Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Books: A History of the High Peaks and The 46ers

A remarkable book of Adirondack history has been published. Heaven Up-h’isted-ness! The History of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers and the High Peaks of the Adirondacks is a collection of well-researched essays on the highest Adirondack peaks, written by 18 members of the storied Adirondack 46ers, along with a short history of the club.

Part meticulously footnoted history of the mountains, trails, and the club itself, and part trail guide, this new volume is a landmark in Adirondack history. Heaven Up-h’isted-ness! is a significant update of Russell Carson’s Peaks and Peoples of the Adirondacks, first published in 1927.

The book is a bit of an homage to the popularity of Carson’s earlier work and the three subsequent 46er volumes that followed, as much as it is to the 46er legends who grace its pages. Tony Goodwin (#211), son of Jim
Goodwin (#24), offers an Introduction that provides insight into why this book is so important. With a hat tip to Carson, who was instrumental in spreading the 46er gospel and “who research gave life to the peaks we all climb”, Goodwin points out that new research opportunities and the rich history since the 1920s “has allowed authors to provide the reader with the most comprehensive histories of the peaks ever written.” I agree.

In a series of in-depth profiles of each of the 46 High Peaks, each author draws on a range of sources from reports, journals, and diaries of the explorers, scientists, philosophers, writers, and other anecdotes describe the geology, history, flora, and fauna. The book is illustrated with a remarkable collection of over 150 photos and illustrations.

It’s not all high peaks. In a substantial first section Suzanne Lance surveys the history of the Adirondack 46ers beginning in 1918 with Bob and George Marshall and their guide Herb Clark, who was recognized with the first spot in 1939 when “the list” was created. When the first three began their 46, not only were there still trail-less peaks, many had yet to be named, and a few remained unclimbed altogether.

The strength of this section is in illuminating the contributions of folks like Ed Hudowalski (#6), Grace Hudowalski (#9), and the Troy minister Ernest Ryder (#7) in the growth and of the club, but also the recognition and response of the club to the impacts of the many Adirondack peak-baggers they helped inspire. The full roster of 46ers now includes more than 7,000.

By the 1970s, as visitors began to flood into the High Peaks, Glenn Fish (#536) and Edwin “Ketch” Ketchledge (#507) helped shepherd the club away from its strictly social approach toward a stewardship role. Summit ecology and alpine environments, wilderness conservation education, trail maintenance and management, and search and rescue have all benefited from the subsequent efforts of dedicated Adirondack 46ers.

Copies of Heaven Up-h’isted-ness! are available online.

Until you get your copy, you’ll have to settle with this short excerpt on the formation of the Forty-Sixers of Troy:

During the early 1930s Bob Marshall’s booklet, “The High Peaks of the Adirondacks,” and Russell Carson’s Peaks and People of the Adirondacks captured the attention of a small group of outdoor enthusiasts from Grace Methodist Church in Troy, in particular the church’s pastor, the Rev. Ernest Ryder (#7), and two parishioners, Grace Hudowalski (#9) and Edward Hudowalski (#6)…. Ed and the Rev. Ryder had not, originally, intended to climb all 46. According to Ed, their goal was 25 peaks, but when they hit 27 “by accident,” they decided to climb 30. After reaching 30 they decided to climb all of them. The two finished arm-in-arm on Dix in the pouring rain on September 13, 1936. They shared a prayer of praise and thanks for their accomplishment.

Less than six months after the Rev. Ryder and Ed finished their 46, the duo organized a club, comprised mainly of Ed Hudowalski’s Sunday School class, known as the Forty-Sixers of Troy. It was Ryder who coined the name “Forty-Sixer.” The term first appeared in print in an article in the Troy Record newspaper in 1937 announcing the formation of the hiking club: “Troy has its first mountain climbing club, all officers of which have climbed more than thirty of the major peaks in the Adirondacks. The club recently organized will be known as the Forty-sixers…


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Visiting Author Sapphire at Paul Smith’s College VIC

Paul Smith’s College and the Adirondack Center for Writing are proud to present Sapphire, poet and best-selling author of the novel Push — the inspiration for the Academy-Award winning film, “Precious” at the Paul Smith’s VIC on April 19, 2011 at 7pm. The reading is free for students and faculty, $5 for all others. Sapphire’s books will be available for sale, which the author will sign.

