Monday, May 30, 2016

Happy Birthday Zaida -Trail Stewardship and French Louie's Cave


Happy Birthday Zaida -Trail Stewardship and French Louie's Cave

I try to do a backpacking trip every Memorial Day Weekend. This weekend would be dedicated to the memory of my grandfather who on the 30th, would have turned 100 years old. Zaida left us almost 3 years ago, but his memory lives on. Prior to leaving I put together a brief summary of Zaida's life and a few photos and sent it to his kids and grandkids. I then left for the woods for some volunteer work, relaxation and reflection.

I picked up Sheldon early Saturday morning and we made our way to Wakely Dam. We chatted about Scouts and his trip to Philmont. I reiterated our agenda which was to hike to Colvin Brook lean-to so I could do my spring assessment and general cleanup. Then return to the NPT and continue to Cedar Lakes noting major blowdown and clearing any which could be done with hand tools. I would also clear more on the return trip Monday. Sunday we planned on visiting French Louie's Cave, relax and go fishing, perhaps explore some more off-trail weather depending. We were expecting thunderstorms to pop up throughout the weekend. I had also mentioned this weekend would have been my grandfather's 100th birthday.

At the trailhead it was hot and muggy just as expected. A few bugs were around, but it wasn't to bad yet. We hiked into Carry lean-to and chatted with the boaters who were there for the weekend. They were from the Catskill area and volunteered with the Catskill Mtn Club doing trail work. We gave them some suggestions for day trips from that spot. The trail from Wakely to the Sucker Brook trail is along an old road, so travel was easy. We made the turn onto the Sucker Brook trail which would soon be added to my mileage of responsibility. The NPT had been cleared of major blowdown to here and it appeared to continue to the Cedar River. I rock hopped across and assessed the lean-to, did some general cleanup and noted the few visitors since last October. Sheldon had remained on the other side, but when he saw I stayed dry on my crossing, he came over as well. I finished sweeping out the lean-to, and we headed back. On the re-cross of the river, Sheldon slipped and in order to not completely fall over, stepped into the river soaking his boots. Fortunately I made it across without incident.

We re-traced our steps to the NPT, filled up our water bottles at the spring and continued our way to the Cedar lakes. As we hiked along, I would clear minor blowdown and Sheldon would note on his GPS major trees which would need the chainsaw to clear during the next window. The wet boot was beginning to cause a blister for Sheldon so he kept a watch on it. Coming the other way, two young ladies (sisters) passed us by. They were thru-hiking the trail. They signed in at the registers as “The Cash Sisters”. I wished them a safe and fun journey. At Cedar Lakes Dam we met up with a group of folks who hailed from all across the Northeast, but knew each other as students at RIT. I shared with them the location of a downed cherry tree where good firewood could be found as this area gets a lot of use and firewood is scarce in the immediate vicinity. One of them asked where a good place to hang her hammock was, and I pointed to a location where I had used in the past.

It was starting to get late, so far we had avoided the potential thunderstorm of the afternoon and the bugs were not bad at all. It was hot though, and we were both soaked in sweat. A swim or at least a dunking of our heads would be a welcome relief once at camp. We made camp at the tent site on Beaver Pond. We could hear voices at the lean-to so we didn't even bother to go over there. A small fire was started so that we could ward off the bugs with smoke if they decided to find us and also to dry out some of our clothes and Sheldon's boots. I headed over the bridge to get water from the spring and met up with two of the lean-to inhabitants (Amber and Justin) plus their dog (Maggie). We chatted a bit, about the trail and the lost dog posters and referenced the posts on the forum. When I mentioned my name on the forum, both Justin and Amber said “ohhhh, you're duct tape, we though we recognized you from Rob's videos.” We talked and laughed a bit more and then I headed back to camp to make dinner. I fished a bit with no luck. The fish weren't biting, but the bugs were beginning to, so I headed back to camp. The sun was barely down and I could not stay awake. It was an early bed time for us both. I was still a bit sticky from sweat even though I had washed down in the lake. The peepers were making a racket, yet I still managed to fall asleep rather quickly. It cooled down over the night to make a very comfortable night's sleep.

As usual, I was up before dawn. I restarted the fire, made some coffee and grabbed my fishing pole. Again, no luck. The sun was just emerging over the horizon as was Sheldon from his hammock so I mentioned the sun's status to him and he grabbed his camera. We both ate granola for breakfast and planned to head to French Louie's Cave for our morning adventure. French Louie died a year before my grandfather was born. Both were amazing me who led full lives. It was barely 7 am, we had our whole day ahead of us. As we hiked towards the wagon wheel campsite, I noted the location of the old trail which headed to the shoreline... another future exploration. At the wagon wheel campsite, we took a bearing and headed off trail towards the top of cobble hill. The witchopple was starting to grow in, but the spruce swamps were relatively dry, so it wasn't particularly difficult. We noted a few water sources along the way for the future. Our bearing took us just below the cave, so we had to turn a bit go uphill to get to the cave itself. Sheldon went straight up, I opted to go around the shoulder. Like yesterday, it was hot and muggy, but inside the cave it was much cooler. I sat on a rock which acted as a heat sink, pulling heat from me. I was cool in no time. We relaxed, and explored a bit more. Some of the other crevices and caves had ice still in them. We ventured into one dark crevice and it was almost cold.

