Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 4

At the start of another hot day we paddled from one shady spot to the next. Deer bounded into the woods from the side of the canal when we got close.
Previously, whenever we had seen fishermen we’d asked if they ate what they caught.  We had fishing gear with us and looked forward to a fresh fish dinner.  But the locals spoke of PCBs and recommended against it.  Now, the fisherman told us the fish were fine.  We’d have to start fishing.
In the distance I saw the telltale flash of a kayak’s paddles working on the water.  Another kayaker was ahead of us!  What if he was going the same way?  What if she was on an expedition too?  We had to catch up and find out.  
We tried calling him on our radio, but no luck.  We pushed hard.  After much more time than I thought it would take, we caught up and met an old man on a sit-on-top kayak.  He told us we’d find cows ahead.
When we passed the copse he had pointed at, we smelled but did not see them.
The town of Whitehall surrounds the final lock separating the Champlain Canal from Lake Champlain.  It was there that Benedict Arnold founded the US navy to successfully fight for control of the lake in 1774.  
We disembarked at a dock off of a park and found bathrooms in a museum celebrating the town’s history.  On our way back to our boats we passed a parked Prius with home made wooden roof racks.  About six months earlier I had lost two very nice sea kayaks off of store bought roof racks on I-95. I tried to learn the secret of constructing good roof racks for a Prius from their maker.
We completed the Champlain Canal and arrived on Lake Champlain.  The southern end of the lake meanders much like a river.  Large steel chanel makers, foundations for great osprey nests, marked the way.  To outside the channel, thick vegetation in the water frustrated our paddling.
Back on the water, we descended the final lock to Lake Champlain. An osprey battled a smaller bird control of the heavens.
We were tired and pulled up to a boat ramp at the bottom of a small hillside cluster of houses.  The nearest house’s windows had been boarded up. The structures purveyed an air of abandonment.  A turtle walked along the edge of a stone wall, fell off with a clump, then slowly made its way down to the water.
We got back in our boats and continued on our way, only a short distance to the next town.  A statue of Champ, the Champlain monster floated in the water, a floating log transformed into art.
At Benson’s landing we found a nice grassy lawn and permission to make camp on it.  All the houses near the water were owned by one family. The folk next to our camp rented theirs from the family as summer lodging.
They invited us to join them for dinner and we swapped stories.  They told us about the boy who belonged to the landlord.  Until he was 14, he thought our hosts were his grandparents and spent as much time with them as he could when they were up for the summers.  They weren’t, just nice neighbors.  When the revelation came, they explained that they were his adopted grandparents.
The boy spent the summer pulling invasive species out of the lake.
We set our tent up without the fly.  Stars are beautiful on a clear night.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 3

We continued up the Hudson.  At our first lock, a barge radioed ahead and was granted the right-of-way even though we arrived first.  Water was let out of the lock, the barge entered, the lock filled, the barge exited through the far gate, the lock emptied, and finally our turn came.
Farther up, after passing more of the bizarre fish we’d seen the day earlier, we entered the first lock on the Champlain Canal, completing our time on the Hudson.  For the first hundred meters, the canal runs along the Hudson, though higher up.  It’s a strange thing to be on a calm river and look down.  The water changed color, murky brown behind us and murky green ahead.
The 40-meter-wide canal does not meander like a river, but cuts through the rock straight as an arrow.  Trees and dense foliage crowd the shore except for where the canal drives through swamp.  We stuck close to the west side of the river and its refreshing shade.
The lock operators, a friendly sociable bunch, didn’t respond to their radios.  Sometimes it was enough to call up from our boats, other times we climbed ashore to find them.
We made camp in the canal side gazebo at Ft. Ann.  We asked about showers. A local told us that the truck stop a few miles away didn’t charge too much.  
A bar just up the street from our gazebo had a sign, ‘Rooms Available’.  Erin asked the barista if she knew where we might find a shower.  “At the truck stop,” she told us.  
I explained to Erin that whenever she ask for help, she needs to open with “We’re kayaking from New York.”  In my travels, I had acquired a bit of skill at asking for help.
We hung up a ten liter water bag in the gazebo, and showered there.  Hopefully not too many people were looking.
That night we used the mosquito netting from the beginning, so aside from the occasional train coming up the tracks along the water, we slept great.
Summer 2016 Day 3

