Kayaking on the Hudson

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hudson River Trip - Day 6

Day 6
Our original schedule had us paddling to Irvington which is only 14 miles away.  Then on day 7, we would paddle 12 more miles to the George Washington Bridge where we would take out.   
Paddling in low visibility as we approach the Tappan Zee Bridge

We are up at 3:30am.  In the dark, we launch into fog with only 1 mile of visibility.  We reach Irvington by 9am, and the GW Bridge by noon.   
Dave snapped this shot of me as we crossed into New York City.  Normally, the word "Romany" is clearly visible on the side of my kayak, but my kayak is so weighted with gear that it is sitting in the water up to the yellow tape.

We arrive feeling very satisfied.  We have completed one of New York’s great paddles.  We all paddled faster and farther (in one day) than we ever have before.  We carried a week’s worth of gear and provisions and we got to experience wonderful scenery, friendly towns and some just plain great paddling.  Next year, we start at the Canadian border!
The George Washington Bridge - Our finish line.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hudson River Trip - Day 5

Day 5
We set off into the fog at about 6am.  We could easily make Croton Point by noon, but we need to stop in Peekskill at 9am and wait for some fellow ADK paddlers who are going to join us for the rest of the day.  We arrive early in Peekskill and we wait for Shari and Ellie, as the current dies then changes.  Our long stop means we will be fighting the opposing current the rest of the way.  
The Bear Mountain Bridge is a welcomed site as we paddle toward Peekskill

Crossing Haverstraw Bay takes forever.  The opposing current is full on against us now.  Each stroke burns my arms.  This simple 16 mile paddle has turned into a long, tough slog that will end with 20 miles paddled.
Our kayaks take a break as we cross Haverstraw Bay - the widest part of the Hudson

Jean-Claude lands on the beach with Shari and Ellie.  They need to catch the train back to Peekskill so they can get their cars.  Jean-Claude will stay with their boats until they are all set.  Meanwhile, Russ, Dave and I will go ahead and find the designated campsite that we read about.  

Now the weather is turning.  The river is whipped up into choppy waves.  The wind is blowing and south of us we can see lightening and hear thunder booming down from a pitch black sky.  The wind is blowing north-right in our faces, so it is likely this weather will be on us in less than an hour.  But where is the takeout?  We find only a platform about 8 feet above the water.  Dave climbs up and disappears for what seems like an eternity.  He comes back empty handed.

Russ finds a small trail leading off of a beach.  I follow it up to a road, but find no campsites.  Just then, a park ranger drives up.  I ask him where we can go and he tells me there is a landing site around the bend.  We load up and paddle around the corner where the ranger is waiting to wave us in.  Of course, there is no place to land; nothing but downed trees.  We haul the kayaks up and hike the quarter mile to the campsites.  We all decide the beach was better and no further away, so it’s back in the kayaks to the beach, then unload all of our gear and haul it a quarter mile to the campsites.  The showers that we were looking forward to are no longer in operation.  There are no bathrooms either, just a port-a-john.  
This is the "designated kayak" landing at Croton Point - what a joke!

We haven’t seen Jean-Claude in a long time, but we are sure he will find us eventually, and the thunderstorms have held off.  Russ and Dave hike into town (a 35 minute walk) for Chinese food.  I cook dinner at the campsite and discover that the defunct women’s bathroom is still functional.  There’s no shower, but there are flush toilets.
The small beach was okay for landing, but we had to haul our kayaks up on the logs so they wouldn't float away when the tide came in.

I turn in for bed completely exhausted.  I try to read a little of the book I picked up in Saugerties, but my eyes keep falling shut.  Finally, I give up and go to sleep.  I look at my watch and the time is 7:58 pm.  What was supposed to be our shortest day was by far the toughest day yet.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hudson River Trip Day 4

Day 4
Once again, we are up early to catch the current.  But today we will tarry long enough to get a hot breakfast at the local café.  Our eventual goal for today is Arden Point, but we are planning another afternoon layover in Cold Spring.  We launch the kayaks off of the dock and I feel the soreness in my shoulders and back from the previous day’s paddle.  By now, we are confident that we can cover the mileage so long as we catch the current.  Today’s total is only 18 miles, so it should be an easy day.   

We arrive in Cold Spring at 11am.  The sun has come out for the first time since day one, so Dave and I take an hour to spread out all of our gear in the park in hopes of it drying.  At noon, we walk into town and have lunch at a local café.

Roughing it in Cold Spring
  It’s a tough trip, but as far as food goes, we are not exactly roughing it.  I spend the next 3 hours in the library getting work done on the computer.  (Did I mention I was teaching 2 online classes the whole time I was on the trip?)  We are supposed to meet up at 3pm to paddle on to Arden Point.  In the library, I checked the hourly forecast and it calls for thunder storms at 3pm.  Sure enough, at 3pm the skies open up and it rains harder than I have ever seen for over an hour.  All we can do is sit on the train platform and keep mostly dry.   

