By MATTHEW STURDEVANT
Waterways in New York's massive Adirondack park have always seemed to me like an abstract mosaic of lakes and rivers which, when navigated, make Boston's confusing roadways seem easy and intuitive.
Waterways in Maine, in contrast, are relatively easy to follow. You don't with need to comb the shoreline for portage trails. There's also not much zigzagging through lily-speckled marsh, following a route as circuitous as your small intestines.
For paddlers familiar with the Adirondacks, their favorite routes might become second nature. To an unfamiliar paddler, having maps is critical and concise guidebook is very helpful.
Phil Brown is uniquely qualified to write such a guidebook, and he has. Out this fall is Brown's 288-page "Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures" ($24.95, or $19.96 for Adirondack Mountain Club members; Lost Pond Press/Adirondack Mountain Club, Click HERE to buy).
It has more than 150 color photos of mountains, lakes, marsh, rivers, wildlife and other scenery.
You might recognize his name. Brown is the magazine editor embroiled in a legal battle that involves the rights of paddlers versus property owners in remote part of the Adirondacks (“Off the Fence,” July 2011). The case is still undecided in an Upstate New York court.
Brown also is well known in the Adirondacks for his tenure editing the Adirondack Explorer, a regional magazine, since 1999. He is, quite literally, willing to get into the weeds when it comes to knowing Adirondack paddling. His writing isn't exhaustive or pedantic, though. It's quite the opposite. He's got the quick cadence of a seasoned journalist.
Some writers of guidebooks indulge themselves in describing every patch of lichen. Brown doesn't do that. He's direct in offering logistical details. He'll give you an idea of what to expect from the trip. He gives some historic details and points about what wildlife you might see.
This is a book about flatwater trips. So, while a whitewater book might lean heavily on the particulars of a rapid, Brown's book is able to address the trip in broader terms. He starts off a passage about a six-mile trip through Bog River and Hitchins Pond by describing a 19th century entrepreneur who had a sprawling business selling timber, maple syrup, wild-berry jams and other things. All of this is a lead into how a dam was built there in 1903, and despite a 1908 forest fire burning down the surrounding operation, a stillwater remains because of the dam.
The book has a modern touch for the 21st century: GPS coordinates for the starting point. It also has easy-to-understand graphics showing major roads, campsites and portages.
The most impressive part of this book is that Brown apparently gets on the water often enough to have fresh information about five-dozen waterways, even if most are day-trips. It's taken me 30 years to have some familiarity with a fraction of the waterways he writes about in this book. And that's even considering that I spent a part of each summer from the 1970s through the early ’90s at my grandparents' home in on the Racquette River. Never mind canoe trips with Boy Scouts and my own excursions as an adult.
That Brown, or anyone, is diligent enough to get away from the favorite few canoe paths to explore so much of the state is remarkable. And his knowledge shows.