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Sports for Life: Health and Fitness Special Section — The Altamont Enterprise, January 24, 2008

Delaney and Dunn
Adventurous couple hikes and chronicles the wilderness

By Tyler Schuling

Russell Dunn and Barbara Delaney, local authors and state-licensed hiking guides, have trekked throughout the state and beyond, all the while documenting their adventures and history.

"Everything we’ve done really has been not the result of a game plan," said Dunn. "We’ve just been out living it and winging it, but one thing seems to follow from the next."

To date, the couple has teamed up and written four waterfall guidebooks of the Mohawk and Catskill regions, the Hudson Valley, and the Adirondacks. They co-authored Trails with Tales, a book of historical hikes through the Capital Region, Saratoga, Hudson Valley, and the Berkshire and Catskill Mountains.

Their writing careers started in 2002 with Dunn’s Adventures Around The Great Sacandaga Lake.

After acquiring a camp on the lake, Dunn said, they were having such interesting experiences, he thought it might be fun to start writing about them. The Sacandaga Times, a local newspaper, published Dunn’s articles each month.

As they continue to lead others along trails and conduct their research, Dunn and Delaney are still fascinated by the area in which they live — its history and natural attractions. Other writing projects — Dunn’s waterfall guidebook of western Massachusetts, a book of historical trails of the Adirondack Mountains, and a fiction book by Delaney set in the Adirondacks — are in the works.

"It’s an extraordinarily good area that we live in because, if you’re interested in hiking, my goodness, you have the Adirondacks to the north, the Catskills to the south. You’ve got the Helderbergs close at hand, and the Mohawk Valley going west. And the Berkshires and the Taconics to the east," said Dunn.

"We live in this land of opportunity. If you want to get out and exercise and have fun, there’s all kinds of possibilities, which is what made working on the guidebooks so interesting because it would get us out, which we enjoy doing anyhow, and then we get to write them up and then other people can enjoy them as well," he said.

Before writing or publishing any of their work, Dunn and Delaney had considered guiding others on historical hikes.

"We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to take other people out after we found out what was there"’" said Delaney.

Delaney retired from the state’s Department of Health as a health administrator after directing a housing program for people with brain injuries.

She enjoyed her work, she said, but their life now is really fun.

"You can’t beat it," Delaney said. "You’re out doing healthy fun things, but, then, if it gets to be really cold, we can be in historical societies and libraries doing this research."

Delaney is fascinated by what she and Dunn uncover in their research about places and people, including John Brown and the abolitionists, the people he associated with, and his relationship with transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

"It is amazing what you uncover, and it makes the area, we’re hoping, to other people who read about it, interesting," Delaney said. "And you’re thinking," she said, "‘Gosh, that information was there all the time, but I just discovered it.’"

When writing about people and places, such as Benedict Arnold and Valcour Island, they first trek around, Delaney said, and build a case for how interesting he was and find out what really happened.

"So it’s kind of the ideal life," she said. "Not that we didn’t have other lives before."

They both like getting their exercise while doing interesting things, Delaney said. She might join a gym in the winter, but she’d much rather exercise by hiking, kayaking, or canoeing because those activities are a natural part of their everyday lives.

She thinks that the more someone hikes, the more fit they become. Then, they will want to be out more because it’s become easier.

As part of his regimen, Dunn said, he jogs three-and-a-half miles every other day.

"It’s no spur-of-the-moment decision," he said. "I’ve been doing that since...probably since I was in my late 20s so it’s probably like 35 years that I’ve been maintaining that. I’m lucky because some people, they take up some exercise program and in six months they’ve had it. They’re just sick of it, whether it’s a treadmill or a stationary bike."

Before retiring just over a year ago, Dunn worked as a medical social worker in a home care agency — Visiting Nurse Service of Schenectady and Saratoga Counties.

Living close to downtown Albany, Dunn and Delaney build in time to walk to many of their destinations. They live near two movie theaters, and the State Museum, where they do research in the library on the seventh floor, is about two miles away. By walking, they get their exercise in the course of their daily activities, Delaney said.

Filling a niche

"As far as a waterfall guidebook goes, it does fill a niche here in the eastern part of New York State," said Dunn.

He first saw a waterfall guidebook in the 1990s; it was of the White Mountains.

"Then, at some point, there was a book on waterfalls of western and central New York, but nothing had been done in this region. And I was very fortunate because I got to cover the Adirondacks and the Catskills, these two big parks that attract a lot of people," Dunn said.

