Getting into gear

for paddling season


The sweet songs of spring

It was a week ago on Sunday when I heard it. I had just finished giving the kids a bath, and when I stepped outside to make sure that all of our bikes were put back in the shed, there it was. I quickly ran to the door - excited as a little kid on Christmas morning and hollered to my husband and kids to come listen. It doesn't matter how many times you hear the sweet noise of frogs singing their evening song, there is something special each year when you hear the spring peepers for the first time. I love that noise! To me it signifies the dawning of warm summer nights; those evenings spent around a campfire with family and good friends after a great day of playing on our mountains and swimming in our lakes.

As I turned in that evening, I could feel the excitement of the season ahead. I started running through the bucket list of things I wanted to do this summer, which was quickly followed by the checklist of things that still needed to be accomplished before the fun could really hit full swing. Is all of my gear ready?  

Spring into paddling season:

Q & A with the experts

I've never been one to try to pretend I'm an expert on everything (or anything for that matter). When it comes to gear and safety, it's always a good idea to turn to the experts. So when it is time to get my paddling gear ready for the season, I'm fortunate to have Anne Fleck of Raquette River Outfitters to turn to. Anne and her partner Rob have been operating the outfitters here since 1984 (as well as another branch in Long Lake). Not only are they extremely knowledgeable on all things paddling, they are great people who are ready and willing to help anyone get out and share their love for the water. Recently, I connected with Anne to answer a few questions that I had before getting my boat ready for the season - here is what she had to say.

Before you launch

A portion of the fleet at Raquette River Outfitters in Tupper Lake

Q: "So, I've pulled my kayak out of storage and I'm eager to get it in the water, but before I do, are there certain things that I should inspect?"

A:"Obviously, you want to make sure that it wasn't damaged over the winter. Check to make sure the hull is sound and all structural things are all still in good shape. Most importantly, make sure that the floatation tanks are still intact and that ice, snow, or a fallen tree limb hasn't caused any noticeable damage. It's also a good idea to give the boat a good scrubbing before you get out on the water - especially the inside to make sure that you are not taking any unwanted passengers along for the ride. Snakes, spiders, mice, and even some larger critters are known to 'move in' while the boats are in storage. It's much better to get them out while you are on land rather than have them surprise you once you are in the middle of the lake."

Q: "Any other steps you would recommend before getting the boat in the water?"

A: "While we are cleaning out our boats, we like to add a good UV protection such as 303. Just like you would apply sunscreen to your skin, UV protection to your boat will provide protection from fading and breakdown.

"I'd also recommend that you check the rest of your gear. Always make sure your life jacket is still good - a typical life jacket has about a 10-year life cycle. It is better to check your gear before you leave for your first outing, rather than getting out to your launch site and discovering that a mouse has chewed through half of your life jacket.

"If anyone ever has any questions about whether their boat is damaged, if their gear is alright to use, or even how to properly tie their boat on their vehicle, we are more than happy to answer their questions. They don't need to purchase anything in exchange for a quick consult - we are here to help them have fun and be safe."

Gearing up

Raquette River Outfitters headquarters on NYS Route 30 in Tupper Lake

Q: "When I'm hiking, I have a checklist of essentials that I always carry (even if it is just a day trip) such as a flashlight, extra batteries, first aid kit, etc. However, when I'm paddling, I tend to have a bad habit of packing as light as possible so that I am not contending with a bunch of wet gear when I get home.

"Are there certain items that you would recommend any paddler have with them, even for only a half-day trip?"

A: "I highly recommend that any paddler be prepared for the worst... even if you only think you are going for a short trip. You don't need to lug around a lot of heavy gear, but you should have a dry bag that includes a first-aid kit, sunglasses, sun block, maps or guides, extra layers, a towel, plenty of water, and food. It's a good idea to have duct tape to do emergency repairs should you hit a rock or something else. I also recommend that everyone keeps a whistle tethered to their life jacket with a lanyard that is long enough to allow them to use it should there be an emergency. Using a whistle takes much less energy than yelling and the sound will travel much further."

Q: "What tips do you have for keeping everything dry, and even more importantly - not in the bottom of the lake?"

A: "A good dry bag is the key. They come in a variety of sizes and will not only keep your gear dry, but are buoyant as well."

