I lock my kayak to a tree, replete with all needed supplies. Seems a bit foolish to lock it since I am in the parking lot of the Floodwood Outpost which is displaying dozens of unlocked rental kayaks, but what can I say besides, “locks keep people honest”. I drive to the take-out on Long Pond and start hiking the mile to my waiting kayak at the north end of Floodwood Pond. At 6pm on Friday I am shouldering my trusty kayak paddle as I exit the Long Pond parking lot when a nosy neighbor asks, “looks like you forgot something”. I assume he means my boat and I confidently tell him, “I dropped it off down the road”. However, that doesn’t stop me from worrying for the next 30 hours… “Did he mean I left my car’s lights on?”, or, “Did I leave my wallet on the roof?”, or any number of worrisome missteps I may have taken which could have easily been avoided by listening to the neighbor.
After the mile walk to my locked kayak I unlock it and and get ready to start. I notice, oops! I forgot to leave my cooler in the car! It’s a big box that can’t possibly fit in the boat with me in it. So I have no choice but to leave it behind. It will be a bummer to lose it, but what can I do besides leave it behind a tree?
At the Floodwood put-in I sign into the trail register and smile and wave at a family of fishing campers as I make my way into the water. It is pleasant. Then I exit the shadow of the trees and suddenly it is uncomfortably hot in the sun! I turn toward land and hug the shore for as long as I can to stay out of the sun, passing the occasional vacation home. Before long I make my way to Rollins Pond which is busy with crowded drive-in campsites. As I write this I had to consult a map: How did they get here? Aha, they drive from the south, I didn’t realize that was possible! People are out swimming, boating, and I pass a few little slow-moving motorboats toward the carry to Whey Pond. I’m navigating using a course uploaded to my watch, which I created hastily so it is very imprecise and it takes a minute to figure out where I’m supposed to walk the boat. I exit the water using the boat launch for the Rollins Pond Boat Rental place and walk over to Whey Pond and slide into the water.
“Any luck?”, I ask a passing fisherman. “I didn’t fish in this pond”, he replies. Whey pond looks kinda weird. You can even see it in satellite view. It looks, I dunno, kinda like there is clay dissolved in it, giving it a slightly gray color. As the sun starts to set, I make the easy carry over to the similarly colored Copperas Pond, which connects directly to Fish Creek which takes me to Square Pond. Campers are again everywhere, some randomly yelling animal-like calls, and getting responses from others across the lake. It is now dark, and I pull out my headlamp just in case any boats approach. I can see much better with it off under the almost full moon so I don’t turn it on.
I arrive at a bridge, and it takes me a while to find my way under it. Looking at my watch I am convinced that I’m supposed to exit the water and carry the canoe on the busy road. Looking around, tall guard rails and lots of traffic make this look like a horrible road to carry on. Thankfully I am mistaken and I can just continue paddling to the densely housed Fish Creek Pond. I am impressed at how quiet everyone is.
I overshoot a turn before finding my way into a little connector to Upper Saranac Lake. At a few houses along this connector families are sitting around campfires. I slink through the darkness, passing undetected. The first section of Upper Saranac Lake is lined with homes, but a few miles north takes me to a quieter area where I quickly find a cozy peninsula where I can pitch a tent and bed down for the night, which I do. It’s very comfy for not having a sleeping pad, and I read my kindle until my eyes get heavy and I sleep until 7:30am.
I quickly pack up my stuff and hit the water. It’s a little windy and wavy, so I pull over to put on my spray skirt to avoid the splashing waves from dousing me and my gear. After a few miles of paddling I arrive at the entrance to Lake Clear Outlet. I paddle upstream and against the wind, switchbacking up the oxbow, all of which means the distance is very slow to tick off. For the most part the outlet is 5 or more feet wide but at a few points it is as narrow as the skinny boat and I have to grab fistfulls of grass to pull myself forward.
I exit the water (a little bit prematurely) and drag my boat for a quarter mile along what turned out to be a private road. This carry is a total of about one-and-a-half miles, some of which is on a populated road. As I drag my boat along the road and over lawns I generally keep my head down but occasionally smile and wave to folks in front of their houses. Everyone I encountered smiled and waved back, without even a hint of surprise or concern over my mode of travel on this busy road.
