3. rain doesn't usually last all day (in other words, it's probably worth it even if the weather doesn't look too great)
This year, we put the third lesson to the test ... and came out victorious. Quoth Otis: "I think this was our best camping trip ever!"
(J = forward / K = backward)
This was it! The trip we'd been waiting for! Amidst all the confusion surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, we'd managed to secure the most coveted of all Saranac Islands campsites: #19 and #20, Hatchet Island! The sites are the only ones on an island right in the middle of the lake, an easy paddle from a number of directions, and right next to Bluff Island. I've been trying to reserve them since 2016, but they're always the first to get snapped up. This time, though, I saw my chance and jumped.
Here we see the noblest means of conveyance (canoe) atop a close second (Terry the Outback). There's been talk of sending Terry to the great scrap metal yard in the sky, but she's still kicking and Mike the Mechanic says she's got another 100K in her at least. Besides, nobody makes wagons any more so if we got a new car it'd probably be an SUV, in which case my (admittedly brilliant) canoe storage-and-car-mounting system would no longer fit in the garage!
After patting myself on the back several times for doing such a great job packing, we remembered all the stuff I forgot to put in the car. Most notably: the tarp which, despite the misleadingly beautiful weather on Day 1, would prove to be amongst our most essential items...
It used to be that we'd treat ourselves to Lakeview Deli Gobblers at the conclusion of our trip. This, of course, was ridiculous—an obvious missed opportunity. Why have just one Gobbler when one can have two Gobblers?! A tasteful (and tasty) way to bookend a camping trip to the Queen of Lakes.
Energized by Gobblers, etc., the team pushes on. Next stop, St. Regis Canoe Outfitters, where our numbers grow stronger with the addition of essential crew member Anicia. We didn't know how well the canoe was going to fit on the car, but a nervous younger guy and his older pal showed us the ropes, so to speak. (Dude was very impressed that I already knew how to tie a bowline.)
Lots of people visit the St. Regis Canoe Outfitters. I was bummed that there was already a Potsdam pin in the map. I never get to have any fun.
Loading up the boats for the first trip out to the island. I helmed one vessel with a couple of kids and full load of gear, Sarah and Anicia took the other. Everything was looking grand. The sun was shining, the water was clean and warm, and the kids were full of energy (thanks, in part, to the many ripe raspberries they found in the bushes along the parking lot). Everything was lined up!
June puts her back into it while Otis navigates from the crow's nest while Anicia and Sarah lead the way. Note the deceptively inviting skies...
We got out to the island and everything was peachy. The boats were unloaded. The women and children elected to reconnoiter and promised a survey of geographically desirable tent sites while Ol' Dad paddled back to the lot for the remainder of the glamping gear.
None of us felt a need to hurry. We were on island time and had the rest of the day ahead of us. As I approached the dock, though, the sky had turned a suspicious shade. A drizzle soon commenced. "Not a problem," thought I, "the cool rain will only help keep my body in tip-top paddling condition!" The drizzle turned to rain and, by the time I was halfway back to the island, the rain turned into a full-blown squall.
I covered the duffle bags with the tarp and pressed on, pausing only when the wind and rain reached maximum strength. When I rejoined the rest of the crew, the children were cold, wet, and scared. We sprang into action: up went the tarp and under it the rest of our gear, out came the tent and into it the semi-dry towels we'd acquired from the lady at the invasive-species-monitoring table. We got everything secured and out of the weather just in time for the end of the storm.
The poor kids wanted to go home, but we managed to convince them to at least stay for chili-mac. For our efforts, a rewarding—if soggy—supper sunset.
Pops and Oma, who were joining us on Day 2, promised to bring their usual boat-load of firewood. For the first night, though, we bought a bundle at Tops. A new lesson will be added to the list of camping knowledge: grocery store logs are not particularly dry and it will take a while to get a toasty fire going. On the plus side, this log had a convenient handle. (For the modern camper on the go!)
The next morning, we awoke to semi-clear skies. The kids took me down to the east end of the island to see the early morning sun.
And what a sun it was! Distant wildfires (in Canada) had rendered the sky a hazy orange. With the glassy water, it made for a beautiful, if somewhat eerie, scene.
(You're gonna wanna click the pic above to see it at full resolution. That's Pantry Island in the middle there, our "bearproof" overnight food storage solution back in 2018.)
Green Island, looking green.
Pantry Island again, this time without the foreground foliage.
The last of yesterday's rain (with a tiny spider).
This web was nearby, but I don't think it was Tiny Spider's work. Whoever did it, nice work snagging that dragonfly!
I bought a new camera just before this trip. I've been enjoying taking pictures with it.
