

The weather had been benign all day but as we were getting ready to launch a strong wind kicked up. We had to paddle pretty much due south down Upper Saranac Lake, straight into the wind. On a windy day, that's actually good, in my opinion: beaming and quartering waves can be disconcerting as they try to push your boat around and flip it over. Paddling into the wind just makes paddling hard but it doesn't mess with your boat. Still, it was a tough paddle: it was our first day out and we were finding our footing in our heavily loaded kayaks. Suzanne hadn't paddled in a month and did an almost Jesse-worthy job of pre-excusing her poor paddling performance, but there was no reason for her to have done so. In reality, she snapped right into the rhythm and stayed with the group’s pace just fine. The group of us slogged our way southward through Upper Saranac, more focused on boat control and making progress than on the scenery, which was OK because Upper Saranac is a developed recreational lake. The shoreline is dotted with houses, and while it's nice to look at the beautiful lake houses, my preference for scenery on this kind of trip is for undeveloped wilderness.
Heading Down Upper Saranac Lake

After a while we reached Fish Creek. We turned into the creek and got a little shelter from the wind as we navigated our way through a maze of twisty passages into Follensby Clear Pond. The entrance to the pond is via a small tunnel under Rt. 30, and once you pass through it it's like you've entered another world. There's no development in the ponds - suddenly it's the wilderness. Groups of loons called out to us. The water shimmered. The trees, some of which were beginning to show the first signs of fall color, rustled. With protection from the wind we were for the first time of the day able to relax. The camp sites on the pond are first-come, first-served but we had no problem finding one. In fact, we got a lovely camp site on an island looking out over the pond. Big, flat area with a big view of the lake.
Through the ponds to Follensby Clear Fresh

Our camp site was a lovely place to spend an evening. Tom, Rob, Suzanne and Jen washed off the day’s grime with a dip in the lake. I personally hate being cold so the first time I heard one of them “whoop!” when hitting the cool water I decided I would forego the swim. I’ll take grimy over chilly any day. I’m delicate like that.
 
There were unusually large groups of loons at Follensby
After making camp and cleaning up (or not, in my case) we turned to dinner. We had arranged to take turns preparing dinners. Suzanne provided dinner the first night, a delicious pasta dish with goat cheese (note to self: buy Penzey’s roasted garlic). After dinner we spent quite a while sitting in our chairs watching the stars in the clear sky overhead while lightning dancing in the storms in the distance provided quite a show, with a soundtrack provided by the loons in the pond. Lovely.
 
Camp site at Follensby Clear Fresh
9/11 (Day 2)

Eventually, the storms we had seen in the distance came our way. The rain rolled in with a dramatic rush of wind at about 2 AM. Fortunately we all stayed dry in our tents overnight and were able to take shelter under Suzanne’s big tarp in the morning. Unfortunately, Suzanne’s stove got wet overnight and Tom had forgotten to bring his. I somewhat saved the day in that I had brought both my (Ted’s) JetBoil, which I was supposed to bring, and also my little backpacker stove, plus I had plenty of fuel. We would have been fine without the second stove and this is actually a very minor point, but it allowed me to feel useful. Usually I feel I’m chasing to keep up with the more proficient campers and travelers in the group and so it’s nice every once in a while to feel like I’m the one with a solution to a problem.
 
I need an "Anger" buoy
After breakfast we broke camp, packed the boats and headed out, once again into an unexpectedly strong wind. How strong? Well, this was the weekend of the Adirondack Canoe Classic, also known as the “90-miler”, a three day, 90 mile canoe race through the same lakes on which we were paddling. To quote from the MAC’s Canoe web site:

For the first time in twenty years the Adirondack Canoe Classic was shortened by a day due to inclement weather conditions.  Race officials in safety boats on the route and at the start line considered the weather report and on-station reports of high winds and rough water in deciding to cancel the entire third day of the event. ”   
We didn’t learn of the cancellation until mid-day, when we bumped into some 90-miler folks (on land) at the Bartlett Carry. We felt pretty good about ourselves for having easily managed conditions which caused the cancellation of a major paddling event (admittedly, our sea kayaks are better suited to rough water than are racing canoes) and we even went so far as needling one of our friends who we knew was participating in the 90 miler with a via her Facebook page.
Out of Follensby Clear Fresh via the tunnel

