Monday, June 29, 2009


There is something deeply wrong about the fact that the only place to get cell phone reception in a 10-mile radius of Blue Mountain Lake, NY, is actually on a boat in the middle of the lake.

Last week, Ken A. and I rented--as we did last year--a cabin on Blue Mountain Lake up in the Adirondacks. I like it for many reasons, not the least of which is that there is absoluetly no cell reception, WiFi, or even TV in the house. And it's usually fairly quiet, free of the chain saws, .lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and the rest of the din of suburbia. (Though they were replacing the roof of the cabin next door, which tended to be a bit loud--not so much the hammering, but the bad 1980s radio station they had on.) Still, we had pretty decent weather, and happily missed black fly season.

I had been fretting the black flies, since the prior week I had gone up to Tupper Lake (about 30 miles north of Blue Mountain Lake) to interview the director of The Wild Center (The Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks) for an upcoming story for RealScience, and she had told me that they were still in the thick of them.

Black flies are nasty, but happily their season ends by the end of June, which is when most people start doing their summer activities. (Well, it's when I get around to doing them, anyway.) There are more than 1,800 or so species of black fly in the family Simuliidae in the order Diptera. Different parts of the world--and even the U.S.--have their own indigenous species, but Simulium venustum is the one familiar to campers and hikers. The black flies feed on blood and are worse than mosquitoes because whereas a mosquito inserts its proboscis into the flesh and sucks blood as if through a straw, the black fly rips open the flesh with its bladelike mouthparts (rather like those of a horsefly) and laps up the blood as it pools on the skin. (Although I've been to restaurants with people who eat like this.) They swarm in great numbers, and although they aren't lethal, there are those who have allergic reactions. Some species in South America and Africa can also transmit the parasitic nematode Onchocerca volvulus, which causes Onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness. Here's an interesting fact: black flies are more attrated to dark blue than white clothing. However, even black flies won't be caught wearing white after Labor Day.

Anyway, we were quite happy to have avoided the whole business and just had the mosquitoes to deal with. Hence, the entire cathedral's worth of citronella candles we had on hand. Still, we didn't do much beyond sit overlooking the lake with a stack of books and a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon (sorry, Audrey!). (K. goes to Kentucky fairly often to Corning's plant in Harrisburg, which is not far from the Bourbon Trail, and picked some up from the source. It's rather good.)

On Tuesday, we accidentally climbed up a mountain. That is, we had been in the Blue Mountain Lake general store (perfect when you're not looking for anything specific) and found a flyer on local hiking trails and throught we'd give one a try. The trailhead was just up the road, but, as it turned out, it was a 2-mile (one way) hike to the top of Blue Mountain (elevation 3,759 feet above sea level, but I believe from where we started it was only about 1,300 feet or something like that). Still it was rather steep, involved a lot of clambering over rocks, and it had been two or three years since I had last gone hiking--although it was not as arduous an ascent as the hike up Bash Bish Falls. At the top was a fire tower, the climbing of which was highly vertigo-inducing. Indeed, Jimmy Stewart was clinging to the ladder for dear life. Kim Novak was at the top about to be pitched off.

Still, the views from the summit were quite spectacular:

We also had a good view of Blue Mountain Lake, and could even spot generally where our cabin was:
There is also a sort of unwritten code of mountain hiking that states that, while descending, you offer encouragement to those on the way up (i.e., "The top isn't far"; "There's only one more really steep bit"; "You're utterly doomed. Turn back!")

We weren't aware just how high we had climbed until Thursday, when we rented a boat on Blue Mountain Lake and happened to see the mountain from afar:
You can't see it in the iPhone photo, but from the lake we could make out the fire tower we had climbed, as well as the cell phone tower at the summit--which is why I can get reception in the middle of the lake, but not anywhere else, as other mountains and landforms in the area block the reception. Thankfully.

I did actually check my e-mail once in the boat in the middle of the lake--but got aggravated by a note from a colleague, realized why I liked being incommunicado, and turned the iPhone off until I got home over the weekend.

I could have used another week there. Or three. Or...

Speaking of incommunicado, here's a blast from the past:

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