I understand much of the modern science of meteorology. Warm and cold fronts, high and low atmospheric pressures, occluded fronts, jet streams, humidity, moisture in the clouds. One can fathom a pretty good guess with the data from weather radar, computer modeling, and good, old-fashioned experience and instinct. Still, even a meteorologist will admit, foretelling the weather is essentially an informed speculation.
So the weather forecast for our annual trip to the Adirondack High Peaks region and the remote Forked Lake Wilderness called for showers and passing thunderstorms. 25% guess for Friday, 85% educated good guess for Saturday, and back to 25% Sunday. “Looks like we might see our first washout.” Joe texted me. My regular camping companion for this past decade, he followed Sparky’s lead (our other 10-year die hard compatriot), who had hinted at calling it off already on Thursday. It would be the first break in the ten-year tradition. “Bah!” I replied to Joe. “I’m heading north. We’ll see what it looks like when we get up there. Every day is part of the story!”
Friday morning, after we finally got Max awake, he and another grandson, Kacey, climbed in the Jimmy and hauled our boat, the AquaMarie, to her favorite destination. Skies were cloudy and overcast, and temperatures were high, in the 80’s. Perfect brewing weather for thunderstorms. We were packing light and moving at a quick but unhurried pace. We drove past the scenic outlook, where we can see the western edge of the Green Mountains in Vermont, and the north end of The Berkshires. We drove past the hamlet of Sabael. These are two places I like to pause and look and linger.
We pulled into the Indian Lake One-Stop for our traditional cold cut sandwiches. Max’s favorite is the liverwurst sub, not something offered at a lot of places. I do turkey on wheat, and I don’t know if it’s superior bread and cold cuts or the atmosphere and preferred company, but I find it always to be the best turkey sandwich of my year. We ate on the road, continuing our northward trek and watching skies that looked potentially stormy, but dropped no rain on us. Past Lake Durant, past Mason Lake, past Galusha’s Cottages and Lake Algonquin, and the Northville-Lake Placid Trail signs.
After two hours’ travel, I drove past Deerland Road, where three miles hence resided the gravel road, which 2.8 miles later brings us to the DEC Campground at Forked Lake. I turned left at Hoss’s Corner Store, and showed the boys Long Lake, (the lake, not the village) and the place where Ryan and I boarded a float plane for a great ride, much of it right over our beloved campground. Then we made straightaway for the boat launch, and the AquaMarie slid into the cool, clear water, the lake obviously low, with a few rocks poking up where normally they are hidden. We could see the high water mark, and the lake was down by perhaps four inches or so. In a shallow lake filled with boulders, this can mean the difference between boating over rocks or hitting them.
Then we came to our first, and frankly easiest, hitch in our plans. We checked in at the ranger station and asked for two bags of firewood, to which the ranger replied “No wood this year. Didn’t have time to get it.” The campsites in the state had only opened July first, and hadn’t time to put everything in place. “Have to go to Stewart’s for wood.” he said. So back in the truck and up the 2.8 mile gravel road and the three miles of paved road and three more miles back to the hamlet of Long Lake. Passing the Stewart’s and Hoss’s, I again continued down the “main drag” by the beach, where the water taxi was homed and the Adirondack Hotel stood three stories high, facing north. Here we stopped at Mountain Born, and picked up four bags of firewood after nosing around the campy-touristy store. Little did we know that finding this hitherto unexplored trading post would be our salvation from another hitch we would encounter Saturday.
Camp stores are a mesmerizing conglomeration of goods, and seem to be a hybrid of tourist trap, camp store, marina, hardware store, grocery and fishing tackle supply. There are window stickers and T-shirts and sweatshirts for the tourists. Then there is camping supply; stove gas and fire starters, plastic flatware and plastic ponchos and S’mores sticks. Part of the store is a mini-marina; spark plugs for your boat motor, 2-stroke oil, paddles, life jackets, bulbs for your running lights, ropes for anchor lines. At the other end of this aisle is the beach store; sunscreen and beach umbrellas, floaties, checkered plastic tablecloths, disposable hibachis and folding chairs. Next to plastic pails and sand shovels and the occasional snorkel we find the automotive section; motor oil, fix-a-flat, air fresheners and sun shades. In the midst of this will be a miniature fishing tackle department, with poles and fishing line, lures, hooks, snap swivels, and a fish scaler. Then the souvenir section, with those little cedar boxes declaring “World’s Best Mom” or “Lake Life”. There are soaps made from pine needles and candies made from maple syrup and boxes of Paine’s Of Maine balsam incense.
