ADK 2021: Sweet Sixteen on Upper St. Regis and Spitfire Lakes

When Steve and I first started to entertain the possibility that we might be able to pick up our fifteenth-anniversary touring kayaks while up in the Adirondacks over the summer, I started making a list of places to paddle if we actually managed to get the long dreamed-of boats. I stopped list-making almost immediately, realizing that if I got too invested in dreaming of paddling spots, it would prove an irresistible temptation to Fate and we might never get kayaks. But list or no list, one Adirondack paddling destination was stuck in my mind – Upper St. Regis and Spitfire Lakes. If we did have something to paddle, this was the top of my list.

You all know how it worked out – we left the Lake George Kayak Company with two gorgeous new boats lashed to the roof of our car and immediately started planning a week’s worth of paddling. I told Steve that Upper St. Regis and Spitfire were my top priority – billed as the perfect combination of pristine, unspoilt nature and classic Adirondack architecture. We agreed to save the two lakes (which are connected by an inlet) for a special morning’s paddle on our sixteenth anniversary.

I’d never been to the St. Regis lakes before, even though they’re less than an hour’s drive from Lake Placid. (But my cousin Jocelyn later told me that she and her husband, Jason, spent their honeymoon here after their pared down exchange of wedding vows in June 2020 – I can see why; this was a perfect place to unwind and enjoy being together.)

Ready to paddle!

There is only one public launch spot on Upper St. Regis, and none on Spitfire, so we had our route pretty much set. We launched in the secluded little bay reserved for public car-top boats, and paddled out onto the open lake.

The water was as clear as crystal. And Steve spotted a loon! Seriously – how perfectly Adirondack can you get?

While we would have loved to explore every nook and cranny of Upper St. Regis, our time was limited and we were determined to get to Spitfire, so we made straight for the little inlet connecting the two lakes.

Spitfire is famous for having some of the most beautiful examples of classic Adirondack Great Camps in the park. Almost as soon as we cleared the inlet connecting Spitfire to Upper St. Regis, we saw this stunning camp and made our way to the shoreline so we could appreciate the architecture from close up.

Can you imagine spending summers here? I was in heaven just looking at the place.

We bobbed around admiring for a few minutes, then continued on down the shoreline. Steve announced: I see a castle! A closer look revealed: yes, definitely a castle.

It was actually Camp Cobblestone, a famous Great Camp built in 1906 and recently lovingly restored.

Don’t look now, but some of the buildings had HOBBIT DOORS. Can you even?

Oh, and almost every boathouse had at least one classic wooden speedboat, most of which were proudly displaying American flags. I mean. It was like something out of a Kiel James Patrick catalog. I love classic Americana, so I was dying.

We could have stayed out on Spitfire for hours, and then spent hours more exploring Upper St. Regis. But again, work and reality beckoned, so we reluctantly headed back to the boat launch, bound for the car and then our laptops. But we had a post-work hike, followed by a dinner overlooking Mirror Lake, to look forward to – so anniversary celebrations were far from over.

And I really couldn’t think of a better way to kick off sixteen years of marriage to the very best paddling buddy.

Next week: an anniversary afternoon hike.

ADK 2021: Anniversary Eve Hike at Heart Lake

On the evening before our sixteenth wedding anniversary, we wrapped work a little early and decided we had time to squeeze in a short hike – no high peaks this time – before dinner. I suggested Heart Lake, which had been on my to-do list for awhile.

(Can’t believe I still haven’t climbed Mt. Jo. Next time, for sure.)

It was a perfect quick hike to squeeze in between work and dinner – just a couple of miles of relatively flat trail (this is the ‘dacks, there was some up and down – but very gentle – and some mud). We parked at the Loj and set off past the family campsites, making plans to stay there the next time we come up to the mountains. It’s such a good home base for the high peaks.

Adirondack perfection!

Found the old ski slope!

We ended the hike down on the sand, letting the water lap almost up to our hiking boots. It was beautiful and peaceful – the perfect way to ring in anniversary celebrations.

Next week: celebrating sixteen years of marriage with an extra special morning on the water.

ADK 2021: A Morning Paddle on Lake Flower

Continuing our tour of the Adirondack lakes around the Lake Placid region, on Thursday morning we drove the ‘yaks over to Lake Flower, near the town of Saranac Lake. I had the vague idea that we’d be able to launch our kayaks and paddle up the river into the town of Saranac Lake, but it turned out that wasn’t possible. No big deal – we were happy to be out paddling in the fresh air on a beautiful morning.