My "camp site" at Arden Point was a patch of flat ground where 2 hiking trails met.
When the rain lifts, Jean-Claude announces that we are off to Arden Point.  I am worried about the next wave of thunder storms that is supposed to arrive at 5pm, but I am outvoted by the others who assure me that we can make Arden Point before the rain hits.  They are right.  The rain never comes and we set up our most wilderness camp of the entire trip.  Tomorrow is another early day and we are picking up other paddlers on the way.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hudson River Trip Day 3

Day 3
We have to paddle 26 miles today, so we are up at 5:00am and on the water by 6:15am.  It is raining lightly, but the air temperature is a nice 70 degrees—not too hot, not too cold.  We paddle the next six hours in the rain with only two short breaks.  We are soaked and as soon as we stop, we instantly get chilled.  Paddling keeps us warm.  Visibility is terrible, maybe 2 miles.  At least the wind is not too strong and it’s at our backs.  

By noon, we’ve covered the 26 miles and reached Highland.  The landing at Highland is under construction.  There is a big pile of dirt, an old boarded up building and a small, flat patch of scrubby grass that is now under an inch of water.  No one is looking forward to camping here.  The building has a porch, so we climb up and Dave and I change into dry clothes and rain gear.  Russ and Jean-Claude elect to stay in their wet clothes.  I am badly chilled and the dry clothes are a welcome relief.  

We walk about a half-mile up the hill to the local gas station/Dunkin Donuts/Subway and spend the next few hours eating, and staying dry.  At around 3:30pm, we wander out to find the rain has all but stopped.  We take a quick walk on the Walkway Over the Hudson, then hike back down to the kayaks.  We are well rested and it takes us no time at all to make the decision to push on.  Jean-Claude has a friend who offered to let us camp on his lawn and his house is only another 9 miles downriver.  Dave and I change back into our wet clothes and we shove off.
View of the Mid-Hudson Bridge from the Walkway Over the Hudson

The next 9 miles is an easy paddle at a very relaxed pace.  By waiting out the afternoon, we’ve caught the second southerly current for the day.  Unfortunately, there is no place to take out when we arrive.  We unload all of our gear onto land and carry it, piece by piece to the backyard that will be our camp tonight.  After some negotiating, we get permission from the marina down the street to put our kayaks up on their docks. As an added bonus, we get to use their showers! (Our only one this whole trip).  It is 9pm by the time we settle into our tents and we are exhausted from paddling over 35 miles in one day.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hudson River Trip - Day 2

Day 2
After paddling against the current on our first day, we all elect to get up early and paddle with the current and at slack tide (no current either way).  The sun and hot temperatures are gone.  It is cool and overcast.  We suspect that rain is coming, but there is nothing we can do about it as we shove off into the early morning mist.

Paddling a fully loaded kayak is nothing like paddling an empty one.  You would think that a fully loaded boat would be very slow and hard to paddle, but the reverse is true.  The first few strokes are tough, but once you get up to cruising speed, the weight creates its own forward momentum.  The average paddler moves at 3mph.  We are averaging 5mph.  We are paddling hard, and making great time. 
Russ & Dave paddling toward the Rip Van Winkle Bridge

Usually, kayaks stay far out of the shipping channel and hug the shore line.  It is much safer to stay out of the way, especially on the Hudson where football field sized barges are common.  But in order to catch the current and make time, we are paddling out in the center—right in the shipping lane.  It feels strange at first, but partly because of the time of day and partly because it is before Memorial Day, there is almost no boat traffic.
To get a sense of scale, I photographed this barge just before it passed Russ.  Can you see him in the photo?  He's the tiny bump on the water just off center below the trees.

Our destination today is Saugerties, 22 miles downriver.  The farthest any of us has ever paddled in one day is 22 miles.  Today we will match that.  The next three days, we will exceed it.  At least, we will try.

During a rare break in the paddling, we watch as an immature bald eagle swoops down at a goose who is sitting calmly on the water.  Just as the eagle is about to grab the goose, the goose dives under the water.  This diving and bobbing goes on for a few minutes, then another eagle joins in and they both dive at the goose.  Eventually one of the eagles catches a fish and they both lose interest in the goose as a third eagle (all them immature) flies out from the woods and the three of them fight over the fish.  Just as we are paddling off, the pair of mature eagles flies up to complete the family.  Five bald eagles at once!
The lighthouse at Saugerties greets us when we arrive.

