Black Beans and Rice

Work in progress - Vegan Black Beans and Rice recipe.


- chopped onions
- wild mushrooms (optional)
- fresh thyme
- garlic
- tomato
- cumin
- coriander
- chili powder
- a hot pepper, or some other source of heat (don't overdo it!)
- tomato paste
- canned black beans
- rice (I like brown basmati rice but anything will work)
- bay leaves
- vinegar

Viscid Violet Cort

I often see Viscid Violet Cort mushrooms, Cortinarius iodes, growing in the woods near my house.

They look exactly like Smurfette's house with a bright purple color.

Until now I had not ventured to take any home and try them out. All the reports I have read say vague things like, "looks better than it tastes." Or, "there are indications that it is edible, but bitter and not very good. The slime is enough to make us not want to bother."

Viscid means something like, "covered with a sticky or clammy coating". This mushroom definitely fits the bill. The mushroom has a nearly identical look-alike, but if you lick the slime on the cap and it's not bitter, then as I understand it, you've got Cortinarius iodes on your hands. Or tongue. The slime on the ones I collected tasted like thick water, so I think we're good.

I wiped some of the slime off the caps with a paper towel and sauteed the mushroom caps in extra virgin olive oil with onion, garlic, and fresh thyme. On toast, I found it to have a mild but prominent dark flavor, very pleasant. The essence of what you might expect a random wild mushroom to taste like. It tasted like a dark slimy substance you might pull out of the cavity of a roast chicken. I would call it a pure savory taste, the type of taste that appeals to anyone who likes clams, oysters, escargots, etc., only these mushrooms were a little less gross than any of those things. These could be an excellent supplement to any mushroomy recipe. I look forward to having more!

Yew Berries

A friend recently pointed out that most pine needs are edible and can be used to make tea or chewed. I'm not sure about all the details, but one particular type of pine needle is poisonous, and that is the yew. The yew is a common plant used in landscaping. They are in most yards including my own. Apparently everything about the yew is dangerously poisonous including the seed. However, the red flesh around the seed is delicious and edible. I tore apart a few seeds (a messy operation), discarded the poisonous seed inside, and tasted the red fleshy parts of a few seeds.

I know that for myself personally if I brush past certain types of pine needles, I sometimes break out in a large allergic rash so I should probably be extra careful when eating anything to do with pine trees. It might not have been related, but after eating the red berries, my belly made a groan or two. I think it is just my stomach's way of saying, 'hey be careful up there'.


A big tomatillo plant is growing out from under a bush in a flower bed in the yard. Did a salsa jar explode back there and nobody told me?

They are not much bigger than a lemonhead, and totally delicious.

I have heard that these are not actually tomatillos, but are wild gooseberries. Cape Gooseberries perhaps? It still doesn't explain why they are growing in the yard.

Homebrew Wine

I have been drinking a lot of grape juice made from wild grapes growing in the neighborhood. I like the tart flavor of the unsweetened grapes. It has what I would call a non-traditional flavor profile. In other words not the typical formula of sugar+water+flavor (and optionally caffeine) that makes up 99% of drink options at the gas station. After making enough juice, I couldn't help but try to turn some of it into wine.

Making Juice

I make the juice by fetching grapes, pulling the grapes off the stems into a bowl, rinsing, and straining. The grapes go into a pot on the stove where I squeeze them by hand (or just blend them gently) to help extract the juice then boil the grapes with some water in a pot on the stove. Strain through a nut milk bag, paint strainer, or cheesecloth. Put solids back on the stove, add water, and strain again because there is still a fair amount of juice and flavor left after the first boil. Put the juice in jars. It is highly concentrated, so to make a drink I just put a little bit of juice in a cup and top it off with water. The resulting juice is simple and delicious (if you like tart).

Wine time

I always prefer to start out a project by making all the mistakes first. That way I know why I'm doing everything the right way if it ever comes to that. Plus I'm impulsive and want to complete a project without getting bogged down with learning how to do it first. Where better to start my first winemaking experience than this guy's awesome wine recipe?

