Kayaking in Cooperstown

Yesterday (6/18/06)

Squinting sweating, and extremely thirsty at the same time, I role over and check my watch sitting on my sun baked window sill. 10:15am, not too bad, why the hell is it so hot already I wonder to myself. I take a swig from the lemon lime seltzer that is perched up against my bed. It is warm and flat, but I let the last hints of refreshingness wash over my palate. I hurry to the bathroom to embark on my ritual peeing session. About to don my teffillin, I realize I need to take a dump, good, I can read the atlas and wonder where to go. I am already thinking I will definitely take my kayak out. Man it is so hot my ass is sticking to the seat already, hmm Adirondacks or Catskills. In the corner of my mind I am recalling my phone message left last night on my new friend Michelle’s machine stating my offer for a hike today. I know she will probably be busy, and hates cell phones so it will take her some time to get back to me. Maybe G-d is kicking me back about my anti-cell phone theories. This always happens by the way, meet some girl get all gung-ho and then wait frantically for their phone calls while convincing myself that there may be some future with them.

Is there a future with this girl, I think, as I drove my car with my kayak on top down the thruway going west. My kayak is making a racket as I bob my head to some Reel Big Fish blaring on my 8 speakers trying to take my mind off of the glistening sweat beginning to accumulate between my legs and Man-boobs. I guess Catskills win- based on my decision to be closer to home should this girl actually call. I say I don’t play games, but if I wasn’t I would just call her back- NO I cant look too desperate. Cooperstown 51 miles, I didn’t know it was that far. Down route 20 I go, US Route 20 is the alternate route west of I-90, pre-interstate this was the main route from Boston to San-Francisco, I like these old main routes because they tend to be the most dilapidated since the Interstate tends to take 99% of traffic away from them. They tend to littered with signs of our road trip past, old ice cream stands, gas stations, abandoned motor lodges and old signs beckoning weary travelers to stop and eat or sleep or play. These icons of American culture are almost all gone in the eastern edge of this country though in the west where things are replaced at a slower pace they tend to last through the re-deveopment of landscape into suburban shopping centers. My mind drifts back to Michelle and our chance meeting. One week ago my friend Chavi approached me and said that her friend Michelle was asking about me and was going to email me from myspace.com. I never have much to do with myspace being that I think that stuff is ridiculous. Well I felt like I was in high school again checking my email 5 times a day waiting to hear response from the message I sent to her. Why was she so cool? She is beautiful and according to her profile a music junky and into hiking, and frum, oh heshman is falling for some girl who sent him a one lined email.

Last Wednesday night I was at Chavi’s house listening to some music, when she all of the sudden called Michelle to ask why she never emailed me. Then I was placed on the phone with her, and for the next 3 hours I was thoroughly impressed with this girl whom I had never met or seen. Very easy going, I asked her to meet me for some live jazz the next night- to which she agreed- though she tried to imply it was not a date- of course it wasn’t because I aint paying, or picking up I thought to myself. I meet her at the muddy cup- and am shocked at her beauty- she is I would have to say one of the most beautiful girls I have ever seen and she is wearing a skirt and long sleeves. We jump easily into conversation ranging from the quality of art adorning the coffee shops walls to the recent gay marriage amendment to the music of Steve Vai to making fun of seminary girls. She asks me if I wanna walk instead of sitting inside the noisy café. A few things I want to note- this girl is not shy with me at least at all. She is extremely expressive and not afraid to say whats on her mind- most girls do not do this. It is eventually me who tells her it is getting late and I must go to sleep. Heshman has met and befriended the hottest coolest chick, now what happens is always the same- I fall for the girl- eventually tell her, get rejected the classic we can be friends line, then I sulk for a day or two, then realize she wasn’t for me, then become better friends and wonder how could have ever liked her in the first place.

I slam the stick into 2nd gear from 5th and pull a ghetto u-turn to focus my attention at one of the oddest cars I have ever seen. A bright green 1960’s VW Beetle jack up about 4 feet with huge truck tires sits awaiting a mad buyer willing to shell out $6,000 for this hulking beast. You know I should publish a photography book on the things for sale on the sides of back roads in rural America.