Famed in the worlds of literature, poetry, and literacy—and an extraordinary public speaker—Sapphire is first and foremost a poet and performer. She is the author of American Dreams, cited by Publisher’s Weekly as, “One of the strongest debut collections of the nineties;” and Black Wings & Blind Angels, of which Poets & Writers declared, “With her soul on the line in each verse, her latest collection retains Sapphire’s incendiary power to win hearts and singe minds.”

Sapphire’s bestselling novel, Push, about an illiterate, brutalized Harlem teenager, won the Book-of-the-Month Club Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s First Novelist Award, and in Great Britain, the Mind Book of the Year Award. Push was named by The Village Voice as one of the top twenty-five books of 1996 and by TIMEOUT New York as one of the top ten books of 1996. Push was also nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work of Fiction. It was made into a major motion film, “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire”, produced by Oprah Winfrey.

Past authors featured in the Visiting Author Series sponsored by Paul Smith’s College and Adirondack Center for Writing have included Rick Moody, Andrea Barret, Terry Tempest Williams, William Kennedy, and Alistair McLeod. The Adirondack Center for Writing is an independent non-profit, 501(c)3 organization dedicated to promoting literature and providing educational opportunities and support to both aspiring and established writers in the Adirondack region. We provide workshops, conferences, and readings throughout the year in locations all around the Adirondack Park. Paul Smith’s College also generously donates office space and in-kind office services to the Adirondack Center for Writing.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dan Ladd: Well Seasoned in the Adirondacks

Author and outdoor journalist Dan Ladd of West Fort Ann, Washington County, has recently released his latest book, Well Seasoned in the Adirondacks: People, Places and Pastimes of Northern New York. The book is a collection of articles and essays, many that have appeared in Ladd’s weekly outdoors column in The Chronicle newspaper of Glens Falls. The book also includes a collection of Laddʼs personal photos.

“Many of my friends in the writing industry, especially those at The Chronicle have suggested I do a book like this,” said Ladd. “In fact, I would encourage any outdoor writer who is regularly published, or has been, to share their experiences and adventures with their readers.”

Well Seasoned in the Adirondacks is organized by the four seasons of the year. Winter features a story on vintage snowmobile restoration as well as others on ice, fishing, small game hunting, skiing and snowshoeing. The Spring and Summer chapters feature everything from fishing, camping and hiking to paddling, including a story about a historic Adirondack canoe trip. The Autumn section is dedicated primarily to hunting and features several of the authorʼs relatives who had an influence on his hunting interest. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History

The eastern edge of the Adirondack Park stretches into the middle of Lake Champlain, that great river-lake 120 miles long, four times the size of Lake George. Standing between the states of New York and Vermont, it’s the largest body of water in the Adirondacks, one that connects Whitehall and (via the Champlain Canal and Hudson River) New York City to Quebec’s Richelieu River and the St. Lawrence River. Two routes inland from the Atlantic Ocean that have had a historic impact on the entire North County, New York and Vermont. The book Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History celebrates what is unquestionably America’s most historic lake.

Four hundred years of Champlain history are conveyed in the coffee-table book’s more than 300 color photographs, drawings, maps and vintage images. Chapters on the towns along the lake, the Chaplain basin’s First Peoples, its critical military and transportation history, and the sports and recreation opportunities are eloquently contextualized by regional writers, including occasional Almanack contributor Chris Shaw who provides the book’s Prologue and Epilogue, and Russ Bellico who offers a chapter entitled “Highway to Empire”.

Published by Adirondack Life in Jay, Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History is a great book for those who love the lake, local and state history buffs, and nature lovers.

You can pick up a copy online.

You can hear an interview with the book’s editor Mike McCaskey on the Vermont Public Radio website.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Essential Guidebooks: Adirondack Rock

When it comes to sheer number of routes one can take through the Adirondacks, rock climbing has got to have more opportunities than any other outdoor sport. Any guide that hopes to cover every single one is going to be a tome, and coming in at more than 670 pages, the newest edition of the seminal Adirondack climbing guide, Adirondack Rock, meets that description.