I forgot my hat – d’oh! At least I had my shades.

We’ve been to the Saranac Lake area before, but never actually got out on the water. It was a lovely, calm, clear lake – and we had it mostly to ourselves. Saw a couple of other paddlers, but it was very quiet overall.

Obviously we checked out the camps and boathouses – we always do – and discussed buying lakefront property ourselves. Someday!

We couldn’t stay out too long – the sun was climbing higher in the sky, and work beckoned. We made it as far as the inlet between Lake Flower and Oseetah Lake before reluctantly turning back toward the boat launch, the car, and reality.

Another great morning on the water, though! Any day paddling an Adirondack lake is a good day.

Next week: an early anniversary hike around a lake with a romantic name.

ADK 2021: Cobble Hill

Each evening in Lake Placid, after we wrapped up work/adventures for the day, Steve and I would wander out to dinner somewhere on Main Street and plan out the next day’s wandering. We’d compare work calendars and notes about fun ideas, and hash out a plan to tackle an adventure around conference calls. Because we were working, most of our adventures were bite-sized; that doesn’t mean they were lame. On Wednesday morning, with calendars clear of conference calls until 11:00, we woke to an early alarm and set out for Cobble Hill.

Cobble Hill rises 2,343 feet above downtown Lake Placid; it’s the local hike in a town full of local hikes. These days there isn’t even trailhead parking; you stride out of your hotel, walk up Main Street and partway around Mirror Lake, and you’re there. It’s a short-ish trail (just about 5 miles round trip counting the town portion) but with plenty of classic Adirondack granite and views.

There’s a pristine pond.

A decent amount of climbing – and you’re at the top, with a stellar view of a Lake Placid landmark – the ski jumps.

There’s Adirondack granite boulders to scramble over.

And lots of space for dorky summit selfies. What happened here? Steve looks creepy and I look terrified. I joked that he could be a serial killer.

Summit slayer, woman about to be murdered.

We were up and down this mountain before my West Coast colleagues had even woken up, and settled in for a day of lawyering – but feeling pretty smug about having climbed a mountain before the workday even started.

Next week: paddling another Adirondack lake!

DC Bike Ride 2021

You guys! I have a milestone to report: first start line since pre-pandemic. Look at me go!

Months ago, I signed up for the DC Bike Ride, billed as twenty car-free miles through DC. Apparently, this is the fifth year running for this event, although somehow I’d never heard of it before. I was stoked. My friend Zoya signed up as well, and we made plans to ride together, but at the last minute she decided to be in Boston that week (Zoya and her husband split their time between cities) so I was riding alone. No matter! I missed Zoya, but I was looking forward to a blissful ride around gorgeous DC scenery.

It had definitely been awhile, because I was not at all on my start line game. I used to have races and events down to a science, but apparently I’ve forgotten everything. I remembered to lay out my clothes the night before, but spent the early morning dashing around looking for my race dots, then realized halfway to DC that I’d forgotten a mask for the start line (but fortunately had a Buff in the glove box). I left my water bottle in the car (d’oh!) and spent the entire pre-race festivities worrying about whether I’d remembered to lock up. (I had a distinct memory of zipping my car keys into my bike saddle pack, but no memory of actually locking the car door. Figuring I didn’t have enough time to get back to the car and check before the ride started, I just trusted in my personal autopilot. Spoiler alert: I had locked the car.)

I also noticed, while riding from my parking spot to the starting line corrals, that both of my tires seemed to be lower on air than they were when I left the house. Very weird, considering I just had my bike tuned up for the race. And I don’t have a travel pump – another fail; I’ll be putting that on my Christmas list for sure. I found a volunteer who had a pump and got a quick top-off, hoping it would be enough to get me through the ride, and then I could figure out what the heck was going on with my tires.

From where I set up, in the middle of the intermediate riders’ corral, it took forty-five minutes from the starting gun to actually get across the start line – oof. I spent the entire time worrying about (1) whether I locked my car; (2) whether I would get back before my meter ran out; and (3) the air in my tires. Not the most restful start line experience – but pretty much all on me. The crowd had fantastic energy, and I was looking forward to a great ride if my tires held out.

8:45 a.m. – hey! The start line! Wahoo!

