Adirdondacks Fall Edition


I've been wanting to spend time on the NPT (Northville-Placid Trail) for a while now, it's 140 miles in the Adirondack Mountains, through much of its dedicated wilderness areas. My friend Matt and I had been talking on and off for years, and our spouses, finally frustrated with us, forced us to set a date. It then came down to making plans. After many false starts and discussed variations of wild diversity in complexity, we opted for a loop I found staring at the map that started at Pilsbury Mountain (outside of Speculator), climbed to the French Louis Trail, which we would then follow to the NPT. Hike along it until Cedar Lake Trail, which we could use as a cut off to get us back to the start. No need for stationing two cards, or additional support, and still get us on a piece of the trail. There was a large variety of lean-to options along the way and side trails we could take to lengthen our stay. I hadn't hiked in a long time, and the opening hill looked intimidating; which combined with a late start set us up for a short Friday, a full Saturday, and another short Sunday, getting us back home to resume our week activities. Weather showed to be perfect narrow window with rain Thursday, rain Sunday afternoon.


This is the whole route as originally planned

Life, of course, intervened; and family responsibilities kept me hoping on my toes the final week, allowing me to blithely procrastinate packing again and again; culminating with a wonderful date with my love to see my favorite band They Might Be Giants the night before I was to depart.


I'm you're only friend, I'm not you're only friend, but I'm a little glowing friend‥

Day 1

After a panicked morning of getting kids to Seminary, school, putting out fires at work, and finally packing (always a good way to not forget anything), we got on the road around 9:30, making it to the trail head around p.m. I had just said I expected to see at most one car in the lot, as we turn the corner and see 10.


We had no idea what was ahead of us

This clearly wasn't going to be the isolated experience I had expected. Shouldering packs, grabbing a PB&J and peach, we started up the trail. And we felt great. The climb wasn't as horrible as I had imagined in my mind, the weather wasn't as cold as I expected, and we were making good time. At the top of the hill, there were two gentlemen finishing their loop going the opposite direction I had planned, and they warned us of snow the night before and a desperately bad water patch near West Canada Lake. We looked at them in wonder at their huge hiking boots, puffy coats, rain parkas, wondering how they weren't melting in their own sweat (with me in t-shirt and shorts, Matt itching to be barefoot).

As I said, we had been unsure of ourselves, and knew we only had a half day of hiking, and so the plan was to make for Pilsbury or Sampson Lean-to (3.4 and 6.5 miles respectively). We blew by Pilsbury with barely a second look. We encountered a couple and their dogs that the trail register had said was just doing a day hike roundtripping to Sampson, and after pleasantries, pushed on. My left heel has been damanged and hurting deep inside since an unfortunate encounter with a rock while white water rafting the Salmon River earlier in the year, and as we approached the Sampson Lean-to, I began to anticipate the idea of stopping, soaking the foot in the lake, and relaxing for the day. My companion (Matt Webster) pointed out that it was still early in the day (we'd been making excellent time), and we had hours to go before sleep. We could easily make the next set of lean-tos (10, 10.25, 10.75 ish) before dark.

On we went. Once on top of the plateau, we had been running in to occasional mud that had caused Matt to shed his shoes (to reduce sliding) and me to add several pounds to my shoes in caked on wet dirt. Eventually, we each took a fall, me bouncing soft parts off a couple rocks before coming to a stop. Tired and now in pain, I assured him that I didn't need evac, and we stumbled on, with miles to go before we slept. We came upon our first lean-to, and met one of two people we named, and that we talked about the most.


Seconds before meeting the most talked about person on the trail

We never shared names with anybody on the trails this weekend (what is this, the AT?), but in our hearts, this is "CDT Guy". Every single word that came out his mouth made me fear for him. He wasn't quite sure where he was, told us he was a through hiker, that his book had the wrong start for the NPT and that he had started much sooner than he should have (how many years ago did the start change, but he said he started at Woods Lake, which is after the first section), and wanted to know how far it was to Blue Mountain (28ish), that he had taken two zeros in Piseco, and his resupply hadn't appeared, that he had tried the AT, but it was too steep and had bailed at around 100 miles because he had bad knees. That he now wanted to do the CDT, because of the nice flat desert at the beginning, but his wife insisted he prove himself on the NPT first. While we got his life story, a lady blew by (probably glad we were keeping his attention). On we went.