The process went something like this:

1) Add nearly 1 liter of grapes to blender
2) add 1 liter of water
3) Blend lightly (on setting 3/10) for 45 seconds
4) strained into a pot using nut milk bag
5) put remains back in blender
6) rinsed nut bag into blender
7) blended and strained again to get a little more juice out of the seeds
8) pour seeds out behind the house, maybe they'll turn into vines
9) sterilize spoons, strainer, bottles, (etc.)
10) boil the juice gently for a few minutes
11) to each bottle add 1 part juice, 1.5 part water
12) to each bottle add 1/2 cup sugar plus 1/8 cup
13) put on lid & shake
14) let the juice cool to room temperature (so as not to kill or over-activate the yeast when it goes in)
15) add a little less than a tsp yeast
16) put on lid & shake
17) twist cap on bottle just until it resists twisting a wee bit (so air can escape)
18) put bottles in a dark place

After a few minutes the juice started bubbling and foaming until one of the bottles spurted a bit of juice out the cap. After the foaming subsided I rinsed the bottle. It has now been 24 hours and the yeast and sugar is happily fermenting away. The actively bubbling liquid gives off a bit of a yeasty odor.

9/9 - The other day I poured the wine from both bottles into a sterilized growler and put a legitimate airlock on instead of simply gently twisting the cap on.

Here is a list of potential problems with this batch so I don't forget:
1) These grapes came from the side of a busy road.
2) The wine spent a few days fermenting with an improper airlock
3) Not sure if the quantities of sugar/yeast are at all appropriate

10/2 update: I transferred the wine from the growler to a bottle using a siphon, being careful not to draw the wine from the very bottom where all the yeast sits. I filled a bottle, and there was just enough for a glass left over, so I poured myself a tall one. I think that my ability to taste the wine was biased by the fact that I was horrified by what went into it: it's basically sugar and yeast with a little bit of grapeyness. It didn't taste like a wonderful wine, I'll tell you that much. However, there was nothing particularly foul about it except that it really tasted a lot like fermented sugar water with a bit of grape. Yeasty I suppose. With a bit of a punch. There is a whole bottle of it, I will have to try it again and see if I can perceive the flavor a little better.

Something to try next

I wouldn't mind trying another batch but taking it more seriously this time. I'd like the wine to be made primitively, with nothing but fermented grapes. I imagine that's how it was made 2000 years ago. Adding tons of sugar and yeast seems over-aggressive to me so I'd like to try it this way instead and see what happens.

== Goals ==
1) just grapes - no yeast or sugar added ("spontaneous fermentation")
2) no chemicals
3) no cooking/pasteurizing the grapes
4) no plastic containers - use sterilized glass jugs
5) small batches (growlers for vessels, half-sized wine bottles preferred)
6) low-alcohol is okay (except that low-alcohol wine is more prone to spoilage so aging may prove difficult)

== Notes ==
1) Wild yeast will likely die before alcohol content reaches 6%. High alcohol (usually 12% or more in wine) gives wine its longevity, body and other positive features. Without good alcohol, wine dies quickly.
2) Once fermentation begins with wild yeast, it is longer and slower, and at a lower temperature.
3) It takes up to a week for wild yeast to colonize in larger batches, leaving the grapes open to infection/oxidation.
4) Rain washes yeast off the wild grapes and lingering moisture may contain bacteria so pick the grapes dry, particularly for pied de cuve.

== Stage 1: Buy Stuff ==

1) 2 airlocks with size 6 stopper to fit on growlers, hopefully it can be sterilized w/boiling water
2) 1 siphon tube that can withstand a bit of boiling
3) 1 funnel: nice and wide for pouring chunky must into growler
4) 1 hydrometer - not sure what I'd do with it, but if I knew what I was doing this will be useful

Comment: "Wow this stuff doesn't cost very much. The airlocks are like a buck."

== Stage 2: Pied De Cuve ==

1) fetch a small amount of wild grapes into a sterilized bowl with washed hands, the longer after rain the better

2) wash hands and sterilize: glass bowl, cloth
3) destem grapes to bowl

4) crush grapes by hand in bowl

5) leave it out covered with sterilized cloth to gather yeast for 5-10 days. Stir daily-ish with a sterilized spoon. If it starts fermenting (bubbling) and smells ok, use it to innoculate for primary fermentation. Otherwise, buy some wine yeast at the store or try again later.

QUESTIONS: Indoors or outdoors? I'm keeping mine indoors, but it attracts a few fruit flies, but seems fine. How long to keep before adding it to the rest of the project (when is it ready?)? Stir regularly? Add something like more grapes to fuel it occasionally? How does light affect things (right now it's in a clear glass bowl covered with a towel, plus a paper bag over the top of that to keep flies at bay)?

