Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Last Chair Already Turned: A Poem of Healing

its weird.
this feeling that the last day has already happened.
that the last chair has already turned.

but it wasn't supposed to.

we were supposed to have another day.
a final day
a June day

I guess we're not supposed to

it was the closest we've come in years
the closest to having that final day of joy
a final day to say goodbye
a final day to come to grips with the fact
that that which life revolves around is no more

it's weird.
this feeling that the lat chair has already happened.
I was there.
I had champagne
I toasted the season

but why does it feel like I missed it?
like something isn't complete?

Is it because I don't want it to end.  
even knowing that it can't
I want it to stay forever
a piece of me is missing
it just vanished in the night
and I awoke to find it gone
taken from me

I know, I know,
seasons change and there is more to life than skiing
I get it.

but in my heart,
I don't.

A piece of me is missing,
the piece that makes me whole
but it is still there
this is not permanent.
it will come again

the mountain stands strong 
silent, sleeping, and quiet now
her spirit buried beneath a cover of green
she will wait for us

we tried,
we really, really tried
to make it last forever
but you cannot hold on to something tight
without squeezing the life out of it

I don't want it to go
I need the snow
I can't live without it

my soul is adrift,
my heart is heavy
unsure in the wake of this new season
i struggle to bring all the pieces together

we didn't think we were really saying goodbye
that it was really going to leave us
we were going to have one more day together

a day to cherish, not just to play
time to reconcile my soul with the truth,
not just to ski
but to stand aside, to take a quiet moment
to come to grips with the truth

and so I hike
because I am not ready to say goodbye
i just want.  I just need.
   one more day
   one more run
   one more turn
anything to deny the truth

its weird.
this feeling that the last day has already happened.
that the last chair has already turned.

Farewell, my friend.

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Canoeing The Bog River and Low's Lake: a Five Day Backcountry Paddling Adventure

There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude and peace  the way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness and a freedom almost forgotten, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of ice with profound and abiding satisfaction.      -Sigurd Olsen

When we arrived at the Low's Lower Dam parking area on the Sunday afternoon before Memorial Day Weekend, we were disappointed to see lot so full people were parking up the road!  Quickly though, we noticed that everyone was leaving to go back to work on Monday.  Moving everything to the launch area was a slow process as we waited for several larger groups of canoes and kayaks to disembark from the lake.  We didn't mind though - we will always choose less people on the water over more any day!

The Boyfriend carrying our Minnesota II through the Ruins at Low's Upper Dam
The first day of our travels was a familiar one.  Our first trip to the Bog River was almost four years ago (see blog here).  Camp One for this trip would be the last site we were able to make it to in 2011 - our paddling and gear have improved greatly!  The Bog River is a winding path through the wilderness, underneath an abandoned rail bridge and out toward Hitchens Pond.  Here the skies were littered with bald eagles and red winged blackbirds, as well as black flies and mosquitos whenever the winds died down.  About halfway down the river, we come to what I deem the most memorable portage due to the stone foundation ruins left at the Low's Upper Dam.
The Firepit at Campsite 12

Holy Crap was it hot out!  In fact, our first reaction upon arriving on the backside of Campsite 12 was to rip all our clothes off and jump in the lake -- and then very quickly run right back out because even though the sun is hot, the water in New York is still really cold in May!!  We clean and dry clothes on, we quicky went to work making up camp.  I immediately headed to the firepit while Aaron set up our MSR Hubba Hubba sans fly.  Potential storms meant that this would probably be our own opportunity to sit outside in the evenings or sleep directly under the stars and we were going to enjoy the night!  We stayed up late and generally took the time to match our lives with the calming pace of the wilderness.

The Infamous Breakfast Sandwich
Passing through the bogs of the Bog River
 With the addition of the cooler, we would live like kings the first few days (and as hunched over porters at every carry) -- which meant that the Boyfriend could make his famous bacon and egg sandwiches on the cast iron skillet over our MSR Whisperlite camp stove.  Nothing like starting your day off with freshly cooked bacon :)

Our Second Day on the water had us traveling even further into the backcountry under another gorgeous sky, crossing over what had been our first ever bog passing years ago.  Even thought the river is fairly wide, this bog stretches for about a quarter mile with one canoe wide strip of water on the south side.   Whereas the first time we had wondered if one carried their canoe over the bog or dragged it or what, now we simply kicked off our shoes and walked along the logs lining the narrow passage through which we led our beloved canoe.

