Tuesday, September 05, 2017

North Country Vacation

  Gail and I decided on a local trip by bike this summer, one that would take us along Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence Seaway and 1000 Islands, and then turn south and pass through the High Peaks of the Adirondacks where we could do some hiking too.  On paper, or the google map I created, it was 420 miles, though that didn’t figure in side trips, getting lost and spontaneous changes to the itinerary.  We ended up riding 500 miles.

  Ha ha, bet you thought I meant bicycles when I wrote “bike.”  The quad was a great way to go.

  As we’ve done before, we started by taking a TCAT bus out of Ithaca to make the first day a little shorter with less climbing.  The bus was almost a half hour late due to a flat tire which we took as a bad omen, but we didn’t get any flats on the whole trip.  We had a great time, saw some really interesting sites, saw old friends and made new ones.  Each of us had a close call with a collision, Gail almost collided with a lawnmower and I had a van turn right when I was going straight.  No harm ensued and we made it home happy and enriched by the experience once again.


North Country Vacation

  Cooking while camping can be a challenge, but Gail is incredibly adept at making an instant dinner more exciting.  One night she asked me to get a beer from a rowdy group camped nearby, beggars can’t be choosy so she settled for a Coors Light instead of a beer.  When I was getting the beer I noticed corn being put on the grill so went back and negotiated for a couple ears.  It turned out to be a nice rice and beans dinner.

North Country Vacation

  Our first stop was Fair Haven State Park where we got a campsite on Sterling Pond.  Gail did freshwater research here some 15-20 years ago and was looking forward to revisiting old stomping grounds.  Nice park with views of some sandstone bluffs; I recommend it.

  Another destination along this part of Lake Ontario was Chimney Bluffs State Park, a place neither of us had been to but wanted to see.  Since they didn’t have camping we went to Fair Haven with a full day to ride to Chimney Bluffs, a short ride without gear that we were considering a “day off,” except that was one ride I hadn’t checked the actual mileage of and it turned out to be 22 miles.  By the time our day off was done we’d ridden over 50 miles.  The bluffs are really cool and we witnessed quite a display of flying by some Kestrels playing King of the Mountain.
  Along the ride we saw apple orchards with manicured trees heavily laden with fruit.  We stopped at a farm for water and talked a bit with the farmer who responded to my comment that it might be a good year to come out of retirement from my apple picking career at Cornell that the equipment we were looking at carried a moving team of six pickers who drop the apples on a conveyor belt that dumps them into the bins.  “Not like the way you did it at Cornell Orchards,” he said.

North Country Vacation

  We had been reading about high water issues on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence since spring and saw plenty of evidence of it.  The shoreline at Southwick State Park was eroded back quite a bit.  There were road signs that instructed us to ride 5 mph whenever we got within 600’ of shore to prevent creating a wake, not that I think it made any difference, and I saw this tree that was no longer growing on an island but right out of the water.  We didn’t see any reference to the 999 Islands.

North Country Vacation

  We splurged for two nights in an International Youth Hostel in Cape Vincent where the St. Lawrence River begins flowing from Lake Ontario.  It was a great place to stay, we just had to be patient with the person running it who made for a more interesting if not challenging stay for us.
  We hadn’t seen any freighters on Lake Ontario up to this point, but saw a few while there, including these two that looked like they were crashing into the foghorn building.

  I took a ferry to Wolfe Island, caught a ride across it in a pickup, almost lost my license and credit cards in the truck, then took another ferry to Kingston, Ontario to visit a friend who I worked with and lived next to us in Ithaca for a few years.  Julie arranged a huge welcome for me; thousands lined the docks as I arrived.  We then had a small gathering on the third-floor deck of their apartment overlooking the Kingston Yacht Club with Henry and their kids and some other friends visiting from Ithaca.  Membership at the Yacht Club came with the apartment so we went for a swim there off the dock and had food and drinks in the restaurant.

  Back in the States, Gail did some laundry, visited a brewpub and the DEC Fisheries Lab.  She also got to take part in making a shrimp feast at the hostel when a fellow guest provided 10 lbs. of shrimp for all staying there as well as some strangers he met in town and invited.  There were pirates in attendance.  I got back just in time to eat the potatoes, corn on the cob and salad and visit with a Spanish couple just like another famous seafood dinner from our past.

  The second morning started out with some dramatic light, but by the time we left it was all sun and winds at our backs.

Monday, September 04, 2017

North Country Vacation

  Another destination of the trip was to see the 1000 Islands Region of the St. Lawrence River.  It was pretty flat and the two days we spent riding along that stretch we had a steady tailwind to assist us.  Having a section of road cut through the rock didn’t hurt either.  Just after taking this picture a bobcat ran up to the side of the road in front of Gail and she got to see it, her first ever.  I was too far back to see it so I'm still waiting.  We got to see many of the islands and more freighters, some at the same time.

  One stop was at the new pavilion in Waddington, NY where we ate lunch.  The upgrade didn’t quite fit with an existing memorial marker, or maybe it was just people spent too much time at Lodge 420 when it was designed.  There was also a sweet path along the water running through some backyards.  I think some people in Tompkins County should go there and see how things are going as they fight to keep a rail trail out of their backyards.  We didn’t rape, steal, sell any drugs or look in windows as we rode by.

