Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#7 The Anticipation

On the surface the Annual Men's Chateaugay Vacation (Mancation, Guy's Week, etc.) may look like an excursion from the daily grind that may last 7-10 days tops, but as anyone who has made the trip more than once will tell you that once you've experienced Chateaugay the longing to return never leaves you.  Generally speaking planning for Chateaugay as we know it starts on New Years Eve of the year before.  As if by some divine providence, whenever two or more Mancation attenders gather together on New Years Eve, at some point during the night someone utters some form of the following phrase "You know there's only 6 months until Chateaugay".  That's when the anticipation really starts.  In the months following, streams of emails, online chats and phone conversations are exchanged as the season starts to turn from Winter to spring.  Talks of boat rides with Bubba-Kegs, images of Glaziers on the porch, thoughts of a Cigar and a drink with friends around the horse shoe pit all build the excitement and help to pull each of us out of the doldrums of the spring months even if just for a moment. 

As vacation time gets closer budgets are discussed, TOB entries are selected, debated and narrowed down, cigars are selected, purchased and stored.  Stories of years past are retold and retold. Like the time Brian got a little into his cups during the TOB and decided to sit out for 2 hours in a silent protest on the couch with his green trucker hat with the creased bill, aviator shades and a frown refusing to let anyone talk him out of it.  Or all of us putting in the dock for the first time in frigid waist-high waters while JOB stood in the shallows doing nothing but complaining about the cold wearing Steve's mother's trench coat.  Montreal memories from the customs officer who tore through all of our luggage, Enrique Iglesias to Molson H2Os.  Perhaps someone will retell a story from one of the earliest trips to the lake, like when Steve managed to find Ken's only exposed area of skin with a paintball from 50 yards out through the trees.  All of these memories and more build up an even greater desire to make the pilgrimage back to Camp. 

The count down continues, 6 months turns into 10 days and then the first weather report comes out, most likely rain in the forecast, but that never dampens spirits.  Camp is near, cigars will be smoked, drinks will be had, traditions will be held and reinvented, friendships will be strengthened, timeless memories will be formed and souls will be rejuvenated, refreshed and renewed.  And then if just for one week, all will be right in the universe.

That is what makes the anticipation one of the reasons we love Chateaugay.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

#8 The Local Attractions

#8 Local Attractions

Chateaugay, New York is not what one would call a "tourist destination", the cottage is no where close to luxury lodging, but one thing is for certain, many memories have been formed at the various quirky local attractions the area has to offer.  For those who call the Midwest states home, Meijer & Kroger are the supermarkets of choice offering familiar cuisine and layout.  No such stores can be found around Chateaugay Lake, instead we have to hunter-gather our way through the wild untamed country of the IGA or Alix's True Value in the town of Chateaugay where you can get your very own embroidered Chateaugay, NY hooded sweat shirt, any item in Car-hart's product line and a washer/dryer combo all in one stop.  For those more accustomed to "modern" shopping, the town of Malone has a Price Chopper, Wal-Mart and a K-Mart to choose from.

As any true American consumer would tell you, a town with a Wal-Mart is a happening place and Malone is no exception.  As previously mentioned Malone is home to the local 'Chopper and its no doubt that our arrival marks a banner day for the local grocer.  One can imagine the spectacle, several young men (in their mid-twenties) roaming the store with 2 full carts supermarket sweep-style searching for everything we need to feed up to 8 man-sized appetites for 10 days.  Needless to say, I'm sure fathers see us coming and hide their daughters and mothers keep their infants close as if a herd of elephants was roaming loose through the aisles.  With one cart stacked full of Price Chopper brand 3-liters of pop and the other maxed out with produce, dry goods and enough meat to make even Ron Jeremy blush we make our way to the check-out where we undoubtedly provide the most entertainment any cashier has seen in months.  In the distance we see the poor high school-age bag-boys casting lots to see who's unlucky enough to have to bag the metric ton of items we purchase.  The groceries alone are packed in enough plastic bags to kill 1,000 baby seals (maybe one year we'll spring for paper).  