Adirondack Rock includes 242 cliff areas, many of which have never before been documented, and nearly 2,000 routes and variations. The guide’s authors, Jim Lawyer and Jeremy Hass, spent years visiting new and seldom visited climbs around the Adirondacks. Among the regions they turned their focus to was the Lake George basin, long neglected by regional climbing guides. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Upper Saranac Cookbook Recognizes with Award

The Upper Saranac Cookbook: An Adirondack Treasury of 500 Delicious Recipes from the Friends of Upper Saranac Lake has won second place in the 11th Annual Morris Community Cookbook Awards. The awards recognize organizations that created fundraising cookbooks for worthy causes in 2009 or 2010. Since the contest’s inception in 1999, over $83,000 has been awarded to groups for their outstanding cookbooks and fundraising efforts. The second place award includes a $2,000 prize.

Filled with views and history of the lake, as well as 500 recipes, the cookbook won the judges’ attention. “One of my favorite parts of this book are the dividers…they depict the area well. Nice collection of recipes – there’s a little bit of everything,” commented one judge. Judge Mark Aker, Executive Chef for Chief O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant, said, “Nice old photos help us feel the flavor of the Upper Saranac.” Proceeds of the books sale support the lake’s milfoil control program. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Adirondack Literary Awards Call For Submissions

The Adirondack Center for Writing (ACW) is seeking submissions for its Annual ACW Literary Awards. Begun in 2006, the Adirondack Literary Awards are one of the most popular events of the ACW schedule. The deadline for submissions is March 7, 2011. What follows is the submission guidelines from ACW.

Winners will be recognized at an awards ceremony to be held in June (date TBA via ACW website) at the Blue Mountain Center, which donates space and resources for the event. In addition to awards in each category mentioned above, there is a People’s Choice Award as part of this festive program. For a complete list of 2009 award winners, please check out the ACW Newsletter/Annual Report at their website. Most of the books considered for awards are made available for purchase at the ceremony by the authors, and they are happy to sign their books.

Those wishing to submit a book published in 2010 to be considered for an award should send two copies of the book to Director Nathalie Thill, at the ACW office with a brief cover letter including author’s contact information and description of the book’s “qualifications.” Is the author from the Adirondack region, or is the book about or influenced by the Adirondacks in some way? The cover letter should also name which category the author would like the book to be judged under: fiction, poetry, children’s literature, memoir, nonfiction, or photography. There is no entry fee. Do not include a SASE; books cannot be returned but will become part of reading rooms or libraries. The mailing address is: Adirondack Center for Writing, Paul Smith’s College, PO Box 265, Paul Smiths, New York 12970. Questions may be directed to Nathalie Thill at ACW at 518-327-6278 or [email protected]

The Adirondack Center for Writing is a resource and educational organization that provides support to writers and enhances literary activity and communication throughout the Adirondacks. ACW benefits both emerging and established writers and develops literary audiences by encouraging partnerships among existing regional organizations to promote diverse programs. ACW is based at Paul Smith’s College and is supported by membership and the New York State Council on the Arts.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Rare Maps of the American Revolution in the North

The 1776-1777 Northern Campaigns of the American War for Independence and Their Sequel: Contemporary Maps of Mainly German Origin by Thomas M. Barker and Paul R. Huey is the first, full-scale, presentation in atlas form of the two, abortive British-German invasions of New York – events crucial to understanding the rebel American victory in the War for Independence. The book includes 240 pages with 32 full-color illustrations.

The bulk of the maps are from the German archives. The material has previously been little used by researchers in the United States due to linguistic and handwriting barriers. The volume includes transcriptions, translations, and detailed textual analysis of the naval and land operations of 1776 and 1777. It is written from a novel military-historical perspective, namely, British, German, loyalist, French Canadian, and First American.