View of the Low's Lake Bog from Site 39
This bog way led us into a gathering of islands and peninsulas, filled with lots of nooks and crannies perfect for paddle exploration.  We meandered along the south shore of Gooseneck Island, sheltering ourselves from the winds come out of the northeast.  We knew that a storm was brewing sometime early to late afternoon, so our plan was to make camp somewhere after Boone's Landing around 3pm.  We had originally planned on Site 39, but upon arrival we realized the proximately to the huge bog in the middle of the lake was going to make for an itchy campsite.    The clouds were just starting to form for the afternoon storm and time was running out to find a home.  We paddled around the bog and across to Moose Landing to check out Site 35, but ended up crossing over to the north side of Low's Lake to make Site 28 our Camp Two for the next few nights.

The Storm Clouds Rolling in From the Northeast

The Kanauwake style Culvert
The next day promised to take us further into the backcountry than we had ever been before - but the threat of winds increasing in the afternoon were going to make this a day to remember.  After our boring breakfast of oatmeal & quinoa, we started by paddling back across an already fairly windy Low's Lake toward Moose Bay Landing and into the river toward Bog Lake.  Even this far into the wilderness, it was nice to see a culvert connecting the bodies of water, just like at home on Lake Kanauwake.  We kept paddling through shallow waters until we finally came to the opening of an extremely windy Bog Lake.
The Portage Dock at Clear Pond from Bog Lake
 Feeling brazen and strong for our first venture in the canoe for the season, we dove right into paddling the strong headwind up the north shore of the lake.  Strong gusts of wind pushed us backwards and it sometimes was a struggle to merely bring the paddle forward to the catch of the stroke.  Basing the wind temps off of our experience from the motorcycle, we agreed on 15mph with 30-45mph gusts.  An extremely exhausting experience, and we were almost overjoyed when we got to the short portage to our lunchtime destination: Clear Pond.

A total of twelve miles away from our original launch site, Clear Pond is reachable only by human powered boats.  We felt good and strong as we settled into the campsite for lunch, but acknowledged that this was not going to be a leisurely break - we had taken a lot longer to get to the site than we had anticipated and we were going to have to hustle if we were gonna get back to Site 28 by dark.  So we pounded down our instant mashed potatoes, drank tons of water and headed back out for one of the most nerve wracking experiences of our lives, never mind our paddling careers.

Entering the Forest Preserve Wilderness Area
While Clear Pond was a wonderful respite from the winds, what we saw when we reached Bog Lake were a little more intimidating.  We took a breathe and pointed the bow North - and into the strongest tail wind I have ever experienced thus far.  Teamwork was essential, with me in the bow just working to keep the boat going into the direction of our choice while it was all the boyfriend could do to steer the boat where we wanted it.  A few times the boat almost got completely twisted around, but the boyfriend seriously did an amazing job of keeping us true.  While I struggle to accept that my role as bowman, I seriously did not envy him steering us home this time.

Even though we thought the tail wind on Bog Lake was nasty, it wasn't until we got back to Low's Lake that we began to seriously doubt our chances of making it back to camp without getting wet.  We stopped briefly at our originally intended campsite, Camp 39, to rest our bodies.  I'm not sure about the BF, but I was seriously regretting our decision to not camp here as I looked across the water.  Sure it was only about 200 yards, but it looked more like a raging river than a calm flat water experience that they show you in the pamphlets.

Looking out into the wind
This was the headwind from hell.  Three foot whitecaps littered the water.  And so we paddled.  And paddled.  And paddled.  My shoulders were screaming, tears were streaming down my face from the wind and all I could think was that I had to keep going, that I had to paddle harder, that there was no way to give up without flipping the canoe into the water and endangering both of our lives in the cold spring waters of the adirondack wilderness.  Every once in a while, the BF would yell switch and it was all I could do to hold on to the paddle.  The bow was getting knocked up and down, like a tanker on the ocean.  The bow would drop and I would lean back and find myself holding my breathe in a desperate hope that our teamwork would pay off and the water wouldn't spill over the bow and sink our canoe.  The BF was yelling encouragement and I was paddling as hard as I could.  Sometimes we moved forward, sometimes sideways and several times backwards, but we stayed dry and were eventually able to cross the lake.

A calm moment at Site 39 before crossing Low's Lake
It took us one hour to paddle 200 yards. 

