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What's the Point?

Okay, so we know how I’ll benefit from this endeavor. I’ll gain experience in the great outdoors that will help me write a better book set in the Adirondacks. But you, my dear reader, may well be asking, “What’s in all this for me?” Hopefully you’ll gain a little knowledge, have a few laughs, and vicariously enjoy a sense of adventure. Think of it as a modern-day Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, where you get to sit comfortably at your computer screen – much like Marlin Perkins watching from a safe distance behind some bushes. I, on the other hand, will go out into the wild, ala Jim Fowler, and do all the heavy lifting in an effort to entertain you.

            Well, on second thought…

Entries in Adirondak Loj (3)


(Spell) check, please! The Adirondak Loj


  The other morning I was helping my first grader with his spelling words. He was having a hard time, particularly with fur, sir, and her. It was difficult to figure out a way to help him remember which vowel went with which word when they all sounded the same. The pressure was mounting because, as everyone knows, if you start blowing spelling tests in first grade it’s downhill from there. He’ll only be able to  get into some second-rate college and wind up with some dead end, loser job like writing a blog. The more we worked on the spelling words, the later I was becoming for my job writing a blog. So you can see how the whole situation was pretty stressful.

            One of the things I had to do that day for my blog-writing job was sign up to go snowshoeing at the Adirondack Lodge. Imagine my surprise when I found out it’s actually spelled Adirondak Loj. My first reaction was relief. Even if my son never masters spelling, he might be able to get a job someday at a place where no one bats an eye when you spell lodge “loj.” But then I got to thinking (I hate when that happens). I know the Adirondak Loj is pretty remote, but shouldn’t they at least have spell check? I decided to investigate further.

            Turns out, the spelling was decided by a previous owner: Melvil Dewey. If the name rings a bell, it’s probably because you’ve used the Dewey Decimal system to look up a book at the library – a system that he invented. Dewey was also the founder of the Lake Placid Club and an advocate of spelling reform.



   Ah, now it begins to make sense. Seems old Melvil (whose name was originally spelled Melville) believed we all should use “simpler spelin.” So it made sense to Mr. Dewey (or should that be Dooey?) to spell “lodge” the way it sounds – “loj” and “Adirondack” as “Adirondak.” He was even able to convince the Lake Placid Club to use his modified spelling on their menus. A menu from 1927 offered “Hadok, Poted beef with noodls, Parsli or Masht potato, Butr, Steamd rys, Letis, and Ys cream.” Although he lost me at the “Ys cream” (wise cream?), I had to admit, given the vagaries of English spelling, that his system had some basis in logic. Too bad his simpler spelin never caught on, especially with my son’s spelling test looming.

            But then I thought back to my college days when I was a waitress at a busy Lake George restaurant. Every summer I’d wait on downstate city slickers who thought upstaters were backwards because we don’t charge tolls to cross a river. Some customers would talk really slowly (which they thought was very funny – so much for sophisticated metropolitan wit) as if I’d be confused by such high falutin’ phrases as “I’d like my steak medium” and “where’s the restroom.” Little did they know I was not only capable of following normal conversations, but I could also calculate 15% of any number faster than they could say, “check please.”



            So I guess it’s just as well that Dewey’s spelling never took hold. Imagine what the downstate folks would say if our menu read like the one from the Lake Placid Club. They’d probably laff.




Conquering Mount Jo

The day of the family snowshoe outing arrived with warmer temperatures than on our original outing date (See Gearing Up to Snowshoe, March 8), which wasn’t saying much given the frigid conditions in January. But today it was snowing. In February – imagine that. And people wonder why I like staying inside.

Ryan Doyle, outdoor leadership coordinator for the Adirondack Mountain Club, was our guide for the day after apparently having the misfortune of drawing the short straw. My family was the only one signed up for the outing, so he probably figured it would be an easy day. He was wrong.

Ryan suggested we climb Mount Jo on snowshoes. He’d taken a family with little snowshoeing experience on that same hike the week before. Not only had that other family easily completed the hike, they’d had enough time to have lunch then hike around Heart Lake. I guess that’s when my competitive side kicked in, because I wasn’t going to let that “other family” show us up. Or maybe the elastic in my long underwear was too tight and was affecting the amount of oxygen that was making it to my brain – at least to that part of my brain that controls judgment. Because when Ryan asked if we were up for the same hike, I said, “Yes.”


Here’s the thing: Mount Jo is an actual mountain and we were on snowshoes (not to belabor the point about snowshoes, but I want to make it clear that we didn’t have jetpacks strapped to our backs). Outdoorsy types refer to Mount Jo as an easy 710-foot climb. But that’s 710 feet uphill. (And don’t forget – no jetpacks)



We start out by snowshoeing onto Heart Lake. I’m last in line, behind my 6-year-old son. All the fresh snow makes for slow going, so there’s lots of whining and crying. But eventually I calm down and catch up to everyone.



