A Second Look At Saranac Lake
by Jeff Bowen
October 5-8, 2007
Although the October 2007 Paddle and Camp trip to Lower Saranac Lake has already been well documented in Christine’s earlier essay, the number of attendees and their varied and different perspectives warrants this additional report.
What follows are the actual recollections of several of the participants. They have been directly quoted where possible, but edited for content, brevity, civility and good taste, and to cast the Trip Coordinator in a more favorable light.
Advance planning and research are vital for a successful Paddle and Camp trip. Even so, unexpected changes and unforeseen circumstance can thwart any adventure. This truth was brought forcefully to the attention of the surprised and embarrassed Trip Coordinator at the put-in when it was discovered that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation was keeping the campsite open and collecting fees after Labor Day. Upon discovering this unplanned-for glitch, the TC exclaimed “What the [Frisbee]...” and then turned to his comrades in the advance party and said, “How much money y’all have?” Everyone swallowed hard and ponied up the bucks.
On our first morning Martin and Harris watched as two loons who were swimming and calling from the lake near our campsite were dived upon by a Bald Eagle. The loons dove underwater to avoid the eagle, and Martin was able to record the event with his camera.
That day, when the rest of the group arrived, they found the members of the advance group ready to help them with extra waterproof bags, advice, assistance and space for extra gear in their empty canoes.
“I was a bit apprehensive before the trip. I had been on a couple of day trips with the Club, but this was my first time combining camping and kayaking.” said Joanne. Her apprehensions and sense of personal boundaries melted away as a male member of the advance party started pulling undergarments out of her overflowing dry bag and stuffing them into an empty dry bag he was able to lend her.
Monica discovered that plastic space saver type compression travel bags allowed her to bring her favorite pillow, a grand luxury, but it is most important to make friends with canoeists.
Scott had paddled his empty Swift Osprey back to help the main group. “I loved every minute of it; loading my canoe with kayaker’s gear and firewood to the gunwales, and paddling back to camp again. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share the experience with kindred spirits.”
Saturday a large portion of the group assembled to paddle to the upper locks and into Middle Saranac Lake. As they proceeded past the south west tip of Martin Island, Charlie said “Hey everybody, watch this!”
At least that’s what most people usually say before they end up capsized in the water. Too bad most of the flotilla was in front of him and did not behold his athletic maneuver.
The paddlers were reminded that the weather, although relatively mild, demands respect.
“No matter how sunny it is when paddling, the proper place for your Gore-Tex is in your boat, not back at the tent,” Monica noted, adding an emphatic “Duh!”
Joanne noted that “tarps are an absolute necessity, and it is a good idea to put them up before it rains.” Jeff heartily agreed, having rushed to erect his tarp in a lull between showers.
“Also,” Joanne continued, “never trust the Adirondack weather, and always put the fly on your tent. I learned this the hard way.” As Monica and Joanne were paddling back to their own site to help Scott set up some tarps, they had an awesome experience.
“We heard a very loud and strange roar approaching, and saw a thick gray wall of heavy rain speeding towards us on the lake,” Monica recalled. “Why weren’t we told that monsoons exist in the Adirondacks?”
Scott was mentally kicking himself for not setting up his tarps because the weather radio said it wasn’t supposed to rain until the next day. Despite being hungry, cold and tired from a long day’s paddle in the rain, he reverted to using the simplest knots he knew to secure the tarps over at site 40, and “curtly” told Kenny that those were EXACTLY the circumstances when the knowledgeable Kenny suggested some more sophisticated and appropriate knot configurations.
Tim might have added that it is also a good idea to zip up your tent and fly when you leave so that rain is not funneled into your tent. He and Joanne were later seen with their sleeping bags draped over their shoulders and outstretched arms in front of the campfire trying to dry them. They reminded more than one observer of condors or some eerie bat-winged creatures as they stood there in the flickering firelight.
Harris advocated placing the tent ground cloth inside one’s tent. This way you protect the floor of your tent and never have the problem of rain ponding in the ground cloth under the floor of your tent.
Ben had a few interesting observations. “I need to trim the contents of my kitchen bag,” he said, “and it seems that mice consider blue fabric covered sponges a nighttime delicacy.”
