The History of the League of Extraordinary Adirondack Gentlemen

Before 2009, my favorite camping memory was as a Boy Scout sitting contentedly by a July 1967 campfire, 10,000 feet high in the San Juan Mountains of northeastern New Mexico, twanging the Bonanza theme song on my mouth harp under a starlit sky. For me it couldn’t get any better than that, and over the years the allure of the campsite faded behind family life and a hectic medical career. Even after putting down roots in Glens Falls and becoming an avid reader of such historic Adirondack camping adventures as the reverend WHH Murray’s 1869 Adventures in the Wilderness, I was unfazed. It took an October 2008 lunch with two living Adirondack legends, Peter Hornbeck and Patrick Sisti at the historic Wells House in Pottersville to rekindle the flame. After savoring hearty bowls of moose chili we compared interests while enjoying the ambience of the hotel’s porch. I felt transported into a scene by Seneca Ray Stoddard, whose nineteenth century Adirondack photographs complimented Murray’s febrile prose so well. Between Peter’s boating and Patrick’s guiding reputations, all I had to offer was my Eagle Scout credentials, a passion for all things Adirondack and my Nikon D90. The boys must have sensed my potential however, and so we agreed that a camping trip would be a worthy goal for the following summer.

                                               

                       Plotting on the Wells House piazza

                                                

                   Men on hotel piazza, Lake George circa 1870

I had almost forgotten about our plot when Patrick called me six months later. He had arranged for us to meet on a late July morning at Pete’s boat shop in Olmstedville from whence we would proceed north into the St Regis Ponds Wilderness. Our little group was now six, with the welcome addition of another local legend, Adirondack folksinger Dan Berggren; chimney sweep and expert pond fisherman Len Constantineau of Fort Ann; and my son Andy, a meteorologist, earth science teacher and ardent Adirondack mountaineer. As we assembled at Hornbeck’s and introduced ourselves for the first time, Andy quipped “I feel like I’m camping with the League of Extraordinary Adirondack Gentlemen!”

Thus the origin of our LEAG was rather whimsical from the start. We don’t really consider our group extraordinary, and we don’t really do anything extraordinary, but the members have in their lives achieved things that could be considered at least notorious, if not extraordinary. This will be elaborated on in the members’ individual bios below.

All the members so far have been men only. The simple reason for this is that our wives are happy to get rid of us for a day or two, and the logistics of mixed gender camping is still beyond our ability to figure out. Plus, we would have to change our group’s name- and we have come to like the name! (Thanks Andy!) The Acronym for ‘League of Extraordinary Adirondack Gentlemen’ is LEAG. We are considering modifying it to ‘League of Extraordinary Adirondack Gentlemen Under Eighty’ (LEAGUE). However, that would mean Pete Hornbeck would no longer qualify within the next five or six years. So maybe we will change it to ‘League of Extraordinary Adirondack Gentlemen Under Eighty-nine.’ However, that would create a problem when we are in our nineties! My wife Harriet suggests we change our name to ‘The League of Old Farts’. That might be too accurate!

Anyway, the purpose of our group is to enjoy the outdoors, using the magically lightweight canoes built by Peter Hornbeck, whose shop in Olmstedville creates and sells these wonderful little boats. We enjoy each other’s’ company, and we try to find interesting destinations within the Adirondack Blue Line to explore. My job is to photograph and write about our exploits, for the entertainment and (sometimes) amusement of our readers. We are all over fifty and we want to inspire our readers to get outside and have some fun while enjoying the unique beauty of the Adirondack ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. We enjoy lively conversations around the campfire, and I look for opportunities to emulate outings from the past, as found in the writings of such legends as W. H. Murray and Joel Headley, and the photographs of Seneca Ray Stoddard. Pete can usually provide at least one classic story as well.

