We just got back from THE MOST INTENSE CAMPING TRIP EVER (Get it? In-tents? Anyone?)
Now, let me explain that my new husband and I have been camping since we could walk. I’ve been on some crazy trips, but this one takes the cake.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
We got married a few weeks ago (that tale is coming soon). Wedding planning was stressful. Making 200 heart shaped mugs by hand for our favors was a lot of work. We don’t plan to go on our actual honeymoon straight away, so we decided to spend a long weekend relaxing in the Adirondack mountains and enjoying our first week as a married couple. Oh, how wrong we were…
It was crazy from day one. Our house was a disaster from wedding planning and every surface was covered with new gifts. I spent the morning getting it into some kind of order, cleaning, and taking care of our plethora of plants and animals to make sure they made it through the six days we’d be gone. Michael pulled all of our camping gear out of the basement and packed it all into the car. Everything needed for six days in the wilderness with two humans and a dog, packed into one car. Before we knew it, it was 3:00 and we still had to buy groceries for the trip.
This, of course, would be the perfect time for Moose (the cat) to escape. So he did. Bolted out the door while we were loading the last of the gear and hid underneath the porch. He glared at us, sitting just a hair out of reach while we shined a flashlight at him and swore. Multiple attempts to sweet talk/scare him out failed us, and he just continued to sit there.
My dear husband had to get out the crowbar and rip the side of the porch off, then crawl into the two foot tall space to get the little brat. The looming threat of an angry bearded man made him bolt out the other side and into the house.
With the cat secured we finally loaded the last of our things into the car and hopped in. Poor Nico only had a small space to herself, but she got to ride high and mighty on top of our bedding, drooling all over it.
We finally hit the road at 3:30, stopped at the store for ice, food, and the much needed beer, and were on our way. An hour into the trip we hit a torrential downpour. It felt like we were driving underwater and couldn’t see more than 15 feet in front of us. Being on the thruway, there was no way to stop, we just had to power through it. Rain barreled down on us for over an hour before we finally broke through it.
We knew there was no way we’d get to our campsite before dark, so we planned to stop somewhere on the way. We happened upon a cute little campground as soon as we entered the Adirondack park and set up camp for the night. The people in the office originally assigned us a site out in the open, with bright sunshine bathing every square inch of it.
We went back to the office and told them that my epically pale ginger skin wouldn’t survive a day in that spot, so they gave us the spot across the road. Since we were the only ones camping in the whole park that night, we decided to take the three sites surrounding it as well and made ourselves a camping empire. We’re not very good at following rules.
Although the mosquitoes tore at us every chance they could get, we were happy to be off the road for the night. By the time we got the fire going and got settled it was dark, so we threw some hot dogs on the fire and chowed down on our first meal, happy campers indeed!
The only mishap on this night occurred when we attempted to dry our clothes next to the fire and Mike’s favorite t-shirt got a little too close for comfort. His favorite shirt is now his favorite belly shirt.
Next day we were packed up and on our way by 2:00, leaving behind the only easy-going, relaxing night we’d have all weekend.
We drove for hours and hours. The sun was shining from the cloud-free sky and we couldn’t wait to finally get to our site and get some relaxing done. I half-assedly looked at our friend’s directions to the site, reading something about following the trail from the parking lot. We figured the site would be just a few trees beyond the parking lot. We were wrong. Luckily we decided to check it out before taking any of our things in. We followed the winding, rocky trail for fifteen minutes before it ended at a giant, beautiful waterfall. The waterfall was gorgeous but there was clearly no place to set up camp.
Confused, we wandered back to the car to re-check the directions. Apparently to get to the site we had to cross over the brook at the waterfall site and it was just on the other side. We sat in the car for half an hour, drinking a beer and pondering our situation. Carrying heavy coolers and boxes full of cooking equipment, plus all our clothes and tent all that way did not sound relaxing to me. Just then it started to pour, and that sealed the deal. We wouldn’t be camping here.
We hit the road again, thinking if we kept driving on this main road, we’d find another place to camp soon. It was only 5:00 and we had several hours before sundown to find the perfect place.
Two hours later we still hadn’t found a single campsite. We pulled into Saranac Lake and saw lots of signs for cabins for rent. Perfect! It was pouring out, there was nowhere to camp, so let’s rent a cozy cabin and cuddle up for the night!
If only it were that easy.
