Meet the Crooked Canes
By Elisabeth Merrett
Let’s face it, there comes a time when some of us figure out that we aren’t going to become 46ers. Not in this lifetime. I come to that realization when I find myself ad-mitting that I am only a 2er—a 3er, if you count climbing Marcy twice.
Nor am I likely to achieve an Eskimo roll in my kayak, run the Adirondack Marathon around Schroon Lake or mountain bike down the trails of Gore or Whiteface at breakneck speed, although I tell myself that all of those things remain possible, no matter what my age. For the record, it’s 65. And much to my chagrin, no one even questions me when I ask for that senior discount.
So, a while back, I figured it was time to check out the Crooked Canes, a local outing group that hikes, bikes, canoes or cross-country skis together every Thursday. Many of them, I learn, really have done some of those things I’ve given up on, but they now look forward to slightly less-strenuous adventures.
“Crooked Canes?” says one of my friends. “Sounds like a bunch of old people.”
Actually, one does not have to be elderly to join up with the Crooked Canes. I learn this when talking to a tall, blond 40ish woman I meet on a hike up Black Mountain overlooking Lake George. But the basic requirement, I gather, is to be free on Thursdays, so naturally the group is predominantly seniors and retirees.
So what’s with the name? Well, it seems one of the group’s early trip leaders, Paul Van Dyke, enjoyed carving walking sticks from saplings, and he gave them to his fellow hikers. The name Crooked Canes was born. Although Van Dyke died in 1985, the group’s brochure proclaims: “His spirit is still leading the Crooked Canes off the beaten path and over the hiking trails.”
When the Canes began in 1979, its members took weekly walks in Saratoga Springs State Park. Van Dyke, who belonged to the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), offered to lead more ambitious hikes in the Adirondacks and elsewhere. They tend to stick to the southern and central regions of the Park: Crane Mountain, Sleeping Beauty Mountain, Castle Rock, Tirrell Pond, Tenant Creek Falls, Garnet Hill ski center (see following page for maps). The list could go on and on—the Canes have gone on more than 800 trips over the years.
ADK chapters rate their hikes on an easy-to-difficult scale, but the Canes’ outings could be rated with a single designation: fun. Most of the hikes are shorter and easier than the typical ADK outing. Each person proceeds at his or her own pace. If you’re bringing up the rear, there’s no pressure. You’ll get there when you get there.
Recently, I joined the Canes on a hike to Blue Ledge, a remote and lovely spot on the upper Hudson where ravens nest high in the cliffs and whitewater rafters sometimes stop for lunch. We, too, plan to be down at the river’s banks by lunchtime. The distance from the trailhead on Northwoods Club Road in Minerva to the river is 2½ miles, first up, then down.
The up and down I can deal with, since I’ve been here before, both by land and “by sea.” But the mud, which I don’t remember, is another matter. The agility of the 50-plus group is tested as we leap from rock to rock, log to log, to avoid being sucked into slurpy muck that’s sometimes shin-deep. I soon regret not bringing a walking stick to aid in this challenging ballet. I give up the battle when I slip off a rock and sink into over-the-boots mud for the first, but not the last, time. Just behind us is a troop of boys from a nearby camp. Not one of them cares a whit about staying clean and dry. Soon they are engaged in a mud fight, whooping and hollering with delight. A fellow hiker and I watch from a distance, and I think I detect envy on her face. Perhaps she feels tempted to join in.
The trail from the top of the ridge to the river is dry, but a little hard on aging knees. Even the fittest hikers can find downhills troublesome. Those in the group with walking sticks seem to have an easier time. How I long for my own crooked cane.
Approaching the river, I speed up to watch the passing rafters, so I can yell hello to my son, who is a whitewater guide. I make it just in time. Then I settle down for lunch and chit-chat with the Canes. They are a friendly, loose-knit group. In fact, they consider themselves a non-organization. There are no officers, no committees, no dues, just a common passion for the outdoors.
Irv Boyle, a longtime member, said he has never heard a serious complaint or cross word on the trail. Everyone takes the good with the bad, whether it be rain, mud or steep terrain. They don’t dwell on aches and pains or the huffing and puffing that comes with a climb. What is it that motivates them to keep getting outdoors in their retirement years?
“They do it, because it’s there, because they want to see it,” said Edythe Bennett, a Crooked Cane who is also a 46er, “and because they might not have the chance to be back anytime soon.”
All told, about 70 people belong to the Canes, mostly from around Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls. They exemplify a nationwide trend among senior citizens to stay active and fit after retirement. As a spokeswoman for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) notes, “We have had medical evidence for a long time that the best thing you can do for your health is to remain physically active. People are finally starting to realize this.”
ADK lobbyist Neil Woodworth sees the trend at work in the Adirondacks. He estimates that up to 30% of the club’s 20,000 members are over 50. “As they get closer to their sunset years, a lot of the Baby Boomer generation are walking and hiking,” he said. “I’ve noticed that many of the people I see on the trails and canoe routes are older Americans.”
The AARP touts the many health benefits of regular exercise for senior citizens. Among other things, exercise can stave off heart disease, reduce blood pressure, and strengthen bones and muscle. For hikers, staying active also is a way of staying young. It challenges us to look at life, even a mud fight, the way kids do. It lets us discover new places and see with fresh eyes those places we’ve been before.
As the Canes’ brochure says, “Life’s first fifty years are just a warm-up.”
Blue Ledge makes a wonderful destination for a picnic any time of year. In summer, the pools in the Hudson River provide a great swimming spot. The trail begins on a dirt road several miles from the main highway. At the start, you’ll skirt Huntley Pond. As you climb the ridge that parallels the river, you’ll hear the Hudson’s rushing water. The 2.5-mile trail ends among cedars, rocks and sand at the river’s edge. The 300-foot precipice rises above the opposite shore.
DIRECTIONS: Drive north from Minerva on NY 28N for about 1.7 miles to North Woods Club Road. Turn left and go 6.7 miles to a small parking area on the right, near Huntley Pond. The trail begins on the opposite side of the road.