Category Archives: Nature

Trip 7: Hudson River, Albany to Hudson

Text by Vladimir Brezina
Photos by Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson

After the leaves have fallen

13-14 November 1999

Saturday, 13 November
6:10 a.m. Amtrak train to Albany. Launched by 9:30 a.m. Ebb current, little or no wind, river calm. Overcast and grey. Almost all leaves are now gone from trees. Very little color left; only here and there a solitary vine on a tree-trunk still orange.

Paddles south past the Port of Albany; herd of white-tailed deer running through the waste ground between the petrochemical tank farms on the eastern bank. Eventually, lunch on the shore of Houghtaling Island. Extreme low tide; muddy along the shore line. Onward past Coxsackie. Current now starting to flood, but a slight north wind helping. Overcast beginning to break to show patches of blue sky between the banks of white and grey; streaks of sunlight on the water.

Down to the campground at Stockport Middle Ground, but a hunters’ boat anchored offshore. Back to the deluxe campground at Gays Point. Arrived around 4 p.m. First thing after landing, two hunters in camouflage outfits, with guns, drove out of the brush in a eight-wheeled armored-car-type vehicle to draw a bucket of water from the river. Many ducks and geese flying and honking overhead; occasional shots.

(Note: Another semi-comic reference to hunters–note the “camouflage outfits, with guns” and the “eight-wheeled armored-car-type vehicle”…. all that costuming and heavy equipment just to “draw a bucket of water from the river”.  Vlad’s dry sense of humor at play! As I’ve mentioned before, Vlad had many traits in common with many hunters, including a deep libertarian streak, and of course the love of the outdoors. But in his narratives hunters always seem to come across as slightly goofy. I think it’s the paramilitary costuming and equipment that he finds a bit over-the-top…)

Camped right on the beach, protected from the north wind, rather than on the elevated grassy area. Drifts of dry brown leaves everywhere, and dry twigs and driftwood on the beach. Lit a fire in the ring on the beach before getting into the sleeping bag; provided pleasant warmth against the evening chill, now considerable. Brilliant brief sunset: vivid purple, red, and blue against the banks of grey cloud, reflected off the water, with a crescent moon high in the blue above, and the bright fire below.

A campfire for warmth..

Sunday 14 November

Just after midnight, awakened by gusts of wind from the south. Very soon the wind increased to what seemed like 15-20 knots, with strong gusts. Leaves and even some sand flying past, trees, even though bare of leaves, swaying prominently. Moved tarp and bivy-sack to slightly different spot, where no danger of being crushed by a falling tree. (Especially several right on the edge of the water seemed not very securely rooted in the sand. Shores around here littered with trees fallen in previous storms.) Otherwise very snug and comfortable in the bivy-sack.

(Note: It’s reassuring to me that Vlad encountered the same situation that I’ve often run into: camping under trees that might come crashing down in a high wind. I never remember until it’s too late, and then find myself moving the bivy in the middle of the night, as he did. In future years he will learn to check the weather on the maritime radio, and thus have early warning about  an oncoming front, which this was. I also like the way he hyphenates “bivy-sack”. And his joy in feeling “snug and comfortable” also resonates. Neither of us are in the slightest claustrophobic.)

Morning: wind from the south at 20-25 knots, whitecapped waves up to 3 feet in the main channel. (Current starting to ebb against the wind.) Almost exact reprise of windy day with John and Kathy in this spot a few weeks ago, except that today not sunny. Campground not well protected against a south wind. Was a little cold through breakfast (eaten while moving to keep warm) and getting into the wetsuit, etc., still slightly—but thanks to the quick-drying material, only slightly—wet from yesterday. Will be much more uncomfortable to do this when it is really cold; drysuit a lot better in this respect.

Once in the boat and on the water, however, much warmer and more enjoyable. Left around 9 a.m. Sure progress with the current, but slow against the headwind. Waves fun (but wet). (Note: Hence the genesis of the name of our blog: WindAgainstCurrent). Went through the eastern channel around Stockport Middle Ground (only very brief protection against the wind). Arrived at Hudson around 10:30 a.m. With strong headwind, forecast for strong cold front later in the day, and early winter sunset, further paddling options limited. Decided to take 12:25 p.m. Amtrak train back to New York.

