A Kayayer’s Guide to Hitchhikers

By Johna Till Johnson and Vladimir Brezina

HitchhikerKayaking is often a solitary sport. Although paddlers sometimes go out in pairs and groups, the quintessential kayaker is a bit of a loner. Many of us make long trips alone, and prize the time we spend by ourselves.

But sometimes we inadvertently end up with fellow travelers. When Vlad and I were training for the Everglades Challenge, we found ourselves navigating the Florida Bay in pitch darkness—when all of a sudden, a fish jumped out of the water and into my lap. A few months later, one of our fellow Everglades Challengers, Clewless, topped that one when a shark jumped into his boat—during the race!  There’s also the recent story of a 6-foot alligator jumping into a canoe. And of course many stories of cute, or sometimes not so cute, seals and sea lions hopping onto kayaks to hitch a ride.

The typical hitchhiker is less threatening. While weaving through the mangrove tunnel of the ironically named Broad Creek during the Everglades Challenge, a tree crab landed on the nose of my boat. Tree crabs are small—an inch or two—with shiny, mottled brown or green shells. This one was content to be my mascot for several minutes—until he started to crawl slowly towards the cockpit.

I debated knocking him off with the paddle—but that seemed unfair, and might have hurt him. So I gently nosed up to a mangrove root—and he hopped off.

He wasn’t the only crab who hitched a ride, though. Returning from a recent trip to Sandy Hook, I felt something skittering around in my cockpit. When I stripped off the spray skirt I saw a small gray sea crab, about the size of a quarter. I tried to pick him up, but he was too quick for me—and I didn’t want to risk crushing him. So we made the trip home from Sandy Hook together, with him occasionally reminding me of his presence with a tiny “nip”.  (Every time he nipped I yelped, which amused Vlad.)

When I got back to Pier 40 I rinsed him out of the boat with sea water—I don’t know whether he survived in the Hudson, but I like to think he did.

But the best hitchhiker story of all is one that happened to Vlad.

I’ll let him tell it.

Vlad writes:

Once upon a time, when I was just a little kayaker, I went for a paddle with my friends Kathy and John. Like me, they were big-city paddlers, with a folding kayak in their closet. Theirs was a formidable double Klepper, whose parts came in three heavy-duty canvas bags.

We got to the river, assembled our boats, and cruised with the current for a few miles to our destination—a grassy meadow where we planned to have a picnic lunch before packing the boats up again and taking a train back to the city.

Everything worked out as planned. As usual, Kathy had brought a lovely lunch, which she laid out on the grass. And in preparation for taking the Klepper apart, John carefully laid out its three bags.

As he did so, out of the largest bag there stalked a huge brown cockroach. He stood at the mouth of the bag, surveying the meadow around, antennae twitching. Obviously, he’d been living in the bag back in John and Kathy’s closet, and we’d brought him along for the ride!

We just stood there. He descended regally from the bag and was soon lost from sight in the tall grass.

We didn’t think much about it. We had our lunch, then started disassembling the boats.

An hour or two later—we were feeling drowsy in the post-prandial sunshine—we were almost done. John had packed most of the Klepper’s parts in the bags; he was about to add the last parts and close up the bags.

And what did we then see come out of the tall grass, heading straight towards the bags? A huge brown cockroach!

This time we made a move. All three of us tried to block him, like football players. But he zig-zagged nimbly between our feet and took a leap into the open bag.

The bag was already carefully packed with parts—we couldn’t face taking them all out again.

And so the smart old cockroach rode back to the city, back to his closet, doubtless to tell his young cousins about his lovely Sunday excursion to the country…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure!

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Adventure!

Adventure is limitless space

Limitless space

wind on the open sea

Wind on the open sea

always wondering what’s round the next corner

Wondering what's round the next corner

paddling to distant capes

Paddling to distant capes

expecting the unexpected

Expecting the unexpected

wondering if it’s even possible

Wondering if it's possible

and then paddling past the sunset

Paddling past the sunset

and through the night

Through the night

(All photos from our 2013 Everglades Shakedown paddle and the 2014 Everglades Challenge.)

There’s Always a View at the Edge

By Vladimir Brezina

The seasons come and go at NYC’s Central Park Reservoir…

September 2014
March 2013
January 2014
February 2013
March 2013
November 2011
September 2014

Another contribution to Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge, Edge. The first contribution was here.

Tugboat Races, Take Three

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Johna Till Johnson

Tugboat Races 2014

Photogenic tug

The day wasn’t looking good.

This was the third year we’d planned to go to the Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition, but the day didn’t start well. It dawned dark and gloomy, with the threat of rain—the kind of day on which, despite your best intentions, you struggle to get out of bed.

Worse, Vlad, who’d been under the weather for a few days, couldn’t go.

So even though we’d already purchased tickets, I wasn’t enthusiastic about attending the race.  I had so many chores to do… not to mention work… and steaming coffee and a comfortable couch beckoned.

At the last minute, though, I threw my maritime radio and camera into a backpack, poured some coffee into a thermos, and set off downtown.

Continue reading

Travel Theme: Edge

By Vladimir Brezina

When traveling by kayak, putting the boat on edge is an essential skill…

Gowanus Canal, New York City
Charlotte Harbor, Florida
Hudson River, New York City

A contribution to Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge, Edge. Another contribution is here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

By Vladimir Brezina

Snow leopard
Polar bear

A contribution to this week’s Photo Challenge, Dialogue.

Travel Theme: Orange, Take Two

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Orange.

As we travel around New York Harbor in our kayaks, we see quite a bit of orange. Orange is, of course, the premier color for high visibility, and many warning signs, buoys, floating booms, parts of barges and ships, are bright orange.

But there is just one large boat in the harbor—actually, a whole fleet of them—that, from bow to stern, top to bottom, is entirely orange: the Staten Island Ferry.

White seems to be the most common color for ferries everywhere, and most other ferries in New York Harbor are white. Originally, the Staten Island Ferries were white, too. But in 1926 the color was changed, indeed to make the ferries more visible in fog and snow, to reddish-maroon, and then later to the present “municipal orange.” Today, the orange Staten Island Ferries are iconic—almost as iconic as the Statue of Liberty.

Staten Island Ferry 1
Staten Island Ferry 2

After a couple of close encounters, Johna is especially wary of the Staten Island Ferry. It’s hard to avoid it. We have to cross its path, sometimes twice, on almost every trip through the harbor. It moves fast and it always seems to be where we don’t want it to be.

And so, we are always scanning the water for that big orange boat.

Sometimes, we come upon it docked, with passengers still getting on, so we know we have at least a few minutes to sneak past and get safely out of its way before it departs.

Staten Island Ferry 3
Staten Island Ferry 4

Sometimes it’s too late—we have to wait. But it gives us a chance to admire the beast close up.

Staten Island Ferry 5
Staten Island Ferry 6
Staten Island Ferry 7

And sometimes, we have to rub our eyes and look again. A Staten Island Ferry coming down the East River? “A planet might as well leave its orbit.”

Staten Island Ferry 8
Staten Island Ferry 9

Fortunately, Johna has not developed a fear of other kinds of oranges