I also got a new wide-angle lens!
Sarah sallies up to scope the sun.
As mentioned above, Hatchet Island has two sites. They're pretty close to each other and there isn't really a clear demarcation between them. In fact, the two outhouses share a wall! The island isn't really big enough, in other words, for two parties.
This makes sense especially because neither site is complete on its own. One site has a KILLER rock for sunning, swimming, and supping (and gloating at passersby), but not a lot of tree cover above the cooking/eating area. The other site has plenty of shelter, but not a lot of desirable waterfront. Together, though... perfection.
Here's the path from the woodsy site down to the rocksy site.
Sarah and Anicia, slurping coffee and gloating at passersby.
Look at this rock. JUST LOOK AT IT! I fell in love the first time I paddled past it, five years ago. It's everything you'd want in a rock and more. (And at night, we shined a flashlight on the surrounding shallows and saw little fishies sleeping on the rocks.)
We got a little sun on Tuesday morning. Enough for a couple quick swims...
But then it was back to cloudy and damp. Fortunately, a boat full of Oma and Pops pulled up and kept us plenty entertained!
Anicia flips a double bird-in-the-bay while keeping herself afloat with just her legs.
Much of our rainy day activity took place under the tarp. I got it up pretty fast in the storm on Day 1, but quickly decided I didn't like the spot. (The ground wasn't level enough, which we didn't notice until after dragging the table over.) So I moved it. Then, in the morning, I decided I still wasn't satisfied and moved the shelter to a third location. This one made me happy. I got the supporting rope way up high and we had plenty of room to walk around while cooking, playing twenty questions, talking smack, etc.
I knew there was going to be some rainy-day weather, but I totally neglected to bring any rainy-day activities. Oma and Anicia to the rescue! Anicia brought a fun card game (now part of the permanent camping gear collection) and Oma brought beads and string to make necklaces/bracelets/etc. Whew!
Dinner dishes. As I recall, somebody kept floating these bowls out into the lake as I tried rinse them before they drifted out of reach...
Speaking of floating... After dinner we spotted an Unidentified Floating Object to the west of Hatchet Island, slowly drifting northward.
Here's a close-up of the same image. What could it be?! There were very few other people camping on the lake that night, so it probably wasn't trash. My best guess: A mushroom that some ambitious seafaring rodent had brought down to the water and forgot to tie up at the dock.
Anicia and Otis tend to the fire, prepping for the inevitable...
...roasting of marshmallows!
...and swinging of glowsticks!
...all under the watchful, glowing, glower of Anicia.
Hatchet Island is right next to Lion Island, which doesn't have any campsites on it. They're so close, you could actually wade across the shallow water between them. Otis and I went to go investigate, walking out on the narrow, southern point of Hatchet, and found this gnarled old cedar, right on the tip of the island. It was bent over in just the right way to make a perfect sitting spot. (Bonus: blueberries! Not very many, but enough to get three in each pancake for breakfast that morning.)
Wednesday was the day! There were rain predictions for almost the entire week, but Wednesday was supposed to be glorious. And it was!
The gang (sans Andre) went for a spin in Sparky to the north side of Eagle Island. Oma brought a couple easy-reel poles for the kids and they fished and splashed.
Andre, meanwhile, did some fishing of his own.
As usual, most of the other invitees cancelled in the weeks leading up to the trip. But Tim Sullivan is a man of his word! We met up at the boat ramp at the appointed time and drove over to the marina to procure some nightcrawlers. We tried our luck in a number of spots and generated a bit of fishy buzz.
As is tradition, only small fish were interested in our hooks. Here's the catch of the day. (Flip-flopped foot for scale.)
Both fishing parties rendezvoused at Hatchet for some lunch on the rock. Here's the canoe crew as spotted from said rock.
We did a little more fishing after lunch on our way back to the dock to drop Tim off. When I got back, the clouds had started to gather once again. That didn't stop Pops and Oma from their appointed rounds (round the island).
It did, however, stop the portable solar charger I'd brought from solar charging. Otis doesn't seem to be too concerned. Nor does he seem to be concerned that his shirt is on backwards. ("It's so people can see the turtle!")
Here's Pops sporting a June-made necklace and Oma furiously knitting. (Am I right in assuming that both her hat and socks were knit by the same hands?)
Pops is seated in the camping chair he gave me for Christmas or a birthday one year. It's an REI Flexlite and it's the best. Every time we sit down for a meal or otherwise, it's a race to see who can get the green chair.
Somehow I managed to wrangle the chair back into my possession for an evening drinky-poo.
OMG, Oma pizza... This pizza is WAY too good to be having on a camping trip! (Cooked over the campfire, no less!)
