the drive to Kyser Lake
Wednesday, September 10 2014
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York
Gretchen had arranged for us to rent a cabin for five days on Lake Kyser (which is technically a man-made reservoir) south of Dolgeville in Herkimer County. While most of Herkimer County is in the Adirondacks, the region we'd technically be in would be the Mohawk Valley, south of the Adirondack shield. Our cabin would be unusual in a number of respects: we'd have to bring our own potable water (since its water system uses untreated lake water), and we'd have to bring all our own sheets, blankets, pillows, and towels. These additional additional items require a surprisingly large volume to haul, and since we'd also be bringing our foldable Oru kayaks, the Honda Civic Hybrid was too small for our needs, so we packed the Subaru instead.
But even with the Subaru, we didn't have enough room unless we tied one of the kayaks (still in the cardboard box in which it was shipped) to the roof. Even then, we were forced to downsize from four pillows to two. It wasn't just that we needed room for the dogs; on this trip we'd also be bringing Celeste the Kitten. This would mean that the only thing our cat sitters would have to do would be to make sure there was food and water out in the various places. Poor Phoebe the three legger would have to spend the next five days all by herself locked up in the upstairs bedroom and bathroom.
Usually we stop at the Trader Joe's outside Albany to buy the provisions necessary for our cabin, but this time we stopped at the nearby Whole Foods with the idea that we would also be going to Trader Joe's. Then, after buying nearly all we needed at Whole Foods (and finding the prices for some items competitive with those at Trader Joe's), we decided not to bother with TJ's. We were tired of shopping, and it would have been difficult to cram anything more into our car. On the drive up to Albany, we'd been listening to my sometimes-problematic Sansa Clip Zip (with Rockbox firmware), but it mysteriously died near Albany and we had to listen to the radio after that. For a number of reasons, I'm thinking of going back to the stock SanDisk firmware, which is reliable and easier to work with than Rockbox even if it doesn't have all the nerdy bells and whistles (none of which I even use). It feels liberating to run open source software of any kind, but over the years I've learned that it's not always the best solution to the problem at hand.
The drive westward from Albany to Herkimer County was decidedly longer than the drive to Lake Edward in Fulton County. At least the Mohawk Valley rolled out before us in an interesting manner, punctuated regularly by low dams and small locks (and the occasional smallish boat). We saw one flying the Canadian flag.
Approaching our destination from Little Falls (which is to its southwest), we drove mostly through open farmland, the kind of classic-looking barns, silos, and dairy cows (especially the farm at 43.050809N, 74.77395W). But then, after driving down a small road through abandoned apple orchards, we were unexpectedly looking at a largish body of water, Kyser Lake. As I mentioned earlier, it's not actually a lake, and it's not even really in the Adirondacks (the bedrock appears to be shale, not granite). We parked our car in a special spot and then walked down to the cabin and met Gary, the guy who would be renting it to us for the next five and a half days. It was a cute little shingle-covered building with a tidy metal roof situated on a fairly steep slope above the lake. Walking down to the lake was made somewhat treacherous by the ball-bearing-like apples that had fallen from several trees in the yard. Gary showed us the dock, the row boat (he asked if we'd brought a motor for it, but all we'd brought were kayaks), and explained the situation with local beavers and Fritz, the neighbor's dog. Supposedly Fritz might come visit us, which Gretchen and I thought would be an excellent thing were it to happen. As for the beavers, they like to come up out of the water and eat the fallen apples, though recently they'd delighted in gnawing into the black plastic line that carries pumped lake water into the house.
After showing us the lake, yard, fire pit, back deck, and barbecue equipment, Gary took us inside the cabin. It was kind of a hovel inside, with dingy paint, patchy, uncleanably stained surfaces, and large swaths of wall covered in unpainted OSB, one of the least attractive wallboards available.
Before leaving us to ourselves, Gary showed me how to turn off the pump and close the well valve so I could shut it all down at the end of our stay, thus protecting the pump from burning itself out should the beavers chew through the water line again (thought it will be harder now that it is shielded inside four inch drain pipe). I say that Gary showed me these things and not Gretchen because his attention turned exclusively to me when he was describing what to do, even inquiring what my name was first (he knew Gretchen's but not mine). Later Gretchen made the observation that she hadn't been the target of such naked sexism in a very long time. Nevertheless, Gary seemed like a nice guy. He's not one of our people, but his heart seemed to be coming from a good place given his worldview.
After moving our stuff into the cabin, the general griminess and dinginess of the place took a little getting used to. Inititally, we didn't even really want to touch its surfaces. And what to make of, say, washing dishes when the water is just pumped out of the lake?
Once the initial drudgery of setting up the cabin was out of the way, Gretchen thought we should have an alcoholic beverage, so we split a bottle of wine out on the deck (which, being outside and frequently rained-upon) seemed less groty than indoors). We also ate crackers with an expensive hard vegan cheese.
Meanwhile Celeste the Kitten cavorted about on the deck and out in the yard, checking in enough with us that we didn't worry about her vanishing. You can't turn just any cat loose at a new place and expect her to be comfortable and stick around, but (as Gretchen noted), Celeste is sort of like a dog when it comes to these things.
With that wine in my belly, I felt an unexpected burst of energy and decided to put one of the Oru foldable kayaks together. Gretchen helped, and it came together so quickly that we unboxed the other one and put it together as well. We're getting better at it; even with one fuck-up, the second kayak took only ten minutes to go from completely folded-up to seaworthy. We immediately went for a paddle southeastward across the lake towards the hydroelectric dam that made the whole "lake" possible.
We'd made it perhaps 600 or 700 feet from our start when a motorboat drove up and asked if that was our Labrador swimming after us. We turned around, and off in the distance (occasionally disappearing behind an intervening wave) was Ramona doggedly doggy-paddling after us. She was already well out into the lake and would surely exhaust herself and drown if we didn't immediately turn around and get her back to shore. So we turned around, frantically paddled back to Ramona, and then led her towards the nearest stretch of coastline. This seemed like the only solution available; there was no way to haul her out of the water onto one of our kayaks, and (though clearly exhausted), she seemed to have the strength left to make it. If she'd begun to drown, we would have found a way to get my life vest onto her.
The section of shoreline where Ramona landed (43.065988N, 74.773191W) was very steep, but Ramona was able to follow us along the shoreline as we paddled back home. The whole way we couldn't help but wonder what would have happened had that guy on a motorboat not happened by to tell us about our dog.
This evening, I helped Gretchen prepare a simple Asian meal using thin rice noodles, mushrooms, kale, and water chestnuts. Without our own kitchen, we'd had to buy every little thing we needed (there wasn't much evidence of homemade Chinese meals having ever been been prepared in this cabin), and that included things like soy sauce (which we'd happened to remember) and seasame oil (which we hadn't).
Without internet, there wasn't much that could be done after dark except read. But at 10:00pm I was feeling sleepy enough to go to bed, and so I did. The bed was small and noisy, and the dirty masonite walls of the tiny bedroom reminded me of similar walls in the bedroom I shared with my brother from 1976 to 1990 (and where my brother still sleeps).
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