Since our group first formed eight years ago, we have sadly lost three members, including the co-founder Patrick Sisti, our esteemed representative of the Adirondack Mountain Club leadership Noel Davis, and most recently, Richard Mills. The rest of us are not getting any younger, but we consider ourselves ‘amortal’. According to Time magazine’s Catherine Mayer, “the defining characteristic of amortals is that they live the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things from their late teens right up until death. They rarely ask themselves if their behavior is age-appropriate, because that concept has little meaning for them. They don’t structure their lives around the inevitability of death, because they prefer to ignore it.” Another way to explain our outings is to say, as I often do, that you can only be young once, but you can be immature forever!

One thing that happens on almost every outing is what I call the “Hornbeck Effect”.  This happens when we encounter another paddler slogging along in their 50-pound canoe who watch us picking up our lightweight boats. I always invite them to pick up my 11-pound carbon-fiber Black Jack and watch their face. The look of incredulity gives way to awe, then sheer pleasure as they imagine themselves replacing their old tub with this feather-light piece of Adirondackana! My favorite example occurred in 2014 as we stood at the boat launch on Forked Lake, when an 86-year-old veteran canoeist picked up my boat. His expression was priceless!

 

                                The "Hornbeck Effect"

                      The past & present LEAG members

                                          PATRICK SISTI

 

It is safe to say that the League of Extraordinary Adirondack Gentlemen would never have existed had it not been for Patrick Sisti. He is one of the characters I included in my second book, Never a Dull Moment. Below is a brief bio of Pat that is an excerpt from that book:

Patrick, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, explained his connection to the Adirondacks. “My father bought 1600 acres of land in the Town of Indian Lake in 1942, a year before I was born. He brought my mother to the land with a picnic basket and a bottle of whiskey, and they celebrated under an apple tree. I was born nine months later! My father always called me ‘the apple of my eye.’” His father built a two story fieldstone house with knotty pine interior and the caretaker of his father’s property, Leroy Spring, looked after it when the Sisti family was at their primary residence downstate. Patrick loved the man he called ‘Uncle Leroy’- “He taught me everything I know about the Adirondack woods. He was the image of everything I considered manly. He was my hero- my mentor.”  I had the pleasure of knowing Leroy for over twenty years myself as his physician, and it explained a lot about who Patrick was.

In 2009, Patrick introduced himself to me at a book fair in Glens Falls and we seemed to connect immediately. Aware of his reputation as a skilled guide, and noting his flowing, shoulder-length hair and humble demeanor, I was immediately reminded of Bill Nye, the legendary guide of Seneca Ray Stoddard.  In 1878, Stoddard immortalized Nye and his fellow guides with word and portrait. (Nye Mountain is one of the 46 High Peaks):

…a more honest, cheerful and patient class of men cannot be found the world over… skilled in all the lore of woodcraft, handy with the rod, superb at the paddle, modest in demeanor and speech, honest to a proverb… The wilderness has unfolded to them its mysteries, and made them wise with a wisdom nowhere written in books.

These words could have just as easily applied to Patrick. When he invited me to go on camping trip into the Adirondacks the next summer, I could not refuse, even though I had given up camping since my six-year career as a Boy Scout had ended over forty years earlier. Perhaps he sensed that there was something missing in my busy life as a rural primary care physician, and that he could re-connect me with my younger self, who had spent many days and nights sleeping in the woods of my boyhood while eventually achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. Little did I realize at the time how precious a gift he had given me.

In October 2012 I was stunned to receive a call form Patrick’s nephew Gary Sisti that Patrick had suddenly collapsed and died on the shore of Long Pond as he was returning to his car. I console myself with the knowledge that Patrick was doing what he loved best when he was stricken. Yet anyone who knew him feels cheated out of future meetings and outings with a uniquely generous, charming and infectiously jovial character. Patrick Sisti was truly an Extraordinary Adirondack Gentleman. Here is one last bit of lore from the CEO and chairman of the Secret Society of Adirondack Pond Fishermen:

A few negative items about Adirondack ponds; There could be a foot or two of mud on the bottom. Why do you think so many are called Mud Pond? Essex County alone has 11 Mud Ponds. Old-timers, when asked for their favorite trout water, would reply “Mud Pond”’ and walk away snickering. Me, I’m different. I don’t mind telling you my favorite ponds. Some of them are Shannon’s Pond, Tyler’s Pond, Emily’s Pond, Pup’s Pond, and Andrew’s Pond. Of course, those aren’t the real names. Those are the names of my grandchildren.

