Video: Ziplining Hunter Mountain on Labor Day weekend

by Sonja Stark on September 1, 2014

Nick Johnson, Terrance Collins and John Hamilton, all weekend zip-lining renegades,  use quick wit and slapstick to abate our fears while we soar like eagles at Hunter Mountain.

Nick Johnson, Terrance Collins and John Hamilton, all weekend zip-lining renegades, use quick wit and slapstick to abate our fears while we soar like eagles at Hunter Mountain.

Nick, Terrance and John are the comedy superstars of the zip-lining world. They swing sardonic barbs, jabs and innuendo almost as naturally as a classic episode of The Three Stooges. And, it’s because of their lighthearted banter that Dad dared to try the longest, highest and fastest zip-line in North America this weekend.

Welcome to New York Zipline Adventure Tours at Hunter Mountain. With over 4.6 miles of runs, at nearly 600 feet above the ground, traveling at speeds of up to 50 mph, it’s normal to feel a little trepidation.

There are harnesses to wear and heavy metal trolleys to tote around. There are countless ‘do’s and don’ts’ to remember to avoid injury. There are forms to practice like the cannonball, the office chair, penciling-in and, as I heard someone call it, the ‘giving-birth’ position.

Much like sky-diving, zip-lining requires focus, concentration and a whole lot of passion, especially on a windy day when you may not successfully make it to the landing platform. That’s when the instructors have to reel you in like a fish. I failed to tuck properly on the 2nd trip and Nick, dutifully, had to strap himself to the cable and come rescue me.

The sensation of flying above a canopy of trees engulfed by the scenic Catskill mountains is intense. I dare say you’ll reach a higher level of consciousness from the exhilaration. It’s like donning a pair of wings to your arms and setting yourself free – if only for a few precious seconds. Dad pushed his fear aside upon hearing that a couple in their early 90′s celebrated their anniversary here. He catapulted into thin air with the grace of a soaring eagle, which, along with bears and deer, Hunter Mountain has plenty of.

“Bears are attracted to the color red. That’s why we wear yellow helmets and you all wear red,” cajoled our instructor Terrance. Smiles and snorts from the anxious crowd.

On the 5th zip-line, instructor John pretended to get smacked in the head from my dangling feet while I passed overhead. He had me worried that I knocked him unconscious until I heard the other riders laughing at my gullibility. Such are the quips and jokes that the instructors use to lighten the moment and enjoy the ride.

The three-hour experience is especially unique because two people can zip at once, side-by-side, leaving both to race to the finish or enjoy the views together. Though, I wouldn’t suggest whipping out your cell phone for a photo of each other. One loose grip and there goes your phone to thousands of acres of dense forest on the highest peak in Greene county.

To enjoy the video, CLICK HERE

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The British are coming to Chazy, NY!

by Sonja Stark on August 28, 2014

The owners and caretakers of the historic Alexander Scott home where British leader Sir George Prévost, 1st Baronet, spent the night with his troops camped out on the lawn during the "Second War of Independence" with new America in September 1814.

The owners and caretakers of the historic Alexander Scott home where British leader Sir George Prévost, 1st Baronet, spent the night with his troops camped out on the lawn during the “Second War of Independence” with new America in September 1814.

Labor Day traditionally marks the end of summer but in the town of my alma mater, Plattsburgh, NY, it’s the historic ‘beginning of the end’ of the War of 1812.

The “Second War of Independence” is said to be the war that nobody remembers, not the burning of the White House and Capitol or that Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner” while watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships.

But, this weekend and for several days after, several northern New York towns near or along Lake Champlain, will give people a reason not to forget the War of 1812 with re-enactments, demonstrations and Americana activities.

War of 1812 BannerRedcoat re-enactors will start marching Saturday morning from the village of Champlain south along State route 9 into the town of Chazy. Depending on rank, the dress of a soldier will include gray pantaloons or white colonial knickers, royal red plain coats with gold accessories, possibly official scarlet sashes and black boots. Many will be sporting heavy muskets. Others might be playing wooden fifes and snare drums. All will be exhausted if the temperatures soar during the three and half hour march.

Street Banner War of 1812Once in Chazy, the parade will convene on the lawn of the Alexander Scott House where a gathering of military activities will take place. The soldiers will pitch wedge tents, prep fires for cooking and strategize over maps on how to invade Plattsburgh.

