My first stop at any waterpark has always been a ride of the river persuasion - be it lazy or rapid. There is something so thrilling about surrendering myself to the course of the river with the sun on my face. The amazon/rapids sort of rides are exhilarating, putting me in the mind frame of Disney's Pocahontas singing "just around the river bend," while the lazy rivers make me want to melt in the sunshine to be one with the water. The only problem with going to a waterpark is the crowds and long lines. Oh, plus the prices to get into the park can be a little staggering. Also, there's the dilemma about whether to pack a lunch that you have to leave the park to eat, or paying $9 for a single slice of pizza. Okay, so there are a few problems, but the worst of all is this: the rides are over too soon, lasting only a fraction of the time you spent waiting in line to get on.
Our Own Lazy River
Happily, last summer my fiancé Eric and I realized there is a totally free alternative that was literally right in our backyard. At the time we were living in an apartment on Broadway, and it came with a little plot of land that borders the Saranac River. From our tiny patch of grass, we had seen canoers and kayakers making use of the river, but we didn't have the storage space or funds for a canoe or kayak. What we could afford was a pair of inner tubes, which fold up quite nicely when you let the air out of them. So, armed only with a broom handle to steer with, we launched our inner tubes into the river for an amazing adventure on one of the last sunny days of August.
We started just behind our apartment, and made our way under Broadway, heading towards Tops. We knew the people we passed wished they were in our place, mostly because they told us so. "They've got the right idea!" said the couple dining at Left Bank Cafe, waving as we passed them with giant, idiotic grins on our faces, the sun streaming down on us. "Awesome!" called the man on the Riverwalk, giving us two thumbs up. We floated past the mini-mall, rounded the corner behind the laundromat, and were swiftly carried under the rail road tracks, admiring the graffiti as we went by. Then, suddenly, we were clear of town. It seemed only a short time had passed, and we did not have our phones with us, so we had no real way of telling time (Watches? What's a watch?) but we estimate based on the time we left home and returned that it took about an hour to get from one side of town to the other.
Now it was time for some serious relaxation. The river carried us away from the sounds of traffic and into an untouched serenity that was all our own. Between the deep greens of the trees and the plants lining the river, and the view of the mountains in the background, this new perspective of the Adirondacks was almost startling. It occurred to me as we floated by a beaver dam that wealthy people would probably pay large sums of money for the experience we were having.
Before we knew it, three hours had passed and it was time to disembark. Eric broomsticked us to the shallows and we squelched up the bank to our car. Toweling off, we looked longingly at the next stretch of river, promising ourselves we would come back on the next nice day and go farther. Unbeknownst to us, that would be the last sunny day of the summer. We spent the rest of the fall and well into the winter telling people about our adventure. I highly recommend taking the trip yourself. It's part lazy, part rapids, and all beautiful Adirondacks. Here is what you will need...
A Floatation Device
Rafts and inner tubes are pretty readily available this time of year at any drugstore or hardware store for around $20. However, before paying for one, I would check the garages, basements and attics of your friends and family members. Chances are good that somebody you know has a secret cache of inflatables. If they have an air compressor, even better. If not, devote a few dizzy minutes to exhaling heavily into your new floatation device and you are good to go.
An Exit Strategy
Before you hop in, know where you are going to get out, and what you will do with your giant inflated tube or raft when you're done. Eric and I drove separate cars to a pull off half-way to Bloomingdale and left his there for our get-away vehicle. For best results, pick a landmark that will be visible from the river, like a bridge, to leave the car at. Our stop looked very much like the rest of the riverbank to me from the inner tubes, but Eric has a much better sense of direction than me. Without him, I would have floated to Plattsburgh before I realized I had missed our stop.
A Steering Tool
Whether you bring along a paddle or just a long stick, make sure you have a way to navigate yourself to the bank when you're ready to get out. We chose the handle from our broom for this purpose and it worked perfectly fine. There may also be times when the river takes you to the bank before you are ready, or when you need to avoid a rock or two. You may be brave enough to allow your bare feet to sink into the river mud and seaweed (or is it riverweed?) to maneuver yourself around, but if the river gets deep or the current gets strong, there is nothing like a big stick to help you hold your ground... or water. You know what I mean.
A Bit of Rope
A shoelace, a length of twine, the cord around your robe - use whatever you have lying around, but if you are traveling with companions, make sure you have a way to keep in contact with them. The river can, and will, take you wherever it pleases and at whatever time it feels like. Eric and I used a carabiner to clip our tubes together, but that was only so we could pause every once in a while in our admiring of the scenery to gaze lovingly at each other. If you are traveling with a sibling, for instance, you probably do not need to do that, and a bit of rope would suffice.
Wrapping up a great ride
That is all you absolutely need. Optional items include a waterproof camera, lunch, and sunscreen. I strongly recommend leaving your phones at home. Not just because if you lose them, you might be angry with me for recommending this ride, but also so that you will not be tempted to share your trip on social media and miss out on experiencing it. I swear to you, it will be worth it. And I assure you there will be no hidden fees or long lines. The only thing I cannot promise you is that when it's over, you will not feel like the ride ended too soon.
Of course, you're sure to feel so relaxed you won't want to go home and cook. Luckily, Saranac Lake has tons of great lodging options, restaurants, and even the nightlife you're looking for to continue your adventure!