The attack of Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery on Québec City, the colonial assailants’ repulse and withdrawal to the Province of New York and the Hudson River corridor, prior actions in the adjacent St. Lawrence-Richelieu river region of Canada, the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain, the forts at Crown Point and Ticonderoga, and the Battles of Bennington and Saratoga all receive detailed attention. The last section of the atlas deals with the less known, final phase of combat, in which the Britons, Germans, refugee tories, Québec militia, and Amerindians kept the insurgents off balance by mounting numerous small-scale expeditions into New York.

The significance of the publication is highlighted by Russell Bellico, author of Sails and Steam in the Mountains: A Maritime History of Lake George and Lake Champlain. He writes that Barker’s and Huey’s tome is “a superb work of scholarship based on exhaustive research on both sides of the Atlantic.” J. Winthrop Aldrich, New York State Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation, states that the maps “are of significant help now as we continue to build our understanding of what happened in our war for independence, and why. This rediscovered treasure and the illuminating commentary and notes superbly advance that understanding.”

Dr. Thomas M. Barker is emeritus professor of history, University of Albany, State University of New York at Albany. He is the author of numerous books about European military history, especially the Habsburg monarchy, Spain, World War II as well as ethnic minority issues. Dr. Paul R. Huey is a well-known New York State historical archeologist and also has many publications to his credit. He is particularly knowledgeable about the locations of old forts, battlefields, colonial and nineteenth-century buildings, and/or their buried vestiges. He works at the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation Bureau of Historic Sites office on Peebles Island in Waterford, New York. The book is co-published with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bicycle Technology: Then and Now

Bicycles have come a long way. They are one of the most important methods of transportation ever created. Millions of people all over the world rely on them and enjoy them as both a primary means of transport and as a personal means of recreation.

Lifelong bicycle aficionados Rob van der Plas and Stuart Baird have indulged their passion for cycling and created a richly illustrated compendium dedicated to the technology and engineering that goes into the modern bicycle and its key historical components.

Their new book, titled Bicycle Technology, covers every detail and aspect of the bicycle, from the frame materials to the drivetrain, gears, to the wheels, suspension lights, bells and whistles, and more. They have shared their technical know-how and love of the history and the developments of the bicycle from its inauspicious beginnings to the use of space-age materials, and the incorporation of electronic innovations of today.

The book is a thorough and up-to-date treatment of the technical aspects of the modern (and historic) bicycle, illustrated with 800 photographs and other illustrations. This new, 2nd edition was completely rewritten, with up-to-date material and numerous clear illustrations, covering bsoth the modern bike itself and its components in a historical context.

The first bicycle was invented in 1817 by Carl Von Drais (no, not three centuries earlier by Leonardo Da Vinci, as has sometimes been claimed). Drais viewed it as a substitute for a horse, which was in very short supply at the time due to a very harsh winter. His earliest machine was protected by a patent, which was soon copied by many people, some under license, some simply pirated. However, interest soon diminished, and by 1830, they were all but forgotten relics of a short-lived craze.

The pedal-drive was first introduced in the 1950s for use on a workman’s tricycle powered by means of cranks on the front wheel, and later found use on Michaux’s two-wheel velocipeds. Tension wire spokes were introduced in 1869, making it possible to build very large wheels of the iconic high-wheel, or “ordinary” bicycle of the 1870 and 1880s.

The first chain-driven bicycle was patented in 1879. Within a few years of their introduction the safety bicycle, with chain-drive and two equal-sized had superseded the high-wheel bicycle.

During much of the 20th Century, bicycle developments were confined to “tweaking” the details rather than the overall re-design of the bicycle as a whole. The most important development of the 20th Century was the introduction and perfection of gearing systems. A modern bicycle derailleur gearing system in the process of changing gear by literally “derailing” the chain to a smaller or larger rear cog

Technical developments in bicycles continue to undergo subtle refinements. There have been, and continue to be, significant developments in areas like brake systems, gearing, suspension, and frame materials. High-tech, lightweight materials, including carbon and titanium, sometimes in combination, are now used in the frames and components of high-end bicycles.

Many bicycles are now available with full suspension and hydraulic disk brakes. Fully equipped urban commuter bikes are available with carriers for a briefcase or laptop, effective lights for night riding, and other electronic and mechanical accessories.