PROGRESS1: I started this on 9/7. It is now the morning of 9/10. Some fruit flies have shown up to the scene. I haven't seen any in the must, but they are around the house and a few try to get at the bowl. It is quite foamy after stirring and bubbles occasionally. It might be time to harvest more grapes and move on to the next step. I just need to determine if I should ferment w/seeds and skins or ferment just juice at this point. I know that how long the skins are kept with the ferment determines how tannic the wine will be.

Here are pictures of the Pied de cuve after 3 days, before and after stirring:


PROGRESS2: It is now the evening of 9/10. When I got home, the must bowl was fermenting quite actively, with lots of bubbles. Here is another pair of pictures, before and after stirring, note that it is quite a bit more bubbly this time:


The temperature warmed up quite a bit during the day today, that may have increased the amount of fermentation activity. A dozen or so fruit flies were in the bowl, they had penetrated the two layers of defence: paper bag and towel. The must had the *very* distinct and strong smell of a favorite toxic toy from my youth, Super Elastic Bubble Plastic by Wham-O.

This stuff is made with polyvinyl acetate dissolved in acetone, with ethyl acetate. I wonder what exactly I made here, acetone? As I was sniffing I was thinking rubbing alcohol but that seemed slightly off-target. I knew the smell was that of some small bottle of stuff we keep under the bathroom sink. Yeah, nail polish remover, that's the smell! Chemistry never was one of my strong points. How the f did I make nail polish remover? Anyway, when I die of cancer it's clearly from either too much bubble plastic as a kid or this ill-advised winemaking experiment, which is now heading in a direction I did not foresee. It seems the only reasonable option now is to press forward with the plan and try to find out what is going on.

A little research indicates that acetone is safe to eat! Yay! Talk about non-traditional flavor profiles! To quote Wikipedia:

"Acetone has been rated as a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) substance when present in beverages, baked foods, desserts, and preserves at concentrations ranging from 5 to 8 mg/L. Additionally, a joint U.S-European study found that acetone's 'health hazards are slight.'"


Back to business. I now have two airlocks. One is in use and the other airlock is the 2-piece type. It melted a bit when I steam-sterilized it, and when I tried to bend it back into shape it cracked. Sad face. Between the fruit flies and the Bubble Plastic odor, it's probably better that I get this airlocked sooner rather than later. So I phoned a friend to see if he had an extra airlock, but there was no answer. Next step: fashion one out of common household items. I drilled a hole in a rubber stopper (not an easy task), lubed the hole with vegetable oil, and shoved a piece of plastic tubing through it. I confirmed that it is air-tight, then transferred the must to a growler using the new airlock contraption, with the other end of the tube stuffed into a water-filled bottle that will sit next to the growler.

The growler is half full of grapey plasticy seedy must with skins and all. I'm thinking I should simply fill the rest with water, because it probably doesn't need any more grapes. It looks like if there is a next time I will need a larger vessel. Speaking of which, this whole operation with the fruit flies and the fact that the bowl of stuff clearly fermented a lot on it's own, maybe putting the must out covered by a towel isn't necessary, at least not for as long as I left it which was only 3 days. The idea was that it needed to gather natural yeast from the air. Next time I should get grapes after it hasn't rained in a while and just mash 'em up and put them in an airlocked vessel and leave them be and see if that gets started fermenting.

PROGRESS3: A few hours later, the half-and-half must/water mix is fermenting like crazy. Bubbles are blasting out of the airlock. What is going on? This process is a lot less subtle than I ever would have expected. Expansion is happening, maybe just foaming inside the glass container, because juice is pouring through the airlock tube. I poured some out into a glass to reduce the volume of liquid inside the growler.

PROGRESS4: The very next day, all fermentation completely stopped.

== Stage 3 Primary Fermentation ==

1) fetch wild grapes with clean hands to a sterilized bowl
2) wash hands and sterilize: bowl, growler, airlock, funnel, plate to hold sterilized stuff
3) destem grapes
4) put grapes in bowl and crush with a clean hand
5) funnel must into growler w/airlock.
6) add water to fill growler to 1/2 inch below neck to leave room for a bit of foaming. Perhaps try 1 part must, 2 parts water.
7) place airlock growler in basement or another dark place.
8) leave it there for 7-14 days (not sure how long this should take).

