Sunday, August 12, 2012

By Land or by Sea

We're back from a couple of days in Lake Placid, New York. I suppose the timing of our trip was appropriate, given that the Summer Olympics are still on (for a few more hours at least). On Friday, I rented a little Ford Focus and we took off on the Wolfe Island Ferry. Now, you must understand, there is no good way to drive from Kingston to the Adirondacks. Either you drive northeast along the 401 to one of several border crossings (the Thousand Islands at Hill Island, Prescott/Ogdensburg, or Cornwall/Massena) and then crawl along a 2-lane highway through upstate New York, or you island-hop by ferry and crawl along a 2-lane highway through upstate New York. It happened to be raining on Friday, so we opted to try out the ferry route, since driving on the 401 with heavy road spray from massive trucks isn't my idea of a holiday. We chose adventure over speed.
The first leg of the journey on the Wolfe Island Ferry was pretty straightforward. The publicly-funded ferry, which can handle up to 300 passengers, travels from Kingston to Marysville on Wolfe Island in about 25 minutes. (Yes, all these islands are named after British generals.) This is the view of downtown Kingston as we headed out of the harbour.

The tall building with the dome is the City Hall, a nationally recognized historic site. I got out of the car to feel the cool wind in my face and to enjoy the view.

A laker with cargo bound for who knows where.

Wolfe Island in the mist.
After disembarking, we scurried across the island to catch Horne's Ferry over to Cape Vincent, New York. This is when the adventure started. It turns out that Horne's Ferry is a VERY SMALL private ferry, operated seasonally. When we caught our first glimpse of it bobbing up and down on the not insubstantial waves of Lake Ontario, we almost had second thoughts. Then I reminded Bill that the ferry has been operating for a long, long time. We idled in line, paid our fare ($15) and watched while the first vehicle drove aboard. As it took its place at one end of the ferry, the entire vessel sloped to one side, at an angle that had us thinking of the Titanic about to go under. When the second vehicle was backed into place, the angle became even more precipitous. We nervously took our place when it was our turn. That's when the true horror of the situation became apparent. A large van with bicycles attached to its front was next. The ferry attendant, intending the driver to position the van sideways amidships, walked over to the side rail in front of the van just as it drove up and, rather than instructing the driver to pull right up to the rail, he unchained it and let it partially down, as if he were lowering a ramp. This allowed the front of the van, with its jutting bicycles to poke out over the waves while the driver manoeuvred into place. Then, when we thought the ramp would be returned to its upright position after the bicycle van was done, he directed another, even larger van to park with its front poking out over the drink for the entire voyage. This latter vehicle was not secured by anything other than its emergency brake. Yikes!

Fortunately, the day was drizzly, but not terribly windy. Even so, once out on the open lake, the swell grew in height,

and we rolled up and down until Bill said, "Don't talk, I need to concentrate...Does the U.S. Coast Guard know about this?" Not long after, we passed into calmer waters and I was able to stop making plans for how to cope with throw up in a rented car. We drove off, went through a pretty quick border post at a little booth at the edge of the dock, and found ourselves on the main street of Cape Vincent.
The rest of the drive was far less interesting. Upstate New York isn't beautiful until you get well into the mountains. Mostly it's poor, with ramshackle clapboard houses with boarded-up windows and rusty hulks of cars mouldering in tall grass. This is a sort of deep poverty we don't see much on our side of the border, where rural regions are pretty solidly middle-class. It's been five years since we lived in the U.S. and we'd forgotten just how big the divide is between rich and poor. I don't want to sound like a smug Canadian, though. We have the same, if not worse, poverty on our aboriginal reserves.
Finally, we arrived at our destination. Yay!

More about the trip in my next post.


  1. Yikes! The ferry ride sounds a little terrifying to me. Can't wait to hear more about your destination though.

  2. Whew! I think I'll stick to the bridge!!!

  3. I have taken that particular ferry across to the US once in my life-and that was enough to last me a lifetime!!!!!!! My GPS, for some reason, did not recognize the ferry, and kept on spouting out-"Please perform a safe U-turn as soon as possible" and I thought - best advice ever! Glad you survived- now what was your stash enhancement like??????