While waterfall guidebooks exist, Dunn said he thinks his guidebooks differ substantially from other guidebooks in several ways.

All of the illustrations in the books, except Trails with Tails, are from antique postcards.

"The postcards go back 100 years and readers are able to see what it looked like 100 years ago — to see how the waterfall once looked and then compare it with how it looks today," he said.

"Then, the second thing, I think, that differentiates my waterfall guidebooks from the other guidebooks is that I really focus on history a lot," said Dunn. "In fact, I break it into a separate category. It’s an opportunity for somebody to actually have an understanding of what went on at this site. They’re not just going there to see the waterfall, but they have a sense as to the context."

Some waterfalls have amazing histories, like Cohoes Falls, he said.

"It’s just phenomenal," said Dunn. "At one time, it rivaled Niagara Falls as a tourist attraction, which isn’t really that unexpected when you think about it because it’s location was ideal, right on the confluence, literally, of the two mightiest rivers in New York State and pretty accessible to people coming upstate. Whereas Niagara Falls was way off at the distant edge of New York State, way out there in the wilderness."

And third, in his guidebooks he includes information and extensive references to photographers, writers, and explorers, Dunn said, so that it provides a tremendous resource book for anyone interested in pursuing it further or reading more.

"Darned if I ever read a guidebook where it doesn’t sound like that person who wrote the book was the first one to ever see this waterfall and describe it," said Dunn. "They give absolutely no credit to anybody else who’s been there."

When he and Barbara co-authored Trails with Tales, he said, they followed the theme as well. "Let’s give credit to all these people who were there before us," Dunn said.

Writing for immortality

"I’d always had a love for writing," said Dunn. "In fact, it’s just recently that I realized just how much writing I had done when I was in college. I had written books and all kinds of stuff that just never went anywhere. And then, for the next 30 years of my life, I did no writing. It was all song writing, musical stuff, which never went anywhere."

Delaney said Dunn’s writing for The Sacandaga Times, which came out monthly and provided an outlet, "was key."

"It was just an opportunity to start writing," said Dunn of writing for the newspaper. "I enjoy the end result of writing, but I find writing to be such a difficult process. It’s really a lot of work, and I really strive for writing with as much clarity as possible so that it flows and, when you start reading it, it sounds like I’m just talking to you," he said. "That’s the ideal."

Dunn credited Nicholas Burns, of Utica, for opening the door for him by publishing Adventures Around The Great Sacandaga Lake and having faith that his book would sell. To date, nearly 3,000 copies have been sold, Dunn said, and it’s getting to the point where it will have to be reprinted.

Delaney said she had written in college. Before any of her work was published, she considered her writing to be for her family or for entertaining herself.

"I am enjoying having things published," said Delaney. "It’s really fun working with a publisher. You do benefit from working with editors and copy-writers and nice people with other good ideas after you’ve written," she said.

"I think writing has become very enjoyable, but I wouldn’t have imagined five years ago that I would care whether anything got published," said Delaney.

One problem with writing non-fiction, Dunn said, is potentially exposing yourself. He likened non-fiction writing to walking naked.

"Somebody can pick [a non-fiction book] up and think, ‘This guy is an idiot,’ or ‘These directions are terrible,’" Dunn said. "When they’re reading what you write, it’s really a part of your mind that they’re seeing."

Delaney said she is working on a fictional book that has an Adirondack setting. "And that, I’m looking forward to," she said. "I have a commitment to myself to finish that when these other two books get off to the publisher." She can’t return to her work on the book, she said, until the couple completes Trails with Tales: History Hikes through the Adirondacks.

"I see writing as a quest for immortality," Dunn said. "This fantasy of somebody 100 years from now pulling a book from the library shelf...and they’re looking through it for research purposes. That appeals to me," he said. "That sense of continuing on."

Stories and favorite spots

Before they retired, Dunn and Delaney traveled to various destinations to find waterfalls, with only antique postcards of the falls to guide them. They would take a postcard to a small town, close to where they thought the waterfall was, and ask others for directions.

Sometimes, people knew how to find the falls and other times they didn’t.

They would then use topography maps to guide them.

"A lot of it was almost like a treasure hunt for us. Just for fun," said Delaney. "Sometimes, we’d say ‘Gee...this is so pretty. I wonder if this still exists.’ Sometimes they do still exist and other times they’re part of a development," she said.

While hiking, they bushwhack to find how they can access a waterfall.

"We’ve had some close calls. They make for interesting stories. We don’t make up the stuff that we write," said Dunn.

