Last spring, my dad bought a tandem ocean kayak. I was an on-and-off rower throughout high school, and while I really liked the sport, I am just not a very competitive person. I’m judgmental, relatively ambitious, and I enjoy success, but I’m too okay with the thought of losing a race to be as dedicated to rowing as a team member should be. Kayaking is like the chill man’s rowing. It is obviously quite a different motion, but the general concept of a small personal craft in which you’re really close to the water is similar, and that’s what I liked most about rowing. I remember getting on the river in the pitch black, unable to see more than a few feet ahead of me, and rowing in the darkness with the rainbow lights of the MidHudson Bridge ahead. We would keep rowing and rowing, and eventually we’d see the sunrise, and it was so beautiful. I think I’m too much of a romantic to be a rower.
Anyway, kayaking is all of that cool stuff, but less intense physical pain and more exploring the river, which I am all about. Last year I paddled around with a few friends, and my friend Sarah and I talked about making a trip down the entire southern Hudson River from Albany. However, because we barely made it to Bannerman’s and back without collapsing from upper-body exhaustion, we decided we’d need some time to prepare for that. This past January we started talking about it again, and we decided to do it this summer. We originally wanted to paddle directly to NYC, but because of our independent schedules we had to break it up a bit. After a few months of each trying to get more physically prepared for this, we decided to have a little practice paddle from Beacon to Poughkeepsie and back.
It was bad. So, so bad. Mostly because I miscalculated the distance (what I believed to be 14.5 was actually 29, (oops)), but also because it rained like a bitch. The paddle up from Beacon to Poughkeepsie wasn’t so bad, but as it started raining really hard, Sarah and I decided to stop at Shadows to dock and use the bathroom. We then realized that we needed to get things out of our dry bags and we couldn’t from the dock, so we paddled closer to the bridge and beached ourselves on this little sandy patch, and hung out with an adorable duck. It was really cold and rainy, neither of us had sufficient rain gear, and in those few hours we were the definition of miserable. We were pretty beat, soaked to the skin, our toes were blue, and we had to paddle all the way back to Beacon, mostly against the current.
We sat in the rain on that beach for two hours or so, and then decided to brave the conditions and get back before dark. That paddle home was one of the most physically difficult things I have ever done. I was paddling in the cold, in the rain, without gloves on, so gripping the paddle was ridiculously difficult. It wasn’t like we could quit and call someone to pick us up, because we had no choice but to get back to Beacon. After a while, we started coming up with some other plans to get our asses out of the river, and we became kind of delirious. At one point, I didn’t think anything around us looked familiar, and I honestly asked, “Are we on the right river?” The sun was setting, and we knew we had to make it back before dark. When we finally did get back to Beacon, the wind had picked up so we were dealing with some pretty nasty waves and literally paddling against both wind and current, and it was already dark so we had a hard time seeing the dock. We eventually found the launch, and as we both got out of the kayak we probably looked like a pair of stumbling idiots as we couldn’t walk because we were so exhausted. We knew there was no way we were pitching a tent in the pouring rain, so we stumbled our way to Sarah’s car, changed into dry clothes, and spent the night watching the kayak.
The next morning, we got some coffee and walked around Beacon for a while, ending up in this bookstore which is basically an awesome place with books about all things Hudson Valley, Hudson River, and some about the larger New York State area and its wildlife. There is also some nice Hudson River artwork hanging in the gallery in the back, as well as a huge map of the river. We walked around sipping on our iced coffees, looking all sunburnt and dirty like a couple of scrubs, and I was looking at the map hanging on the wall. I then saw the key in the corner, and put my fingers up to it to measure exactly how far we went. At this point we thought we paddled maybe 12 miles roundtrip, but I held up the ten mile marker to the map and it didn’t even cover the distance from Beacon to Poughkeepsie. I then began to suspect the err of my ways, and I called Sarah over to check it out. She was a bit surprised as well, but we were both a little too stoked for her to be mad at me for making her paddle almost 30 miles in the rain. We then returned to the kayak and the sun was shining brightly with a gentle breeze coming off the river, so we decided to paddle to Bannerman’s and see how we would feel on day two.
This was a completely different experience: we were both dry, the sun was shining, the current was with us, and we had no threat of getting lost in the dark. Even though our arms were in serious need of a massage and some TLC, this paddle was cake compared to the previous day’s conditions. Thus, we learned two things: We will go to extreme measures to avoid paddling in the rain, and we are two hard core mother fuckers for paddling 30 miles in the rain, against wind and current.
I also made an unusual realization during that terrible paddle. Even in my coldest, most exhausted, most miserable moments, I was still really happy. Actually, I don’t know if I should call it happy. I guess I just felt really good. I felt good because I was on the Hudson River, and something about it just makes me feel so good. I have so many great memories attached to the river, but it’s a lot more than that. I feel safe when I am there, like I am very much in control, even if I’m not. I really can’t describe it, but when I am on the Hudson I feel like it’s all mine, and no one can take it away from me.
I think that’s also why I feel like I need to protect it. After seeing the fourth condom float by, it was pretty disheartening to realize that so many people don’t think about taking care of the river. Some see it as this massive, menacing body of water that can take care of itself, and it scares them. More people need to realize how delicate the Hudson actually is, and how carefully we need to consider how we treat it.
This is part one of my kayaking adventures for the summer. Until next time…