I Love The Adirondacks!
I was lucky to be able to grow up in the Adirondacks. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing on the water with my friends, hiking with my family and camping with our entire neighborhood. (Yes, we would literally uproot a whole block of neighborhood, travel about 30 miles and set it back up as "tent city".)
These outdoor activities are exactly why I decided to attend college as close to the park as possible. It's why I later choose to work in the Adirondacks, it is where I met my husband and we began raising our family.
Ten years and three kids later, here we are happily living in one of the most exciting places in New York State when it comes to outdoor recreation. There is one little catch...somewhere along the way our outdoor adventures have turned from epic hikes and paddling trips, to stuffing strollers, sippy cups, and diaper bags into a mini van so that we can spend the afternoon at the beach or a local event. It doesn't mean I don't still enjoy every moment of living here, but it does leave me the itch to get back out there and relish in some outdoor recreation.
Getting back in the saddle (or in this case: the boat)
Once I acknowledged the fact that I can't call myself a "paddler" if I haven't even seen my kayak in 5 years, and now that my kids are getting to the age where they can start to enjoy the outdoors as well, I decided it was time to get back out on the water. I thought about tracking down my kayak which is somewhere within our extended family. Then I thought about checking to see if the kayak rack that we had for our "pre-tribe" vehicle would fit the mini-van. That was when I decided to take the advice that I have given to so many visitors on a daily basis...visit the local outfitters!
Raquette River Outfitters - Long Lake, NY
It was a beautiful June morning when I went to Raquette River Outfitters in Long Lake, New York. They are situated across from the town beach at the base of a small peninsula and spillway separating Long Lake and Jennings Pond. The beauty of their location is that there is literally water on all sides, which makes it very easy for launching. Considering that I was looking for an easy way to get back in a boat, I immediately liked this concept.
When I walked into the shop, I was pleasantly surprised by the inventory in stock. It was there that I met the very friendly and knowledgeable, Stacy Pagoda who manages the Long Lake branch of Raquette River Outfitters. Because it was early in the season, the shop had not yet switch over to their 7-day schedule. Being that it was early season, and a Tuesday morning, the shop was quiet and that gave me the opportunity to sit with Stacy on the back deck over looking the water and pick her brain on the Long Lake paddling scene.
Q: "What is business like here in the summer?"
A: "It gets crazy busy...but it is a lot of fun!"
Q: "Is what I see here all of the boats that you use, or do you bring over as needed from the main branch of Raquette River Outfitters in Tupper Lake?"
A: "This is not our full summer fleet yet, more will be coming soon. Then if we have special requests, we will bring them over. Say if we need kevlar canoes, or I start to get low, it's really nice because they will just bring more over. We keep more boats down on the beach and we do a ton of board rentals. That's all my rental fleet out front. So, I'm still yet to receive some canoes and maybe a few more kayaks. Every year we try to figured out what we sold off and try to determine what we need to start the season. At this point we need more canoes, so we are building a new canoe rack and that should be ready in time for the 4th of July."
Q: "What are the most popular trips from this location?"
A: "The Lake mostly, but if you look over here (left) this is Jennings Pond, it is a man made pond. The town has built a nature trail that follows the other side of it. People have always followed along this spillway just to take photos and just get a good view. But now the town has the trail that cuts right over to behind where the dinner is. So, now a lot of times people like to take a paddle board or kayak and head over to Hoss's to get ice cream. That is where the pond will end up. That is one of our favorite things to do."
"It's also really popular for fishing. So we will put a couple of fishing canoes out on the pond once in a while, or if people are nervous about the weather then they go in the pond. But the majority is the lake."
Jennings Pond Trip
Stacy sold me on the checking out Jennings Pond (it might have been that she mentioned ice cream). We continued to chat as she grabbed a 13-foot yellow Necky kayak off of a rack and carried it to the shore. I explained that I had kayaked for years, actually own a couple of 17-foot touring kayaks, but it had been quite some time since I've paddled. She was delighted to help me get back out on the water. When I questioned her on the difference in length between the boat I was climbing into and my own, she simply explained that the longer boats are faster, but the shorter boats are easier to maneuver.
As I left the shore, the last pieces of advice she gave me was to keep an eye out for turtles, and with that I was off.
Surprisingly, it only took a couple hundred feet before I started to get my rhythm. It was about then that I looked up to see a gentleman fishing from the causeway to my right and the sun beaming off the wooden walkway on the town hiking trail to my left. I could picture my children soaking up the wide variety of family activities Jennings Pond had to offer.
