After roughly a mile, the end of the canoe carry was in sight. That was the good news.
The bad news was that there was a truck at the start of the next trail, heading down the path to the lean-to where I had hoped to spend the night. That meant there were people staying at the lean-to, and there might not be room for me. It was 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29, my second night on a month-and-a-half long paddling trip from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. I had no desire at all to go any further that night.
On top of the truck, there were two canoes. One was a wide, relatively heavy fishing boat. The other was a lightweight Kevlar boat. I was pretty tired at this point and probably not thinking very clearly. For some reason, the sight of the canoes made me fear there was a couple occupying the lean-to. In retrospect, I should have realized they were both tandem canoes. I didn’t at the time because they were both in the 15-foot or under range.
Walking down the path, I dreaded having to tell some couple looking for privacy that this smelly, tired and exhausted man was going to occupy one half of the lean-to. Oh, well, I thought, lean-tos are public domain.
But when I approached the lean-to what I found was very different. Instead, I was approached by a fairly big, middle-aged guy wearing a baseball cap. He introduced himself as Matt.
It turns out he was camping with his brother, Patrick, and Patrick’s two kids. The pair had two tents set up and the lean-to was empty except for some of their gear.
Matt said earlier that day the four had tried to go fishing on Little Tupper Lake. But that didn’t last long because the wind was fairly strong, and the waves had been too much to handle with two young kids. Patrick’s children Aiden and Liam were 6 and 9, respectively.
I knew exactly what they were talking about. That afternoon I had experienced very serious waves on the north end of Raquette Lake, a notoriously choppy section of water. The waves weren’t enough to stop my journey, but I did feel as if I were riding the surf of an ocean rather than paddling in the Adirondacks. That was alright, though, the tail wind helped accelerate my pace on the big body of water.
After the four fishermen had determined it was too rough to continue fishing on Little Tupper, a shallow lake also known for big waves, they made their way to this lean-to, located on the Raquette River between the Forked Lake state campground and Buttermilk Falls.
When I arrived, the children were fishing about 100 feet from the lean-to with some worms. Within a few minutes of me being there, they landed a small rainbow and a brook trout. Not a bad little catch for two young kids.
After Patrick and his kids came up from the river, the four of us began talking. It turned out we had a few things in common. For one thing, both men were English teachers. Matt taught middle school English in the Albany area and Patrick taught at the high school in Queensbury.
I had also met their brother Michael a few times. He is the main political writer for the Associated Press in Albany.
When it came up that I lived in Saranac Lake, Patrick also mentioned that he knew the late Chuck Brumley, whom I had also known casually. Patrick talked very highly of Chuck and, if I recall correctly, said he did some illustrations for one of Chuck’s books. I agreed with Patrick, Chuck had been a great and friendly guy.
It turned out the Gormleys were also pretty friendly and generous. That night, they offered and allowed me to keep my food bag in their truck, so I didn’t have to go through the hassle of hanging it in the dark. They also provided me with some food of their own, knowing I’d be in the woods the next few days. During my stay there they gave me some fresh grapes, a plum, an apple and two turkey sandwiches. Although that doesn’t sound like much, when you’re tramping through the Adirondacks and sleeping in lean-tos, a little fresh food is a huge bonus.
That’s the thing I’ve continued to find both before and during my trip: people have been extremely helpful. For instance, on the first day, Ryan and Catherine Thompson, who paddled the Northern Forest Canoe Trail last spring and then hiked the Appalachian Trail, helped me shuttle from Long Lake to Old Forge, even though I barely know them. They also helped immensely with some trip-planning advice, going over the entire 13 maps of the trail with me a couple of weeks ago down at Tickner’s Canoes in Old Forge.
The Thompsons also had some fun my first day on the trip, which was Tuesday, June 28. After dropping me off, the pair dropped in on me a few times. It was their day off apparently, so they wanted to have some fun.
Several times, I paddled around a corner and found them sitting along the river or lake. They also left me a beer in a tree with a encouraging sign after mile 11 in Inlet.
That was actually the second free beer I received on day 1. The other came at the end of the day as I was starting the carry from Seventh Lake to Eighth Lake. After getting out of the water, a man handed me a can of beer, saying that he was doing that for all the paddlers.
Those beers helped the first night because it was difficult to sleep in the open lean-to because the mosquitos were so loud outside my bug net. I was on an island on Eighth Lake and I’ve never heard such a loud buzzing. Luckily, the next two nights they weren’t too much of an issue.
Overall, the 90-mile trip from Old Forge to Saranac Lake, where I arrived four days after I started, went pretty smooth. The toughest parts were the carries. There are several long ones in there. I did the Raquette Falls carry in the dark on a moonless night. That was the consequence I paid for taking too many photos that morning at Buttermilk Falls and a few other scenic spots.
Other highlights included paddling behind a young loon at the Long Lake side of the Raquette River near the Cold River; a family of mergansers on Stony Creek Ponds; seeing nearly perfect reflections on the Saranac River Friday evening between Lower Saranac Lake and Oseetah; and just having the opportunity to be outside for the entire day four days in a row.
One strange thing I encountered was that I came across two phone booths, both in the Forked Lake area. It’s been a while since I’ve seen those.
Overall, I‘m happy to have those 90 miles behind me. I stayed two nights in Saranac Lake and left on Sunday, headed down the Saranac River. The next few days will be challenging and different.
In Saranac Lake, my friend Jacob will be joining me. That means I switch from my lightweight Wenonah Prism to a heavy Old Town Penobscot, which is made of royalex.
In the coming days, we’ll face the challenge of paddling down the rocky Saranac River, which drops about 1,500 feet from Saranac Lake to Lake Champlain. After finishing the Saranac River, we’ll paddle across the northern part of Lake Champlain to the Missisquoi River in Vermont.
Photo by Ryan Thompson
Mike Lynch stands at the western terminus of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail in Old Forge on Tuesday, June 28, just before starting his 740-mile padding trip to Fort Kent, Maine. Lynch arrived in Saranac Lake on Friday, four days later.
Fact BoxIntent on Fort Kent
This is the second in a series of dispatches from Lake Placid News outdoors writer Mike Lynch as he paddles the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. The articles will appear on the Outdoors page every week until the completion of the journey.