Vlad in Albany: Similar day, different season

Daily Post: Savor

By Johna Till Johnson, photo by Vladimir Brezina

Today’s daily post is Savor. 

Ready for breakfast

This was the first cup of coffee when we camped on a chickee during the Everglades Challenge Shakedown in 2013. Nothing ever tastes quite as good as that first cup of coffee the morning after a long day paddling!

And we savored everything about that trip—even the parts that were challenging. In retrospect, I have to smile at our naive assumption that we’d find lodging in the Florida Keys on the weekend between Christmas and New Year, aka “the busiest week of the year”.

But we did, even if it was a bit unorthodox.  Moral of the story: Savor the good stuff. And it’s all good stuff.

Trip 6: Hudson Highlands, October 1999

Text and Photos by Vladimir Brezina

More autumn colors

Sunday, 31 October

7:43 (?) a.m. Metro-North train to Beacon. Launched around 10 a.m. Sunny, but somewhat hazy all day. Ebb current in favor, but 10-knot head wind. Paddled south past Denning Point, Pollepel Island, Cold Spring, West Point, Arden Point. Foliage spectacular in this section of the river (all different colors, from flame red to bright yellow to various shades of brown), still close to its peak although a few trees here and there already bare. Leaves noticeably dropping in the wind.

Stopped for lunch and exploration at Con Hook, an island (joined to the western shore by a marsh) a mile or so south of Highland Falls. Picturesque miniature island, with varied rocky topography—miniature steep cliffs and hollows—and a great variety of tree species, now of many different colors. Even birches, pines, and wild cherries (?) but mainly oaks and aspens. On the ground, soft moss and red blueberry-type bushes. Great views through the trees across the river, and on the western side, across the marsh.

Autumn vine

Current now flooding, so back north along the same route. Spectacular embankments of yellow and orange trees on the mountainside along the eastern shore just north of Little Stony Point. Numerous solo and groups of kayakers on the water; even more so than ever in the summer. Sun setting behind thickening clouds. Back at Beacon around 4:45 PM, with last fading light (today first day back on Standard Time). Train to New York.

Note: Vlad’s scientific mind and emphasis on precision shows in those parenthetical (?)’s, which of course indicate a guess rather than confident knowledge. Those who knew Vlad well remember his often-repeated comment: “Details matter!”—in science, art, writing, and life. His emphasis on getting the details exactly right usually illuminates his writing and brings it to life. But we sometimes argued over his tendency to include too many details, which in my view slows down the narrative. (He usually agreed.) 

It’s also worth noting that this adventure happened the day after the last one—nothing made Vlad happier after a long kayaking trip than another long kayaking trip! Even on our multi-day camping excursions, he would settle into the boat each morning and exclaim, “Feels SO good to be back in the boat!”

Trip 5: Hudson River, Manhattan to Irvington, October 1999

Text and Photo by Vladimir Brezina

Autumn colors

Saturday, 30 October

Met John and Kathy at Dyckman Street. Put boats together and launched at 11:30 a.m. around the predicted beginning of flood current. Warm for late October. Fog still not burned off completely, but sun gradually appearing. At first light wind from the north, then calm.

Palisades very colorful in the thinning fog. Lunch at Alpine. Stopped at Italian Gardens (waterfall and foliage very picturesque) then crossed over to Irvington. Arrived around 4 p.m.; took out at convenient boat ramp in parking lot by the train station. Briefly saw Kathy’s show at the gallery, then Metro-North train back to New York.

(Note: It’s nice to see that Vlad sometimes went on short and sweet paddles, as well as the longer ones he was known for. And Italian Gardens site was a favored destination for us from Pier 40, though we often failed to make it that far–somehow we constantly managed to underestimate the time required!)

Trip 4: Hudson River, Hudson-Coxsackie Area, October 1999

Text and photos by Vladimir Brezina

Dawn at Stockport Middle Ground

Friday, 15 October

7:10 a.m. Amtrak to Hudson. Emerged from Penn Station tunnels just after sunrise; views across the Hudson with the rising sun reflected orange, against the clear blue sky, from windows on the New Jersey shore. Beautiful views of the river all the way up to Hudson: fall foliage colors spectacular particularly in the Hudson Highlands; in many places mist rising from the river, with the sun breaking through in dappled patches. Worth the $31 fare just for those two hours. Launched at Hudson around 10 a.m.

