| The plan was simple:
I had a month off and a wonderful new boat, why not stock it with gear
and paddle to Canada? It didn't seem as ludicrous as it sounded; after
all, the Hudson led from New York City into the Champlain Canal, which
in turn led to Lake Champlain, which drained into the Richelieu, which
flowed all the way to the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The Hudson was tidal
as far as Troy and according to the NOAA literature, at that time of the
year the winds were predominantly out of the south. Of course, camping
might be a problem, what with most of the shoreline being either privately
owned or state controlled. But I was a specialist in commando camping
and a student of the John Muir school: "Leave only foot prints, take nothing
but memories." Who could object to that? And therein lies the
of obligations to friends, family and work, my life prior to departure
was in such a state of frenetic activity that what should have been three
weeks' work of preparation was unsuccessfully crammed into three days.
Consequently, at 5 am the morning of my exodus, I was in an ‘adrenal-overload’
mode, frantically trying to consolidate living-room size piles into dry-bag
stuffable piles, which would in turn squeeze into my boat.
By 6 a.m. I had
given up in utter exhaustion and tried to escape into sleep. But the wheels
kept spinning and the thoughts kept nagging over items surly missed and
sleep remained out of reach. At 6:30 I started to doze and at 7 a.m.
Ralph arrived, the only on schedule occurrence the whole day. The
plan was for Ralph and I to shuttle ‘Champlain’, my Klepper Aerius I folding
kayak, and my personal mountain of gear, to Dyckman Street, a put in slightly
north of the George Washington Bridge, in time to catch the early flood
tide. We arrived, however, only to discover that my maps had fallen
out somewhere along the way. My immediate reaction was to shine it
on. Most of my trips had been without the benefits of maps, why not
wing this one too. Clearly a decision was called for, but I was too dazed
from lack of sleep to be objective. Fortunately, as I glanced at
my watch while trying to make up my mind, I discovered that it too had
mutinied and had stopped several hours ago. The decision was made.
While I might have been comfortable traveling without maps, a watch is
crucial for plotting the flood and ebb cycle as one moves north up the
we sped, securing maps and a new watch battery along the way. Of
course by this time we became enmeshed in mid-morning rush hour traffic
and consequently took several hours to get back to the put-in. Arriving,
I immediately began wrestling with the mountain of gear that was adamantly
resistant to being stuffed in a kayak. The problem was two-fold:
First, on previous trips I traveled with a partner, consequently we used
my double. I've loaded that boat so often, I knew all it's sweet
spots that would accommodate gear. My single, however, was new, and
while I had paddled it a few times, I had never loaded it for expedition.
Secondly, I'd be traveling for at least a month, heading north in late
September. How much warm food and clothes does one really need?
Too much, as it turned out, or at least more then my boat could hold.
A full quarter of my gear I sent home with Ralph. The rest I dumped
pell-mell into the cockpit. I was sure it would fit eventually, but
was far too tired to think of it further and consequently pushed off, hoping
things would settle in around me.
Of course by
that time the tide had changed and I was paddling against the ebb, completely
exhausted in an improperly balanced, overloaded boat, with no room to sit.
I'm not sure which was harder, fighting the current or fighting the rising
tide of delirium.
I made the equivalence of Yonkers
and collapsed. If today was the start, I thought while erecting my
tent in the small clearing beneath the Palisades, tomorrow I better start
Slept 12 hours
and reorganized everything. Got started a little late, but I was
clear headed and fresh, the boat was balanced, and there was even room
to sit down. Spent the morning and mid afternoon paddling beneath
the spectacular Palisades, or Great Chip Rock as they were known by the
old Dutch settlers. The Palisades are the only fjords found in North America
and extend over 38 miles from Bergan Point to Haverstraw, and at the High
Tor are over 820 feet high.
About two miles
before Piermont Point, the conditions began to deteriorate. Dead
ahead, the four-mile wide Haverstraw Bay was beginning to ebb, funneling
its greater volume into the mile wide section of river I was traveling.
