Monthly Archives: August 2020

Camp Journal, Part 4

 

Making Legends

Camp Morning

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 to 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.

Motoring

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.”

The Jimmy and AquaMarie at the Mohawk River, 2019

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 a 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.

Scenic Adirondacks

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.

Paz

 

Camp Journal, Part 3

Number Thirty-One

Forked Lake Campground

Of all the days we pass through in a life, the majority will be unremarkable in a lifetime sense. We remember important individual days by date, but it is singular moments, brief flashes, that actually constitute a memory.
I don’t remember everything about the day Ryan was born, but I remember going to the mall and buying blue and pink balloons, printed with the names Ryan and Elizabeth respectively. (Until he joined us in the world, we didn’t know if we’d greet boy or girl.)
I don’t remember all of Miranda’s wedding or reception, but I vividly recall walking her down the aisle and telling her “Take one giant step.” . I recall as well the father-daughter dance hours later, with the newly-minted Mrs. Prime.
And so it is with our great adventures, in the outdoors and at camp. I can total the number of days I’ve spent at this lake. I can list the friends and loved ones that have joined me here. I can show you on the campground map all the sites where we have pitched our temporary canvas homes. But the stories, the ones we really remember, are those times when the ordinary became the extraordinary.
The time I swamped the canoe and ended up, fully clothed, in the lake. The time I couldn’t get the engine of the boat to start, a mile down the lake and approaching sunset. Never was I more thankful for my die-hard camping partner Joe, and his little Bass Tracker boat which towed the AquaMarie back to camp.
The time I arose from my tent, somewhere deep in “the middle of the night”, and observed a single cloud sitting on the silent and still lake, not another cloud in sight. Or another occasion past midnight, the campground practically empty, when I was the sole witness to a great ancient hemlock crashing down onto the forest floor a half mile away in the otherwise peaceful wilderness.
The Camporee of 2020 will certainly be remembered as remarkable in many ways. First and foremost, all other members of our tribe had called off, leaving only grandsons Kacey and Max, and myself, to foray into the piney woods. I must relate that the aforementioned grandsons are not little children as they may come to mind. Kacey turns twenty-two in October, and Max seventeen a month later. They were essentially grown men helping with the work and enjoying the camping trip rather than children that required supervision.
And here we were. The real deal. The real die-hards, eh? There’s some kind of line between “bold” and “stupid”, and we may have straddled it a bit. But it sure made for some great stories.

Stormy Weather

So we were lucky to find a shear pin to replace the broken one on our boat motor’s propeller, right nearby in the hamlet of Long Lake, and we leaped from the Jimmy to try to beat the thunderstorm rampaging up the lake toward us. We weren’t ten steps from the truck when the rain started. Before we entered the woods trail, the skies opened, and torrential rain fell hard. Previously, we had found the sprinkles to be quite warm. We joked that we could shower in them if we had a bar of soap.
Not so true for Number Thirty-One.
“Whoa! That rain is cold!” cried Max, in a t-shirt, shorts and Crocs. Kacey wore jeans. It took about two minutes for the rain to soak my slicker, and the water drained down the back, onto my calves, through the socks, into the shoes. It was nearing darkness, but thankfully still light enough to see in the woods without flashlights. We heard one or two claps of thunder as we marched through the monsoon. It was probably a fifteen-minute hike in good weather, so there was little point in hurrying. We were in it now, with no choice but to keep walking. We’d pass the side trails that led to campsites and shout them out over the noise of the rainfall.
“Site eleven! We’re a third of the way.”
“Site twenty-one, only a third to go!”