North Country Vacation

  We were fortunate to see sunsets every night except one along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence.  In order:  Two at Fair Haven, two at Cape Vincent, one at Jacques Cartier and one at Robert Moses.  On the bottom is a display of some dramatic clouds to the southeast during a sunset.  It only rained twice the whole trip, both after we’d finished riding and had set up the tent which was fortunate.  What was unfortunate was learning that our tent is no longer waterproof in heavy downpours.  

  Made a point of getting up early enough to see most of the sunrises too.  This one is at Fair Haven.

North Country Vacation

   Rather than spend the last night on the St. Lawrence at Coles Creek State Park west of Massena, we went an extra 20 miles or so to stay at Robert Moses State Park next to the Eisenhower Lock.  Gail’s a bit of an infrastructure junkie and wanted a chance to see one of the freighters go through.  Funny, the roads at Robert Moses aren´t where you´d expect them to be and are in terrible shape.  Guess that's why they named it after him.
   Our timing was perfect; we got the tent set up, swam and showered, checked out the eclipse using the reverse binocular method then went to the lock for a scheduled ship arrival.  The road to the park went under the lock, and they had a visitor center that included this display of jars showing much or all of what the freighters carry back and forth.  We saw a freighter loading when we were on a previous trip in Duluth

  The freighters don’t cruise straight into the lock, they hit it at an angle to slow down and slide in rather than using the brakes.  That is the look of an infrastructure junkie drunk on an approaching vessel.  Notice how high the ship towers over the wall on the other side.

  The ship dropped at least 50’ once the water was let out of the lock, well below that wall noted above, that’s the post (or whatever the nautical term is) sticking up as it passed us.  An osprey built a nest on an unused piece of equipment next to the lock.  I remember reading a description of osprey somewhere when they first started making their comeback in the northeast that they don’t like disturbances of humans around the nest.  I guess we’ve learned a bit about them since then.  They were one of the most abundant birds we saw since we spent so much time on or near water.  We also saw two Bald Eagles on the first couple days, one right near Derby Hill and the other over Chimney Bluffs.  Later we had a Boreal Chickadee pointed out to us on a mountain in the Adirondacks.


North County Vacation

  We started some straight, long climbs from the St. Lawrence Valley towards the Adirondacks, our first real hills of the trip.  And then just like that, there were mountains ahead of us.

  Gail didn’t take advantage of the pint sale, but did find the cement sidewalk a relief from her bike seat for a bit.  I shook my fist at an ice cream truck that passed us on a long, steep stretch when it was getting pretty warm and muggy.  Just as we got our tent set up at Meacham Lake Campground I heard the jingle of that same truck and ran out and flagged it down.  Perfect timing.

North Country Vacation

  It was nice to have a cottage in the Adirondacks for a few days.  It let us start out with a short hike, a paddle around Wolfe Pond, lounge about, and have a kitchen to cook in (note to self:  When booking a cottage, find out if it has a kitchen first).  We had a shortcut to Haystack Mountain in Ray Brook, not the 4000 footer, it’s only 2864’.  It had an exposed face on the south side for a view of the High Peaks, I’m not sure which one is the “other” Haystack or if it´s even visible in the bottom photo, but we intended to hike Algonquin, the highest one on the right.  Marcy is the high one on the left.  I went up Haystack alone the day we arrived and got to the top just as a 20% shower arrived, in my haste to pack up and get under the shelter of the trees I left my binoculars.  I realized it when sitting on the deck of the cottage and wanting to get a good look at where I’d been.  Gail and I went up the next morning but the binoculars were gone.  Thankfully the view was as fantastic, just as we left a 10% shower began.  On the way down I ran into a good friend from Ithaca hiking with her family.

North Country Vacation

  Our friend, Tii, came to visit us from Vermont.  She joined us for dinner in our cottage and camped across the road in a state campground, then picked us up at 6:30 am to go climb NY’s second-highest peak, Algonquin.  It’s 5114’ above sea level, though I don’t know if that number has been updated in the past decade.  It’s still a formidable climb.  The Adirondacks have a reputation as having more punishing trails than many other places, but on this one I thought there was quite a bit of trail improvements, especially in the form of stone steps.  As this was my first of the 46 peaks over 4000’ feet in NY I probably shouldn’t draw any firm conclusions.  Gail had misremembered there was asphalt on the summit to deal with erosion, it was all plants and rock. They have implemented a stewardship program to deal with erosion to the sensitive plant life.  The steward reminds everyone who summits where to walk and where not to.

  Tii has been doing forest consulting, mostly plant inventories lately, so she was anxious to get above tree line and test her plant knowledge there.  It proved difficult for me to get a picture of her when she wasn’t looking down.  The clouds added stunning drama to the views, the peak of Marcy at 5344´ would come and go, we saw a butterfly getting tossed about as it passed over the high peaks rather than flying around.  Tii got into an extended conversation about specific plants with the steward who was more than happy to talk with her about them, and with all three of us about life up there and on a few other peaks he monitors.  We were there on a pretty quiet day, at least so far, but he described what it’s like when the parking area at the Loj overflows like this.
Plants are also central to the streak on Mt. Colden between Tii and Gail in this photo. The bare bedrock was exposed when all the trees, plants and soil slid to the valley below in an avalanche during tropical storm Irene.  I read this week that was NY’s highest rainfall event in recorded history.