After 20 miles of kayaking (and portaging) I arrive at the Little Clear Pond entrance to the infamous 9-carries route. Eye contact from a boat launch steward’s non-binary visage stymies my otherwise quick drop-in to the water. They ask me if I have taken precautions to ensure invasive species aren’t stowing away on my kayak. “No”, I shrug. “If it’s ok with you, could you flip your kayak over for an inspection?”. I flip the boat over. Note that for the last mile-and-a-half I have been dragging the kayak over and pavement and lawns. The steward sees nothing but green strips of plant matter. “Can I assume this is…”. “Lawn clippings”, I finish. My vessel is cleared for voyage.
I paddle pleasantly along Little Clear Pond as it starts to rain. A father and son in separate canoes are sitting at the portage to Saint Regis Pond, “waiting out the rain”, they say. The portage is more long and brutal than I remember it being. So is the portage to Ochre Pond. And the one to Mud Pond. Wow. By the time I get to Fish Pond I’m exhausted and wondering, “Why do I put myself through this?”. Throughout the rest of this rainy day, there is the occasional quiet thunder off in the far distance. The distant thunder is enough that I try to stay close to shore just in case, but not enough force me out of the water to let it pass.
The next few carries to Little Long Pond, Kit Fox Pond, and Nellie Pond are very steep but short. I pull out my phone which hasn’t had any reception. I have a text message from M, and one from a friend. And meanwhile my phone says, “SOS” in the upper right corner. Uh oh. It turns out that my new phone has a feature: If it detects a car crash, it will sound an alarm, and if I’m unconscious and don’t acknowledge the alarm, the phone will contact emergency services and notify my emergency contact, M. Well… My phone has been in my kayak which has been crashing around on these steep descents, and I never heard the alarm go off. This causes some panic on my part because if M got alerted that I am in trouble, and I don’t have enough reception to communicate with her that I’m ok, she’s going to be terribly worried. Meanwhile, what’s going to happen if the SOS message got sent? Should I expect rescuers to arrive by land and air? I ask Siri, “how do I turn off SOS?”, and she replies, “you need to be online to disable SOS”. Arghh! All of this is quite concerning, but because I don’t have reception there’s nothing I can do besides make my way out of the woods to an area with reception to fix the situation. Thankfully in the end, I don’t think anyone was notified and I was able to turn the feature off to avoid this problem in the future. Actually it turns out that the SOS signal wasn't as bad as I thought, it just means that "your device isn't connected to a network, but you can still make emergency calls".
The final carry to Long Pond is wet, muddy, rocky, rooty, and long. I patiently and carefully take it one segment at a time, trying not to panic thinking my phone is sending SOS messages against my will. My hands. Oh, my hands. They hurt terribly from holding onto the webbing handle of my boat as I drag it around. When I finally complete the last carry and start paddling, I look down to see a little cut on my finger. Wow, how lucky that my hands held it together for this whole trip, and only started failing just when the last carry got completed!
I paddle directly to the exit, and carry the boat up a steep hill to the car. I start the drive home. I pass by where I had locked my kayak the day before and remember… The cooler I had left behind! I pull in and there it is, I toss it into the car.
I’m beat. I take a left turn, and a police car pulls in behind and follows me.
The heater is on in the car. Everything is wet from having rained all day, so it’s a little steamy. Meanwhile the inside of my windshield hasn’t been washed in a while so it is fogging up and producing terrible night glare when headlights drive toward me. I honestly can’t see very well. I would love to pull over and fix it, but if I pull over now it will seem suspicious to the policeman behind me, so I just keep driving. Of course he stays behind me for turn after turn after turn. Eventually he heads off in a different direction. I drive to Stewart’s and buy Windex and paper towels and clean off the windshield after which I can see perfectly for the rest of the drive home.
It’s now the next day. It has been a long time since I have completed such a trip. I am sore and tired. But also I am reminded of why I do this.