All are invited to immerse yourself in the encampment and help the soldiers prepare a proper military camp. Yes, technically, the redcoats were our enemy but this weekend, they are our teachers.

Living history continues the next day with a march into West Chazy followed by activities like wagon rides and boot camp. On Labor Day, Monday morning, the advance takes the British through Beekmantown ending at the American Legion Post in Plattsburgh, NY.

For more information on this historic 200-year commemoration, visit the Plattsburgh 1812 Website: http://champlain1812.com/index.html

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Sampling suds in Vermont breweries

by Sonja Stark on August 25, 2014

Vermont Craft Brewery Tours

With 32 breweries and growing, Vermont brewers are emerging as the most innovative and visionary on the American bar scene. The expansive website by the Vermont Brewers Association attributes the magic of Vermont brewers to “maybe something in the water…or air…or up here in the mountains.”

We picked up our Official Passport, a fun marketing ploy to sample crafts in exchange for a free t-shirt, at breweries aligned with our travels after crossing the Rouses Point bridge and driving south into Bennington, Vermont. Juggling a few nascent hours to hike, eat and sleep, we squeezed in six stops along our journey. Our search got a whole lot easier with the help of Kim Werner’s new guide book called FarmPlate.

14th Star Brewing Company in St. Albans was first on our list but a lousy AT&T connection on my cell phone’s GPS left me without directions. We continued onto Winooski for better coverage.

Vermont Craft Brewery Tours

For lunch, we dined like messy children on steaming hot griddles of homemade mac and cheese at Our House Bistro in Winooski. Surrounded by vintage lunch boxes and retro decor, we sat next to the front window people watching as our favorite comfort food arrived. The Nutty New England mac drizzled with fresh maple syrup was yummy beyond satisfaction but too sweet for George’s liking. He enjoyed extra napkins with his Three Little Pigs Sandwich topped with a fried egg.

Vermont Craft Brewery Tours

With enough food in our stomachs to soak up ABV, we headed to Four Quarters Brewery, a 4-minute walk from the eatery. Formerly, a bio-diesel garage, owners Brian and Jennifer Eckert opened the business less than a year ago and have already overgrown the space.

A scruffy-looking sample bartender, moonlighting from his teaching profession at UVM, was flipping vinyl when we pushed up to the tasting bar. The intimacy allowed us to, literally, turn around and watch the brewing process in progress at the front of the garage. The brewer was experimenting with getting the a watermelon consistency for a pending batch.

Vermont Craft Brewery Tours

Students were returning to area colleges so finding an overnight accommodation was rough.  We skipped over busy Burlington for the woodsy creature comforts of East Middlebury at a historical find called The Waybury Inn. Even better is the connection the beloved Inn has to comedian Bob Newhart. The opening credits of the 80′s sitcom Newhart has a shot of the Waybury Inn portrayed as the Stratford Inn that fictional character Bob Dick Loudon operates with his wife Joanna, played by Mary Frann. I can almost hear the lovely little ditty they used as the music bed in that opening sequence….

Waybury Inn, E. Middlebury, Vermont

Other breweries enjoyed during our 24-hour adventure include Fiddlehead, Otter Creek, Drop-In, Foley Brothers and Madison Brewing. More on those in another blog entry later on this week.

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48 hours in the Central Adirondacks

by Sonja Stark on August 18, 2014

Annual Upper Hudson Bluegrass Festival at the Ski Bowl in North Creek, NY

Annual Upper Hudson Bluegrass Festival at the Ski Bowl in North Creek, NY

Old Forge is the gateway to the Adirondacks. On the tip of 4th Lake, it’s the ideal base camp to start your adventure into nearby hamlets like Big Moose, Eagle Bay, Inlet and Blue Mountain. In the winter, it’s regarded as “The Snowmobile Capital of the East” but in the summer it becomes the paddling destination of the upstate New York.

In fact, I launched my canoe at the start of the Adirondack Canoe Classic from Old Forge a few years ago. But there’s also the Adirondack PaddleFest, the MooseFest whitewater rally and the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

I took the family to Old Forge this weekend with the intention of canoeing but instead we jumped in a glacial lake, shopped for kitchy souvenirs, hiked around Moss Lake, peaked around a secluded Adirondack Great Camp, lucked out with the last available room at a notorious hostel and attended a blue grass festival. For not planning anything in advance, we sure saw, heard, tasted and experienced a lot!

