The Search for a Silo, Two Dings, and Paradise
Thursday morning was cool, crisp and energizing – the prelude to a perfect day for an adventure. Most of our paddling activities occur close to our home port of Malden, and like the ubiquitous mid-summer mosquito, we confine our journeys to a limited range of flooded terrain. Malden to Cementon, Malden to the lighthouse, turn around and back to Malden, over and over again until we have worn ruts in the sediment laden Hudson. Now it was time for something different.
This would be the first outing of the Malden Yacht Club chapter of A.A.R.P. (Almost All Retired People), a group composed of Roy, Pat, Benny and myself. I was particularly cheerful this morning due to my realization that this would be the rare kayaking excursion where I was the youngest. Not that chronological age is a true measure of one’s penchant for fun and frolic. As a matter of fact, there is a relatively new sentiment gaining acceptance which touts “40” as the new “30”. I prefer to believe that “60” is the new “16”.
When we don’t think of kayaking, a lot of us think about food, so it wasn’t unusual that we would meet in the McDonalds’ parking lot at 7:30, W.S.T. Nor was it unusual that on this morning, this time zone would be stretched to the breaking point by its namesakes. Eventually, a pair of yellow and cream kayaks were spotted hovering 5 feet over the surface of Route 212, and we would soon complete the first challenge of the day: meeting as a group. Preliminary pleasantries performed, we quickly established our transportation protocol for inter-vehicle communication (we exchanged cell phone numbers), and tackled our first mission of the day. Where would we have breakfast?
That question lingered as we sped first up the Thruway, and then the Northway. Due to a certain person’s reluctance to avail himself of the benefits of E-Z Pass (some cultures view stubbornness as a virtue), the fiberglass kayaks shot past the plastic ones at Exit 25. Not to worry, we had our trusty two-way voice transmission systems (again, the cell phones), and even better, the occupants of our car knew where we were going for breakfast. Ten miles later, the Woodmobile as in sight, but it was sending out a series of confusing navigational signals. We passed them, then they passed us, while all four of us made various hand signals and finger gestures guaranteed to confuse any outsider trying to unearth the secrets of the MYC. After consulting our pocket version of the Hand to English dictionary, the code was deciphered and Benny and I were enlightened. We were directed to stop at the rest area. So we did. This was when we discovered that there was a slight flaw in our inter-vehicle communication system; nobody told me that I should have the ring set at anything other than “silent”. We didn’t know it at the time, but our inability to hear the rings, which had been triggered by Pat’s series of increasingly agitated phone calls, would foreshadow later events of the day.
Everyone having been properly refreshed, we continued our search for the Silo. Luckily, it was an easy search, and starvation was averted. Exit at 19, turn right, turn left and take a seat. Mission one accomplished. As you may have guessed, the Silo is a restaurant that Mr. B chose for our first meal, and it was not just any restaurant. Without fear of contradiction or exaggeration, I declare the Silo to be the best breakfast place in the Northern hemisphere. The day could have ended after breakfast, and still it would have been judged a complete success. The food was delicious and plentiful: eggs that must have come from ostriches, slabs (not slices) of toast, and never emptying coffee cups, all served by an inquisitive and mystified waitress. Maybe it was Pat’s MYC shirt and fuzzy rubber pants that grabbed her attention, or my “Old Men Rule” shirt, or Roy’s words of wisdom (“never make fun of an old woman because you may be married to one someday”). Whatever it was, she was dazzled and intrigued. But then again, isn’t everyone who encounters the Malden Yacht Club?
With happy tummies, we groggily continued our trek toward Lake George and Bolton Landing. This was my first time in Bolton Landing, and I was very taken by the rustic, yet upscale, nature of the village. I was sure that launching from the municipal landing would prove to be another unexpected pleasure. At least I got the “unexpected” part right. The kayak “launch area” was approximately 6’ feet wide and was closely bordered by a boat repair yard on one side, and some sort of sewage recycling center on the other. This second business created a twinge of nostalgia as the smells emanating from that direction reminded us of the Malden Park on a bad night. Both enterprises must have subscribed to the “Businesses without Borders” doctrine, since each attempted to outdo the other in its ability to encroach on the launch area. For the reasonable sum of $8 each, we could leave our cars in the weeds along side the gravel path to the launch. Roy, the wise one, had been there before, so he had the exact change. When I proffered my $20, I was advised by the proprietor of Barnacle Bob’s Broken Boats that he probably didn’t have any cash in the drawer (and apparently he wasn’t about to look), so I told him not to worry about it. I did, however, pocket Roy’s $8. Oh well, welcome to Bolton Landing.
