By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina
(click on photos to expand them—they look a lot better when they’re BIGGER!)
Sometimes it’s just not easy to do the right thing—and that was surely the case on the morning of July 4th.
We’d planned to wake up at the crack of dawn, around 5 AM, and launch by seven. The goal was to get as far down the North Shore as we could, leveraging the current that would be with us from 6 AM to about noon.
That was the plan, all right. We just couldn’t do it.
That morning, it was harder than ever to wake up and pack. It didn’t help that an early morning shower was plastering the beach with rain. But for some reason, the two nights of rest had made us more tired, not less. And for the first time, the prospect of getting into our boats didn’t seem appealing. Maybe sleeping indoors really does make you soft?
We finally launched late, around 10:45 AM. And once we were actually in the boats, our spirits picked up. Partly it was the current that carried us along. But we also were looking forward to the cliffs of the North Shore, which we hadn’t seen before. And the prospect of fireworks!
As expected, the current wore off about noon, and then turned against us. We paddled through inches-deep water just a few feet off the beach to keep out of the current streaming against us. Still, for some time it seemed we were barely moving forward.
But the scenery surpassed our expectations. Above the long white beach rose dramatic sandy cliffs topped with dense stands of trees, stretching away into the distance. Headland after headland came into view as we paddled on. So different from the flat, marshy South Shore! If it hadn’t been for the occasional house glimpsed through the trees at the top of the cliff, and here and there a fisherman on the beach, we could have imagined ourselves to be on a deserted, wild coast.
After a few hours’ paddling, we landed on the beach for a late lunch.
After lunch, we continued along the beach, weaving through fields of glacial erratic boulders. They lined the beach and were scattered everywhere in the shallow water, the deeper ones giving away their presence only by the spray of white water that rose up when an especially large wave came along…
We passed boulders occupied by flocks of seabirds…
… and by human fishermen…
Late in the afternoon, a strong westerly wind, stronger than any headwind so far on the trip, rose up against us. And the light began to acquire that golden end-of-day tinge. Clearly, we weren’t going to get much farther today.
So, even though we hadn’t covered nearly as much distance as we’d intended this day, we headed in to shore.
We paddled through a field of fringing boulders and landed on a broad beach backed by high cliffs. We set up camp as the last sunlight gave way to a quiet blue dusk.
We were determined to get an early start in the morning—this time! So, we decided to test out our bivvy sacks and see if they were faster to deploy, and pack up in the morning, than the tent. We fixed some dinner and then settled into our sacks to watch the fireworks.
It was a hazy, rainy night, so they weren’t quite as dramatic as we expected. Still, just on the other side of the hill at the back of the beach there was evidently a small settlement, where intermittent fireworks soon started popping off, startlingly close. Their flashes illuminated our beach like lightning and clouds of dark sulfurous smoke drifted over our campsite out to sea. And on the horizon in front of us, where we had a 270-degree view thanks to the curvature of the North Shore coastline, we saw tiny fireworks sprout up across the Long Island Sound in Connecticut, and up and down the Long Island shore.
I fell asleep quickly, vowing to wake up in time to see the sunrise.