Saturday, April 28, 2007

Saranac Lake

1.) Buttermilk Falls
2.) Ice travel
3.) Western Terminus
4.) Loaded Jeep

After loading up the Jeep and driving up to Old Forge, we put in on April 24th, about 4 days ago. Thule hooked us up with a sweet rack for the Jeep, the only way we would have gotten all our gear up to the put-in. After saying good-bye to my parents and a group of local well-wishers, Ben and I pushed off on the Fulton Chain of Lakes. That was five days ago.

Today, we pulled into Saranac Lake about two hours ago under gray, overcast skies. It has been misting for the last day or two, but on the whole the weather has been fair, if cold. Last night was the first that it did not get below freezing; an encouraging sign.

We are hanging out in the Saranac Lake Free Library now, getting our fix of warmth and electricity. We ran into Megan Papineau a few minutes ago in the library- crazy to see a familar face in the middle of a big trip.

There is a phenomenal amount of water in New York, the Raquette River has totally jumped its banks and we wandered through a forest before finding the current again. Raquette Falls was huge, as you can see in the photo.

Our only major obstacle thus far has been the tremendous amount of ice. Forth Lake, Raquette Lake, and a bit of Long Lake were all in different stages of ice-out, with Raquette Lake being completly blocked about one-quarter of the way through. We made it though, about 7 miles in one day over the ice. Our ice hook has been absolutely vital, we have been able to pull the canoe up onto the ice sheets and use its weight to break through. It is slow and exhausting, but it works.

Other than the ice, things have been going smoothly. The bugs aren't out yet and we haven't had any real downpours or headwinds. The Adirondacks are fairly well marked and each campsite has a lean-to, so it is fairly plush accomodations. We had to set tents last night, as we were coming in for the night a bit too late at night and the only lean-to available was full of fishermen with an eye for celebration.

We've hit our stride with 27 miles in the hole yesterday, and two 1 mile+ portages. We're slipping into a routine. With about 85 miles behind us, we start the descent off the Adirondack Plateau on the Saranac River, 60 or 70 miles down to Lake Champlain, Vermont, and our 25% mark. Back to the river, and some big water on the downhill run.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

April 12, 2007 - The Boat is Beautiful...

I jetted down to Wiscasset today to pick up our boat, a gorgeous Old Town Penobscot 18', and a variety of other smaller gear. The Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset helped us out with organizing some of our gear purchases -namely our canoe- for which we are very grateful. All too soon Ben and I will smash a bottle of Pabst over her bow and give her a name.

We are going for a little paddling trip, with the help of an Otis Fellowship. It is our intention to paddle the entirety of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, 740 miles from Old Forge, NY to Fort Kent, ME in one fell swoop, and we start a little more than a week from now. I think often about all the things that happened so that Ben and I could do this trip. To begin with, a man named Phil Otis died attempting to rescue an injured climber on Emmons Glacier on Mt. Rainier. It was August of 1995, and he was one term away from graduating from Bates. His passion was for the outdoors, the 'world of nature' and all of the environmental and spiritual connections inherent in it. He was a NOLS grad, a student ranger on Mt. Rainier, and my guess is that while he was at Bates he did a lot of the same things that Ben and I do today. A few years after the accident, his mother and stepfather established a number of programs in his honor, among them the Otis Fellowship. Here is a little more about the Fellowship, from the Bates website:

"The purpose of the Otis Fellowship Program is to encourage among Bates students the kinds of concern for and interests in the worlds of nature that Phil Otis '95 demonstrated. These concerns and interests focused on the consequences for other living things of human pretensions to dominion over the rest of nature. Phil was interested in studying and reflecting upon new and innovative ways to understand, appreciate, and express our interdependencies with the earth. He was especially interested in reflecting upon how diverse cultural perspectives, especially moral perspectives, might contribute to the transformation of attitudes toward nature. Phil trusted new adventures and new personal experiences as occasions that might provide "new beginnings" for appreciating our places within the natural world."

Now we are the beneficiaries of their generosity, and of Phil's spirit of adventure and principle. Still, I often fall on the fact that someone died, and in some way that has allowed us to do this trip. The conflict here is sublte, but noticable to me. I realized at some point that if I were to not come back from a trip, the way I would want my family to honor my memory would be the same way that Phil's family did. I then came to the conclusion that Phil's family did just what he would have wanted to in creating a fund for education and facilitation. I think that, if I had known him, I might have liked Phil a great deal.

I hatched the idea for this trip over the summer, while leading trips for Darrow Camp in Grand Lake Stream, ME, and fleshed it out on the long flight from New England to Washington state, and the drive to Glacier NP, where my brother and I were doing a backpacking trip. On the drive back to the Spokane airport after the trip, things settled in my mind and my final plan formed, interestingly enough only a few hundred miles from where Phil spent his last days. The moment I returned to campus I pitched my idea to Ben. It didn't take much convincing.

More about the boat. She is a big, beautiful black tripping canoe with a gold racing stripe. She needs a bit of outfitting and modification, but for the moment she is damn fun to look at. One of the three seats needs to come out and be replaced by a portage yoke, the boat needs to be rigged with skid plates, bailers, painters and various other line, and that silly racing stripe needs to be transfered to my car, as recommended by my cousin.

Old Town doesn't make the Penobscot in an 18' length anymore, but it still comes in several shorter lengths. We got one of the last boats they had in stock, it seems. Her lines are clean and symmetrical, and she is quite light in comparison to the boats I work with in the summer. The thing just looks fast.

These are her specs:
Length: 18'6"
Width: 37"
Depth: 14'5"
Weight: 74 pounds
Hull: Roylex ABS

Trip prep is always an exciting time. First comes the idea, then the map sessions, route meetings, gear discussions, and so on. At some late point, you buy your fresh vegtables and then there is no turning back, and we're buying our vegtables in a little over a week. That last onion we buy won't have been the first thing we've spent money- the first thing were the maps, lots and lots of maps.

Maps are dangerous things... they make you want to DO things and go places. They are addictive. Some people can stare at them for hours as their imaginations run across the landscape, imagining trips. I am one of those people, for better or worse, and I've found that during finals week (this week) it is better to hide the maps or leave them at home, because otherwise, that paper just won't get done. On that note, I'm going to stop looking at online weather reports, put the maps away, and start on that term paper that's due tomorrow...