Site Marker

The rain made the trail slick, especially on tree roots and the occasional wooden bridge. Troughs in the trail filled with water deep enough to submerge my canvas sneakers over the laces.
“Twenty-six! Only five more to go!”
We plod along, soaked to the skin. My mind hearkens back to many snowshoe walks with canine companions as I cheer on my stamina. How the top of Nishan Hill, only a quarter-mile from the house, seems so distant when the temperatures are far below freezing, and the winter wind sleds down Victory Mountain, gaining speed across the glen until it blasts me in the face. We’ll be sitting in front of a hot fire sipping coffee in twenty minutes, but for now it’s one more step, then one more step.
We sloshed our way along, losing the trail just once, but we quickly corrected. I was mindlessly plodding along, head down, watching my footing. “Here we are!” Max declared. I looked up to see the Site 31 sign on the tree three feet from me.
The rain continued heavily as darkness settled around us. Just in time. We crawled into our tents and stripped off our wringing wet clothes. Within half an hour, Number Thirty-One finished its performance, and the rains stopped, leaving the air cooler and more comfortable.
We crawled from our cocoons and battled wet everything to try to get a little fire going. We fried hot dogs in the cast iron, and commenced to fill our bellies with another delicious camp meal. Max discovered the can of Spam, and that followed the hot dogs.
The umbrella chairs were soaked, pools of water in their seats, and to say we were tired would be quite the understatement. The lingering over the dying fire would not last long this night, and our little beds on the ground called to us.

Fire Ring

In the tent, I was too excited to sleep. The adventure of it all, and unflinching accommodation of all the hurdles the lake, the sky and the little boat threw at us. I spent some time jabbering away at Kacey, mostly about my camera, which was conspicuously absent on the boat for pics of our catches. I talked about the way I love photography and documenting all of life’s adventures and beauties. Certainly the rain was a threat, and helped convince me to leave the all-electronic gadget in the camera bag. Yet there was another incentive, and that was to simply enjoy this time with my grandsons. To be grabbing the landing net at the call of “Fish on!”, not grabbing my camera. To see the bald eagle, and watch it fly through the great wide beautiful world, not condensed and cropped to the size of a viewfinder. To marvel at the colors in the sky, the smiles of my grandsons, reflections in the water, the passing rain clouds. To live these moments and tuck them into the memory banks and galleries of my mind.

Camp Neighbors

In fact, on this trip, I was glad to have just one photo to bring home, of a family of ducks swimming past our camp. (All the other images in this journal series are from years past at Forked Lake) That single image will be iconic for me, and will always transport me back to this lake, and the time just the three of us shared camp. The time we had no Saturday Fish Fry because we were trekking through a hurricane fetching emergency repair parts for the boat. And running my mouth like Chatty Cathy as the loons called into the pitch black night.
Fifty-one years later, those rings deep within, that ten-year-old boy, still excited as ever to be at camp.

Rains fell off and on as we slept away our last night in this incredible, amazing, memorable place.

Part 4 next time.

Paz

Camp Journal, Part 2


“More please, sir.”

Good morning, Lake!

It was dark outside when the pitter-patter of raindrops on my tent fly woke me. So we were not to be entirely spared some rain. After a short while, the shower stirred Kacey, who climbed out of the hammock and crawled into the tent. Entering or exiting a tent simply cannot be done quietly. There are two parallel zippers on the outer fly to open, then the L-O-N-G oval door zipper. Then you must zip down the two on the fly before closing the L-O-N-G oval door screen. It was quite hot in the tent, as the flaps of the fly remained closed for rain. Door screens, window screens and vents in the rain fly were no match for the air in the 70’s and 100% humidity.
When again I awoke the sun was rising, and I pulled the firewood from under cover and got a smoky fire going. There’s something about a smoky campfire. It’s like a prerequisite for a campsite. It doesn’t seem alive without a plume wafting skyward.