Directly across the street from the 'Chopper lies the Jug, providing the last best opportunity to refill any liquor and wine needs.  For beer there is no where better than A&M Beverage, buying a half barrel of Genny and doing everything possible to "bring the keg back the right way eh" so we don't have to suffer the indignity of bringing back anything but an empty keg to that heavy set guy with the cool scar and funky Canadian/Northern New England accent.

Most Chateaugay veteran's know that we don't actually spend much time in the actual town of Chateaugay.  Even so, it does still have its place in our memories.  Whether its good natured Catholic kindness, our enthusiastic singing of the hymns, our portable amature EMT skills or the fact that we lower the average age by about 30 years, we always seem to recieve a warm welcome at St. Patrick's Church on Sunday mornings.  Following Sunday Mass, tradition leads us to the breakfast buffet at the Cherry-Knoll where Don Mattingly is God in the shrine of the late 80's early 90's Bronx Bombers (Make sure you get a glass of whole milk and a slice of pie).

As for attractions closer to camp The Hollywood proves to be the lake's only oasis, providing a boat-accessable gas pump.  I'm sure they're all too thrilled with a pontoon full of guys all smoking cigars pulling up to their station ready to fill 'er up on overpriced gasoline.  Considering they're the only gas station in a 20 mile radius, it is a small price to pay.  Another oft had tradition is the annual go-to-Martin's Bait & Tackle-and-buy-a-fishing-license-just-to-make-sure-no-one-ever-catches-another-pike-ever adventure.  One year, in an effort to be health-conscience we even created the Martin's Bait & Tackle Road Race but due to an unfortunate injury the competition was called off and never repeated.  

Of course the two hot-spots by the lake would have to be, Harrigan's by day and the Owly Out by night.  For a mid-week taste of local night-life or an illegal (aledgedly) poker operation, the Owly Out is the place to go.  Featuring moderate beverage prices, pool, make-shift karaoke and a chance at interacting with Counselors from Camp Chateaugay, the Owly Out is a nice place to visit but if its mid-day or early evening cream that you crave or possibly a last supper on the last night before making the early morning departure on the way back home, Harrigan's is the place for you.  Now, for those of us in the mid-west, a local ice-cream/grill shop is nothing new or special but with a helmet-clad crew trying to order a slim jim flurry, the occasional stretch Hummer limo, piling 4 dudes in the back of a Caddy (while one is dropping medly), Mr. Toad's wild ride home and getting shot down by the locals, both the Owly Out and Harrigan's provide a nice change of pace to an otherwise secluded vacation. 

The local attractions are just one of the many reasons we love Chateaugay Lake.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

#9 The Cemetary

After a long hiatus we continue the 18 reasons we love Chateaugay mancation:

#9 The Cemetary

As if being out in the middle of the woods by a lake in an ancient cottage built by some of the worst deathrow inmates in the state wasn't enough to draw comparisons to the setting of a horror fim.  Just a few hundred yards away lies a cemetary that serves as the final resting place to dozens of pople from the Civil War era.  The creepiest being a set of triplets all dying in a 3 year window.

Now, one would think that the fact that you can see the headstones from the dock would be enough of an eerie reminder of the possibility of the paranormal, add to that the stories told by the Ryan family about a certain "visitor".  According to eyewitness accounts, several "Greyface" sightings have been noted peeking in windows late at night at the cottage.

No week in Chateaugay would be complete without a late night trip through the woods, a test of fortitude to be certain.  Men make the long walk at night, real men make the trek with no flashlight and yet only one man has ever done it alone.  One year during a traditional trip to the graveyard, several people claim to have seen a little girl crossing their path into the woods by the grave yard.  The story goes that she walked by, stopped to look at them and then made her way into the forest with no flashlight, wearing pajamas in the middle of the night.  Other times have been marked by tiki-torches, shirtless expeditions, blinding cobwebs, deer, lost wallets and cuddling on the path.