We set off through Potomac Park, bound for Haines Point – one of the most scenic spots in DC, so a lovely place to begin a race. The first few miles were quite bottlenecked, so I rode along slowly, looking for opportunities to thread through the crowd and find myself a bit more riding space. We rounded the corner and – look at that view!

What a place to ride! Normally there are cars whipping down this scenic street. It was very cool to share the road only with a few thousand of my best cycling friends. The last time I got to ride through cool car-free city scenery was 2014, when I did the Five Boro Bike Tour with my dad, brother, and sister-in-law. This ride had a similar feel (albeit much smaller crowds – not a bad thing) and it was fabulous. Would have been fun to ride with my family again – or with Zoya, as planned – but I had a grand time pedaling along by myself and enjoying the scenery.

My smooth ride was not to last, though. My front tire held up fine, but as I rounded the traffic circle near Arlington Cemetery, I noticed a sickening bump-bump-bump sound; it was my back tire, and it was completely flat. Woof. I thudded my way over Memorial Bridge, enjoying the stunning view of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, but wondering what I should do. I quickly dismissed the idea of pulling out of the race – my car was parked so far away that it wasn’t worth trying to ride back, and I’d be more likely to solve my problem by finding a race volunteer to help. Instead, I decided that my goal was just to get to the next rest stop, where hopefully a volunteer would have a pump (I had a patch kit in my saddle bag). I thumped over the bridge and under the overpass by the Kennedy Center, where several people helpfully informed me that they thought I might have a flat. I waved and agreed that I definitely had a flat, and hoped that no one else would talk to me or I may not be able to rely on my natural politeness to bite back a rude retort, and I might channel Phoebe Buffay and shout “THAT IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION!”

As I pedaled over Whitehurst Freeway towards Georgetown, scanning for a rest stop with the bumping getting worse all the while, I spotted two riders in yellow shirts pedaling slowly along the right side of the road. When I got close enough to read the back of their shirts (“Conte’s Bike Shop Mobile Mechanics”) my heart soared. I drew up next to them and called over, “Excuse me! You guys doing repairs?” They were. Hallelujah. They quickly diagnosed my flat tire as a valve problem – not a hole, thank goodness – and kindly (and efficiently) replaced my inner tube, pumped up the back tire and topped off the air in my front tire, before sending me on my way. HEROES, totally saved my ride. The last eight miles of the ride were as smooth as the first twelve were bumpy.

Finish festival! Thanks to the Conte’s Bike Shop Mobile Mechanics, or I would never have made it – I’d have had no choice but to peel off and ride back to the car at my first opportunity.

I’d have liked to stay and enjoy the finish festival, but I was still worried about whether I’d locked my car, and I had definitely exceeded my parking meter (because of the flat tire; even with the extra forty-five minutes to cross the start line I’d have finished well before my meter ran out if I hadn’t run into that trouble on the course). So I snapped a quick picture, collected my new water bottle, and rushed to the car. I was parked right across the street from the Washington Monument, and I did stop for a solemn moment with the white flags commemorating the American victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please get vaccinated, my friends.

What a crazy ride that was! Hopefully, the next start line will lead to a smoother experience – but that’s all on me; this was a fabulous event and I’ll definitely be repeating the ride next year.

ADK 2021: Paddling Lake Placid

When I sat down to plan a week’s worth of Adirondack paddling, Lake Placid was the top of the list of lakes to hit. How could it not be? Just a five minute drive – or less – from our hotel, it doesn’t get more convenient. Or more beautiful! I’d paddled Lake Placid before, with my dad – we dropped our kayaks in at the Lake Placid boat launch, paddled four miles to the back slope of Whiteface Mountain, and floated around drinking wine. (An epic day.) I was eager to show Steve the same paddling route – minus the wine, because this was a quick late-lunchtime escape, and we were headed back to “work” afterwards.

Steve grew up in the Adirondack region – just “outside the blue line,” as locals say, in Glens Falls. But he wasn’t an outdoorsy guy, and he didn’t paddle growing up. So this was his first foray onto Lake Placid.

Obviously he loved it.

I was excited to show him the gorgeous Adirondack camps and boathouses. We’d love to own lakefront property in Virginia someday (longterm financial goal alert!) and I think the boathouses inspired him. He especially liked the Japanese-style one; I preferred the more traditional Adirondack architecture – but they are clearly all stunning.

