Supplementing the usual crew of Sarah, Andre, Brooke, and Brady on this trip was Vanessa “Half & Half” Morgan...

...and Andrew “The Instagram Ranger” Parker, pictured here at the Wilmington Gorge. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After meeting our new arrivals at Dad and Lynne’s Adirondack Paradise, we set out the next day on a swimming hole tour of the Adirondack high peaks. At our first stop, a sign in the parking lot informed us that dogs were not allowed. But seeing as how there wasn’t anyone else around, we promptly ignored it.

Said hounds were given blankets to lay on and were anchored to nearby stones.

Just upstream from a historic covered bridge in Jay, NY, the East Branch of the Ausable River cascades over a series of broad, flat rocks through waterfalls and slides, collecting in a number of pools of different sizes. The whole thing looked pretty ideal for a swimming spot.

But I think we went at the wrong time of year...

After scoping it out, we tried getting in on the far side of the river, near the top of the cascade. Bad idea. When we got out, we noticed that our feet and legs were covered with little black wiggly worms. I don’t know if they were baby leeches or what, but I didn’t care.

Not entirely deterred, we tried a few of the other pools. But unable to shake the wiggly memory, we decided to look for greener pastures and cleaner water.

(Were it not for the leech-like creatures, this would have been an AWESOME spot.)

Next stop: Wilmington Gorge (or Wilmington Flume, depending on which website’s directions you follow) on the West Branch of the Ausable.

We parked by the side of Route 86. Cloaked stoplights hung ominously over the highway crossing. Combined with the barren trees in the background, they gave the place an eerie Guantanamo vibe. But we paid them no heed.

“Oh yeeeaaaahhh!”

Actually, once on the trail, we found ourselves enveloped in an old growth forest with huge trees and dramatic cliffs.

We set up camp near a Kool-Aid tree and left the dogs to guard it.

The big attraction at the Wilmington Gorge was the cliff jumping. Andrew went first. Then Andre. Then Andre went and got his camera.

Here, Andrew prepares to slap the water at full speed with the flat parts of his arms.

Then, this girl’s hair showed up everyone.

Five Andrews jumping in quick succession.

Five Vanessas doing the same.

Returning to their previous form as singular entities, Andrew shows approval while Vanessa pretends to be a wet otter.

Sarah, meanwhile, had returned to the dogs who, though slightly unnerved by all the people (and dogs) at the spot, were managing quite well.

Our second night was spent back in Potsdam. (West Stockholm, to be precise.) After touring the town (and finding most of the bars closed) we returned to Riverhouse to prepare a magnificent (vegetarian) feast.

We started making our own chips recently. All you have to do is preheat to 375, cut up a tortilla into chip-sized wedges, spray on some oil, sprinkle on some salt, and cook those suckas. Ten to twelve minutes later: CHIPPIES!

Pictured above is the complicated salsa we scooped up with said chippies.

Phase II: Canada

On Monday morning we lost two of our party. Andrew drove back to Albany to catch a NYC-bound Amtrak. Sarah stayed behind to attend summer-session chem classes. Vanessa and Andre, however, continued north into the wilds of Canada.

(Also: Holy shit! We saw a moose! Two, actually, which of course sparked the classic “What is the plural of moose ?” conversation.)

Our destination was the lakeside cabin of Vanessa’s aunt Tracey and uncle David. They’ve got a place up on the Lake of Bays that Vanessa’s been talking up for years now. They were wonderful hosts and put up with us and our incessant vacationing for a whole week!

This place was amazing! It was up on a hill overlooking Bigwin Island. There was plenty of traffic going through the straight between the island and the mainland, but the land in front of the cabin was heavily wooded. We could still see out, but nobody could see us from the water. Unless, of course, we were down on the dock next to the boathouse. (Which we often were...)

For our first full day, we went for a short hike to a small heritage park southwest of Port Cunnington. The directions we were given included a short trek across several private lawns.

When we came to the first of these, we felt a bit awkward and almost turned back. But then a friendly homeowner popped her head out and asked if we were lost. We told her who we were staying with. She said we were more than welcome in her yard any time gave us more detailed directions!

That point in the background would be our eventual destination.

We finally made it! The trail, once we were on it, turned out to be not so bad. And then, all of a sudden, we saw this sign and had arrived.

Out on the point, we went for a swim in the perfectly temperatured lake and retrieved a pink floatie that seemed to have floated by the wayside.

