May 14 2015
As I mentioned in an earlier column, I’m hoping to go home again this fall — largely by water. It’s a journey of some 200 miles across the Adirondack mountains, and I’ll want to get back (another 200 miles) before the snow starts flying in earnest, so I’ll be traveling light: pack canoe, rucksack, and as little else as is compatible with comfort and safety. It won’t all be paddling, either. I can count on doing a fair bit of wading, with a little lining and tracking thrown in for good measure. And then there are the portages, some of which will require that I bushwhack over heights of land. I may even have to do some light bouldering. The upshot? Every ounce counts. But at least the biting flies will have retired for the year — or so I hope.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a wilderness trek, and the country I’ll be traversing certainly isn’t the sort described in the rather purple prose of the Wilderness Act. There’s probably no place in New York whose “community of life” could be said to be “untrammeled by man.” In truth, there’s no such place on earth. We’ve left our pug marks (and our garbage) everywhere. Nor will I be journeying through a landscape where “man … is a visitor who does not remain.” Every banker, movie star, and plastic surgeon east of the Mississippi now owns a gated enclave in the Adirondack Park. (Yes, I’m exaggerating. But not by much.)
All of which being said, there’s a lot of wildness — that’s wildness, not wilderness — left in those odd corners of New York that are too boggy (or too buggy) to interest the developers. The taxpayers own a good bit of property, too, much of it enjoying at least some degree of protection under the “forever wild” clause of the state constitution. To be sure, this protection is steadily being nibbled away. But much of the Adirondacks is still blessedly free of both strip malls and rustic McMansions. And it’s my country. I’ve been knocking about in its hills and on its waters since I was a girl.
So I’m looking forward to going home again and revisiting some of my old haunts. I have one nagging worry, however: drinking water. Yes, the Adirondacks is a well‑watered place, but paddling is thirsty work, and there’s really no way for me to know if the water under my keel is drinkable. The only valid rule of thumb was articulated many years ago by veteran desert walker Colin Fletcher: “If in doubt, doubt.” Of course, back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to find a dented tin cup upturned on a stick alongside most streams and spring holes. And I drank my fill at such informal watering spots many times without any qualms. But times change. Nowadays there’s likely to be a 100‑unit second‑home development just a mile upstream. Or maybe the last person to pass by decided the spring hole was the perfect place to do her laundry, including her baby’s dirty diapers. Or the trail might be popular with local dog‑walkers, all of whom think pooper‑scoopers are just for city folk.
Which is probably why you don’t see many tin cups by streams these days — and why I’m left with only Fletcher’s Law to guide me: If in doubt, doubt. And then? I treat the water… Read more…
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