As we checked out the classic architecture, another Adirondack symbol popped up a few dozen yards away – a common loon! I can’t get enough of them. Sorry for the blurry picture – iPhone zoom.

As we paddled up toward the back slope of Whiteface, we passed by a group on a pontoon boat, who had obviously started their happy hour early. (No shade!) One of the men on the boat shouted to us, “You guys look so beautiful, paddling with the sun behind you!” Blushing, we laughed as his friends reprimanded him: “You can’t say stuff like that to strangers!” (“What!?” he protested. “It was a compliment!”) We laughed and assured him that we were flattered and not at all weirded out.

Approaching Whiteface – this might be the most serene, pristine bay in all of the Adirondacks. Change my mind.

We bobbed around for a few minutes, drinking water from our Nalgene bottles (not wine, sadly – next time, maybe) before reluctantly turning back toward the boat launch. We had another four miles of paddling ahead, so that was something to look forward to, at least.

(I love my paddle.)

Heading back to the boat launch, we passed our pontoon boat friends – and the same garrulous gentleman called to me “You have the smoothest paddle stroke!” I shouted back that I’d been paddling for twenty-five years and he replied “It shows!” As we cruised off, I heard him protesting to his friends, “What, I can’t compliment people’s paddling strokes either?!” Steve and I paddled off, laughing to each other that our new buddy reminded us of our dear friend Seth, who lives up in the Adirondacks and makes friends everywhere he goes. But really – in a place like this, how can you not be so full of joy and life that you want to befriend absolutely everyone?

Next week: a classic LP village hike.

ADK 2021: Hiking Phelps Mountain, Adirondack High Peak #5

As we planned our week of mostly-working-but-also-some-fun in the Adirondacks, Steve suggested that we bang out another high peak; I was skeptical that we’d be able to fit it in around work, but still willing to listen. As we looked over our list of “peaks to get to, soon,” Phelps stuck out to both of us; the hike up was relatively short, we could knock it out in a morning if we skipped Tabletop (the neighboring high peak, often paired with Phelps), and the views were supposed to be great. Looking over the weather for the week, Steve suggested that we go for it on Monday, which looked to be the best weather day. Having nothing urgently pressing until Monday afternoon, I agreed, and we set our alarms for zero dark thirty.

We arrived at the Loj with plenty of parking spaces still available – a good omen. After a few minutes of chatting with one of the local park stewards, we set off on the first – flat! – portion of the hike, through the woods to Marcy Dam.

I hiked along at a fast clip (about the same speed as a neighborhood walk, which is lightning for an Adirondack hike) and marveled at how easy it felt so far. Figuring it wouldn’t last, I made up my mind to enjoy the gently rolling groomed trails while I could.

The first (easy!) portion of the hike flew by, and before I knew it we were standing in the middle of a stunning vista at Marcy Dam. I couldn’t get enough of this view.

After Marcy Dam, the trail begins both to climb and to look more like an Adirondack trail. Saw that coming a mile away – no, I mean literally.

Stream crossing? Let’s do it.

A little more than a mile from the summit, the trail began to really climb – as we knew was coming. The intel on Phelps was that it’s a relatively moderate, gentle hike until you get to the last mile, and then it wallops you. Well, no stopping now.

Still all smiles, though!

The last mile was an Adirondack mile, to be sure – scrambling up creekbeds, grasping at tree branches, heaving over boulders, and gaining about a thousand feet of elevation in the final third of a mile. No pictures, because my mind was completely focused on the job. But eventually, we pushed over the final boulder and found ourselves on a windswept summit ledge.

High peak summit number 5, in the books!

And even more beautiful than I’d expected.

We kicked back and enjoyed the view for awhile.

And posed for summit selfies, because we’re nerds.

It was just so hard to even think about saying goodbye to this view.

We did stop to find the spot where the summit marker was once planted – no longer.

Eventually, reluctantly, we turned our backs on the summit and started the descent; work and conference calls beckoned.

We did stop at Marcy Dam so that Steve could try out his Grayl filter bottle (a very generous Christmas gift from his Mom). The water was delicious.