Smoky Fire

I fired up the gas camp stove to brew fresh coffee in the red enameled steel coffee pot, and to heat water for oatmeal in the blue enamel cookpot. Coffee was done and a good fire burning as the boys rose to greet the day. We had instant oatmeal, mixed and served in the aged aluminum bowls of the mess kits. I had introduced the lads to my pervasive philosophy of “What would Lewis and Clark do?” This is applied to many things afield, at home and at camp. It includes things like passing on the bug repellent and using a head net, tucking socks into pants, and washing dishes in the lake. And so I commenced to make “Lewis and Clark toast”. Bread grilled in butter in the aluminum mess kit’s skillet. Okay, so Lewis and Clark likely had no yeast-risen bread, but I’m sure they had hot biscuits, and butter as fresh as it gets.
I pulled from my pack two “Emergency Poncho” packages, and distributed them to my campmates. I had a good light duty rain jacket, and we were ready for rain. Without further ado, we killed the fire and boarded the AquaMarie for a Saturday full of fishing. Today the rains would visit us off and on, and I started a game of numbering each brief shower. The boys would pull their plastic poncho hoods over their heads, and I mine on my green jacket, and I would declare “Here comes number twenty-two!” Before we knew, the drizzles would stop, and frequently the sun would peek out at us.
“Let’s go down to the lily pads.” Max requested again, “The ones all the way down the left fork.”
We motored west down the lake, and bore left at its namesake fork, down to the inlet from Indian Lake. We didn’t find much action here compared to years past. We re-positioned to a few promising spots, but landed the rare foot-long, barely keepers.
“We might wish later we kept the small ones.” Kacey referred to the minimum-length fish we released back into the water. By evening, we would wish we had heeded those words. Rain and sunshine came and went as we wound our way back to the other lily pads, the inlet from Lewey Lake, hereafter known as “Eagle’s Inlet”. We numbered each shower, and peppered the lovely day with “I should have stayed home” as we enjoyed good fishing action and the calls of the loons. We saw the big birds a lot this trip, accompanying this year’s brood. The tiny copies would swim alongside, or climb on mom or dad’s back for a ride. Occasionally they would be left alone, momentarily bobbing on the surface as parents swam deep to catch lunch.
We hauled in quite a few foot-longs, and Max dropped a keeper in the live well, a 14-incher. As we headed back to camp for lunch, we trolled our way across “the fork”, which is the deepest part of the lake. Here, the land-locked salmon settle into the cold depths. We always hope to hook one again. Of the hundreds of fish caught here over the years, we’ve seen just one. We had a good chuckle when Kacey swung the landing net, fish included, over my seat as I stood beside it (twice). “I like the way you subtly held that dripping net right over my chair.” I said. “Now it’s all wet.” Of course, everything on the boat was already wet after a day of fishing in the rain.
I had checked the gas gauge and was startled to find it below a quarter-tank as we fished the far end of the lake. “I think we have enough to get back to camp.” I shared with my shipmates. My eye went to the gauge frequently on the trip back, and on one occasion as I faced astern, Max called from the bow seat “Pop! The plane!”

The plane!

I looked up to see the floats of a single-engine water taxi fly past us, 50 feet off the water and not 10 yards off the port. We watched the plane fly down the lake, traveling eastward. It rose above the tree line, made a long banking turn, and disappeared behind the distant hills.
We made it back to site 34, where we beached the boat, without running out of gas. It was shallow, but flat and sandy here, unlike the shore strewn with boulders that hemmed our own sites. Fortunately, no one arrived to claim site 34 for the weekend, so it became the AquaMarie’s mooring home.
“Is Joe here yet?” I ask as we traipse through site 33 on the way to our own camp. No Joe. It’s a bit more than a two-hour drive from home to here, so I held out some hope we might still see him later.
Burgers again, cooked in the cast iron over an open fire. We finished off the package. Saturday night is traditionally Fish Fry. We fish for our supper all day, and gather all Camporee attendees at a single site for dinner. Rains came and went as we ate lunch. The mountains across the lake would disappear into the passing vaporous shrouds, and Max would point and exclaim “That mountain is gone!”