== Stage 4: Secondary Fermentation ==

1) sterilize second growler, second airlock, siphon, strainer, plate to hold sterilized stuff
2) siphon/strain wine to another growler w/airlock for secondary fermentation. Add water as needed.
3) leave it there for 3 months (not sure how long this should take)

== Stage 5: Bottling ==
1) wash hands, sterilize bottles, caps, siphon
2) siphon wine into bottles & cap.
3) store in a dark place in the basement
NOTE: If there is a problem with bottles exploding or there is unpleasant carbonation, then I should have degassed before bottling.

== Still to plan out ==
1) timing for primary and secondary fermentation
2) bottling - what type of bottles (why not glass bottle & plastic cap?):
- glass chia drink bottles w/plastic cap?
- beer bottles, caps, & capper?
- wine bottles & corks? (I'd like smaller bottles)
3) when to harvest?
- "Supposedly V. Riparia (wild grape) drastically increases its sugar content and lowers it's acid levels after the first frost."

== Variations ==
1) If this fails miserably, use manufactured yeast
2) If this is wildly successful, go more primitive: Clay vessels, that kind of thing. Don't use anything they didn't have 2000 years ago.

== Reference ==

Third Attempt


It has been about a week since a heavy rainfall. Today I fetched maybe 5-10 gallons of grapes (with stems on) from the side of a busy road. This amounted to 1.5 gallons of de-stemmed grapes or eventually 1 gallon of grape mush. I added a gallon of water, and the liquid tasted like it might have an appropriate grape concentration. The hydrometer put alcohol potential at 5-6%. I was tempted to add sugar, but decided to go all-natural instead. I put it in a brew bucket and put it in the basement where it is a more appropriate temperature for making wine, it should ferment for a week or two. Then move it to a glass jug for secondary fermentation.


The brew bucket is only about half full. The airlock has not really been bubbling at all. So I thought fermentation was not happening. So 2 days ago I opened it up to take a look inside. It was (and still is) bubbling like boiling water. I stuck my head in the bucket and took a big ol' whiff and almost choked on the stinging smell of nail polish remover.

Someone suggested that I should leave the mixture in the basement where it is cooler. Some of the off-odors may have come from fermenting at too-high a temperature. We did have a bit of a warm spell during the first fermentation.

I had read somewhere that for this first stage of making wine, I should keep the must outdoors tightly covered with a sterilized cloth to keep fruit flies/etc. out. In this case I sealed the must with an airlock instead. The fingernail-polish remover section of the following link poses one possibility that maybe the must needed to be exposed to open air to release these off-smells.

[[ | Winemaking Problems Web Page]]

Another discussion mentions that for one person the smell eventually dissipated. Apparently there is also some kind of winemaking adage that

[[ | Nail Polish Remover Online Discussion]]

Other suggestions:
"Do lots of punch down to get lots of O2 in there and get your yeast healthy."

"I've had this happen a *couple* of times before and the smell went away after the yeast started going full bore. I put it off as being one of the "off smells" that one might get with certain strains of yeast. wine turned out fine."

"Follow the standard winemakers advice of 'let it be and see what happens'".

I like that last one.

I'll give it one stir and then let it be.

My Left Knee

I have been running a lot this year and feeling really good. The runs have gotten more and more fun as they get longer, so naturally I would like to keep the progression going. At this point my left knee gets a little bit sore when I run too much. It is likely to become a bottleneck in my running if I don't put some focus into overcoming it. I'd like to keep a little journal here to map out a plan, and track progress.

Summary of the Soreness

My right knee was sore after the Melbourne Music Marathon in February. I'm actually surprised to see that this was a different knee than the one I'm feeling now. That's actually a good thing, it means that what I'm looking at isn't really a chronic thing.

My left knee was sore during some of the training runs leading up to the Wakely Dam 55k trail run, like during the Pharoah Lake Wilderness run. For a week or so after Wakely the knee soreness continued while I kept up with a fair amount of running.