There is nothing like a Sunday afternoon driving down some windy dirt road with your kayak and bikes on the roof rack, shirt off, blasting some bluegrass or 80s metal, with no real destination. The twang of the banjo, the flow of the fiddle, and the noise of rocks slamming up against my cars underbody, the sweaty towel acting as my seat cover, so my back doesn’t stick to my leather car seat, the sneer of foreign car drivers as they stare at me and whisper “white trash” amongst themselves.

I am in Cooperstown NY, home to the farmers museum and baseball hall fame, home to a beautiful main street, and sides streets lined with beautiful Victorian homes, also home to Otsego Lake- stretching about 15 miles north starting in downtown Cooperstown. As a child my dad would take us here and we would ride this old wooden boat that made trips up and down the lake. I was always fascinated by this castle like structure sitting in the middle of the lake. It was my intention to kayak out to it and check it out. The lake was very crowded- and the boat launch charged 10 bucks to my dismay, so I had to park on some side street and walk my boat to a beach where it would be free. I have not kayaked yet this season so I knew my arms would hurt from the workout.

Even in the crowded lake with all the party boats and jet skiers speeding about, I did not fail to find my own solitude and happiness. Lounging on my kayak lost in my own thoughts, frying on the sun, dipping my feet in the water off the sides, and munching on a protein bar, ah a little piece of heaven. I always dreamed of being able to go boating whenever I wanted- as a New Yorker you don’t think things like this are possible, you think only rich people can afford boats because the only boats you ever see are yachts. For some reason I am singing at the top of my lungs Zoot Suite Riot by the Cherry Poppin Daddies- where the hell did this come from?

I finally after an hour of paddling, chilling, and singing reach my castle like structure- really it is only about 100 feet from the shore connected with a strip of rock. It appears to be some sort of mini-church- cool non-the less. It is interesting because with kayaking I cannot do it for more then 2 hours- I blame it on A.D.D. but who knows- maybe lack of action, I can bike for hours on end.

The second I get out of my kayak back at shore I feel the heat of the day once again. It hits you like a truck but the water is way to cold to swim in. I sit at the shore on a bench and watch the few families swimming and wading in the water. A family of fat people is providing me with thoughts, as a man on a bike with a few kids pulls up. I begin comparing the families. One skinny one fat to each other. Fat family- loud noisy father has a tattoo, Skinny family- nicer swimsuits politely spoken and good bike. Hmm…as a sociologist I must say fat people must be poorer and have less access to healthy foods, gyms, workout equipment, fancier foods with lower fat content, etc….Or maybe they are just lazy hmm…Ok I got to go do some riding and check my phone for that holy grail phone call from Michelle. Let me tell you how I know I am getting desperate, on Sundays I never leave my phone on- but for that missed call from Michelle- I was looking forward to all during my kayak- no I did not get it, so I relented and called her- did not leave a message because she would know what I was calling about. 30 minutes she called me back to apologize for not calling- I of course know she hates cell phones and do not expect her to call so quickly- and say that I am on the road wandering and its no big deal for her not to come hiking. It isn’t but of course I want to see her badly.

With that down the drain I continue to drive south east on route 23 going nowhere in particular just enjoying the wavy long grass waving in the hot, humid, breeze. How I wish it were august- the Catskill roads dotted with makeshift farm stands selling my favorite – cherry tomatoes, orange ones, and yellow ones. Oh how I long for the sweet, dirt covered, fruits, filling up old plastic bags in my front seat. The future cornfields are now just long rows of semi-plowed dirt waiting for the callused hands of their loved farmers to plant this year’s crop of corn, soybeans, or my luxurious cherry tomatoes.

There is one thing I especially like of this part of the season. My first whiff of freshly cut long grass being cut by old men on Sunday afternoons, riding their John Deere’s across their 5 acre manicured lawns or fields as we city folk would call them. How I love the smell of fresh long grass, normal grass just doesn’t cut it. Seeing those old men dressed in short khaki shorts, and plaid button down shirts, opened, shirttails waving in the wind exposing their chest hairs, makes my nostrils long for the inevitable. Like a fine dry red wine with fish, the only thing that accompanies this smell is the banjo, fiddle, and mandolin, simultaneously joined with old Kentucky coal miners’ perfectly harmonious voices, singing about the Confederacy and their love of Jesus.