My adductors/abductors were not doing a great job at keeping my feet on the straight and narrow, and so was really looking forward to South Lake lean-to, to rest my wearly body. Of course, the nice woman was there, talking about her awesome lollypop plans (looping starting at Piseco), and making it clear that sharing the area wasn't even her third choice. We silently agreed, and added on more miles before we slept.


Janky bridge

Crossed the second jankiest bridge I've ever seen, swaying dangerously under my bulk and stopping shy of a mudpit it was meant to help bypass, hauled ourselves through some more mud, we finally came upon a place to stay the night on the east shore of the West Canada Lake. We were about a half hour before sunset and the wind picked up off the lake (which appeared to be significantly down from it's usual shoreline, even with all the water soaked dirt we'd pushed through), so we tried to sling our hammocks and prepare our meals. Matt's hammock was in full kite mode even with his sleep system inside.


Home Sweet Home


Sigh (how to stay warm without really trying)

The temperature had dropped precipitously, and I was slow to recognize what was happening, reluctantly individually pulling on a jacket, knit hat, and gloves. Looking at my body and the temperature and the deepness of the dark, I made my excuses and crawled in to bed at 7:30 p.m. That's when I discovered the depths of my silliness. I almost immediately started violently shivering (not having noticed how cold I'd allowed my body to get), clamping my teeth shut so they didn't rattle, and periodically the shivers cut short by fierce leg cramps. I shook the covers off my feet, and sitting up to replace them would start another round of cramping. After about an hour of this, my body decided it had warmed up enough, and I slept cosily in my coccoon in the woods. My sleep system had been more than adequate for the weather (low 30s before wind), but I hadn't handled the transition from hiking to camping properly.


Technically morning, but Jupiter is amazing.

Day 2

I hid from the still strong winds and cold in my hammock, toasty, but aware of the temperature just beyond the edge of my hammock. Eventually, a fresh pair of socks, a great breakfast, a ten hour sleep (I have been averaging 6 at home), and I was ready for our only whole day of hiking.


Enthusiatic to be moving, little did we know

I nonchalantly asked “how long do you think I'll keep my socks clean today?”, and not a quarter mile later discovered the answer. First a deep stream crossing (up to my knees) followed by several repeated deep swamp crossings (again up to my knees).


How deep could it get?


This was the clean one, it's about to get deeper and muddier

In one of the deep swamp crossings, I fell, bruised my other hip, my ego, and got water in to the camera, fingerprint, and touchscreen modules of my phone (that has survived snow, rain, sweat, rafting, and much much worse), but you aren't getting any more pictures.


Representative swamp from earlier


Sure glad they warned us after we were done


Um, that lens doesn't look clean. Ron is going to yell at me. Maybe if I scrub it again? No, that didn't help. This is the last picture I got from my camera‥

By time I reached mile 2 (approximately the end of the swamp), I was done. Toast. Ready to fight to stop at the first lean-to (4.2 miles). We warned three people going the opposite direction of what they were in for (they had been in the register). CDT guy blew by us, terrifying us yet again with his talk of “I can't decide if today's going to be a six mile day or eleven”, given that he had at least seventeen before he could get help from his spouse. “I couldn't find my rope to hang my bear bag, so I decided the safest thing was to sleep with it in my bag”. I'm not even relaying half of the beauties he laid on us, just the best.

I was falling in to the classic ultra runner trap of not having any interest in water or food, lying that slowing or stopping to get it would kill my momentum, that I was doing fine. I could feel my body falling apart, but was unwilling to do anything about it. I told Matt we'd probably stop at the 4.7 and reassess. My mind kept running the song “One More Pull” by The Long Johns through my head, and my hike horizon was always just a mile ahead to whatever I had decided our destination was.