Augmenting the ebb was a 10-mile northwesterly, which had been steadily
building all afternoon. By the time I understood the forces at work,
I was in for quite a struggle just to reach Piermont. But there were
no alternatives, or so I thought at the time, since immediately to my left
was a large, buggy expanse of inhospitable wetlands. Future explorations
would discover that those ‘inhospitable’ wetlands were part of Tallman
Mountain State Park and home to some rather exquisite launch sites, but
that day I was without the benefit of that knowledge and, consequently,
those last two miles took almost an hour and three quarters to accomplish.
however, left me in another quandary. It was only a little after 3 and
the surrounding shoreline consisted of marsh, rocks, houses, and railroad
tracks. No place at all where I could inconspicuously sneak a bright
orange tent. After due deliberation, I decided to sit out the remaining
ebb tide and try for a night run through the Tappan Zee. In the meantime,
I would suffer through the next few hours lying and reading in the sun.
I had been reading “War and Peace” and had left Prince Andrei in
a very perplexing situation and was eager to check back in on him and the
rest of the Pavlograd Hussars – my extended family for the trip.
At dusk, the moderate
northwesterly slackened and died. By 8 the river began to reverse
and by 8:15 it was again speeding north. By the time I passed beneath the
Tappen Zee Bridge it had turned into a glorious night. It was dark,
with a low ceiling of clouds. High above, Cassiopeia was visible
on my right and the Big Dipper on my left. Low to the horizon a waning
moon tried to push through the clouds, but the velvety night would brook
no interference, its mood was not to be altered. And its mood was
dark and ecstatic.
I was soaring;
the current was fast and the boat literally shot through the channel, while
the warm caressing wind had every cell in my body doing cartwheels. I paddled
till almost midnight, knocking off 11 miles. When I started to fatigue,
I paddled in towards shore to look for a campsite, but everywhere I turned
there loomed the black and shapeless walls of the Palisades. I held my
flashlight in my teeth as I maneuvered around the rocks. Steep stone
banks gave way to steeper stone cliffs. I tethered off my boat and
scaled a small embankment, hoping to find some hospitable flat ground a
little higher up. Nothing, everything continued up in an almost vertical
wall. I paddled on and scaled another . . . flashlight again in my
teeth . . . and again nothing.
I wasn't desperate
. . . yet. But I was tired and starting to get a little weary.
As I paddled on, the cliffs got bigger and the night got blacker.
But just as I was beginning to think about other options, the moon triumphantly
broke through the clouds, like Jesus on the water, a pearl and ivory bridge
of light that led straight to a small cove hidden in the shadows.
I set up my tent
in glorious cinematic moonlight and probably would have slept blissfully
late, but was roused early the next morning by an irate ranger, demanding
an explanation for my presence. It seemed that my haven was about
ten yards off a popular jogging path in the northern tip of Palisades Park.
I apologized profusely for scaring the joggers with my garish orange tent
and immediately began to break camp. By this time the ranger had
relaxed somewhat and was curious as to how I got there without a car.
I pointed to my kayak on the stone beach below us. He softened at
this, wished me luck and told me to take my time.
After a leisurely
breakfast, I paddled the final segment of the heavily industrialized Haverstraw
Bay, passing countless cement and brick factories, and one incredulously
foreboding nuclear power plant!
At Jones Point,
three fisherman – looking only slightly less broken down then the perilous
looking dock they were relaxing on – laughed when they heard my trip plans
and threw me a ‘cold one’ for good luck.
As I rounded the next bend, Perkins Tower
on Bear Mountain was suddenly visible. Just seeing that green giant
of a mountain took me back to all the wonderful summer and fall hikes I’ve
had there over the years and I felt as if my trip had really begun: I had
broken free of the megalopolis and was returning to the wild.