I wished we’d had time for Tabletop – not only to tick off another high peak, but because I didn’t want to leave the woods. But Steve was dealing with a hiking boot problem (his ankle boots were nowhere near as grippy as the sneaker-style boot of the same model, go figure) and he was sliding perilously across the Adirondack granite; he even broke a hiking pole. And we did each have several hours worth of work to do. So it was back to reality for us – but with the memory of a beautiful day in the woods and on another windswept peak. As we drove back to Lake Placid, we started planning our next peaks – for the next trip.

Next week: a perfectly Placid paddle.

ADK 2021: Kayaking Schroon Lake

As I’ve mentioned a few times, Steve and I didn’t plan a real vacation for summer 2021. I’m still getting my feet under me in a new job, and it didn’t seem like a good idea – plus I’m saving vacation time again for the first time since my days in the federal government. (Law firms don’t do “vacation time” – you just take your vacations when you can, if you can.) But my parents wanted a week with the kids, to ply them with soft serve ice cream and trips to the dollar store, so Steve and I were told to make ourselves scarce. We shrugged, booked a hotel room on Mirror Lake in the Village of Lake Placid, and drove north for a week of working in a different location and squeezing adventures in around business hours.

As we mapped out our week, I tossed out the idea of stopping somewhere on the way up to Lake Placid and getting our new kayaks wet. We could drive straight to LP and drop in there, I suggested, but we’d definitely be paddling there at least once over the course of the week and wouldn’t it be fun to pop off somewhere else and explore a different lake? Consulting a map, I noted that Schroon Lake was right on the way, with a boat launch conveniently just off the highway – and neither of us had ever paddled there before, so it’d be a new adventure. Steve was down.

We rolled into the Schroon Lake boat launch and tackled the intimidating task of getting 17-foot touring kayaks off our car for the first time; they’d been hanging out on the roof since we rolled out of Lake George, but it was time. It was a bit of a comedy of errors, and we were both drenched in sweat by the time we got them off the car and onto the grass – but we did it! (Insert strong-arm emoji here.) A once-over from the Schroon Lake boat steward, and we were on our way.

We started paddling tentatively, then picked up speed as we cruised past beaches, boathouses, and swimmers cannon-balling off floating docks. As I pulled up next to Steve, he looked at me, grinned, and suggested: “Should we do a blue water crossing?” Obviously.

We turned our bows away from shore and paddled to the opposite side of the bay, pausing to navigate speedboat and pontoon boat wakes and to surf a few small breakers along the way.

A very special island, indeed!

We were absolutely giddy to be out cruising the Adirondack waters in the touring kayaks we’d dreamed of for over a year. And something else occurred to me – “Do you realize,” I called to Steve, “that every time we leave the kids with my parents, it’s to go kayaking?” The San Juan Islands in 2019; cruising the Potomac in 2020; now we were planning a week of Adirondack lakes (and a big kayaking adventure in 2022, pandemic permitting).

Look, we just really love kayaking!

All in all – a successful first outing for the ‘yaks (the demo day didn’t count!) and the beginning of a gorgeous week of paddling and hiking in one of our favorite places in the world. What’s not to love? We had big plans for the kayaks, and big plans for our hiking boots too – stay tuned.

Next week: an epic Adirondack hiking day!

Hiking Thacher State Park, August 2021

Although we didn’t plan a “real” vacation for 2021 – I’m too new to my job, and saving vacation time for a big adventure this winter (hopefully it happens…) – Steve and I still looked forward to our trip to upstate New York for months. We headed up at the end of July for my cousin Jocelyn’s wedding, and planned to stick around for a few weeks, mostly working and letting the kiddos enjoy grandparent time, but also folding in adventures here and there. On the Sunday after the wedding, we found ourselves unexpectedly free (we’d planned to drive out to Old Forge, in the western Adirondacks, to try to get a kayak for Steve – but he serendipitously found exactly what he’d wanted in Lake George the day before). We thought we’d go up to the Sacandaga, the Adirondack lake where my parents, aunts and uncles all have camps – but the weather was looking iffy. So instead, we stuck closer to Albany and hiked one of our favorite spots: John Boyd Thacher State Park.

When we pulled up in the parking lot, fat raindrops were splashing down on our windshields. The hike we had in mind had some exposure and some slick spots, so we reluctantly decided we’d just check out the overlook and then go on home. But as we gazed out over the hills and valleys around Albany, the rain stopped and the cloud cover lifted, a little, just enough for us to decide to hike after all.

The whole family hit the trail together! Parents, kids, grandparents.