"I never felt that it was life-threatening, but a friend and I had gone into this very deep vertical cave called Mitchell’s Cave, up by the Noses near Canajoharie.

"And we went down in this huge cavern. It must have been near the end of the day. And it was a hike in of about maybe half a mile to get to this spot on a very well-defined path," he said.

By the time he and his friend came out of the cave, it was nighttime.

"Even with flashlights shining, we could not follow the path. We just were totally lost," Dunn said.

His friend’s hearing was impaired because, while serving in Vietnam, he had been doused with Agent Orange, a herbicide that released dioxins, which have caused health problems for those who were exposed.

"We were totally lost in the woods, but I could hear the sound of cars whizzing along on the Thruway, which was in a totally different direction than where we were parked," Dunn said.

They then did a lot of scaling — going down steep hills and cliff edges — and finally made it down to the Thruway, Dunn said, and hitched a ride back to their car.

"Flashlights coming out at night," said Delaney. "It’s surprising what you can’t see."

"The woods just kind of close in on you," said Dunn.

Delaney recalled discovering a note on their car under their windshield wiper after they had been hiking, which said, "I hope you enjoyed using my book."

A book by Peter Kick, who has written bicycling guides of the Adirondack and Catskill mountains, was inside their car on their dashboard.

"I haven’t had that experience yet where we’ve been out in the woods," Dunn said, "and we see somebody marching toward us holding our book in their hand. That would be gratifying."

On the other hand, he said, he always worries that someone will be killed in a waterfall and the newspaper will say, "In their hand, clenched tightly, was the Catskill waterfall guide."

With many destinations in the region and within driving distance to choose from, they have difficulty narrowing their favorite spots. As one mentions a place they enjoy returning to, the other follows quickly with another. They continually return to Catskill Falls and also love Peebles Island in Cohoes, Dunn said, because of its many layers of history and its geology.

Though it is not as accessible, Delaney said, they enjoy going to Beaver Meadow Falls on the east branch of the Ausable River and to the Grass River in the western Adirondacks, where there are many waterfalls.

"It’s a little bit more of a drive," said Delaney, "so you don’t go there every day, but there was just one waterfall after another."

"There’s a lot of interesting places, even locally," said Dunn. He’s been to the Cristman Sanctuary in Duanesburg many times, he said, and he and Delaney go to John Boyd Thacher State Park all the time because they love walking along the Indian Ladder Trail.

"And the Plotter Kill Preserve in Schenectady — just awesome, just so much to see," said Dunn. "So many hiking trails. You could really spend a full day taking it all in"

Delaney cited another attraction in Vermont.

"When we start thinking about it, it’s just awesome — the number of possibilities," Dunn said. "As I was saying earlier, this region has it all. All the mountains around us plus an infinite number of caves and lakes and rivers. You name it, this region has it. It’s just amazing. I would never last if you put me down, say at Cape Cod or in Florida where it’s just miles and miles of flatness if nothing else. I just wouldn’t be able to tolerate it."

In the field

"I can’t begin to tell you how many waterfalls I’ve been to that I can’t write up," said Dunn.

"They’re on private property or they involve bushwhacks. The publisher doesn’t want me, really, to write up anything that’s going to lead people into the wilderness, where there’s no guarantee they’re going to get back," he said.

During book-signings, Delaney said, someone always comes up to them and asks, "Gee did you actually go to all of these places""

Dunn said what is included in the books is "like a tip of the iceberg."

"There are probably a hundred more that we went to, that we didn’t write up," said Delaney.

"You really have...to hang out at the place for quite awhile to really start to see it," said Dunn. "It’s one thing to go through and you think you’ve seen it. But then, when you go back, you see all the stuff that you didn’t see the first time. And then you go back a third time, and you see even more. So it’s a long process," he said.

Delaney acts as cartographer. Software has improved, she said, but, unfortunately, they just got some map-making software that will need to be upgraded. Or, she said, she is going to just buy a new computer.

In making the guidebooks, they wanted to make sure directions to sites are "so spelled out and so clear." After they’ve been to a waterfall several times, Delaney said, they may still need to go back and make changes to the directions, such as from one mile to one-tenth of a mile or changing a left-hand turn to a right-hand turn.

Delaney said she has read other guidebooks and said, "Now what" This is totally not clear. Which left did they mean""

As well as leading others on hikes and performing field research for their books, Dunn and Delaney also hike for enjoyment as explorers.