I arrived on Iona Island with the
isle afire with the gold of afternoon light. The previous open expanse
of field was completely overgrown with some thick, three-foot high, gold-colored
plants. As I erected my tent, two deer came leaping through the thickly
grown field, zig zagging playfully as they chased each other. I spent
the late afternoon working on the boat. There were already several
deep gouges in its soft rubber hull from dragging it fully loaded over
the rocks. I would have to be more careful in the future.
That evening I drank
the fisherman’s by-now warm beer, with the Bear Mountain Bridge twinkling
serenely against a background of infinite stars. At one point I remember
musing that the Big Dipper seemed like it was suspended about a hundred
yards above the Bridge, its light close enough to be mistaken for an exit
ramp. I saw it as some transcendent soul's ending scenario:
Driving along on a crystal clear mountain road, speeding across the Hudson,
bridge illuminated by Van Gogh, a left instead of a right and it's off
into the Milky Way forever.
By mid afternoon
of day 4, I arrived at Bannerman's Island. During the time of the
early settlers, Pollepel Island was considered a haunted spot. And
probably for good reason! Bannerman's, a.k.a. Pollepel Island, is located
between Storm King Mountain and Breakneck Ridge, about 10 miles upstream
from West Point, and has always been the home of legends. Many Indian tribes
believed it haunted and avoided it. Still others used it for special ceremonies
-- usually leaving before dark. Extensive excavations have found
permanent Indian settlement on both sides of the river, but none on the
island itself. Did they know something we didn't know? The Early Dutch
explorers lived in mortal terror of the Heer of Dunderberg, a goblin king
who sank passing ships. To protect themselves, new sailors were baptized
by being doused in the river as they passed Pollepel. In the eighteenth
century, the legendary "Flying Dutchman” sank just south of the island.
In 1900, Francis Bannerman, an internationally known armorer, purchased
the inland as a site to store equipment and ammunition. During Bannerman's
reign, the island boasted a castle-arsenal, complete with moat; a huge
family dwelling, 3 storehouses, a workshop, a powder house, an ice house,
apartments for the workers, several docks, numerous crenellated towers
and strategically located cannon emplacements. But all the cement and steel
couldn't ward off the island's heritage and countless disasters struck
again and again, culminating in the 20's, when two hundred pounds of powder
and shells exploded, blowing a twenty five foot section of stone wall across
to the mainland, while one tower -- along with a whole corner of the island
-- was blown far out into the river. In 1969, the island was rocked by
another explosion, along with a fifty-foot-high wall of flame, which official's
claim was the result of old shells that are still lost in the debris. Since
then, time has worked its magic and slowly been sucking the castle back
into the earth.
at Bannerman’s with perfect afternoon light and spent the next several
hours photographing all the islands’ crumbling walls, dried up moats, and
decaying gun turrets.
Slowly, as the day cooled and the suns
expansive effect waned, the tons of shattered mortar and broken brick,
so swollen by the heat of the day, began to cool as the castle began its
nightly contractions. I had just finished pushing a small area of
debris aside and erecting my tent when the sounds of settling started.
I knew the sounds for what they were, still it was pretty eerie as perfect
silence gave way to the cracking and creaking of shifting and falling debris.
darkness swallowed the island, I realized this was the place where shadows
were born. It was overcast, no moon, no stars, just a bit of gray glow
from ambient lights too many miles away. I stood perfectly still. I was
literally surrounded by sound and movement as little pieces of debris crumbled
and fell. It seemed as if the castle was gnashing its teeth all about me.
I located my flashlight and pointed its soothing beam into the castle's
interior. It illuminated a long snake like crack before its light
evaporated and died. ‘Hmpf,’ I grumbled as I replaced the dead flashlight
with another light, which also died. Not funny I thought as I went
through flashlights three and four and then every combination of spare
batteries and bulbs that was possible. Nothing would stay lit!!
