Long Island Kayak Circumnavigation: Complete!

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Freshly Pressed on the WordPress.com home page!

We made it! Ten days, including a final “double day”—instead of camping, we paddled overnight to get home just as dawn was breaking.

We are completely amazed by the diverse beauty of Long Island. We hadn’t previously realized how lovely it is—we know better now!

A full writeup is to come… but meantime, here are a few photos (move pointer over them for brief captions, click to enlarge). Many more photos to come!

Update July 11, 2012: The first of the series of full writeups is here.

196 responses to “Long Island Kayak Circumnavigation: Complete!

  1. Awesome photos! You guys have really seen some beauty on your travels. ;) Well done on completing the trip.

  2. Awesome! Glad to see you guys made it back safe! Looks like you had great views all the way around.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Oh, Asha, it was SPECTACULAR! I mean… Long Island, who knew?
      Seven nights of wilderness guerrilla camping, two B&Bs, and exceptional weather most days. Also an appearance of both “Deliverance” and “Jaws” (not making this up, honest!). :-)

  3. The images are wonderful, and I look forward to the stories that will surely follow! z

  4. Congratulations! I did that trip solo, and it is a beautiful one.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Hi Joe!

      Thank you! And thanks for the inspiration–your solo trip was part of the reason we wanted to do it.

      Having made the trip now, I’m even more impressed by your doing it solo. As you know, there are some tricky bits–nothing that can’t be managed, obviously, but it takes a fair bit of courage (and preparation) to tackle them solo.

      Thanks again for the congratulations, and the inspiration!

  5. Congratulations! And such beautiful photos to accompany the achievement. Thanks for sharing with us landlocked folks!

  6. Wow, you two did it. Well done, and congratulations. I can’t wait to read more about your adventures circumnavigating Long Island. Those photos above are amazing – coffee on the sand spit is my idea of heaven, and that Smithtown Bay photo – stunning. xxx

  7. Amazing! And all right here in the U.S. and New York City of all places.

    • It’s hard to escape the city for a long time going east. When we stopped on our first white sugar sand beach, we were still in Queens, within the boundaries of New York City… The towers of Manhattan can be seen from 40 miles away (and even more, presumably, once the new World Trade Center spire is finished). And then there are all those New Yorkers out on Fire Island and in the Hamptons…

  8. Beautiful shots! Looks like a fantastic adventure, and I can’t wait to hear more about it. I’ve been out of the NY metro area long enough to have forgotten there’s so much more to it than concrete. This makes a lovely reminder.

    • It’s certainly changed our idea of Long Island too—at least around the edges where we were, it’s much wilder and more beautiful than we ever imagined. Stories and many more photos to come!

  9. Glad you are both back safe and sound and ready to share such amazing images! Loved the coffee at dawn photo as well as the many amazing sky photos. I thought as I went through each image that you must experience the world in such a unique way on a trip like this. So little standing between you and the glorious natural world – an all encompassing experience that few of us ever have. It is rather astonishing and must be life changing at some level. Thank you for sharing the journey with the rest of us; can’t wait to see and read more!

    • Life-changing? Yes, we might agree with you…

      Actually, the photos really don’t do it justice. They can be beautiful, but they don’t convey the full visual panorama all around when you are standing on such a sandbar, not to mention the details—the fascinating little rocks and ripples in the water, the plants, the birds, the little bugs crawling and flying everywhere (many of which are unfortunately biting flies and mosquitoes)…

    • Johna Till Johnson

      HI Lynn,
      Yes, lifechanging definitely! When you spend hours and hours paddling, your mind goes interesting places. Still processing a lot of the thoughts and emotions….

  10. Fiona Cousins

    Congratulations. Looks like you opted for the ‘inside’ on the South Side and took the opposite to track to Joe’s trip and our trip. I look forward to the full trip report.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Yes! I’ve just finished a draft of the more technical stuff, but I forgot to address the “inside vs outside” decision. I’ll add that!

      For what it’s worth, we were really glad to have gone “inside”–so much more variety to see. And I’m now quite impressed that you were able to land in that surf!

      Our decision to go counterclockwise was pretty much driven by curiosity–we’d seen a lot of Long Island Sound already, but hadn’t gone much beyond Breezy Point. So we wanted to get to the “new stuff” faster.

      Thanks again for your emailed advice. It gave us confidence that we could do it!

  11. Hey, you two – congratulations and welcome home! The photographs are a wonderful appetiser for the full story to follow – gives us time to recognise the achievement, and the incongruity, in my mind, of Long Island also being so wild and enormous.

  12. Incredible adventure! Photo’s are amazing. I look forward to more.

  13. Great photos and what a great trip that looked like….would love to do something like that !

  14. Beautiful photographs, they make me particularly bitter that we’re having such a miserable, rainy summer over here in Ireland! :)

  15. What a wonderful idea! Love the photographs — so beautiful! And congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  16. Congratulations! On the trip and Freshly Pressed!