                                 Patrick paddling on the Duck Hole

 

                                       PETER HORNBECK

 

The modus operandi of the LEAG is to enjoy paddling very lightweight canoes that can be lifted with one hand and carried as far as necessary to reach remote, beautiful lakes ponds and streams. Peter Hornbeck has been making his carbon-fiber and Kevlar boats for decades, and he has become a legend in his own time while his boats have become the closest thing to ‘bling’ that the Adirondack Park produces today. Pete, like so many other successful Adirondackers, is a man of many talents who had to re-create himself to make a living in this economically unforgiving area. A native of western New York State, he had earned a teaching certificate from the University of Buffalo before serving in the US Army during the Viet Nam War. After receiving postgraduate education at Geneseo in 1969, he began a 22-year career as an elementary school teacher at the Johnsburg Central School in North Creek, teaching kids ranging from eight to eleven years of age. But as far back as 1970 he had an almost instinctive interest in experimenting with the construction of small, lightweight boats. “When my Dutch ancestors came to this country,” he explained to me in the summer of 2009, “their name was changed from Hoonbeek to Hornbeck. Hoonbeek is Dutch for ‘village by the river’. I guess it’s in my blood.”

He began experimenting with fiberglass, then Kevlar and later, carbon fiber- trying to create the perfect boat for the waters of the Adirondacks. It began as a hobby, then a part time career as his successes became known to the many avid paddlers in the area who were searching for the same ideal craft that he was. His life changed course abruptly in 1991 when he felt a pressure in his chest while jogging. “Go figure,” he recalls: “The only jogger in Olmstedville has a heart attack!” As it turns out, it was a blessing in disguise. He took a medical leave of absence for a year, much of which time he spent in his boat shop. He rediscovered the reason he came to the Adirondacks in the first place- for its flowing water. “White water was always my big thing. I always wanted to live in the Adirondacks, and teaching started out as a means to an end. It became more than that, but having a heart attack at age 49 made me realize that I needed to make some changes in my life. The inflexibility of teaching rankled- I didn’t have time for anything else. Now I was enjoying the freedom- a lot!” He began building boats full-time, and it showed him what had been missing in his life- the need to create something with his own hands that he could share with others. He also discovered he could make a living doing it, which made everything in his life seem to fall into place.

His craftsmanship is not limited to his boat building; he is also a talented self-taught artist. Studying the technique of Winslow Homer, his watercolors could be mistaken for them, and reveal the depth of his connection to his surroundings. But his boats are what have made his name a legend in the Adirondacks. I already appreciated what they represented- a means of escaping the ordinary to experience the extraordinary. And with the distinctive red stripe along the sides, one could do it in style.

Peter has carved out a small kingdom in Olmstedville. His two workshops, warehouse and guest cabin sit between his sales office and “Lake Inferior”, a small pond where customers can test-paddle his boats. His home and barn can be found elsewhere on the 100-acre complex, where he sponsors fund-raising parties and environmental conferences when he is not designing a new boat or working on a watercolor. He generously donates his canoes and artwork to worthy causes, while overseeing the production of over 500 boats every year. “…and I never get tired of seeing my boats around, people using them and enjoying life,” he admits. Over 7000 of his craft ply the waters of the world, as far away as Tasmania. Yet he prefers to keep his business small and personal, with only seven loyal employees and no plans to expand. “I could easily expand, and wholesale my boats to other retailers. I could hire more workers, open another store or two and sell a lot more boats- but then it wouldn’t be fun anymore.” As it is, a visit to his shop on Trout Brook Road in Olmstedville is like a pilgrimage for those of us who appreciate what he does and how he does it. If there is such a thing as an Adirondack paddler’s boutique, his store is the model. Peter is now so seamlessly entwined into the landscape he likes to paint that the name Hornbeck has become a trademark for what makes the Adirondacks such a special place.

