We met our guides Helene and Bob of Adirondack Riverwalking at 8:30 AM, about 15 minutes from Lake Placid. I was clearly inexperienced in the ways of the Adirondack waters by foot as when I grabbed my phone for any photo opportunities that may present themselves Helene warned me that I might want to reconsider; still waters run deep and if I wanted to keep my electronic BFF and constant companion to document another day I may want to go this one alone.
No... phone? No... internet? No... camera?
But what if someone had a question that absolutely demanded an answer immediately? How was I going to relive this lovely experience over and over again? The point, I would find out, was to actually live it the first time, not record it for posterity and miss out on the experience completely.
This section of the Ausable River is almost legendary. I've heard people talk about it for years now, but have never had the opportunity to visit it because it is private property and generally hidden. For good reason, too; the house that sits on the hillside overlooking this river must have the most beautiful view in the Adirondack mountains. At one time, it was widely spoken of in hushed tones as the best spot for fly fishing, but Hurricane Irene changed the landscape irrevocably when it washed away more than eight feet of bank instantaneously changed the riverbed from the perfect habitat for trout to perfect habitat for minnows.
It is also perfect for river walking.
I am not a practitioner of meditation and I can't shut my brain off to sleep let alone during waking hours. I've tried - I usually end up having full conversations with myself about what I'm going to plan for dinner for the week, what I need to not forget to put on my farmer's market shopping list, what DIY projects I want to tackle this month (btw, I've tackled none, so don't think that just because I think of all of this stuff I actually get around to doing it) - anything to keep from being silent. But there is something about the water that almost instantaneously relaxes you. As though, when you step in it or venture out onto it, the water picks up your thoughts and fears and anxieties and washes them away. As I found my footing through the water, I entered - perhaps completely naturally - a state of what I think transcendental meditation and for the first time I can remember, my mind was quiet.
Helene knows just when to interject and guide you through the mindfulness experience so that you can get the most from it without taking you out of it. Bob knows exactly how to enrich the experience with fascinating information about our natural world or pointing out easily overlooked areas filled with profound meaning. There are areas where the ankle deep water rushes with surprising force or areas where the slow-moving waist deep current can nearly pick you up. Haven't we all experienced being picked up and moved by life when we were least expecting it?
This was a morning filled with metaphor and insight but perhaps the greatest thing I gained was the reminder that no matter the strength of the current, no matter the direction, or no matter how caught by surprise I was, I needed only to reach out my hand to find his, ready at once to steady me or simply there to enjoy with me.
Helene and Bob have thought of almost everything to allow you to make this truly about relaxation. You needn't rush out in the morning to find yourself a pair of waders and wading boots, they will take care of it. Water (did I detect a tart refreshing burst of lemon?) - they have it taken care of. Bug deterrents and sunscreen (you'll probably need both, though I wouldn't say it's any more buggy than walking down Main Street thanks to the ever-present breeze that accompanies the river), they have that too. Walking poles and sticks? That too.
But what I most appreciated was the acknowledgment that you cannot experience something profound without having time to process it. After being led out of the water and given a moment to remove your waterproof duds, Helene, a yoga instructor of 20 years, understands the importance of mental preparation and processing when it comes to relaxation. So often do we find ourselves on the knife edge of frenzy and control that such purposeful relaxation is greatly enhanced by the additional mindfulness exercises Helene guided us through. Looking back, I consider that time to process the experience as vital as the experience itself.
Just like we are too often looking at the world through a lens, so too are we preoccupied with fitting more and more into our days and overlooking the quality of what we've done. In the end, we have photos of an event we cannot remember happening as opposed to memories of an encounter that will leave a ripple through your life. I can tell you which I will be looking for more often.