The first place we stopped at had vacancy but wouldn’t allow a dog to stay. The second place had a giant sign out front that said NO DOGS so we didn’t even stop. Same thing at the third place. We drove through town after town, village after village, stopping at every cabin and cottage along the way, begging them to let us stay, but it was the same story every time. You can stay, but your dog can’t.
At one of these cabins, Michael knocked on the door of the office and a little old man came out to greet him.
“Hi there,” he said. “Do you have vacancy for tonight?”
To which the man replied sweetly, “Oh yes, we have plenty of room!”
Michael then asked, “Do you allow dogs?”
To which the man suddenly turned into a demon and screamed, “F**K NO WE DON’T ALLOW DOGS!! WHAT THE HELL KIND OF PLACE DO YOU THINK THIS IS? A GOD DAMNED ANIMAL JAMBOROO?!” and then proceeded to slam the door in my husband’s face, who just kept asking himself, what’s an animal jamboroo?
We decided to try one last location before giving up. It was called Ampersand Bay and looked wonderful. When we pulled into the driveway we saw guests playing outside with their dogs and thought, Yes! Finally somewhere that will take us!
Michael went inside to ask about a cabin for the night and didn’t come back for twenty minutes. I figured this must be a good sign, he hadn’t been turned away right off the bat. He finally returned with his head hung low and told me the sorry story.
They did allow dogs, and they did have vacancy. The problem was they had a two night minimum on cabins, and they were $200 per night. He told them we only needed one night, and could we possibly just pay the $200 for a one night stay.
The lady said, “Well we did have someone with an early checkout, so their cabin is available for one night.”
“Great! I’ll give you $200 right now for it.”
“Weeellll…” she said, ‘”Our cleaning staff is off duty and I don’t know where the cleaning supplies are.”
“Okay… well I see that you have camping here as well, could we get one of those sites from you?”
“Oh yes, we have camping, in fact we have 76 sites available right now, but you can only book them online and it has to be a week in advance.”
“So you’re telling me that we can’t stay at one of your many campsites at 8:00 on a Thursday night because we didn’t book ahead of time?”
“SIR, I DON’T THINK YOU UNDERSTAND. WE HAVE A HUNDRED FAMILIES COMING TO STAY HERE TOMORROW AND THEY HAVE ALREADY BOOKED THEIR LODGINGS.”
Ugh. We decided that people in this region of the Adirondacks must not like money, because they sure go well out of their way to avoid getting any. With much frustration and annoyance we got in the car and drove off.
After about half an hour of driving we came upon an Adirondack park sign that said something about fishing access. We pulled onto the drive to see if they had camping access too. We drove for about two miles when the road ended in a small parking lot surrounded by woods. The giant wooden sign clearly said camping is prohibited within 150 feet of any road, trail, or waterway, which pretty accurately described the place we were standing.
Just as we were about to hop back in the car and drive away, we spotted a wooden bridge going over the lake onto a peninsula beyond. Dark was coming fast and it had started pouring again. We were desperate for a place to stay so we followed it. At the end of the bridge, trails branched off in every direction. Michael went tromping off into the woods and returned five minutes later stating: I’ve found our campsite.
We went back to the car and started gathering supplies. He grabbed the tent and ran ahead to start setting it up. Since it was pouring, I couldn’t take up any of our bedding or clothes, so I grabbed the food cooler and lugged it across the bridge. When I got to the other side and took a look around at the many trails leading away into the woods, I felt a bit panicky. There was no telling which direction our campsite was in, and I wasn’t about to go wandering into the dark woods alone.
Just as I was about to head back to the car and wait for Mike to come back, I heard a jingly jangly sound. It was my faithful puppy, who came back to find me and take me to the site. Up we went, stumbling over logs and roots, blindly walking through the dark and secretly hoping the boogeyman wasn’t going to pop out at me from behind a tree. I was putting complete trust in Nico to lead me to the site, since I’d never been there and couldn’t see a thing. She came through and I finally emerged into the most beautiful campsite I’d ever seen. It was on the top of a giant wooded hill, overlooking Lake Saranac.
It was then that I realized there was no way we could make a cooking fire in this rain and I’d lugged the food cooler up for no reason. I turned right back around and lugged the stupid thing back to the car. We brought up only essentials for the night, making multiple trips up and down the hill, and finally collapsed, sopping wet into the tent.