How could they all die at once? That was impossible! They were all
in separate drybags. I had many suspicions, none of which I wanted to entertain.
I knew I was beginning to spook and thought I had better shift gears real
fast, so I strapped on my knife and began to build a fire. I don’t
know what I expected to do with a knife, besides cooking dinner, but it
gave some small comfort just having a weapon close at hand. Besides,
I reasoned, it's hard to get worked up over things when you're cooking
over an open flame. All of which, I’m sure, was connected with a
primordial fear of darkness and the soothing and warming qualities of fire.
At any rate,
when dinner and hysteria were over, the ruins appeared tranquil and serenely
beautiful. Gradually a light rain began to fall, giving everything
a ghostly and unworldly sheen. I sat mesmerized in the darkness;
my fire slowly fading into blackness, the ruins shimmering in the half-light
of what was probably as close as I’ve ever come to a Salvador Dali moment.
As the rain began to increase, I reluctantly crawled into my tent, feeling
warm and protected, as if a teenage boy asleep for the first time in his
lover's arms. I slipped into a long and blissful sleep, rocking gently
with sweet and tranquil dreams.
I woke with the distinct impression that
while my visit was tolerated, someone else was in charge. And of
course, all four flashlights worked perfectly.
Before I left
Bannerman’s I took a bath in the Hudson. Don't know if the waters
was as clean as it seemed or if I was just that dirty. But it felt
so nice, and the day turned so hot, I stopped twice along the way for a
swim. I also stopped at the Dutchess Boat Club to refill my water containers.
They had a bar, so I had a beer and they recommended the Marlboro Yacht
Club for dinner. It was on the way, and I hated to see a perfectly
good bath go to waste.
The Marlboro Yacht
Club provided the setting for my next surprise. Besides having a
lovely waterside restaurant where I wined and dined, which in itself was
a tasty reprise from my fireside pasta, I had many wonderful conversations,
among them the club's treasurer who invited me to pitch my tent on their
lawn. This was very unexpected. My past experiences had taught
me that private marinas had very little tolerance for self-propelled craft.
What I discovered as I continued my trek up the river was that after Labor
Day, when the season was over, the people you met at the marinas were the
real boaters, interested in all aspects of the sport, not just rich folk
with big motors, too self important to be bothered with small craft.
On the sixth day
during early afternoon, as I was paddling beneath the Mid Hudson Bridge
at Poughkeepsie, my lower back mutinied and refused to paddle another stroke.
I tried to reason with it, but it was irreproachable. Fortunately,
as I rounded the next bend, I spotted an old Hudson River sloop in the
process of being painted. Beneath its bow was a floating dock with
a sleeping painter holding her brush. I immediately felt at home.
Obviously a city worker, I reasoned, as I paddled in close to get a picture.
However, just as I raised my camera, some built in defense mechanism was
triggered and she began painting in her sleep, blowing my theory all to
hell. She couldn't work for the city; only federal employees are
adept at shamming work in their sleep.
As it turned
out, none of the above was true. She was a volunteer on the Clearwater
and the entire crew was working extra shifts to get the ship ready for
their annual pumpkin cruise.
I was introduced around, given a
tour and invited for dinner. The food was elegant vegetarian and
their chef was a magician to get such treats from a small wood stove.
During the meal, I came to understand that the mission of the Clearwater
was to sail up and down the river, stopping at all ports along the way,
providing enlightened, educational entertainment, in the hope of raising
the public's perception of the Hudson's complex and fragile ecosystem.
Unfortunately, due to a scheduling mix up, they were very shorthanded and
would never get all the repairs done in time for their upcoming cruise.
"Was I interested
in taking a few days off from my trip and working on the boat?" someone
asked. "There's no pay," someone interjected, "But the food and the bunks
are terrific." However, before I could reply, my mutinous back had
already volunteered me, and a third party was showing me which bunk would
I spent the first morning of my
vacation from my vacation demonstrating the Klepper to the crew and giving
each one a chance for a quick paddle. In the afternoon I helped paint
the starboard stanchions, and in the process got to know my newfound friends.
