My body clock wakes me between 5:30 and 6:00, so that’s probably about the time it was when I crawled from my tent out into the warm and hazy July Sunday. We still have a long way to go, I think as I brew the coffee and heat water for oatmeal. I won’t be satisfied the boat motor repair will be straightforward until it’s actually done. The prop came off easily, and we had two sizes of propeller shear pins available, so this should be a slam dunk. Okay, don’t get over-confident.
While the boys slept in after a weekend full of action and a march through a monsoon, I headed down the the AquaMarie for the repair. I was glad to see Max had remembered to throw back the single bass from the live well. The breakdown and subsequent trip to town erased all hopes of Saturday Fish-Fry in camp, so this fish won a reprieve. The rain was so heavy the night before that it filled the boat almost halfway. A foot deep or more at the transom, the battery case was submerged, my tackle box afloat.
I grabbed the bilge pump, and returned water to the lake for a few minutes before feeling an urgency to get to the motor fix. The shear pin was just a tad long, and it jammed as I put the propeller on. I tried to pound down the ends with the hammer head of the camp hatchet. It needed to be just a sixteenth of an inch shorter for the prop to slip on over it. I couldn’t get the prop to seat all the way on the shaft, and determined the shear pin was still long, and snugging the ends of its channel within the assembly. Using the hatchet hammer again, I gently tapped the prop on over the tight shear pin until it seated enough to get the cotter pin back into the prop bell. “The use of the hatchet in small engine repair.” I narrated to myself.
The thing I always dread, which is yet to happen, would be striking camp in the pouring rain. Fortunately, there were but a few passing sprinkles this morning as the boys rose and breakfasted. We lingered a little, retold some early stories of the trip. Finally, the task of rolling up our beds and collapsing the tents loomed, and we began to pack the boat for travel. We loaded up, tied the kayak to the stern line as it hauled our cooler. We pulled out from site 34 with one long, last look at our temporary forest home.
“Fingers crossed.” I said as I started the motor and let it warm up. As expected, we put her in gear and she motored off, and headed for the channel marker buoys that lead to the boat launch.
For a Sunday morning in mid-July, there were few people at the launch. Normally there’s a queue waiting to get to the water’s edge. Rental canoes are emptied and returned to the racks. Kayaks are lifted to rooftops, and the occasional boat trailer would back in to retrieve a vessel. Now the “beach” was wide open, save two other campers.
Up to the lot to fetch the Jimmy, (aka The Black Pearl), over one lot to hook up her boat trailer, then down to the water. The routine process of trailering the boat was made easier with two young men to assist, and we pulled our beautiful blue fiberglass baby from her favorite lake.
There’s an old adage that says things happen in threes. I hold no stock in superstitions, but as luck would have it…
Onto the beach crawls the trailer, the right tire torn and flat as the proverbial pancake.
“Ock!” came the Gaelic interjection.
I had a spare. Two in fact. Over the years I’ve owned the AquaMarie, I’ve steadily upgraded and replaced parts. New bow and stern lights, reworked wiring. About five horns ’cause for some reason they always stop working after two years. New bunks on the trailer, new LED trailer lights that don’t need three bulbs replaced every year. Along with a stern-mounted American flag and a new winch, I also ordered a pair of tires on brand new white rims.
Now, the boat came from Florida originally, and I’ve owned it a decade or so without ever seeing the lug bolts removed. These are the five bolts per wheel that hold them onto the hub. For the past two years I’ve gone out and sprayed them with rust-busting products, anticipating the wheels that are routinely submerged would not come off easily. I had planned to take the trailer to “The Tire Store” in Canajoharie, where the guys armed with air-driven impact wrenches, torches, and other tools of the trade could “persuade” stubborn lug nuts or bolts to come off. So for the past couple of years, two shiny new, 5-bolt trailer tires have taken a great round-trip joyride into the Adirondacks. It must be like a dream life for a tire; never exposed to sunlight or that nasty pavement, never having to hold up a thousand-pound load.
I’m anxious that the rusty old lugs will not be moved. We grab the lug wrench from the Jimmy, and of course, it’s too small. Well, it’s Sunday, camp is packed up (though much of it is in the boat), we’re on dry land, and the weather was pretty mild. Another perfect storm.
“Maybe I’ll need to find out if Roadside Assistance will change a trailer tire.” I addressed the boys, “Meanwhile, let’s head to town to see if we can find a 3/4″ socket to fit.”