Then we head onto the trail and up the mountain. This is where I begin to wonder when the “easy” part of “easy climb” kicks in – probably back at the Loj when I put on my snowshoes. You’d think that a 710-foot climb would mean Iwould take approximately 710 steps to get to the top. But that would assume that each step propelled me in a forward direction. Unfortunately there were several steep sections where each step forwards sent me sliding several feet backwards. So, after approximately 3,500 steps (give or take a dozen), I made it to the top.



Here are some of the things I learned:

        1)            Black bears in the northeast do not hibernate all winter long, but will wake up during winter         thaws to forage for food. Now they tell me! This provided excellent incentive for me to keep moving and stay with the group.

        2)            The odds that you will meet a snowshoer going in the opposite direction will be directly proportional to the steepness, tightness, and general difficulty of the trail at the point at which you meet them.

        3)            When meeting a snowshoer in above situation, I will fall.

        4)            There’s not much to see at the top of a mountain when it’s snowing.

        5)            When you reach the top of the mountain, you are not done. You still have to get back down.

            Eventually, we did make it back down to the Loj in one piece and without spotting any bears. We’d worked up quite an appetite for our (very) late lunch. And there was no time for a hike around Heart Lake – like that “other family” did – because the sun was getting ready to set at any moment. But my kids had a blast, my husband was a good sport, and I had fodder for my blog. That, and a sore bum.

Here I am, taking a break from looking for bear tracks to pose at the top of Mount Everest, I mean, Mount Jo.



Gearing Up to Snowshoe

            Now that I’d plunged into this endeavor (literally, see Taking the Plunge post), I figured it was okay to ease up a bit. And why should I go through this alone? Wouldn’t it be better to drag my family along with the excuse of spending a little quality time together in the Adirondacks? That was my thinking, anyway, when I signed us all up for the Family Snowshoe Day at the Adirondak Loj at Heart Lake. I was attracted to the activity because it seemed like a good starting point for a beginner. After all, if the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) felt that six-year-olds could handle it, there was a chance I might be able to handle it, too.

            But then they emailed me the supply list for the outing – and it was four pages long. I was starting to question my choice of “beginner” activity. My family has lots of stuff, almost all of it geared for life indoors. So it quickly became clear we’d need to buy most of the items on the list. A lot of it was considered “required,” that is, you’d better have it if you wanted to survive. Since nothing puts a damper on a family outing like dying, it was time to go shopping.

            Even the items we did have turned out not to be made of the right material. Only wool, fleece and polypropylene were allowed. No cotton because it absorbs and retains water, drawing heat away from the body. Experienced outdoors people will tell you: cotton kills. According to the ADK, “cotton clothing is deadly in the backcountry and is not to be risked.” With word like those, I not only began to fear the contents of my sock drawer, I also wondered just what I’d gotten us into.

            My husband’s outdoor gear was best suited for a round of 18 holes, so he was starting from scratch. He came home with a load of stuff, including 5k pants. At first I thought 5k referred to distance, as in “I’m going to snowshoe 5k (3.1 miles) in these pants.” But when I looked at the receipt for just his stuff, then multiplied it by four, I started to think 5k meant 5 grand – because this was costing us a fortune. Nature may be free, but apparently the price tag for surviving in nature can be quite hefty.

            As the day of the outing drew nearer, my husband began tracking the long-range weather forecast. Just our luck – the weekend was going to be, as they say in Boston, wicked cold. “Do you think they’ll cancel it?” I asked. I became truly worried when my husband, who is my optimistic half, said, “Are you kidding? These people are from Lake Placid. Subzero temperatures are just another day for them.” At least he refrained from adding, “thanks a lot for signing us up.”

            The morning before our ordeal – I mean outing – Ryan Doyle, a guide from the ADK, called, wanting to know if we were still interested in snowshoeing the next day given the cold temperatures. “Well, we really are just beginners,” I said, grossly overstating my family’s skill level. Ryan said the projected high for the next day was 5˚, with a wind chill of minus 20. “We can still do it if you want to, but we’d be ducking in and out all day. With temperatures like that, it’s more about survival skills than having a fun day outside.”

            I tried my best at a lighthearted laugh that I hoped sounded natural – like it’s what I always do when faced with death. Then, to reinforce the concept that I was no wimp, I threw the ball back in his court, “But if you think it’s better to reschedule.” I let my voice trail off. Thankfully, Ryan said he’d email a list of alternate dates so we could reschedule.

            Now we had Saturday off. I wasn’t sure how we’d spend a whole day of quality time together as a family. But odds were good, whatever the activity, we’d be doing it inside.