canoeOne of the many things my wife has brought to our marriage is the fun of reminiscing. When she and her 4 siblings get together, it is all about the retelling of stories from their youth. Exact details and specifics aren’t necessarily important, so long as the story gets a huge laugh out of everyone – and it usually does. Well, the other day she and I were reminiscing about one of our backpacking trips in the Adirondacks and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good story to record, so this is my attempt…

Upper Saranac Lake to Lake Flower

My good friend Jason and I had gone on many backpacking and canoeing trips together, mostly leading a group of 5-10 fifteen-year-old boys while counselors at NFC. Well since those days, we had both gotten ourselves married to wonderful women who shared our affinity for the outdoors. We decided to plan a joint trip together. Nothing too difficult or strenuous that would take the fun out of the trip – since this was supposed to be a vacation. So we settled on a week long canoe trip that would take us through over 20 miles of Adirondack scenery and through 5 lakes, 2 ponds, a river and 2 locks. The entire trip is achievable in a day or two, but spread out over a week makes for much happier canoers. It is actually a route that Jason and I had done before so we were very familiar with what to expect and looked forward to sharing those memories with Kate and Lisa.

We loaded up our two canoes with our backpacks and put our boats into the northern tip of Upper Saranac Lake around 5 p.m. and paddled into the gorgeous sunset. We hit our destination right at dusk – a campsite on the eastern shore – pulled our canoes up onto the rocks and set up our tents. Made a campfire, cooked our food and had a peaceful evening with good friends.

The next morning we were greeted with a beautiful day. We headed out early and canoed to about the halfway point of the lake where Jason’s Grandmother’s friend lived. We had a nice quick lunch with them and then headed back out into open water.

About a half-hour after lunch, the sky grew very dark. The wind whipped up fiercly and as our luck had it, was blowing south to north. The wind was not only creating waves in the large lake, but actual whitecaps. It was a struggle to canoe into the strong, steady wind while also getting whipped by waves dumping into the canoe. We weren’t sure if it was raining or just airborne lake water. Jason and Lisa were ahead of us, but we were both in the center of the lake. I could see the exhaustion on Kate’s face as she kept paddling in the front of the boat and I knew that my shoulders only had so much left in them – certainly not enough to paddle the entire lake under those conditions. Knowing how mountain storms come and pass so quickly, I decided we needed to head toward the shore to wait it out.

The wind was blowing so hard that my calls to Jason went unheard. We were resigned to use hand signals to communicate and I think we could have used a translator. I wasn’t sure that Jason understood that I was heading toward Gull Bay on the eastern shore, as he was already past the bay and would have to turn back to join us.

Kate and I kept paddling into the wind. Each time I adjusted the canoe toward the east, the wind would blow us back a few feet. It was a losing battle. As we neared the rocky shore Kate noticed a man waving his arms at us franticly. I did my best to aim the boat toward him and eventually brought our canoe into a little canoe-sized opening in some rocks, just north of the bay opening. The three of us steadied the boat so that we could get out and then the man helped me pull the canoe up out of the water and onto the land.

canoeWe thanked him for his help and then I said that I was going to see where our friends were. Well, he almost fainted. He didn’t even know there were two canoes out on the lake. He saw us because I was wearing a bright orange shirt and we had a dark green canoe. Jason and Lisa both had white shirts on and were in a white canoe. They were near invisible on the whitecapped lake.

As we ran around to the bay shore, we saw them headed right toward us – wind to their back. I guess my gesticulations were clear enough.

The man introduced himself to us as Ari and almost fainted again when he found out that Lisa was 3 months pregnant. He said this was the worst storm he had seen on the lake in years and that seeing us out on the lake in canoes put the fear of God into him. It was pouring rain and even more windy – if even possible – at this point and our backpacks, tents and ourselves were getting wetter by the minute. Ari led us to his home which was only a few hundred yards from where we hit land and told us to grab our packs and come inside to dry off.

Once inside, we met his wife Nancy who must have seen us coming because hot water was already on the stove for hot chocolate. We all shook off our rain-soaked clothes and took turn changing into something dry from our backpacks. The storm didn’t seem to be letting up, so we flipped on the AM radio to the ranger’s weather station. We couldn’t make out much, but we did hear that there was a full-blown tornado warning for the entire Adirondack region. Ari and Nancy insisted that we stay for dinner.

Before dinner we played cards and told our life stories. We all dozed in and out of naps on their couch. Nancy made this wonderful italian meal for us and we were happy to be able to share their joy when they got a phone call from their daughter to say she had just got engaged. The storm began to let up shortly after dinner and so we joined Ari and Nancy out on their dock and fished a little. Since daylight was fading fast, Jason and I began planning out where to set-up our tents.

As you may have guessed, Ari would hear none of that. They both insisted that we camp out on their couches and spare beds. We happily obliged. After such a long day, it felt very good to rest so well.

The next morning there was not a cloud in the sky. The lake was calm and the water was warm. Nancy fixed us a hearty home-cooked breakfast, we said our goodbyes and paddled off to finish our trip that had hardly just begun.

Around 10 am we got a phone call from Ari letting us know that they had taken their fishing boat over to chapel island and said a prayer for the rest of our trip.

We made our portage (walking your canoe across land to another body of water) into Middle Saranac Lake and shot across the smaller lake to the sandy beach on the far eastern shore. By this time it was around 1 pm and it was a good place to break for lunch. We ate our lunches and swam in the lake for a bit. The sun was beating down on us hard and we were soaking it in.

From Middle Saranac we entered the narrow, windy Saranac River. About halfway through this stretch of river we came to the first set of Locks, named appropriately, The Upper Locks. We passed through and gave the Ranger a wave. The river then dumped us down into Lower Saranac Lake where we decided to call it a day and found a great lean-to on an elevated penninsula on the northern shore. We made camp and had dinner.

That night Kate had a terrible time trying to sleep. She was very sick and basically didn’t sleep a wink. We concluded that she must have sun poisening, despite the liberal use of sun block.

In the morning, we all decided to make a run for the end and cut our trip short by one day. We got out of Lower Saranac Lake and entered First Pond. At the end of First Pond we canoed under a highway bridge and then into Second Pond. Second Pond turns back into the Saranac River and then you come to the Lower Locks. The Ranger said the locks were closed but he’d be happy to help us portage around them. So, with his help we lifted our boats onto the docks and carried them down to the bottom of the dam. On our way again we left the Saranac River and entered Oseetah Lake.

Oseetah is a big beautiful lake that has some great views of the high peaks and some fantastic islands to explore. Oseetah was most of the day for us and at the end we shot into Lake Flower. The smallest of our lakes and most developed with houses on both shores. We shot up to the boat launch on the northern tip of Lake Flower and called it a trip.

Kate recovered and Jason and Lisa had a beautiful baby girl (the 1st of three girls). About 3 years later, we bumped into Ari and Nancy at a fishing expo in Rockland County, New York. It was great to see them again, catch up and re-live old times. I always cringe when Kate retells this story because she tends to throw around the word “rescued” when recounting how Ari and Nancy helped us out. Though I don’t discount their help one ounce, the male ego in me rejects the notion that we needed “rescuing.” They were very generous and in the right place at the right time.

That was that trip. Maybe I’ll write about some other trips when I have time. This one took a lot longer to record than I expected…