With all the rain that upstate New York has had this summer, my parents haven’t been able to get out for many adventures. The upshot is that Thacher State Park had waterfalls. Entire rivers were tumbling down over the limestone escarpments.

When I was a kid, my parents went off to Hawaii and left my brother and me with our grandparents. (They did this several times – sometimes just the two of them, sometimes with friends. I was always openly jealous.) Their pictures snapped from behind a waterfall captured my imagination when they came home. I wanted to see what the world looked like from behind a waterfall, too. Turns out I didn’t have to travel too far…

So cool! We’ve done this hike a few times now and never saw waterfalls. It opened up a completely different experience of a well-worn path.

We saw evidence of the wet summer everywhere – in the bright green lichens, moss, and tiny plants growing on the rocks, and in the small rivulets pouring over the limestone and trickling through the little caves dotted all along the trail. I knew my parents hadn’t especially enjoyed all the rain – but this new lease on the park sure was pretty.

The waterfalls were the star of the show, though. Oh! And we also counted twelve little orange newts along the trail. Sharp-eyed Nugget spotted most of them.

It wasn’t the longest hike ever, but it was a feast for the eyes and senses and a new view of an old favorite. How can you go wrong?

Next week: getting our new kayaks out for the first time! Stay tuned.

In Which We Buy Touring Kayaks For Our Fifteenth Anniversary, One Year Late

Sometime around the spring of 2020, Steve tossed out an idea: we should buy kayaks as a fifteenth anniversary gift to each other. (This conversation probably took place while hiking, since that’s where we do most of our crazy talk.) That milestone was approaching in August 2020, and we were on the lookout for something special to do – something a little outlandish, but that would feel very “us.” Kayaking is something that we both love to do; I’ve been paddling since I was fifteen and Steve picked the sport up as an adult but quickly grew to love it. Our kayak ecotour adventure to the San Juan Islands had been less than a year ago and was still fresh in our minds. Buying our own kayaks – kayaks that we could use for another fifteen years, exploring the bays and waterways around our area – felt right.

In the San Juans, we had paddled a double touring kayak – a beast of a boat. We’d loved the way it sliced through the water, and how confident we felt in the cockpits. Storage space was a nice premium, too – we agreed that it would be cool to have a couple of holds to store gear, so we could go out on some longer paddles and overnight trips.

Over the next few months, we discussed what we wanted in our hypothetical kayaks. We quickly agreed that we didn’t want recreational kayaks. We both wanted to stretch our paddling skills and pick up new techniques, and we wanted more efficient paddling machines that would be our allies in our goal to paddle bigger water and make distance. (No shade to recreational kayaks, which are a great option – just not for us.) I dove into the research and sent Steve a long email detailing what I thought we were looking for in the kayaks we wanted; a few brands and models that I thought would suit each of us particularly well; and a list of places to paddle nearby when we finally did make the purchase. He took my list as a starting point for his own research, and he started forming his opinions about what boats he was interested in trying out, as soon as the weather warmed up a bit.

And then we ran headlong into a brick wall: COVID-19. With indoor activities off the menu and the water starting to warm up, it seemed like everyone and their mom had discovered outdoor sports. The rush of new demand, coupled with ramped-down production as outdoor gear companies (like everyone else) grappled with social distancing in the workplace, meant that there wasn’t a kayak to be had for love or money. (It wasn’t just kayaks. It took me over a year of looking to replace my old mountain bike before I found something.) We swallowed our disappointment, rented a pair of heavy sit-on-top recreational kayaks, and tooled around the Potomac.

Our anniversary came and went without new kayaks. Instead, we promised each other we’d make it happen – next year. As summer turned to fall we tabled the kayak conversations, since even if we could find a boat to demo it was getting too cold, and the boathouses were closing up shop for the winter. 2021 rolled around, and as soon as the weather started to improve, I began calling around to boathouses, asking if they had demo models available. Struck out everywhere – and one boathouse, in Annapolis, told me gloomily that Current Designs (the manufacturer that made the model Steve was most interested in, and a couple of other models I thought might work for me) was completely sold out and wouldn’t have anything until 2022. Sad trombone.

