An American Odyssey – Part II

 

The realization that, at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, I would be testing my ancient carcass against 31 miles of unknown waters in a 17-foot sea kayak created a tiny morsel of anxiousness and a large helping of eager anticipation. But, from the shores of Manhattan, and while aboard a goodly-sized tour boat, while on my Saturday exploration, I had gained a confident sense that this challenge would be little more than a tiring cake walk; at least as far as lengthy paddling outings went. Our sports-minded delegation of six Texas residents, and one Massachusetts aquaphile with aspirations of honorary Lone Star State citizenship, were bouncing about in a flurry by 4:30 a.m. on Sunday. There we off-loaded our kayaks and paddling gear and began preparing ourselves and our trusty crafts for deployment into the Hudson River. About 7:15 a.m., a member of the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club (YPRC) gathered us around for the obligatory safety briefing. Somehow, I was one of the first to launch and was immediately lulled by the quiet stillness of this wide river. Soon, every square inch of their tiny beach was covered with a multi-colored fleet of sit-inside kayaks and their restrooms unceremoniously occupied to their fullest. We lounged about this facility, and gazed, with a full measure of shock and awe, at the commanding Manhattan skyline. In about 90 minutes, a second wave of around 75-80 paddlers entered the neighboring cove, patiently waiting there until we vacated the premises before launching their own invasion of the clubhouse. As we moved farther, we began to experience appreciable swells and waves generated by a fearsome flotilla of ferries, water taxis, tour boats and pleasure boats that swarmed around like drunken raspberry crazy ants. Next came our intimate introduction to the southern-most region of this iconic isle, known as the Battery. This is where many publicly-assessable modes of marine transportation pick up and deliver passengers. It can readily be described as organized chaos and a paddler’s nightmare. Yet, superb coordination by the event’s sponsors had this choreographed to the ninth degree. It appears a pre-set window of time in which to pass by these potentially unforgiving features had been selected and agreed upon by both the authorities and the organizers. Prudent warnings by our accompanying vanguard of YPRC guides kept us a safe distance from its pilings and current-bending bulkheads. But, then we faced the unexpected perils of the Williamsburg Bridge. The WB placed our unsuspecting pod of paddlers in the grip of powerful stream flows that began relentlessly pulling paddlers towards one of its massive pilings with unimaginable force. Fastpaced, adrenaline-fueled paddling through confused waves, toward the center of the river, kept all but one of the 200 participants from a rude collision with a menacing support structure and an inevitable capsizing. After this incident, there was little in the way of mayhem, but a tedious exit from the water awaited us on Long Island There we struggled to scamper aboard a floating dock and rapidly scurry up a steep ramp to rest our kayaks and ourselves along a narrow, tree-lined pathway. After this strenuous prelude to a delayed lunch, a laidback intermission, with its body-pleasing bio-breaks, was sorely needed. Stroke after stroke, we conquered the remainder of our liquid course-way. On the Harlem River, we caught a glimpse of Yankee Stadium and got an alluring hint of NYC’s enriching ethnic diversity. Finally, we re-entered the Hudson and glided past the high-rising palisades of NJ, until arriving where I had put in 12 hours and 17 minutes earlier. Our epic northern adventure had ended. But, rest assured, our memories of the gracious people, enchanting vistas and exciting activities and places, which gloriously accessorized this mega-metropolis escapade will remain forever! FYI - The conclusion to this grand saga will appear in two weeks and will focus on the character-building and soul-satisfying experiences encountered during the 4000- mile roundtrip road excursion to NYC and back by four free-ranging Texicans.

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