We grabbed up our firewood and hightailed it back to the boat launch, boarded the AquaMarie, and motored out onto the lake, up the east shore to sites 31 and 32, our home for these three days. Clouds came and went, as did the sunshine, and we awaited Joe’s arrival at site 33. We pitched camp in short order, and were ready for some fishing. We headed for “the lily pads”, which actually describes a half dozen places around the lake with several inlets. This spot, however, has two parallel channels that wend their way through half a mile of bog before emptying into the pristine lake at one of our top “hot spots”. From here, Max would land the first of many bass over the weekend. One at seventeen inches, and another at sixteen. Kacey and I would soon join the ranks of successful fishers, and we were well on our way to another perfect day at camp.
As we caught and released quite a few fish, listened to the loons and floated on our peaceful lake, I began a running gag that would punctuate our weekend. With a sarcastic tone and a disgruntled moan, I’d say “This is awful. I should have stayed home.” The other running gag was the “waiting for Joe”. The last I heard from him before leaving my cell phone in the truck was “See you up there.” I fully expected him to show up sometime Friday. I’d see a boat as we were fishing and ask “Is that Joe?”
“Want to troll the south shore down to the lily pads?” Max asked, referring to yet another spot with the same moniker. I agreed, of course. Our road trip to Paradise, added trip to town, pitching camp and catching fish had burned up most of our day. The sun told me we had perhaps two hours before sunset. “Let’s head for the inlet (the “lily pads”) first,” I commanded as Captain of the AquaMarie, “then we’ll troll our way back so we’ll be getting closer to camp as it gets dark.”
We chugged slowly up the inlet as the water lilies fouled our prop and wrapped around it. We shut off the engine and dropped anchor at the spot that produced awesome fishing last year. I saw a movement across the forty-foot-wide channel, and from a pine tree not 100 feet away, a bald eagle leaped into the air, glided southbound down the channel, made two flaps of its nine foot wingspan, and disappeared behind the trees. We marveled at the sight.
“Well,” I summarized, “we drove here, pitched camp, caught fish, heard the loons, and now we’ve seen a bald eagle. Now we just need to eat some fish and sleep in a tent and we’ll have checked all the boxes for a perfect trip to camp.”
The action was hot, so we stayed at the Eagle’s Inlet. We watched the sunset from the boat, watched the water calm to glass. Viewed the colorful sky as civil twilight progressed to nautical twilight, often declaring “I should have stayed home.”
Finally, and I don’t recall exactly why, we weighed anchor, lit the running lights, and got underway for our mile-or-so trip back to camp. Perhaps darkness or hunger were our incentives, and we cannot discount plain old tiredness. The air was perfect, and we motored our way up the center channel as twilight faded into darkness. I throttled back, left the tiller, let her plod along her course toward the little light hanging from a tree that marked our home. I stood and walked amidship, between my two boys so I could be heard above the hum of the motor and the churning water.
“I’m so glad we did this. I’m always wanting to be out on the lake at night, cruising or fishing under the running lights. We have fulfilled my dream.” After a moment’s pause I put on a scowl. “This is awful. I should have stayed home.”
“Yeah.” the grandsons nodded in mock agreement.
We cooked more burgers over the fire. Kacey took to the hammock, to sleep out in the piney forest air. I prepared a bed for him in my tent, in the event he might need to escape rainfall. The occasional splash of a fish, a light breeze in the eaves of the hemlocks, and calls of the loons were our lullaby.
Ah, another perfect day.