Lady from night before bopped by, cheery, but explaining she had't slept as well as us, we warned her CDT guy was up ahead as she blew by us, clearly chipper. Matt convinced me to push to the 5.7 lean to, and reassess. We completely missed the 5.7, and came across a beautiful bridge spanning the outlet from Beaver Dam Lake to Cedar Lake, where we plopped down, down out of the wind, and forced food down our gullets and chatted. He was pretty gassed too, and we decided to take the first lean-to we saw (three ahead in the next mile or so), refill on water, and at most drop packs and day hike some, at least camp the day away.

The scenery had been beautiful, with the colors just starting to change, and maples giving way to pines to birch and beech and back as we passed through different successions and climates. The views were wonderful, the company and conversation brilliant, but our bodies were not up to it. And so, One More Pull.


The beautiful scenery just never stopped

People were everywhere, passing by the other way, filling every potential campsite that we saw, all with glares that made it clear they had claimed that land for their king. And so, finally, at the side of the trail, I plopped down, exhausted, grumpy, to look at the map for options to end my day. An insane plan presented itself from the map. If we pushed hard, four miles ahead, was a summit, where we might be able to catch a cell signal. We could call down to one of the state campsites, see if they had spots, and then hike an additional 1.7 to our car, drive to the site, and crash there. If not, 1.7 miles back to the first lean-to on day one. One More Pull.

The trail decided to treat us with every single type of mud-traversal option we had seen this hike within the space of a mile. We saw meh-whatever, rotted-away planks that only presented spikes on which to impale our feet, rock gardens, half-buried courduroy, plank boardwalks, stump rounds, slightly flattened raised logs, and the jankiest bridge I've ever seen (but that one bizarrely was steady). We're talking Bridge of Blades from Ninja Warrior level of jank, except not on purpose, and made of old rotten wood.


Technically, this was from the beginning and one of the nicest we saw, but my camera was super dead by now

We now had a purpose and a mental timeline, we needed to get to the summit to make a call to then fast hike out to get to a site before dark. Push push push, top of the hill, we get the answer of yes, they have sites, they're open until six p.m., and that the closest site they have is a two hour paddle. I do the simple math, sunset is 6:53 p.m., we get there at 6 p.m, that's an hour of paddling in the dark, trying to wayfind with our headlamps.

So, we crank up the speed another notch. We bust down the hill that had me terrified the day before, beating the daylights out of our knees in the knowledge that each minute saved is another minute of sunlight for paddling. Seeing the parking lot appar, and we've One More Pulled our way ten more miles than when I first decided to quit. We collapse in to the car, get GPS, and discover that even through our exhaustion, unknown to us backroads could get us to Indian Lake by 4:30 p.m., and suddenly, our sprint was a two hour paddle to beat the sun by fifteen-ish minutes. Much better.

Sitting isn't good for muscle movement, As we drive, I find I can't lift my left arm more than 45 degrees, turn my head to the right more than about 15, the adductors periodically cramping, and everything hurts. We joke with the ranger about how stupid our plan is. He looks terrified to be renting us anything, but we're insistent and it's his job. Down to the lake with a canoe, PFT, paddle, and pack. 5km to our site on water. One More Pull. Five mph tailwind, gorgeous water. Shocked to discover that the muscles in my shoulders that were broken were not the muscles necessary to paddle. The body tired, the soul exultant, we worked as a team, and pushed through the water to our site at the point of a hill, 5 km away, one hour on the water, plenty of time before dusk. As we paddled, we noted that the lake was clearly designed for 4 more feet of water.


One More Pull?

The site is beautiful, we quickly find trees, sling our hammocks, set up our dinners, repack everything, and crash in to our hammocks at 7:30 again, this time just due to exhaustion, not cold.

Day 3

A glorious day morns, no sun to be seen due to cloud cover, but pleasant temperature, no wind, and surrounded by water. We lazily pack things up, I decide to go for a swim, and mixed stroke my way across a narrow strait and back. Refill our water, and load up the canoe for the last stretch.