 

                                        Peter on St. Regis pond

 

                                       MIKE PRESCOTT

 

When my first book, All In a Day’s Work, was published by Syracuse University Press in 2004, I did a series of book signings and photography exhibits in the greater Glens Falls area and the Adirondacks. During a book signing at the (then) Adirondack Community College, a charming man wearing a well-worn hat bearing an Adirondack Guide badge introduced himself as Mike Prescott. He asked me if I ever did much camping or paddling in the Adirondacks, and indicated he would be happy to take me out for a paddle at my convenience. At that point in my life the answer was no. True, I owned a couple of 45-pound polyethylene kayaks that I would occasionally hoist onto the roof of my car so I could explore an easily accessible lake or stream with my son or my wife Harriet. But as far as portaging, camping overnight, or going out with other paddling enthusiasts, my life was still too hectic to add the additional commitment. So, I politely deferred his offer for an outing, but I accepted his business card because there was something about this man that bespoke confidence, experience and knowledge of the Adirondacks. It would be another five years before I would have reason to call him back, but once Pat Sisti lit a fire under me, Mike Prescott was on my short list of gentlemen that I would want to go camping with. After the historic 2009 meeting with Pat and Pete at the Wells House, Mike was the first man I called to join our as-yet unnamed group. Naturally he accepted- as I eventually came to realize, Mike would rather paddle a Hornbeck canoe than do almost anything else on earth. If you have ever received an e-mail from Mike, you know he signs of with his trademark salutation: “Keep paddling!”

As I got to know Mike, I realized he was more than an accomplished and experienced Adirondack Guide- he is a respected historian of the Adirondacks. He knows more about the history of damming rivers and streams in the Adirondacks than anyone alive. His entire consciousness seems oriented to the flow of water within the Blue Line. How could he not become a member of the LEAG?

  

                                   Mike Prescott on Long Lake

 

                                        ANDREW WAY

 

My son Andy, as already mentioned, is responsible for naming our group. We love the appellation because it is silly, and we don’t expect readers of my articles in Adirondac magazine to take us seriously. Andy is an Earth Science middle school teacher at Shenendehowa, and he and his lovely wife Natalia live outside Saratoga Springs. He is also a Forty-Sixer and loves the outdoors. He was willing to join us for our inaugural outing, and also was with us for the third outing, which was to Tupper Lake. These days he is too busy with his work and his new puppy Leroy, and will also become a father in November 2017, so we may not be seeing him back on the active roster for awhile. He knows he is always welcome to come back though!

 

                                  LEN CONSTANTINEAU

 

Len was asked to join the group by Patrick Sisti since they were both avid fly fishermen. In fact, Len provided us with breakfast on our first outing, in the form of the lake trout shown above. He also provided us with an abundance of firewood while showing the ability of the Hornbeck Carbon-fiber Black Jack to carry a heavy load, and to be modified to be used as a rowboat.

 

                                        Len on St. Regis Pond

 

Since Patrick’s passing, we have lost touch with Len. We hope he is doing well and catching lots of fish!

 

                                    DAN BERGGREN

 

I invited Dan to join our original group because I knew he would fit in perfectly, given his appreciation of the Adirondacks and Adirondackers. Perhaps our outings would give him fodder for a future song, since he is a professional folk singer, song writer and poet. He has his own music publishing company, Sleeping Giant Records, which is named for a mountain near his home in Minerva. He represents the modern embodiment of the Adirondack Park in his music, and his songs glorify the lifestyle and history of the people who live within the Blue Line. Dan was able to join us for our inaugural outing to St. Regis Pond in 2010, our 2012 outing to Tupper Lake, and our 2014 outing to Long Lake. His busy summer concert schedule has since made joining us difficult. His singing and harmonica added to the ambience of our camp, and we hope he can find time to bring his guitar, harmonica, and songs to our next outing! To learn more about Dan, check out his website at http://www.berggrenfolk.com/.