The pond was not overly large, so I was in no hurry to cross. That allowed me time to get comfortable in my vessel, soak up some sun and gathered a unique perspective of the town. As I followed the wooden shoreline, I spotted Jennings Park, a locations which hosts a wide variety of events during the summer.
On this particular morning the park sat quietly, the gazebo on the waters edge of the park looked like a fantastic spot to enjoy a good read or a picnic. When I reached the diner, I could see the take out Stacy told me about. I looked it over for future reference, then continued around the bay.
As I followed the shore clockwise around the pond, I started to relax and daze off. Suddenly I heard a splash off to my right. Okay, "splash" may have been an understatement, it actually sounded like a bowling ball dropping into the water. I looked in the direction the noise came from to see a large stump coming out of the water, and recalled Stacy's comment about the turtles. Curious, I started over to check it out, but as I took my next stroke I could see the culprit sitting on the floor of the pond. The 2-foot-long turtle was basking in the sun from shallow bottom.
After I finished turtle watching, I continued back toward the shop, ready to get out on the lake! I would definitely return to Jennings Pond, this would be a great location to teach my children to paddle.
After a relaxing paddle on Long Lake, I returned to Raquette River Outfitters to turn in my kayak and inquire about the standup paddle boards. There, I found Stacy prepping the shop for the upcoming summer season. Again, she was happy to help me out, and I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about the SUPing phenomenon.
Q: "Over the past few years I have noticed that the number of SUP boards you see in the area has grown substantially. Are the stand up paddle board rentals popular here?"
A: "Yes, they have become very popular. We started to do them before most other shops in the area. Because our location is not coastal or anything, they started in this area a little behind other parts of the country...then they blew up big in Lake George. We have had them for at least 4 years, but it really got really popular last year."
Q: "Is there a certain age group that they are more popular with?"
A: "All ages!"
Q: "What sort of distance are people typically tackling on the paddle boards?"
A: "On the boards, well either they will make it to right there and fall in the water, or a lot of people will do 5 miles or so. Generally not as long of a distance as in the kayaks or canoes, but people are cruising on them."
Q: "I'm really interested in seeing what it is all about, like I had said before it has been five or so years since I have had a chance to kayak. In that time frame the SUP boards seem to have added a whole new dimension to the paddling scene."
A: "Yeah, that's what it adds for me. I am not completely sold on people saying that it is a better workout than canoeing or kayaking because it's not really. It's actually easier if you are busy, like we have two dogs and sometimes I find myself walking them so much that I don't have the time to get the distance that I would get in a canoe or kayak. So, if I just want to go out for an hour, I can grab a board and go. It's less of a commitment. I consider it my magazine when I don't have a book. That is the best way I can compare it."
Learning to SUP
I put my life jacket back on and Stacy grabbed what she said was one of her favorite boards and we waked across the street to the town beach. She gave me a demonstration on how to get up and paddle, then it was my turn. I emptied my pockets on the shore for fear I was about to get very wet, and stepped into the water.
I stood to the side of the board and climbed up on my knees. The water was calm, but by knees were not. I reminded myself that the water was not that cold, and if I get wet, I had a spare change in the van. That calmed my nerves and the board steadied. Then I placed my hands parallel on both sides of the handle, got up on one foot, then the other. Okay, now I was standing on the board, in my head all I could hear was Stacy telling me to keep my head centered in order to maintain my balance. That was when I realized I also needed to paddle. I relaxed myself and began making small strokes. As the board steadied beneath my feet, I headed away from shore.
After a few minutes of paddling around, I becoming more and more conformable with the board. That was when I noticed Stacy coming out with a board of her own. As she approached, I realized she wasn't alone, she had her beagle with her on the board and he seemed to be loving it as much as she was.
Talking with Stacy took my mind off of the idea of falling in, and I was finally able to truly relax. As we paddled around, we talked about how much lighter the boards are than a kayak or canoe, I could see what she meant by "less of a commitment." We discussed her youth group lessons, and she joked about how she has a lot more friends in town now that they have the boards. We also spoke about different types of boards and their cost.
As we continued back to shore, I was sad to see my day on the lake come to an end. The day reminded me of how much I once loved, and still love paddling. I was certain that it would not be another five years before I was back out on the water. For my first trip back out, I was glad that I choose to visit an outfitter rather than find my boat and head out on my own. Not only was Stacy happy to lend me a boat, the information that I gained from her was something that I will take with me. I also realized that I now was in the market to purchase a SUP board. I resonated with Stacy's analogy of the "magazine vs. a book." As a mom of three, I may not always have time for a book...but I can find time to sneak in a magazine!