Big city vs. a small-town girl

I was driving through a larger city last week, freaking out about the onslaught of stop lights and the multiple lanes of traffic, when I got into a debate with my travel mates. Everyone in the car was from what I term "downstate" - y'know, not from the 'dacks. And oddly enough, they all contend that it was much easier to navigate and travel in urban/suburban areas.

What? It seems my friends are all crazy.

They listed their concerns when traveling in the mountains:

  1. GPS doesn't always work
  2. Darkness
  3. Windy roads
  4. Not many people
  5. Wild animals
  6. Getting lost
  7. Let's sum it up - basically fear of the unknown...

This made me start thinking about perspective. I took a minute to counter their reasons with my own take:

  1. Paper maps - never leave home without one! Honestly, I have horrible luck with most gps gadgets - and there are awesome detailed maps available for folks like me.
    (Yeah, I know this makes no sense, but I can read an old-fashioned map better than following a little blue dot on my phone.)
  2. Cars have lights, cell phones have lights, and what do you think flashlights were made for!? What I suggest is that you actually stop, turn off the lights, and take some time to gaze up at endless starry night sky.
  3. All the more reason to slow down and enjoy the views! One of my favorite things is wondering what will be revealed around the next corner or at the top of the next hill.
  4. Shhhh. Hear that? It's the sounds of nature and peace.
  5. Yeah, aren't they cool? Keep your distance & respect their space and you should be fine.
  6. One of my favorite things! It's how we find a new favorite restaurant, a new trail to hike, a beautiful view. a secret swimming hole!
  7. Everything is unknown at some point in our lives. Isn't it time to conquer the fear?

Change of scenery

I have to stop and wonder, though, if others face a bit of trepidation when planning their Adirondack travels.

My friends' fears of the secluded mountain life are exactly the things I embrace. I mean, if asked to list my favorite memories from my days spent in Schroon Lake as a child, they would include feeding bears at the Minerva dump (no, you can't do this anymore),

random drives that always had us exploring little town stores which led to discovering tasty local goodies, filling our drinking water jugs out of fresh mountain springs, and swimming in secluded watering holes.

That being said, and it being the spooking season, I do have one favorite memory that would probably freak my friends out if I shared it with them. It still gives me goosebumps once in a while - although I have to say it's led to many scenic rides and cool discoveries over the years as I try to retrace my route. It's from a point in my childhood when my brother and I got lost on a random backroad long before gps & cellphones were the norm. You really can find some pretty amazing things when you just hit the road and drive - of course, you may never be able to find it again.

(The following excerpt is from a blog first published in 2014. For the record, it's a true story and I'm still searching.)

A Ghost of a Memory

It was like a Ghost Town; actually, it was a Ghost Town…

One day, and this memory has stuck out in my head for years and years (27 to be exact), we found a Ghost Town. I mean, a real, honest to goodness Ghost Town. We had taken a drive down a backroad as was tradition, and eventually turned off onto an unmarked right-hand road - dirt path is probably more accurate. Soon enough we were forced to stop driving, and we decided to park and walk along the path for a bit. When the trees eventually opened up we found ourselves in the midst of our biggest discovery, ever. It was a town, maybe that’s being generous - it was a small encampment. Every building was abandoned; weeds and trees grew up through the broken foundations. Doors hung off of their casements in crooked angles. In my memory, every house is a bleached off-white, grayish color. The color you see on decaying houses along the ocean’s coast. The color of tombstones.

There was a circle in the center of the small village - I can only imagine it was the town green, a gathering place for town meetings. This, too, was severely overgrown. And, I can remember as we looked around (snooped around), opening doors and noting that many items still remained in some of the buildings, I can remember the distinct feeling of being watched. Of wondering if we were alone. Of having a chill settle in, and an uneasy feeling come to rest. My brother felt the same, though he didn’t openly mouth these words; I could tell by his stance and the forced levity in his voice as he spoke - he was "creeped out" (for lack of a better description).

I kept catching glimpses out of the corner of my eyes of movement. Wanting to seem brave, I laughed it off, chalking it up to what must be an animal - a bird perhaps, or chipmunk, something quick and fleeting. We decided to start walking back to the car when movement to our right caught our attention. Since the sun was shining, and obviously, obviously this creepy feeling couldn’t be real, we goaded each other into investigating. What we discovered was a graveyard that may have included the whole population of this town. There were very few variations of last names, and I can remember thinking, "wow, this family lost 6 members all within a year." I felt the chill wear off as the inquisitiveness kicked in. I walked from stone to stone in wonder, reading aloud the names. Acknowledging that they had existed, wondering how they lived and why the families had settled here. There were children, so many children’s markers. I wondered if anyone had survived. Was there a plague? Famine? This needed investigating when we got home.

As the sun started to lower, we knew we needed to make our way toward the dirt path and civilization. But it was hard, we didn’t want to leave - we felt a pull to stay to keep taking in the scene. We looked around one last time, still feeling watched - but not scared, or at least not as scared as earlier. Okay, who am I kidding - of course I was scared.

