(This is the final installment documenting my recent kayak trip across Lake George, NY. Photos for this post can be seen by visiting www.drewrozell.com. Photos of the whole trip can be seen here.)
I woke to the sound of raindrops hitting the tarp, the sound echoing throughout our small dome. Though it was still before dawn, I suspected that my window for restful sleep had come to a close.
The steady percussion above my head kept from emerging from the tent for the next several hours. But then the need to pee and the desire for coffee took over. Stepping outside confirmed the obvious. Today would be spent outside in the rain. And that was that.
I noticed it right away.
My soft red mini-cooler was resting under a tree, several yards from where it rested hours before. Already knowing his answer, I asked anyway.
Chris, did you happen to throw the cooler over by that tree?
Walking a few steps closer confirmed what I already knew.
We’d been hit!
Cheese? Gone. Bag of trail mix? Gone. Pita bread? Gone. (Mercifully, the pepperoni was left untouched). Other than a few teeth marks in my cooler, this was a one clean B & E job — the critter left no trace, not even a peanut shell. We immediately suspected the mink we saw scurrying on the rocks nearby the night before. In retrospect, clearly his wilderness act had been a ruse. This was a professional, one who made his living canvassing careless campers such as ourselves.
We’d miss the energy food, but we had to admit that our adversary had played the game fairly and beaten us. Well played, Mr. Mink.
After exploding coffee all over our picnic table (Jet-Boils live up to their name) and having some freeze-dried eggs for breakfast (not quite as bad as you would think), we wandered around the campsite, trying to muster some sense of purpose on this gray morning.
Packing the tent, my lower back barked at me, letting me know that I’d spent many hours in a kayak and slept on the ground, but it was nothing a little Biofreeze couldn’t loosen up. Chris has a pesky shoulder from years of spiking a volleyball and making long throws from center field. As we departed our site (leaving it better than we found it, I hope), I reminded him that he was lucky that you don’t need to use your shoulders much when kayaking.
(Photo caption: The clouds hung low this day, the water calm. We would not see the sun until it set.)
Speaking of kayaking, I’d like to take a moment to encourage you to get out on one. Kayaks are simple to use. Yes, getting in and out of the boat takes a little practice, but the paddling motion is simple, intuitive, and has a real meditative quality. With a lower center of gravity, I find kayaking to be much easier and safer than canoeing, and the boats are often easier to move around and store than canoes.
I’m a big believer in the power of environments and I find my kayak encourages me to get outside and explore. I get to know the rivers and lakes I paddle on, the nooks and crannies, the islands, the wildlife. You feel like a part of the water.
Kayaks are silent, too. This is important to me because I do not believe that my fun should ever encroach on another person’s idea of a good time. I don’t like loud watercraft, ATVs, motorcycles, or bass-heavy car stereos the same way I do not want to see cigarette butts at a campsite or litter on a trail. I can feel a rant coming on here, so it’s probably best that I move along…
Kayaks require no maintenance. They require no fuel. Paddling is wonderful exercise for your upper body and core. You can pop a kayak on top of a car in minutes and be a world away from the rest of your life as soon as you hit the water. You can kayak alone for some solitude, or share the experience with a friend. Either way, the activity is a great way to clear your head. If you’ve not given kayaking a try, I encourage you to rent one or borrow a friend’s. I bet you’ll like it.
Okay, back to the trip…Once we were on the water and wet, the rain became an ally of sorts. First, we found ourselves paddling on a very different lake than the day before. The water was calm and there was little wind. Once our muscles loosened up, we seemed to be making much better time. Second, as a bald Irishman, I welcomed the break from the intense sunshine, and it felt good to let the cool rain fall onto my exposed head. Third, we seemed to have this massive lake to ourselves as other boaters found the conditions less inviting. Finally, the rain and clouds made the lake no less beautiful; all day I took great pleasure in watching the clouds cling onto and slowly slither around the mountain formations.
