JULY: Canoe Camping at Cheney Pond
Nature vs. Nurture: Can the art of camping be learned?
“Oh, by the way, you can’t swim in Cheney Pond.” My eyebrows sank together, my nose scrunched up, “Why not?” “The leeches of course.” Ah yes, the leeches. Wait, what? He slipped the leeches tidbit in last minute as if it was no big deal. Which—thankfully, it wasn’t—further exemplified the different worlds we derive from. His of leeches, ponds, and mountains, mine of crosswalks, skyscrapers, and 24-hour diners. The city mouse and country mouse sharing their universes, this time, traversing into his for some canoe camping.
While I’ve been camping a number of times, I still feel as if I don’t really know what I’m doing. Camping seems to be something people who grow up in the thick of nature innately get, they’re raised on clean air and canoes. They know how to build a fire and pitch a tent because they’ve been doing it since before they can remember. They know these things the same way I know you never stop on the left side of an escalator, or short on a sidewalk, and you never, never block the corner, not unless you want someone to barrel you over (which they have every right to do, why would you stand there?). I know without ever being taught that the fastest way through any city is by navigating the curb where the crowd thins out and only the serious trod along. No one ever had to tell me that the “don’t walk” signal is merely a suggestion, but I did have to learn on this trip the “right way” to paddle with an oar.
Small Town Surprises
You’ve probably never heard of Newcomb, NY. If you have, I’m going to guess you’re either from somewhere near this modest, charming Adirondack town, you’re one of the approximate 400 people that currently live there, or, like my boyfriend, you grew up there.
It’s where the Hudson River begins its long winding journey as nothing more than a fresh-water trickle that I once skipped a rock across, where elite 19th century families went to escape the hustle and bustle of city life at the Great Camp, Santanoni (which you can still tour and visit today), and it’s the heart of the Adirondack State Park.
But unlike Lake Placid, Lake George, Old Forge, or even Tupper Lake with its newfound Wild Walk fame, this untouched and peaceful town isn’t widely known beyond the locals. Those who are lucky enough to visit are spoiled by the languid lakes and streams, a stay at Lake Harris state campground, and hikes like the challenging climb up Santanoni Peak’s rockslide, one of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, with its alluring views and abundance of wildlife.
Well I’ll Be Damned
This sweep across Cheney Pond was my first foray into canoe camping. I’ve hiked into campgrounds with loaded backpacks, and even tried car camping once or twice, but I’ve never filled up a canoe and spent an entire weekend sleeping on a beach. Usually, we’ll hike all day, eat an MRE (for my city friends that’s a Meal Ready to Eat), and head to bed exhausted, yet energized.
Having a canoe on the other hand, meant we could fill a cooler up and cook Italian sausage, red potatoes, and garlic and butter vegetables for dinner, for lunch there were cherries, cheese and crackers, hummus, or peanut butter and jelly, and in the morning we toasted waffles, and breakfast sausages (yeah, it was a bit of a sausage fest *baddum cha*). Instead of hiking, we spent our days lounging in a hammock reading books and cruising down the Boreas River. Well, cruising until we hit a beaver dam . . . and then another . . . and another. Apparently, lifting your canoe out of the water and shoving it over these dams is the obvious and accepted solution—turning around is not.
I don’t really know how to camp. Yes, I know how to put up the one and only tent I’ve ever used, I think I’ve finally mastered the difference between softwood and hardwood and when I’m supposed to use which while building a fire, and I’ve perfected my paddling technique. Yet, I still don’t know how to secure a canoe to a car the way the nice woman at Cloud-Splitter Outfitters did, or how to whittle my own hot dog stick. Maybe someday I’ll transform into an instinctual camper, someone who does the right thing without asking questions or doubting myself. But for now, I can simply excel at stargazing, celebrate the gray, hazy aroma of a fledgling campfire, and keep asking silly questions. And that may be good enough, besides who wants to get used to sleeping on the ground, bug bites, and not bathing anyway?
(My boyfriend, the self-appointed, unofficial spokesman for Newcomb, also wants you to know: "Newcomb is quaint, with small town charm to spare, a great beach, beautiful golf course, and of course Scoops Ice Cream").