In recent years, electric-assist bikes, or “E-bikes” have gained popularity amongst casual riders and utility cyclists. There are four E-bike categories: CEBs, which are conventional electric bikes; SABs, or simple assisted bikes; EHBs, or electro-hybrid bikes; and SHBs, or Synergetic Hybrid Bicycles, which can be seen as pedal-powered equivalent of hybrid cars.

Modern lighting systems of course, now use ultra-bright multi-light LEDs with rechargeable battery packs and on board generators. Modern audio warning systems are also electronic.

No matter what advances in technology we may see, some people may still choose on installing an old-fashioned bell or horn.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Photo: Early High-Wheel or Ordinary Bicycle (c 1872).


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tories: American Revolution and Civil War

In 1777, as General John Burgoyne’s army marched south having taken Fort Ticonderoga, a temporary loyalist enclave was created in Rutland County, Vermont. While many rebel Americans fled before the British Army, a few stayed on. In Rutland Nathan Tuttle, a rebel known locally for hating and taunting loyalists, was one of them.

Tuttle’s decision to stay behind was not a very good one at a time and place when the American Revolution was a full-scale Civil War. As Burgoyne’s army passed through Rutland, Tuttle disappeared. Ten years later it was revealed by a local Tory that Tuttle had been bayoneted, his body weighted with stones and thrown into a creek. Nathan Tuttle was an American, and so were his murderers, likely men associated with the notorious Loyalist and close confidant of John Burgoyne, Philip Skene of Whitehall.

Under the grand story of the fight for American independence are finer threads, stories of people who are often assigned a mere footnote in the Revolutionary narrative. Offering a fresh look at the lives of those who sided with Britain during the American Revolution, TORIES: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War, by Thomas Allen, weaves a provocative and unsettling picture of a bloody and savage civil war that divided America and sent more than 80,000 Tory Americans — Loyalists, as they called themselves — fleeing to Canada, the United Kingdom and other parts of the world.

For Loyalists, America was home; yet, when they sought to preserve allegiance to the Crown and protect their homes from the rebels, many Loyalists found themselves in a civil war raging in the midst of a Revolution. Hatred between Tories and Patriots divided families, friends, and communities. This war was vicious and personal, forcing many Loyalists to flee America. Those who chose to stay quickly realized that if they had any chance of survival, the British had to win.

Incorporating firsthand documents from archives in the United Kingdom and Canada, TORIES gives voice to little heard and Americans. TORIES also explores little known facts about Loyalists, such as: New York City and Philadelphia were Tory strongholds throughout the Revolution; at times, Georgia and the Carolinas had more trained and armed Tories than British Redcoats; Lord Dunmore, a Virginia royal governor, offered freedom to any slave that joined the British fight, creating thousands of black Loyalists; Scottish Highlanders, though onetime foes of the British, fought for the Crown in exchange for land grants; and William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin, led a brutal Tory guerrilla force that terrorized New Jersey.

While historical accounts portray the Revolution as a conflict between the Patriots and the British, there is another narrative: the bloody fighting between Americans, a civil war whose savagery shocked even battle-hardened Redcoats and Hessians. From mudslinging and rhetorical sparring to water-boarding, house-burning, and lynching, here is the rarely chronicled war-within-the-war that adds a new dimension to the history of the American Revolution. TORIES introduces readers to the forgotten Americans who chose the British side—and paid dearly for their choice.

THOMAS B. ALLEN is the author of numerous history books, including George Washington, Spymaster and Remember Valley Forge. A contributor to Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic, Military History Quarterly, Military History Magazine, Naval History, Naval Institute Proceedings, and other publications, he lives in Bethesda Maryland with his wife, artist Scottie Allen.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities: Diane Chase: Author/Illustrator Steven Kellogg

By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities ™

Children of all ages are most likely familiar with one of the over 100 children’s books illustrated by Steven Kellogg. If you are one of the few unfamiliar with his work the opportunity to right such a travesty is at hand.