(Photo caption: From the silence of our kayaks, we could hear the roar of this waterfall and went exploring to find it. Glad we did.)
We seemed to make twice the miles with half the effort this day and found ourselves pulling into the Hulett’s Landing marina early in the afternoon. We were only a mile from our next campsite, so we filled up our water bottles, bought some Pringles and beer (the essentials) before visiting the nearby ranger station and registering our campsite.
The ranger told me he’d seen 4-foot waves while patrolling this section of the lake, but added that he thought the wind would be at our backs the rest of the way. I hoped he was right as we had 13 miles — our longest stretch –waiting for us tomorrow.
As we pulled up to our site, the rain finally relented. We chalked this up to the Good Lord having our backs and took a celebratory dip in the lake. While setting up camp, it became clear that we would be fireless as there was no dry tinder to be found. Wet to the bone after a day in the drizzle, settling into some warm, dry clothes provided a wonderful feeling of comfort. After working my shoulders and lats for 20-something miles in two days, I joked that I felt like I could carry the world on my back. Maybe for a minute or two. We felt relaxed, strong, and grateful for the late afternoon sun that began playing Hide-and-Seek with us.
After boiling up a hot meal (the Chicken Teriyaki proved the winner), we found another rock perch facing the western sky. As the sun broke free of the clouds as it neared the horizon, we enjoyed a lovely sunset and a clear evening. We went to sleep early, knowing we still had a big day ahead of us.
(Photo caption: This is one of the images that stays with me from the trip. I’m ready to go back. From Agnes Island.)
We were up early and on the water at 9AM. The clouds were gone and the sunshine would be our constant companion. Checking the map, we covered the first two miles of the day in under 30 minutes — this was going to be an easy day’s paddle. Of course, the ranger was right, a strong wind was at our backs the entire day.
With the new day came a new lake beneath us. The steady current of two-foot waves guiding us north made it feel like we were on the ocean at times. Clearly, we agreed, these favorable conditions were a sign that the Good Lord wanted us to succeed and to reward our efforts. As we drew closer to our destination, I thought of Lance Armstrong in the final miles of winning one of his Tours, hoisting a glass of champagne as he neared the finish line. We were going to do it.
Full of appreciation for life, I started hooting with glee (yes, glee!). I do the same thing when riding up the first chairlift on a powder day, anticipating a day of gliding on the soft snow. (Thinking about it now, most of my hooting and my most powerful feelings of appreciation occur when I’m out of doors.) This feeling did not come from a sense of overcoming some extreme conditions or pushing my body to the brink. No, having come this far, I believed that any reasonably fit person with the desire to complete this trip could do so. For Chris and me, the fun of the trip far outweighed the challenge.
Rather, I felt happy to be me… Happy to be out in the world having this glorious experience. Happy for choosing to make this trip happen… Happy for having something to look forward to for months… Happy to have something to look back upon for a lifetime… Happy to have a friend like Chris to share the experience with me… Happy for being witness once again to life unfolding so perfectly.
The trip re-affirmed one of my core beliefs — that LIFE wants you to have a good time. A great life is yours for the taking. The only requirement is that you must meet life half-way and start LIVING. You must choose to move toward that which fills your spirit with light and energy. At the very least, during this trip on Lake George, I felt like I was holding up my end of the bargain with LIFE…
(Photo caption: The end of the line. Who’s the big winner? We are!)
We arrived at the most nothern navigable spot on Lake George by 3PM, about 2 hours faster than my best guess. An evening of celebration lay before us. Friends Bob, Mark, Mark (Chris’s brother making the 6-hour drive to surprise him), and Matt would join us. Steaks. Shrimp. Beers. And lots of laughter.
Throughout the evening, I showed some pictures and told some stories of the trip, but I found the limitations in using words and images to capture the essence of the experience. I’ve done my best in these essays to share some thoughts and feelings and to practice my writing.
And now it’s time to look to the next adventure.