  17. This is fantastic. Congrats! Can’t wait to see and read more about your trip!

  18. Wow! Cool Photos! I like the ones with the sunset.

  19. Great photos. I love the balloon pic for some reason. Thanks for documenting your adventure.

    • In this particular picture, it’s not clear that the balloon says “Congrats”—almost as if someone had arranged it there for our arrival. In the wind and waves, it would of course have had to be anchored… :-)

  20. It’s great to see you on Fresh Press again! How I do love your photos — Montauk Point and Gardiner’s sunsets look like Wyeth paintings. Congrats on another well-deserved Fresh Press.

  21. Awesome blog and great digital pictures of you travelling all the way around Long Island! I hope in your full story you include your favorite part of the journey! http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  22. Wow! Great post! Your pictures are beautiful! Thank you for sharing your adventure. I live on Long Island and I go Jones Beach often.

    Please feel free to visit my blog at http://germch55.wordpress.com for virtual tours of New York.

  23. What a wonderful adventure! Congrats! How does your back feel? I’m inspired by your journey! Aaron

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks, Aaron!

      Actually, our backs aren’t the problem (or arms, or anything paddling related). As we’ll detail, it’s the scratches and abrasions we got from things like sunburn, and picking the boats up, and rooting around inside hatches. But surprisingly, paddling felt good each and every day. It even felt good to be getting back in the boats after City Island–and that day ended up including about 18 hours of paddling!

  24. Congrats on being freshly pressed. It is nice to see someone you follow get the honour :) I saw it on the home page and was like WOW!
    Amazing shots too… the sunset ones are awesome… well they all are actually. Looks like a fantastic trip.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks! We’re kind of blown away about it, too. That post was just intended to be a quick, “hey everybody we made it” with a photo or two–but Vlad is a perfectionist, he never does things halfway. I guess there’s something to be said for that…:-)

  25. Wow, those pictures are amazing.

  26. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  27. Pingback: 7-8-12 Kayaking At Fresh Kills « The Quotidian Hudson

  28. Just beautiful. I miss the Long Island Sound…

    • We love Long Island Sound, but especially the western parts of it were already familiar territory… the revelation for us on this trip were the bays and outer shore on the south of the island :-)

  29. Great stuff. You’ve inspired me to get the kayak out again!

    • Johna Till Johnson

      YESSS!! That’s awesome, Jon! We’re so happy to have had that effect!

      And that will get you #94, too!

      Maybe even add a circumnavigation of some sort to your life goals? By the way, I’m really impressed that you listed “drink a yard of ale” under “health and fitness” goals!

      • Cheers for checking out my blog, and list of life goals. I recently bought an inflatable kayak but haven’t taken it out nearly enough – largely due to England having ridiculously poor access rights for kayakers on rivers.

        But regarding circumnavigation – I’ve been thinking of kayaking around Angelsey in Wales sometime (about 120km) although need to build up much more experience first. And then there’s island hopping the Scottish isles as well. Plenty of options! One of my 50 Goals in a Year I’m working through is to “raft from source to sea”. So I’ll be doing that somewhere in the next 6 weeks.

        PS Drinking a yard of ale is filled under the sub-category ‘food and drink’, but yes looks strange in the main category of ‘health and fitness’. Perhaps it aids mental well-being!

        • Hi, Jon,
          The circumnavigation of Anglesey is a favorite trip of many (I’ve never done it myself) that can be done in one day, but a very long day—and there are strong tidal currents and tide rips (indeed, it’s a favored area for advanced skills training). So doing it in an inflatable kayak may not be optimal. Some Scottish isles are likely to have similar problems. Just saying… :-)

        • Your advice is heeded! I’m an absolute beginner so still learning just to paddle in a straight line let alone battle against tide rips. So yes, I think plenty of paddling is need before taking on the open seas. But as long as I’m paddling…

        • That’s the spirit! :-)

  30. Northern Narratives

    Wow, great trip and photos. Congratulations on beings FP. Well deserved! Since I was FP last year, I always look at the FP page every day and I am sorry that I missed your day of honor.

  31. Wow…I spent the summer in Southampton last year and never thought about circumnavigation. Good on ya!

    • Thanks, Eric! Even short of a circumnavigation, there are so many kayak trips, of varying levels of ambition and difficulty, that are possible on Long Island—especially as you go further east, so Southampton would be a perfect base for them…

  32. Me ha encantado, unas fotos estupendas y toda una aventura.

  33. Gorgeous, gorgeous. Long Island never looked so good — I lived there most of my life, but never had the chance to see it from the water like you’ve done here, and it’s all spectacular. Quite a feat — Long Island is majorly LONG.