 

                              Dan playing harmonica at St. Regis Pond

                                                 NOEL DAVIS

 

Noel Davis of Olmstedville joined our group in 2011 at the invitation of Peter, based on his love of paddling and passionate support of all things Adirondack. At the time he was also a Vice President of the Adirondack Mountain Club, which lent our group some additional credibility and access to what was going on politically within the Blue Line. Although then 72, Noel had been climbing the high peaks and paddling the waters of the Adirondacks since before I had ever heard of them. He had been a patient of mine for about ten years and I knew him to be full of fun and inexhaustible enthusiasm for the outdoors. For years, he had owned and operated a dairy farm downstate among his many other talents and experiences. Our first outing together was to Lake Henderson and Duck Hole, and I can still remember how vigorously he carried his boat along the 2.5-mile portage from Lake Henderson to Preston Pond.

 

He tiptoed across the boulders of Henderson Lake Stream like the Great Wallenda as he effortlessly carried his Black Jack and backpack. His ­knowledge of Adirondack environmental issues was amazing, and his joie-de-vivre was infectious.

 

                                          Noel on Tupper Lake

It was therefore disturbing when he began experiencing progressive respiratory difficulty that soon became alarming, and he was ultimately found to have progressive pulmonary fibrosis. He fought it well for several years, and was able to accompany us on our outings to Long Lake in 2012 and Tupper lake in 2013. Sadly, after attending our spring planning meeting in 2014, he passed away later that summer. A wonderful celebration of his life was held in Chestertown, where it was clear how much he had contributed to the welfare of the Adirondacks and how many lives he had touched. Every LEAG outing since then, his absence has been noted and felt. Hopefully there are lakes, ponds and rivers in Heaven- if so, he is probably racing Pat Sisti downwind right now!

 

     Noel Davis and Patrick Sisti on the Bog River below Hitchins Pond

                                    RICK DAVIDSON

 

                Rick Davidson entering the Duck Hole on Newcomb Lake

Rick Davidson is a good guy. Along with his brother John, in 1996 he created and operated what has become a successful business with the Davidson Brothers brewpub in Glens Falls. In doing so he has helped revitalize downtown Glens Falls, create good jobs and supported many worthy causes, including veterans causes, local sports teams, and the Adirondack Mountain Club. On his brewery’s website, he explains: “In February of 1996, John and I, with the moral support of a dozen close friends, took the chance of a lifetime and made the winning bid on the building at 184 Glen Street in Glens Falls. We were officially in the brewpub business and Davidson Brothers Restaurant & Brewery opened to the public on October 14, 1996….Been busy ever since.”

 

               Rick and John Davidson at their new pub back in 1999

Rick brews delicious beers and his pub provides a full menu of dinners and appetizers in a friendly Cheers-like watering hole atmosphere after a hard day’s work. I have known Rick since I photographed he and John in 1999 for a Glens Falls Hometown USA photo-essay I was working on. Over the years I have often stopped in after a grueling day’s work at Glens Falls Hospital, and have seen him put his heart and soul into his work. Thinking that he needed a brief escape from civilization, I invited him to join our LEAG in 2012. Despite his lack of experience paddling Adirondack waters, it took about 2 milliseconds for him to accept my offer. He joined us for the outing on Tupper Lake, using a Kevlar Classic loaner from Pete, and he was hooked.

 

               Rick taking his first real paddle in a Hornbeck on Tupper Lake

The rest of the group has found Rick a welcome addition, especially his wacky sense of self-deprecating humor and his kid-in-a-candy-store enthusiasm for the chance to return to nature among appreciative friends. Sharing stories about his lengthy career running a food service business has given us a new level of regard for what it takes to keep such an enterprise running for over twenty years. Rick enjoys himself so much that on this year’s trip to Newcomb Lake, he signed up for a two-night stay- and he always brings refreshments!

