Outside the Comfort Zone in the Adirondacks

Guest Blogger: Sara Welch

My husband didn't marry me for my outdoorsy ways. I love trail mix, but I don't use it the way it was intended—I munch it on the couch while binge-watching my favorite show on Netflix. To me a tent is a frumpy dress, not something you pitch in the woods. When Steve suggested we spend Columbus Day weekend camping and whitewater rafting in the Adirondacks, I thought he'd lost his mind. Whitewater rafting? "Sorry, honey, I'm not ready to leave this world yet," I told him.

"Relax," Steve replied gently. "The rapids are only wild in the spring. Fall is perfect for beginners. The company I picked out has an impeccable safety record. You don't need any experience, and all the rafts have licensed guides."

"But isn't Madison too young?" I asked, referring to our 9-year-old daughter.

"In the summer and fall, kids can be as young as 8," Steve answered. He'd done his homework.

And that's how I found myself in the last place I ever thought I'd voluntarily be—camping in the woods in the Adirondacks of New York.


Learning to love Lewey Lake

The drive up to Lewey Lake Campground was beautiful. The farther north we drove on I-87, the more gorgeous the leaves got—a rainbow of reds, oranges and yellows. The air was pleasantly crisp and I could smell campfires. The campground was located on the huge lake in the middle of the Adirondack Park (which, at six million acres, is larger than Yellowstone and Grand Canyon national parks combined).

Upon arrival, Steve gave Madison and me our first tent-pitching lesson. It was surprisingly easy. Then Steve showed Madison how to safely build a campfire, while I pulled out the food supplies (s'mores included). When night fell, we gathered around the brilliant fire, listening as it popped and crackled away. We each discussed our preferred marshmallow preparation—Madison liked hers blackened; I liked mine caramelized—and silently munched on our gooey, chocolately s'mores. It was different from our usual routine, but it was lovely—maybe there was something to this outdoors thing after all.

All-American Adventure

We woke up early the next morning, drank campfire coffee, ate eggs and pancakes off the Coleman, and headed up Route 30 to the Adirondac Rafting Company. We rented wetsuits, and the company outfitted us with life jackets, helmets and paddles. We then piled into their bus for the short jaunt to the "put-in" (that's rafting talk for the spot on the river where the trip starts).

As we climbed into our bright orange raft for the 17-mile trip along the Hudson River Gorge, I realized how nervous I was in this new experience. But our guide, Beth, immediately put me at ease with her calm manner and confidence. We started paddling down the Indian River toward the confluence with the Hudson River, Beth expertly maneuvering us around the rocks as she recounted the interesting names of the rapids—Fox Den, Bus Stop—and pointed out different types of birds along the shores.

We stopped for lunch—turkey sandwiches, cookies and lemonade. The peaceful riverside setting reminded me of those 19th-century paintings by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. I tried to think of names for all the shades of leaves around us: artichoke, russet, tawny, apricot, bronze, burgundy, mustard, maize and amber. I soon realized the palette was endless.

"Mom, look!" Madison's shout broke my fall foliage reverie. "It's a bald eagle!"

Beth passed me her binoculars so I could get a good look at the majestic raptor, and its piercing gaze, perched in a tree. I admired him, watching as he took flight until he became a distant speck. We returned to our rafts. By this point, I had become comfortable with the paddle, and had loved getting splashed while running the Narrows, Gooley Steps and other rapids along the way.

Better and Better

The next day was equally memorable. In the morning, we hiked the Castle Rock Trail overlooking Blue Mountain Lake. Did I mention I'm not much of an outdoorswoman? Even so, I had no problem hiking up to the top, where I was rewarded with breathtaking views (and some properly used trail mix!) Madison loved exploring the caves we found along the way. In the afternoon, we rented a canoe from Blue Mountain Lake Livery and spent a few hours paddling in the crystal-clear water of the lake, reflecting the brilliant colors of the turning leaves around us like a mirror.

Back at our campsite that evening, we sat around the fire, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows and talking about our amazing weekend: the blazing colors as the backdrop to our rafting trip, the bald eagle and the beaver we spotted during our canoe ride. Reflecting on the amazing time we had, I realized that my Netflix binge watching had some serious competition.

Start planning your next family Adirondack adventure!

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