Day 1 Route

Sunny, but distinctly cooler now: crisp fall weather. Water warmer than expected: still possible, mostly, to do without gloves. Southerly wind, ebbing current, quite strong here. Decided to go south along the western shore, photographing the fall colors. Past entrance to Catskill Creek. Large, three-masted replica of an 18th-century (?) sailing ship (couldn’t read name) but with sails furled, motoring, a bit disappointingly, north against the current.

Also a fleet of canoes, probably returning to Catskill from Ramshorn Creek. Paddled slowly up Ramshorn Creek for a while. Very still, winding creek, with muddy banks at low tide; sun behind the screen of leaves, now partially bare. Leaves dropping and floating down on the current.

Then back out into the river and across to the usual lunch place at the mouth of the Roeliff Jansen Kill. South wind now around 20 knots; lots of whitecaps in the main channel. But water around lunch place too shallow just now, so retreated north to Oak Hill Landing for lunch. Fall views of the Catskills.

Fall colors

Then north through Hallenbeck Creek back to Hudson. Arrived at the same time as a duck hunter in camouflage outfit, with camouflaged boat, and vigorous complaints against the game laws. (Saw a few other hunters, and many duck blinds everywhere, but almost none occupied. Relieved to hear only very scattered shots.) Phoned Kathy around 4 p.m. Outlook for joining me tomorrow not good.

(Note: It’s very like Vlad to record the hunter’s “vigorous complaints against the game laws”.  He was not a hunter himself, and throughout these logs, hunters emerge as faintly comic characters, in their obsession with camouflage and other para-military gear, which Vlad found amusing. But he also had striking libertarian, if not downright anarchic, tendencies, and would have sympathized with those complaints. )

Current now turned to flood; wind still from the south, though dying down. Evening paddle up to campground at the north tip of Stockport Middle Ground. Halfway up saw, from a distance, a fox (coyote?)-like animal on shore. Arrived at campground just in time to see huge freighter move down the channel to the west against the setting sun.

Night not too cold, probably around 40°F.  New North Face sleeping bag luxuriously comfortable and warm.

Sunset at Stockport

(Note: It’s about time! The last few trips Vlad has been complaining about the inadequacy of his sleeping bag. It’s fun to watch him grow increasingly interested in kayaking and expedition gear; he was always mechanically minded, but generally appreciated gear for its effectiveness and the quality of its design rather than for the status it might convey.

By the time I knew him, he’d arrived at a gear collection that worked for him, and was less enchanted by every new item. He looked tolerantly on as I went through my own trajectory of fascination with gear.

It was very common for me to remark “I wish I had a gadget that would do (whatever)”… and for Vlad to reply, “I have one of those.” He’d rummage in his overstuffed deck bag (how he ever found anything was a mystery to me!) and pull out a rusty, but still serviceable, whatever-it-was.

Several log posts later we’ll get to read about his discovery of the GPS, and the way it can be useful in tracking one’s speed in different conditions.  That, in turn, leads to a deep understanding of the currents and how they vary—which lies at the heart of Vlad’s legendary knowledge of the NY area currents.)

Saturday, 16 October
Sunrise around 7 a.m. A little chilly, but clothes adequate. Took some pictures of the rising sun illuminating the fall colors on the western bank opposite. Left around 9 a.m., reached Coxsackie around 10 a.m. Very happy to see, from afar, John and Kathy putting their boat together. Sneaked up on them out of the rising sun, got out of the boat and came right up to them without being detected.

Coxsackie very nice launch site: the paved boat ramp (though no floating dock visible), grass, plenty of parking, portable toilets, phone.

Day 2 Route

North around Coxsackie Island, then across main channel over to eastern shore, south past Nutten Hook, into marshes on either side of Little Nutten Hook. Few herons wading in the shallows, but generally many fewer birds than a couple of weeks ago. Palisade of trees lining the river almost wintery; foliage past its peak, or it may be that the natural tree species here not very flamboyant, just yellow and grey-brown. (Oranges and reds noticeable mainly around houses, probably planted.)

Main river now ebbing but south wind intensifying to a sustained 20 knots.

