30 August 2008

Kayaking On the Hudson

I forgot to mention one of the coolest things Jackson and I did this past week: we were wandering along the Hudson River a bit disconsolately after having just missed the last Circle Line cruise of the day when we noticed a bunch of kayakers splashing around just offshore. Remembering something Patrick Smith had told me about free kayaking for the public, I went up to the Pier 96 Boathouse to investigate. I hadn't been misinformed: anybody who knew how to swim could simply walk up and after signing an affidavit promising not to sue them was given a few minutes instruction, a life jacket, and sent out to sea on his or her very own plastic kayak.

Well, not too far out to sea, granted; you weren't allowed to paddle out any further than the ends of two nearby piers that provided a sort of artificial inlet. But given the size of the waves on even a relatively calm day, not to mention the heavy traffic frequently encountered on the Hudson, it wasn't a bad place to practice one's kayaking skills, at least not for a neophyte like me. Jackson wasn't quite as impressed, having just recently done a 100-mile trip down Utah's rather more rapids-laden Green River, but it was an excellent opportunity for him to instruct his doofus uncle on the finer points of handling a kayak paddle, and in any event, he's always happiest when he's in, on or very near water.

In this case we were a little of each, in that the kayaks not only sit very low, but also take on a fair bit of water even if you don't manage to tip yours over (we didn't; nor did any of our fellow boaters). The downside of this is that even under the best of circumstances you get a fairly damp behind (actually a soaking wet one, if the whole truth be told), and some very wet feet as well. Normally this is not the sort of thing I aspire to, especially when I'm going to have to take a long subway ride shortly afterward, but it was a nice enough day weather-wise and the excitement of being out on the Hudson under one's own paddle-power was more than enough to make up for a mild soaking.

It brought back memories of paddling around in a canoe at my uncle's lake house in Northern Michigan when I was a kid, and made me wonder how I'd let so many years go by without repeating that experience. True, the slightly smelly and probably filthy Hudson is no Long Lake, but I suddenly was overcome with a possibly irrational desire to take a canoe down the Eel River in Northern California, something I could have done but never did during all the years I lived in close proximity to it.

Anyway, kayaking on the Hudson comes with a five-star recommendation from me, and you've got till mid-October to take advantage of it before they shut up shop for the season. And by the way, I don't know how they're funded, whether it's by the city or what, but they've got a box for "donations" at the tables where you check out kayaks, so feel free to chuck in a couple extra bucks to make up for the ones I forgot to drop in, my only excuse being that I was wandering around in a state of blissed-out (and soaking wet) bemusement by the time I set foot on dry land again.

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