Our path took us back out of Follensby Clear Pond, and then we hung a right at Pork Bay (yes, this is the real name), continuing down-lake, winding up at the Bartlett Carry (named after Bartlett’s Hotel, which sate nearby in the 19th centur, and Carrying, which is what you do there) just in time for lunch, which we ate at the landing.
Lunch break at Bartlett Carry
This little guy really wanted to share our lunch

I mentioned up front that we were kayaking a chain of lakes. The lakes are connected in various ways, including cool little canal locks (more on this later), but for this first connection we had to portage (carry) our boats and stuff from one lake to the next. The carry was not trivial: about ½ a mile walk up, then down a hill along a road then down a dirt path through the woods. Knowing we had to do this we had brought along two sets of wheels. While four of us ate lunch Tom, who for whatever reason was eager to get the boats moved, loaded his on wheels and started hauling it up the road. Unfortunately, his wheels crapped out half way. That left us in a little bit of a pickle: we had to get all the boats and all our gear moved from one lake to the next. We had one set of wheels, plus Suzanne was recovering from a sprained ankle and so we couldn’t expect her to do very much schlepping. Fortunately, the other wheels held up and – three hours and I don’t know how many trips back and forth later – we got all the boats and gear over to the next lake, repacked and once again got under way. From there we had about three more miles of paddling to do, and while Middle Saranac immediately showed itself to be a beautiful and more remote lake than Upper, we were all quite happy when our camp site came into view.
We made many trips back and forth

Hauling gear across the carry


This camp site was also a nice one, with the one challenge that it had only a small beach (barely enough room room for our five kayaks) and from the beach there were about eight uneven log steps up to the site. This made carrying all of our gear a little more challenging. Still, we got it all done and had camp set up in no time. Since the forecast didn’t have any rain, we didn’t bother to set up the big tarp, which saved a bunch of time. It was Tom’s turn to make dinner, which was pre-fab TastyBite Indian food with rice, yellow squash and toasted naan bread.
 
Lake view near the carry
9/12 (Day 3)

Monday our plan was to kayak over to the base of Mt. Ampersand and hike to the summit. We awoke to a cool, foggy morning. The cool weather was pleasantly refreshing for those of us up from the mid-Atlantic (where it’s still summer) but the fog was dense enough that we couldn’t get on the water right away. We had a leisurely breakfast and watched the fog swirl over the lake – including these cool little mini-vortices, like tiny tornadoes. It was almost 11 AM by the time the fog cleared and we got on the water. For once the paddling was what you’d expect in a lake – dead calm, with glassy smooth water.
A foggy morning



A cool morning in camp

We paddle to hike

We had heard that the hike up Mt. Ampersand was pretty vertical – not many switchbacks to ease the ascent, and so Suzanne skipped the hike; her ankle wasn’t going to handle a significant climb with a rock scramble at the end. That left four of us to paddle the three or so miles over to the beach at the base of Ampersand, where we tied up our kayaks, changed into hiking clothes, and headed up the trail. Most of the people we saw over the course of the day were fully rigged out for hiking – nice packs, hiking boots, and so on. In contrast, we looked pretty rag-tag, with our half paddling half hiking clothes and our stuff carried in dry bags and little packable backpacks.


The climb up was through pretty forest and was, as expected, straight up. Tom, who has approximately the same inseam as one of those Star Wars AT-AT walkers, initially took the lead. I’m generally not at the front of the pack with this group when paddling, so I am happy to report that my general attention to cardio paid off and before long I was out in front, and easily stayed there for the rest of the day (sorry to brag, but – as with the aforementioned stove situation – I need to enjoy the rare situations where I’m out front with this gang). That’s not to say it wasn’t strenuous for me. The climb from the parking lot to the summit was almost 1,000 vertical feet and 5.4 miles round trip. With the additional climb from the lake to the parking lot (most people drive rather than paddle to the mountain) our hike was even longer and had even more elevation. More than once each of us thought about whether it was worth it – but it was. When we got to the top a gorgeous 360 degree view opened up and we could look around and see our whole Saranac paddling route, the six peaks of the Saranacs and some of the total 46 peaks of the Adirondacks. Tom, Rob and I took a picture to send to Larry, who was holding down the fort at our weekly paddling group, the Pirates of Georgetown. I also texted Suzanne (great cell service on the mountain top!) to let her know that we’d be back late as the hike was taking longer than anticipated. Oh, I also found a cell phone along the way. Someone had dropped a nice, new Samsung Galaxy. Unfortunately, it was out of juice and so it would power up and then immediately power down again. Since it was going to be days before we were back in civilization, we gave it to some other hikers who said they’d take it down to the local police or ranger station.
Rob


