Nothing quite like being the 7th wheel. Actually, maybe being the 9th wheel is similar to being the 7th wheel. I kid. I kid. This past July I spent the lion’s share of a week kickin’ next to Owasco Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in the beautiful state of New York. I was the sole single guy in a house of couples. But please don’t allow my eagerness to share that fact say more than it does. I had an awesome week with awesome people in a bunch of awesome places. Awesome!
What follows is the day to day break down of the trip, written a month after the fact with as much mental clarity and literary wit that I could summon. At any rate, don’t allow my over use of turns of phrases and clichés to dissuade you from going to the Finger Lakes. I think you’d be happy with just about any of them. Ask around, people will vouch!
– end of preface –
DAY ONE – July 30th 2017
The Finger Lakes. To some they are known for the numerous wineries that dot their rolling hills. To others they are known for their deep, cold waters and readily abundant fish. But to all, the Finger Lakes are known for their pervasive beauty and laid back vibes. I was invited up to the region by my good friend Mike. He and his family rented a house on the north shore of Owasco Lake just south of the town of Auburn, NY, a 4.5 hour drive for me from Harrisburg, PA. I opted to take interstate 81 for the bulk of the journey. After zigging and zagging through the mountains of northern Pennsylvania and dipping and dodging through cattle shoots of Binghamton, NY, I exited smoothly at Cortland, NY to finish the last hour of my trip on idyllic country roads.
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If it weren’t for my trusty navigation I would have never found the house. It was tucked away behind a row of arborvitae and almost completely out of view from the road, only the ridge of the roof jutted above the bushes. As I pulled back the drive wayI was unsure whether it was the correct house. I couldn’t see the house number, nor could I see any familiar vehicles. The only car I did see had Pennsylvania plates; which was encouraging. I parked beside it and called Mike. No answer. So I called his wife, Tracey, who answered. Her and her daughters were chilling on the dock, so I walked around the house and briefly joined them. Tracey then showed me the house, showed me my room and left me to get settled.
I dropped my bags in my room, threw my camera around my neck and headed downstairs. I had no plans on photographing the house at that time, but the light was just too nice to pass up, and the house was gorgeous. After exploring it a bit, I headed outside and back down to the dock. I was only on the dock a few minutes chatting with the Tracey and her daughters before Mike pulled up in his boat. I said peace to the ladies and hopped on the boat for an introductory trip around the lake. Aside from taking a bunch of photos of the property, I didn’t do much the first day. I mostly just sat next to, or floated on, the lake. Not a bad way to start the week. Not a bad way at all.
– end of day one –
DAY TWO – July 31st 2017
Day 2 started off like all of my vacation days do; a gallon of black coffee, some light conversation and the transfer of the previous day’s photos from camera to computer. After doing some research on the area, Mike’s stepbrother, Chris, and his girlfriend Ellie decided they were going to head to the next town over, Skaneateles, pronounced “I have no idea how to say it correctly”. Over the course of the week I must have heard it pronounced 5 different ways from the people in the house, none of which were from the region.
Sitting at the northern end of the lake of the same name, Skaneateles is a quaint, picturesque tourist town. Restaurants and shops line the main street that traces the shore of the lake. Speaking of the lake, it has some of the cleanest, bluest water I have ever seen with my own three eyes. For me, Skaneateles Lake sits in the same class of stand out lakes that I have seen as Lake Tahoe in California, Jackson Lake in Wyoming, and Newfound Lake in New Hampshire. While the surrounding hills aren’t near as rugged or impressive as those lakes mentioned, the water of Skaneateles looked like that of the Mediterranean Sea, a sight I have only seen in photos.
After a popping into and out of a few shops, Chris & Ellie got hungry and sat down for some lunch at the Blue Water Grill. I wasn’t hungry, as I was still in full swing of Operation: Caffeine, so I kept it moving and wandered around the town, camera in hand. I hadn’t done any research on the town, and I didn’t really want to. There is something special about being by yourself in an unfamiliar place. The level of engagement is skewed. There is no conversation or foreign point of view to distract your vision and your interaction with the present moment. It is just you and It. The almighty It.