     

                                           RICHARD ROSEN

 

                          Rick Rosen in his boat shop

 

Rick Rosen joined our group for the 2013 outing on Long Lake, and has been a stalwart member ever since. He and Mike Prescott probably spend more time paddling that on dry land, so they are usually the members who scout out and establish a campsite before the rest of the LEAG arrives. This Rick loves paddling so much that he spent three years building a beautiful Adirondack guideboat, but he still prefers to use his Hornbeck for our outings due to its much lighter weight (and Rick’s willingness to let it absorb the inevitable scratches and other punishment that comes with regular use). Here is his own explanation of how he ended up in the LEAG:

“My first exposure to canoes came as a swimming and boating instructor at summer camps during my college years.  I fell in love with the way one could propel those guys silently across the water and maneuver them with the finesse of an aquatic helicopter.

                “I moved from college to graduate school in educational administration, spent a few years in that field and three years as an army officer in the Military Police at the request of my draft board. After that it was a growing family and back to graduate school again.  This time in Criminal Justice, some of my military experience having rubbed off on me. 

“Following grad school #2, from the late '70s through the 90s, I served as Director of Research and Statistics for the State Division of Criminal Justice. Our little group produced the State's crime statistics for the FBI and taught New York how to calculate an accurate conviction rate.  We focused on developing data analytic strategies to assess and model the state's justice system and conduct research to guide statewide justice policy.  We came to be sort of an OMB for criminal justice. 

“With stable employment, I was able to spend more time outdoors and I acquired a succession of light-weight composite canoes – all tandems.  One, a Mad River Malecite still occupies a warm place in my recollections. By the time I retired in 2002, I found that even those boats were getting harder and harder to get on top of my car.  I'd heard about Peter's 18-pound boats and that sounded pretty good to me.  With my wife, Barbara Gordon (maker of LEAG brownies), we purchased a small camp near Indian Lake that year – and I promptly went over to Olmsteadville and bought a butterscotch (Kevlar) 10-footer.  Barb had her sights set on a kayak which we got about the same time. 

“Trying our new boats that year on Lake Abanakee, Barb and I engaged another Hornbeck paddler who was very knowledgeable about loons that we encountered on our paddle.  That was Mike Prescott who has remained a friend ever since.

“In addition to introducing me to some distinguished Adirondack gentlemen, Mike has acquainted me with innumerable paddling venues and to the history and culture of the Mountains, which have become an important part of my retired life.  In recent years I've supplemented my Adirondack pursuits by indulging my interest in history as a volunteer guide at the Saratoga Battlefield. 

“Since that first Butterscotch, we've acquired a Blackjack (hull #11) and a 12-footer Classic.  We've given them some hard use, in return for a great deal of pleasure.  Barb still likes her kayak, but defers to the Butterscotch when there are beaver dams to be encountered.  Me, I haven't given a moment's thought to a tandem canoe since that first trip to Olmsteadville. 

 

                                       Rick Rosen on Forked Lake

 

                                        BILL MCKIBBEN

 

                         Bill McKibben relaxing at Forked lake

Bill McKibben isn’t just an Extraordinary Adirondack Gentleman; he is an extraordinary avatar for fighting climate change, and has been making an enormous impact for decades. He doesn’t just complain about it (which he does), or educate people about it (which he does), but he convinces foreign communities, companies and governments to do everything they can to reverse it. For decades Bill has been the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College. He has written sixteen books over 25 years that deal with environmental and social issues, and has been a columnist for New Yorker magazine for over thirty years. According to his website at http://www.billmckibben.com/ “His first book, The End of Nature, was published in 1989, and has been published worldwide in over 20 languages. His books range in topics from global warming to local communities to genetic engineering to family.” In 2007 he created an international organization called 350.org, which includes 188 countries dedicated to lowering atmospheric CO2 levels to 350 PPM or less by “…standing up to the fossil fuel industry to stop all new coal, oil and gas projects and build clean energy for all.” (I invite readers to check out this website to learn more about his important work: https://350.org/science/, and Google his article “The Race to Solar-Power Africa” in the June 26, 2017 New Yorker online.)

