Empanadas and a fish in my shoe
Our last day on the Hudson River started at 1:30 AM. So remember my guess about camping above the tideline? Yeah, that was pretty wrong. Waves were lapping at our tents. Jim and Dan were already up. We moved our tents the best we could above the waterline, but the steep hill beside us kept us from moving much further. I spent half that night worrying about whether the waves would consume us, but we were okay.
One of the things I was learning from this trip, with all my preparation with gorp and energy bars, I had left out a couple of basics: salty things and fat. I was craving meat and food like that (which was why the cheese from last night’s pizza tasted so good).
Breakfast was going to be, like the last two days, oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts. Filling to be sure, but not satisfying that need. Dan had given me some energy powder the day before to mix into my water pouch, salt, citrus, and sweet. It helped some, but I was starting to feel like I didn’t want any food except veg and salt and fat. So when Jim said, “Ian, why don’t we skip breakfast and eat in Cold Spring?” that sounded great. I knew an Argentinian cafe by the waterfront that had amazing empanadas — and when I mean amazing, I mean write-ups in the local papers amazing.
Empanadas in Cold Springs
So we grabbed power bars and paddled five-miles downstream, past Bannerman’s Castle, Breakneck Ridge, and Storm King Mountain. I’d done this paddle many times, and it was odd to be in such familiar waters. It was almost like I was home already. Bannerman’s Castle is one of these odd Hudson Valley follies, a gilded age reproduction of a castle that now looked like the ruin of a castle. It wasn’t ruined because of age, but because it had been used as an ammunitions dump and in 1920 there was an explosion.
This was also the entrance to the Hudson Highlands. If you’re a paddler, the Hudson Highlands are one of the most amazing paddling trips on the East Coast. It’s about a twelve mile stretch from Peekskill (our goal!) to our location. They’re a true fjord, with dramatic mountains coming down to the water’s edge. Tides are nasty, the wind can blow hard, and there are miles and miles with nowhere to land, but they are a rare treat, just north of New York City.
We pulled into Cold Spring around nine, time to answer that voicemail message from the day before. The woman I spoke to told me, “Yes, Mr. Berger, you are being recommended for appointment to a position.” She gave some dates and things like that, which I barely heard. Then I stumbled over to my friends. “Guys, I got the job…!”
Time to celebrate! Ricon Argentino here we came! It’s run by an Argentinian couple, and I knew the husband, Marco, from the job I was about to resign from. He greeted us warmly, and then I asked about the empanadas. “I have some string bean ones coming out of the oven soon. Some ham and cheese in half an hour.” I ordered two.
Can I say that these steaming, fresh-from-the-oven, string bean pastries were the perfect food for that moment? With the combination of new job euphoria and the food cravings, I couldn’t imagine anything tastier. Alongside them I had a latte, a ham and cheese empanada, another latte, then some lemonade. After that we took a walk around Cold Spring, waiting for the tide to be in our favor again.
Before we left it was back to Ricon Argentino for another empanada and lemonade. That’s what paddling does to you. I am not ashamed.
Before we began the last leg of our journey, Dan wanted to take a peek in Constitution Marsh. We ducked inside but some evil-looking storm clouds made us change our mind. As I turned past some reeds, a school of killifish jumped out of the water. One landed on my board. It flopped about, then somehow wriggled into my sandal. I started to lose my balance and had to make the choice of standing and crushing the little fish or falling into the muddy water. I took the fall — my only fall of the trip — and had a good laugh.
The storm never actually hit us. So we made our way past West Point into the Highlands. In the distance was the Bear Mountain Bridge, just a few miles from home! The wind was calm, but we were paddling against the incoming tide. We took one final stop at Mine Dock Park in Fort Montgomery. We could literally see Peekskill from there. We texted everyone and told them that sorry, we would be about 15 minutes late.
And then we did those last four miles. The tide carried us easily, which was fine because Dan, Jim, and I were very sore. About a mile out we saw something red in the water near the shore which I thought was a kayak waiting to greet us. It turned out to be my daughter playing in the water. Oh, we were so close!
Soon we could see everybody. The tide seemed to actually pull us on shore, our families waiting for us along with Mary Foster, the board president of HVH2O.
We were done. We had conquered the river. There was wine, beer, and food. Glorious salty food. Kisses from my wife and hugs from the kids. But there was a unearthly quality to this riverside party, maybe a little dreamlike.
I was sorer than I had been in years, and had just done something I’d dreamed about for years, but in my mind the whole trip seemed like something obvious. This river, this gorgeous Hudson River, was right at our doorstep. Of course we would paddle the length of it. Why wouldn’t we?
This is the fourth article in a five article series chronicling Ian Berger’s trip down the Hudson River from Albany to Peekskill, New York.