Tucked up in the Adirondack Mountains is the start of a canoe trail that stretches all the way to Maine, passing through Canada for just long enough to require a passport and qualify this as an international waterway. This Great Northern Water Way more-or-less follows creeks and rivers used by natives for thousands of years, early settlers, trappers, armies, and Boy Scouts for hundreds. Today this network is no longer used for transporting furs, supplies, or whatever else may have been hauled down water. These are now recreational waters and allow those lucky few who have time, health, and a canoe or kayak the opportunity to paddle the entirety a view of nature and the many settlements of the northern primitives of the Empire State and a goodly chunk of the Northeast Kingdom killing a few fish here-and-there as local laws and customs permit.
With but a few days to spare, our merry party took off from responsibilities, lives, jobs and packed our respective cars and trucks for a small sliver of this larger adventure. We did not have time for more than a single section from Long Lake to Tupper Lake – a scant 40 miles or so with a single portage.
The first stop, of course, was Lake George in order to plan meticulously – if by that one means drink until all the bars were shut down and then teach all in my company what I mean by “I snore like a son-of-a-bitch.” Up early the next day to the angry epitaphs and condemnations of my sonorous and melodious nocturnal respiratory peculiarity, our mirthful group had a last meal to fortify ourselves for the coming hours and days where we would have to eat nothing but gourmet space-age dried MREs bought at the local GanderNorthREIFaceMountain and suffer French Roast coffee made in a press of the same national origin and drunken from makeshift containers since we all to a one forgot to pack cups or mugs. We knew at the table, as the surly Eastern European teen served our Eggspecialforyou we were in for a rather a tough situation.
We met our last companion on the banks of Long Lake and took stock of all the things we had forgotten to pack (still unawares of the cup/mug situation), such as beer, booze, wine, and baby wipes. Also, we needed to place at least one car at the end of our trip so we could return without having to employ local guides or whatever they have up there in that neck of the woods.
A few hours later, were ready to pack up our crafts and put them into the water, which also seems to take hours. We had in our party five people, two canoes, and a single person kayak. My craft was shared with the supplies of three people but I guess it was OK to have the bulk of the gear since the craft is a twenty-foot long aluminium canoe made my The Luftwaffe, Aeroflot, or Grummond out of an old B52 fuselage or some part of Mercury 7 or tin SPAM cans dropped by Lead Lease that missed their target. It is a beast of a craft (we named The Aluminatti) and to make our enjoyment better; we had the most improper paddles. You think those paddles are OK? I asked Trevor. Oh yeah, they work fine. As I and my friend, not Trevor since he got in the space age kevlar Wenonah canoe with the proper paddles, had the short end of the stick, our fellows were able to pace us until later in the lake when we rammed them and demanded to at least swap our one stick of ours (to call it a paddle is a joke) for a proper one so we could go at least .000005 miles an hour over the .000000001 we had been making.
Long Lake is an old vacation land established way back and still populated by fine cabins now modernized and speed boats that churned the waters up and down up and down up and down the ten-mile lake. From time to time the pontoon plane – one the only way in and out of the area – would ride by on its mission to take tourists where no tourists other than those previously riding had boldly gone before. While we had started out late, we made to a campsite before dark, and when darkness finally fell, it was at once vanished in the moonlight which made for a strange blue and black extension to the day.
While tired from fighting the wind on that long lake, some of us piled into a canoe to attempt night fishing and smoke the cigars I had brought back from Key West because there is nothing like fresh air than smoking an expensive cigar in it. Somewhere off in the distance a dog was pooping and peeing and barking, a teen was trying to get cell service to Snapgrindrfacechatbook and father had burned the hot dogs one one side and Darla had told everyone she was now a vegan, but no one listened so what is she expected to eat, and she stomped off to her tent and turned up the radio to meet the gentle sounds of nature with her own summer anthem.
A fish in the deep water bounded up to some unknown prey to then splash down suddenly. We listened and paddled slowly. Silently mist gathered as the air grew cold.
I would love no more than to relate an attack by bears, pirates, fleas, bovines, or hungry ghosts, but the night was uneventful but for the cold that made my hands and feet numb. The next morning … or I should say a few hours after we returned from our night out on the lake … we resumed our travel, this time in the narrows of a creek that flowed much slower after the initial waters at the lee of the lake and required more effort than was promised to us by our organizer who had been the only one to bring a map and a mug/cup.
Nature closed in on all sides. Pressing green upon us.
Our next stop was to murder a fish and portage, a fancy word for carrying the thing you ride in the water through the woods and then going back and carrying the shit you carry the water through the woods.
My friend Chance and I were the only serious fishers. That is, we got licenses, and I had a pole and a few other fishing items. I figured we should attempt to catch fish and eat them. Unexpectedly, we did. I was not ready for this. Dangling the fish in Chance’s face I yelled, is this big enough, what do we do? He pulled out a pocket knife and stabbed the fish several times in the head. Fishing is an ugly business.
When we got to the portage site, the fish was still alive. I was horrified. I asked Trevor; you know how to prepare this right? He did but refused to kill anymore. I – and the rest of the party – elected Chance to strike the Dolorous Stroke to our piscatorial friend. After much screaming and yelling as men are want to, Chance unsheathed his gigantic Walmart kookery and hacked at the head and true to the tempered metal and shovel sharp edge, it was quite a few hacks before this fish was rendered dead.
After some short moment of silence, we cooked the creature until it was cooked. Nature is who she is. And she is bloody, vicious, and delicious.
With the murder behind us, it was time for the portage. My canoe companion and I struggled to empty the gear and carry the metal container through the woods up and down the hills and then return for our gear. Our company, the Wenonah riders, passed us with ease while our colleague in the kayak was overwhelmed by the bulk of this craft and the Wenonah riders had to return to retrieve it.
The portage over, our remaining night was again pastoral of a sort and uneventful other than we caught and killed another fish, this time reducing the time between life and death markedly. The last leg of the journey was now more populated and we were reminded with each passing water craft of our closening to the urbanized parts of the woods as motor craft were again present as were slimy buoys that marked the turns and low areas of the water.
In time, we returned to the cars, the shuffling of gear, the moving of items, and tying down of craft. The return home was long and we drove in tired silence already plotting and planning our next adventure, perhaps even another canoe trip.
Editor’s note: Revised as our organizer had indeed brought a cup and a map. An earlier version claimed she didn’t.