Children’s book author/illustrator Steven Kellogg will be in Essex this Saturday along with University of Vermont history lecturer Andy Buchanan to celebrate the holidays with a narration of The Incredible History of Samuel de Champlain’s Cat and Kellogg’s book, The Island of Skog.

Starting at 4:00 p.m. on December 18th, this benefit for the North Country Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals (NCSPCA) will be held at Whallonsburg Grange Hall.

“Steven is a generous supporter of the shelter,” explains Margaret Reuther, President of the Board of Directors for the NCSPCA. “There will be a reading with Andy Buchanan loosely based on the history of Samuel de Champlain’s cat. Steven and Andy wrote it together. It is wonderful. Steven is glorious drawing on the spot. We had done a similar event in the summer and it turned out so well that we thought it would be wonderful to do another near Christmas. One of our goals for the organization is to gain positive feelings for our shelter. We also hope to raise some much needed money.”

In the second part of the evening’s activities, Kellogg will again be illustrating on the spot while retelling his popular book The Island of Skog. The drawings created onsite will be part of a Silent Auction. Kellogg is also donating 50% of the sale of two of his books, And I Love You and The Island of Skog to the animal shelter. Both of which can be personally autographed at the event. Cider and cookies will be served and all proceeds will benefit the NCSPCA.

“The North Country SPCA is the only animal shelter for all of Essex Country, one of the largest counties for New York State,” says Reuther. “Each year we care for over 400 homeless, abandoned and abused cats and dogs. We have an amazing staff that works extraordinarily hard to give loving care to these cats and dogs,” says Reuther. “We give medical care to the animals. We spay and neuter. Our goal is to find a loving family for each and every animal. We are also a no kill shelter. We welcome volunteers. We encourage everyone to come and visit.”

Reuther explains that some volunteers have a specific routine and spend a few hours a week walking dogs or cleaning cat cages. Other volunteers may show up sporadically and help out where they are needed.

“We love volunteers,” say Reuther. “We have people that will come and walk the dogs and foster the cats. Our shelter manager, Pam Rock, is truly extraordinary so anyone interested should call and talk with her. We even have teenage volunteers that will show up after school. It is a great way to help out.”

Reuther understands that not everyone is able to have a pet. Volunteering at the NCSPCA is an opportunity for families and young children to see the level of care necessary for keeping an animal. Allowing children to assist with these homeless animals will help them grow into responsible pet owners.

“I know one family that has been coming with their eight-year-old child every Sunday to walk dogs,” Reuther explains. “We also have an older couple that do not have a dog but they travel frequently so they come two or three times a week. It is a wide gamut of people. ”

The organization does there best to care for “surrendered” animals. Reuther admits the task seems endless. She briefly mentions how the NCSPCA is overflowing with cats. There are no New York State laws pertaining to cats. There are dog control officers but nothing for cats. She encourages people to contact Pam at the shelter whether they have to give up a family pet or have found a stray.

So perhaps all the holiday shopping isn’t yet complete or one more gift can be squeezed into that stocking. Adopting a pet isn’t the only option to help out animals in need this season. To enjoy the reading and watch Kellogg ply his craft live, the NCSPCA asks for a donation of $5.00 per adult while children under 12 are free.



photo and content © Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities ™. Diane is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities Guidebook Series including the recent released Adirondack Family Time: Tri-Lakes and High Peaks Your Guide to Over 300 Activities for Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Keene, Jay and Wilmington areas (with GPS coordinates) This is the first book of a four-book series of Adirondack Family Activities. The next three editions will cover Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga, Long Lake to Old Forge and Newcomb to Lake George. 




Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: ‘Long Distance’ by Bill McKibben

I recently read Bill McKibben’s book about cross-country-ski racing and wrote the following review, which will appear in the next issue of the Adirondack Explorer.

Several years ago, we asked Bill McKibben to ski the entire Jackrabbit Trail in a single day and write about it. Saranac Lake to Keene. That’s twenty-four miles, but that wasn’t enough for McKibben.

When he turned his story in, I learned he started instead at Paul Smith’s, where there is an orphan piece of the Jackrabbit. By following this trail and then a railroad bed, he was able to make it to Saranac Lake and add ten or eleven miles to the trek.

