Was I responsible for the team paddling a canoe, even though I remained on the shore? Sure, every canoe trip starts with the initial stroke in the water, but regardless of who paddles, even the pit crew must prepare, and was I ready?
The pit crew “pushes” the team along, but did we have the coordination and forethought to be where we needed to be before they arrived? I missed a portage one year and still dream about the heavy wheels carried down a narrow path with roots, fallen tree limbs, and boulders.
Sleepy voices call us awake. We cram the car with paddlers, food, life jackets, fluids, and clothes, but we use a butterfly touch to lay the precious carbon fiber paddles on top. After years of participation, we know to gather enough, but not too much; we are aware that what we bring to Adirondack Park cannot be left behind.
We speed down the foggy, dark, winding road to Old Forge, park, then take our first breaths, as our friends convince themselves they are ready for the “Highway of the Adirondacks.” We unload and watch the paddlers eat bananas and bagels. No one drinks too much coffee because bathrooms are sparse. After checking the rigging, the paddlers reach out and mingle. Paddlers must verify the weather report for the day and listen for any safety concerns—such as wind, snow, and rain, all of which are possibilities. The forecast informs the paddlers how many layers they need in order to keep warm, while not getting too hot. It also tells me what to expect as we wait for them to arrive.
The launch starts with a sequence of recreational boats. War canoes depart during later waves; they can seat anywhere from seven to eleven paddlers, making them fast. Many of the racers on a mission to win go in subsequent waves, and they will pass our team during Day One of the three-day race.
Old Forge Pond is a mirror, its damp mist enveloping us in a dome. We slip the boat into the water while wrestling for a space where we won’t be bumped. We give our team last-minute hugs, then grab hats and jackets, take pictures, and watch them paddle to wait for the attendance call with the responding paddle wave. As they start, I listen for the stern paddlers vocalizing the traditional “hut”–to direct paddlers to swap stroke sides–echoing over the water. These “huts” create rhythms—healing souls, pulling the canoe in a straight path while sustaining speed. We are lucky our team has painted the tips of their paddles white. We watch them depart, like petals rising and falling.
Contrasting the beauty of watching up to eight waves of boats sprinkling drops off their blades, as they slice the air, we hop into the assorted vehicles. We now must rush to provide supplies for our recreational class of four paddlers. Grabbing bananas, water, Ensure, and electrolyte liquids, we also bring lawn chairs.
Yes, we are on the roadside between Fifth and Six lakes, pretending to be on vacation. We look at our watches, not wanting to miss our team but craving coffee and donuts; we sprint to purchase sustenance at the Inlet, NY, gas station. Once settled, we pull out our books and wait, cameras at-the-ready as we anticipate our team’s running and puffing.
While our team isn’t the first to reach the portage, they arrive before we know it; these are women from their fifties to seventies, paddling with Parkinson’s, heart disease, a broken rib, and more. Having regained their ability to walk on land, they slip back into the boat. We pack our red wagon with discarded food packaging and head to Eighth Lake State Park for the second of three portages. I can’t help but smile as campers ask what is happening.
Heading off to the bridge over Browns Tract Inlet, we get our opportunity to mingle with pit crews from places unknown. Binoculars and cameras analyze each boat, looking for the moment of recognition as the paddlers arrive from the meandering inlet through the floating boughs. We call out, “have you seen the canoe with four women wearing pink t-shirts?” as we seek out our team. Then, we ring the cowbell to warn paddlers of the impending beaver dam that is on their way to Raquette Lake. After seeing our team through, we head to cold and windy Blue Mountain Lake, where we wait.
The team arrives. They are sweaty, tired, hungry, and in need of warmth. We envelop them in jackets, indulge them with chocolate milk, then load the boat, and head to the cottage for a swim, showers, and a hot dinner. Traveling 35 miles by water, foot, and wheel ends with a glass of wine, a deck rising above Long Lake, and the sparkling stars.
About the Author
Jenny Gluck has written her first Flash Memoir. The last time she wrote creative non-fiction was in 1973. Jenny received guidance on her writing, for which she will always be grateful. Jenny lives with her wife and two Yorkshire terriers. Jenny is thankful that Wordgathering exists and is delighted to be included in the journal.