Having secured the landing site, and hopefully the safety of our vehicles, we were about ready to insert boat into water. But first, I have another Adirondack tale to relate. After parking my car, I retreated to the sanctity of the designated changing area (a 4’ x 4’ space complete with plumbing fixtures that would delight any outhouse enthusiast), and happened to overhear a heated exchange from a pair of siblings over the welfare of dear old Ma. Seems the brother was all for declaring the poor lady stark raving bonkers because she wouldn’t turn her property (it sounded like it was a tavern, but key words were flushed way) over to him as her benevolent protector. Sis, although sounding meek and ripe for bullying, was standing her ground and would have none of it. I thought if I dallied while changing, the situation would resolve itself before I was forced to show myself to the combatants. Like most of my thoughts, this one wasn’t valid either. Forced to split or get off the spot, I emerged from the john to observe the verbal combatants slowly circling a rusted out pick-up truck directly in front of me. Both were startled, but Sis recovered quicker, and took advantage of Bro’s distraction to beat a hasty retreat. The familial crisis being temporarily suspended, I shot the seething would-be protector(?) a “How’s it going”, and raced to the lake. I could have sworn I heard banjoes playing in the background.
One of the beauties of kayaking lies in the fact that it acts as a mood eraser. It doesn’t matter what has happened in the day leading up to kayaking, once your paddle hits the surface and you feel yourself gliding through the water, the slate is clean. Giddy to the point of giggling, the four of us quickly left “Bob’s” in our wake, and just as quickly, put the shore behind us. Within minutes we passed the stately, although eerily vacant, Sagamore, and found access to open water. The air was clear, the wind negligible, and the view magnificent. Whether it was caused by the exhilaration of the setting, or the fact that the water showed a sparkling translucence, paddling seemed effortless. Where was the current? Which way was the tide running? Why am I going so fast with no effort? All these questions had no answers. I may not be 16, but I sure as heck felt like I was.
As the veteran Adirondack lake paddlers in the group, Roy took Benny under his wing, and Pat adopted me, as we headed for the east shore. During the crossing, Pat continually assured me that we were headed directly for Paradise Bay, a secluded area in the lake that she claimed lived up to the expectations generated by its name. We had to keep a sharp eye because the bay was hidden from view, and it was located in a place that didn’t seem to exist. Like many explorers before me, I quickly discerned that paradise was hard to find, even in the company of Roy, Pat and Benny. Pat and I searched the shoreline for any hint of a hidden entry to this watery Nirvana, but our feeble eyes found nothing. Fortunately, Roy solved the problem. We were looking in the wrong place, and in fact, we were a long way from paradise. Seems like I’ve been hearing that refrain most of my life.
With the four of us gathered in a surprisingly orderly group, Roy decided to break out the camera and record this event for posterity. Pat, Benny, and I waited in the warm and soothing sunshine for the moment to be captured - and we waited, and waited, and then, waited some more. Roy seemed to be pushing the appropriate buttons, but the camera was rebelling. I suggested to Benny that we should remove ourselves from camera range, since no camera would refuse a solo shot of Pat. But Pat would have none of it, and we stuck it out until the end. Finally, Pat announced that the picture had been taken because she heard the “ding, ding”. Benny and I looked at each other quizzically and silently inquired whether the other heard any “ding, ding”. We simultaneously admitted that we hadn’t, and were comforted when Roy announced that he didn’t hear any either - and he was the one holding the camera. Nevertheless, when he checked the camera’s memory, wouldn’t you know that the picture was right where it was supposed to be. For the remainder of the day, whenever a picture was taken, we would all freeze in position until Pat declared that she had heard the “ding, ding”, and sure enough, the picture would be there even though none of the men heard anything but the sounds of silence. This phenomenon generated an intense debate, as well as some pointed questions about how often Pat heard these particular “ding, dings”, and could she hear dog whistles, until we finally decided that it must be a gift that has been bestowed upon Pat. It’s kind of like that old Jimmy Stewart movie where an angel gets his wings every time a bell rings; only in this case, every time Pat hears a “ding, ding”, a picture is created. Hallelujah!