It just so happens that Bill lives in Johnsburg, where our paths crossed many years ago during my tenure at the North Creek Health Center. (That’s the great thing about the Adirondacks- it is a microcosm where eventually, you can get to know anybody you want!) So I knew he would enjoy our group when he wasn’t travelling the globe fighting Donald Trump, the Koch Brothers, The Keystone Pipeline, Exxon and the fracking frackers. The LEAG offers him a chance to escape civilization into the Adirondack wilderness, where he can enjoy the fresh air, sparkling waters, beautiful scenery and supportive friends who appreciate his efforts with no strings attached. Bill joined us in 2013 on Long Lake and has been with us ever since despite his hectic schedule. We must be doing something right!

 

Bill leading the way (as usual) on the Brandreth Lake outlet to Forked Lake

 

                   Bill on the Cold River above Long Lake

 

                                         TOM CURLEY

 

                                        Tom Curley on Saranac Lake

 

Tom Curly joined the LEAG for our 2015 Forked Lake outing. As I explained in that outing’s article in the July-August 2016 Adirondac magazine, Tom and his family have been friends of my family since we first met while vacationing together at Covewood Lodge on Big Moose Lake in the mid 1980s. At the time, he was senior editor for the USA Today, and went on to become the CEO of the Associated Press until his retirement in 2014. On several occasions, he would have to pack up and leave his family at Covewood. Once we ran into him over breakfast at the Big Moose Station diner and he was in a hurry. "What's the rush?” I asked. "I have to go back to Washington", he replied. "Iraq just invaded Kuwait!" On another occasion, he had to cut short a reunion at his Saranac Lake home. This time he was interviewing Iranian president Ahmadinejad at the United Nations in New York City. Although it sounded exciting, I felt bad for him in a way, always on the run.

 

                                 Tom at the Associated Press

Over the years, my own life had gotten more hectic, commuting 106 miles to and from my Indian Lake Health Center from my Glens Falls home, doing home visits all over the Southeastern Adirondacks, rounding on my most senior patients at the Adirondack Tri-County Nursing Home in North Creek, or working 7-8 days in a row for Hudson Headwaters Health Network at Glens Falls hospital. I gladly spend much of my free time visiting my two married children and two grandchildren whenever possible. In April 2015, at a reunion of Way and Curley families, I was lamenting about my satisfying but hectic life style to Tom, who replied "the tough thing about the jobs you and I have had is that they are all about drinking from a fire hydrant. There are no easy ways to cut the volume. I feel for you. Hopefully the finish line is near for you." It made me realize he would be a perfect addition to our League of Extraordinary Adirondack Gentleman. We were both at a point in our lives when time had become more valuable than money. It turns out I was right.

Tom is an avid paddler, mountaineer, bicyclist and traveler. During his long career in the news media, he has seen more of the world than anyone else I have ever met. He has attended every Summer and Winter Olympics since at least 1980, met every US president since Carter, and interviewed many celebrities, athletes and world leaders. He is always good for interesting tales around the campfire. And like me, Tom is a big fan of Peter Hornbeck and his boats, keeping a small navy of Black Jacks and a New Trick at his Saranac Lake camp. From the mud season to the black fly season, Tom lives with his wife Marsha in northern Virginia, where we both have daughters who also live only a few miles apart. Small world!

 

                                  Tom Curley on Forked Lake

 

                                         TOM BESSETTE

  

Tom Bessette joined the LEAG for our Forked Lake outing in 2014 at the suggestion of Pete Hornbeck. It might have been because of Tom’s familiarity with that lake, which he has paddled every inch of dozens of times and has probably spent several months of his life camped out on its shores. He was able to help me find the ruins of the former Great Camp of Frederick Durant, the builder of the legendary Prospect House Hotel on Blue Mountain Lake in the 1870’s. He has been a great member of the group ever since.

