October 11th, 2011
Last week I hit the jackpot – a trip to the Adirondaks. That would be mountains in Upper New York State, for those unaware. Roughly here.
Nakkertok regularly has a bit of a get-together where people hike a variety of mountains at a variety of paces, and stays at the Alpine Club of Canada in Keene Valley (location top secret, especially after Hurricane Irene decided to alter the geographic landscape in the region.)
Now, I don’t mean to brag, but I’m a bit of a veteran when it comes to the Adz. I’ve been a lot of times – according to my parents, who know about these kinds of things, I was riding a backpack before I was two years old, and I was hiking at three. I estimated this trip down was somewhere around my 40th, which is pretty good considering I’m not all that old. Suffice it to say I think I know what I’m doing.
Anyways, I left Ottawa Friday morning heading for the US of A, armed with little. Very little actually. A sleeping bag, a pillow, some hiking clothing, and a bag full of wicked pasta sauce generously donated by an awesome Nakkertok family. Certain other mandatory camping appliances didn’t make the cut – tent, stove, sleeping pad that didn’t suck, for example.
I’m pretty confident in my direction finding ability, and that confidence is occasionally misplaced. On a recent adventure with a fellow FasterSkier staffer I went the wrong way three times before getting out of Ottawa – he wasn’t all that impressed, but that’s a story for another day.
Regardless, I figured a quick check of Google Maps before leaving and my memory would be good enough to get me to Lake Placid. No need for a New York State map, GPS, person to navigate, I thought.
And I was mostly right. Although when things did get a bit hairy, the only map I did have wasn’t so great on the whole details thing, but I managed to get to the right spot.
I even got into Lake Placid with enough time to get some time at the Starbucks, organize a meet-up with the FasterSkier world headquarters for Sunday night, and hit the grocery store for some much-needed food, where I ran into a Nakkertok athlete riding a grocery cart and eating bananas.
But back to being unprepared. Again, no tent for the adventure, or stove, so the plan in my misguided head was to turn the Mazda 3 into a CamperMazda for the weekend (this was a great idea in my head, and in real life, it was pretty f-ing good as well), eat a lot of cold sandwiches (I love sandwiches – this wasn’t going to be an issue), and maybe borrow some hot water to cook pasta on Saturday night.
After rolling out my sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and pillow inside a dry CamperMazda on Friday night while everyone else was setting up their tents in the rain, I felt pretty pleased with myself.
Waking up every two hours that night because my sleeping pad had holes in it wasn’t awesome, as was the amount of stale air that resulted from having no windows open and my head stuck in the trunk. And waking up in the morning with a sore throat and runny nose really sucked, not to put too fine a point on it.
Now, I know I’m not exactly Devon Kershaw on the Tour de Ski (if you don’t get that reference, you need to read more of Kersh’s blogs), but waking up sick the day before you’re planning on cranking out a 9-hour hiking day that includes hitting potentially four peaks isn’t a great idea.
After a quick breakfast where I managed to score some water for my oatmeal and my coffee (thanks Jan and Al – you pretty much bailed me out the entire weekend), the group (some 70 athletes, parents, and associated hangers-on) collected to discuss routes. I had relaxed from my official coach-capacity, so I was happy to sit back and rock some stylish plaid while people debated the merits of hiking Mt. Marcy vs. Phelps, and whether Irene had reduced the trails to hip-wader style mud-slogging.
Anyways, we blasted off to Adirondak Loj and the approach to Marcy, a hike I have done somewhere around 5-10 times. And I enjoy it, when A) it’s not raining (which seems to be just about never), B) the trail warden at Adirondak Loj isn’t crawling up my ass about how the max group size is 15, and how we have to leave half an hour or a mile between groups (I felt like asking him if he wanted to come with us – my group of Juvenile/Junior Boys was going to do that first mile in about 10 minutes), and C) I’m not feeling like someone punched me in the throat (metaphorically speaking – the actual throat punching I leave to blogger Nat Herz – and yes, Nat’s recent blog is going to be referred to several times in this post).