Why extend an already-lengthy trip by slogging along a boring railroad track? I thought Bill must be a bit nuts, but now that I’ve read Long Distance, I understand what motivates him.

Long Distance chronicles McKibben’s yearlong quest to become the best Nordic ski racer he could. He trained like a pro, working out for hours each day, and competed on three continents. Originally published in 2000, the book was reissued in paperback by Rodale this past fall.

Early on, McKibben visits the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid to undergo a series of unpleasant tests involving a treadmill, a snorkel-like device, and numerous blood-lettings to ascertain his VO2 Max—a measurement of how efficiently his body uses oxygen. The tests reveal he has a higher-than-average VO2 Max, but it’s still far below that of elite athletes. And no amount of training will change that. The upper limit of his VO2 Max and thus of his competitive potential are determined by genetics.

It is not McKibben’s destiny to become a champion. Nevertheless, he diligently puts in six hundred hours of training over the year, all to prepare for a grand total of maybe twelve hours of racing. In one event in Lake Placid, he manages to come in first in his age group, but usually he’s closer to the middle of the pack.

What’s the payoff then? McKibben describes the “absolute immersion in the present” that he feels during a fifty-kilometer race in Ottawa, when all the cares of modern life fall by the wayside. “Everything really had come together for a moment,” he writes. “Or perhaps a better way to say it is that everything had disappeared.”

McKibben, of course, is best known as an environmental writer, the guy who sounded the alarm about global warming in The End of Nature and who founded a worldwide movement to try to get politicians to do something about it. When I saw him speak a few months ago in Saranac Lake, he struck me as an Old Testament prophet with a sense of humor.

Long Distance reveals the private side of the public intellectual. Despite all his accomplishments—as a Harvard graduate, staff writer for the New Yorker, best-selling author, and global activist—McKibben still longs to be what so many males long to be: an athlete. Growing up, he felt like a wimp, because he wasn’t much good at basketball, hockey, baseball, or the other crucibles of boyhood. He writes that “gym became a recurring bad dream, highlighted each year by the President’s Physical Fitness Test, when I got to prove to myself that I still couldn’t do a pull-up.”

He feared he didn’t measure up to his athletic father, who went out for baseball and climbed mountains in his youth. Bill gravitated toward intellectual pursuits. While still in high school, he covered the school’s basketball team for the local paper. His father picked him up after the games. “He was proud of me, I knew, but I think some part of me always wondered if he’d have been prouder had I been out on the court myself,” he writes.

Part way through his training year, McKibben receives word that his father has a malignant brain tumor. He spends the next several months shuttling between Vermont, where he lives, and Boston, where his father is dying. He continues to exercise and ski, when possible, but the ordeal of watching his father deteriorate, physically and mentally, puts cross-country skiing into perspective. Training for a race becomes a metaphor for training for life. Our real tests are the difficulties thrown in our path—depression, illness, the demands of human relationships.

“The most profound test, of course, is the last one, dealing with your death,” he says. “But if you’ve done the training, the race will take care of itself—or so it seemed, watching Dad.”

After his father’s death, McKibben travels to Norway with his wife, Sue, and their daughter, Sophie, to enter one last competition, the Birkebeiner, a grueling fifty-eight-kilometer race that attracts several thousand serious skiers each year. He’s happy to finish in the middle of his age group.

“The next morning dawned clear and cold, so Sue and Sophie and I went for another ski,” he says. “For the first time in a long time, it meant nothing at all, and that was nice, too.”

Don’t expect to find lots of tips about wax, poling technique, and such in Long Distance. You’ll learn more about life than about skiing.

Click here to see a video of a downhill run on the Jackrabbit Trail.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

New Local History: Empires in the Mountains

Meeting Russell Bellico, as I did briefly several years ago, you’d think you were in the presence of an old sea captain spending his retirement in the softer wind and spray of Lake George. You’d be surprised to know that he spent 35 years in the economics department at Westfield State College in Massachusetts.