Waves building to 2 feet in the main channel; we kept to the side but could not get out of the wind. Kathy complained but sticking it out. Lunch at deluxe campground at Gays Point. Dock now out of the water, but there is a sandy beach, grassy area, pagoda, picnic tables, barbecues, outhouses (open), a building (closed) which may have water in season. But all this open to the south wind, so had lunch in sunny and warm clearing in the wood beyond.

Displaced a sunning snake.

Few grasshoppers and butterflies, but insects, like birds, mostly gone. Returning to the boats, we could see wind now 25 knots, treetops swaying and whistling, waves in main channel lengthening, with prominent and very frequent whitecaps.

Continued south past the beaches at the tip of Gays Point and into the channel to the east of Stockport Middle Ground. Somewhat sheltered for a while, then back out into the headwind for the last stretch across the flats to the entrance to Stockport Creek. Here very shallow; ran aground before found proper channel. Four other kayakers, disappearing into the creek. Creek sheltered, but shallow, and with strong current flowing out of it.

Finally, back the same way past Stockport Middle Ground, across the main channel and along the western shore back to Coxsackie. Current now turning to flood; wind dying down somewhat but still strong. Not as rough as it would have been before; waves no more than 2 feet. Moving very fast with the tail wind and current, surfing on the waves. Back at Coxsackie around 4:30 p.m. Car to New York.

Stockport Creek

Trip 3: Hudson River, Albany to Rhinecliff, October 1999

Text and Photos by Vladimir Brezina

View of the Catskills

Saturday, 2 October
7:10 a.m. Amtrak train to Albany, then taxi to boat launch in Corning Preserve just north of railroad bridge. Launched  just before 11 a.m.

Sunny with some high clouds, still reasonably warm. Favorable ebb current through the afternoon, but persistent head wind from the south, at first only 10 knots, but increasing to 15-20 knots at times. Chop increasing in places to 1-1.5 feet, with whitecaps. Water distinctly cool now: brief initial shock on stepping into it.

The route: Albany to Rhinebeck

Foliage colorful now along this section of the river. (From the train could see that it is still predominantly green further south.) Even here still not quite at its peak. In few places a riot of yellows, oranges, and reds (hanging vines, especially, provide bright red accents). Mostly, however, more subtle—one flame-orange branch or tree among shades of green.

Paddled south past Papscanee Island (lunch opposite), then Campbell Island, Schodack Island, Houghtaling Island, Bronck Island (looked for HRWA campground, but couldn’t identify it), Rattlesnake Island, Coxsackie Island. Then crossed to Nutten Hook (here wind gusts up to 20-25 knots, many whitecaps, although waves relatively small), past Gays Point (deluxe campground with dock, grass, water (?) occupied) down to campground at northern tip of Stockport Middle Ground. Nobody there. Campground has picnic tables, barbecues, fire pits, two outhouses. (Picnic tables and barbecues also in a number of the bays of the beach just north, on Gays Point. This area has quite a number of comfortable camping possibilities.) Beautiful views north up to Coxsackie Island, west across the river (arrived at 5:30 p.m., an hour before sunset, so could sit at picnic table and eat dinner while watching the sun set) as well as east, for sunrise.

View from Stockport

Quite warm until sunset, then cooling. But still warm enough in old sleeping bag (with sweatshirt, long pants and socks, thought).

Sunday, 3 October

Some sun visible at sunrise, then clouds moving in and becoming overcast. Light north wind starting up. Left around 9 a.m. Still strong flood current against, so kept to shore of Stockport Middle Ground, then crossed to western shore of river. Started to rain; light to moderate showers for the next couple of hours. But foliage more deeply colorful against the gray.

Took some pictures, but with this camera will probably come out flat without direct sun. Paddled down the western branch of the river past Athens and the lighthouse south of Middle Ground Flats. Overtook group of kayakers out of Hudson going to the marshes south of Catskill. Current now turning to ebb and north wind increasing; making good progress. Becoming sunny again.

Fall colors

Past Catskill to mouth of Roeliff Jansen Kill (lunch around 12 noon), then down main channel to Saugerties (second lunch, 2 p.m.). In shallows and flats along the eastern shore of the river over the several miles before Saugerties, many duck blinds; heard occasional shots. Second lunch on Cruger Island (2:30 p.m.) then down main, western channel and finally east again to Rhinecliff (4:30 p.m.) Amtrak train back to New York City.

Total distance paddled 46+ nm, about 14 hours.

