Saturday, August 16, 2014

Biking Santanoni

(Karen and Janet rode up the carriage road )
Some of you will remember my post from this past winter entitled, "Santanoni Ski."  In subzero temperatures with deep fluffy snow, a group of us skied into the Santanoni Great Camp, a National Historic Landmark in Newcomb, once owned by the Pruyn family.  Ever since then, my friend, Karen, had been determined to ride our bikes in.  A couple of people we knew had done it, and visiting the Great Camp in the summer would offer a different interest and beauty from winter.
(Summer air comes through the main lodge's windows; a big change from when we were here before!)
On a cool damp July day, our mutual friend, Janet, joined Karen and me for the outing.  A five-mile ride on a bike is not a big challenge, but patches of soft dirt, that could make us spin out on our hybrid bikes, forced us to be extra cautious. Still, the old carriage road was a comfortable ride on a gradual uphill through a rich green forest.

At the farm site, we could see the remains of the big barn, burned down a decade ago. This farm produced large quantities of produce, despite farming in the Adirondacks being notoriously difficult. Today the fields are mostly forested, but we could still discern boulders poking through the shallow grass, and stones throughout the landscape. While I love the deep woods that have reclaimed the land, I wondered what it had been like to see across open farm fields to myriad majestic Adirondack peaks. 

(Beautiful woodwork was made from trees on the property)
In just about an hour, we arrived at the camp. Only the great room had been open for us to view in winter; now we had access to every room in every building. As Great Camps go, this one is rustic, a place to enjoy nature and summer sports. The Pruyns of the late 19th century and early 20th century came here to have fun with a few select friends and family, away from work in Albany.

(Hailey restores and  reglazes windows)

Besides the summer openness of the grounds, Santanoni advertises tours.  In fact, Hailey, an intern majoring in historic preservation, did not give us a tour, but talked to us on the porch, telling us the history of the property, and encouraged us to take a self-guided tour through the buildings.

With rain in the forecast, and the sky a heavy gray, we decided to save perusing the buildings for later, and, instead, chose to go out for a boat ride before the rain set in.  Just downhill from the lodge, the boat house, where the Pruyn family had kept canoes, guideboats, and rowboats for their own use on Newcomb Lake, sits on the water's edge. The public is encouraged to use the boats currently stored there and explore the lake, its islands and coves, and to view the Great Camp from the water.

(Karen paddled on Newcomb Lake using a kayak from the boat house)
Janet, Karen and I were excited to find three canoes and a kayak in the boat house.  Without deliberation, we decided that Karen should have the kayak, and Janet and I would take a canoe.  Then we looked closer.  One canoe had a sign on it that read "this boat leaks."  We eliminated that one. Of the remaining two canoes, one was very large, so we chose the other as less cumbersome.

Karen was already in the water. Janet and I carried our canoe down the ramp. Next, she climbed into the bow and sat down.  From behind her, I could see the metal seat sag and the sides of the boat draw in.  "Janet!" I called out.  "Aluminum shouldn't do that! What if the sides crack while we're out on the lake?"  Janet and I carried the canoe back into the boathouse.  All that was left was the big canoe.  We couldn't lift this one, so we dragged it to the water.  It was definitely sea-worthy. 

(we were drawn to the lake on the other side of the bridge)

While the equipment proved to be a bit sketchy, paddling on this remote lake was a dream.  We headed towards the bridge that we had just ridden our bikes over.  Earlier, we had heard the call of a loon from the far side.  Hoping to see the loon now, we went under the bridge and into the open water beyond. Leafy shrubs between gray rocks dipped into the water along a shoreline devoid of sign of man...or any sign of the loon.

We could have gone a long distance on this small lake, but, afraid that a storm might come up quickly, we decided to turn around.  Suddenly, the rhythmic sound of flapping wings made us look up. Just above, large and black, our loon went over our heads towards the other section of the lake!

(Janet enjoyed her solid seat in this canoe)

Paddling back under the bridge and closer to the camp, we were within a stone's throw of the boathouse if the weather changed.  We reveled in the peace and quiet as we meandered through this calm water, but we knew there was a time when conversation and laughter, combined with outdoor activity, made this a more active scene.