And spinach pie, too?! (As I recall, these delicacies were presented as "just a snack before dinner." Sheesh.)
Here's Sarah, keeping an eye on Spider Boy as he does a little entomological research before dusk.
All kids seem to agree: Oma's lap is the best lap.
Excellent sunset at the end of an excellent day. Here's Anicia's take...
...and here's mine. (I think I like Anicia's better!)
Our tent took a bit of a beating on this trip. I mean, it wasn't the highest quality shelter to begin with, but the wind, rain, and a bit overly aggressive staking ended up in a couple small tears and a splintered pole. It probably didn't help that we decided to use the "room divider" as an indoor clothesline.
Still, it was remarkably dry inside! It's hard to tell from the previous picture, but the fly doesn't cover much more than the screened roof of the tent. So there aren't any double walls to keep the rain off the interior fabric. It's a good thing there's plenty of room, otherwise we would have all ended up with the Dreaded Wet Sleeping Bag.
Dad does his famous clementine peel elephant trick.
June and Otis try their luck, fishing right off the island. Seemed like it would be a good spot. This is right near the fire pit, so there are very likely little food scraps that fish would've found enticing. But no such luck, unfortunately.
Captains log, Day 4: The dreary weather continues, but the spirit of the crew remains high. Our numbers were bolstered once again with the arrival of CC and Larry. The size of the fleet grew as well. This spacious fishing boat was rented at the nearby Saranac Lake Marina.
It was cushy, but it couldn't outrun Sparky!
Up the river and through the locks to Middle Saranac Lake we go. I'd never been and those of us that had hadn't spent much time there. The weather wasn't particularly cooperative, but it turned out an excellent little expedition.
Here's Pentagon Rock, where we idled as Pops and Oma got stuck in lock traffic. (Turned out there were a couple boats of yo-yos who didn't really know what they doing and kept smashing their prop on the rocks.)
It was cold and raining pretty hard by the time we made it into the lake, so we started looking for shelter. There's a lean-to right by the mouth of the river, but as the lock-keeper suspected, it was occupied. The map indicated a second lean-to a little further up the lake, so we gunned it and headed north.
This turned out to be an excellent move! There was a lean-to and, judging from the year scratched into the ceiling, it was only about one year old. There was a ton of space there, too. And from the looks of things, they'd recently cut down some diseased trees (presumably so they wouldn't fall on any hapless campers.
CC and Larry brought lunch and boy what a lunch! Homemade chicken salad sandwiches and cookies, grapes, crackers, hummus, and chippies of course. (I think I at three sandwiches!)
Otis found a big boulder and quickly summitted.
I found evidence of a previous group in the form of some rotten watermelon goo that had been stuffed into a nearby tree-trunk.
Worm lines in the side of the lean-to. They don't seem to follow the most efficient route, but what do I know about being a worm?
PIRATE TATTOOS! Otis took the skull and crossbones. June got an octopus and a treasure chest. Anicia got a hook and I took the anchor. It might've been the damp weather, but for some reason they didn't seem to be sticking very well. Next year we'll just have to bring a real tattoo gun.
The boats sat patiently while we dined and tattooed. (Don't tell Oma or Pops, but I threw the anchor to achieve this set-up.)
After lunch, heading back through the locks. This time there was a lot less traffic. The lock mechanism was a little busted, so it took a while for the water to drain, but we weren't in any hurry!
Croc on the loose!
These blue berries are not blueberries.
And what trip to the lake would be complete with a trip to the top of Bluff Island to scare the shit out of Pops with the kids running around too close to the edge?
I used to think it was pretty daring to jump off the cliff. On this trip, though, I watched several dozen little kids jumping from this exact spot. Oh well.
Look at this Perfectly Roasted Marshmallow!
It rained all day, but sky cleared right up come evening. In a way, though, this was a bit of a drag. Uncle Jeremy was on his way up to meet us for the last night, but we gave him an out when it looked like it was going to be shitty weather all day. We didn't want to sully his opinion of the trip with a damp night. Oh well. Next year!
Frog at night. (I like the flash on this new camera too!)
Ah yes. The official closing ceremonies.
As we were gobbling our Gobblers, the kids spotted what at first looked like a baby otter on the island near our picnic table. This otter turned out to be a mink! We scared it into the water where it swam over to this rock and shook off (see the splatter marks). Then it just sat there and looked up at us from the safety of its little cave.
Tuckered kids on the way home.
Another great Saranac Islands camping trip in the bag! It'd take us a few days to dry our gear and selves out, but as both kids would tell you, this was definitely a successful adventure.
And next year we've got our eye on Middle Saranac! Stay tuned...