A cloud of mosquitoes followed us in and we spent fifteen minutes in a frantic and violent massacre to take care of every one of them. Our tent walls were covered in the blood of our victory. One damp towel was used to dry off all three of us and we comforted ourselves with an abundance of beers and cheese. We talked about our wedding vows, one part of which we literally stated to be there for each other through the sunshine and through the rain.
When the beers were gone, we moved on to our bottle of wedding champagne, passing it back and forth while telling camping stories from our childhood. We spent the whole night in the tent, talking and listening to the wolves howl from miles away and the loons croon on the lake below.
The next morning I awoke with the sun and peered out the tent window to see a yellow sign posted to a tree. Does that say… camping prohibited? Putting on my glasses confirmed it and when Michael woke up we had to tear down our lovely campsite. We couldn’t even enjoy a few minutes of basking in the beauty of it, because the horseflies and mosquitoes were eating us alive.
We packed up our camp and took a few trips down to the car. On one of these trips, Mike was walking with one gun on each shoulder (brought for emergency protection) to the car. There was a group of teenagers playing and splashing in the water at the beach. They were having a grand old time, until my husband waltzed out of the woods toting two guns. Dead silence. He smiled and said hello. They all just stared at him, probably wondering if they were going to be the victims of some crazy Adirondack massacre, or at least wondering what a bearded and shirtless mountain man was doing in the woods all by himself with two guns. They promptly left right after this encounter.
Before hitting the road, we did manage to get the money shot of the trip, a Saranac bottle with its picturesque label, in front of the exact same scene on Saranac Lake.
We were on the road again, and searching for a new place to camp. A friend recommended Moose River Plains, which is free, and we drove straight there. After some difficulty finding the campground, we finally entered it and drove 11 miles into the park, looking for the perfect campsite.
Nico was whining and bouncing around in her seat, so we pulled over to let her out for a moment and Mike hiked ahead, following the sound of running water. He came back and announced that he’d found our campsite. Just up the road was a beautiful babbling brook with a site right next to it, complete with picnic table and fire pit. It was perfect, the dream spot. We managed to get the car down the steep, wooded hill into the site. Unloading and setting up camp was a breeze and we were so excited to finally have a spot that we could stay in for longer than just one night.
We gathered some rocks down by the brook to enclose our fire pit. Nico waded in the water, chasing after minnows. Mike tossed a small stone into the water and without warning, the dog took off after it. Before she knew what was happening she was past the point of being able to touch the bottom and the current was pulling her away.
I was on the other side of the brook, watching this whole fiasco. I called frantically to her and she whined and swam with all her might. This dog, who had never swam in her whole life, was pitifully struggling and I was ready to jump in after her. She finally managed to make it to the other side and was rewarded with many exclamations of how proud we were of our baby swimming for the first time.
I wandered around the area searching for firewood and found an abundance of wild blueberries. I collected a bowl full of them and returned to camp. It was then that I realized I was bleeding. It was dripping down my arm from a tiny little puncture. On closer inspection, I had about fifteen of these puncture wounds all over my arms and chest that were also bleeding.
Black Flies. I thought they had just been gnats flying around me but they were indeed the blood sucking little monsters that penetrated my shield of bug spray and feasted on my precious ginger blood. Swearing at them and covering up with my only long sleeve shirt helped a bit.
We bathed in the cold brook water and marveled at the fact that this brown water was actually making us more clean. We were THAT dirty.
We set up a kitchen, complete with an overhead rain cover. Mike made the most amazing lamb burgers for dinner on the open fire. We hung a clothesline and set our things to dry on our makeshift clothesline. Finally comfortable, we set down in front of the fire, ready to relax for the rest of the night. We got out a couple of hotdogs for a snack and prepared to roast them on the fire. And then the thunder started rumbling in the distance.
Oh, it’ll pass, won’t even touch us, we kept telling ourselves as it grew ever nearer. I could feel the air changing, the static making the hair stand up on my arms. Wind started whipping at our faces and the sky went from blue to black in an instant. It hit all at once, a sudden downpour of Adirondack fury hurtling out of the sky. Our *just* dried clothes on the line were instantly soaked again and our rain fly, heavy with thirty seconds of rain, came crashing down over our picnic table.