They’ve hiked from village to village in the Italian countryside and with a British hiking group in the Austrian Alps. This year, Delaney said, they’re thinking about going west.

While Delaney enjoys both natural environments with few people as well as densely-populated cities that offer cultural sites, Dunn prefers nature.

"Florence," said Delaney, "I could go back there many times. And Venice — I love Venice," she said. "It’s a lot of fun to study the art and go to the museums."

"I would have to say I’m not drawn to the cities," said Dunn. "Instead of an attraction, I feel a repulsion, a push away."

"Everybody has their quirks. Barbara definitely is a creature more of both elements. I tend to be just more one-sided, one dimensional," Dunn said.

Works in progress

With six books published, Dunn and Delaney are currently working on a number of other projects.

"We’re now working together on Adirondack Trails with Tails, and I can’t even tell you how fun that is because you find these interesting places," said Delaney. Some are commonly known, she said, like the Van Hoevenburg Trail or Mount Jo.

About a month ago, she said, she and Dunn got out their snowshoes and trekked around. In the process of writing the book, they find out more about people like Henry Van Hoevenburg — his role in creating trails in the Adirondacks, his romance with Josephine Schofield, and how the mountains got named.

"So, you get to go out and trek around, but then you find out all this interesting stuff and it makes it fun," said Delaney.

Focusing on the eastern and central Adirondacks, the book will include stories of Great Camp Sagamore, Paul Smith, Valcour Island, John Brown, Fort Ticonderoga, Crown Point, and Prospect Mountain.

"The western part so far has eluded us, although I’ve done a tremendous amount of research in the library for a future waterfall guidebook of the western Adirondacks," said Dunn.

This year, Dunn’s waterfall guidebook of the Berkshire Region and western Massachusetts will be released.

For a weekend in May, Dunn and Delaney will guide 10-mile waterfall hikes of the east branch of the Ausable from the Trails End Inn in Keene Valley.

"In the spring the east branch of the Ausable is just so powerful, and then you come to these waterfalls — Branch Brook falls, Beaver Meadows Falls — and they’re just spectacular falls," said Delaney. "The scenery is spectacular. It’s probably some of the most engaging scenery in the northeastern United States," she said.

"It turned out to be a really good deal because, for the inn, we’re packing the place at a time when they would otherwise have nobody there. Because it’s the so-called ‘mud season’ up there when most people shy away," Dunn said, "but it’s also the time of the year when waterfalls are at their most powerful and dynamic."

To take with you

When hiking, Delany said, you need layers of clothing, something to start a fire, flashlights, band-aids, water, some food for energy, and good hiking boots. Rain gear is also a good idea.

Once, when they were hiking with a group, a hiker’s boots fell apart. Luckily, they had duct tape.

When guiding hikes, Dunn and Delaney carry walkie-talkies. Delaney leads the group and Dunn acts as the sweep person, following behind.

There is always a range in the abilities of hikers, said Delaney. Sometimes people overestimate their abilities and have a "weekend warrior" mentality, she said. A 10-mile hike is fairly rigorous, up and down inclines, she said, and it’s always a dilemma on how to lead a big group when their abilities are very diverse.

"On-going war"

Though it is more accessible than it once was, Kaaterskill Falls, located in the hamlet of Haines Falls, still evokes the same feelings that inspired artists a century ago. Located in the Catskills, Kaaterskill Falls was sketched and drawn by many artists.

"And yet, when you go in there, it hasn’t been destroyed or fancied up by fences and signs and whatnot," said Delaney. "But, on the other hand," she said, "a lot of areas have been developed."

The Hudson River School of painters loved to be in that general area, said Dunn, and mountain houses probably provided them with places to stay.

"All of that is gone. It’s completely wiped away so, in a way, that area is more pristine than it was when the artists were going up there," he said.

"However, if you talk about the wilderness kind of in general, I think civilization is encroaching on it. Lake George is a perfect example. So much developing is going on. People are loving [lakes] so much, and now people are building houses on the sides of the hills. So when you’re on the lake now, you look at the hills and you see houses. It’s just destroying the beauty," said Dunn. "So, yes, there’s just a constant warfare going on between privatization of natural things and then you have other people, like Scenic Hudson and the Open Space Institute, who are trying to preserve the land so that the beauty that we love is there for everybody to enjoy."

"It is an ongoing battle," said Delaney. "I don’t think it’s ever a finished battle...There just have to be ongoing efforts to preserve the wilderness or it won’t be wilderness."

