The only thing I knew about first-come-first-serve camping was what I'd overheard in the parking lot next to St. Regis Canoe Outfitters. A big group was unloading their trucks and talking to the scout they'd sent out earlier in a kayak. He'd brought several tents and set them up in promising sites. I figured I'd do the same and set out early to stake our claim.

Parking at the southern put-in of Follensby Clear Pond, I paddled to the far end of the lake looking for a empty campsite. I saw lots of not-empty campsites and one or two with groups that appeared to be packing up, but things were looking a little grim. I found one site tucked away in a small bay, but it wasn't much to look at. I set up a tent anyway and kept going. The next spot down looked marginally better, so I ran through the woods and carried the tent to the new site, sending periodic update texts when the sporadic satellite coverage permitted.

Then, noticing what a short carry it was to Horseshoe Pond, decided to try my luck there. Almost immediately, I happened upon this phenomenal spot! A beautiful site on a thin, private peninsula, right in the middle of the pond. There were sandy beaches on both sides and a cool, tunnel-y path through the bushes to the actual site.

I set up another tent.

(What's up with the rope swing in the middle of the picture? It looks like the lake is pretty close, but the site is actually up on a small cliff and the water is about twenty feet away from where that rope's hanging...)

A few text messages revealed that Pops and Oma had found another great site, much closer to the parking lot. I paddled over to check it out. It was just as nice and a lot more convenient. We retrieved Sarah, Otis, and June from the parking lot, then Pops and I headed out to pick up the tents I'd stashed.

Back in Horseshoe lake we made note of the proximity of the trail to the peninsula site thinking that hiking in would be a nice alternative if boat-less friends wanted to join us on a future trip. (We also marveled at the UNBELIEVABLE AMOUNT OF STUFF we saw a group unloading nearby. I mean, like, a LOT of stuff.)

Meanwhile, back at the actual campsite... A small gang of young loons paddled past.

June saw them!

(I just noticed Pops relieving himself in the background of this photo and cropped him out.)

Where the loons were headed.

Our campsite had a distinctive tree hanging out over the lake at a pretty dramatic angle. It made it easy to find our way back home and somebody'd screwed a little ring into it for a convenient tie-up.

When kids go camping their primary objective is to accumulate as much dirt as possible.

Why do they call it Follensby Clear Pond?

Months earlier, Pops inquired as to whether or not we thought Otis was old enough for a knife. (I tried to remember what age I was when Pops thought I was old enough for a knife...) We talked and decided it'd be appropriate. Pops went through several candidates before settling on a classic Swiss Army Knife. Oats loved it and, as if there weren't enough wood chips and splinters around, spent the rest of the trip whittling little sticks.

To keep June from getting jealous of her brother's gift, the grandparents also brought a bug observation kit. It was soon commandeered by her older brother and filled with a fat green caterpillar and a bunch of daddies long legs (which, I believe, is the correct pluralization).

A close-up of the aforementioned fatty.

The fire ring was right next to the lake and we had a lovely sunset dinner. I should probably have been down there helping poor Sarah wash the dishes.

The next morning, a mysterious mist (a myst?) had accumulated over the pond.

It was even more dramatic on the other side of our island.

Also, just think about the series of events that led to the weird shape of that tree. It must've been pretty tall when it got knocked over into the lake, but it's roots must've still been holding on to the bank. Then, from an embarrassing, half-submerged prostrate position, it must have decided to give it another go and bent itself up toward the sun.

One of the many things that made our campsite so appealing was that it offered a choice of landings. There was the sandy bank next to the leaning tree out front and grassy little cove around back, sheltered from the heavy seas by a barrier of pickerelweed.

Seeing as how we were on the west side of the island, it was a little chilly in the morning. When the mist lifted (mifted?), we could see flecks of golden sunshine through the remarkably open woods.

The previously shaded canoe landing turned into a perfect breakfast nook. We gathered the chairs and the family.

(This was my favorite part of the trip.)

Fed up with hunting the traditional arthropodic fare, Otis graduates to larger prey.

"Oh! Dad! Is that a skeleton flag?!"

Excursion time! We decided that the most appropriate activity for the day would be a paddle picnic. We planned a route: across Follensby Clear Pond, carry over to Fish Creek, paddle down said creek to the ponds after which it was named, and up Spider Creek back to Follensby.

We ran into a little bottleneck at the carry, with crowds of unmasked boaters (myself included, I'm embarrassed to admit) waiting to use the rickety little dock on Fish Creek. After a bit of shuffling and sidestepping, we made through and continued on our way.

I knew there was a campground nearby, but I had no idea how big it was. (355 sites!) We started seeing cars, tents, and campers near the mouth of Fish Creek, but didn't realize the full scope of the place until we were out in the hubbub of the middle of the pond. These ducks didn't seem to mind the company, though.

We found a nice spot for lunch in an unused part of the campground. There were old fire rings and picnic tables, but they clearly hadn't seen much recent use. Fine by us!

Otis bolts back to shore from this semi-rickety, old dock. (Rollover the image to see June in hot pursuit.)

I'm writing these captions several weeks after the trip. School started and things got busy. Now that I'm four weeks into the semester, I'm finally getting a chance to catch my breath.

Yesterday, while Otis was at school, Sarah and I were having lunch with Juniper at home. She's been getting better with letters and we were entertaining/annoying (enternoying?!) her with questions about what letters certain words started with. We got to "P" and pointed out that it was Pops's initial. She said, "Oh, Pops! He swam really really far away... But he had a buoy."

The best part of our campsite, I think, was that the island was a perfect size. Otis, who we can now trust to stay away from the water's edge if he wasn't wearing a life jacket, was set loose. He found all kinds of trails, neat trees, and other hidden treasures. One of his finds was this incredible bouncing log. Now that I'm looking at the picture, I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly how this setup came to be. I guess the mossy log on the bottom must've dropped first. Then the skinny one on top must've been next. The end closest to the camera must have originally been resting on the ground with the far end propped up in the air. Finally, the big spiky tree in the background must've fallen on top of the second tree, thereby lifting the close end of the trunk up in the air about three feet. It was strong enough that an adult could cross-step out to the end and get a very satisfying bounce going!

Otis took me around the island to show me what he'd found and we came across this brave pileated punk.

A clue! There were several birch-y arrows on the far side of the island. They all pointed toward one of the other campsites. There were people there, though, so we didn't get a good luck at whatever was worth pointing out.

This band of marauders showed up after dinner. From they way they carried themselves, it was clear they knew exactly what they were doing. They showed up right at dish-washing time, right at the dish-washing spot.

June (and her filthy feet) enjoying the hammock. (Rollover the image to see how excited she was!)

Funky Flames™ are a must on a camping trip with kids.

This may not have been as glamorous as a double-island trip in Lower Saranac Lake, but it was a ton of fun. I also learned a valuable lesson about planning: you don't need to make reservations nine months in advance to go on a good trip. With a little luck and a flexible family you can roll up to a lake, hop in the canoe, and have a fabulous time! (AND IT WAS FREE!)