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.
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.
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.
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.