Thursday, July 10, 2014

"There I Was ...... "

North Creek Rafting Company's overnight rig
There I was ..... exhausted and content thinking, "if I can do this I can do anything". I'd connected with nature and rafters in a way I had never before. It was evening two of a three day raft trip in the Hudson River Gorge. I "sat on a beach by a fire, watching the stars while the warm wind blew a faint hint of cedar by my nose", as Wayne Failing would say. "It's good for the soul, it's good for the spirit. A good guide can take you there and back. A good guide can help raise a client's consciousness". Coming to the wilderness allows the average person to come in contact with their roots again.

I've had the privilege of guiding with one of the best and most experienced guides in the Adirondacks, Wayne Failing. Wayne works year round at guiding and is licensed in all areas. He's done trips all over the world and has been my mentor. 

Over a dozen years ago, I was in my twenties living as a part-time whitewater raft guide in Lake Placid. Wayne hired me to guide with him for the season, and I was excited to gain experience with overnight raft trips. On my very first overnight, I learned about "cooler fairies". I also began to grasp how to plan a menu, shop, pack, cook and clean for overnight trips. 

This story is about an overnight raft trip that summer. Raft camping is a whole lot different than other types of camping where you pack your food into a remote location. No freeze dried food on board. Although we are in a remote location with access only by miles on a narrow trail, we are able to bring anything we desire because everything, incl food and cooking equipment, is floated in by raft. The meals are hearty and delicious - from apps to dessert. Most recently we are mastering the art of Dutch oven baking.   

Wayne and I planned the menu for the trip and I shopped and schlepped groceries for nearly 12 hours. "Cooler fairy" is now a household term at North Creek Rafting Company. My husband Nate is our "cooler fairy". A "cooler fairy" is the packer, keeper and emptier of the coolers.

Wayne and I had 10 river adventurers on a 2-night overnight trip - 5 men and their 5 teenage sons were coming from the tip of Long Island. It was tradition for this group to camp somewhere in the Adirondacks with Wayne. Wayne had led them to several other wilderness spots over the years. These guys knew Wayne better than I did and were relaxed in his hands.

Wayne picked me up, as he always did, at my cottage down the road from him. Together we rode in his van for over an hour to get to the put-in for the Hudson River Gorge trip. The group of 10 boys and men met us at the put-in in Indian Lake. We were rafting 17 miles altogether and stopping somewhere in between to camp.

We did the "conga line" from the van to the water, with our mountain of gear. Wayne was guiding the men in a paddle raft, and I was guiding the boys in a paddle raft. A paddle raft is powered by rafters paddling together as a team. We roped our friend Jim Swedberg from Long Lake into rowing our gear raft in and out. A gear raft is powered by one person rowing two ~10 ft oars. The oar-powered rig was overloaded but we had everything - from camp chairs and roll-up tables to fishing poles and musical instruments. All items were sealed in water proof bags and cases and strapped to the 16 ft rig.

We navigated three miles down the Indian River to the Hudson River. On the Hudson, we floated through Cedar Ledges to a campsite above Elephant Rock. We perched our kitchen in the warm sand on the beach. Tucked in the forest with the river in view, we set up our tents. Wayne entertained with fly fishing and live music and tended the fire. I slipped into the role of wilderness cook and dish washer.

I busted out the apps for the ravenous teens. Then I got the food prepped and eventually the burners going for dinner. I had a parboiled chicken steam facial and sweat it out over the stove, washed dishes by headlamp and schlepped water buckets from the river for cooking and dishes in between.

We dug latrines, bathed in the river, solved the world's problems by the campfire, and slept under the stars completely unplugged from the grid. It was heaven. I loved every second of it.

This trip, we had the pleasure of a layover day, which is a day spent along the river without travel. The river was our background music for 3 days. I reflected in my journal about the animals I saw, swam, and stretched on a ledge overlooking the glassy moving water.

Life was simple.

Working with Wayne, I realized that beyond the obvious roles I play as a guide, I'm a rafter's friend and companion for the length of their stay, and beyond. I'm also a steward of the Adks by demonstrating minimal impact skills, so if rafters go off on their own next time, they will treat the wilderness with care and respect.

After three graceful and stylish days of camping in the gorge, we packed up, the dam water arrived and carried us through 12 miles of  rapids until we saw signs of civilization.  

If I have my way, I'll repeat trips through these rapids over and over and over again. The great sense of well-being from running a wilderness river is really what these whitewater trips are all about.

Wayne guides our western-style overnight trips here on the Hudson River Gorge. These trips are mid-week (Tuesday-Thursday) and include a layover day for added relaxation and fly-fishing. Nate leads our weekend overnight trips. Me, I'm usually a day-tripper and at the base in between, taking calls, tidying the old farm we call our raft base, and enjoying our 4 dogs. We run Hudson River day trips Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, from the first weekend in April through Columbus Day in October. Our schedule is based on dam releases. 

Recent photos of overnight trips with North Creek Rafting Company below:
"Big Blue", 18 ft long and loaded
Kitchen on the beach above Elephant Rock
Tents tucked in the woods

Water-proof dry boxes that hold the kitchen
North Creek Rafting Company's "Cooler Fairy"
North Creek Rafting Company's Dutch Oven Master prepping an Apple Crisp.

Guide Jason on dish duty. Some say cleaning dishes on a river trip will equal clean lines on the river.
The charcoal chimney preps the coals for the Dutch oven.
Dutch ovens at work
Cooking over the fire
Tiki torches provide light and atmosphere.
Mist in the morning
Getting ready for breakfast
Pumpkin Pie Pancakes on the griddle
Looking downstream
Getting ready to ride the rapids

* I wrote this story for an event at the Adirondack Museum on 7/7/14. For details see my previous blog post or go to:

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