Runs leading up to the Soreness

6/15-16 - B2B (Back-to-back) runs (15m on the Appalachian Trail, 9.3 miles at Moreau) followed by left knee soreness during the week.
6/22-23 - B2B runs (20m@Moreau, 10@Skidmore) w/mild left knee soreness
7/5-6 - B2B runs (22m@Pharoah, 10@Clifton Park) w/very mild lknee soreness
7/27 - B2B runs (32@Wakely, 9@Clifon Park) followed by lknee soreness
8/4 - Ran a brutal barefoot 15k on gravel. Backed off on running for a bit and rested knee while Morton's Neuroma on left foot recovered for 2 weeks.
8/10 - Ran 15m Vanderwhacker overnight fastpack on sore foot
8/21 - Ran 30m just for the heck of it, felt pretty good
8/31-9/2 - B2B2B runs (after a week with a fair amount of running) (20@ Grafton, 15@Grafton, 6.5@Plotter Kill), knee soreness reared it's head around mile 8 on day 2 and stuck with me which is why I'm writing this now.

I am psyched that I have have been able to cram this much running fun into two-and-a-half months. I suppose it's pretty obvious that backing off a little for a bit would do wonders.


Keep up the running, but back it off a little for a bit. Save some adventures for another day.
Avoid known knee aggravators:
- Sleep w/sweatpants (otherwise knees are uncomfortable)
- Walk around at work once in a while
- Sit in rocking chair/on floor, not the lazy-boy
Focus on recovery
- Floss regularly (to steer recovery away from gums)
- Avoid "stuffed" feeling from big meals (steer recovery away from digestion)
- Easy walks/bike rides while not running
- Eat lots of beans&rice, sardines, chia&fruit juice, oatmeal, green smoothie.
Look into *and do* exercises to strengthen knee: Start here
Do some ab excersizes - work towards situps
Regular yoga - 3 times a week
Try to run at least 50/50 barefoot, easier on the knees.
Look into activities that will help with strength - more upper body/etc, perhaps rock gym.

This really doesn't look too hard to do and I believe is all it should take.

Clay Pots

A friend has been talking about survival camping lately, and brought up the question of how you could do something as simple as boil water if you didn't have a pot? A bit of Googling brought up suggestions like... Boil it in your hat. Find a rock shaped like a cookpot and boil it in that. Or, make a pot out of clay.

So anyway, today after work I had some free time so I tossed the kayak into my car and headed to the Anthony Kill between Round Lake and Mechanicville. I did not get far down the creek when I came upon a clay creekbank under the running water. Don't ask me know I knew it was clay but it was instantly recognizeable. Human survival instinct maybe?

I quickly switched plans. Forget kayaking. I'm going to collect a bunch of clay, take it home, build a fire in the backyard, and make a clay cookpot. I dropped a big pile of clay onto my sprayskirt in front of me in the kayak, headed back upstream to where the car is parked, and hopped out of the kayak. I held the skirt with both hands to nestle the precious clay in front of me, left the kayak where it was, and went to the car. Here is a picture of my skirt resting on the trunk of the car:

Opening the car door, grabbing a plastic bag, and putting the clay away without dropping everything was a difficult task indeed. Meanwhile as I'm standing there in a weird skirt and helmet another car pulls up. A man and his son get out with some fishing gear. I'm standing rather helpless resting my skirt on the trunk of the car, immobile. If I move, my payload is going to drop into the sand at my feet, ruining the clay. Dad says, "How's it going?". "Great", I respond. A puzzled look grows on his face as I awkwardly turn my neck 180 degrees to face him as best I can, covered in grey shmear, a pile of elephant crap in my lap. "What are you... Fishing?", he asks to which I respond, "I found this clay. I figured I would take it home and make a cooking pot with it." Realizing how odd this sounds, I try to make everything right by adding, "For survival".

On my way home, I pass a big sign saying, "eggplants 75 cents". I pull over, but alas, there are no eggplants left. Payment is made on the honor system, but there is almost no food and no money at the stand. A car pulls into the driveway, and a woman asks what I'm looking for. "Eggplants". She says, "I have white eggplants out back if you want some of those. They are just like the purple ones but sweeter". "Sure, sounds great".

She comes back with four mini eggplants. She takes a look at her stand which has no food and smiles saying, "there's nothing here! Somebody took all the food and the money". "That's terrible, I can't believe anyone would do that". She shrugs and asks for $1.50 for the 4 eggplants. I thank her and head home.