Before I get into the blow-by-blow of the hike, I just want to clarify that I am not Jon Krakauer, and Mt. Marcy is not Mt. Everest, so don’t expect too much of an epic.
Regardless, I was game for an adventure, and after we hit Marcy Dam and the pace increased (Junior Boys again…) a little less than an hour in, I was happy to drop to the back of the group and focus on surviving rather than kicking ass and taking (mountain) names like some of my athletes.
On the approach to Marcy, you go past the trail up Phelps Mt., which is advertised as a two mile round trip. Feeling a little bit like warmed up death at this point, I kept on going right by it with a couple of lads with little discussion. However, the majority of my guys headed up the trail at what can only be described as breakneck speed. And found out a couple of things: 1. It’s steep. 2. The top was socked in and you couldn’t see anything. 3. It’s still steep on the way back down. 4. And most important, it’s not worth wasting an hour and a half of valuable hiking time.
While the rookie hikers were struggling with the waste-of-a-mountain Phelps experience, I was approaching the top of Marcy – after putting the hammer down on the last half-mile approach to the summit and dropping the two guys I was with like Petter Northug in the finishing straight of a 50 k, I clocked in at 2 hours and 27 minutes from bottom to top. Which, considering I wasn’t really pushing if for the first 5.5 miles, I wasn’t feeling very hot, I was carrying four bagels, a full cucumber, a full tub of cream cheese, two shirts, 3 litres of water, an apple, and a guidebook, I thought it was pretty good.
But the top was socked in, so after eating my entire cucumber, getting chirped about cream-cheesing my bagel without cutting it in half, watching some guy smoke a cigarette, and getting pretty damn cold, we headed off the top in the direction of Mt. Skylight, Mt. Algonquin, and Avalanche Pass, our next destination.
After wandering around for awhile, and getting yelled at by the summit steward about walking on the super-special summit grass (we weren’t, I swear – she was just bored and probably cranky and cold) we found the trail down.
I found myself hiking with two first-year Juvenile boys (14 years old) and we had a scintillating conversation about the use of the word noob – they thought using it in every second sentence was legitimate, I disagreed. Note – If you are over the age of 30, you have probably never heard the word noob, and seeing as it’s a useless word, don’t be too concerned.
We headed up Skylight for the first and only good glimpse of sunlight for the day (how appropriate – Skylight!), where the other group finally caught us after their Phelps mis-adventure. We joined forces for a little while, with some lads deciding that a headlong charge down the mountain was the way to go. I got dropped pretty quickly, partly because they were just plain faster, partly because I was a little more concerned about not breaking any bones.
The original plan had us scheduled to go up Algonquin last, and then back to Adirondak Loj, but when we got to the junction to head up to Algonquin at 4 PM, it was debate time. With less than 3 hours of daylight left, a general lack of food and water (among the athletes – I still had most of my groceries), and having hiked for about seven hours already, there was some concern that we were going to be able to do the steepest ascent of the second-highest peak in the region and still get back to the parking lot before dark and still alive.
To their credit, at least half the group wanted to continue – one guy in particular was a little bit heart-broken when we decided to opt for the shorter, flatter route home. But Avalanche
Pass on the way home features some decent scenery and the opportunity for a quick paddle for some guys, while I sat around and consumed a lot of sesame snaps.
As we rolled into the parking lot at the Loj significantly more muddy, tired, a smelly, the final tally of time on my watch said 8 hours 50 minutes, and I stopped it during the two large food breaks. As I stumbled into the campsite 20 minutes later, I was pretty ready for food and bed, even if it was in the back of the CamperMazda with an un-inflatable sleeping pad.
After some excellent pasta, a beer, and some sit-down time, the CamperMazda provided a deadly sleep – but didn’t make me feel any better the next morning, despite the brilliant sunshine that woke me up nice and early.