We arrive in Saugerties early afternoon and five minutes after we set up our tents, it starts to rain.  We walk into to town and have lunch at a local restaurant and it rains hard.  We spend the afternoon at the Saugerties library, bookstore, ale house and local restaurants.  It was a good paddle, our tents are dry and we are well fed.  But we all realize that tomorrow we will be paddling in the rain.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hudson River Trip - Day 1

Day 1
Ready to launch our kayaks
Just south of Albany

To make the trip a little easier, we launch just south of Albany.  It takes a while to stuff everything into my kayak.  Literally every inch of usable space it taken.  Several items are jammed behind my seat and my spare water is in the cockpit, pushed down past my foot pedals.  It is a warm, sunny day and we paddle off.  The river is beautiful in this section.  Lush, green trees line the banks and the water has a muddy brown color.  If you didn’t know where you were, you might guess it was a southern river.  It isn’t long before we spot a great blue heron and a bald eagle.  The first day is really a half-day.  We launch at 11am and paddle only 14 miles.  It is a great warm up as we paddle mostly against the current. 

 The Hudson River is not really a river once you get south of Albany; it is a tidal estuary.  The river runs both southward and northward depending on the effect of the tides.  While the southerly currents tend to be stronger, the northerly currents can really slow you down if you paddle against them.

View from our 1st campsite

 Although we have only covered 14 miles, we are hot and tired as we arrive at Gaye’s point.  Here there are rustic beach-like campsites that used to be maintained before all of the government funds dried up.  Some of the campsites are overgrown, but many are still well-worn, not by campers, but by power boaters who use them for the day.  All of the sites are taken when we arrive, but it is 4pm and we know the power boaters will soon depart for the comforts of home.  By 4:30 we find a nice sandy site, complete with a still-burning campfire and settle into the shade.
Our 1st campsite on the Hudson - A nice sandy beach.

Here I am teaching my online class from my iPad - I would use the iPad, my phone and a few stops at local libraries to keep up while on the trip.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hudson River Trip- Pre Trip

It is New York, early January, 2012, but this winter has been so warm that I am already thinking about getting back on the water.  My cross-country skis and snowshoes sit idly, waiting for a snowfall that will never come.  I receive an email from my friend and fellow ADK (Adirondack Mtn. Club) member, Jean-Claude.  He wants to paddle the Hudson from Albany to New York City and since I have done it before, he wants to get any information I have about possible camping spots and he wants to know if I want to go with him.

The Albany to NYC trip is one of those epic treks that every New York kayaker has on his bucket list.  I did it back in 2008 with the Great Hudson River Paddle (GHRP)—an 11 day trip with full ground support.  Jean-Claude has something a little tougher in mind.  We’ll do it in 6 days with no support.  The idea of a bare-bones expedition is too good to pass up and I start training immediately to get into shape.

At our first logistic meeting, about a month later, four of us have assembled.  Jean-Claude is the trip leader, but he is counting on the experience of all of the trip participants since he has never done this trip before.  Jean-Claude is an old-school, non-technical paddler.  He still uses the same gear he bought back in 1989 because he just never saw any need to upgrade.  He paddles his trusty old Current Designs kayak with amazing speed and endurance.  

Dave is the next to sign on.  Dave is an extremely experienced and skillful paddler.  His technical ability is eclipsed only by his modesty.  He will tell you that he isn’t that good of a paddler, but anyone who has paddled with him can quickly see that he is a very strong paddler with top-notch technical skills.  Dave is also our resident expert on Hudson River tides and currents.

Russ is an experienced back-packer and canoeist who added kayaking to his repertoire only five or six years ago.  His is by far the most experienced camper among us and whether hiking or paddling, he always lives up to his nick-name- the Energizer Bunny.  His endurance is nothing short of legendary.
Then there is me.  In most circles, my 18+ years of kayaking experience puts me in the “advanced” category.  With these three, I am clearly going to be the weakest paddler.  Out of shape and suffering from a host of chronic injuries (the two degenerating disks in my back and the acute tendonitis in both forearms being of most concern), I wonder if I am going to be fit enough to keep up.

At our first meeting, everyone is wondering the same thing.  We are planning to launch on May 20, and in the Hudson Valley, the paddling season starts in April.  That does not give us much time to reach peak paddling form.  But at least we are all in the same proverbial boat.
A week's gear going into a kayak made for day trips.

 While our proverbial boats may be the same, our actual kayaks differ quite a bit.  Jean-Claude’s Current Designs boat is old, but very long and very sleek.  Translation= it is fast.  Russ is paddling a Night Hawk by Eddlyline—a good choice for this type of trip.  With a long water line and plenty of cargo space, he should be fine.  Dave and I are facing a bit of a quandary.  We each paddle a Romany by NDK.  The Romany is an awesome boat, but it is made for day trips and is very small and very slow.  I have done trips with this kayak before, but never a self-contained, 6-day trip.  Fitting all of the gear, clothing and food for 6 days will be tough.

I used every inch of space in the Romany kayak