They were a gregarious and diverse lot and ran the gamut from biologist
to set designer, with every third person seemingly proficient on multiple
musical instruments. At night we were treated to impromptu
musical events as Neil, Cindy, and Susan would harmonize under the stars.
The next morning I finished up my Clearwater work by re-cutting the notches
on the dingy's floorboard – which had warped out of shape.
I was having a ball
and reluctant to leave, but when I saw the early afternoon tide reverse
and again surge north, I knew it was time, so I made a few quick good-byes
and was on my way.
I paddled from
Poughkeepsie, past Hyde Park, cutting between Esopus Island and Norrie
Point State Park at Staatsburg. Esopus is a small, tree covered granite
slab of an island that contained 2 or 3 of the most flawless campsites
I've ever seen. It practically had ‘camp here’ written in day-glow green.
But did I stop and heed the river's words? Nope! I was running
with an amazingly strong flood and I wanted to suck as much mileage from
it as I could. Besides, I had only been on the water a few hours
and figured there'd be equally luscious spots an hour or two further north.
So I continued on, rounding Cave Point to where the river widens to Esopus
As I passed the
Dinsmore Lighthouse, mysterious dusk started to paint streaks upon the
horizon, with dark and Kingston arriving very soon thereafter. It was a
clear, bright night, surrealistically illumed by the various port and stern
lights of the ocean-going freighters which were docked and anchored both
along the shore and mid channel. But once the novelty of the circus-like
lights had worn off, I realized I had done it again. The west shore was
dotted with commercial and residential establishments. There'd be
no place to camp, what was I thinking? I crossed the river, heading for
the dark shore on the other side. Nothing: railroad tracks and rocks.
I continued on, paddling to the next town, in between more railroad tracks
and rocks. Checking the map, the east shore remained pretty inhospitable
for more miles then I wanted to contemplate. Crossing back to the west
shore didn't help either, every spot I checked was marshy, dark and overgrown.
And as if swamps weren't bad enough, the two or three inches of available
shore line were all booby trapped with tortuous steel rods and splintered
brick, poking, jabbing, and tearing at my boat every time I landed, desperately
searching beyond the brush and debris of the shore line for even one square
foot of unoccupied space. By this time I was tired and getting desperate.
In my fatigue, I imagined all the destruction was from a broken and long
ago dam. I paddled on, slightly delirious in the dark, envisioning the
varieties of dire and grandiose disasters needed to so devastate a landscape.
Later, however, I was informed that the entire riverside from Port Ewen
to Kingston was at one time studded with brick factories. So this
inhospitable shoreline was not the result of natural catastrophe, but merely
the leftovers of normal American business.
By this point
I was on the verge of giving up. It was dark; the shoreline was slippery;
and there was too much dangerous debris scattered everywhere. Could
I sleep in the boat I wondered? Find a spot to tie off, someplace
where the boat wouldn't get too knocked around by the fluctuating tides
and at least sleep till day light? But before I could find a spot
that looked even reasonably safe, a new problem surfaced as the tide began
That did it!
Something in me snapped. No way was I going to be pushed back through those
dark, marshy, debris-studded waters I had just passed through. There
was a sense of rising; a second wind was building. I could feel myself
resisting the tide, and the darkness, and the almost palpable feeling of
doom that so permeated the entire area; but most of all I could feel myself
resisting ‘me’, and the fears I created out of nothing. I started
to paddle, hard and fresh; and about a mile and a half from the Kingston-Rhinecliff
bridge, in what looked like a little community park in the town of Ulster
Landing, I found a beautiful, flat, grassy spot, just begging for a tent.
