Jim and I awoke to a sunrise over the Hudson’s eastern shore. There was a looming sense that people didn’t interrupt much up here. Sure the freighters passed close by, but this side of our island was a refuge, a pocket of wilderness.
There was a stillness that I’d never experienced on the river. We made breakfast listening to the last of the crickets, then set off. Our first goal was water. We were almost out. The town of Athens was a few miles south, so we packed up and launched, cautiously sipping our last drops. The Athens waterfront was kind of deserted, but we stopped at a small, cluttered yacht club. There was nobody there, but a hose line looked promising. Then a woman stepped out of the clubhouse. “Can I help you two?” I explained that we were heading downriver and were just looking for water. She assessed us for a second, probably thinking we looked too raggedy to be of harm. She took our bottles, went inside, then returned them full with an extra! “Thanks!” we said. I had always heard about people doing trips like this and the wonderful people they meet. I was glad we were having the same experiences.
We launched again after admiring a cute sailboat. The tide was surprisingly strong, pulling us downstream. Ahead was the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Beyond it was our end point: Turkey Point, just north of Kingston. It was about twenty miles. Easy peasy.
Then the tide changed. It took us past a marsh filled with birds and to the bridge. The raptors were really spectacular. I have never seen so many bald eagles in my life! We must have passed a dozen. Then there were the ospreys and various hawks. The most spectacular was a large eagle that spread its wings gracefully before it flapped away. It’s wings were coated with shiny golden feathers! “That must be a golden eagle,” I remarked. Every mile or so we were sure to encounter a great blue heron. I even saw some snowy egrets.
But nature’s majesty couldn’t distract from the deteriorating conditions. We expected the tide change, but then the wind started to blow in our faces. It was constant, between about 7–9 mph.
Our Hudson River battle cry!
No more smooth sailing. Now we were clawing for every bit of distance! It was exhausting. On our second rest, Jim said, “Whenever I get into situations like this, I think of Ernest Shackleton and what he and his men went through.” And I knew exactly what he meant. I had loved the stories of Shackleton’s doomed expedition to Antarctica, his ship that got crushed in the ice, the epic struggle of his men across the ice, desperately tugging their ships across a tortured, icy landscape. So okay, I guess we didn’t have a lot to complain about.
So “Shackleton!” became our rallying cry. Whenever our spirits would get low, we would shout his name and get a burst of energy. We sure needed that extra spark on a long haul to the beautiful Saugerties lighthouse.
After that we paddled past huge mats of water chestnuts to a small sheltered cove. We were then only a couple miles from Turkey Point, but oh were we exhausted! The only thing keeping me going besides a dogged, stupid determination was the desire to link up with a man named Christopher Hoppe.
Christopher Hoppe is a fellow Hudson River paddler who I had spoken to on Facebook but never met face-to-face. He was waiting at Turkey Point with cold beers! Oh, a beer sounded pretty terrific at this point.
Before we left, a man from a nearby house came down and gave us directions and landmarks to Turkey Point. Turns out he was a standup paddler who paddled out from this very spot each morning, and was very interested in my tricked out, overstuffed board. How cool was that?
Making the final push forward for the day
One more great paddle forward! We could see roughly where Turkey Point was, so that made it a little easier. We finally passed a big bulkhead about head height. Then it was a quick right around a point, and Chris was waiting for us. The landing was so rough and covered with bushes that Jim and I would have missed it if we didn’t have directions.
Chris helped us haul our craft onto land, and then… the beers! Never has one tasted so good. (That was just me. Jim was so stressed from the afternoon he threw up after half a beer! He thinks besides the stress, he had a stomach bug.)
Chris left us after a while, and we camped on a platform at the top of the bulkhead, a remnant of an old Coast Guard station. Jim and I were so tired there was little energy for chit-chat. The ground was concrete, and my sleeping pad wasn’t helping much. Then there were the mosquitoes!
Anyone who’s camped knows how miserable it can be when those buggers get in your tent. Then they just hover, waiting for you to fall asleep, and strike. After half a dozen bites I turned on the flashlight and went hunting. Of course you can’t smack a mosquito against the side of a tent. Instead you need to rub against it and smear the bug dead. After half an hour there were half a dozen bloody smears on the inside of my borrowed tent.
It wasn’t all bad though. I woke up again for nature’s call and heard coyotes howling across the river, right near Bard College. Even alongside this industrialized waterway, nature was still there, baying its primal calls. Maybe they weren’t the lonely whales and seals that Shackleton heard, but they seemed a perfect ending for that grueling day. I fell asleep again soon after, thinking about those coyotes. Of course they weren’t crying for me, but I was very happy they were there, being wild animals.
This is the second installment of a five-part series paddling down the Hudson River from Albany to Peekskill.