Disappearing Mountain

With lunch in our bellies and only one fish in the live well,, the fishing beckoned. “Let’s head over to the lily pads.” I said. We shoved off and paddled out of the shallows. The motor started right up, but when I put it in gear, nothing happened. I shifted to neutral, to reverse, back to forward. The motor revved, but the prop barely moved.
“Oh no!” I said in shocked surprise, “I think we broke the shear pin on the prop!” It was that or the transmission had stopped working for some reason. Start with the simplest first. A shear pin in a prop should be readily serviceable, even afield. We paddled back to shore, lucky and thankful that the breakdown took place right at the beach, not in the middle of the lake. Or worse, a mile-and-a-half down the lake as we were earlier in the day.
More or less instantly, my focus shifts. From carefree wilderness camper and fishing guide to two young men, suddenly I am responsible grandfather and broken-down boat owner. We’re dead in the water, so to speak, with no boat for fishing or transporting our camp back to civilization tomorrow. There is a wilderness trail that leads back to the campsite parking lot, and this was our salvation. Many years we’ve camped on the north shore, where there is no trail at all, boat access only! Still, nine miles away was only the hamlet of Long Lake; a convenience store, a hotel, and two camp stores. We might find spark plugs, or even a bilge plug, but parts for a 50-year-old outboard motor seemed like a bit of a long shot.
The boys settled back at camp, probably eating again, as I started to troubleshoot the motor. Using the pliers on my all-in-one fishing tool, I removed the cotter pin from the bell of the propeller. Pulling the prop off its shaft, I saw a small metal piece drop into the foot-deep water. I picked it up out of the sand and found it to be one third of a broken shear pin. I carefully removed the other two pieces so I would have an example with me to determine length and diameter. This find was something of a relief. A shear pin is essentially like a nail pinning together two parts of rotary machinery. Quite common, they’re found in snow blowers, probably lawn mowers, too. This would be easier to find or substitute than transmission parts for a 1976 Evinrude.
I wouldn’t be able to relax with the unresolved situation hanging over me. I checked the sun, and it looked like late afternoon. We had perhaps three hours before sunset, and no idea how long it might take to find a suitable part. It was possible we’d need to drive the twenty-two miles to the next big town, Tupper Lake, to find a hardware store. Not to mention it’s already five o’clock on Saturday. Who knows what stores will be closed, and which might remain so Sunday?
The boys could have stayed at camp, but tagged along as we set out on the half-mile trail back to the Jimmy. I brought my slicker and a flashlight, in the event we were to encounter rain or darkness. Back at the lot, I said “No white Jeep.”, which meant no Joe. By suppertime on Saturday, I guess we should give up hopes of seeing him this weekend. On the hike, and the drive to the village, we reasoned out our situation. With time came calming, and collected thoughts. “Well, we could ask the campground rangers to tow our boat back if we really needed to.” I stated.
We went to Hoss’s, but they had little by way of hardware. I found a variety pack of nails, some similar in size to the shear pin, and bought them. “In a pinch, a nail will substitute for a shear pin.” I shared with Max and Kacey. “It should be enough at least to get us home.” I asked if there was a hardware store in town.  No, replied the girl behind the counter, but there’s an Aubuchon hardware in Tupper Lake, open Sunday, too. Yet another relief. At least there’s a safety net. We continued on to Mountain Born, and looked around the array of goods. I turned down one aisle and found all the drawers of hardware I’d find at my hometown True Value store. Nuts and bolts, washers and lags, spring clips…and there was a drawer labeled SHEAR PINS. I pulled my sample from my pocket, and found the closest match. We couldn’t be sure about the diameter, so bought a pair in each of two diameters. Best $1.20 I’ve spent in a long time. Our spirits soared at this easy find, and we headed back to the campsite, darkness approaching.
“No white Jeep.” I said back at the lot. Looking up the lake, westward, I could see a huge black storm stomping its way toward us. It looked like the meanest storm we’d seen all weekend. “Maybe we should wait this out in the truck.” I suggest. It’s a close gamble, as it became darker with each moment. If we waited it out for more than half an hour, we’d be hiking through the woods in a moonless, cloud-covered, pitch black night.

Storms Approaching

“Let’s go for it!” Max replied.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The rain began before we were across the bridge from the parking lot to the trail.

More next time.

Paz