I feel a headache coming on from the heat and decide I will drive aimlessly rather then ride, its already 5:30pm so I should start heading back anyway. I hook a right onto mountain ave in Stamford- home to the headwaters of the Delaware river, mountain ave becomes a dirt road and at some point there is a turn off to drive to the top of Mt. Unsyantha- I remember my father trying to drive up the road and turning around- we did have a Camary and only front wheel drive, so I figured it would be another test for my all wheel drive car. Throwing it into first then quickly second and staying there I slowly made my up the narrow, rocky, rutted toad, to the top. I do enjoy knowing that if I get stuck I am screwed and will have to back down because there is no room for a u-turn. My car is bumping around and rocks are flying, suddenly a break in the trees reveals a pull off accompanied by a 3000 foot hazy view of the farmland below. This is indeed a good reward, though after laying there soaking it up for 10 minutes the large black flies become unbearable and I continue to the very top. At the top there is a small history of the park and a fire tower, again the flies annoy me and I decide to make my way down. At about midway down I encounter a small compact car fearfully lead footed on his breaks trying not to die as they go down. I make my move to pass and it moves aside- I pass by fast leaving them in awe of my driving abilities and in a cloud of dust. I then decide to drive on this road I once found but wasn’t very safe for my Volvo, low clearance and front wheel drive issues are letting me discover once impassable roads all over again. Road Seven- not even containing a sign that states “limited use highway” usually roads that are more suited to 4 wheel drive vehicles are noted as such- this road should have been. Midway I notice 3 raccoons eying me from a tree, I snap a few pictures at their curious fuzzy selves and continue on my journey into the unknown.

For some reason whenever I am in the Catskills I always take route 32 back to Albany and not the thruway- no matter how tired I am. Well about 20 miles south of Albany I turn on some road that I think hooks up with this other road- ghetto country roads short cut I think. I am listening to the Doors now- wondering if Michelle likes them since she is a Dylan fan and all. All of the sudden I hit it- the dread that one like myself gets when we are welcomed back from our trance by encountering that first suburban plaza or first cul-de-sac. Oh how I hate seeing a store larger then a bathroom stall with those bright florescent lights, containing a bunch of yellow Ford Explorers packed to the brim with children returning from soccer games, eating popsicles. How I instantly long for those lines of people gawking at classic cars at the roadside ice cream stands, How long for that smell of fresh grass caught between the blades of a John Deere riding mower, how I long for dilapidated towns with the closest thing to a shopping plaza is the general store next to the gas station. After the suburban hell sets in and my eyes adjust to the sore sights of the concrete jungle and the pre-fabricated Victorian wanna be homes, the thought of the week of work ahead fills my mind with even more longing for the open road, the woods, and the safe hull of my kayak floating down Otsego Lake.

The upside of this reawakening is the reminder that whenever I want, the woods, fields, streams and small towns are merely a few miles down the road from all this madness. I find myself once again driving 70 MPH on a scenic-free stretch of road sunken between long blocks of look-alike homes with their foreign cars and i-pod yielding children. I am driving through the everyday world of nothingness and materialism. We enter, drive and exit without a sense of feeling. We the drivers constantly angry trying to get ahead of the next- longing to make the next light- before it casts us down to waiting amid our hulking plastic and metal cocoons. One would think with the invention of leather seats, 8 speaker sound systems, DVD, and satellite radio drivers would be a more peaceful breed. But no we drive with our windows shut look straight ahead with a look of “if you fucking look at me I will tear your head off” look.

I drop off my kayak at my buddies house where I will be moving in a week or so. And Drive to a suburban plaza to buy some frozen TV dinners for the week ahead, even I can only escape the world of shopping malls, cul-de-sac’s and chain stores- I am always thrust right back into it.

The music of the city accompanies me as I make my way back to my apartment in downtown Albany. I am once again racing with the tinted windowed SUV with spinning wheels to the next light. I am once again listening to the harsh voices of metal heads barking of fast cars and hot women rather then harmonious voices singing of southern pride and Jesus. I have once again arrived home.