Thursday, July 23, 2015

Off the Grid, or Life as it Once Was - Old Forge, NY

View at Flat Rock, a short trail to magnificent beauty

After a couple of July weeks of camps and carpools and organized life, as well as Brazilian and American visitors, we left last Saturday for a four and a half hour car trip to Old Forge, New York, in the Adirondacks region. 

In case any of my foreign readers are not familiar with the Adirondacks, they are 6.2 million acres of loveliness, about 40 percent of which is state-owned, and the other 60 percent privately owned but highly regulated by a state agency. Depending on who you believe (and you'd better swallow hard), "Adirondacks" mean "they eat trees" or possibly "porcupines" (I love you wikipedia!). It was only named in the late 1800s--before then it was known as "Deer Hunting Territory" which is the title now bequeathed on Weston, MA. Just kidding, bambi lovers. In any case, I want to encourage you to NOT visit so I can keep it to myself. No seriously, it's terrible there; please read no further.

I will not bore you with the travails of long trips with twin 8 year old boys. Suffice it to say that we were very happy to arrive at the gatehouse of the Adirondack League Club in Old Forge. But before I talk about ALC, let me tell you a little bit about how we were lucky enough to know about it. Because, you see, the ALC is the world's best-kept secret. Yes, I am telling you but only because I know that only my mom and BH actually read this blog. Okay, maybe not BH. Let me show you case in point on the secretiveness of the organization. This is their website:

That's it, that's all they wrote. Now here's what you need to know: it's a membership organization, they are preserving the wilderness (and have done so since the late 1800s) and you can't go without knowing a member (which we do). Lucky us.

So, getting back to how we got in. We got ourselves a little guest pass that carefully and largely spelled out the day we were leaving. Yes. We were just pulling in, and they were ready for us to pull out. We didn't take it personally. After passing through the gatehouse, we drove to the so-called Little Moose lodge to wait for our friends, who we will call James and Joyce since I have no permission to publicly name them and since they are off the grid for the next two weeks, I am going with a literary pseudonym. 

James' family have been members of the club since the 1920s and he is married to Joyce, a Brazilian and we have known them since our kids were in school together back in 2009. They are a fun family--early morning off-the-dock dives, letting my kids drive the boat (help!) and all games, all the time.

Now let me explain off the grid. Cell phones don't work. There are no home phones. No internet, no TV, no nada except electricity and that depends on where you are whether it is generator-produced or not. As James said, if he ever had to escape the law, this is where he would go off-grid. I didn't think about that too much. I'm sure he meant it rhetorically.

So, since I want to stick in lots of photos to make sure you are all suitably envious of my life, here is the Little Moose Lodge:

There is not much "little" about it, really. Oh wait, I forgot. This is not the Lodge, it is the Summer House. Yes, this building is only used in the summer--it is not weather-proofed. So, they also have a Winter Lodge, which is right up the hill, and is used all winter long for those fans of snow sports and snowmobiling and freezing your toots off. 

Now this is actually a newer Summer House. The older one burnt down in the late 1940s to the great relief of the members of the Adirondack League Club. Why was it a relief? It was ENORMOUS! I saw a photo of it in the ALC photo book and it was basically a rustic wood castle, if you will. The upkeep was pretty spectacular for a then-800, now 400-member club. 

I've tried to search a map online to show you the extent of the 53,000 acre ALC property--actually two separate properties. It does not exist. You can find a map of Little Moose lake, and you can find one of the Adirondacks but you cannot find the lake where we were: Woodhull. Or Honnedaga which is the third lake. Oh okay you can but you'll have to squint here. We were at the lake far up to the left.

What's my point? My point is that two of these three lakes are motor-free. You may not jetski, you may not waterski, you may not motorboat. You get kayaks and guideboats and sailboats and standup paddle. That is all. On the lake where we stayed you are allowed to pass through with a boat (hence the prevalence of pontoon boats) but no zipping around with kids on innertubes. Boats are used because there is no road. None. The Adirondacks are QUIET. I like them like that. Please don't go.

Why yes, we do hunt here in the Addies
 The truth of it is that the inside areas of the Adirondack houses, cottages and lodges are places where you are more than happy to spend a rainy day. Well, okay, you are likely to have the head of some poor dead beast looking over you, but we're talking huge old stone fireplaces, large wood furniture, deep red-fabricked (may I, mom?) couches, rocking chairs and everyone's favorite, the Adirondack chair (well those are all outside but you get my point). Rustic charm. The charm that makes you want to buy the standing bear card holder or balsam wood garbage can before you come to your senses and realize it does not fit stylistically into your Colonial house in metrowest Boston. Though my brother has an Adirondack room at his apartment in Back Bay, complete with a half canoe bookcase. But I digress.

Rainy day great room at Little Moose Summer House. With dead animal over fireplace.

Bisby Lodge. Only place with wifi, 20 guys on the rocking chairs checking email

Boat House Bisby Lodge

Boat house Bisby Lodge: Lovely Adirondack Guideboats.

Where was I? Oh yes, so after meeting up with our friends, we had lunch in the beautiful restaurant on Little Moose Lake. In the summer house. And we didn't even have to pay!! No, that's not it. Members sign for the food like in a country club and then ante up later on. We hopped back into cars and drove twenty minutes to the crossing from shoreline to the house of our friends on Woodhull Lake. Or houses. Because everyone has a summer house (no insulation) and winter house (usually where the kitchen is and the family stays). 

I have to say that this trip was like going back to the early 1900s (if you forgive the two motorboats we used to cross over, oh, and electricity, whatever, come with me now). The houses are rustic and unapologetically so. The guideboat I would row around the island the next day was beautifully wood lined and graceful. Simple fun of jumping off docks into cold water. Building huge bonfires in firepits. Scrabble and card games. Hikes in the woods. Conversation and wine with friends. Fun with dogs.  And kids (yeah, almost forgot them). Life as it once was. And maybe should be for at least two weeks a year. 

Hard to get off the grid for two weeks or two months anymore. I would certainly like to try to again. We were there only four days--next year, I'm going for two weeks. Good thing James and Joyce don't know yet...right now, they're still off the grid. 

More gratuitous photos of my extremely awesome vacation:

Great room at our Summer House lodgings. Don't you want to read? Come on, rainy day!!

Bunk mates
Made for creaking back and forth on.


The four-bedroom summer house where we stayed

Dock at boathouse
And from a couple of hikes:

Woodhull Reservoir--reserved since 1870

Flat Rock trail. Mit Hund.

Hope you haven't read down to the bottom. I hope you hate this blog and the place. If you want more details about a stay there, the ALC is unlisted and off the grid. 

Me, I'm going back. Soon, I hope.


  1. My family had a house at Bisby going back many generations. I spent weeks and months there every summer. Those are my finest vacation memories. I haven't been since 2002 when my family last had their membership and the house was sold. I now wish I could take my son there to experience the things I cherished. I dream of Bisby often.

  2. you absolutely CANNOT rent a cottage or room at the ALC if you are not a member.

  3. You absolutely CANNOT rent a room or cottage at the ALC if you are not a member. not even guests of members may.

    1. Wow, did not know that. Thanks for the clarification--good thing I visit friends who are members!