That evening when we talked to my dad about our discovery, he mentioned that it might have been an old settlement called Irishtown. He remembered his dad telling him about it when he was a young boy... (cut to the present!)

It was a dark and stormy night…

Actually, it was a gorgeous fall day, and I was on a mission. I was going to get lost again, find the town of my childhood memories, and prove to myself that my childhood imagination may have been a bit more active than normal on that day.

I'll admit, I was a bit scared. I mean, c'mon it's the Halloween season and the woods are a little darker and louder than during the hot summer months. Aas I had no intention of investigating on my own, I brought along Greg, my willing (or at least, agreeable) partner-in-adventure.

Following some suggestions from a local, we narrow down our route options and hone in on our number one contendor - Loch Muller. This has got to be it! The directions are as follows: Drive up Hoffman Road for 6 or 7 miles. There is a paved road now called Loch Muller - park at the end. Across the road there is an unmarked wooded trail. Follow it for half a mile or so into the woods. Eventually you will come to a cemetery. "It’s creepy." Enough said, I am sure this is my town.

Loch Muller - easier said than found...

We head out of Paradox and into Schroon Lake, proper, where we stop to refuel both the Bug and our bellies. We’re driving a vintage VW (sans heat) - which I have to give a shout out to as we've been cruising through the backroads of the Adirondacks & it hasn't broken down at all today!

After passing through town and Greg noting that

Flanagan’s was hopping - because it’s Sunday Football (hint, hint) - we turn right onto Hoffman Road. We follow our directions to a tee, and I am amazed to find Loch Muller so easily. However, everything is backward - this can’t be my town. The path was supposed to be on our right - not our left. I’m disappointed, but I do think it’s pretty intriguing that this path is not marked in any recognizable way - maybe my memory had failed me, maybe the town was off to the left. Either way, we are here and it’s worth investigating - I do still love reading historic gravestones.

We park the Bug, and Greg gets out a neon yellow T-shirt. I seriously didn’t even realize he owned anything this obnoxiously 80s. He indulgently explains that it is hunting season and he knew we would be hiking in the woods. Obviously, I am not dressed appropriately, but I’m loud, so hopefully that counteracts my lack of glow.

It’s late afternoon as we head into the woods. The leaves are crunching under our feet, and the sunlight is coming through the overhead branches in patchwork patterns. Besides the occasional random sound in the woods that has me quickly looking around, it is mostly silent. A comfortable silence, but of course, a bit "creepy" too - thanks to my over-active imagination.

We cross a picture-perfect stream (yes, I literally took some pictures), and the path turns slightly upward. I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve taken the wrong path when a small sign appears.

It is rotting and leaning against the base of a tree: "Cemetery Loop" with an arrow directed toward the right. So, maybe it doesn’t say, "Kim’s Secret Ghost Town," but at least we’re getting somewhere. We walk on, and soon can spot the stones through the trees.

As we round a slight bend, the entrance presents itself, along with a sign of "Unmarked Graves" with a list of names. Right away, Greg notes how many children there are.

We enter the cemetery and it amazes me that this small piece of history exists tucked away so far from civilization. The stones are deteriorating, and we can’t help but note that if we were creating a Halloween scene, this would be it. The ground is uneven, and it makes me a bit uneasy as I realize that the heaves are actually, most likely, bodies in the unmarked graves. This may not be a town, but we have discovered a great piece of history.

We take the times to read the stones, or at least the ones that are still legible.

The sun is getting lower and we need to head back home. The woods are active, I hear a few odd sounds - a high pitched moan, and maybe it’s just my imagination, but I have to confirm the origins: "What was that? It’s a bird, right?" My counterpart answers with a shrug and an indifferent, "I don’t know." (For those playing along at home, that was not the right answer.)

I quicken my steps and feel a great sense of relief as I finally spot the bright blue Bug through the trees. We load up and after one failed start (yes, I almost freaked out), we are up and running.

We choose to head northwest — we don't know where our next stop will be, but we're not scared of getting lost; although often winding and narrow, Adirondack roads were built with intention. At some point we are bound to encounter a town or small village, and from there we will get our bearings through the mountains and head back home. Or, perhaps we'll finally discover my ghost town. I mean, really, how hard is it to find an abandoned town in the mountains??

The search continues…

Ready to conquer your fears of losing your way on the backroads? Discover your own ghost town? Get lost in the Schroon Lake Region this season - you never know what you might find! But, please, if you find my ghost town, write down the coordinates, send me the gps info (not that I'll be able to progam my electronics correctly), and take pictures. One day my mystery will be solved!

This week in the ADK we conquer our fears:

Zip it up

Motorbikes and tasty flights

Tippy canoe and kayak, too

Peak fear

Towering heights

Night hiking newbies

Get high on the Coast