“Can we leave?” asked one of the boys on waking up. “Yeah,” the other one said. “Can we?”
“What?” Travis and I asked in unison. We were confused; we’d asked both boys the day before if they wanted to stay another day and both had enthusiastically upvoted the idea. Twelve hours later, tunes had changed.
“I’m getting eaten to death by the bugs,” the kid said. “I have sweet blood or something.”
This was true. He’d been a smorgasbord for the bugs ever since we got there. All of us had. As he spoke, a small trickle of blood was drying on my earlobe from my latest bite.
When you’re with kids in the outdoors, you have to walk a narrow line between letting them experience the ups and downs, the discomforts followed by sweet relief, and turning them off the enterprise entirely. I could see he was miserable. I suggested that we try a few things to alleviate the insect problem, and revisit the issue later in the day. Spirits lifted considerably when we all went swimming, and I thought we might make it another night. But the bugs got much worse later in the day, as they had since we arrived, and you could almost see his mood spiral downward. No amount of repellent could keep them away from him. This kid is almost always cheerful and easygoing, as well as physically tough, and I watched his downward slide with concern. I called Travis over and told him I thought we should consider heading in. I thought he might actually become ill, and with the sun fading, we needed to decide.
We agreed on a plan where he and the boys would paddle out and I would hike out with my camera pack. We would then find a place to stay in Long Lake or Blue Mountain, and paddle back in the next day for the rest of our gear. I watched them paddle back in the deep honey light of evening, feeling a little sad to be heading back to the containment of four walls. The evening looked clear, but I packed everything in the bear box and tossed everything in the tent that couldn’t get wet, and generally secured the site before leaving.
It’s a good thing I did, because four hours later, the place would be under assault by 85 m.p.h. winds and a violent thunderstorm that would blow whole trees across the roads in that region of the Adirondacks. In our hotel in Long Lake, in a touch of piquant irony, the power went out, and all of our lanterns and headlamps were back at our site in the tent. It would have been a terrifying night to be out in a tent. We learned from a ranger that two of the few other people on the lake spent the night holding their tent up to keep it from collapsing in the wind.
Psychic bug bites.
The next morning when we went back for our gear, the skies were still dark and moody. We left the boys in the car and prepared to put in. The lake that yesterday had been so calm actually had white caps on it now. We dumped water from the canoe and were generally unenthusiastic about the prospect of two trips in the canoe to retrieve gear. The ranger came by and asked if we’d prefer a rowboat. This seemed like a good idea; rowboats are larger and it would only take one trip.
“I haven’t done this since I was a kid,” Travis said.
Those were prescient words, unfortunately, because they meant that he had forgotten how much harder rowboats are to paddle and navigate, especially in an ever-changing wind. Thirty minutes later, the temperature had dropped substantially and a steady rain began to fall. My attempts to navigate us were a complete failure. He was getting bonked, we were hitting rocks, and we still had a boatload of gear — literally — waiting for us. We were only halfway there. We had left the kids in the car, including the one with the big muscles, because we thought this would not be a hellish trip and we could spare them the insects.
When things get dicey, I tend to get bossy. I don’t know why; it just happens. But it usually works, in this case because I hadn’t just drained all of my energy trying to move a boat from Point A to Point Hell. “That’s it,” I said. “Go to shore and tie it up,” I said. We spent several more hours-long minutes getting there, but finally I hopped out and tied the thing up. “I’m hiking back to get Deryk,” I said. You can either rest or start hiking the other way and bring stuff down here.”
Then I turned and left. I wasn’t sure if he would be mad at me for becoming a little autocratic, but I felt like the one who still had some glucose in her brain ought to make some decisions. I hit the trail with more verve than I probably should’ve had, but I had been annoyed by having to sit still in the boat. I trail-ran the whole way, leaping over rocks and roots with more agility and spring than I’ve felt in months. A cool rain drizzled on my face and kept my body temperature at a reasonable point. Finally I reached the car and burst in, surprising the occupants.
“All hands on deck, peeps!”
I’ve seen people look happier to see me serving them a summons and complaint. To their credit, though, they got out of the car and started trudging into the forest with me.
When we finally got the giant rowboat to our campsite using the muscles of two grown men, we saw that the tent was on its side, folded over on itself, with all the contents similarly arranged. It would have been a gnarly night. We probably could’ve held the tent up though.