After our brief stay (the spiders and the sound of our boats crashing into the rocky shoreline motivated us to keep moving), we left Dome Island and headed toward the shoreline, just over a mile away. The idea was to hit a marina in Bolton Landing, a popular tourist area and home of the opulent Sagamore Hotel, to see if we could scare up a few beers and ice for an end of the day reward.
Even though we took a short break 30 minutes earlier, our stop came just in time. The workers in the marina cheerfully pulled our boats ashore and the small store appeared to have everything we desired. Cheap domestic beer in cans. And Ice. Having an adventure on a highly populated lake had its perks.
I walked up the stairs to the store, but Chris did not follow. Waiting inside for a few minutes, he never entered. I went back outside and searched for him.
“Hey… you comin’ in or what?” I asked.
Chris did not offer much of a response, mumbling something about having to make a phone call. Was it work? His wife? As I saw him pull out his cell phone, suddenly we were back in the Real World, that place with responsibility and stuff.
Wanting no part of the Real World, I left Chris alone and bought a turkey sandwich and a Gatorade in the store. I was eating on the deck when Chris joined me.
“Hey, what’s going on, man?” I asked.
“Man, I just didn’t feel so good there,” he said.
I understood where he was coming from. After more than four hours of paddling on the rough water, sitting still, I felt a touch of vertigo as my brain believed that I was still riding the waves. As I sat, it occurred to me that Chris had been halfway across the planet in Cape Town, South Africa just a few days earlier. The fact that he was sitting next to me in upstate New York, having just paddled 10 miles was even more impressive. The man deserved a rest.
After making short work of the food and chugging a couple brightly colored sugary beverages, we filled a spare dry bag with ice and beer and began paddling the final stretch of the day. We still had one more large open stretch of water to cross, right in front of Northwest Bay. After refueling, we were feeling strong again and assumed the worst was over.
We were wrong.
We’d soon learn that the most direct course to our destination was smack dab in the middle of a highly trafficked boating lane. Big boats. Houseboats and such. Again, the captains were friendly, offering us smiles and waves, but the thought of altering their course slightly or slowing down as they passed us did not seem to enter their minds.
The waves came quickly. Ocean-sized. And in a flash, my hull submerged and cool water flooded into my cockpit.
Behind me, I heard Chris yelling — something about his boat taking on water? I made out a note of distress in his tone. Glancing back at him, his boat was still floating. I figured that like me, he’d have to finish the day’s paddle with an inch or two of water sloshing around. No big deal. Let’s keep moving.
“Yeah, me too!” I yelled back to him.
We arrived at the campsite within an hour, around 5:30PM. I got out first and pulled Chris to shore. I couldn’t understand why his kayak was so heavy until he got out of his boat. Since being hit by the wave, Chris had been sitting in a pool of water, just below his waist. He had probably dragged an extra 30 pounds of Lake George with him for that final mile or so. No wonder he sounded a little distressed.
After sharing a laugh and making a mental note to bring a bilge pump the next time, we began unpacking the boats and setting up camp on the private, prime real estate that was ours for the night.
(Photo caption: Our view for the night. Chris takes a dip with Black Mt. behind him)
Lake George has 170 islands (you can camp on 44 of them) with 387 camping sites. Sites are maintained by the state government and cost $33 for the night. Sites come with a fire pit, a level spot for a tent, a picnic table, and access to an outhouse. To my way of thinking, that’s a pretty sweet deal.
After a lovely swim, we spent the next hour setting up the tent, gathering firewood, and prepping for dinner. I would not allow myself to crack a beer until I was sure I could lay my hand instantly on any item I might need. For me, camping well has two pre-requisites: preparation and organization. I take both seriously. Maybe too seriously sometimes, but that’s just me.
Using my new little backpack stove, I heated up the chili that I’d frozen and sealed earlier and we enjoyed a hot, hearty meal complete with cheese and pita bread. Feeling relaxed and full of accomplishment, we retired to a rock perch overlooking the lake as night fell. Recalling the challenging parts of the day, I mentioned to Chris how I believe that it’s the moments of fear and discomfort that turn a trip into a true adventure.
I thought back to a ski day at Taos in New Mexico with my brother Ned a year earlier. We decided to ski the Highline ridge, requiring us to hike 25 minutes or so in our ski boots to reach the very top of the mountain, 13,000 ft high.
(Photo caption. Drew hikes to the summit. Ned Rozell photo.)
Of course, when skiing the backcountry, there are no trails; you just pick a route and make your way down. Not knowing the mountain, at the summit I asked a couple locals for some advice. They said we could follow them, but Ned was busy taking photos and they skied out of view without us. We were on our own.
(Photo caption. If you follow the ridge and see a speck, that’s me following the local skier in front of me. Waiting for Ned (who took this shot), I lost the route. We descended to the left, in the heavily forested area.)
We skied the ridge for about half a mile before heading into the trees to descend. We ended up on top of a narrow chute (less than 20 feet wide), extremely steep, with rock walls on either side. After contemplating this descent, discretion became the better part of valor. If someone fell, or hit the rock wall, we’d be in serious trouble. We were in an unpatrolled area of thousands of acres of wilderness. No one knew where we were and we were likely the only people to visit the spot on the mountain all day.
We’d have to find another way down. The bigger problem was that the only way out was back uphill. We had to remove our skis, carry them, and begin hiking again. Each step sank us hip deep in snow. The work was difficult and sweaty and we’d have to move like this for at least a quarter of a mile. I could feel the panic rising within me. I heard the same voice that came to me earlier today on the lake… What the f*ck did I get myself into?
Sensing my uneasiness, my brother, a veteran of countless adventures in the harsh wilderness of Alaska, offered me some words of encouragement as my ski suit filled with perspiration.
“Drew, one thing I’ve learned from all my trips is that there’s always a way out. Always.”
Soon enough, we had our skis on, picking our between the evergreens, and making our slow descent. Eventually, we found a trail and made it to the chairlift. That one ski run took us over an hour and a half, but riding up the lift, an eye toward the path of our descent, any of the lingering fear I had felt was washed away by the thrill of the adventure.
Whenever I think of skiing at Taos, that one ski run dominates my memory, and in a good way.
(Photo caption. Our residence for the night.)
Chris and I sat back in our camp chairs, (a must-have piece of camping gear as sitting on rocks gets uncomfortable quickly), and watched Jupiter rise next to the silhouette of Black Mountain to the east. We talked for hours about the things that are important to us.
I took a deep breath of appreciation – appreciation for this lake, appreciation for my friend, appreciation for my body for getting me here. I drank it all in, and appreciated ice cold beer in my hand on a warm summer night.