Another quick discussion, and people spread out to two different peaks – Cascade, and Giant. After a brief moment of enthusiasm regarding Giant, my brain weighed in, reminding me that A) I had done Giant upteen times, and B) one time on Giant as a pre-teen I spent 5 hours in the pouring rain (no joke – it poured rain the entire time) hiking it with my mom. It was what is now referred to as a character-building experience – though for me or my mom, I was never really sure. I’m just surprised she didn’t ‘lose’ me halfway down, I sure as hell would have if I was in her hiking boots. Oh, and C) following the hike I was heading to Williamstown, MA, to Cricket Creek Farm, otherwise known as the FasterSkier World Headquarters, so I didn’t want to be out all day.
I blasted up Cascade, took advantage of some good picture taking and lunching opportunities at the top, and then headed for the bottom, Lake Placid, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, and an internet connection so I could find my way to Williamstown.
Turns out it’s pretty far from Lake Placid – like 3 hours, as opposed to my mental approximation of about an hour. It doesn’t help when the first major highway I hopped on instead of moving quickly, like they do in Canada between large cities, this one had a border patrol check point. Yeah, in the middle of New York, nowhere near the border, there were a bunch of border cops stopping traffic on a four-lane highway.
Here is the verbatim exchange when I finally get to the front of the line:
Border Patrol: Citizenship?
Border Patrol: Where you headed?
Me: Williamstown, Massachusetts
Border Patrol: Allright, have a good day.
And that was it. No searching the CamperMazda, no asking for my passport or drivers license, no nothing. I could have had a couple of kilos of cocaine, half a dozen illegal immigrants, and enough guns to make the LL Cote in New Hampshire jealous, and they never would have guessed.
Which was fine with me – I was back flying along, and relatively shortly I rolled into ‘the Farm’, as boss Topher Sabot has been referring to his residence for last year and a half I have been working for him.
At this point I should probably note that Toph and I have never actually met – I’ve met Nat, Chelsea, and Alex, but for some reason (I live in Canada, and he isn’t allowed up here) I have never met the guy who hired me. Yes, that is how FasterSkier operates sometimes – when I mentioned I was coming down, Toph and Matt Voisin joked in an email how I was going to be really surprised when I found out that FasterSkier was actually run by two grade 8 students after school (for the record, it’s not, although sometimes when we get wound up on conference calls, it’s not that far off).
So I pulled into what I really hoped was his driveway, and parked next to a large pile of wood, which featured a woman operating a splitter off the back of a tractor. After a brief exchange in which I found out that I was at the right place, I was co-opted into helping with the wood.
Which was cool, because I translated that into an awesome dinner, a bed, a tour of the farm the next morning, and some coffee before getting on the road and heading back to Canada.
As for Topher and Matt, they were both pretty much what I expected. Toph’s farm has been much-documented on the blog front, and while Matt hasn’t he’s a rad dude who should get more attention.
Up next – regular fall training, trying to put more time into FasterSkier, and possibly a rematch with Brad cross country race this Sunday – get yer popcorn ready.
Some random things:
– Upper New York State has the highest concentration of cops I have ever seen. I think I counted over 100 cop cars, and only 3 of them had someone pulled over. By my calculations, that means that 97% of police in upstate New York are doing nothing. Want to fix your economy America? Maybe cut back on the police force, or move them to somewhere they can actually do something. I heard a rumour the Bronx needs an extra cop on beat in the daylight…
– Today was the first day in a long time where I didn’t drink a coffee. And I found I was way more fired up than when I do drink it. Has my body somehow switched over to the point where not consuming caffeine is the new caffeine?
– I’m going to Dusseldorf and Davos for the World Cups in December. This is kind of a big deal, and I’ll dedicate a separate blog post to it at some point. I took German 101 in university, and am planning on using all of it on Steffi Boehler.
– Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey are quite clear in their support of a certain sunglasses company, but I think they should give this one a shot – if that picture at the top is any indication, it could be a hell of an interesting time.