Day 31 - It's Called The Thousand Islands But It's Actually 1864 Islands - Imprecision Is Difficult For This Engineer!


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June 24th 2017
Published: June 25th 2017
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Day 31 - Watertown to Clayton to Plattsburgh


After yesterday's drownings, we were looking forward to better weather today. The clouds at the hotel were not great when we headed down to breakfast, but by the time we finished and loaded up the bike, the sun was really trying to come out. Our original route to Plattsburgh was to head north from Watertown into the shores of the Thousand Islands. We had never been there and didn't really know what to expect. But I looked online for a boat tour and found exactly what we were looking for about 30 minutes up the road in Clayton, NY cleverly named Clayton Island Tours. It was a 3.5 hour boat tour with a stop midway at someplace called Boldt Castle that sounded interesting. By the time we arrived in Clayton, the sun had come out and it looked like it was going to be a great day.

The boat was basically a little oversized pontoon boat just large enough to comfortably hold the 38 passenger and 2 crew. It could probably hold another 20, but 38 was a nice sized group. The crew consisted of a Captain, a nice older retired guy who it turns out runs the Thousand Island Tours all summer and then returns to Mount Dora Florida to run Lakeside Boat Tours out of Mt Dora for the rest of the year, and a First Mate named Mike who called himself the Gilligan of the crew, who's main job it seemed was to talk. Which he did, continuously for the entire trip. He was actually very funny, and was local to the area. He knew lots about the islands, who owned which house, on which island and stories about each of the families. It was very entertaining throughout the cruise.

The Thousand Islands is basically a 50 mile stretch of the St Lawrence River that that begins at the northeast tip of Lake Ontario and eventually flows out to the Atlantic Ocean. The border between the US and Canada is in the middle of the river so some of the islands are American and others are Canadian. According to Mike, to be considered an actual island, it must contain at least 1 tree. Some of the islands are really tiny, and others are miles across. What surprised us both was that most of the ones we saw were populated. There were a few of the smaller ones that were just too small to fit a building, but most had at least one house and usually a boathouse on it. Electricity is provided by underground cables to the mainland, and some of these houses are spectacular! There are a few bridges between the mainland and some of the largest islands, but most of the smaller ones are only accessible by boat. There are also a number of state parks, but these are also only accessible by boat.

Because our tour used the smallest of their boats, the captain was able to guide us through what they call the "nooks and crannies" of the smallest islands where the islands are located very close to each other with only a narrow channel between them. In addition, this is a RIVER and not a lake, so there is a constant current heading east and in some of these small channels, there are whirlpools and eddies mostly fast moving, so navigation in these areas is treacherous.

There is also a significant problem with the water level being too high at the moment. Evidently there are a series of gates that can do some to manage the water levels, but at this point, there is just too much water. Mike tried to explain that if they did something to lower the water levels in the Thousand Islands, it would result in too high water levels elsewhere. I couldn't tell if there was also a climate change component to the problem, but it was not too high last year, and there was excessive ice and rain this year that seems to have caused most of the problem. It's really serious enough that many docks are under water along with some of the boathouses. In fact, our captain seems to have a wonderfully restored vintage Chris Craft wooden boat that he has not been able to drive because the water level in his boathouse is too high and he cannot get the boat out the door.

After about and hour and fifteen minutes, we arrived at Heart Island, the site of Boldt Castle. Boldt was evidently an upscale hotel owner in Philadelphia who had provided the location for the John Astor wedding in the 1890's. John Astor was supposedly so impressed with Boldt, he hired him to setup and run a new hotel in New York called the Waldorf-Astoria. Boldt became very rich with his association with Astor, and after visiting the Thousand Islands with his wife and children, decided to build a castle reminiscent of the German Rhine River castles in honor of his wife. Unfortunately, after 4 years of working on the project and only a couple of months before completion, his wife suddenly died and Boldt stopped all work on the project. The castle was abandoned and fell into disrepair until it was acquired by a conservation group in the 1990's and they have been restoring it ever since. There are 11 buildings on Heart Island, including the Castle, Powerhouse, Child's Playhouse, and various other smaller buildings. Across the bay on the mainland is a huge boathouse where Boldt could store his many boats.

The castle is 6 stories high, and only the first 2 stories are completely restored. The third is mostly restored and the are actively working on the others. It all looks so beautiful, very elegant and not overdone. The powerhouse is supposedly done, but it was closed to us because the high water had cut off access. the Child's Playhouse has had the exterior restored, and they are now just beginning on the interior. So far they have spent 28 million, and I'm sure it wall take lots more. It will be magnificent when it is done. There is also a theater where we were able to see the obligatory 15 minute movie describing the history of the castle and the challenges of restoration. There was also a gift shop that just happened to have the perfect t-shirts for both of us. Fortunately, Heart Island is in the US, because there was a US Customs and Border Agent at the dock when we got off the boat to deal with any nefarious Canadians trying to sneak across the border, but we didn't have to deal with any of that.

The ride back was against the river current, so it was a little choppier, also the wind had picked up a little. Also since there are so many islands in the St Lawrence, the path we to to go out to Boldt Castle ended up being different than the path we took to return, so the islands we saw on the return trip were different than the ones we saw going out. It was very strange. By the time we arrived back at the dock, it was about 1:45, and we still had a 3.5 hour ride to Plattsburgh! So we hopped on the bike, programmed the Garmin, cranked up the tunes and headed out. When we turned left out of the parking lot, the Garmin lady told us to follow RT-12 for the next 109 miles! Actually, RT-12 turned into RT-37 as the road turned from North to East.

It was a smooth, pleasant ride. The St Lawrence was on our left, and visible through the trees on and off for the next 109 miles. There must have been some sort of motorcycle event today also, because we saw hundreds of motorcycles over the course of the day heading in the opposite direction. Most of the land was sparsely populated. While there were tourist businesses along the St Lawrence, it was not very commercialized. And most of the communities we passed through were only villages or hamlets. There were some farms, but mostly just woods or fields. There were also a bunch of Amish about, as we saw several horses and buggies. It was just a pleasant afternoon ride.

By the time we got about 30 miles outside of Plattsburgh, the sky began to darken a little, and then we felt the first drops of rain. We kept going, knowing if it got much worse, we would need to stop and put on our rainsuits. But the drizzle stopped, and by the time we were 10 miles outside on Plattsburgh, the sky had cleared altogether. We were getting a little nervous though as when we were only 2 miles from the hotel, we was still no sign of civilization and we were wondering where this hotel could be. But at the last turn onto HWY-3 about 1 mile from the hotel all of a sudden there were stores and strip malls everywhere.

After settling into the room, I checked Around-Me for restaurants and found that there was a "99" just down the road. We don't have "99's" in the south, it's usually a New England chain, but it was nice to have dinner in a familiar place. Tomorrow, the weather doesn't look so good, but we are undaunted and will be heading for Ausable Chasm in the morning. Plattsburgh is on the northwest corner of Lake Champlain, and our final destination for tomorrow is Burlington, VT which is on the east side of Lake Champlain, so we don't have a long distance to travel.

194.2 Miles Today

4771.9 Miles Total

5.222 Gallons Today

118.027 Gallons Total


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