After an hour or so of exploring, I linked back up with Chris & Ellie and we walked briefly along the waterfront before heading back to the house, a 15 minute drive on country roads. Nothing against Owasco Lake, well there is something to be said about Owasco, but I’ll save that for later. But Skaneateles Lake is unbelievable. The water had an uncommon quality about it. It really made me want to jump in. It beckoned to me. I didn’t swim, but it really made me want to. And in full disclosure, my default is kicking it next to water, not necessarily in the water. I really dig chilling right next to the water, maybe even wade out to ankle deep depths. But you’ll rarely find me swimming, an activity I used to enjoy.
Upon returning to the house, I hopped on the boat with Mike for a sunset cruise along Owasco River to fish for some fish on the mirror-still water. In typical fashion we, I say we because I was present on the boat, caught 2 sunny’s or rock bass by another name. Don’t quote me on those terms, I’m not a fisher person to any degree. I know how to cast and how to tie a basic fisher person’s knot, but I can’t set a hook to save my life. Perhaps it’s because I don’t care to, but essentially the hook, line and rod are just my method of delivering tasty morsels to the snickering, well fed fish.
– end of two –
DAY THREE – August 1st 2017
Day 3 was chalked full of hikes to waterfalls and tasty food in Ithaca, but before all that it was a cruise up the, or maybe down the, Owasco River with Mike to fuel up the boat. Admittedly it may not have been the best time to get gas, as the rest of the party were back at the house ready and waiting to leave for Ithaca, but the gas was low and the marina would be closed by the time we returned. The fuel up was quick, almost as quick as the post fuel-up ride around the lake. Then we were back at the house and it was time for Mike to get his pre-hike shower so he could “wake up the rest of the way”. Lol. Understand that I don’t use that abbreviation lightly. I still laugh about it. A real domestic power play. It may not have been such an issue had Chris & Ellie not left hours ago for Ithaca under the assumption we were going to meet them there and explore together as a group.
After an hour drive south along rt. 34 we pulled into the unassuming parking lot that sits next to the immense Ithaca Falls. I had been to Ithaca before and was touting it gorgeous gorges and waterfalls to everyone on the ride there, but I had never been to Ithaca Falls. After a short hike along Fall Creek, and no entrance fee, the 150′ falls revealed herself in all of her glory and power. This summer has been an unusually wet summer for Pennsylvania, and based on the water flow in late July, I’m assuming Ithaca had a wet summer as well.
After hitting up Buttermilk Falls State Park, and somehow missing the connection with Chris and Ellie – I think we were parked at the lower entrance and they were parked at the upper – we ventured into downtown Ithaca to search out a bite to eat. I almost forgot to mention, if you ever find yourself at Buttermilk Falls, be prepared to step some steps in order to get the full experience. You can see the main falls with minimal effort, but smaller unnamed falls lie in a gorge at the top of a mountain of steps, I’m not sure how many there are, but they are well worth the effort required.
We came to rest in downtown Ithaca in a parking garage near the Commons. We sent our location to Chris and waited patiently for his and Ellie’s arrival. His desert tan Tacoma wheeled around the sharp corner at the entrance of the garage, circled slowly multiple times, and parked in a freshly vacant spot. Both of them were beaming with smiles as they walked towards us. “I did it! We’re engaged!” said Chris. Congratulations fluttered about as we walked down an alley towards the Commons and passed by a busker playing Bob Marley’s “One Love”. Serendipity & synchronicity all in one!
At this point in the day people started getting a bit hangry, you know, hungry and angry. I only explain it for those of you who have been fortunate enough not to see the barrage of candy bar commercials that have coined the term and planted it firmly into the psyche of the American population. After circling the same block twice, in what amounted to a National Lampoon’s moment missing only the Griswolds, we decided to eat at Red’s Place. Microbrews, burgers, samiches & sidewalk dining. What else could we ask for? The food was slamming and the service was great. The 20,000+ college kids hadn’t fully invaded the town yet this year so there was no wait on being seated or served.
Later that night I decided to try my hand a some long exposure photography, something I’ve never really done. I’ve slowed my shutter speed down to 1 second and shot my a7II handheld, but I’ve never really shot anything long enough to need a tripod. I brought my tripod with me for such an occasion and am decently happy with the results. I could see it as something I may get into, although I will admit it tries my patience to stand in one place for that much time for one shot. I much more prefer the freedom of movement that comes with leaving the tripod in the car.
– end of three –
DAY FOUR – August 2nd 2017
Day 4 was another day of down time. I just kicked it by the lake and enjoyed frequent boat trips to cool on down. I guess this is a good a time as any to mention the only negative about the entire trip. Owasco Lake is in trouble. It is experiencing an alarming rate of nutrient loading. If you’re unfamiliar with the term it simply means more nutrients are getting into the lake than are exiting it. It is a phenomenon created, or at least exacerbated, because of the modern methods of till farming.