(the main lodge of Santanoni Great Camp is tucked into the woods)

For the Pruyns, amusement was the order of the day--plays, story telling, poetry writing, music, games, and outdoor sports filled the time they spent here. Bedrooms were not luxurious, with the idea that guests should get up and outdoors, not languish indoors on comfy mattresses. The lodge's wrap-around porch drew people out of the buildings.

(the artist's cottage would be a perfect cottage for me!)

Fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, or picnicking on an island in the lake, could all be done on a moment's notice. An artistic Pruyn son had his own artist studio, and a daughter enjoyed her nearby gazebo. Part way around the lake a small building housed towels for swimming, and changing rooms, at a time when modesty demanded that swimmers be on the fringe of visibility.

The sky grew darker and a few sprinkles fell...and then we saw the loon, a final touch of wildness on this lake within the mountains.  We paddled close to him and he slipped beneath the water, turning up a little farther away on our other side.  He seemed relaxed, looking around, and then stretched up, preening.  We were enthralled.  After a while he dove down and reappeared farther away.  By now, the rain came down harder and we paddled back toward shore, past the artist's cottage, past the great lodge, and into the boat house.

We were grateful for the big porch where we could sit at a picnic table with our lunch and look through scrap books and photo albums portraying the Great Camp's heyday. The photos showed women walking on logs like balance beams, men writing rhymes describing an evening's antics, children using child-sized canoes or making collections of moss and stones they had found in the woods.

Even the staff had more leisure time when they came north.  With functional decor, cleaning required less effort and upkeep than in the Pruyn's formal home. Seasonal meals with the day's catch, and fresh produce from the farm, made cooking simpler too. Just the same, while the whole lodge might only have 15 people staying at one time, 70 staff members were needed to run the place.

(the wide porch surrounds the lodge and sheltered us from the rain)

A family joined us on the porch at another table.  They had just arrived on their bikes.   After perusing the albums, we took a careful look inside all of the buildings, and we chatted with Hailey. Our decision to paddle on the lake first had worked out perfectly.

Before long, the rain turned to drizzle, and we decided to walk the path to the artist's cottage.  Inside, we saw the massive stone fireplace and the view of the lake out the large front window.  We didn't stay long, because it appeared that this building was currently being used as the interns' residence.  We imagined what it must be like to wake up amidst the wild splendor of Newcomb Lake and the shrill call of the loons.

Walking farther along the path, we came to a little sand bar and took off our shoes. Although the air was cool, the water felt warm.  Surely the Pruyns and their friends had waded here. 

(Ladies having fun in a line dance)

In the spirit of the fun-loving women visiting the Great Camp a hundred years ago, Karen and Janet kicked up their heels on the lake shore in the drizzle. Salut!

(Ladies having fun in a line dance--just like those in the other photo, right?)

Hours had passed since we left our bikes under a back porch roof at the main lodge.  In a light drizzle, we began the return ride along the dirt carriage road. Although we remembered that we had ridden on a gradual ascent on the way in, the speed of our descent took us by surprise. We pulled on our brakes the whole way, conscious that we might skid out more easily in the soft spots on the down grades.

Janet flew!  A very athletic and strong woman, Janet appeared fearless.  At a more level spot, she waited for Karen and me.  With near panic in her voice, her words tumbled out, "My brakes are hardly working!  I don't want to go so fast!"   At the farm area, we stopped again. The descent had leveled and Janet had more control. The rain had stopped, so we relaxed a moment before the last half-mile to our cars.

(the gatehouse made an elegant statement to guests entering the Santanoni Great Camp)

Near the parking lot, the property's gatehouse, with upstairs residence for the gate keeper of long ago, is impressive.  We entered a small gift shop that sold maps, books, and other items on trust.  I bought a booklet about the family and the property, leaving money in the cash box.

We were drawn to the creek alongside the building, which connects Lake Harris and Rich Lake, where we could see blue mountains in the distance.  Then we rode into the parking lot and loaded our bikes onto the cars.

(there is no end to beautiful scenery here)

We thought about other friends of ours who would enjoy this trip. Maybe we'll come again next year and bring them along.  We'll just be sure to check the boats carefully before we put one of them in the water!