Both Tim and Ben agree that surveying landing sites for kayaks, even plastic ones, is a worthwhile endeavor. They reached this conclusion after they had hurriedly dragged their rotomolded boats over some rocks to get out of the rain and then watched the next wave of paddlers beach themselves in an area devoid of rocks not ten feet away.
Of course, there were some genuinely humorous moments during the trip as well.
Around the campfire at site 37 one night, Martin, Bryce, Harris and Scott were puzzled by Jeff’s sudden frenzied antics.
“I thought he was having an epileptic episode,” said Scott, “but he claimed it was caused by a mouse running up his leg.” Hickory Dickory indeed.
Jeff’s odd behavior didn’t end there. At the campfire at site 39 the next night he engaged in what some have called ‘howling’ and others ‘caterwauling’. “He was irrepressible---, “ Joanne noted.
“While [he] might be good at many things, singing is not one of them,” added Monica.
It must be noted that what prompted the audacious auditory assault was Harris’ suggestion to Jeff that he sing. ”Hey, it wasn’t my idea,” Jeff explained. It may be that Jeff was jealous of Tim’s loon calls which were enjoyed and envied by the group.
At one point, a member of the party (who shall remain nameless) found his or herself inadvertently locked inside one of the outhouses when the crude door latch on the outside fell into place when he or she went inside. It may have been humorous for those on the outside, but it was horrifyingly unpleasant for the trapped person. “Get me out of here!” Joanne demanded, and her friends raced to the unnamed person’s rescue.
During every meal, and frequently in between, Martin would talk about Bar-B-Q. It became a theme, an obsession, and finally a trend. His constant mention of BBQ began to haunt our minds to the point where when we finally left on Monday, we just HAD to stop at Tail o’ the Pup and feast on BBQ. It was better than pizza.
Of course, there were thoughtful and serious observations as well. The all encompassing beauty and majesty of the surroundings impressed themselves on our refreshed senses. The many hardwoods along the lake shore and in the surrounding mountains frequently caused us all to stop what we were doing to drink in the richly colored scenery.
A mink seemed to consider the area of the campsites as his, and was frequently seen swimming not far from shore or darting about the shoreline, ducking under and about the boats that were pulled up there.
Tim, Monica and Joanne decided on a leisurely paddle out to the upper locks on a sunny day and enjoyed a ride through the locks with Tim operating them.
Ben, Robyn, Martin, Phil and Harris paddled to the eastern end of the lake and enjoyed viewing the many manses that crowd the private portion of the shore there.
Monica discovered that “waves lapping on shore in the middle of the night sound frighteningly similar to a bear licking a jar of honey outside your tent.” Perhaps next time she will refrain from pitching her tent on a lovely area under some pine trees only a few steps from the shore.
In the morning, Monica went out for a Sunrise Paddle in her Pajamas and witnessed what is perhaps one of the most beautiful times in an Adirondack day.
Later on, Ben was seen paddling up the lake as the sun burnt off the early morning mists, the lake’s surface smooth before him, and the gentle ripples of his wake behind him.
There are many lasting impressions that the members of the trip will carry with them.
“Overall for me it was a great experience,” Joanne said. “Doing something new for the first time with the Club, I felt immediately that everyone was working as a team. I felt safe, in the company of experienced campers and paddlers, and everything was going to be alright. When I set out for the campsite with my kayak loaded with food and shelter I felt like…Lewis and Clark…and Pocahontas???”
Monica seemed nostalgic, poetic and philosophic simultaneously when she recalled the trip.
“While paddling back to the take out, the mist turning the silent crafts in the distance into soft gray silhouettes, I was transported back in time,” she says, “It was sad to think that within an hour I would be in a car trudging down the highways back to ‘civilization’, which, at that moment, seemed the farthest thing from civil I could imagine.”
Speaking to Scott about it, one can discern a far-away look coming into his eyes.
“I remember effortlessly gliding down lake on a beautiful fall day and trying to figure out how and when I started to paddle a solo canoe straight with little effort and feel the ‘Zen’ of the paddle.
“This is my fourth season and it previously seemed to always be my fate to be an unbalanced and zigzagging paddler. But sheer time on the water paid off and the force found me. My enjoyment increases with my paddling confidence.
“Take heart new Paddlers, because if I got here, so can you! Get out and Keep Paddling!"