In pragmatic terms it means that once clean, clear water of Owasco Lake is turning into green, algae ridden, stinky water. On this day specifically there was a blue/green algae bloom accompanied with the all too familiar smell of manure wafting in the air. As we raced around the lake we would be unexpectedly greeted by overpowering smells of manure that would subside as we kept it moving.
There is little more buzz killington than riding around a beautiful lake at sunset and getting slapped in the face with the smell of cow shit. But I was determined not to let the fecal fragrance get me down. No worries, I’ll just ignore the blue/green algae floating everywhere and breath through my mouth while holding my nose.
–end of four –
DAY FIVE – August 3rd 2017
Day 5, my last full day at the lake. Tomorrow we would be packing up and making the journey back to Pennsylvania. First thing on the list to do, get the boat out of the water. Luckily the boat launch was located in Emerson Park, only a three minute drive from the house and a 15 minute ride on the boat. Darby, one of Tracey’s daughters’ boyfriend, & I positioned the truck on the ramp while Mike and Zack, another of Tracey’s daughters’ boyfriend, brought the boat to shore. Easy peasy. Like a glove. Well sorta.
After securing the boat to the trailer and heading back to the house, Mike noticed the boat was sitting askew. Darby, Mike & Zack lifted the boat and I slammed into it from the side. Bam! Boat’s position perfected! Despite the boat being out of the water, the day was far from over. Everyone got showered up, did they hair, and piled into the truck for the short jaunt to Skaneateles for some lakeside dining and exploring.
The entire trip there I raved about the beauty of the lake’s water; how clear it was, how inviting it looked. I thought we were going to be dining at the Sherwood Inn, a beautiful historic inn located downtown, but unbeknownst to me someone made reservations at the Blue Water Grill, the same place Chris & Ellie had dined at a few days earlier. Irregardless of made up words and unnecessary statements, the food was incredible and the vibes were irie despite being sat the intersection of the kitchen, dining room, and host stand. Even the longing, hungry eyes of patrons waiting to be seated couldn’t detract from the deliciousness that was the food.
After dinner we all felt the need to walk off our culinary indulgences and settled on a walk around the two parks located directly on the lake, Clift Park and Shotwell Memorial Park. You wouldn’t know they were separate parks unless you saw their names on a map, or maybe read a placard. I’m assuming there were placards with each individual park’s name. I mean, I saw placards, but I didn’t read any. Really this is all assumption. Regardless, during the walk we saw a little black lab puppy getting trained for dock jumping. After each retrieval of the toy, the puppy had to be hoisted out of the water by owner.
After walking for a while we all stopped so I could snap some portraits of everyone. At this point it in the trip was just Mike, his wife, their two daughters and their respective boyfriends, and me, the 7th wheel. Aside from these portraits, almost all of the photography on the trip was captured candidly. There was very little posing, well at least I didn’t ask anyone to pose.
But someone always “vogued” after they heard the shutter snap more than once. It was nice to have a little more control of the situation I was photographing, although it felt strange and contrived. Perhaps because it was. I think I can take a decent portrait, but I really want to up my game with them. So it was a good, albeit brief, time to practice.
After the portraits we weaved around the small picturesque downtown of Skaneateles in search of ice cream. I chose not to partake, as I was still uncomfortably full from dinner, so I wandered around the parking lot outside of the ice cream shop taking photos of signs. There has to be an Ace of Bass joke in there somewhere.
– end of five–
DAY SIX – August 4th 2017
Day 6 was a shower, some cleaning up and hitting the road. I dapped everyone, loaded up my car and hit the road. Instead of going the way I came, the bulk of which was on I81, I decided to go home via route 15, one of my favorite highways. The drive was smooth and eventless. An hour on country roads, a brief stint in Ithaca’s semi-congested streets and then on to route 15S. The hills surrounding the Seneca Lake gave way to the mountainous plateaus of northern Pennsylvania, which in turn gave way to the wide, sweeping Susquehanna watergap. I know I’ve said it before, but if you get the chance, drive 15 from Harrisburg, Pa to the New York line. You won’t regret it. Unless you’re speeding near the state line, there are always police sitting on both sides of the line. Drive slow homey! Drive slow!
– ‘Til the Next One –