Packed full of tradition and memories, the Cemetary is just another reason we love Chateaugay Lake Mancation.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

#10 The Drive

Continuing the series on the 18 reasons we love Chateaugay Mancation:

#10 The Drive

At first glance an 11+ hour drive (almost 14 for Cincinnatians) each way would seem like the bane of any traveler's vacation, but with any true pilgrimage, the journey is has its own place in the adventure.  Yes, just like migratory birds heading north for the summer, we load into various vehicles and travel the same roads, stopping at the same landmarks year after year.  From the first stop in Erie, PA to the bittersweet passage through 2 states only to realize there's still about 8 hours left to go.  Then passing through the western tip of New York you see decieving signs for Chautauqua Lake giving us all an instant of false hope, thinking we had reached our destination.  Next is the required stop at the Angola Service station just outside of Buffalo where the prices are more inflated than a blowfish at the zoo after the six year old banged on his tank for too long.  (Some conversations overheard at the McDonald's at said service station "I'll have a McDouble, fries and a drink off the $5 menu."  "Wow, only $12.50 for a Big Mac value meal?")   After a quick gas stop and a right turn at Buffalo, Rochester passes by and then Syracuse.  As Watertown approaches, the goal is in sight.  One last stop for food at the Ft. Drum McDonalds (whether you're hungry or not) and its on to the last major leg.  Traveling through Gouverneur (where keeping it "all in the family" takes on a whole new meaning), Canton and Pottsdam taking 11b regardless of what Google maps, Mapquest and AAA say is faster you go this way because Steve Ryan says so... and because its tradition.  One last chuckle as the route takes you through the towns of Bangor and West Bangor then its on to Malone (or the last bit of "civilization" you'll see) for the supply stop.  Only the nescessities on this shopping trip, a case of beer, food for the next day and toilet paper, the rest comes tomorrow, but right now its down the home stretch to camp.  The rest of the trip is quite magical, in the daytime there is one moment where the trees and houses open up and you have a crystal clear view of the lake in all its splendor with the tees and mountians in the background.  For me, that's when I know I've arrived.  Then its a few minutes until you make the right turn past those timeless white lightposts, down the unpaved road through the woods to the Ryan-Hyland compound just as you had left it 12 months ago.  Congratulations, you have just entered the timewarp, you have just arrived in God's country.

All seriousness aside, some of the great Mancation memories have come from the drive, whether its overnight, during the day or some combination of both.  John and Brian making the trip from Baltimore... The 6 degrees of Carrie Ewles... Patrick's gobbler, showing up with his Bronson Arroyo hat and Ryan Freel's dirty shirt...Joking about "That Smell" by Lynyrd Skynyrd all week only to have it play on the radio 5 minutes from home...Jered, Ken and me all squeezing into Gary's Caddy and having the seat attack him like a scene out of Star Wars...Ken's all night at the helm... who can forget cracking jokes while eating at the Erie, PA McDonald's, passing through Bangor, or passing by the "Local Honey" shack. Of course just about everyone of us has had some bathroom emergency, from having to spill beans at a Bob Evans to having to urinate like a thouroughbread one hour away from your final destination.  Anything I'm missing?

That's why the drive is one of the reasons we love Chateaugay Mancation.

Monday, April 13, 2009

#12 & #11 The Music, The Piano and Sing-Alongs

Continuing the series on the 18 reasons we love Chateaugay Mancation:

#12 & #11 The Music, The Piano and Sing-Alongs

For all who've experienced the joy of Chateaugay in late June, you know that the daily boat-ride through the narrows, past the sandbar to the upper lake would not be complete without one man


Lovescape is possibly the most listened to album while on the lake. When I hear "If There Were No Dreams", "Mountains of Love", "When You Miss Your Love", "Fortune of the Night" and others I can almost pinpoint an exact location on the lake associated with those songs. Partly sunny skies, breezy, a cigar in one hand, a Bubba-Keg in the other and Neil playing on the radio reflects the laid-back, down to earth, yet sophisticated style of a Chateaugay boat ride.

