A little more than two decades ago my cousin Chris and I began to take long drives northward from our home in central New York State. We almost never went south. There were many adventures on those forays; our families knew what it meant when we said we were going “up North.”
The Star Road’s length over the geography of New York State
Many hours of conversation accompanied the drives, as did many hours of silence or reverie to the music we loved then. Over time the purpose of these trips showed itself in clearer and clearer form: the road was for a kind of tandem contemplation of what had been before us, what lay beyond us, and what was permeating our existence. We drove north to explore. Though moving through space we were motionless and silent in our souls. We found transformation and dreams along the road.
Heading out in the mid/late 90’s in Christopher’s old Nissan pick up truck
One of our favorite routes is an iconic stretch of highway that runs nearly 250 miles through the interior of New York State. State Route 3 begins (or ends, depending on your perspective) near Fair Haven State Park, practically in sight of the southeastern end of Lake Ontario. After a short jaunt eastward, Route 3 turns emphatically north and holds the eastern shore of Ontario for 60 miles. The road’s great northeasterly meander across the deep woods, lakes and mountains of upstate New York commences in historic Sacket’s Harbor, soon passing through Watertown and Carthage, then running just to the south of the Fort Drum Military Reservation. Roughly 70 miles from the streets of Sacket’s Harbor, Route 3 enters the great Adirondack Park.
Chris adjusting his old Pentax SLR during a photo stop, 2003 or so.
Just near this entrance to the Adirondack Park sits the hamlet of Star Lake and its eponymous body of water. The section of Route 3 that runs between Star Lake and Tupper Lake is majestic and ephemeral to drive at night. Tupper Lake is a crossroad of sorts, situated as it is along Route 3 running east/west and other routes running north/south. Though it is often a center of activity in daylight, especially in the summer months, Tupper Lake in the twilight – or at midnight – is glorious. The ancient, rounded-off Adirondack Mountains seem to circle in and provide a black frame for the jeweled vault of the sky. Chris and I have seen this many times.
This effect – a dark horizon circumscribing the grandness of the Milky Way, or Polaris, or Cassiopeia – is perhaps the reason why we started calling Route 3 “The Star Road.” It could have been the presence of Star Lake near the entrance to the Park. It might also be that there are, in fact, two real Star Roads off of Route 11; one between the towns of Malone and Ellenburg along a stretch of Route 190 and the other very close the border with Canada on County Road 17. We’ve traveled both of those roads and they could have influenced us.
A dusty old photo of the shore of Lake Ontario near Cape Vincent
Whatever the reasons, we spent many a dark, snowy night driving along Route 3, or glimpsing northern lights amidst the summer stars beyond Saranac Lake. The ending – for us – was to either come into Plattsburgh then strike a new route home, or to break off The Star Road early and head north toward Malone or south toward Lake Placid and Mt Marcy. There were many nights we merely ran along Route 3 for a short distance beside Lake Ontario, then slipped onto Route 12E from Watertown up to Cape Vincent. There, at the inflow of the St Lawrence River, we’d creep out of Cape Vincent toward Tibbetts Point to sit beneath the lighthouse with all of Ontario spread out westward before us.
Tibbetts Point Lighthouse near Cape Vincent, NY
I loved those drives and talks and silences. I loved listening to the Chateau D’Isaster Tapes while cruising along, angling across the brow of New York State, and imagining what the future might hold. In some ways these trips are behind us. We have families, homes, and other responsibilities. But I know we both still feel the pull of those hills and lakes and forests. I’m sure we’ll aim headlights northward sometime soon, and find ourselves in dream-driving together once again.
A section of one of the old, fold-able NYS maps we used to use