Risk-taking clearly has its limitations

As youngster, l was an avid risk-taker. I rarely turned down an opportunity to take on a dare. I viewed the outdoors as one big, wild obstacle course, where the waters were always deeper, the mountains always steeper, the ice thinner and my mind forever filled with thoughts of what was going on outdoors. I always managed to get a desk with a window view.

Fortunately, l learned how to temper my risk assessments, and as a result I never broke a bone that required a cast or knocked out a tooth that needed repair. I can still count to 20 with all of the required digits intact and my legs are still long enough and strong enough to cart me through hell, high water and just about anything else that is in my path.

I mention such matters in an effort to introduce readers to what appears to be a growing epidemic of extreme sports. Now, please don’t get me wrong. l admire anyone who is fit enough, strong enough and just a little bit off kilter enough to spend a full of day swimming, pedaling and running in all sorts of weather, competing in events such as the Ironman, the Tinman and similar such herculean efforts on snowshoes, in canoes or even on unicycles. Such feats are emblematic of the participant’s unending enthusiasm and drive, and the sponsors commitment.

Although such events have become anchors and cornerstones of the region’s overall sports tourism “gravy train,” there appear to be a few chinks in the armor. It was bound to happen. Whenever you mix activities that are essentially designed to be non-competitive, there’s sure to trouble down the line.

While the Saranac Lake 6er climbing campaign was expected to be a boon for local tourism, trails on the six smallish mountains have become an eyesore, especially little Mount Baker and the nearby neighborhood. Similar conditions can be found at nearly all of the 6er trailheads where adequate parking and porta-poties are always in dire need.

Similar situations are evident within the core of the High Peaks, where the once vaunted ADK 46ers reigned supreme. Back then, the term “trail-less,” was truly trail-less, and the accomplishment of tackling a High Peak was considered an experience rather than a race to the top.

Some time back in the Cave Dog Days, the need for speed twisted the definition from climbing a mountain to peak bagging. The progression was eventual, but no one could have predicted that it would culminate in a keg party breaking out atop the 4,116-foot summit of Phelps Peak. Mr. Orson “Old Mountain” Phelps must have been shaking his head that day.

The incident raised eyebrows throughout the climbing community, and it provided a careful warning of what you wish for and never hope to see.

Tourism officials recognize and understand the value of word of mouth advertising. A decade or so ago, this type of advertising was still a relatively inexpensive and locally based means of getting the word out.

Unfortunately, word of mouth advertising also has a down side, especially in the age of Twitter, Facebook and similar means of instant online communications. It is human nature to talk about the downside of matters and we all know bad news travels faster and farther than good news.

We don’t talk about the best restaurant in town until they burn a steak or offer poor service. Vacationers can be either the region’s best advertisers or the worst critics.

As if to illustrate the situation, ask boaters about about Saranac Lake, and you’ll hear all about the boat launch, even though the bass fishing has been both hot and heavy. I recently heard from a reliable source of several impressive fish that include an 8-plus pound brown trout and a similarly sized smallmouth bass. Good for the fish and the fishermen. Both of the fish were safely released.

Recent fly hatches have been prolific on both the rivers and the lakes. Although hatches of mayflies, stoneflies and caddis flies have been particularly prolific to date, their smaller, blacker biting cousins have been nearly non-existent so far.

I’m not complaining. Over the course of a recent jaunt through the Seven Carries, I never offered up a single drop of blood, nor were there any deer flies orbiting my hatless noggin. I suppose l have provided them with enough liquid love over the years that a little respite might be in order.

Colors have come to the bogs again, as Pitcher Plants, Marsh Marigolds, Moccasin Flowers, Trout Lillies and Jack in the Pulpit are currently in bloom.

With the burst of color come calls of “Jug-a-Rum, Jug-a-Rum,” which have been mixed with the peeps of a million peepers and the steady lawn mower beats of ruffed grouse thumping their chests. Add to the list spotted salamanders, loons, Canada geese, some prehistoric looking snapping turtles and the steady hum of billions and billions of flying insects.

Bug season will bring on a common seasonal sight, as locals and visitors alike attempt to shoo away ever-advancing squadrons of blackflies, mosquitoes and no-see-ums.

Fear not, the black fly season will be replaced soon enough by the deer fly season, which will usher in the horse fly season, mosquito season, no-see-ums and eventually the tourist season. It is always a gamble to guess which season will be the worst or the toughest, and it often comes down to a toss up between the black flies and the no-see-ums.


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