We hiked a lot, and I got my prodigious paddling energies out via my paddleboard – a Christmas gift from Steve. When we decided to spend a few weeks hanging out and working in upstate New York over the summer, I half-heartedly researched boathouses in the Adirondacks – but I figured if I was striking out all around the Chesapeake, the Adirondacks would be more of the same. Until… I called over to a boathouse with locations in Saratoga and Old Forge, and learned that they had Current Designs models – including the Solstice GT, which Steve was pretty sure he wanted, and the Solstice GTS (the low-volume version) and Equinox (a slightly shorter Solstice) – that I was interested in trying out. We knew we couldn’t ask them to hold the models, so we crossed our fingers extra-tightly that they would still have what we were already thinking of as “our” boats in stock by the time we were able to get to the boathouse.

It wasn’t to be. On July 30, I called the boathouse during downtime in the middle of my cousin’s wedding rehearsal, to confirm the boats were still in stock and available for demo. They still had the Solstice (the model Steve wanted), they assured me – but the Solstice GTS and the Equinox? Both gone. Womp, womp. With literally nothing going my way, I called over to one other boathouse I knew – the Lake George Kayak Company – and asked them what they had available. The owner’s wife, who answered the phone, dropped a bombshell on me: they had P&H Cetus LVs. Two of them. A blue/yellow model, and an orange/yellow model. Yes, I was welcome to demo either or both.

When I was researching kayaks, the P&H Cetus LV was my dream model – efficient, a little edgy, and built for petite paddlers. (It didn’t hurt that P&H, which names all of its boats after constellations, had named this one after my favorite – Cetus, the Whale. Not that I made my decision based on that. But it did rather feel like an omen.) Basically, it had my name written all over it. The problem was that P&H is a British boatbuilder, and their kayaks aren’t all that easy to find in the United States. I had pretty much given up on finding one and turned my attention to the low volume options from Current Designs (a Canadian brand that’s much easier to come by here – usually). But here was the Lake George Kayak Company telling me they had two of my dream kayaks in stock.

Steve and I quickly reshuffled our plans, deciding to drive up to Lake George super early on Saturday morning, with enough time for me to demo the Cetus and get back for my cousin’s wedding. And then on Sunday we would head to Old Forge and – hopefully – pick up the Solstice for Steve. But when we got to Lake George, another surprise was waiting for us – a Solstice GT, used but pristine, on the showroom floor. We were glad Steve wore his bathing suit, just in case.

I had a decision to make. While the boathouse staff carried the Solstice to the dock for Steve, I was mulling over blue or orange. (Either would have been fine, really. But I was so shocked to see the Cetus at all, I wasn’t really prepared to decide on a color.) I really wanted an orange kayak and had no interest in blue. Since I first started looking at touring kayaks, I pictured myself in an orange boat. But when it came down to it, I didn’t love the look of the yellow trim against the orange. The blue and yellow, meanwhile, looked sharp next to the red Solstice Steve was eyeing, and it had a newer, redesigned seat. Hesitantly, I asked to demo the blue kayak.

It was a bit choppy and windy on the lake, which the boathouse staff assured us was good – it would give us a feel for how our boats handled in a bit of rough water. (Not too rough. This was Lake George, after all.) We each slipped in and paddled into the small cove in which the boathouse had its dock.

Steve loved the Solstice immediately. He compared it to the kayak version of a racecar. It sliced through the water and continued to coast even after he stopped paddling.

As for me, I was getting used to the Cetus. Although I’d paddled my share of touring kayaks, the Cetus was the edgiest boat I’d ever tried. (Steve’s Aunt Susan had wished me good kayak hunting with the admonition “Don’t fall out in front of everybody,” and that was starting to feel alarmingly prescient.) I consider myself a strong paddler, and I have a lot of experience… but the Cetus was a very different boat, and it took me a few turns around the bay to start feeling comfortable.

Ultimately, I decided that the Cetus was what I had been looking for – a boat that would stretch my paddling skills and open up new opportunities for exploring the water. Back on shore, I told the boathouse employees that I was definitely settled on the Cetus, but still waffling between blue and orange.


I went with blue. Just really liked that cool new seat. And the blue looked pretty next to Steve’s red Solstice. Even the yellow keyhole was starting to grow on me; Steve’s Solstice had one too, serendipitously, so it looked intentional. Meant to be 🙂

We drove our new darlings home very carefully and showed them off to my skeptical parents. Happy fifteenth anniversary, fifty weeks late, to us! The boats have already hit the water and had some adventures, so do stay tuned because there’s more paddling shenanigans to come.

Have you ever made a big purchase that your family thought was completely bonkers?