I mash up the clay a bunch. It's exactly like working with pizza dough so I am right at home. I make a nice clay pot with a lid, put it on a rock, and stick it into the fire. As soon as the edge of the pot starts drying, it forms a huge crack. The lid dries pretty quickly, with a decent crack in it.

Before long I grow impatient, and put everything close to the fire. Then even closer: I put the lid directly on top of the fire. Kaboom! The lid explodes. Crack pop kapow! The pot loses some large pieces. That was a bad move.

Time for plan b. I make a new pot. This time with a handle, shaped like the french onion soup crocks I grew up with. I'll just leave this one outside, let it dry in the sun and hope for the best.

Clifton Park Mushrooms

I have been walking around Clifton Park looking for mushrooms and trying to identify them. I have found a large variety of different mushrooms. Each mushroom that I identified is my best guess based on comparing the mushroom to the pictures in the book, and in some cases doing some additional work like taking a spore print. This is not meant to be a definitive resource for identifying mushrooms as some of my guesses may not be 100% accurate. It is more meant to serve as a place for me to keep track of the variety of mushrooms that can be found in the greater capital region of Albany. I am adding more pictures as I come across new mushrooms. Click on the images for a larger image, or in some cases more detailed information.

Hen of the Woods
Grifola frondosa

Chicken Mushroom
Laetiporus sulphureus

Shaggy Mane
Coprinus comatus
Oyster Mushroom
Pleurotus ostreatus
Honey Mushroom
Armillariella mellea

Painted Suillus
Suillus Pictus

Cinnabar-red Chanterelle
Cantharellus cinnabarinus
Jack O' Lantern
Omphalotus olearius
Black Trumpet
Craterellus cornucopioides

Crown-Tipped Coral
Clavicorona pyxidata
Variable Russula
Russula variata

Bear's Head Tooth
Hericium americanum

Giant Puffball
Calvatia gigantea

Chicken Fat Mushroom
Suillus americanus
Old Man of the Woods
Strobilomyces floccopus
Viscid Violet Cort
Cortinarius iodes

Spindle-Shaped Yellow Coral
Clavulinopsis fusiformis

Bay Bolete
Boletus badius

Ganoderma lucidum
Orange Mock Oyster
Phyllotopsis nidulans

Witches' Butter
Tremella mesenterica
Wolf's Milk
Lycogala epidendrum
Mossy Maple Polypore
Oxyporus populinus
Pigskin Poison Puffball
Scleroderma citrinum

Boletellus chrysenteroides

The off-white flesh of this mushroom colors slightly blue when sliced into and has a rich, earthy smell.
Amanita velatipes
Amanita velatipes

Emetic Russula
Russula emetica
False Coral
Tremellodendron pallidum
Shaggy Pholiota
Pholiota squarrosa
Deadly Gallerina
Galerina autumnalis

Peppery Milky
Lactarius piperatus

If this is a Peppery Milky, then the spore print should be white.
White Coral
Ramariopsis kunzei

Crowded Parchment
Stereum complicatum
Sulphur Tuft
Hypholoma fasciculare
Olive Oysterling
Panellus serotinus

Pholiota limonella
Pholiota limonella

Unidentified mushrooms

Russula brevipes? Lactarius deceptivus?

Hatched Alien Egg

I saw several mushrooms that looked like this. It almost looks like there is a mold growing on the mushroom. It's likely this is Hypomyces chrysospermus, a mold that grows on Boletes. It goes from white to yellow to red and brown.
This odd mushroom looks like a furry paw.
Lactarius indigo?
Unknown Lactarius
Lactarius ???

Netted Stinkhorn?

Over the course of 14 hours, this mushroom went from a mature stinkhorn with a bright green head to this rotten pile of waste. A bit of rain and a lot of insects got to it during the night. Sadly, I did not get a picture of the mushroom while it was healthy.

The white flesh and yellow tubers of this mushroom has a very mild smell, and does not stain or discolor when scratched or sliced.

This is not a milky cap.

Related Links

* Cornell Mushroom Blog
* NPR Discussion of post-Irene mushrooms
* TED Talks - 6 ways mushrooms can save the world
* More mushrooms identified in the area

Ways to cook mushrooms

* Hungarian Mushroom Soup
* A page rating different mushrooms cooked with varying methods

Pharaoh Lake Wilderness

Friends and I are currently in training for the Wakely Dam Ultramarathon. The race is three weeks away, which means that this weekend is the longest workout before starting to taper off and rest up for the big day. B, H, and I are running it, and after no small amount of planning decided on heading to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness for a 22 mile loop.

