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Deepest Daks

Journey through America's most accessible wilderness in search of untouched places, and you might just find peace of mind to match the lakes and hills.
The other side of the streams looks too far to me, but Adam thinks he can jump it.

“Don’t worry,” he says, sizing up the five-foot-wide torrent of muddy water and muscling his 40-pound pack back into the reeds to give himself a proper two-step launch pad. “I used to run track in high school.”

I want to point out that high school was a long time ago, but I think what he needs right now is my support. I know the precise reason I’ll give it to him.
 

Here on the Sucker Brook Trail, not 3.5 miles from our trailhead at Lewey Lake, we’rea bout to enter some of the deepest forests the Adirondaks have. This lake-filled corner of the 6.1-million-acre park isn’t the place to rub elbows with dayhikers looking to bag a pretty peak. It’s the least-visited corner of the East’s largest natural area. Even the name sounds out there: West Canada Lake.
  
We’d planned to stay on trails for the first four days, skimming Cedar Lake en route to the Adirondacks’ highest lake basin, then circle back to Lost Pond over hardwood-forested ridges popping with Candy Land fall colors. On day four—if we were up to it—we’d turn abruptly east, hike to where the dotted line ends, and bushwhack a backside ascent of 3,899-foot Snowy Mountain, the tallest peak in the southern Daks.
  
It’s the kind of wilderness that requires more commitment than a casual weekend on the trails. And it’s the kind of trip I need during the conflicted time I’ve recently entered. Having just turned 30, I’m nagged by all sorts of questions about life: I want to know if I’ve lived up to the promise and potential I had when I was younger.
Mostly, I want to find out if my 18-year-old self would punch the man I’ve become in the face. The optimal way I’ve found to measure myself against the past is to try something harder than what I’ve done before.
Here, without even knowing it, Adam, a 31-year-old who’s been between internships lately, has neatly encapsulated this messy mix of potential and current reality into the space between this bank and the far one. His jump is my experiment. “All right,” I say, “let’s see what you got.”
 
Like a guy about to shoulder through a door, Adam shifts his momentum back and forth. Then, without another word, he takes two giant steps and commits his mass to gravity.
 
It’s the kind of jump that takes place in slow motion, viewed from underneath and lit from above, even if it isn’t. Flecks of dirt fall off his Asolos and into Colvin Brook. He reaches the zenith of his arc and sails toward the far bank. His body blots out the sun.
 
But then he lays up short. His left foot goes forward, but the other slips back, shears the grass off the bank, and dunks in the stream. He comes to rest briefly in a near-textbook hurdlers’ split—though flat on the ground.
 
I think what Adam probably needs right now is my indifference (he’d probably lobby aggressively for a mulligan), and I’d give it to him—if I could control the spasms of laughter. I drop to a knee. I’m wiping tears from my eyes. It’s like I’ve been tear-gassed.
 
I’m guessing the 18-year-old version of Adam would join me and my teenaged self laughing—though perhaps he might be a little shocked that 12 years could translate to such a loss of linear leap. Then he snaps me out of it.
 
“OK,” he says, scraping the mud off his shin. “Your turn.”

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