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Outdoors: Pushing edge on Adirondack paddling adventure

Albany Times Union logo Albany Times Union 9/15/2017 Herb Terns, Outdoors

My wife, Gillian, our 7-year-old foster daughter, Little Wren, and I were reading a bedtime story in our tent at Weller Pond when the loons began calling.

Rainbow bear relaxing at Raquette Falls. (Herb Terns / Times Union) © Picasa Rainbow bear relaxing at Raquette Falls. (Herb Terns / Times Union)

I stopped mid-sentence because my voice couldn't compete, and the three of us sat, smiling in our headlamps' glow, and listened to their story instead of ours.

The loons had company with their singing on Follensby Clear Pond. (Herb Terns / Times Union) © Picasa The loons had company with their singing on Follensby Clear Pond. (Herb Terns / Times Union)

There were less idyllic moments during our recent six-day, 50-mile paddle through the Adirondacks, when the trip seemed ill-advised and too ambitious. Burning a hole in our new silicone-sided cookpot on the first night was a rough start, for instance. It was our only cookpot and food is important.

Gillian Scott and Little Wren paddle across Middle Saranac Lake with Ambersand Mountain ahead. (Herb Terns / Times Union) © Picasa Gillian Scott and Little Wren paddle across Middle Saranac Lake with Ambersand Mountain ahead. (Herb Terns / Times Union)

But the cookpot fiasco will get Gillian's parents into the In-law Hall of Fame. Instead of dropping our metal replacement pot at a road crossing as we'd asked via text message, they rented a boat in Long Lake Village and drove the cookpot (and chocolate chip cookies) to our lakeside campsite. Oh, and they shuttled our car to our take-out point.

The nine miles on Long Lake to start our trip pushed Gillian and me as paddlers. We're used to quiet ponds and rivers, so the strong winds and motorboat wakes made us uncomfortable. We reunited with quiet on the peaceful Raquette River. In the middle of our canoe, Little Wren worked on a "between grades" summer workbook while in the front, Gillian alternated between alerting me to hazards and helping Little Wren with her homework.

Rainbow bear takes his rightful place in front at Floodwood Pond. (Herb Terns / Times Union)

Rainbow bear takes his rightful place in front at Floodwood Pond. (Herb Terns / Times Union)
© Picasa

Our second camp was beside the roar of Raquette Falls, a wild place that was almost tamed. Adirondack developer William West Durant built a dam in the 1800s with plans for more to facilitate steamboat travel on the river. Adirondack guides, fearful of losing business, had other plans. They blew up the dam and Durant's new steamboat Buttercup in 1872. Destroying property is wrong, but Durant's loss was our gain.

The next day, we reluctantly left the Raquette River for Stony Creek and Stony Creek Ponds and then headed for Upper Saranac Lake. Where the Indian Carry crosses Route 3, a friendly, bearded man stopped to warn us that a fierce storm was coming, then gave us a ride. He's up there with my in-laws.

Gillian Scott and her foster daughter wave at their rescue boat on Long Lake. (Herb Terns / Times Union) © Picasa Gillian Scott and her foster daughter wave at their rescue boat on Long Lake. (Herb Terns / Times Union)

Little Wren and Gillian set up camp while I walked back for our canoe. The rain began when I got back to the boat, but, luckily, I had a 17-foot umbrella to carry. The canoe on my shoulders, I waited for traffic to clear at the Route 3 crossing. Cars slowed down and iPhones pressed against passengers' windows to get a picture of the fool in the rain. Maybe I am going viral somewhere.

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail stretches from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. (Herb Terns / Times Union) © Picasa The Northern Forest Canoe Trail stretches from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. (Herb Terns / Times Union) Gillian Scott nears the portage trail around the falls on the Raquette River. (Herb Terns / Times Union) © Picasa Gillian Scott nears the portage trail around the falls on the Raquette River. (Herb Terns / Times Union)

We waited out the storm with games of Uno in a leaky tent with the future of the trip in doubt. The next morning, we woke to a damp, uncertain dawn, but the clouds slowly lifted and waves and wind blew us east across Upper Saranac Lake to Bartlett Carry, a historic portage used by old-time hunters, fisherman and guides. A man walking the Carry asked us questions, then knelt in the orange pine needles and told Little Wren she would remember our trip forever.

We ended our day at Weller Pond, a place made notable by a young woman nearly 100 years before. Martha Ruben was a tuberculosis patient who answered a classified advertisement of Adirondack guide Mike Rice. Rice offered to take a patient into the woods for a wilderness cure of their condition. He and Ruben found a campsite on Weller Pond and Ruben spent several years in the area, regaining her health. She wrote three books about her time with Rice, including 1952's "The Healing Woods."

The weather turned cold and Little Wren got in trouble for drowning her only two sweaters and a library book in the water. Still, she wrote "I luv paddling" and "I luv campeng" in the lean-to register.

The girls slept in the next morning, so the day greeted me alone. I sipped hot coffee on a rock, watching the mist rise and the loons dive, wondering why people think camping is about hardship.

Rainbow bear kicking it at the Adirondack Loj on our return to civilization. (Herb Terns / Times Union) © Picasa Rainbow bear kicking it at the Adirondack Loj on our return to civilization. (Herb Terns / Times Union)

Our return to Upper Saranac Lake was marked by wind and motorboats, the last dragons keeping us from the quiet ponds near the St. Regis Canoe Area. Gillian and I paddled hard to slay the beasts and cross into Fish Creek.

And this is how it ends. Rainbow bear prepares for the post-trip shakedown. (Herb Terns / Times Union) © Picasa And this is how it ends. Rainbow bear prepares for the post-trip shakedown. (Herb Terns / Times Union) The east shore of Long Lake is dotted with campsites like this one near Kelley Point. (Herb Terns / Times Union) © Picasa The east shore of Long Lake is dotted with campsites like this one near Kelley Point. (Herb Terns / Times Union)

I held back a surprise for our fifth day. We skipped yet another peanut butter lunch by paddling to the venerable Donaldson's camp store near Route 30. We pillaged Donaldson's aisles like Viking raiders on the English coast, eating thick deli sandwiches, fresh fruit and carrying off cider donuts for when hunger returned. The crew was pleased.

Rainbow bear hanging at Weller Pond. (Herb Terns / Times Union) © Picasa Rainbow bear hanging at Weller Pond. (Herb Terns / Times Union)

A sunset-facing island campsite on Follensby Clear Pond was our Valhalla for the final night. This time, our campfire songs rivaled the loons' singing and the stars blazed in the clear, cool night.

For six days, we had promised Little Wren she would get a chance to paddle in the front of the canoe. For six days, the water was too rough or had too many obstacles. That last day, she proudly took her spot in the front, plunging her oar into the water.

There were long portages, storms, motorboats and cold. The trip might have pushed the edge of what we should try with a 7-year-old. But without that edge, it wouldn't have felt like such a triumph to land on the shore of Floodwood Pond. Together, we held our paddles over our heads and roared.

hterns@timesunion.c-om - 518-454-5780 - http:/blog.timesunio-n.com/outdoors/

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