After grabbing the essentials (beers), Nico and I went running for the tent and collapsed in a heap onto our dry bedding. I called for Mike to join us, but he refused. I tried to see what he was doing through the downpour, and could see he was fanning the fire and adding twigs to it.
Why was he trying to keep the fire going in this downpour?
A minute later he was dropping an armful of food off in the tent: ketchup, mustard, cheez-its, and hot dog buns. My sweet, sweet husband was not giving up on our hotdog snacks.
I watched as he kneeled in front of the fire, fanning it with one hand, roasting our hotdogs in the other. The rain was beating down on him and the lightening was crashing down just a mile away from our camp, but he stood his ground. This is a man who is truly, 100 percent dedicated to my happiness.
As I watched him, I thought to myself: Remember this moment, never forget it. No matter how crazy things get in this new life together, always remember that this man risked his life and willingly sat in torrential downpours to make you happy. And, I must say, it was the best hot dog I’ve ever had.
The next morning we woke up and it seemed as if the rain had subsided. That is, until Mike set foot outside the tent, when it immediately started raining again. He came back in and we sat there, watching it for half an hour. It stopped and again he went outside, at which point, no joke, it started raining again. We covered up the best we could and just dealt with it.
After we got all amped up on coffee and made some breakfast we decided it was time to take a drive into town to get some ice and wood. The three of us happily hopped in the car and attempted to climb the slippery slope up to the road. We got about halfway up before the wheel got lodged in mud and we slid back down, crashing into a tree on the way. A second try found the same results. We got out and found the rut we were getting stuck in and filled it with twigs and branches. We tried again and made a new rut, a few inches to the left of the first one. As you could guess, this is when it started to rain again.
We spent the next forty five minutes in the pouring rain, collecting bits of wood to lay down in the mud so the wheels could get some traction. This is when the park ranger decided to stop by. We were both bent over, sopping wet and covered in mud, when she asked:
“Hey, is that your camp down there?”
“Yes, that would be us.”
“Yeah, ya can’t camp there.”
“What do you mean, we can’t camp there? There’s a picnic table and a fire pit down there.”
“Ughhh, did someone drag a picnic table down there AGAIN? I don’t know who keeps doing that, but it’s not a camping area. You can’t camp anywhere within 150 feet of a waterway.”
“Oh, because of flash flooding. Yeah, with all this rain we’ve been getting that creek could suddenly overflow and carry y’all away with it. All that’d be left of ya would be what ya had tied to the trees, and I just don’t want to find that down there.”
“Okay, we’ll move just as soon as we can get our car out of there.”
“HOW DID YOU GET YOUR CAR DOWN THERE?”
“Oh, we drove.”
To that she drove away, and we continued trying to get our Dodge Neon out of the swamp. A nice gentleman with a pickup truck tried to help, but couldn’t find anywhere on our car to hook up a rope so that was a no-go. At one point we got the car so far up the hill that it was three inches from the road, but didn’t have enough stamina to get over the lip of the road, so it slid back down again.
Finally we decided to take down the tent so we’d have an extra couple of feet for momentum. I was up on the road, having just laid down a fresh batch of twigs and sticks for traction. Mike was driving with Nico riding shotgun and loving every minute of it.
He revved the engine and gunned it at the bottom of the hill, flying up through the trees, crushing bushes and flowers in his wake, he came crashing through the woods to come out on the road, finally free. It took us about thirty seconds to decide we were absolutely, 100 percent, finished with the Adirondacks. We packed up our tent for the last time, scooped up our sopping wet clothes, and started on our drive home.
The real kicker is that the rainstorm during our attempt to get the car up the hill was the last of it. According to our friend who arrived to camp just as we were leaving, the next three days in the Adirondack park were beautifully sunny without a drop of precipitation.
On the way home we returned to Hinckley Lake and enjoyed some beers and pizza in a park while Nico enjoyed a moose cookie.
Coming home was one of the best things ever. We didn’t leave the house for days, basking in the glory of dry clothing and eating food other than hotdogs. Nico was the only one who wasn’t happy to return, as she had turned into a wild hippie dog on the trip.
Even though I like to call our trip ‘The Honeymoon from Hell,’ I’m glad it happened. It was definitely one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken and we had plenty of good times in between all the struggles. Our marriage was put to the test in its first week and we survived it. We came out of that rainstorm a stronger couple, ready to take on anything the world can throw at us.
Happy (hopefully not Adirondack) trails to you!