  34. Fantastic pictures. Beautiful panoramas. I will show them to my kayaking friends here in Sweden,and I´m certain they would like do this trip too//Veronika

    • Please do, Veronika! But your friends shouldn’t have any false expectations. This part of the world is not wilderness by any means—in many places it’s more like suburbia, given that, according to the 2010 census, 7,568,304 people live on Long Island… We were really amazed how beautiful and wild the edges, at least, of Long Island are, but it is hard to get away from all those people…

  35. long island diverse scenery is impressive. much more impressive is this trip. i owe you some beers . . soon. and a double-day for the return . . . paddling til dawn!!!! wow!!

    • Johna Till Johnson

      We’ll take you up on the beers for sure! Maybe in Red Hook?

      As for paddling until dawn… it was fun! I mean, if the choice is between making/breaking camp, and sleeping in a damp sleeping bag… or paddling under the stars… one is clearly preferable!

  36. Way to go! Not a single car, road congestion… pure nature, how beautiful is that!

  37. These are great pictures. I’m feeling challenged to try this with my family. My 7 year old son and I are going to kayak down the Delaware River in a couple of weeks. We might have to try your Long Island adventure next.

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks Jason! And a wonderful blog you have, too–I really enjoyed the post about the Time magazine cover!

      I’m glad this is inspirational, and your Delaware River trip sounds wonderful (I’ve paddled on the Delaware a few times).

      I would suggest reading our upcoming post before committing to the Long Island circumnav. It’s your call, of course, but I’m not sure it’s a trip you’d want to take a 7-year-old on. Yes, it was lovely, but there are some pretty technical bits in places. And even with perfect weather and zero conditions, there were some exceptionally long days (paddling for 14+ hours). Your son may be unusual, but I’d think most children would find that pretty unpleasant!

      Or, you could always try doing it as some of our friends have, in sections.

      If you have a folding kayak, one of the prettiest parts of the whole trip was the town of Greenport–great paddling and accessible via Hamptons Jitney and LIRR from New York. Plus plenty of places to stay–and ice cream stores on every block! Kid heaven! (And mine, too!)

      Again, I’m glad you liked the pictures, and that you found it inspirational! Good luck on your Delaware trip!

  38. Beautiful pictures!

  39. “Across Smithtown Bay” is eerie, my favorite! One of my rather lofty goals is to kayak with Orcas on the west coast one day. This is quite inspirational :)

    • Inspirational is good :-)

      And kayaking with orcas is entirely achievable. Long before I started kayaking, I spent a couple of summers at Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, where I went out rowing each day just off the island, and orcas were everywhere. It was actually a bit scary at times how close they came. So it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time…

  40. Constance V. Walden

    Really nice photos. I was getting sea sick just looking at them. Thanks for sharing. Connie


  41. You always hear about people sailing/rowing/surfing across the world, but I’ve never heard of anything having to do with the Long Island Sound/Long Island! I never thought kayaking around the entire island was possible. I guess it is! :D
    Wonderful pictures! I once worked at a camp on Shelter Island–a beautiful island by the way which is worth visiting. My parents dream of owning a house there! I’ve taken the ferry from Greenport so I remember that town too!

    • Wherever there is an island, there will be kayakers who want to circumnavigate it :-)

      We didn’t have time to stop on Shelter Island itself, but we saw it as we paddled past it to Greenport. With all those lush trees, it looks beautiful. That was just one of the places that we decided we must return to and explore in more detail….

  42. Beautiful photos and what a feat!

  43. Love this string of postcards from where I grew up. Originally form Long Island, I am returing for a trip home in a little over a week. My mother lives out in East Marion (on Gardiner’s Bay) and the shots of Greenport made me homesick. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  44. That’s awesome!! Congrats. My dad attempted to circumnavigate Puerto Rico but had a bad crash about 2/3 of the way. It ended as a good story at least!

  45. Looks like a great trip!

  46. Awesome pictures – I would never have seen the beauty of Long Island without these pictures. Well deserved Freshly Pressed!

  47. Wow! and congrats on Freshly Pressed.

  48. Lovely pictures. Congrats on being FP. :)

  49. Thanks for sharing – really liked your pics of Long Island (and NYC). I have been walking and blogging about the beaches on the South Fork (40 Beaches of East Hampton) and you might also enjoy John Todaro’s blog “Image Current” which features photography from out here.

    Take care, David

    • Thanks so much for commenting, David! During this trip we found ourselves saying over and over that we must return to the lovely eastern end of Long Island to explore it in more detail—from the water side, naturally!—and your detailed descriptions of the beaches will be a great resource. And thanks also for introducing us to John Todaro’s superb blog!

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