Map of the run:

(Click here for a map of the planned route.)

We started off by parking at the wrong spot and heading down the wrong trail a few hundred yards from the actual trailhead. (** Note: There is a very official DEC trailhead and parking area: start there! **). We ended up wandering nonsensically through misc trails for 4 miles before returning to where we started to find the real trail head. The run from West Hague Road to Pharaoh Lake was absolutely treacherous. It was a mucky swampy mess. Mosquitoes and deer flies were horrible. The trail is marked but we could never get going for more than a short bit before we had to navigate repeated giant mush holes. The occasional stinging nettle patches were almost a welcome change from the atrocities of the trail. At least the stinging pain helped you forget your true miseries for a short time. Ugh. Partway through, my morale severely crippled, I hit my low point. I started shrieking and running in hopes that a forced berzerker rage would pull me out of my funk. It half worked, which was good enough to keep me moving forward. As we say in the business, "hope is your biggest enemy". Lucky for us we had absolutely no hope at this point, so reaching our first waypoint, Pharaoh Lake, came as an unexpected happy surprise. This section of trail is one that as of right now (two days later) I hope to never see again.

We headed towards a lean-to on the lake. Friendly people were staying there who had hauled a boat or two for several miles to the campground. We greeted each other and they took a look at us covered in Hell and seriously asked us if we swam here. We explained our story, and they explained their's (dragging a giant boat 4 miles uphill over 8 hours). No strangers to a hard day's work, they offered us a dive into the refreshing water below.

After wasting 4 miles and dealing with a really tough 7 or so after that, we had a great swim and snack by the lake. We had several options at this point, all of them terrible. We were obviously not going to stick with the plan, which would mean another 15 miles for a total of 26. The easiest option would be to run back from whence we came (as terrible as it was) for a total of 18 or so miles. The remaining option would be to take a diagonal shortcut through Grizzle Ocean, for a total of 22 miles back to the car. We had no reason to believe that this trail would be any friendlier than the last, but at least it would be different. There was some hesitance to take on the long route, but a campground 6 miles in left an option to bail-out if need-be, which sealed the deal and put us all in agreement.

We hopped back on the trail and honestly at this point I don't remember much besides running, getting chased by angry dogs, H making an aggressive hail mary run for the campground, B bonking, and me losing a sandal deep DEEP in the mud and probing for it with a black arm for several minutes. Oh, and getting stung by something really nasty. I had been bitten by so many things that when a real stinger stuck into my calf I freaked out. Luckily B recognized the tone of my yelling and asked, "you got stung by a wasp"? To which I responded, "Oh yeah, that's what it was!". Up until then I didn't know what had happened except that it hurt a lot more than all the other bites combined. It is now several days later and the red spot is the size of a silver dollar. Do they still make those? At the campground, H chose to hang back while B and I ran the last 5 mile section to the car.

Oh man was it sweet! We got on the trail and ran! Yeah! Then it got even better, the trail turned to doubletrack and we were cruising side-by-side and making great time! This lasted just long enough for a bit of hope to creep into our psyche. Never a good thing. We crossed a small stream, after which the trail turned awful and got continuously worse from there. If beavers ever built a Manhattan, this was Damhattan. The trail pointed straight into miles of beaver pond. It appeared that much of the pond was recently built, because orange tape marked a detour over beaver dams, and through shallower sections of pond. Over miles of beaver pond we encountered one man-made bridge, but the left beam was gone, tilting the bridge 45 degrees, so we could not walk on the bridge, or even on the side of the bridge, but had to walk on the corner of the bridge. That's a first for me.

Just as we were hoping to have left Beaver Pond Hell behind us, the trail markers clearly marked the way into a big old pond. The trail looked like a boat ramp into the clear water. B came up to a halt in front of it and said with a thoroughly defeated look on his face, "you have got to be kidding me". We were down to our last straw, but bucked up and waded across. After that it was just a matter of pressing on and on, an eventually we reached the car.

If there is one thing that makes this area unique, it's the distance. Everything looks so easy and short on the map, until you measure it out and find that you could easily run a loop of 30-40 miles or more. It would not be a good place to take a wrong turn near the end of a run.