By then it was long after midnight and I almost fell asleep as I was constructing
The next thing
I knew it was daylight and the tent was shaking violently. A voice
boomed out, "Get out here, who do you think you are?" I leaped from
my tent, disoriented with sleep. "How did you get here? Where's
your car?" My accuser boomed. I walked him over to the bank
and pointed to my boat. "That's a beauty," he smiled, his face softening.
When I told him I had paddled up from New York City and had arrived after
midnight he laughed and told me to get some more sleep, I probably needed
it. "But," he stressed, "I'll be working over at the pavilion. Before
you leave, come over. I'd like to hear your whole story."
The scent and
sight of rain were in the air as I passed the Saugerties Lighthouse.
There was a storm approaching and I was again looking for an uninhabited
place to sneak a tent. I scrambled, finally wedging my tent between two
bushes on a 30-degree slope. I slid from the tent all night and still
didn't beat the rain.
The next day
the tide and the wind were unusually strong and very solidly against me.
I probably should have stayed put, but I had no desire to spend another
night on the incline. Consequently, I struggled for every inch; and the
moment I let up, I was blown backward faster then I had moved forwards.
Still, I made a little less then 8 miles, which wasn’t bad for the circumstances,
and that night I camped on a small dredge island with the entire eastern
silhouette of the Catskill lying in panorama before me. Best campsite since
Iona Island. I enjoyed the spot so much I decided to take the next day
off and just explore the area.
The next morning
I watched the mist rising off the Catskills as I continued with War and
Peace. They both seemed appropriately epic.
I spent most
of the day fixing and exploring. Much of the food was wet from condensation
inside the drybags. Taking advantage of the warm sunlight, I laid
everything out and dried it in the open air. Everything was salvageable
– but my camp looked like a combination of an open-air market in Iquitos
and a suburban garage sale.
This little dredge
island has provided an almost perfect camp site. Still, I am anxious
to move on. The water I obtained last night is thick with sulphur
and its scent alone is enough to make you retch. I won't comment
on the taste.
I have been charting
the tidal changes very closely and there is no great solution. The
problem is, the tidal pattern is continually advancing and moving forward
through the day. So while the beginning of my trip had an early morning,
north-moving current, by the end of the first week the current wasn't moving
north until late afternoon. Consequently, that meant, at that phase,
that mornings were for doing repairs, exploring, and blissfully lingering
in the sun and reading. Either that or spend the whole day struggling against
both the current and the tide. Of course the real down side was I paddled
through a lot of new territory for the first time in the dark. Now, however,
as the flood rises later and later in the day, the other half of it's cycle
is also racing round the clock towards me. Consequently, Monday,
my 12th day, I woke at dawn and was on the river extra early to catch the
newly returned early-morning flood. But a new front came in during the
night, bringing with it a biting cold northwesterly, so the tide was completely
negated and the wind formed a steel-like barrier against me.
At first I despaired.
It didn't seem fair, to finally regain the whole tidal cycle in daylight
hours, only to immediately lose it. But as I paddled, hugging the
far western shore, to partially shield myself from the wind, I realized
without struggle, there would be no accomplishment. It wasn't about
getting to Canada; it was about growing and becoming something more.
Somehow, somewhere, it was the inch-by-inch process that forged something
new in the soul; that opened the psyche to new vision. This was the
lesson the river spoke as its wind burned my face and blurred my eyes.
Made Hudson and
camped on Middle Ground Flat, which according to the U.S. Coast Pilot was
one hundred and two miles north of my departure point. Spent the next 2
days exploring the town of Hudson, picking up supplies, mailing out postcards
and indulging in a much-needed dose of civilization.
Back on the water
and for once the circumstances have worked in my favor. The wind
was kicking and out of the south (the whole trip took 23 days and the wind
was only out of the south for 3 . . . so much for the experts who predicate
the wind to be southerly at that time of year), the tide was still flooding
in the morning, and I was up, packed, and on the river early. I paddled
leisurely, made several stops, was off the river by five, and still made
close to 20 miles. In the process, however, I said goodbye to the
Catskills, their majestic profile disappeared as I rounded the bend above
Hudson. Replacing them was my first, ever so subtle, glimpse of fall,
which I hoped wouldn't turn into a full view of winter by the time I hit
the Canadian boarder.
