Category Archives: New York City

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.

Trip 1: Hudson River, Rhinecliff to Ossining, September 1999

Text and Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Early morning colors on the river

Note: After Vlad died, I was astonished to discover that he’d meticulously maintained logs of nearly 300 kayak excursions he made, alone and with others, from 1999 to 2011. He only stopped when this blog became the official chronicle of our journeys.

Although they are true nautical logs, with observations on the weather, conditions, and mileage, they are also written in his characteristic style, with whimsical musings and droll asides sprinkled throughout, so they make for surprisingly lively reading.

Best of all, he also worked in the last months of his life to preserve his vast collection of photographs, so I’m able to pair the logs with photographic illustrations of the same areas. They are not necessarily from the same trips (though some almost certainly are). Wherever possible, I’ve attempted to match for season and conditions.

I plan to publish one each Thursday for the next year or so (not all logs are long enough to make into standalone blog posts). I’ve edited the logs minimally; you’re reading almost exactly what Vlad wrote.  —Johna Till Johnson

18-19 September, Rhinecliff to Ossining
Saturday, 18 September

(Editor’s note: Vlad traveled south from Rhinecliff, which is the starting point roughly in Kingston. The Denning Point campsite is marked, as is his destination at Ossining, a bit north of Rt 287 on the map.)

7:10 Amtrak train to Rhinecliff. The train was delayed by the possibility of water and downed trees on the tracks—Hurricane Floyd hit the area on Thursday night—and I was able to launch only around 11 a.m. Sunny, temperature in the 70s, light north wind, calm water. Water very muddy, with swirls of mud, like light unstirred coffee. Visibility only a few inches. Other signs of hurricane: in some places accumulated masses of floating debris, mainly old driftwood and dead branches presumably swept off beaches. Later I saw some downed trees and numerous beached boats.

Just north of Middle Hudson River (Esopus) Lighthouse, I saw a seal. (Although this far up the river the water is completely fresh.) First it was following in the wake of a sailboat motoring in the other direction, then a few minutes later I saw that it had turned and was following me.

I stopped paddling and watched. The seal kept diving and surfacing, poking its head out of the water. Once it arched its back out of the water like a dolphin. It kept to a distance of about 10 yards. I started slowly paddling twards its position while it was submerged to get closer for a picture. I got slightly closer, but then the seal (apparently unable to see underwater because of the mud) surfaced by chance about two feet off the port side. It must have panicked and gone into an emergency dive; all I saw was an enormous splash, like a huge fish jumping, and was soaked with spray. (Another argument for a waterproof camera.) After that the seal did not surface for a while, and then kept to about 30 yards.

Camp at Denning Point

Good ebb current (1-2 knots?) plus tail wind (10 knots?) in favor. Keeping in the middle of the river, I reached Pougheepsie about 2 p.m. Then the current slacked off. I was hoping that with the runoff water the ebb would be prolonged and the flood abbreviated. This was probably the case to some extent, but nevertheless soon when I stopped I found myself unmistakably drifting backward, despite the tail wind. So I continued along the shore.

I reached Beacon about 6:30 PM, then continued to the camp at the southern tip of Denning Island, arriving around 7 p. m., just before sunset. I briefly explored the trails inland, but could not find the grassy area near ruins described in the HRWA guide. So I camped on a level sandy spot, under trees and behind big driftwood logs, just on the point, with good visibility both west across the river and south to Bannerman’s Island. It got dark, lights came up across the river and a quarter moon: bright moonlight, sharp moon shadows, I could almost read.

Outdoor Research bivy sack with Thermarest inflatable pad, on flat, level ground, very comfortable. Good ventilation, quick and easy to set up. (Editor’s note: I have what I believe is that original OR bivy sack, though I’ve upgraded to a newer model for my own use. I very much agree with Vlad’s assessment!)  Old sleeping bag still adequate this time, but probably too light for any significantly colder temperatures. Also too small—need to get larger, mummy-style bag with hood. Need tarp that I can spread out, too, otherwise sand gets into everything.

Morning fog

Sunday, 19 September

Morning somewhat brisk—fall is definitely coming. Mist rising from the river, drifting over with the north wind, but now and again glimpse some blue sky. Took a number of pictures of trees in the mist around the campsite. Left about 8 a. am. Across the Fishkill Creek estuary south from Denning Point, paddled completely surrounded in fog. Took pictures while paddling along the opposite shore: trees emerging from the fog. Bannerman’s Castle.

