Day 1: Could it be this easy?
“You’re crazy,” my wife Kirsten said. And she was probably right. Four days on the river, paddling from Albany to my home of Peekskill, was a nutty idea. Especially four days standing on a paddleboard! My friends Jim, Dan and I came up with the idea to promote our paddling and environmental nonprofit Hudson Valley H2O or simply HVH2O. People tend to avoid the Hudson River because it was polluted for so long, but we wanted to do something to show our local community that the pollution was long gone and that the river was ours once again. What better way than to tackle the 90 Miles from the state capital to home.
While paddling the length of Hudson has been dream of mine, I’d never actually done any paddle camping. In fact, the only camping I’d ever done was in a tent with my car ten feet away. I didn’t even have a good board for the trip. They were either too narrow or too slow. For all my love of cruising, I didn’t have a good multi-day cruiser! But wouldn’t you know, my wife (the same lady who called me crazy) solved that. She has two boards, one being an Amundson 12’6”. It’s nice and wide, with tie-downs in the front and a nice wide area in the back. A perfect place for four more tie-downs.
Planning our route
Over the weeks Jim and I planned out our route. The good thing is that the Hudson is already an established watertrail with campgrounds every twenty miles or so. Kayakers do it every year — there’s even a printed Hudson River Watertrail guide. We weren’t paddling virgin territory here — far from it; it was just new to us. Finally we got a date settled. We had hoped our friend Dan would be able to join us, but obligations with his Army Reserve unit meant he’d join us on the third day. The plan was Jim and I would head up to Albany the night of July 29th, sleep at my father-in-law’s house, and set out the next morning. Twenty miles that first day. Easy.
Until something unavoidable happened. I got a call for a job interview, an interview I really needed. (I mean, really! As in get me out of my stressful job right now.) And there was no rescheduling, no getting around it. I needed to be at a specific school the morning of our first day.
So that’s what I did. Jim — who was a great sport — and I left Peekskill early with a SUP and a kayak on my car. Jim was dressed appropriately in water gear but I was wearing my suit and tie! Halfway up we stopped for my interview (which went pretty well), and thanks to my father-in-law’s help, we put in at the Bethlehem launch at 1:15, just south of Albany. We had twenty miles to do this afternoon. Complicating matters was that the tide would be against us for most of the trip. While you may not think the tide would be a serious factor 120 miles inland and upstream, it is. Like clockwork, the river turns direction and starts heading back towards its source.
But even against the current, twenty miles is doable on a loaded 12’6” standup paddleboard. And the scenery! This was not the Hudson I knew. It was narrow and wild. We passed marshes filled with birds and tangled woodland. Sometimes, especially when the signs of man had disappeared, I felt like we were on Hudson of hundreds of years ago, the river Henry Hudson sailed up looking for his fabled northwest passage. It was good to know that so much of the bank was still wild, even as we passed hundred year-old piers rotting in the water or shells of factories. You got a feeling that man had tried to tame or make money from the river and failed, that the Hudson had a mind of its own. Even in this technological 21st century, certain parts still belonged to the river.
Stockton Middle Ground: Destination on day one
Our goal was a campsite on an island called Stockton Middle Ground. It is an island between the river towns of Coxsackie and Athens. As we approached, Jim and I spotted many campsites, but they were filthy, strewn with beer cans and garbage! They looked like spots where people would moor their motorboats, party, then leave. After all the wild beauty we’s seen, encountering this mess felt like a violation! I gess Jim and I assumed all travelers were like us, conscious of the environment, wanting to leave places better than we found it. It was depressing that people were using the riverbank as a trash heap.
Stockton Middle Ground had a better, cleaner campsite, plus a nice sandy shore. The view of the eastern shore was lovely and unblemished. We boiled water and ate our freeze-dried foods, as the sun set. My chicken teriyaki was kind of gross, but calories were calories! Tomorrow was another day, but Jim and I were content. We had conquered the first leg! If all went well, we’d be camping tomorrow near Kingston.
This is the first article in a five part series chronicling Ian Berger’s four day journey down the Hudson River.