Going With the Flow | Community Notebook | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

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Going With the Flow

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Last Updated: 08/07/2013 6:07 pm
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Gilman’s familiarity with the river means he gracefully maneuvers on it and that he has great respect for the wind that can wreak havoc and for navigational danger points like the deep bend near World’s End.

Whatever the river wants to do, it does,” Gilman says matter-of-factly. The only option is for kayakers to be cautious. He knows all too well how dangerous this trip can be, having through the years, towed in tired paddlers, and helped with rescues when the wind and tides have sent paddlers in various directions away from the group.

Barges and tugs, which passed us daily, can weigh up to 10,000 tons and create wakes with waves in excess of three feet. Because of the massiveness of the river, our group of 30 or so people in 16-foot kayaks was mistaken for a pile of debris by a passing boater. Afternoon winds often squashed any advances made with the morning tides. Heat exhaustion sent one veteran paddler to the hospital and at times others opted to travel to the next destination on the support truck rather than face the grueling demands of the water. A few people left altogether, unable to endure the physical trials.

No doubt about it, an undertaking to propel yourself 142 miles on water is exhausting. But the challenge forces introspection, offering answers to the "whys" of undertaking such a journey. From grasping a better understanding of the river's geology, nature, historical significance, or even the role of yourself in the world, paddlers undertake this journey for myriad reasons.

Devoid of outside entertainment, the paddlers became enmeshed with the rhythms and patterns of natural life. The monarch butterflies that zoomed past us were actually en route to Mexico. The water chestnuts, an introduced alien species with devilish features and painful thorns, hampered us as we neared shorelines. Our place on the river seemed at once significant and fleeting. Those who have been on the journey are rewarded with treasured memories, yet no trace of our travels remained along the path. The powerful tide erased our footprints, as it has done for others for centuries.

On day eight we were 109 miles into our journey and 33 miles short of our Manhattan destination. At Croton Point, lightning storms surrounded us and forced us to abandon the trip. Even if the following day had been clear, we could not have made it into New York Harbor in our allotted time. For one last time together we packed away the life jackets, the paddles, and the boats. We left tired, dirty, and certainly wiser and more sensitive about ourselves, and the river that winds through New York. But we were also painfully aware that no matter how much people plan, we cannot control everything.

The 2007 Great Hudson River Paddle will be held July 1-11. Participants can still sign up for two- or three-day outings. Local outfitters also offer day trips in conjunction with the event. Festivals for the public are also planned at sites along the river. www.hudsongreenway.state.ny.us/ghrp.


Kayakers exiting Esopus Creek in Saugerties during 2005’s Great Hudson River Paddle. - FIONN REILLY
  • Fionn Reilly
  • Kayakers exiting Esopus Creek in Saugerties during 2005’s Great Hudson River Paddle.
The author waist deep in the Hudson after tipping over just outside Saugerties on last year’s trip. - FIONN REILLY
  • Fionn Reilly
  • The author waist deep in the Hudson after tipping over just outside Saugerties on last year’s trip.

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