Tom’s background is interesting in that, like me, his career has been based in science, but he has a serious interest in photography and has published several books of his photographs. In fact, he has a Master of Fine Arts degree from SUNY New Paltz, along with a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife. Since 1999, he has taught software applications to faculty, staff and students at the University of Albany when he is not paddling his Hornbeck or taking photographs. His totem photos are especially haunting, as are his B&W portraits of Adirondackers and other characters from around the world. He lives with his wife Kim in Delmar NY. Check out his website at www.tombessette.com- he has a huge library of his gorgeous photographs, videos, and books. 

 

                                 Tom Bessette on Forked Lake


                                      RICHARD MILLS

  

In 2017 our LEAG would be enhanced by a new member; Richard Mills, who would be the third Richard to join the group, in addition to Ricks Davidson and Rosen. This Rick was born in Paris, Illinois during World War II, and was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents until his father came home from the war. After that, his father’s work let to frequent moves from Michigan to Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, which Rick feels was a good learning experience.  His first real job was teaching History in  a small independent New York City school for several years. He then went to grad school at Columbia University before working for Governor Kane in the New Jersey Department of Education.  He then moved on to become the Commissioner of Education for the state of Vermont for seven years, then New York State for fourteen years.

The new Richard was a perfect fit; with his background he could add lots of insight to our fireside conversations, and he loved the outdoors. “The very next day after I retired,” he said, “I was camping with my wife in the Adirondacks. My passion has always been to be in the woods as much as possible- especially the Adirondacks. Since I was three, I simply didn’t want to come inside. When I was young we visited Iceland, Africa, Europe and all the Canadian provinces, and camped out often, but we always circled back to the Adirondacks. So it is a great privilege to be here with this group of men.” 

Sadly, Rick passed away suddenly on November 1, 2017 at the age of 73. To,learn more about this great man, plese follow this link: 

http://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Education-innovator-Rickard-Mills-dies-at-72-12330812.php

Our members all had the same reaction:

Very sad news! Heart Attack, according to the report, suffered while hiking. Sigh...  -Tom Bessette

I was shocked to learn of this tragedy !!!  After meeting Rick Mills at our Santanoni / Newcomb Lake outing, Rick M and I paddled the Eckford Chain one fine early Sept day.   We had a very enjoyable paddle and shared many stories.  That day was a memorable day.  What a comfortable fellow to be around, quiet, unassuming, inquisitive, knowledgeable about so many things.  I had several eMail “chats” with him trying to plan other paddles and hikes.  Last I knew Rick Mills was very concerned about his mother’s health.  I never had the opportunity to meet his wife Judy, and it was very evident that they had a great relationship.  I recall Rick speaking very fondly of their relationship.  Very sad news !!!   Brings one up-short, thinking of our own evincibility !!!  -Mike Prescott

 

Wow.  Quite a shock.  He was a very impressive guy and experienced camper.  So glad I got to know him.   -Tom Curley

I couldn't sleep so was catching up on Facebook and just read Tom Bessette's post about the sudden passing of Rick Mills last Wednesday.  Rotten awful news. Rick telling us about his love of the Adirondacks, how he hiked and paddled every chance he could get including the day after he retired, inspired me to accept every subsequent invitation I could from Mike to paddle.  If it weren't for the two of you, I'd have never met Rick nor had these awesome Adirondack experiences.  Thank you both.       -Rick Davidson

How hard to hear this news. I missed some dates to paddle with Rick after our outing and am so sorry that I missed that opportunity to get to know him better.  -Rick Rosen
What a good man--we had hours of interesting talk. He had a lot left to give the world.. -Bill McKibben

 

As a physician I have dealt with people close to me passing unexpectedly many times, and it always reminds me of the need to "carpae diem" or seize the day. Rick was apparently doing that when he was suddenly stricken. It always brings to mind the lyrics of a lullaby John Lennon wrote to his son not long before he died:

Out on the ocean sailing away,
I can hardly wait
To see you to come of age,
But I guess we'll both
Just have to be patient,

'Cause it's a long way to go,
A hard row to hoe
Yes, it's a long way to go
But in the meantime,

Before you cross the street,
Take my hand,
Life is what happens to you,
While you're busy making other plans.