Refreshed, we wandered out to the tip of the point and came across this strange sight. A scattering of fur. What horrific events had taken place here?

David and Tracey’s cabin is on a large peninsula that juts out into the middle of the lake. There are a lot of trees and hills, so you wouldn’t know how many lake houses there are if it weren’t for the masses of re-commissioned planks and paddles telling you the name of each house.

(Despite Vanessa’s encouragement, I’ll refrain from immature commentary on the realtor’s name.)

A mysterious hole in the middle of the road.

We ate like royalty on this trip.

Tracey and David repeatedly demonstrated the highest degrees of culinary mastery and every meal (including this lunch of leftovers) was an absolute delite.

Did I mention how good the swimming was? Warm enough that you could stay in as long as you wanted. Cool enough that it was always refreshing. Totally ideal.

Oh, and check out that little water droplet dripping down off of the railing! (You can click on the picture to see it fullsize.)

The view from the dock.

The front side of Bigwin Island is much more grandiose (designed to welcome everyone from Hugh Grant to the queen), but I preferred the mellower back side seen here.

To offset the caloric intake from our many delicious meals, Vanessa and I made sure to stay active. We went trail running in Algonquin Provincial Park (an incredible place that needs further exploration) and cooled off in the Lake of Two Rivers after lunch.

Out on a rocky point, we spotted the remains of a recent campfire. I thought to myself, “That’s not the proper way to cook ice cream...” (Later, I realized that worms and other types of bait are distributed, for some reason, in ice cream containers.)

David instructed us to huck rocks at any waterfowl seen roosting on the swim dock. (Cleaning the dock was a daily chore.)

I didn’t have the heart to bean this young duck family, but I did try to scare them. Donning goggles, I attempted to sneak into the lake, swim over to the dock, and burst out of the water. But I ran out of breath halfway and had to come up, thus alerting the fowl to my presence. When I emerged for the second time, they were long gone.

Heading across the lake to explore Bigwin. From left: Tracey, Cousin Amy’s boyfriend Daniel, Cousin Amy’s hand shoulder and hair, and Capt. David.

Much of Bigwin is covered by a luxury golf course, but there are still a number of spots where the native flora still flourishes. (Fauna too. The island is crawling with deer and no natural predators. I wonder how often the white-tails get hit by golf balls...)

On the north side of the island, there are a bunch of lots slated for lakehouses. We went in for a closer look at some of the as-yet-undeveloped areas and came across several mysterious sights.

First, this young tree with its roots almost entirely exposed. What was it resting on? What happened to its perch?

Second, the ruins of a cabin that seemed much too young to be in ruins. (At first I thought the angles of this fireplace were impressively modern. Then I realized that it was because the roof was caving in while the floor was being thrust upwards by root growth.)

Third, a relic from ancient Rome, nailed to a nearby tree.

As in The States, there are plenty of “No Trespassing” signs up in Canada...

...and, likewise, some of them must be ignored.

It’s views like this that leave little doubt as to why Tom Thomson was so inspired by the area.

I don’t think this little guy realized the danger he was in, waiting in the middle of the path for an errant golf cart to come swerving around the corner.

I can’t recall how many times we must have said “Man... It’s tough being on vacation...” (It must have been a lot.)

Heading into town on a wild boat trip, Vanessa, majestically posed at the prow of our small ship, holds on to her hat.

Our goal: Robinson’s General Store in Dorset, the “Best Country Store in Canada”!

There was debate as to what authority had declared Robinson’s the best. This article, hanging in a small changing room upstairs, (plus a bit of subsequent Internet research) revealed it to be Today Magazine’s 1981 reader survey.

They’ve been milking it, in other words, for thirty years.

Still, it was a pretty cool store. Plenty of moosey knick-knacks and other Canadian ephemera.

The real attraction, however, was the nearby fro-gurt joint: Northern D’Lites. It wasn’t so bad when we were there, but the word on the street is that there’s frequently a line around the block. (Their website confirmed this rumor.)

Here, Vanessa enjoys the local favorite flavor: roadkill.

After a week of swimming and eating and swimming and eating, it was time to head home (for more swimming and eating). We had two scheduled stops on the way back: Five Guys Burgers and Fries and the St. Mary Polish Catholic Church in Wilno. (Having abandoned Sarah to fend for herself in the Great Potsdam Microburst of 2012, we had no time for further dilly-dallying.)

All in all, a lovely trip in a beautiful place with even better hosts!