Ausable Point State Park, NY Mile 839

Its twenty to ten and Tom has decided that sleep is probably a good idea. A late night for him and a long day for all of us – but a good one. P and I have gins and tonics bubbling away beside us, the air is warm and the campground is murmuring outside. We are right on Lake Champlain and its a good job we booked for this July 4th weekend. The Ranger said they have turned away more than twenty cars so far.

Our day started bright and clear and there was a just-washed feeling about everything. Tom wakes up and is instantly cheerful. He has been so happy on this trip and has more energy than ever, but he is also quite content to play by himself while we sit up front for the drives. He’s a smasher.

Driving out this morning, Rollins Pond campsite felt far more appealing with light dappling through the trees and catching the woodsmoke curling up from fireplaces. The sky was deep blue. A good day for a walk.

Mount Jo was a bit of a drive but looked like what we wanted: a stiff climb with a great view. We cruised through Saranac Lake, followed the sign for Lake Placid and after a while, felt we weren’t going in the right direction. And we weren’t. We hadn’t bothered with the satnav as Lake Placid is the biggest town in the Northern Adirondaks and just a hop and a skip from Saranac Lake, but it was only when we turned on the satnav that we realised the key turnoff to Lake Placid is not actually marked, either by road number or place, and we had missed it. It was a glorious drive though; the road looping through small farmsteads and tree-covered rolling hills. Actually is not the Lake District, it is Norway, with red barns and dense green forests, broken up by blue fjords.

By eleven thirty we had found the trail head and squeezed into the very last possible parking place. P made sandwiches, and we were off. It felt good to be doing a Big Walk at last. Both of us felt that we hadn’t really been able to do this region justice because of the bad weather so we were determined to make up for it.

Its a couple of miles to the summit of Mount Jo and it is a steep, muddy climb. But the view was worth it; sweeping over to the high peaks of the Northern Adirondaks and looking down on a heart-shaped lake. We had cheese and pickle sandwiches on a smooth bluff in the sunshine, before heading down a longer and less steep route. Eventually we turned off on a path called Indian Garden, which was clearly much less travelled. It wound narrowly through the trees and draped us with low branches and spider’s webs. We saw a fat green frog and a moment later an even fatter brown one walking out of our way, and trying to look dignified. There seemed to be more birds tweetling away above us and a woodpecker played percussion in the background. We met no-one else on that stretch and as it levelled out we joined a wider track through mature trees which was crossed by a series of streams. To be honest Philippa and I were about ready to had back at this point, but Tom was still full of beans and had not stopped talking since we set off – save for about ten minutes when his mouth was full of sandwich – so we kept on.

After an hour or so we hit the river and followed it upstream to a frothing waterfall and a cold, clear pool. It was fairly late in the day and we had it to ourselves. Tom was first in of course, gasping at the cold as he plunged in up to his neck. Philippa also swam and her rictus grin induced by the frigidity told me all I needed to know. I stayed in the shallows and took on the role of official photographer.

Refreshed and somewhat cleaner, the walk back seemed to fly by. The lowering sun shone through the trees lighting up the woods and we looked for deer and bear and saw…squirrels and chipmunks. The Adirondaks feel like they should have wolves and moose and they once did of course, but no more.

Back to Harvey in the dusty car park. It was now six and we had walked about eight and a half miles. We headed out past the Lake Placid Olympics ski jump area, and the Olympic training centre. The Winter Games were held here thirty years ago but for all the buzz about them in stores and restaurants – photos, clippings, memorabilia and so on – you would think they were last Christmas. They were a Big Deal for this quiet region.

As we drove through Wilmington Philippa said she really fancied some Italian food and there was Rosalia’s Family Italian Restaurant, so we pulled in. It had been open nine weeks and looked lovely inside; red and white checked table cloths and pretty yellow plates. We were the only customers at first and sat outside in the evening sunshine while the waiter chatted to us about the place and explained that they were very short handed. “We hire people and they don’t show up, or they don’t come back. I don’t know if people round here just don’t want to work or what.” He was a tall, good looking chap in his early forties with a thin scar running down one cheek. It was like having your order taken by someone in the Special Forces. He was actually just helping them out. “I make Adirondak furniture – I have a workshop down the road, but they can’t seem to find the staff”. Poor chap, he was flat out by the time we left as the place began to fill up. Rosalia had made a real effort with the food – it was rustic Italian and not your usual fare. She sent out a couple of little taster plates for us too: beans with tuna, and pasta parcels with cheese and pear.

The drive over to Lake Champlain took us through little time-warp towns like Ausable Forks, Jay and Clintonville. They seemed to belong to the fifties;  little Mom and Pop motels with slightly faded Route 66 style signs  boasting that the rooms had “TV!”. The sign for the “Blue Spruce Motel” was of course blue and in the shape of a spruce tree.  The General Stores were named after their owners.  “Normans” in Bloomingdale had been in there since 1909 when it almost certainly looked exactly the same: a white painted barn with small windows at the front.

There is a feeling of getting closer to Canada. The kids outside were talking French when we arrived at this campsite. The occasional sign is translated in French too. But this weekend is all-American of course, so we will find a small town for the fourth and celebrate the great British defeat.

Author: Richard Lister

Chasing horizons...

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