On day 15, with
the wind full and again working against me, I made Albany in late afternoon
and set up my tent in the backyard of the Albany Yacht Club. Spent
a good part of the evening in a Laundromat, but even after washing, most
of the clothes still smelled badly. Good thing this was a solo trip. A
day later I paddled through the lock at Troy, saying goodbye to the tidal
Hudson and having to drag the boat through 30 feet of calf deep mud in
the morning or second-guess how much havoc the waterline would wreck with
my boat at night.
The lock at Troy is
federal, the rest are maintained by the state. The rational being
Troy is tidal and therefore part of the national waterway. Once through
the lock, the entire face of the river changed. Wind and current
vanished. There was an increase in observable wildlife; a decrease in pleasure
boaters (partially, because their season was winding down) and commercial
traffic slowed to the point of being almost non-existent. For the
latter, part of the reason was the size of the locks. Built in the
1800s, they have since been expanded twice, but are still insufficient
(averaging 300 by 43 feet) to accommodate the huge ocean going freighters
of the modern age, which generally only traveled north as far as Albany.
From Albany, all goods were transferred to the smaller lock-size barges,
which in turn were pushed by tugboats. The current barges were actually
built around the dimensions of the locks. And you knew that to be
true when you watched the incredulously skilled tug captains slide both
boat and barge into a lock that allowed about half a foot of clearance
on each side.
The river itself
has turned into a great, elongated, meandering lake, with a few isolated
communities, marinas, and farms along its banks. Paradoxically, while
the surrounding countryside feels more isolated and wild with
a very visible increase in wildlife of all kinds, there are danger postings
all about, warning fisherman that the fish are toxic and not to be consumed.
Seems that the canalized Hudson, without the flushing benefits of the tidal
Hudson, still has large amounts of contaminates in the river sediment –
which of course is the beginning of the food chain.
Besides all the
physical changes to the river, the locks added a department store flavor.
You enter, are raised 15 to 19 feet, and when you exit, you're in a new
department, where everything's a tad cooler, and they're in the process
of fitting the trees for the new fall line.
rain was predicated for my first two days in the lock system. I delayed
on shore for most of Saturday morning, watching the grey and overcast horizon.
Nothing! Except for a light sprinkling at about 5:30 that morning,
it seemed like it was going to clear. I decided to go for it. I made
the first State lock at Waterford with no problem. While the boat
was rising up in the second lock at Mechanicsville, it deluged for about
90 seconds. When it cleared, the lockmaster gave me a tour of the only
completely functioning, original, water-driven turbines left on the river.
You could see it was somebody's baby, its brass fittings were as bright
as hammered gold. Mechanicsville lock also boasts the highest lift
in the entire system, topping out at 19.5 feet.
On the way to the Mechanicsville
municipal dock, the skies opened and this time I was caught. The
rain came down so hard that it bruised my skin. Consequently, I spent the
evening drying out at Joyces' Log Cabin, a friendly restaurant, with friendly
people, and an exceptionally friendly, local white wine.
The next day
I was supposed to have breakfast with Bill and Barbara, a couple I met
last night at dinner. But the day was too perfect for delaying, so
I made my apologies, packed my boat, and moved on.
Four days later
as I was paddling from Schuylerville to Fort Edwards, I happened to strike
up a conversation with a gentleman standing on his dock. He was an
ex-military man, an avid historian, and judging by the facts and statistics
he glibly juggled, an incredibly voracious reader. He knew the difference
between the truth and the headlines. Somewhere during the course
of our chat, he commented on how low the evening temperatures were becoming.