Even flatter water, with a happy post-swim Jeff, and a last look at our site

5 km out, on perfectly calm water, surrounded by water and birds and trees that seem to have changed color over night. A sea-plane swoops low overhead and lands just beyond our sight over in the lake. Light sprinkles that looks more like bugs on the water than any precipitation. We know our landmarks now, and cut the corners, beelining our way back to the ranger's station; who is clearly relieved to see us alive. Us, energized by the beauty of the morning.


This got so much closer, we stopped, turned around hoping to watch it land, but our beeline had placed a peninsula between us and where it landed and we missed it.

Somehow, behind us, another 4 canoes full of people and four motor boats began to arrive and break the silence and solitude. Loudly talking about the horrible cold of the night (that I missed coming out of the water after a swim). Again, we noted how wildly different everybody's clothing expectations were than ours.


The straight line is us paddling back, since we know where we're going. Tucked away on the right is the impromptu swim

Matt has a running/hiking streak on, and so we needed to sneak in one more adventure. I had just happened to catch a signal and enough of a functioning keyboard to determine that there was a mile round-trip hike just outside of Speculator to a waterfall called "Auger". We drive over, and find yet another filled lot. Apparently, as part of a 100 year celebration of the ADK club, we happened on to one of their guided hikes. We chatted and walked with a diverse group of people to see one of the many impressive and wonderful waterfalls that populate our state. This one was extra ordinary in its beauty. The ADK Club guide said that the water was significantly down from the usual. It was stunning.


This doesn't even begin to capture the splendor of this waterfall. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ No Notes

Upon our return to the parking lot, we saw a lady that was clearly lost, and so we escorted her down the trail again until she found her husband. Loop back to the car. Where another group of hikers are looking around lost. We point them at the trail head and describe their route, and then take off before any other lost souls need our help.


My camera was super dead at this point, so no pictures


I have to figure out food and water. I didn't come close to eating the amount I packed, which was still less than the calorie count people say you need, and there wasn't a moment that I wasn't clearly dehydrated and under-salted. My clothing experiments went well, and my sleep system held up well under trying circumstances.

The hike was glorious, beautiful, refreshing, fun, joyful. Some of that was the companionship, some was the scenery and terrain. My body did so well, I haven't backpacked more than 5-6 miles in a stretch since high school, and we did 23ish miles of backpacking through mud then tacked on 6 miles of canoeing. I'm back home, no chafing, no blisters, some bruises, but no identifyable longer-term damage. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

One more thing. As I read this, it sounds like my adventure was type 2 fun; but it wasn't. This was a pure joy from beginning to end. The moments that were hard were always in the present, and the instant they were over, the joy remained.

My Bike Helmet

Biking with youngest through our beautiful neighborhood

It's been 2 months since I last wore my bike helmet for reasons other than protection from police officers looking to incite violence by shooting people in the head. Apparently, here, they've moved to smash and grab tactics this week, so... Woo progress?

This picture fills me with joy. Embedded in it are so many blessings that others are not allowed access to.

In that picture are thousands of dollars of unexpected medical and mental treatment. My job pays well enough that we are not destroyed by these expenses (of which insurance has paid 0%, to whom we pay thousands more for the privilege, woo!). This is a weekday, and I'm home sharing the burden of care and instruction for my children. We make enough that Elnora can devote years to them, and my managers are understanding enough to make room for me to assist. We're going to piano lessons. That's not my only bike. I'm surrounded by greenery and public land. My neighbors are not threatened by my passing because of skin color. My employment has not been in jeopardy because of the other uses I've put that helmet to. When I've been threatened by officers these months, I could always choose to walk half a block and take off the helmet, and I'd be assisted rather than threatened.

I, and Elnora, and our parents, and their parents before them have worked hard, assisted by society and luck and to be able to have any of the things in that picture. I am not so foolish or self centered as to believe that that work is what sets me apart from those less fortunate than I.

In less than three weeks there's an election, and I'll be voting for people that demonstrate an ability and willingness to empathize, to respond constructively to criticism, to welcome oversight, to lift up those around them rather than themselves.

But, our job (of which I've been derelict most of my life, and periodically will be again, I'm sure) is to provide those opportunities for empathy, criticism, and oversight, so that that willingness and ability gets exercised more than once every term.