To enjoy the photo montage of the Southern Adirondacks, CLICK HERE: http://www.gonomad.com/5698

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Agritourism at Schoharie County Farms

by Sonja Stark on August 13, 2014

Family Farm DaySchoharie County farms once again will celebrate their proud farming tradition by hosting the 2nd Annual Schoharie County Family Farm Day, Saturday, August 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Soak in the quiet natural surroundings while you visit working farms and meet local farmers throughout the county. Sample farm-fresh products and enjoy farm demonstrations, activities, tours, and more, all for free! Bring a cooler to take home authentic farm-fresh products.

Find the Farm Guide at participating farms and farmer’s markets, select visitor centers in the Capital District and Green and Otsego Counties. Or, download a PDF version of the Farm Guide at www.FamilyFarmDay.org.

The Farm Guide will help you discover the diversity of farm products at the 22 participating farms and three farmers’ markets, all of which are prepared to assure that you and your family and friends have a wonderful day. A limited supply of insulated tote bags will be available for shoppers.

Family Farm Day is brought to you by Cornell Cooperative Extension Schoharie and Otsego Counties, the Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce, and our participating sponsors. For a complete listing of sponsors and more information on Family Farm Day, visit www.familyfarmday.org.

And don’t forget to “Like” their Facebook page by visiting www.facebook.com/FamilyFarmDay and stay in touch with the latest Family Farm Day news. Please, also visit the Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce at http://www.schohariechamber.com/ for a complete listing of events and accommodations in Schoharie County.

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Biking the Ididaride Adirondack Tour

by Sonja Stark on August 11, 2014

Ididaride Challenge

Conditions yesterday were absolutely perfect for a 75-mile bike tour through the Adirondacks called, quite aptly, ‘The Ididaride.’   The weather was beautiful and sunny, the roads were clean of debris, the relief tents were stocked with ripe bananas, peanut butter and salty potato chips and everyone’s spirits were high.

ADK Mountain Club Director Deborah Zack sounded the call of the start of the tour.    We shoved off at 8:30a with my GoPro camera rolling on the thunderous momentum of 475 bikers from all across the state, even the country, snapping their shoes to their pedals and waving goodbye. It would be roughly 6 hours and 40 minutes before I’d make it back again…. though at the time, I doubted the odds of being in one piece or even alive.

Biking Route 8, under a canopy of shade trees and rolling hills proved the only distance I really enjoyed.

The first break I picked at a few bananas, a handful of chips and a couple slices of watermelon.  I would do the same at all 5 stops, each for about five to 10 minute, but more and more with desperate vigor.

Route 30 heading north was a challenge.  The wide and roomy shoulders did little to comfort me from bands of ear-piercing Harley motorcycles flying by or the random truck camper getting uncomfortably close.   And, then there’s the elevation.  Good GOD – the elevation!  We’re talking 6,840 feet of climbing on a road bike.   At times, I was going so slow, weaving and bobbing, that I nearly fell over.  

Oh sure – I could have walked my bike up certain stretches but have you ever tried clicking out of a bike pedal at four miles per hour?  It’s impossible.  My only option was to grin and bear it.

At the 33-mile rest stop, I stopped whining just long enough to meet 83-year old Walt McConnnell.   McConnell was getting his water bottle refilled and sporting a very rad Primal Wear frog bike jersey, something a young hipster from California would wear.   He was just the inspiration I needed.

“This is nothing. At 77 years, I rode across the country raising money for scholarships,” said McConnell, matter-0f-factly.   It was then and there that I started feeling optimistic again.

Why do the Ididaride at all?

Good question.  In my case, I do it only to check it off on a bucket list of things that I feel certain that I can never accomplish.   I don’t enjoy the pain and anxiety of facing my fears (I’m not a masochist)  but, rather, and I think many will say the same, it’s that sense of achievement, satisfaction, pride and fulfillment you get at the finish line that cancels out all the angst and agony. It’s a personal reward that lasts longer than anything else – longer than an arrival number or bragging rights among friends or the tasty beer and free buffet you get at the end of this ride.   It’s something I probably won’t do again because so many more challenges await on my bucket list, however it sure feels good when I can checked them off.  

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