Survey marker at the summit
Taking a break on the hike up
At the summit
 
Tom, Rob and me at the summit


A pretty steep hike
The hike down was somewhat easier. Downhill hikes are still tough – lots of strain on the quads and the toes – but not as cardio intensive as climbing. We got back to camp at about 7 PM, tired but happy from the day’s exertions. It was my turn to make dinner, and I was pretty confident that no matter how it turned out this hungry group would eat it. I made spinach tortellini with salmon (from a pouch) and a quasi-cream sauce (little coffee creamers, shelf-stable milk, and cheese). It actually tasted pretty good, even to our non-ravenous control group (Suzanne). Oh, and I had brought McVittie’s HobNob biscuits (British cookies) for dessert. Our plan had been to break camp the next morning and move to another spot in the next lake, but after a strenuous day we decided we’d stay put for another night.
 
Sunset at Weller Pond
9/13 (Day 4)

This was a lazy, downtime day. Another cool, foggy start to the day (our coldest camping morning, with temps in the low 40’s). We lingered over coffee and breakfast. Suzanne, Jen and I eventually got moving and did a short paddle around Weller Pond, exploring the coves and finding our way into Little Weller Pond, which is really isolated – we expected a bear or a moose to bound out of the woods at any moment (alas, no mega-fauna). We also visited the Martha Reben lean-to. Being ignorant of Adirondack literature, I had no idea what this was about, but it turns out the Martha Reben was an author who spent six summers camping in a particular spot on Weller Pond in an (ultimately successful) attempt to cure herself of tuberculosis. She wrote several memoirs about her experiences, which apparently developed something of a following. While the three of us paddled and explored obscure Adirondack literary history, Rob and Tom went full-out lazy and and just chilled out in camp. When we got back from paddling they were pretty relaxed.
 
Pond scenes



I got up close and personal with a loon




I was also felling grimy enough that I finally gave in and took a very quick dip in the lake. Just enough of a dip to wash off the worst of the accumulated dirt. Like, there are baptisms which last considerable longer.

It was Rob’s turn to make dinner. Based on a recipe Suzanne had given him Rob prepared a wicked hot curry and rice mixed with lentils. He had pre-mixed the rice and lentils but then somehow came to decide that they needed to cook different lengths of time and so tried to separate the rice from the lentils using s mesh bag. Needless to say, it wasn’t successful and everything was ultimately very tasty. Rob had brought a supply of Werther’s candies (coffee flavored and butterscotch) which he passed out as a palate cleanser, then we had more cookies for dessert. He had also brought a Platypus bag full of pre-mixed Manhattans, which we consumed with gusto.
Watching the water filter work - this is what passes for entertainment in camp

Now you’d think that among kayaking, a strenuous hike, and a Manhattan or two I would have conked out pretty well that night, but for some reason I woke up in the middle of the night all anxious about things back in the real world, with the result that I lost about two hours of sleep in the middle of the night.

9/14 (Day 5)

The forecast had called for rain starting in the morning and, sure enough, it started raining right around 7 AM. Fortunately that gave us time for a non-rainy breakfast (coffee and my usual grits with a new innovation: peanut powder). Unfortunately, we had to break camp in the rain. Our decision to spend an extra night at Weller Pond meant we had a relatively long day of paddling ahead of us and so we had a goal of getting on the water early. The combination of having to break camp in the rain, feeling time pressure and being a little sleep-deprived made for an ugly start to the day. Being tired, I was moving a little slowly and when I realized I was falling behind I tried to rush and wound up whacking myself in the face with a tent pole as I released it from being under tension. 

In Alabama they say “Thank Heaven for Mississippi”, since Alabama usually (at least in the stereotype) ranks 49th and Mississippi 50th in ratings by state in measures such as education level, income, and so on. In my case, I say, “Thank Heaven for Rob”, since no matter how long it took me to get packed he was always five minutes behind me. On this rainy morning Tom, Suzanne and Jen had already launched and were paddling around out in the cove (passive aggressive behavior, perhaps?) while Rob and I finished the last bits of loading our boats. Still, even the laggards beat the group's target departure time of 9 AM by a few minutes.
 
