During our travels, people often ask where us where we’re from. I believe it’s fairly standard to ask that question; my accent or inability to speak the native tongue is a clear give-away, and people are generally curious. I usually attempt to tell people
I’m from Rochester, NY; which is in the Finger Lakes, in the western part of New York, no it’s not Buffalo, it’s closer to Toronto than NYC… (and when all that fails to register, I leave it at) “I’m from New York.” In most cases, they assume Manhattan. I sometimes try and correct them, but then it gets back into the loop of trying to explain to them all the parts of NY. I let it go for two reasons; 1) it’s easier and briefer than explaining what New York really is, and 2) they get excited talking to a real New Yorker, I’ll let them have their moment.
(Alright, I’m about to bust out some neat facts about the Adirondacks, so to best appreciate this next part, you should be drinking a bottle of “Saranac Brewery” beer or soft drink, which is named after Saranac Lake, a popular lake within the Adirondacks. The brewery is owned by the F.X. Matt Brewing Co.)
While NYC accounts for about 43% of NY’s population, there is much more to NY than just the 5 boroughs. The full explanation of all the different parts of NY will have to wait for another post, but for reference, the state of NY is larger in mass (but not in population) than England. The entire state has so much to offer. NY has not just one, but two mountain regions; the Catskills and the Adirondacks. Keeping with my theme of “this will fit in this,” the Adirondacks are so massive that you can fit the entire state of New Jersey inside of the 6.1 million acres of preserved land. (That and 9 other awesome facts are found here.) The “Adirondack Mountains” are inside of the “Adirondack Park,” which was established in 1892 as a New York State Forest Preserve. A unique distinction of the park is that fact that 51% of the land is privately owned. According to the Adirondack Park Agency Annual Report (2014) the park consists of 102 towns and villages, 132,000 residents, 10,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams. Read those numbers again… sounds amazing, right?
Having grown up just below the Adirondacks, about an hour away, I would often spend time in “the mountains” as a kid. Being one of the 10,000,000 yearly tourists that come through the area was always a treat; I have many fond memories of camping, canoeing, and hiking in the park. Serenity had also vacationed there as a kid, mostly to snowmobile with her family. So this winter, when her family invited us to spend a weekend in “the mountains,” we jumped at it. Serenity’s father and brother are avid snowmobilers and they frequently come up to Old Forge, one of the most notable locations in the region, with their “sleds” to take advantage of the copious amounts of snow and (seemingly) endless trails available.
From where we live, Old Forge is about a 2 hour drive. After picking up our niece, Alexis, we had an enjoyable drive up to the mountains, and “up” in altitude it was. The 4 lane highways end half way there, then you hit the “North Country” with back-country roads. As the trip progressed, we noticed how the snowbanks increased in height, double that of what was back home. We were thankful our car was All-Wheel-Drive, it’s hard to imagine getting around the area with a vehicle that’s not equipped with such. By the time we arrived at the cabin, it was late and very dark. We headed to bed to rest up for the long weekend ahead.
After a hearty breakfast of pancakes larger than your face at a local diner (and there are plenty of them in town), we picked up a rental snowmobile for Serenity and Alexis and went back to the cabin to get ready. Back at the cabin, everyone put on multiple layers of warm clothes and got ready to go; there were 8 people between the ages of 2 and 72 heading out. I know what you’re thinking: “You let that old man drive a snowmobile?!” But there’s no stopping Cam Sutherland, even at 72. And if you’re wondering about Luke, the 2 year old, he rode the whole time between 2 people and only napped some of the time.
Because I have 2 herniated disks, the thought of riding 100’s of miles on bumpy trails with minimal suspension seemed like torture, so I decided to head into town to do some exploring. I’m sure you’ve heard of a “Winter Wonderland” but it’s likely the people who coined this phrase had Old Forge in mind. The tiny village is sprawling with people during the Spring, Summer, and Fall. In the Winter months, though, the town is quiet and charming.
The main drag of Old Forge is a scene like no other. It’s like stepping back into time as many of the buildings look to be from a different era. Some of the architecture matches that of the natural surroundings, including wooden facades. One distinguishing fact about Old Forge is the character of the village; the stores and restaurants that line the village are totally unique and each has their own quirk about them. Each business possesses a distinct personality and charm that makes you want to step in and explore. The closest thing you’ll get to seeing a large corporation in Old Forge is the gas station at the edge of the village. (One of the two hardware stores – yes, they have two, more on this later – displays a corporate banner, but it is a locally owned franchise.)
The main drag is about a mile long, but you’d swear it was longer. Maybe it’s because I walked the entire stretch very ill equipped in my dress shoes. (What was I thinking?!?! I wasn’t planning on walking that much, just hit a couple stores, but I kept going! What a city slicker I am!)
The experience of seeing Old Forge in the winter was special. It truly does feel like a unique place that you only see in the movies (I usually imagine one of my favorites, Out Cold.) The town is (almost) completely taken over by the snowmobiling culture. You will see snowmobiles everywhere; pulling right up to the gas pumps, parked in a parking lot and zipping through the fields and crossing roads. Driving your car on the roads can be a little strange – you will see headlights coming at you to the right of your car, making you think that you’re on the wrong side of the road. After panic sets in, you realize it’s a snowmobile in the field ridding parallel to the road. One night I met everyone at a local bar/restaurant for dinner as they were driving their snowmobiles there and I was arriving by car. My GPS guided me to a destination that had signs along the way reading “cars beyond this point MUST have 4 WHEEL DRIVE” and the road dropped down to a valley where the restaurant was. There was not a single place to park as the parking lot was completely filled with snowmobiles. I couldn’t count all the snowmobiles, but I was one of 3 cars.
To appreciate a fraction of the winter wonderland that is Old Forge, I would suggest checking out my Old Forge gallery. They give a really neat insight into a bustling tourist destination that was frozen in the middle of winter. One of the places I photographed was the theme park “Enchanted Forrest Water Safari” which at the time was a parking lot for snowmobile trailers and a giant (temporary) fuel pump. One very neat things to see was how the town was supporting two Winter Olympic participants. There were banners and signs all over town, many people were also wearing shirts to support the town. We just so happened to be visiting during a big weekend as well, it was the winter festival. This event seemed to be just for the locals, which is appropriate because the area is flooded with tourist all other times of the year. While we missed the events, there were fireworks, a parade, and a party for local residents. It did sound pretty neat.
While Old Forge is famous for its beautiful and breathtaking preserved wilderness, most people know it for the fair weather months. But, if you’re brave, the winter scene in Old Forge can be just as wonderful and memorable for your next weekend trip. So start planning for next year – if you don’t snowmobile or ski (there is a slope just outside of the village), you’ll still enjoy pulling up to the fire in the cabin and reading a good book between trips to the village. Just be nice to the locals and respect the beautifully preserved Adirondack park.