We didn't really want to leave, but knew we would need to eventually. We headed back to the water source then took a new bearing towards the fisherman's lean-to. As we approached the NPT, the terrain looked familiar and I knew to swing left instead of having to climb up and over a ridge which was thick with both live and dead spruce. The tread on the new trail to the fisherman's lean-to was more obvious since last time I was there. We relaxed some more at the lean-to. We could hear some thunder way off to the south. There was a nice breeze keeping us cool, but we also knew this could mean we would eventually get the rain we so far had avoided. The hike back to camp went quickly, we chatted a bit, but also spread out slightly due to our different paces. I mentioned the other trail exploration would have to wait until another time as my knees were telling me they had enough and the weather seemed sketchy.

Back at camp we did some chores, and I found myself sitting near the firepit with my bandana over my head and my face in my hands. Sheldon came by and asked if I was sulking. I told him I was tired and was resting my eyes. This was true, but there was another detail I neglected to mention. For some reason thoughts of my grandfather caused me great distress, I felt a general sense of sadness. No specific details, or memories. I said I needed to take a nap, so I went to my hammock. I closed me eyes and smiled seeing my grandfather sleeping in the backyard in my dad's hammock; which then broke causing him to land on his rear. I think I slept for about an hour. Some voices of hikers going down the trail awoke me me from my slumber. They were looking for a place to camp. Sheldon was going to tell them our site had plenty of room but he didn't want to speak for me. I said, if they come back tell them to join us. I then went for water from the spring. On my way back I decided to visit the lean-to. The Rochester area backpackers who I had chatted with online were there, as were two of the previous night's inhabitants. We all shared stories of the trail, the area and other spots. One guy, I cannot recall his name, had an uncanny gift of knowing the zip code of every town. He and I shared intel about different locations we had both visited and also traded some secrets. The group started to make dinner so I headed back to camp. Sheldon had already eaten and wondered if I had gone off exploring or whether I visited the lean-to. He went fishing while I fixed my dinner. I was making a quick beef stew with some dehydrated veggies and a can of beef & gravy I had picked up at a dollar store some time back. For a while I had wondered why the heck I had bought this generic can. Earlier I joked with Sheldon that it was probably not much different than a can of dog food. I half expected it to have been made by Alpo. As I was making my stew it dawned on me why I had bought it, and also why I brought it on this trip, I got two cans of this stuff for a buck. It was a “good deal”, Zaida would have been proud. I opened the can and it smelled ok; for canned roast beef. The stew turned our better than expected. I was barely done by the time we could hear the storm approaching, so I hastily picked up and we got to our respective hammock before the sky really opened up.

A good storm ensued. I do not know how long it lasted. It was barely raining when I answered nature's call at some point in the middle of the night. By morning, all I could hear on the tarp was the rain which was dripping off the trees. We had a nine mile hike out, plus driving so we both decided to get up early. I was up first and made myself coffee and packed up everything except my tarp just in case the sky decided one last water dump. Both of us were packed up and were on the trail before 7. We passed by the Cedar Lake #1 lean-to quietly as all were apparently still asleep. After we passed, we both commented on the soaked hammock and mishmashed tarp in the woods behind the lean-to. I guess the inhabitant did not fare as well as us with her set-up.

From the dam to the junction, Sheldon would walk in front at his own pace while I would stop and cut more blowdown that I skipped on the way in. The rest of the hike out was uneventful. We made good time even with a break at the Cedar River flow. At the car before noon. We stopped for lunch in Indian Lake village. Across the street was the Chamber of Commerce where Sylvia was working. I placed my order and went over to say “hi”. Sylvia and I had never met in person, we only chatted online through the NPT facebook page. She was also a NPT trail enthusiast and steward. The sign on the door said she would be back at 12:45, so I went back to the tavern to finish eating. I would return after I ate, while Sheldon was settling up the bill (he bough me lunch, thanks buddy.) I walked into the office and said “Hi Sylvia.”, she looked towards me and said “Russ Byer, I saw the glasses and knew it was you.” We gave each other a hug and talked a bit about the trail maintenance we had done and some other areas to visit. Sheldon was waiting, so I headed back to the car.

During lunch I reminded Sheldon that today would have been my grandfather's 100th birthday. He asked, “when?”

I said “right now.”

“Then raise a glass” was his retort.

At that moment 12:30 Eastern Time, I along with the other members of my family around the world were celebrating the memory of my grandfather with a toast. “To Zaida.”