Paddling in the rain
The rain continued on and off all day as we paddled, but that didn’t stop us from having some fun. Rob brings a big umbrella that he uses as a sail when heading downwind; we took a picture of him at a place labelled on the map as “Umbrella Point”. Likewise, Jen and Suzanne are fans of Norway so we photographed them in front of Norway Island. At the base of Middle Saranac Lake (not far from where we landed for our hike) we headed into the Saranac River, a body of water which is only a few hundred feet wide but which is marked at an obsessive level with channel markers. About two-thirds of the way through the river we hit the Upper Locks (actually, there’s only one lock), which marks the connection point between Middle and Lower Saranac Lake. If you’re thinking Panama Canal, you have the right idea but the wrong scale. If you’re thinking C&O Canal, you’re a lot closer. There’s only one lock at this point, and it’s just big enough for a small power boat (say, a fishing boat or pontoon boat) – or five kayaks. Sometimes you’re left to operate the locks yourself, but when we got there this lock was attended by a lock keeper. The lock keeper commented on our Greenland Paddles, saying she had carved one herself but that it didn’t work well with her wide, open boat. We are used to getting questions about the “sknny stick” paddles and so it was nice to keep running into people who knew what they were.
Through the Upper Lock
Past the Upper Locks we continued into Lower Saranac Lake – yet another pretty lake - and, near where we would have camped if we had followed our original plan, made a right turn into a series of ponds. At the end of the second pond was the Lower Lock. This one circumvents a bigger drop and so is a little fancier, with hydraulically operated gates. Actually, given the size of the drop the spot is incredibly poorly marked - on a foggy day it would be very easy to paddle over the dam, which would be a very, very bad thing. Fortunately, that fate did not befall us.


Through the Lower Lock

This lock was unmanned and we chose to take our lunch break on the rocks beside the lock (between the “no picnicking” and “keep off the rocks” signs). The lock has operating instructions posted for times when it’s not staffed, and I volunteered to be the lock operator. It was a lot of fun spinning the various wheels to close the upper doors, drain the lock and open the lower doors. My friends took my kayak through the lock and I hopped back in at a dock just below the locks. From there it was only maybe four miles through Lake Oseetah and Lake Flower to our takeout point in the town of Saranac Lake. These shores of these last little lakes were developed and we got to ogle some pretty fancy houses and classic wooden motorboats as we paddled by. Given that the larger boathouses were comparable in size to your typical Arlington house (an that’s saying nothing of the homes themselves!) there was plenty of "house porn" to look at.

Once we landed Suzanne, Jen and Tom went to retrieve the cars (one was parked in town; the other was back at our starting point). Rob and I were once again left to mind the boats and gear. The place we landed was a town park right in Saranac Lake. There was a little deli across the street, where I got us some nice, hot coffee which tasted mighty good after a cool, rainy day on the water.
Loading up in Saranac Lake

We packed the cars and then ran to do a series of errands – stopping at the supermarket (such as it is), the liquor store (important resupply point), and the trading post to get our Ampersand Mountain patches (there’s a patch for each of the 46 peaks – kind of like earning merit badges). We had dinner at our traditional gathering point, the Adirondack Hotel. Great view, passable food, terrible service, and most importantly, a tolerance for dirty, stinky travelers. Plus a photo op with a taxidermied bear. Just like after our recent Manhattan circumnavigation, we all got burgers.  
Jen, Rob and the bear

The bear has met his match

After dinner we headed over to Stewart’s for ice cream. Fifty six minutes had elapsed since I finished my burger, so I waited four minutes before digging into my delicious black raspberry ice cream (with free sprinkles!). You see, the laws of keeping kosher say you can’t eat meat and dairy together, but as with many aspects of the religion, what “together” means is subject to interpretation. I wait one hour. Many Orthodox Jews wait a at least six hours. Some people argue that as soon as you say prayers after a meal, you’re on to the next meal and so no further waiting is required. I’ve also heard of three hours, and there’s an argument that that the six hours can really be five and a half. It is a very complex and inscrutable religion.


Anyway, enough halacha (Jewish law). After our ice cream we headed back to Jen’s. We were all pretty tired and decided to leave the bulk of the unpacking/repacking for the second half of the trip until the morning. We all slept well, even Tom who, as at the beginning of the trip had been relegated to a very uncomfortable looking and way too short couch (actually, I beat him in rock/paper/scissors to win the real bed over the couch).

The repacking gear explosion