So that maybe some of the wonderful people I've met the last two months can take a similar picture and feel the same joy, pride, and security that I do

On Cancel Culture

There's lots of hand wringing about "cancel culture" (blindly boycotting people for past behavior/words) and how it's going to destroy society. I tend to agree, we are all human and deserve to be treated as such.

The sheer hypocrisy of groups whose entire platform is "rich straight white male christians are the best" being the primary groups pushing this narrative is so galling to me this morning. They don't care about cancel culture. They created this horrific weapon, used it for centuries now, and are now upset that parts of their constituency (theoretically including me) are possible targets for the first time.

How does "Oh dear, I might lose my job because I abused my power and made repeated unwanted attempts on my employee" be a cause for public worry about that boss, and yet we're fine with stripping/denying the rights and access to the american dream because people dared be female, or non-white, or LGBTQ, or muslim/mormon/atheist, or poor. (And only one of those "or"s is even moderately a choice).

This is not a screed in support of "cancelling". This is one in favor of us getting some perspective about who the messengers are, and what we should be trying to protect and conserve in this great land of ours (hint: lifting up the downtrodden is generally a good move)

Mob Rule

I've seen several comments lately about how our wise founding fathers designed our electoral system to avoid "mob rule". And there is certainly plenty of documentation that many of them were afraid of "mob rule", including crowd favourite Alexander Hamilton

In 1789, 6% of the population was allowed to vote (approximately 66% now). The requirement then was white rich male. Since we've partially gotten rid of the white and male requirements, let's look at 6% of the modern population. That means you personally would have to make at least $250,000 to even be allowed to vote. And remember, this 6% is the rabble that our system was supposedly wisely designed to keep under control and prevent from having a say.

Ah, but we're more inclusive now, right? Let's pretend there was no voter suppression. To help keep this mob down (those slobs that only make a little over $300,000), our senate has two senators per state. Due to the way the population is distributed, on average, a black person's vote has 80% of the power of a white person. Hispanics, 58%. Sure glad we can feel proud of improving things from... 60%. (To be fair, the 3/5ths in the Constitution was giving the owner an additional 3/5ths of a vote for each person you owned, which is so very much worse that how we normally tell that story).

What about voter suppression you say? Well, that's a hard thing to track. We as a country are horrible about voting, and we make it hard to vote, and we try to convince each other our votes don't matter, and our Attorney General says we shouldn't trust votes any way, and then we intimidate, bully, reduce access, and implement policies that make it hard for undesirable populations to vote that are different from poll taxes and literacy tests in name only, The net result? Exit polling suggests 70% of the voting populace is white, while we make up 61% of the adult population.

So, when we nod sagely and talk about how we are protecting ourselves from "mob rule" (that you probably didn't even qualify to belong to back then)... Maybe you haven't thought it through, and don't intend it, but you are rooting for the disenfranchisement of your fellow citizens, and due to the system you are extolling, they probably have different a color of skin than you, and that, my friend, is the very manifestation of systemic racism.

Heartfelt Apology

To the women (we were kids then), who had the courage and strength to argue with me (in high school's Intellectual Traditions of the West class) when I claimed that preventing women from ruling wasn't a restriction of their power.

To the young black district leader in the MTC, surrounded by a sea of white, who had the courage and strength to share with me his experiences and fears after I spouted some racist garbage about his supposedly less valiant ancestors.

To the family in Costa Rica that had the patience to teach me and love me after I complained about how Spanish weakened their culture.

To the atheist friend whose father had just died that sat and smiled and listened while I preached intricacies of Heaven, when all he needed was a hug.

To the LGBTQ people in the boardgaming and trail running community, who share their hobbies, families, love, joy, sorrow, pain, and humanity with me.

To my coworkers that gently correct me as I come to terms with their youth in contrast to my own.

I'm so sorry. In my shame, there are many more stories like these, and probably countless times I don't even remember or notice. My education should not have been (and sometimes continues to be) your burden to bear. That I am still in touch with many of you shows me your capacity for forgiveness and love that I aspire to.

Thank you.