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 2

While we packed the boats, our host quietly locked the house and left for the day.  We had no bathroom when the time came.  With directions to a gas station, we walked a quarter mile only to find an “out of order sign.”
The Indian behind the counter, aparently a pesophile, commented on our bare feet. “Back in my country, everyone walked around barefoot.  When it got too hot, they sprayed the streets with water to cool them down.” He told us the bathroom wasn’t really out of order and that we were free to use it.
Working our way up the Hudson, with no discernable current, we paddled through four locks. “Lock seven, two kayaks approaching northbound,” we announced on the radio. “ Lock seven, two kayaks approaching northbound.”
“Locks ready for you, come right in,” the lock engineer answered on the radio.
Something moved on the water ahead of us. Maybe a log pushed by the wind.  It seemed alive, though, maybe a bird of some sort.  When we paddled close, it dove.  Three times we saw these strange fish; they swam through the waters with much of their heads above the surface.
Our chart showed a marina in a cove, but a man with a house on the water told us the marina closed years ago and that we should continue to Schoylerville.
An island in the Hudson had a marina.  Erin scouted it out while I waited in my boat.  She came back with a report—showers could only be found on the mainland.
Our map showed camping just past the bridge, but a sign said camping was just before the bridge, so we asked a woman on the dock how much.  To pitch our tent in the RV campground above would cost “twenty dollars for each of you,” a woman called down.
“No thanks, we’ll find something else.”  We already explained we were kayaking from Albany to Hudson Bay.  She wasn’t impressed.
“There’s nothing else.”
We paddled past the bridge and found a park.  A flag flew in the center with a blue curve between two green curves.  I didn’t know what it meant.
After organizing our things some, we made friends with a couple of guys whose backyard lay up against the park. They let us use their bathroom and encouraged us to return to the RV park for a shower.  “Tell them you’re friends with Isabel.”
We found the woman we spoke to earlier, and after some internal debate and complaining how everybody wanted something for nothing nowadays, she decided she could generously let us shower for three dollars.
We thanked her and set out to find a cash machine in the small upstate town.  People seemed to be lolling about, not doing very much, and Erin and I decided the town had been invaded by aliens.
Whe returned with the money, and were intercepted by a couple of middle aged heavyset men.
“What are you doing here?”
“We have permission to be here.” I answered honestly.
“My wife gave you permission, and she told me all about you, how you don’t have any money.”
“We didn’t have cash, so we went to an ATM to get some,” I answered defensively.
“Where are you staying?”
“Not far.”  I don’t like to tell antagonistic people where I’m camping illegally.
“And you want me to believe they don’t have showers there?”
“No they don’t, that’s why we asked to shower here.”
“You need to leave the premises,”  he commanded.
We made camp in the gazebo where we ate dinner in the friendly company of a caretaker and a severely autistic gentleman counting the cars that went over the bridge.  
Overnight mosquitoes plagued us.  Bug spray reduced the biting, but the ear buzzing maddened us to wakefulness.  Rain poured down outside of the gazebo; we huddled in its center with a poncho spread out over our sleeping bags.
I retrieved a sheet of mosquito netting from a dry bag.  We tried to seal it around our sleeping bags with our weight while keeping it off our faces.  The mosquitoes sufficiently hindered, we slept. Not a great night's sleep, but at least we weren't evicted.
In the morning I read on our map that the flag meant we were at an official water trail site and had inadvertently camped legally.  
Summer 2016 Day 2

Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer 2016 Day 1

The Plan
I wanted to do something big —Kayak where no man had kayaked before, and none could easily follow.  
I studied Google Maps.  Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world.  How could I get a kayak there? I could pick up where I left off last summer in Norway, but Norway was expensive, and I’d still have the problem of getting a kayak there.  
Where could I paddle to if I started from home? Hey, look at that, the Bering strait at its narrowest is 44.5 nautical miles with an island slap dab in the middle.  In the unlikely event that Russia gave me permission, I’d only be a hop, skip, and a jump away from Tokyo (a couple of years, a catastrophically frigid winter, and some enormous crossings.) It just might be possible to kayak from New York City to Tokyo.
The most insane attainable dream I’d ever dared to dream had its vicegrip on me.  The trip would take well over a decade.  I’d work as a math teacher during the school year, and use my summers, to inch forward, 500 nautical miles at a time.  I couldn’t paddle in the winter even if I wanted to; I’d die.  The total distance is about 10,000 nautical miles.  I’d probably never finish, but I intended to start.
I’d already kayaked from Albany, New York to New York City down the Hudson, so I’d start in Albany and head north.  For my first summer, I’d try to get to Hudson Bay, 1,000 nautical miles over 10 weeks of fresh water paddling, always northbound.  
I got a new job and my summer shortened to eight weeks.  What did that mean for my aspirations? Only time would tell.
The good news — I had a partner to share my lunacy.  