He laughed at my reactions, excused himself and disappeared for a few minutes,
returning with an army blanket. He tossed it to me and smiled. "
This'll help." I took it as a good sign: The river had given
me a blanket.
At Ford Edwards, right
before the main body of the town, the river bifurcates. The left
fork runs down from Lake Tear-In-The-Cloud in the upper peaks of
Mount Marcy in the Adirondack, through the Class 5 whitewater section of
the Hudson River gorge, past Hudson Falls and Glen Falls. The right
fork is the completely man-made section of the canal and is basically a
23 mile ditch, dug along the pathway of local creeks.
In the canal system,
most of the towns along the way had small municipal docks. In the
heyday of the canals, the barges would load and unload their cargo and
passengers, linking the various communities in an economic life net.
As the railroads, and then trucking, gradually superseded the barge system,
the docks fell into disrepair. These days, the canal system is on
the upswing, but now the traffic consists primarily of pleasure craft.
Consequently, most of the newly renovated municipal docks provided free
dockage, along with electrical and water hook ups. Obviously, as
a kayaker, my needs were not that elaborate. However, I did camp
at all the municipal docks and most had wonderful restaurants, supermarkets
and other necessary conveniences within walking distance.
My only criticism
regarding the docks were their physical set up. Since most were geared
to larger boat use, very few had a ladder reaching the water. Consequently,
you had to stand, balance in your boat, find a handhold and pull yourself
up, hauling your gear up after you. Also, none of the docks had Porta
Sans, since they were geared towards bigger boats with on- board facilities.
Likewise, the locks themselves were accessed by hailing the lockmaster
on a marine band radio. Like most kayakers, I don't travel with equipment
of that sophistication and therefore was completely invisible to the lock
operator, necessitating many moderately treacherous climbs up a sheer concrete
wall. Luckily, I'm long limbed and fairly agile and always managed the
climb without any swims. But there were several spots that gave me
considerable pause as I deliberated on the safest approach. Again, a ladder
would be the safest, simplest, and cheapest way around the problem.
By the early afternoon
of my 21st day I was camped at the municipal dock at Whitehall; the moment
was bittersweet. I had completed both the Hudson River and the Champlain
Canal portion of the trip, but monstrous Lake Champlain, which stretched
the remaining distance to Canada, seemed mythical and unattainable.
I was convinced I could finish. I had sufficient time, supplies,
and stamina. But I had lost my zeal. I was tired of traveling,
plain and simple. But more importantly, I had anticipated Lake Champlain
for far too long to reduce it to something to get through, as a blur along
the finish line. This trip was about the pleasure of traveling and
that magnificent lake was far too glorious to be reduced to drudgery.
Consequently, I ended my trip in Whitehall, returning the following year
to paddle Champlain's grand and gorgeous length all the way to Canada,
completing my trip just for its sheer pleasure.
And while that
tale bears telling, still more important are the repercussions of my first
trip. As you may have concluded, the only thing that equaled the
grandiose beauty of the Hudson was the frustration I felt as a small boater
looking for campsites. With more then 15 state and county parks flanking
the Hudson, there's no reason for anyone to wander around in the dark.
Fortunately, on this the state and the small boating community agree.
To this end, we have founded THE HUDSON RIVER WATERTRAIL ASSOCIATION, which
is dedicated to opening, establishing and maintaining campsites along the
The first segment
of the trail will stretch from N.Y.C. to Troy, with section two running
through the Champlain Canal and Lake Champlain to Canada, while section
three will swing west through the Mohawk River into the Erie Canal on to
the Great Lakes.
have been tapping the resources of the local paddling community.
But it's an enormous job and we need more help. We need money, members,
volunteers, campsite managers and river stewards. Join us and "Transform
Your Paddling Habit.” For more information, contact: the HUDSON
RIVER WATERTRAIL ASSOCIATION.
Robert Huszar is the founder of
H.R.W.A. and would like one day to complete Part III of his paddle to Canada
and revisit Quebec City.