The vistas we saw that day could easily have generated a never ending chorus of “ding dings” sufficient to drive poor Pat mad, if she and Roy hadn’t exercised restraint in using the camera. Every way we looked, we observed a view worthy of capture. Heading north, we soon reached a large group of islands that accentuated our growing feeling of awe. As we meandered through the islands, Benny, who does most of his paddling on the upper Esopus, was shocked to observe that he could watch the shadow of his paddle move across the bottom of the lake. The bottom was so clearly observed, that the water seemed to take on the aspect of invisibility, and our kayaks were like water borne clouds floating over the sand and rocks. If I were indeed a 16 year old, I would simply say “Way Cool!”
The trip through the islands also took on an air of mystery, as Pat had not forgotten her quest to find Paradise Bay. Stealthily approaching each island, she would scan the shore for partially hidden entrance ways, determine that none existed, and move on to the next island. Pat’s “this may be it”, “no, this doesn’t look right”, “keep looking for a big rock with a rope swing”, and “it might be just up ahead” were in stark contrast to Roy’s “we’re not there yet”. As for Benny and I, we were just having a hoot gliding in an out of these clumps of rocks and trees trespassing in an aquatic kingdom. After a while, we reached an area where several islands were in close proximity, and the lanes of water between them gave off the appearance of being liquid boulevards. With the islands covered by a thick growth of pines and shrubs, and the narrow corridors of water providing a transportation grid, I viewed this area as an Alpine Venice, and I was happy just to drift for a while and take in all the sights. One of these islands housed the Ranger station, so while I drifted, Pat went in to make sure the poor guy wasn’t lonely. A brief conversation later (by Pat’s standards), she emerged with a purported “map” of the islands, and directed us to find a sunny spot for lunch. I pointed out what looked to me to be an appropriate spot, and although she assured me that it definitely was sunny, and it looked quite pleasant, and it probably would be a very good place for us to eat, she found one that was closer and better. But mine was probably very nice too.
I must admit that the place Pat chose was excellent, once you were able to land. For those of us who couldn’t care less what happens to our boats, landing was no problem. However, if you happened to be paddling a dainty fiberglass kayak that tends to avoid contact with boulders, then landing would be dicey. Fortunately, Benny and I were able to crash our kayaks on the rocks, and then steady the fragile ones while Pat and Roy climbed the slippery slope to sustenance. As I have come to expect on these occasions, another feast broke out, and I feverishly tried to recall the weight limits of my kayak. Would I exceed them? Would my afternoon paddle consist of a one way trip to the bottom. None of this seemed to bother our companions, as Roy patiently waited to be served, and Pat kept producing a large variety of food items from one of the dozen or so hatches scattered about her kayak. This pair has definitely done this before. Following their examples, I quickly mastered the routine of eat, pose for pictures, listen for the dings, eat, pose, and listen, etc.
I’m not complaining, mind you, but I confided in my compatriot that I would probably paddle for 6 hours and still gain 5 pounds. Not that I expected any sympathy from him. I have known Benny for close to 40 years, and I can honestly describe him as a man who has seen a lot, and done even more. Consequently, he is surprised by little, and fazed by less. So it was no shock when he blew off this mild lamentation with a shrug and a cackle as if to signal "suck it up, big boy". However, I was amazed at his reaction to several discoveries he made on this trip, a reaction that bordered on ecstatic. The first was caused by the plethora of porta-potties profusely populating the promontories. As a member of the Malden Yacht Club dating back to the 20 th century, Benny has a special place in his heart for our septic shrine of sewage. And as an active woodsman, he has made pilgrimages to his share of outhouses, but nothing prepared him for this experience. Everywhere he turned (while on land) he ran smack into an evergreen toned palace of putridity, each one more lavish then the last. Some even had ceiling lights powered by an unknown energy source (my guess was methane). This was close to being a religious experience for Benny, and he emerged from the Lake a better man for it.
His second revelation was more predictable in my mind, but no less accurate. Benny had never spent a lot of time in the company of Roy and Pat before this trip, so he did not know what to expect. Benny is a quick learner and an excellent judge of character, having spent so much of his youth with characters that defy description. By the end of lunch he had concluded what the rest of the Malden Yacht Club has known for a long time: in the country of Nice, Roy and Pat reign as the sovereigns.