When we got to our now beloved campsite, the first thing we did was grab each other and embrace.  We had made it.  I let the tears that I had been holding back flow down my cheeks and we just stood there for a few minutes to let our heart beats calm down and our bodies rest from the stress.  I have never been so happy to get out of a canoe in my whole life!  We barely had enough energy to eat our dinners and passed our pretty quicky after making one decision: we were not going to test Poseidon again tomorrow.  Instead of exploring the remaining north west side of Low's Lake, we would take the long way back to Camp One.  We had had enough wind for one trip.

Our MSR Hubba Hubba at Site 28
The next morning, as I filtered our water at the shoreline of our campsite, we realized our decision from the previous night was a good one.  While the photo shows some quiet water, the truth could to have been further away.  Even though the whitecaps seemed less than the previous day, we were not going to make the same mistake twice.  After taking down the tent, we chose to hug the northern shore of Low's Lake
and check out all the nooks and crannies of the islands.  There was a short up and over portage to get us around the backside of Site 22 and we ended up coming up the north side of Frying Pan Island.   Somehow, we ended up one island short of our turn, and eventually decided to take a long break in the warming sun of Site 17.  I was shivering because the tail wind was just strong enough that paddling wasn't required.  I need some tea and some good old-fashioned vitamin D if I was going to get the dexterity back into my fingers to hold onto the paddle.

This day seemed to be our eating day.  We only paddled a few miles, but ate a double meal at our lunch break.  I think that we were just so trashed from the previous day's mental and physical requirements that we just needed to regather ourselves.  So we ate the extra meal, pounded the emergency coconut water that we always bring and laid in the sun until we could no longer handle the black flies.  Then it was a relaxing paddle back down the Bog River toward our Site 12 - only the discover someone in a Kelty tent had already moved in!  After not seeing any people what so ever for three days, it was a complete shock to realize that we were about to spend our final night in the wilderness and had paddled back in to civilization.  It was a rude awakening.  We kept paddling east along the Bog River and ended up at an interesting style campsite.  Site 11 required us to lift the canoe out of the water and directly up a short hill.  A very awkward undertaking, but wilderness life is supposed to be an adventure, right?
Our Gear :)

Looking Back at Site 11
We found a great little niche for our tent and settled down to our final night in the woods.  We talked about ways to improve what we had brought with us this time, including one dry bag to keep all the trash away from absolutely everything else.  Sometimes, it seems like the trash just takes over everything!  But as we finished the rest of our Jack and Jerry, emptying out the last of our ginger beer, we both agreed that we would have no problems just buying more food when we got to shore and just turning around to head back out.  There is something about being constantly busy with the duty of living, of making sure the shelter is ready and that the food is cooked, that makes our lives seem so much fuller.  It is hard to give that up to go back to a life where you can just run to the store for anything and your home is a permanent structure.  We sat in the tent, both vestibules tied back and let the wind blow through the tent like a breezeway, looking out onto the river and just relished the feeing of being at peace in the woods.
Heading East on the Bog River toward Low's Upper Dam
Morning, as always, came too soon.  This day we were in no rush to get moving and instead each found ourselves taking advantage of the warm morning sun to intersperse stretching in with our morning routine and the packing up of the tent.  By now, our packing consisted of just shoving everything into dry bags and not really caring where because it was all gonna end up getting washed when we get home anyways.  Dirty dishes, dirty clothes - not to mention the pine needles that were everywhere!  Finally leaving camp around noon thirty, with no goal except getting to Sushi Yoshi in Lake George before six, we traveled back down what was quickly becoming a well known waterway to us: the Bog River.

Past the stone ruins at Low's Upper Dam and toward Hitchens Pond, we came upon the opening toward Low's Lower Dam - or so we thought.  Distracted by an intense duo of paddlers, we turned into the first bog on the right.  Trying one waterway and then another, I had this feeling that our exhaustion was beginning to impair of brain cells.  I couldn't recognize any of the bogs and was starting to feel like we were just getting lost in the massive bog.  So many different routes, but thankfully we were able to backtrack out of each one instead of getting further lost.  Eventually, we took a mental time out and then reread the map - we were one peninsula shy!  Round the point, we could see how blatantly obvious the entrance was.  Man, did we feel stupid.  But we got our shit together, put the paddles to the water and glided our way home back to the launch site.

It is amazing how only three hours away from our home base, it an amazing piece of wilderness that can bring peace and a sense of accomplishment to our lives.  Already, we were planning our next great adventure :)

May You Find the Spirit of the Mountains Within You,
Merisa & Aaron