Even the best plans can go astray. Sometimes it can be due to accident or injury. Other times, illness torpedoes even the best laid plans. So, when my sinus drip becomes a flood and my throat feels as if I swallowed a Brillo pad, I know I am in trouble. Just days until Birdathon 2013 occurs.
With my Birdathon participation in jeopardy for the second year in a row, I initiate a full-blown assault on whatever virus infected my poor body. No treatment goes untried, from complete rest, including taking four days off from my job, popping Cold-Eeze like candy, imbibing fluids until I leek from every orifice and anything else I can think of, regardless of its basis in scientific fact.
I abandon all plans for leaving on Thursday and having a four-day trip, despite the optimal weather conditions of mostly sunny and comfortable temperatures. Just packing for the trip proves exhausting, despite all my previous restful days. My head remains clogged with congestion and my energy levels low; a state of blah follows me wherever I go and no matter what I do.
View Day One, Part One in a larger map
Date: May 17, 2013
Length: 0.9 miles (0.9 total daily miles)
Difficulty: Difficult (due to sickness and elevation)
When the day before the big event arrives, the predicted weather conditions for the weekend compel me to go for it, despite the blah-feeling still dogging me. My recuperative progress is nothing but spectacular, and after coming down with the brutal head cold only four days before, I am packed and driving up to Stillwater Reservoir by eleven in the morning on Friday, albeit blowing my nose incessantly the entire way.
The drive is uneventful, with the exception of the Black River around Lowville, NY being much lower than I can ever remember at this time of the year. Usually, the river is flooding the surrounding fields, but now it is at least three feet below its normal level, with the exposed and considerably dried-out clay banks contrasting with the dark water. Little did I know how these conditions would reverse themselves within less than a month.
I roll into Stillwater Reservoir in early afternoon. Driving into the large parking lot that makes up the center of the hamlet, I check out the payphone that I will need to report my results on Sunday. I forgot my cellphone in my other pants (i.e. I do not own one), but it probably would not work in this remote outpost of civilization anyways.
The payphone is still present and working. Heading over to use the restrooms, I notice the fullness of the parking lot. A SUV occupies almost every spot, each one pulling some type of boat trailer; the Reservoir is busy this weekend. A colorful sign hangs on the bulletin board, warning of the hazards of ticks and Lyme Disease. Are deer ticks common in this part of the Adirondacks? Has Lyme disease been found here?
After taking care of my personal business, I return to my car and start toward the parking area down below the dam at the end of the cleverly named, Necessary Dam Road. The narrow dirt road follows along the Reservoir’s northeastern shoreline, frequently passing many camps along the way. Two wild turkeys cross the road on the way, scrambling to put as much distance between me and themselves as possible.
Wild turkeys this far into the Adirondacks? That is surprising; I remember when there were no wild turkeys in New York, let alone in northern New York.
The parking lot below the dam is empty, although the lot is more of a turnaround than anything else. I eat a late lunch, take advantage of the roomy privy at the near-by disabled-friendly campsite and do my last minute packing before departing for my three-day trip.
While packing, the feeling that something is missing nags at me. Furiously, I go through a mental checklist, but nothing comes to mind. As I scan the hillside, tinted with the light green of the recently emerged nascent leaves, it finally dawns on me.
Where are the black flies?
That scourge of the northwoods in spring, largely missing from the parking lot, leaves me feeling rather anxious. Have they not hatched yet? Or have they already run their course this year? I prefer the later, but I fear for the former, especially if they decide to hatch this weekend. Will they satisfy their ravenous hunger on my tasty blood, if they do?
Then again, maybe my virus tainted blood naturally deters the pesky insects.
Quickly signing myself in at the register, which is devoid of any interesting entries, with most going to Raven Lake and the surrounding area. What a pity that few people stray very far from the dirt road to enjoy the beauty of the Adirondacks on its own terms.
Passing the barrier, I walk across the bridge spanning the Beaver River, observing a golf cart driving along at the base of the dam upriver, generally traveling in the same direction as myself.
On the opposite of the side of the river, the road, now called Raven Lake Road, passes a beaver meadow, just before it begins climbing steeply. I pause here, watching and listening at the wetland for anything interesting. A common raven flies over, something dangling from its beak, either a snake tail or a frog leg. In the distance, northern spring peepers are calling.
As I stand here, I watch the tree canopy sway in the breeze, below a partly cloudy sky. The temperatures are cool and comfortable, the perfect weather to do some bushwhacking and birding. This just might end up being a banner Birdathon this year, if it only were not for the lingering cold symptoms.
A mechanical sound captures my attention. When I turn to look up the road, an orange golf cart comes bounding down the hill along the road, two middle-aged men sitting comfortably within it. We trade the obligatory waves, and it moves on down the road, across the bridge and out of sight. Turning back and looking up the road, then looking back toward the river, it takes me several seconds to regain my composure before continuing on my way.
With the revelry over, I climb the Raven Lake Road for a short spell until it levels out and crosses, and re-crosses a small stream. In the past, I always exited from Cropsey Pond and headed for Raven Lake Road father north where the descent is less steep. This year, I made a conscious decision to not only do my usual route in reverse, but also cover some new ground to jazz everything up a little.
It is a little past two-thirty in the afternoon when I pull out my compass and leave the road on a 324 degree bearing toward Cropsey Pond. The bushwhack starts off level and within mature hardwoods, crossing the small stream once again.
It takes only a short distance before I start climbing again with no end in sight. The climbing quickly changes the once comfortable temperatures into something resembling the depths of the Hades. The heat quickly dries out my mouth, giving me the worst case of cottonmouth since I gave up being a barfly back in my 20’s.
As I climbed, occasionally detouring around a downed tree, I stop to drink water often. The previous five days of illness clearly left me dehydrated, the consequences of which are now coming home to roost. Apparently, the black flies like their blood dry, as the once missing hordes converge upon me with a viciousness not seen by me in two years. Obviously, they felt as bad about my absence from the Adirondacks last year as I did.
Bare rock cliffs block my progress often, causing me to veer north almost continuously. In better health, I might try to scale some of the less ambitious cliffs, but not now, not feeling the way I do after being largely bedridden for almost a week. So, I keep heading north, forgetting all about my bearing, until the topography allows me to return to the original direction.
Finally, there is a break in the cliffs, and I scramble up to the top of the slope, or at least close enough to it that the climb actually ceases.
The top resembles a war zone, with pits resulting from blowdowns scattered about, dead vegetation covering the ground and young saplings growing everywhere. Remnants of many ancient tip-ups, now covered with vegetation, resemble small mounds, the trees that made them obviously long decayed. This hilltop must be susceptible to windthrow given the record of disturbance present.
All that remains is a long decent through a blowdown-impacted hardwood forest, complete with dense regeneration. A short rest is in order, now that what I hope is the most arduous portion of the day’s bushwhack is finally over.
Cropsey Pond can wait a little while longer.
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