Between the food, the sun and the fresh air, I was in desperate need of a nap. Unfortunately, there was not a hammock to be seen, nor did Pat have one hidden in hatch number 9. Deprived of my nap, I drew on Roy’s inexhaustible supply of energy, and braced for round two. Reversing the order of landing, Benny and I steadied the kayaks for Pat and Roy, and then imitated an otter slide as we slid ours down the boulder into the water. Years from now, some ornithologist will wonder what migratory bird created the streaks of blue and green now covering this boulder, and what it was eating to produce them.
Now that lunch was completed, the search for Paradise Bay began in interest. Even Roy was committed to the hunt. Exhibiting the appearance of a man on a mission, he and Benny set a brisk pace as they paddled north. Pat called to Roy to stay with us and use the map to solve the puzzle, but he was too far away to hear. According to Pat, Roy has mastered the technique of selective hearing, which allows him to chart his own course while avoiding any potential confrontation. It’s his “No Pat, I didn’t hear that” strategy. As a fellow male and long time husband, I naturally rose to Roy’s defense. I pointed out to her that all experts on marriages agree that the key to the success of a long term relationship is communication - there just shouldn’t be too much of it.
With Roy and Benny fading in the distance, this left Pat and I to try to decipher her “map”. Under Pat’s direction, I attempted to find the islands described on the map so that we could find Paradise Bay by connecting some very big dots. The trouble was that the map made no pretense of being accurate. To be sure, the islands were listed - they just weren’t shown in the right positions. After paddling east, south, west, northeast, south and northwest, I told Pat what I thought of the map. Pat understood that I might be frustrated, and that the map might not be completely accurate, and agreed that it probably would not be good to rely on it for navigational purposes, but really, it wasn’t an awfully bad map, it did have all of the islands named on it, and after all it was free. Taken in that context, I had no choice but to forgive the map. In the meantime, Roy, who must have the instincts of a homing pigeon, was zeroing in on our target, and Benny, rising to the challenge, surged forward and announced we were there. And it was truly magnificent.
To gain access to Paradise Bay, you have to travel through a narrow channel of water, and then take a sharp right turn. If you miss the channel, you will sail right past it and never know it existed. That would be a pity. The bay itself is the shape of an irregular square surrounded on all sides by stately evergreens. While small enough to be cozy, the bay is large enough to allow sunlight to enter over the trees. The thickness of the forest surrounding the bay filtered out all sound, and appeared as natural protective walls. It is a veritable safe haven with a timeless quality. The rope swing on top of a large rock on the East end hinted at squealing children and cannonball contests, but today it was just us, and the stillness was mesmerizing. Pat had mentioned during the search that she had climbed that rock this summer, and rode that very rope swing to its watery conclusion. I tried to convince her to duplicate that feat, but her steadfast refusal speaks volumes about my ability to lead and inspire. I probably should have challenged Benny, but the end result of that would have been both of us going in. It was best to just enjoy the scenery, which we did as we lingered a moment longer. Then it was time to go.
As we paddled out of Paradise Bay, we were felt rejuvenated. Filled with an infectious enthusiasm reminiscent of days long gone by, we debated the possibility of covering the 32 mile length of Lake George in one day. Surely this lake would not be too much for people like us. After all, we were used to paddling in the mighty Hudson. Maybe it was the euphoria, but each of us felt that the Malden Yacht Club could handle it. It would take some planning, but we were good at that. OK, maybe we are not good planners, but we sure have fun trying. We stashed this topic away for the time being, but I have no doubt that this seed will germinate during the winter months, and will yield a bountiful crop of email traffic next Spring.
By now the sun had started to descend, and more clouds filled the sky, as streaks of blue, gold and gray weaved their way over the sparkling surface. I checked my watch and was sorry to see that it was after 3. We would have to head back. More adventures awaited us this day, but they will be told at another time. Perhaps one of my companions will describe our meeting with the ghost kayaker, or our encounter with DJ, the talking mime on amphetamines who acted as our waiter, or Pat’s getting lost in the kitchen of the Olive Garden. Or maybe I will return to them at another time. But not now. For now, I prefer to conclude by focusing on the memory of clear water, a spectacular sky, and panoramic mountain vistas shared in the company of good friends. Sitting here, visualizing the scenes over and over again, and recalling the verbal jousting and unmitigated good will that predominated this day, I realize that it would be very difficult to duplicate this trip. On the other hand, it would definitely be worth trying!