(Note: It’s reassuring to read about Vlad’s pauses for lunch and “second lunch”. Years later he became famous for his ability and desire to spend extended hours in his boat without stopping (20 or more, in some cases). But it’s good to know he didn’t start out that way!

That “second lunch” will also bring a smile to the face of anyone who knew Vlad’s legendary delight in eating. I’ve never known anyone with such an uncomplicated love of food. He wasn’t a food snob. He enjoyed everything from the finest aged steak to McDonald’s hamburgers, but with a definite preference for whole, natural foods.  Perfectly ripe fresh pears and peaches, ice cold from the fridge, were a particular favorite. He ate everything with gusto, eyes sparkling: “This is soooo good!” he would exclaim. )

Trip 2: Hudson Highlands, September 1999

Ardent Point looking south

Text and photos by Vladimir Brezina

Saturday, 25 September 1999

Metro-North train to Beacon. Launched around 2:15 p.m. Sunny, temperature in the 70s. Ebb just starting (spring-tide currents this weekend), light north wind in favor. Water still warm-ish especially in certain places, but clearly cooling. Some floating debris still left from Hurricane Floyd ten days ago, but water generally back to its normal degree of green-gray murkiness; coffee color gone.

Out and back from Beacon, camping at Arden Point

Paddled south along the eastern shore, past Denning Point and Bannerman’s Island, then crossed over to western shore. Ebb current now seemingly 2-3 knots, tail wind intensifying to 15 knots. Moderate following sea.

Paddled into lagoon behind railway under Storm King Mt. Then south past Cold Spring, crossed back east into Foundry Cove and Constitution Marsh. Miniature rapids under the railway on stream ebbing out of the marsh. (The same elsewhere: the strongest currents on the whole river may be those sweeping in and out of these marshes and lagoons with every flood and ebb.) Finally south past West Point and Garrison to Arden Point campground.

The view from Arden Point

Everywhere trees mostly still green, but some kinds already yellowing, noticeably more than last weekend. beautiful contrasts of yellow and occasionally orange or red foliage picked out by the sunshine from the green, against the blue sky. Took pictures. Many orange and black monarch butterflies fluttering over the water on their migration south.

Arrived at Arden Point about 6 p. m, just as sun disappeared behind hills on western side of river. The campsite (south end of Arden Point) has every natural amenity (no man-made ones). Stony beaches either side of a group of rocks elevated over the river with views both south to Bear Mt. Bridge and north to West Point; flat areas, some with moss, on several levels under tall trees just behind. West-facing: great location to view sunset and moon over the river, though cold in the morning as sun does not reach the campsite until some time after sunrise.

At midnight woken by full moon shining brightly right in my face. Somewhat cold in old sleeping bag toward the morning: now definitely need warmer sleeping bag, and warm, dry camp clothes and shoes. A little stove to make coffee or chocolate on a cold morning?

(Johna: By the time I knew him, Vlad never camped anywhere without his trusty stove. We had a mixed relationship: I swore by the Jetboil, and he tolerated it, but secretly held the stove in reserve should the Jetboil fail. However, he really did enjoy coffee in the morning and hot chocolate at night, which I was happy to make. So it makes me smile to see his musings about the “little stove to make coffee… on a cold morning?” )

Eagle alights!

Sunday, 26 September
Left around 8:15 a.m. Sunny at first, then broken overcast. Paddled south with the waning ebb, and moderate tail wind, almost to Bear Mt. Bridge. Went into Popolopen Creek (steep wooded sides above still water, very picturesque) , then into the marsh just north of Iona Island. Many hawks (?) circling overhead everywhere (Johna: Could also have been eagles; the photo here was taken not too far away, over ten years later. ) especially along edge of woods; later saw one capture a pigeon-sized bird in flight, with much squawking. Current now starting to flood. Becoming sunny once more. North back to Arden Point (lunch around 12 noon) then through World’s End. Just before, heard two deep hoots, and an enormous red-yellow ship, followed by a tug, emerged very slowly to turn downriver past West Point. North past Cold Spring, then hugging shore all the way back to Beacon. Now wind from the south, moderate following seas. Shore-line woods very colorful; took many pictures. Many kayakers and canoeists, mostly solo or in pairs, on the water. Beacon around 3:30 p.m.