You’d be glad to hear that Bellico spent his time away from Westfield at Lake George, where as a summer resident he invested himself in local history. He has spent over three decades photographing shipwrecks and historic sites on Lake George and Lake Champlain. He has served as a consultant on the National Park Service’s Champlain Valley Heritage Corridor, a trustee of the Lake George Battlefield Park Alliance, and a board member of Bateaux Below, the organization founded by the archaeological team (which included Bellico) that documented the 1758 radeau Land Tortoise which lies underwater at the southern end of Lake George.

Bellico is the author of a score or more articles and five books on the maritime and military history of Lake George and Lake Champlain. His first two projects were Chronicles of Lake George (1995) and Chronicles of Lake Champlain (1999). Both were aptly subtitled Journeys in War and Peace, as they were mostly drawn from primary sources by diaries, journals, and other early first hand accounts. His interest in boots on the ground history has no doubt contributed to some of Bellico’s most unique contributions to the region’s history – his careful looks at what remains. For example, Bellico weaves together histories of not just the events (through archaeology, primary sources, and first hand accounts) but of what remains of those events on the landscape. His third major effort, Sails and Steam in the Mountains: A Maritime and Military History of Lake George and Lake Champlain, earned a place as the go-to resource on the region’s maritime history.

Bellico’s latest effort, Empires in the Mountains: French and Indian War Campaigns and Forts in the Lake Champlain, Lake George, and Hudson River Corridor, is the fruit of three decades of the author’s work to understand the military and maritime importance of the region. His first volume to focus entirely on the campaigns and forts of the Great Warpath during the French & Indian War (1754-1763), Empires in the Mountains covers the epic battles of the war in the lake valleys, as well as the building of the fortresses and battleships in Northern New York’s wilderness.

And true to his authoritative and thorough style, Bellico explores this history with one eye toward what happened after those great events of 350 years ago. Bellico reviews the history of the abandonment, the excavations, and the exploitation of French and Indian War sites from Bloody Pond (which Bellico seems to suggest may in fact be correctly marked on Route 9 south of Lake George) and Fort Gage (bulldozed by a local developer avoiding APA oversight) to the more popular spots like Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Edward, Fort William Henry, and Fort George.

It’s that concluding epilogue, “Forts Revisited” that is perhaps the most valuable chapter of the book for local historians, and those interested in how we remember, and exploit, local history. For that chapter alone, this book belongs on the shelf of those interested in local history, regardless of your particular interest in the French and Indian War.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Historic Saranac Lake to Hold Annual Meeting

Historic Saranac Lake will hold its Annual Meeting on November 9 at 7:00 PM, in the John Black Room of the Saranac Laboratory Museum. The meeting marks the organization’s 30th year, and will feature a talk by Caperton Tissot on her new book, Adirondack Ice: a Cultural and Natural History.

Ice has determined the course of Adirondack history in many surprising ways. This book traces the evolution of that influence, touching on everything from ice industries and transportation to recreation and accidents. In 360 pages of personal stories, observations and over 200 historic and contemporary photos, the author pays tribute to a fast disappearing era.

Ms. Tissot will be available to sign books afterward, and will donate a portion of the profits sold at the meeting to Historic Saranac Lake.

Historic Saranac Lake is a not-for-profit architectural preservation organization that captures and presents local history from its center at the Saranac Laboratory Museum.

The meeting is open to all members of Historic Saranac Lake and the public at large. Light refreshments will be served.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Adk History Center Ghost Stories, Book Signing

The Adirondack History Center Museum is offering ghost stories, haunting music and a book signing on Saturday, October 30 at 4:00pm. The program begins with stories of Essex County ghosts by storyteller Karen Glass. Ms. Glass is Keene Valley town librarian and a member of the Adirondack Storytellers’ Guild and the League of New England Storytellers.

Haunting music will accompany the storytelling. Following the ghost stories, there is a book signing by author Cheri Farnsworth of her book Adirondack Enigma: The Depraved Intellect & Mysterious Life of North Country Wife Killer Henry Debosnys. Henry Debosnys was the last person hanged in Essex County in 1883. His skull, noose, drawings and a pass to his execution are exhibited at the museum.

Cider and donuts will be served at the program. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for members. Students 18 and under are free. Please call the museum for reservations at (518) 873-6466.