The Partner

Wrapping up my trip last summer  in Norway, I met Erin.  She worked at Kayak More Tomorrow, an outfitter that runs trips in the beautiful Lofoten Islands and Alesund Norway.  We paddled together and connected.  While she was new to expedition paddling, she’d backpacked, rock climbed, and cross country skied all over Norway, ranking competitively where the competition was toughest.
I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.

Last Minute

Our expedition would start tomorrow.  Piles of gear spread out in my living room and my two sea kayaks, a Pilgrim and Solstice, waited in my garage — almost ready.  The Pilgrim, recently purchased used, leaked.  
I spent the day paddling the tide races at the east end of Long Island Sound.  The front hatch took on water.  The day hatch took on a lot of water.  Greg, who sold me the boat, told me how to fix it.  I’d need black goo from West Marine, closed on a Sunday.
Unwilling to postpone my launch, even a few hours Monday morning, I found some old silicone glue and patched up the leak.
Monday morning, we were ready to go.  My mom and her friend Jean would come with us up to Albany,a two hour drive, and then take the car home.  
My mom heard the strange sound my car had been making when I turned it on.  My dad listened to it.  They agreed I needed to get the car checked before driving it to Albany.  Three hours and a tiny repair later we were on our way to Albany.
An old friend and dabbler paddler met us, and showed us where to launch.  It took us an hour to load the boats.  Everything fit, barely.

Day 1

Monday June 27th 2016
Erin and I paddled north on the Hudson.  An enormous fish leaped out of the water just in front of us, just as when I had launched from Barcelona.  While the last time that happened, I found myself in a hospital a few days later, 2,500 nautical miles later, I completed the expedition.  I believed the fish was a good omen then, and I did now.  Tremendous challenges lay ahead, but we would persevere.
For a short while, woods crowded the edges of the murky Hudson.  As we neared Troy, sad waterfront homes and old factories allowed to deteriorate lined the water.
I grabbed a snack from my day hatch, and pulled it out dripping.  My repair hadn’t stuck.
We slipped along with a nice tailwind and soon found ourselves at a dam.  Our chart showed a lock on the right side of the river.  What was a lock?
We paddled over to find out.
We found out.  I’ll explain.  There was a big door in the dam.  On the downriver side of the dam, long concrete walls extended like a river hallway from the door.  At the downriver side of the hallway another enormous door separated the passage from the rest of the river.
A man on a work boat next to the large closed door told us the lock would be ready in a few moments and we could enter as soon as the door opened.
The lock engineer above opened a valve, and the water in the chamber poured through pipes into our section of the river.  It turbulently bubbled up in front of the gate.  When the water in the lock had dropped to our level, the door opened and we paddled in.  Once in, the valve and door behind us closed and a valve ahead opened.  The water level in the hallway began to rise as jets of water shot up from underneath. A delightful water-quake lifted us up.
As we rose to the top, the lock engineer took down our names, boat lengths, and point of origin.  The army corps of engineers maintained the lock.  
Once at the top, the gates on the far side opened and we were officially above the tidal Hudson.
We passed a dock where a couple of guys disembarked from a motorboat.  When they heard our story, they invited us to spend the night.  The offer of hospitality was more than enough to get us to stop an hour or two early.  I wondered how nice their guest room was.  What were they having for dinner?  How warm was their shower?  Erin and I smiled at one another, hospitality, on our very first night.  How great was that!
Getting the boats onto the dock was hard.  With more supplies than I’d ever paddled with before, the boats were heavier.  Fortunately, they didn’t break.  That wouldn’t happen until much later, deep in the Canadian wilderness.
The fellow who generously invited us, after we unpacked our boats, showed us the patch of ground in his backyard we could sleep on.
Later, his wife, gardening, chatted with Erin.  We scored showers and an electrical outlet.
Clean and tired, at the end of my first day, feeling truly alive for the first time in a long time, I slept wonderfully, a happy expedition partner beside me.
Summer 2016 Day 1 June 27th