Many Adirondack trails have at least one three-sided shelter for camping, and they always seem placed in the most beautiful locations possible. These structures are called shelters on the Appalachian Trail, but here they’re called a “lean-to.” It’s hard to overstate the appeal of a lean-to on a backpacking trip. Even though they’re open at the front, I’d rather be in a lean-to in bad weather than a tent – after all, you can always hang a tarp over the front, and there is something so solid about a lean-to that offers a lot of comfort in a storm. And yet in good weather, you get to fall asleep to whatever view is just beyond the platform. In the Adirondacks, that view is almost always a good one. There’s also the undeniable attraction of falling sleep in the open summer air, instead of encased in the stuffiness of a tent draped in a rain fly.
One night we hiked to a lean-to on a big lake on the edge of the High Peaks Wilderness. We were harshly disciplined by the local insect hordes the night before, so this time we came armed. We placed two citronella candles on either end of the platform and built a fire in the ring. I lay on my sleeping pad staring up at the ceiling, the cool air soothing my mosquito bites. Most of my muscles kink up on the first day of hiking and stay that way for the rest of the trip, but lying there on my pad in the breeze, I came as close to I ever do to complete relaxation.
Every lean-to I’ve stayed at has had a shelter register, within which are written the official observations of those who cared to do so. But the ceiling and walls of a shelter often serve as an unofficial trail register. Recorded here are the more, shall we say, informal records of the shelter’s occupants. These were my reading material as I lay in the candlelight airing out my insect-abused skin.
As they say, it takes all kinds. No thought was too insignificant, too private or too apocryphal to memorialize on the timber ceiling. In 2009 someone in the shelter saw four bears (or perhaps the same bear, four times?). On 11-30-08, it was really, really cold and they had a HUGE fire. Small script on one of the two shelves wryly warned of poo-flinging otters. (There was a wetland a hundred yards off the left side of the shelter where the otters presumably lived.)
Another, more serious-minded hiker quoted Kant – or claimed to – in a perfect, swishing script. The Kant quote was written next to a decidedly less serious, but exuberant, proclamation: “I had a threesome here!” with a prominent arrow marking the spot in question. The arrow pointed directly down to where I’d placed my sleeping pad.
Great. As I once thought about walking in a post-wildfire landscape, time is the often the only difference between a pleasant moment and being caught in an entirely more dire circumstance.
My eye wandered just past the group-sex announcement. Another scrivener, possibly months later – or possibly not – scrawled “And I watched!” two inches to the right.
As they say on the Appalachian Trail, there’s always room for one more in a shelter.