Guest post by Julie McCoy, aka Kayak Cowgirl
Julie is a long-time NYC kayaker who describes her adventures in the blog Kayak Cowgirl. Originally from Oklahoma, nowadays she’s a Big City girl. But she still spends as many days as she can in the saddle—only now it’s the cockpit of a kayak.
We asked her to post to Wind Against Current on a topic of her choice, and she opted to describe her evolution as a New York City kayaker. Here goes:
What I like about paddling around New York City is the sheer variety of experiences. There are peaceful marshes to the south and to the north; narrow tidal straits, such as Hell Gate; oceanic swells in the lower harbor, and traffic nearly everywhere. Add in the effects of tides and wind, against the varieties of urban backdrop, and it would be difficult to exhaust the possibilities.
My first memory of paddling was as a member of “the public” in a sit-on-top near Pier 26. I was talking to someone just upstream from me, and when I turned around, the Queen Mary 2 was pulling in – an immense hotel gliding on the water, at a safe distance but filling my view. Later, a guy in a deck boat paddled by and gave me some tips on how to paddle better. I blew him off – I was having fun!
I would encounter him again, years later, as one of my coaches.
It was a couple of years before I got involved in the kayak community. I volunteered at a club in the Upper West Side, carrying boats out of shipping containers every weekend to the sidewalk overlooking the river, then helping people in and out of boats. Eventually, I started spending more time at the main location for that club, in midtown, and got more experience and training. Pretty soon I was helping shepherd trips of “the public” myself!
A few years went on, and I got to know quite a bit of the Hudson River (at least the part near Manhattan). I paddled to grocery stores on either side of the river, to small beaches in New Jersey, and to other piers hosting other clubs. I paddled to the Statue of Liberty and beyond, and to a fairy tale boathouse on the Harlem River.
And then one day, I did it—I circumnavigated Manhattan!
By then, I was hooked. I took a class, and then another, and eventually bought my own boat. Now I was in dangerous territory, with nothing to stop me but my own common sense. I went out alone, first on short trips and eventually longer ones. I started inviting other people along: I invited two women friends to paddle out to Staten Island with me, to an area near the Verrazano Bridge called South Beach just a few miles south of Manhattan.
I moved uptown, and started paddling out of the Inwood Canoe club in what I like to call, “Upstate Manhattan”. It’s across the river from the New Jersey Palisades, with easy access to the Harlem River. And suddenly I was in a whole new world. Last fall, I paddled with some friends through Bronx Kill and out into the East River between Queens and the Bronx. We took another trip to Hell Gate and back. I started paddling in the winter to keep going year-round.
Since then, I’ve taken some more classes, and sharpened my skills. This past summer, I worked as a teaching assistant at a local shop while continuing to organize trips with different clubs I’m involved with. I went camping, up to Croton Point, 23 miles north of the northernmost tip of Manhattan. I’m planning more elaborate trips, inspired in part by Vlad and Johna’s adventures at home and abroad.
So why am I a kayak cowgirl? I was born in Oklahoma, where cowhands rode the range, taking odd jobs doing everything from mending fences to herding cattle. To me, the sea is a range, and the growing number of clubs on the waterfront are like little ranches (some, more like dude ranches). I herd clients, teach the basics, and do a little boat and fence-mending myself – especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
In the saddle, so to speak, I’ve got everything I need for a ride packed. I keep myself entertained with some country western songs, one of my favorites an apt contrast for modern city slickers:
Oh give me land, lots of land, with the starry skies above,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me ride, through the wide, open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze,
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees!
Send me me off forever, but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in.