It started with our watercraft, my Great Aunt Marnie’s guideboat. It was built in the late 1800’s by renowned guideboat builder Theodore Hanmer. According to legend it was made with green wood and as a result it sprung apart and had to be rebuilt. In the early 1950s it was stolen from the Mark Twain Camp, its stern sawed off and a square stern added. Later the guideboat was found, along with the original stern, which was then reattached. All of this added to the boat’s lore. The boat’s crowning bit of history, however, was that it was the boat Mark Twain used during his stay here in 1901.
All of this didn’t mean diddly squat to my dad as he prepared to row my brother and me to my great aunt’s platform camp on Gravelly Point. My mother hitched a ride with my great aunt in her motorboat, along with her food and equipment. It turned out to be a smart move: the guideboat’s history had taken a toll on the poor craft leaving it about as seaworthy as the Titanic – after hitting the iceberg.
I was in the bow, my brother amidships, with my dad rowing from the stern. Water came in at a steady clip around the numerous cracked ribs forcing us to bail the entire way. Fortunately, it started out a fine day and it was only three miles to camp, so we made it without incident.
And then there was the weather. We’ve all experienced rainy Adirondack camping trips but this one ranked up there with Noah’s forty days and forty nights. It started raining upon our arrival at camp and didn’t stop till we returned two days later.
Once at camp my parents set up their state-of-the-art waterproof tent, while I helped my brother set up our army surplus pup tent – leftover from the battle of Bull Run.
It was 18” high and made of cotton canvas. Canvas tents become waterproof as the rain falls on the tent and the cotton fibers swell. It works until you touch the sides of the tent and break the surface tension. Given that our tent was barely larger than a coffin it was impossible to keep from touching the tent walls.
“Don’t touch the sides,” my brother said.
“Too late,” I said. Water seeped in steadily, making our kapok-filled sleeping bags wetter than an otter’s pocket.
The next morning the rain let up slightly. My brother and I wrung out our clothes, put them on, and climbed out of our sopping cocoon to my mother’s hearty pancake breakfast. After breakfast the rain deluge started once again. My father, brother, and I were to row to Middle Saranac on a fishing expedition. We didn’t make it. Between the leaky boat and pouring rain we turned around about a mile from camp. We made it back soaked from head to toe, and my brother and I returned to our saturated tabernacle.
The next day we rowed back to my great aunt’s – once again in the rain. A hot bath, dinner with my great aunt, and a good night’s sleep wrapped up our weekend. We then headed home, drier, and wiser.
When I think back to that first camping trip, I wonder how I ever fell in love with the Adirondacks. You’d think that a leaky boat, a leaky tent, and constant rain would put a damper on things. (pun intended) But the opposite happened, and somehow, we fell in love with the place. If you don’t believe me, just check my great aunt’s guestbook from that weekend: My brother called Lower Saranac Lake, “The place of the wonderful time.”
Two things I learned about getting wet that weekend have served me well throughout my life. First, when you get wet, (and we were always wet that weekend) it doesn’t have to take away from the fun. And second, and most important of all, you eventually dry out – with or without a towel.