Cold Spring

South toward Cold Spring, the fog began to lift. Mist and clouds, but now also sunshine and increasing patches of blue sky, dramatic views of the Highlands. Trees still for the most part green, although here and there one already turning. With Bannerman’s Castle, could almost have been Scotland. (Editor’s note: As some readers are aware, Vlad spent several years as an adolescent in Scotland.)

Bannerman’s Castle

Gusts of stronger north wind (15 knots?), some following seas building as always here. Past Cold Spring, West Point with increasing current in favor. Peekskill at about 11 a. m. White beaches of Verplanck (lunch in someone’s homemade hammock overlooking the beach). Across Haverstraw Bay. Lots of motorboats and sailboats criss-crossing the bay.

White beaches of Verplanck

(Editor’s note: The other photos may or may not have been from this exact trip; at least one is not, because it’s a later boat model. However, this photo is almost certainly from this trip; it’s Vlad’s first boat and paddle, and its album caption is “White beaches of Verplanck”—a phrase that appears to be unique to him, and that he seemed to have coined on this trip. )

Now good sailing breeze: onshore breeze building from the south, waves negligible at first but by Croton Point 1-1.5 feet. Ebb current fading too. Making relatively slow progress into the wind. Significant area of higher breaking waves (2 feet) south of Teller’s Point. Boat filling up on water. Effects on handling quite noticeable: boat wallows with and through the waves rather than bouncing over them as usual. Made for the south shore of Croton Point to bail out the water, then across Croton Bay to Ossining. Arrived about 4 p.m. 5:30 train to New York City.

Must seam-seal and Scotchguard deck, shorten paddle-leash and eliminate Velcro paddle attachment.

Whole trip about 50 nm, paddling time about 16 hours.

Window Box

By Johna Till Johnson

NYC Flowers 042017 Edited

Window box on the Upper East Side, Spring 2017

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

—T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Ah yes, “Dull roots with spring rain”!

Every spring, it’s the same surprise. We spend the winter yearning for sunshine and warmth. Yet when spring arrives, it’s usually wrapped in a cloak of dark clouds and cold rain.

It’s become a cliché: “April showers bring May flowers”—even though in New York, the flowers usually bloom in April (until they’re washed away by rain), and May is the month of green leaves.

But every now and then, even in the dank days of mid-April, a burst of sunshine appears. In this case, a window box, seen on the way home from the gym, with a riotous profusion of plants and flowers. A promise of brightness to come!

The Easter Bunny

By Johna Till Johnson

NYC Easter Bunny 1 041517 Edited SM

The Easter Bunny appears in the wine store!

Friday night I saw something I haven’t seen since I was five or six years old: The Easter Bunny! Who, apparently, buys wine for Easter dinner just like the rest of us.

Actually, I didn’t quite see the Easter Bunny back then, either. So technically this was my first actual sighting.

We were living in Naples, Italy, at the time. I’d awakened early Easter morning, excitedly anticipating the basket and associated goodies, only to find… nothing.

Nada. Zilch. The Easter bunny, apparently, hadn’t arrived.

Maybe he just hadn’t arrived yet, my parents suggested optimistically. Maybe he’d show up later on. There was still time! So, like the good Catholic family that we were, we headed off to Easter Mass.

Upon our return, I pushed through our creaky garden gate. My father was holding my hand. “Look!” he shouted suddenly. “It’s the Easter bunny! I saw his fluffy white tail!” And the two of us dashed off around the house in mad pursuit. I didn’t see anything, but I wasn’t as tall as my dad. And maybe, if we ran fast enough, I’d actually see the Easter bunny!

You know how this story ends: when we came in the front door, panting and puffing, we discovered a giant, green-and-yellow Easter basket on the kitchen table. We hadn’t succeeded in seeing him, but evidently the Easter bunny had arrived.

Even as young as I was, I put the pieces together pretty quickly. I never found out what happened to delay the Easter basket, or at what point my parents hatched the scheme.

And I don’t remember why I figured it out. Maybe it was the fact that my father, who hadn’t the slightest bit of whimsy, didn’t pull off his acting job quite credibly. All I know is that was the end of my believing in the Easter bunny.

Until now.

Happy Easter!

By Johna Till Johnson

Amaryllis blooms

Yes, I know it’s just good Friday. But the new amaryllis (gift from a friend) decided to bloom today. And for some reason, every year Good Friday is sunny and warm, and Easter Sunday is cold and gray.

So I’ll take my cue from the amaryllis and wish everyone a happy Easter, even if it’s early.

Here’s to resurrection and life!

And—if Easter isn’t your thing, or even if it is—here’s to bunnies and robins and flowers and springtime and the promise of summer ahead.

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By Johna Till Johnson

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