Of course no true Chateaugay evening would be complete without the sounds of horseshoes crashing into the iron in sync with the opening tune of the 10th Anniversary Recording of Les Miserables. Throughout the week the timbre of Neil Diamond and the Bert Lahr-esque croons of Colm Wilkinson are 2 staples of the wide variety of music that comprises the soundtrack of Chateaugay. Matisyahu to Skid Row, Derek Webb to Jekyll & Hyde set the tone from lunch time on the porch to evenings around the grill.

Another part of the music surrounding Chateaugay comes from the 100+ year-old upright piano that magically stays in tune while experiencing temperature extremes from the single digits to the low 80's. Everyone gets a chance to sing along side the ole' rough and ready, from the whole group singing Uncle Jim's Irish drinking songs to Kenny Ken's extended rockstar fermatas, duets, solos and even a piece of classical piano courtesy of the Maestro. On occasion even JOB has been known to tickle the skins, but if you're really lucky you'll see special guest Pat Ryan on guitar. No matter what, the presence of a Piano and/or a radio provides all the entertainment needed on a week-long vacation without such modern distractions as TVs, cell phones or the internets making the music, the piano and sing-alongs reasons we love Chateaugay Mancation.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

#14 The Food and #13 The Grill

Part 5 of the ongoing series on the 18 reasons we love Chateaugay Mancation

#14 The Food and #13 The Grill

Is it the location, the grill, the Price Chopper food or the communal effort that makes the Chateaugay Cuisine so special? Where else does the thought of eating red Glazier's Hot Dogs (in "natural" casings) on New England style split-top buns topped with Easy-Cheese and Nance's Mustard every day for lunch sound like a great idea? No where else but Chateaugay. There must be something special about the yearly Mancation to make Triscuits, easy cheese, wicked sharp cheddar & Genesee Cream Ale "gourmet" snacks. Nothing would make any man's week complete without artery-clogging goodness. From Dolly Parton-sized BBQ Chicken Breasts to 12lbs of Pork Loin complete with the Chef's special Au Jus, each of us consume enough protein to put a Sumo Wrestler's diet to shame. Add that to the massive amount of McCadam Cheese (both brick and curds) consumed and its no wonder a trip to the bathroom can be considered a full-day event.

All of this, of course is made possible by Executive Chef, Jered and the communal efforts of the rest of the crew. Whether the menu consists of the Ryan's famous 2lbs Chateaugay Fatburgers, or Kenny Ken's signature pasta, one factor" continues to be the silent partner in the collaborative miracle that is a Mancation dinner: The Grill.

It has been said that there has never been a bad meal cooked on The Grill (not just any grill but The Grill) and any attempt to replace it has been in vain. Nothing is more manly than various meats on a good ole' fashioned charcoal grill in the summer. Add that to a good cigar, horseshoes, camaraderie, tunes and plenty of cold drinks and you have one sweet recipe. If the porch is where the issues of the world are discussed, around the grill is where the joys of life, nature and man-hood are shared and experienced... at least until it is time to do the dishes...

Epic Amounts of Pork at Chateaugay

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Stuff Eric Likes

Have you ever been to StuffChristiansLike.net? It might just change your life... seriously I llol (literally laugh out loud) on a daily basis. From talk about the tankini to the side hug Jon Acuff keeps the hilarity flowing like (insert funny reference here).

We're almost to the tax filing deadline and admittedly I have yet to start my taxes. Speaking of taxes, well, not really but speaking of money, mint.com is a great site to get your stuff in order and if you need to stay out of debt check out Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, it might just change your life. My wife and I chipped away at out $5,ooo in credit card debt in a little over a year and you can too.

Check out my friend Jered's blog good stuff on beer, culture and some real gritty issues, glad to have him back in the saddle. Also a new comer to the blog-o-sphere check out a guy getting his feet wet.

Of course no list of mine could be complete without mentioning two of my weekly hangouts. Postsecret.com excellent social commentary, humanity at its most raw and Zero Punctuation, if you're a gamer you'll love it (unless you're a fanboy). Check them out.

What sites do you like?