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Two athletic health professionals in town want to keep aspiring athletes on their toes. A podiatrist and a chiropractor stress injury prevention from the literal ground up for those who are healthy, and they offer treatment to those who have over-worked their bodies.

Podiatrist Mark Lentini runs Guilderland Foot Care, Dr. Mark Lentini, D.P.M on Western Avenue. He is an avid golfer, hiker, hunter, and racquet sport enthusiast. Lentini is also the head of the department of podiatry at Albany Medical Center, a fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgery, a recently-appointed member of the New York State Board of Podiatry, and he is board certified for the American Board of Podiatric Surgery.

After 22 years in practice in Guilderland, Lentini has seen injuries caused from such athletic endeavors as running, dancing, and hockey. Both Lentini and local chiropractor Robert Irwin start evaluations of athletic injuries by physically examining the foot and exploring with the patient the type of activity that caused pain.

Lentini said that he often sees patients at this time of year who have come to him after beginning an exercise program prescribed by an endocrinologist or primary-care physician. Patients find that they cannot complete their programs because of foot injuries, Lentini said.

Over-use injuries like stress fractures and plantar fasciitis, a strain of the main arch ligament on the sole of a foot where it attaches into the heel, are common, he said.

"What we recommend is a gradual easing into these activities with proper stretching beforehand and, when necessary, icing afterwards, with the use of proper shoe gear and arch supports," Lentini said.

Lentini said that proper shoe gear means a pair of running shoes or cross-trainers that provide good support and shock absorption qualities, and adequate room for toes and the forefoot.

If someone becomes injured, he said, the injury should be examined, and the activity should be ceased while the injury rests. Prescription orthotics, or custom-made arch supports, can also be used to help an injury heal, he said.

Irwin runs Family Health and Sport Chiropractic, also on Western Avenue, in Park Place. He has been in practice for nine years, and a runner for more than 20. He trains athletes, like the local Albany arena football team and first-time marathon entrants, in injury prevention.

Irwin said that he focuses on proper shoes, muscle imbalances, and structural weaknesses in athletes, and he helps them figure out how best to "shore up the difference," he said.

First, he said, he looks at the patient’s feet, to decide if, for example, a custom orthotic is necessary.

"I use cold laser therapy" to address pain, he said. "I still like to look at [patients] on the whole," he added. He evaluates a person’s range of motion to "put together a program to improve flexibility," Irwin said.

"It’s a process. Everybody has imbalances. How bad are they"" he said. Athletes’ imbalances can become magnified, Irwin said. He said that his work is a step beyond a personal trainer. He finds out in more detail what someone’s physical limitations are, he said.

Irwin has run four marathons, for which he runs 80 to 90 miles a week while training. For new runners, or those taking up a new activity, Irwin, like Lentini, recommends an examination and proper equipment.

"It’s always a good idea to have someone give an evaluation," Irwin said. He sends some patients to Fleet Feet, a shoe store that recommends the proper shoes for each person’s physical needs. "You’ve got to make sure you get in the right shoes," he said. Without the proper gear, he said, "You’re going to hurt. Or, you’re going to hurt yourself."

He said that he sees people of all ages, from those in their 90s to young children.

"Little kids are very active. They take tumbles, spills," Irwin said. "Think of a car adjustment. Crash into a curb — it throws off the alignment a little bit. I check my own children once a week to see if things are moving smoothly."

He said that kids often buy popular shoes, rather than those necessary for their athletic activities.

"Running shoes are to support your feet for running. You wear the wrong shoes, you’re going to get hurt," he said. Irwin said that young athletes experience shin splints and stress fractures. "Youth hides a lot of sins, but not all of them," he said.

Once someone is already injured, Irwin uses a "structural fingerprint examination" of the arches and feet to discover why an injury may have occurred.

"People ignore aches and pains and that will cause injury," he said. Hip and knee replacements are rampant because "most of us ignore all those signs and symptoms," Irwin said.

Lentini said that he, like many of the professionals in their 30s and 40s that he treats, tries to ski, do weight-training, and play racquet sports as often as he can, given his busy schedule. Those professionals in this age group, he said, try to press work, family, and fitness activities into small amounts of time.

"Precautionary measures aren’t taken," he said. Injuries can keep people from pursuing any activities, Lentini said.

"Pain is an indicator of injury," he said. Lentini said that prospective athletes should not try to work through the pain. "They should be evaluated by a podiatrist before continuing," he said. Otherwise, the injury may become worse, he said.

"If it hurts, Lentini concluded, "back off."

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