We pile into the Jimmy again, and wind our way up the gravel road, up Deerland Road, and three miles up the state highway, straight to Hoss’s. Nothing like tools at all, so on to Mountain Born. Here, down one of the alleys, we find wrenches and sockets. No 3/4″ socket or ratchet drive or lug wrench. “Well, I guess we’re going to get to see Tupper Lake after all!” I called to my mates, and we headed north out of town.
It was beautiful day for a ride, and this is some of the most scenic country you’ll ever see. We got to Tupper Lake and drove through the town, looking alternately at the lake and boats, then looking for the Aubuchon Hardware store. On Saturday, we noticed the water lilies had bloomed overnight. Places where we fished green pads on Friday sported white flowers. At Tupper Lake, we saw a lot of water lilies, and were enchanted by their colors; red, white, pink and yellow.
We found the hardware store and walked about to find some tools. I had measured the bolt with my fishing de-liar, and was certain it was three-quarters of an inch. I bought a 3/8″ ratchet drive to add to the four or five I already have back home. I picked up a (very expensive) deep well 3/4″ socket. We looked further for a “breaker bar”, solid chrome steel to spin your socket without grinding the gears of the ratchet drive. We came across the automotive department, and found a 4-way lug wrench. There was no 3/4″ on it, but there was a 13/16″, so we’ll take this along for insurance, along with a can of WD-40 penetrating oil. Sixty dollars later, we were heading south again to rescue our abandoned boat.
And so this “perfect storm” engulfed us. Like the firewood purchased from Mountain Born Friday, and then the find-of-the-day shear pin there again on Saturday. We’d had a great ride on a wide open Sunday in beautiful summer weather, in one of the prettiest places I know of, and now were equipped (hopefully) for the tire change.
“I suppose I could leave her here and come back tomorrow if I had to.” I reasoned as we pulled out the jack and Max went to the wheel. The 3/4″ socket didn’t fit. My “surely 3/4″ bolt head was actually a standard 13/16”, which was one of the legs on the 4-way lug wrench. Without hesitation, Max quickly loosened all five bolts. “Pretty easy once they started.” he said, “The threads aren’t rusted at all.”
We listed the “what-ifs”, and again counted our luck. This didn’t happen on the way up here. On one of those long, desolate stretches of State Highway 10, where you see nothing for miles. No houses, no villages, no power lines, no stores. Nor did it happen on our way home, when the trailer and boat (loaded with gear) would need to be left on the side of the highway as we went in search of a lug wrench. Just like shearing the prop pin right at the beach, this perfect storm happened at the perfect place. Where we could park our boat in the lot, the rangers on watch. It was surrounded and passed by other campers and boaters that wouldn’t dream of tampering with such a thing. She was in a parking lot at a campground, covered, and could have remained there briefly if necessary.
In retrospect, even the torrent we marched through was perfect in its way, as if collaborating with the shear pin incident. The result was we walked through a rainy forest and had a great tale to tell, and this prevented us from being out on the boat when the storm struck. The very hour we were at the Eagle’s Inlet the night before, catching fish and watching the sunset, a half-hour’s ride from camp.
And so, the Camporee of 2020 will go in the books as one of the most memorable, adventure-filled and satisfying trips to our fabled lake. I can’t relate the excitement of landing fish after fish, or the feelings of self-reliance and accomplishment felt overcoming the obstacles we encountered. Photos do not do justice to the lake or the mountains, or the skies filled with passing storms and the golden red sunset, or the fish. My words can only describe the sounds of the loons calling into the night, the breeze in the pines, the chugging of the little outboard motor or the laughter of my grandsons.
I have added a page to the future. A page that will be turned many years from now, long after I am gone from this Earth. A man named Kacey, or one named Max, will look to his children, or perhaps grandchildren, and tell them stories of epic adventures with their grandfather. If they have learned anything from me, they will dutifully exaggerate the arduous journey, the ferocity of the storms, the efforts required to overcome our difficulties, and most importantly, the number and size of the fish.
And perhaps they will remember the trip made to the stormy lake, just we three. Without buddy-system backups or spare boats for rescue. Just the three of us, and our beloved lake.
Indeed, Camporee 2020 will be vaulted to the status of legend, and we three Musketeers to legendary.
Take care and keep in touch.