up the Sacandaga
Saturday, August 31 2013
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York
Despite other initial intentions, Gretchen and I had a late start leaving the house for another week in the Adirondacks. First Gretchen and Onesha took the dogs for a long walk in the forest and then we all had coffee together. I also fixed myself a sandwich, but made the mistake of putting so much freshly-harvested hot pepper on it that I could barely eat it.
On our way out to the Thruway, we experienced a number of problems that had Gretchen wondering if perhaps this whole trip was cursed. First starters, our MP3 player wasn't working very well, and there was also the possibility that Gretchen had grabbed the wrong SD card, the one without all the exciting new podcasts she'd loaded. When we arrived at the Hurley post office to mail off the suit that had been left in our closet by Joseph, our intern houseguest (back in the Spring), we found we were just a little too late and it had closed. And then on US 209 when we got up to highway speeds, loud buzzing noises started coming from the straps holding the kayaks to our roof. I stopped just before the US 28 exit and put dog leashes around the exposed lengths of flat straps to see if I could mute their reedlike vibrating, but this didn't help much. Fortunately, the buzzing was not a constant thing once we got out on the Thruway. It would come and go based on a range of factors, including speed, direction of movement with respect to the wind, the presence of nearby vehicles, and whether or not we'd just hit a small bump in the road. The buzzing became unbearable above about 74 mph, so I didn't drive faster than that very often.
As usual, we stopped at the Trader Joe's in Albany and bought about $250 worth of groceries so we'd have lots of good things to eat at our cabin. We'd been done this so recently that the memories of what had been good and what hadn't been were still fresh in our memories, and we could avoid a few mistakes (such as buying the spring rolls or the quinoa vegetarian sushi, both of which look a lot better than they actually are).
While we shopped, a sudden cloudburst descended on the area, so Gretchen ran out to roll up the windows and keep our dogs and the inside of our car from getting drenched.
Later when we came out with all our groceries, I found that some items from the way-back that we'd brought from the house had been brought up to the backseat and then destroyed. This included a pair of Gretchen's sunglasses, a pint of vegan coffee creamer, and a bag of coffee (although, perhaps because its contents didn't smell appealing to a dog, that last one hadn't actually been destroyed). When something like this happens and Ramona is in the car, there are no suspects. Ramona had obviously committed the crime, though it was a bit unexpected; she hadn't exhibited such destructive behavior in five or six months. Gretchen theorizes that Ramona had acted out in response to the fact that she (Gretchen) had come out to the car to put up the windows but then had gone away, leaving Ramona and Eleanor in an increasingly-stuffy car.
As for the vegan coffee creamer, Ramona seemed to have enjoyed that the most. She'd carefully pulled off the screw top with her teeth, extracted the sealer plug from the neck, dumped its contents onto the car seat, and licked it up as it came out (the seat was barely even moist). It was good that I'd found the evidence of this while we were still in the Trader Joe's parking lot; otherwise we would have gotten to our cabin without any vegan coffee creamer in a part of the world where the nearest vegan coffee creamer might well be the Albany Trader Joe's. So Gretchen went back into the store and came out with a pint of the Trader Joe's brand vegan coffee creamer, a product Gretchen finds inferior to the one Ramona had destroyed.
Our destination was the Township of Hope, roughly 10 miles north of the Great Sacandaga Lake on Route 30 (which follows the Sacandaga River).
About five or six miles after leaving the Thruway, I couldn't take the buzzing from the overhead kayak straps any more, so I pulled over to figure out a solution.
As we'd been driving, Gretchen had partially solved the buzz problem by reaching out of the window and attaching a dog leash to some random strap and then tugging on it whenever the buzzing became unbearable. That had worked for a time, but by the time we got up to highway speed Route 30, nothing she could do with that strap could stop the buzzing. My inspection soon found a strap I'd overlooked just above the roof of the car about six inches back from the windshield. The strap was oriented perfectly flat and had no twists: a perfect reed to be blown by the wind. So I took another dog leash (the duct tape of automotive rooftop rigging) and wrapped it around the suspect strap. That solved the buzzing problem for the remaining 25 miles of our drive.
We turned off Route 30 at the directed place, relying entirely on written instructions because there is no cell phone service btween Northville and Wells. As we drove on increasingly marginal roads, Ramona's excitement grew to the point of whimpering, especially once we entered a plantation of tall White Pines where the road surface consisted of compacted pine needles.
Our cabin was called "Tall Pines" and sat under very tall pine trees on a high bluff overlooking the Sacandaga River. The cabin was only about 30 feet from the edge of the bluff, and the water raced amid rounded granite cobblestones directly below. Unfortunatley for our boating plans, the river happened to be running a bit too low for kayaking. And it was just as well that it was; had we attempted to kayak with the Sacandaga running at some higher level, the currents would have made it impossible for us to return to any point we might have chosen to launch from. Kayaking on a river like the Sacandaga is a lot like tubing on the James or the Esopus: one needs to preposition vehicles to pick yourself up downstream at the end of the ride, something that is impossible to do when you've only come with only one car.
As for the cabin itself, it had low ceilings and small windows, so it was somewhat gloomy inside, something the nearly-unbroken canopy of pines tended to exacerbate. But it had three different sleeping areas and five beds, a large glazed-in east porch facing the river, and a good kitchen. Also, it bears mentioning, the cabin's decorations were unusually tasteful, tending to be small paintings of flowers or inoffensive landscapes. There were no animal trophies, decorative fishing gear, or unnecessary clutter. There was, however, a pile of games (which included Battleship and a Ouija board) and bookshelf full of highly-readable books. Most amusing of all was a book entitled For the Birds by Aaron Paul Lazar. It featured a picture of Tall Pines on its cover. It had to be a good omen that we were staying in a place that had inspired a book, obscure mystery though it might be.
Because of steepness of the slope down to the river, the preferred access to the river from Tall Pines is 200 feet south down the river (43.339818N, 74.270893W),
where the bluff falls away somewhat and someone has installed a series of wooden steps down to the water. Though the water was low, there was a small swimming hole here that Gretchen was able to immerse herself in even if she couldn't actually do any swimming. Since the swimming hole depended somewhat on the presence of a low dam of cobblestones immediately downstream, I did what I could to improve the dam as Gretchen splashed around in what she described as a "large outdoor bathtub." (No matter how old I get, I still enjoy building dams in streams.) While there wasn't much of it, the water was fairly warm; the Sacandaga in this area is an outflow of Lake Algonquin, which provides an enlarged area for the summer sun to heat it.
This evening, Gretchen and I made ourselves a meal of pasta with a hearty red sauce containing onions and fake sausage. Rooting around in the cabinet, Gretchen made an unexpected discovery: soy sauce. It would be hard to imagine such a thing appearing in either of the cabins we stayed in on Lake Edward. This seemed to be yet another indication that the people who stay at Tall Pines are not as sociologically alien as the kind who appreciate a magnet that reads "Old fishermen never die, they just smell that way." (Admittedly, that one from Gust's cabin on Lake Edwards was kind of clever.)
Still, as with Gust's cabin, all the lightbulbs in Tall Pines were of the incandescent variety. In the case of Tall Pines, though, I suspect this has less to do with some sort of Michele Bachmannesque conspiracy theory about the United Nations and more to do with either inertia or a practical historical concern about lightbulb theft. (Now, of course, CF bulbs are too cheap to steal and the only lightbulbs that actually get stolen contain LED technology.)
We decided to sleep in the upstairs bedroom, where we found the beds to be small, noisy, and uncomfortable. None of this is surprising when one is spending the night in an Adirondack cabin.
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