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Taking time to get back up Cranberry way

July 27, 2011
By JOE HACKETT, News Outdoors Columnist
I’m tired and I’m sore. My back aches, my feet are blistered and it even hurts to smile. But I can’t wipe the stupid grin off my face, summer has been just too much fun.

It feels like I’ve been hit and missed, but run over on the return trip. My accumulated aches and injuries are not the result of participating in any great race, such as the Ironman or the Damn Wakley Dam Ultra.

In fact, nearly all the pain comes from a summer’s pleasures. Over the past week, I have engaged in a wide variety of outdoor recreational pursuits. I’ve played hard, hiked plenty and, in general, conducted myself just as any kid should while enjoying an Adirondack summer.

In my mind, I’m a young kid again. However, in reality, it seems that I’m just a tired and sore old man, albeit one with a wide grin that betrays my unbridled satisfaction.

I’ve shot BB guns for hours and skipped stones until my arm was ready to fall off. I practiced with a bow and arrow, lobbed pebbles from a slingshot out over a stillwater lake and cast a flyrod until I could no longer hang onto the handle.

My neck is stiff from sleeping on the hard ground and my hip joints are disjointed from the impact of jumping from cliffs that were way too high. I’ve got the sniffles from sitting around in the cold night air, long after a warm fire had dissolved into coals.

I have paddled and packed, biked and swung with the enthusiasm of an adolescent and with a swagger that comes more from the exhaustion than a cocky sense of overconfidence. 

Adirondack summers are designed almost exclusively for kids and the available activities serve to bring out the kid in all of us. The past week was a blur of frenzied activity: hiking mountains, swimming the streams, fishing the brooks, biking the dirt paths and watching the night stars. In between these simple pleasures, I found time to snorkel the swimming holes, reclaim an old waterfall, pay a quick visit to hunting camp and avoid all potential opportunities to mow my lawn. If I can put it off until September, I may be able to hay it.

Despite such dastardly dalliances, I did take the time to return to my old bailiwicks, way up Cranberry way. In the company of old friends, I ventured back to the thriving backwoods metropolis of Wanakena, a small but special place located on a parcel situated between a big lake and a small river, the Oswegatchie.

As usual, I stopped in to chat with Rick Kovaks, the proud proprietor of Packbasket Adventures, a charming log cabin that serves as a comfortable bed and breakfast for those seeking silence and solitude among the soaring pines and still waters.

Kovaks also runs the only store in town, the Wanakena General, where travelers can find bug dope and beer or rent a flyrod or a canoe. Located on the gateway to the Five Ponds Wilderness, the sleepy little Adirondack village finally begins to hop by mid-summer, before the sidewalks are summarily rolled up by mid-September.

Cranberry Lake is a region steeped in a rich history of guides, lumbermen, flyfishers, innkeepers and artists, including Fredrick Remington. It remains a place where a man or a woman can easily become lost for a day or a week.

Over the course of my recent forays — which incorporated over 10 miles on the trails and 20 on the water — I visited about a half dozen ponds, swam in a waterfall’s pool and visited a historic slant rock camp that has provided shelter to a host of characters over the years.

I also visited the Rueben Wood Memorial Rock, located at the mouth of Sucker Brook, which is located quite a ways downstream from the old Sucker Brook hunting camp frequented by Saranac Lake guide, old Bill Allen. The Sucker Brook Camp was long considered to be among the most remote locations in the Adirondacks.

The Ruben Wood Monument, carved into a huge glacial erratic, honors one of the forefathers of American fly fishing. Wood, proprietor of a popular sporting goods store in Syracuse during the late 1800s, was a legendary fly-casting distance champion. He once performed before a crowd of over 20,000 spectators that had gathered for the New York State Flycasting Championship. Wood earned even greater acclaim when he bested the best British fly casters at the World Championships. Wood added insult to injury by topping them while using their own equipment after his had been lost in transit.

The carving reads: “In memory of Rueben Wood, a genial gentleman and great fisherman, who was fond of these solitudes.”

The solitudes haven’t changed much in the centuries that have passed since his passing. The local rivers and brooks still provide wild brook trout, and the shorelines are still as quiet and remote. Even the old familiar “Slant Rock Camp” remains, and it appears to be just as comfortable today as when Remington slept under the rock roof in the 1890s.

Times may change, but little else does when you’re visiting “up Cranberry way.”


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