Early season paddling advice

Anne enjoying a very early season paddle (Raquette River Outfitters photo)

Q: "Since the ice coverage broke early this year, I'm feeling that urge to get out on the water much sooner than normal... then I remember that the water is still very cold. What should someone know about going out before the water temperature has warmed up? 

A: "Life jackets and a wet or dry suit are a must, even for the most seasoned paddlers! I always say to dress and prepare to swim, as you never know what might happen. Hypothermia can set in quick in the cold water temperatures. I also would not recommend that someone who has never paddled before and/or isn't experienced in a boat go out before the water temp warms up. However, with the proper gear and dressing appropriately you can definitely extend the season. I've already been out on a stand up paddle board this year and it was beautiful - but I was dressed for it!" 

First time paddler?

Anne Fleck helps me demo a pack basket canoe at Raquette River Outfitters.

Q: "As an outfitter, you must meet a lot of people who are looking to go canoeing or kayaking for the first time. I still remember that daunting feeling of 'where do I start?' Can you explain what a first time paddler will experience when they rent a canoe or kayak from Raquette River Outfitters?"

A: "Visiting an outfitter is a great way to start as they will ensure you are properly fitted for both your boat and life jacket. Typically an outfitter will also teach you the basics and recommend a safe location to test the waters.

"At Raquette River Outfitters, when someone is going out for the first time or hasn't been in a boat in some time, we take them down to the water and give them 5-10 minutes of instruction -- we show them how to get in and out of the canoe or kayak, how to paddle, turn, etc. If they seem unsure, we will get in the boat with them and help guide them on what to do and what not to do so that they have some confidence before heading out. From there we try to recommend a place that we know the water temperatures are safe, it's calm, they are protected from the wind, power boats, etc., so that they have a good experience. If after a few minutes in the boat they still feel uncomfortable or uneasy, we usually recommend a longer lesson. Lessons are usually 1-2 hours and are offered for basics of canoeing, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding."

Insider Tips

Launching a pack basket canoe for Raquette River Outfitters convenient launch point.

Q: "Last question, but while I have your attention I need to ask. Since you have probably paddled every body of water in the area, I'd love to hear what your favorite locations to explore are."

A: "For myself, I enjoy anywhere on the Raquette River or Bog River heading up towards Hitchen's Pond. From here at the outfitters, a popular trip is going out into Simon Pond and then up the Raquette River to The Wild Center where you can get out, visit the museum, and have lunch before you turn back. Another nice trip is the loop through Moody Marsh which, on a calm day, can be a very beautiful trip and a nice one- to two-hour paddle for beginners." 

Come paddle with us!

Paddling on Big Tupper Lake

Whether you are a well-seasoned paddler or a flat water newbie, the lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams in and around the Tupper Lake area have lots to offer. Don't let the warm weather season pass you by without getting out on the water to enjoy the breathtaking vistas and relaxing tranquility of the Adirondack waterways. Start planning your paddling trip today. If you are still unsure where or how to get started, we have guides ready to help lead you on an adventure to remember. 

Happy Paddling!

The Adirondacks Spring Into Action this week:

Top tips for 3 cool activities

Couch to ouch to 5k 

Chips to meat to dehydrated drinks

Run through history

Easy storage steps for winter gear

5 trails to reach your goal

2 wheels, countless routes


Rock Towers

Ya'll oughtn't glamorize the building of these rock towers. To me, it's the green version of graffiti. Does someone's personal "art" really belong all over the wild spaces in the Park? Putting one rock on top of another probably isn't really art, anyway, is it? The "I was here" statements seem to fit a lot better in the city, don't you think? Be careful. The spray paint will follow.

Raquette River Outfitter Cairns

Thank you for sharing, Jon. We definitely want to be careful that graffiti and spray paint do not start to tarnish the landscape of the Adirondacks. Sadly, there are locations where this has been a problem. We also want to be cautious that rock piles don't simply start popping up everywhere. The location in these photos, where you see the "rock towers" you are referring to, is at the launch site for Raquette River Outfitters. Historically, human made rock piles or "cairns" have been used as trail markers in many parts of the world. Since this location is often used by travelers who don't know the lake as well as locals do, the rock piles serve as markers for them to find their return location. This was a natural alternative to placing a large man-made sign to help people find their exit point. Again, thank you for sharing your opinion, as we like you, want to keep the Adirondacks free of unnatural "art."

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